July 4, 2013 By Roland E Miller

Gandhi and Indian Muslims: Overlaps and Conflicts

gandiiii-2This is an excrept from Roland E Miller’s article gleaned from Indian Critiques of Mahathma Gandhi, Edited by Harold Coward, Published by State University of New York Press, Albany © 2003 State University of New York

What did Indian Muslims think of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi? When Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (1891–1989), the stern Pathan leader who became known as the “Frontier Gandhi,” left India on July 30, 1947, he said: “Mahatmaji has shown us the true path. Long after we are no more, the coming generations of Hindus will remember him as an Avatar.”  At the other end of the spectrum of opinion Mohammed Ali Jinnah wrote to Gandhi on the eve of the fateful Nagpur Congress meeting, December 1920, “Your methods have already caused split and division in almost every institution that you have approached hitherto, and in the public life of the country not only amongst Hindus and Muslims but between Hindus and Hindus, and Muslims and Muslims, and even between fathers and sons.”  Between these extreme views there are many other opinions, some of which fall into the definition of critiques. Is there a pattern to Indian Muslim critiques of Gandhi? And who are the Indian Muslims that we are considering?

I will quickly get the second question out of the way. For the purpose of this chapter I will restrict myself to Indian Muslims who knew and worked with Gandhi. Moreover, with the exception of Malayalam materials, I will confine myself to a selection of those who wrote in English or are translated.  My attempt to profile those viewpoints is conditioned by four factors. The first is the historical development of the Freedom movement which brought together Indian Muslims and Gandhi within a daunting complexity. The second is the developing nature of Muslim self-consciousness, both political and religious, and the psychological involvement of Indian Muslims in the wider events of the Muslim world. At the political level they took changing directions, and at the religious level the situation compelled them to explore unfamiliar theoretical possibilities. The third factor is the intimate nature of the personal relations that existed within a fairly confined coterie of leaders. Some of the relationships were deeply affectionate ones, while others were abrasive. The final factor is that Gandhi’s own pilgrimage was very much a progressive one, and Muslims who found his position agreeable at one stage did not so find it at other times. These factors in combination meant that Indian Muslim views of Gandhi were marked by a “stutter-step,” even a “flip-flop” quality, rather than by an even flow.

Accepting these limitations, let us examine the Indian Muslim (hereafter simply Muslim) critiques of Gandhi. They can be organized into four major categories. The first I refer to as the mild disagreements of close colleagues that tend to be minor criticisms set within an overarching friendship. The second category has to do with the theory of ahilsa, and the conviction of Muslims that this could be maintained only as a policy and not as a creed. The third category relates to the suspicion that Gandhi was leading India to a kind of “Ram Raj” or Hindu state. The final category takes up the issue of priorities, and the alleged shift in Gandhi’s approach. Running through the categories, but especially applicable to the final one, is Muslim uneasiness, sometimes articulated, with Gandhi’s personal style. That includes his unpredictability, his stubbornness, his tendency to take unilateral and utilitarian positions that in the Muslim perspective left them high and dry.
I will approach the critiques by way of the opinions of individuals, but for the ahimsa discussion I will also utilize Gandhi’s involvement with the Mappila Muslims of Malabar………….

Abul Kalam Azad: The Critique of Silence

Hakim Ajmal Khan was six years older than Gandhi, and Ansari was eight years younger. We can think of them as Ghandi’s contemporaries. Abdul Kalam Azad (1888–1958) was nineteen years his junior, making their relationship a marvel. Moreover, he was a Muslim religious scholar belonging to a class that did not ordinarily mingle with Hindu leaders. The wonder increases when we note the difference in their personalities. Both were ambitious, and to a degree flamboyant. But Azad was the reserved and private Quranic specialist, with an air of mystery, while Gandhi was the public icon of the masses.

Did the age differential play a role in the fact that Azad’s critiques of Gandhi were not very explicit? Or was it his personality that took no delight in recrimination? Or was it the reality of their agreement in many fundamental issues? Yet we know that Azad disagreed with Gandhi, most notably in the final acceptance of India’s division, a moment when Azad’s silence spoke louder than words.

