experiment with Islam and why it failed
's independence struggle was at its height Gandhi realized that
independence cannot come about by the efforts of the Hindus alone.
Muslims too must be involved in the struggle. It is important to note
that Muslim separation or Hindu involvement in the national movement is
not a simple monochromatic affair. There were some Muslims already in
the fold and many Hindus who supported the British rule. However Gandhi
decided to bring in the Muslim masses and particularly their religious
leaders. This led to the Khilafat Movement of 1919-24. Gandhi and led by
him the Indian National Congress joined hands with the religious group
knows as Jamiat-e-Ulama-e-Hind. This was Gandhi's experiment with
orthodox Islam and it was a spectacular failure.
demands of the Jamiat were simple. In
the Caliph (the supreme religious ruler who was also the temporal
authority) was being repeatedly threatened by the Young Turks who were
Republican Nationalists. The power of the British in
had rendered the Ottoman Caliphs subservient to British interests.
However since the Caliph was also a religious figure, the Jamiat wanted
the power of the Caliph to be restored to the full and all republican
movement to be stopped. It claimed that the Caliph was the true ruler of
all Muslims everywhere; therefore the Muslims must restore him; in the
process they must oppose the British who had weakened the Caliph's
authority is such a manner and allowed secular forces to take over. The
Jamiat therefore proposed an alliance with the Congress to fight the
. Without realizing the implications Gandhi agreed to join the 'restore
Caliph' movement. Thus the Jamiat's entry into Indian national movement
had nothing to do with
, but everything to do with a faraway country. Even more importantly it
had nothing to do with Hindus, Christians, Parsis or secular Muslims
--- in short it had no interest in the welfare of Indians as such; the
Jamiat cared only for the religion of Islam. That was the first mistake
Gandhi made: he believed that the movement would bring Hindus and
Muslims closer; but since the primary focus of the movement was on Islam
(the independence struggle being a side-dish), such an alliance cannot
last. When finally Ataturk by a coup took over Turkish government and
secularized it, the movement came to an end. But it did nothing for
the sake of Hindu-Muslim alliance Gandhi continued to make compromise
after compromise, but ultimately the alliance collapsed. It
collapsed because of several reasons and because Gandhi did not think
things through. He was not interested in
but according to his own words wanted to buy Muslim friendship. He also
believed that the British were truly oppressing the Muslims everywhere.
The problem was that Gandhi simply did not understand the mindset of
Islamic leaders he was dealing with.
In the first place, the Jamiat presented the image of a Christian war
against Muslims in the regions of
. But this is a misreading based on their religious prejudices. What was
happening in the Balkans and
were nationalist movements. The Arab colonies though Muslims were in
revolt against the Ottoman rulers because they wanted national states.
Secondly the British were in no way opposed to the Ottoman Caliphs. In
fact British forces actively tried to prevent Republican Nationalists in
from taking power. The British government had even financed a Khilafat
to plead their cause. It was only after World War I when
lost its colonies that the Indian Muslim religious groups turned against
British. Up until then they had been very loyal to the British. But
Gandhi ignored these facts in his eagerness. The Islamic movements are
not anti-British, not anti-Imperialists or pro-nationalists – they are
simply supporters of their version of Islam. They are extremists to whom
orthodox Islam is everything.
The Muslim leaders of the Khilafat movement painted a picture of
world-wide conspiracy against Muslims. Gandhi was swayed by the
eloquence of Mohamed and Shaukat Ali. It is common for Muslims to claim
that everyone is unjustly persecuting them and there is a conspiracy
against them everywhere. (These claims of victimization can be as
ridiculous as “9/11 was carried out by Jews” or “Americans
beheaded Paul Johnson to give Islam a bad name”)
Gandhi ignored voices coming from the Indian Muslim community. There
were many Indian Muslims who did not support the Khilafat movement. The
more religious held that the Ottoman Sultans were not legitimate
the acceptance of the Turkish Sultan as the universal Caliph was only
from the middle of 19th century and that too due to the propaganda by
Urdu press. By accepting the legitimacy of Khilafat movement Gandhi was
actually strengthening the hold of an orthodox clergy. There was
also a more secularized tradition. Sir Sayed Ahmed Khan had
distinguished sharply between the political realm and religious realm
declaring the two to be separate. He also said that a Caliph is the
Caliph only of his own territory and there is no universal Caliphate. By
these reasoning Indian Muslims owed no loyalty to the Turkish Caliph.
Neither the first nor the second group, were pro-Hindus. What Gandhi did
was to legitimize Islamic identity over other ties and give a boost to
the pan-Islamic identity.
Another mistake Gandhi made is to ignore the sections that would have
actually helped him. He ignored the sects of syncretic Islam that had
arisen in the Indian subcontinent. Such sects were more willing to live
in peace with other religions. A 'pure' form of Islam yearning for Dar-ul-Islam
puts up with non-Muslims only as long as they [the Muslims] are weak.
Gandhi should have encouraged these heretical sects. There were
also a growing number of secular Muslims. But Gandhi ignored them in
favour of religious mullahs.
The Muslim clergy did not believe in living peacefully with other
religions. The Koran divides the world into Dar-Al-Harb (House of war)
and Dar-Al-Islam (house