Abul Kalam Azad’s public history is well-known. He developed from his precocious editorship of the revivalist Calcutta Muslim journals al-HiLal and al-Balagh, to his emergence as one of the acknowledged leaders of the Freedom movement. He became a stalwart leader in the Indian National Congress, serving as its president in 1923 and 1940, and thereafter. From his dashed hopes in 1947 he emerged to become free India’s first minister of education. In the course of that career Azad went through major shifts in his point of view—from his early optimistic spirit of pan-Islamism to his final and consistent endorsement of the secular democratic approach for free India. His famous remark concerning a “Sabbath rest,” which alluded to ten years spent in British jails, passes lightly over the extent of his suffering, which included the repeated losses of manuscripts of his scholarly works. He succeeded Dr. Ansari as leader of the Nationalist Muslims in the Congress, and “dragged the ulama.”  into liberation politics.

Azad was not hesitant as others were in using the word mahatma, and he spoke openly of “the great soul” of Gandhiji.  He disagreed with the latter at times, but did so respectfully. In 1945 Gandhi wrote to Azad asking him to refrain from putting up inscribed plaques in honor of individuals who gave their lives in the 1942 agitation, on the grounds that it was not possible to know who really died for swaraj. He also asked Azad not to endorse a memorial for Begum Shah because she had not really done any public service. Gandhi ended the letter by saying: “If my advice does not appeal to you, you will please reject it. The love we hold for each other demands no less.”  Azad accepted the advice in regard to Begum Shah, but rejected it in the case of the other memorials.

Azad agreed with Gandhi in most of the core issues of the Freedom movement. Hasan suggests that “even though religion and moral fervour bound the Mahatma and the Maulana in a common quest for swaraj, they did not share a common perspective on and outlook towards sociopolitical issues.”  It could just as well be said that though the two had different religious contexts and vocabularies their common struggle for swaraj produced a surprising commonality of outlook on major issues. Thus Azad’s critiques are related to specific issues or decisions rather than to underlying themes……..

The Mappila Rebellion, 1921: Critiques Rise From The Flames

The idea of ahimsa as a policy that could be adopted and discarded left the door open for local Muslim interpretation. The Mappila Rebellion illustrated how far grassroots Muslims were from accepting it as a controlling principle. The rebellion, however, also revealed Gandhi’s selective utilitarianism in relation to Muslims, a critique that continues to be alive. In 1918 Gandhi had written to Mohamed Ali: “My interest in your release is quite selfish. We have a common goal and I want to utilize your services to the uttermost in order to reach that goal. In the proper solution of the Mohammedan question lies the realization of Swaraj.”   In the case of the Mappilas there is a sense that Gandhi first aroused them and then abandoned them. On November 25, 2000, when I interviewed a revered leader of the Mappila intellectual renaissance and a former university vice chancellor he stated that there were three things that bothered Kerala Muslims about Gandhi: his stubbornness, his religious revivalism, and his virtual abandonment of the Mappilas.

The Mappilas of Kerala, now constituting approximately 7.6 million and approximately 21.5 percent of the state, had experienced the negative impact of foreign rule long before the British arrived.  Vasco da Gama, landing in Calicut, Malabar, in 1498, had led the Portuguese incursion, introducing the age of European dominance. The Portuguese distorted a centuries-long period of harmony among Hindus, Christians, and Muslims, a process that I have described elsewhere.  The end result was a disaffected and volatile Mappila community, whose members were the victims of a repressive landownership system, were suffering from impoverishment, and were given to frequent violent uprisings against what they deemed to be oppression. The noncooperation movement in its Khilafat aspect dropped like a spark into this tinderbox. A key event was a conference of the Kerala Congress in Manjeri, Malabar,  April 28, 1920.

The conference brought the Khilafat movement to the attention of the Mappilas. In an action that some have regarded as the seed of the rebellion  activists passed a resolution supporting that movement, a decision opposed by Annie Besant and other moderates. In the short run it resulted in many startling expressions of Muslim–Hindu amity, but in the longer run the Khilafat agitation aroused the religious and emotional fervor of the Mappilas to a high degree. On August 18, 1920, Mahatma Gandhi and Shaukat Ali addressed a large public meeting at Calicut. Exhortations to join action against the British and rosy promises of quick results were in the air. While Gandhi urged Hindus to support Muslim demands for justice within the context of appropriate means,  Shaukat Ali was not so restrained, and those who were there recalled the stirring impact of his words.

Shaukat Ali (1873–1938), the first secretary of the Khilafat Committee, who operated in the shadow of his younger brother Mohamed Ali, deserves greater notice than he ordinarily receives for his leadership role. He was a bluff and hearty man rather than a reflective type, and was able to rouse people easily. Moved by his pro-Turkish sentiments and by governmental tardiness in granting Aligarh, his alma mater, university status, he left government service and went into opposition. Gandhi traveled extensively with him after his release from prison in 1919, and became very fond of him. He said of his companion: “There are many good and stalwart Muslims I know. But no Muslim knows me through and through as Shaukat Ali does.”  Shaukat Ali, on the other hand, was quite outspoken on his disagreement with Gandhi in regard to ahimsa. Before coming to Calicut, in a speech at Shajahanpur on May 5, 1920, Shaukat Ali stated, “I tell you that to kill and to be killed in the way of God are both satyagraha. To lay down our lives in the way of God for righteousness and to destroy the life of the tyrant who stands in the way of righteousness, are both very great service to God. But we have promised to co-operate with Mr.Gandhi who is with us. . . . If this fails, the Mussalmans will decide what to do.”

We must assume that Gandhi realized that the basic Muslim view of violence differed from his own. Did he think that the experience of working together would modify the Muslim opinion and bring it into closer harmony with his own? Or, as is more likely, did he simply accept the limited possibilities, taking the practical approach? He seemed to recognize his own utilitarianism. Peter Hardy quotes him as saying, “I have been telling Maulana Shaukat Ali all along that I was helping to save his cow [i.e., the caliphate] because I hoped to save my cow thereby.”

There is no need to go into the details of the Mappila Rebellion and the suffering that it entailed for both Hindus and Muslims. The events came like a pail of cold water on the flame of Muslim–Hindu harmony. The Mappilas not only turned violently against their British overlords, but also against the landowning Hindu establishment in a six-month uprising beginning August 20, 1921. Hindu leaders shocked by the Mappila militance drew back from what had been initially regarded as a joint effort. The Mappila sense of betrayal was a major factor in the anti-Hindu nature of the rebellion in its latter stages. As some Hindus even aided British forces, Mappilas responded with killings, arson, robberies, and forced conversion. While the rebellion did not begin as a communal outbreak it ended as one. After six months the Mappilas were severely repressed, and suffered most with 2,266 slain, 252 executed, 502 sentenced to life imprisonment, thousands jailed in different parts of India, and many exiled to the Andaman Islands.  The fact that the Mappilas later rose like a phoenix from the ashes to become a changed community that has become positively and dynamically involved in societal development is a marvel of Indian Muslim history.  At the close of the rebellion though, they were stunned and silent. There were others, however, who were not silent.

Some of them were Muslims. The cultured and educated northern leaders of Indian Muslims felt trapped by the situation, damned if they did, and damned if they didn’t. Hakim Ajmal Khan took the middle ground, as the majority of Muslims did, in his 1921 presidential address to the Congress Assembly in Ahmedabad. He said, “I cannot close without referring to the tragic events that are daily taking place in Malabar and the prolonged agonies of our unfortunate Moplah brethren.” He blamed the government for provoking the disturbances and denounced the British “pacification,” but he also condemned the forcible conversion of Hindus. “There will be no Muslim worthy of the name who will not condemn the entire un-Islamic act in the strongest possible terms.”  But the opinion that Gandhi had to deal with directly was that of Hasrat Mohani (1878–1951), the pen name of Syed Fazlul Hasan. An Aligarh graduate, Urdu poet, fiery worker for the Freedom movement, advocate of a forceful approach, and critic of ahimsa, he found no fault in the essential Mappila approach. As to their attack on the Hindus he argued that it occurred because of Hindu support for the British.

Gandhi made frequent references to the Mappilas in his letters and speeches between 1921 and 1924. His reaction ranged from criticizing some Mappilas to blaming the British to pointing to Hindu failure to a bare recognition of possible responsibility on the part of the Non-cooperation movement. In a Madras speech in the middle of the rebellion he had said, “I would like you to swear before God that we shall not resort to violence for the freedom of our country or for settling quarrels between Hindus and Mussulmans . . . that in spite of the madness shown by some of our Moplah brethren we Hindus and Mussulmans shall remain united forever.”  He repeated the phrase “Moplah madness” frequently, and he advised Hasrat Mohani not to defend their actions. But he also blamed the British saying, “They have punished the entire Moplah community for the madness of a few individuals and have incited Hindus by exaggerating the facts.”  As for the Hindu responsibility he declared, “The Moplahs have sinned against God and have suffered grievously for it. Let the Hindus also remember that they have not allowed the opportunity for revenge to pass by.”  He gave the following advice to Hindus: “We must do away with the communal spirit. The majority must therefore make a beginning and thus inspire the minorities with confidence. . . . Adjustment is possible only when the more powerful take the initiative without waiting for response from the weaker.”

In regard to the crucial question of whether there was responsibility on his own part, or on the part of the Non-cooperation movement or whether his theory was at fault, Gandhi was not very forthcoming. He acknowledged the critiques saying, “Many letters have been received by me, some from wellknown friends telling me that I was responsible even for the alleged Moplah atrocities in fact, for all the riots which Hindus have or are said to have suffered since the Khilafat agitation.”  Yet he felt that the significance of the Mappilas should not be overstated because they constitute a special case. Their response cannot undermine the validity or cause of nonviolence. He declared, “The Moplahs themselves had not been touched by the noncooperation spirit. They are not like other Indians nor even like other Mussalmans. I am prepared to admit that the movement had an indirect effect upon them. The Moplah revolt was so different in kind that it did not affect the other parts of India.”  A Muslim historian, I. H. Qureshi, gives a less sanguine perspective: “The Moplah rebellion confirmed Hindu fears and provided the first nail in the coffin of Hindu amity.” ………………………………………………

The Opinion of Sir Muhammad Iqbal: A Mild Critique

The most biting critiques of Gandhi’s Hindu orientation came in connection with the Pakistan issue, but Muhammad Iqbal (1876–1938) had passed from the scene before that idea had fully flowered. In fact, Iqbal and Gandhi pay each other surprisingly little attention. On reflection the reasons become evident. On the one hand Iqbal’s poetic line well describes them both:

In servitude life is reduced to a tiny stream,
In freedom it is like the boundless ocean.

Yet Iqbal’s first priority, the revitalization of Islam, was quite different from Gandhi’s. Moreover, the poetic and philosophic aspects of Iqbal’s multisided career overshadowed political involvements. His practical politics were largely confined to the Punjab scene, and he chose not to participate in the Khilafat Movement that drew together Gandhi and other Muslim leaders. Gandhi respected Iqbal’s love of India and his poetry, and in later years more than once quoted the ghazal line: “Religion does not teach us to bear ill will toward one another.”  Iqbal, in turn, recognized Gandhi’s special role as “the apostle” of Indian nationhood, although he did not appreciate the hero-worship attached to it. Muhammad Daud Rahbar points out how Iqbal once refused to rise for Gandhiji at a meeting presided over by the viceroy on the grounds that such veneration was Islamically inappropriate.

Iqbal’s primary critique of Gandhi is associated with his own vision of a Muslim territory within northwest India where Muslims could freely develop their life along modern lines, a vision that in his perspective required separate electorates. He did not regard this approach as a conflict with his commitment to religious harmony. In his presidential address to the Allahabad Session of the All-India Muslim League on December 29, 1930, Iqbal made his famous proposal for such a territorial alignment in India (which later evolved into Pakistan):

Communalism, in its higher aspect, then, is indispensable to the formation of a harmonious whole in a country like India . . . which instead of stifling the respective individualities of the component whole, affords them choice of fully working out the possibilities that may be latent in them . . . thus possessing full opportunity of development within the body politic of India.

The issue he presented became concrete in connection with the negotiations of the Second Round Table Conference in London in 1931, and the British government’s Communal Award in 1932. Iqbal, who was present at the former, opposed Gandhi’s view that the Congress represented all the people of India and that in the future Indians should vote only “as Indians.” With his view of a “higher” communalism, Iqbal could not and did not criticize Hindu self-consciousness, but rather Hindu unawareness of Muslim needs. Iqbal saw Gandhi’s opposition to the Communal Award as a demand “for safeguarding the interests of Hindus.” He declared, “If separate electorates for Untouchables means disintegration of the Hindus, the joint electorate will mean political death for the minorities. In my opinion, it has become clear from the attitude of Mahatma Gandhi that the minorities who are keen to maintain their separate identity should not abandon separate electorate.”  In Iqbal’s view Gandhi should have been attacking the Hindu oppression of the Untouchables more rigorously and not the protective award.  But we must turn to Muhammad Ali Jinnah for the strongest critique of Gandhi’s orientation……………………………………………………………………………………(Excerpt ends).

To purchase the book: Visit http://www.sunypress.edu/p-3855-indian-critiques-of-gandhi.aspx

“Posted by permission from  Indian Critiques of Gandhi edited by Harold Coward, the State University of New York Press ©2003, State University of New York.  All rights reserved.”


(Numbering is done according to the excerpt, which does not appear in the book as such)

Quoted in P. C. Chaudhury, Gandhi and His Contemporaries, (New Delhi: Sterling, 1972), 136
Stanley Wolpert, Jinnah of Pakistan (New York: Oxford, 1984), 7.
Space limitation precludes dealing with such diverse yet important and representative figures as the Agha Khan, Mahmud al-Hasan, Abdul Bari, Yakub Hasan, Zafar Ali Khan, Zakir Husain, and others
Mushir U. Haq, Muslim Politics in India (Meerut: Meenakshi Prakashan, 1976), 53.
Quoted in S. P. Bakshi, Abul Kalam Azad: The Secular Leader (New Delhi: Anmol, 1991), 26.
Ravinder Kumar, ed., Selected Works of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (New Delhi: Atlantic, 1991), 2:37.
Mushirul Hasan, “Secular and Communitarian Representation of Indian Nationalism: Ideology and Praxis of Azad and Mohamed Ali,” in Mushirul Hasan, ed., Islam and Indian Nationalism (New Delhi: Manohar, 1991), 77.
Hasan, A Nationalist Conscience, 69.
Interview with Professor K. A. Jaleel, Feroke, Kerala, 25 November 2000.
Cf. statistics in Roland E. Miller, The Mappila Muslims of Kerala, rev. ed. (Madras: Orient Longman, 1992), 317 and appendices. For a summary article, cf. Miller, “Mappila,” Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., 6:458–466.
Cf. Roland E. Miller, “Trialogue: The Context of Hindu–Christian Dialogue in Kerala,” in Hindu–Christian Dialogue, ed. Harold Coward, (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1989), 47–63.
Malabar, meaning “place of the hills,” was the ancient generic term for southwest coastal India. Under the British the name was used to signify an administrative district in the Madras Presidency. United with Travancore– Cochin it became the State of Kerala in 1957, but the name lingers on.
Cf. Madhavan Nair, Malabar Kalapum (“Malabar Rebellion” Malayalam) (Manjeri: K. Kalyani Amma, 1971), 82.
The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (Delhi: The Director, Publications Division, 1965), 17:177–180. Hereafter cited as CW.
Gail Minault, The Khilafat Movement (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), 179.
Quoted in G. Krishna, “The Khilafat Movement,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1968): 49.
Peter Hardy, The Muslims of British India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972), 196.
Miller, Mappila Muslims, 49. The whole rebellion is examined on pages 126 to 154.
Zaidi, Addresses, 4:20f.
CW, 21:135; speech dated September 16, 1921.
Ibid., 22:201.
Ibid., 23:514.
Ibid., 23:152.
Ibid., 24:136.
Ibid., 23:3.
I. H. Qureshi, Ulama in Politics (1972; reprint, Delhi: Renaissance Publishing House, 1985), 260.
. Quoted in Muhammad Sadiq, A History of Urdu Literature (London: Oxford University Press, 1964), 383.

Muhammad Daud Rahbar, “Glimpses of the Man,” in Igbal, ed. Hafeez Malik (New York: Columbia University Press, 1971), 42.
C. H. Philips, ed., The Evolution of India and Pakistan: 1858–1947 (London: Oxford University Press, 1962), 4:239.
Iqbal’s comments on Gandhi’s 1932 correspondence with Ramsay MacDonald are reported by Masud-ul-Hasan in Life of Iqbal, Book 1 (Lahore: Ferozoons, 1978), 312. For Iqbal communalism “in its better aspect” equates culture, cf. 270f.

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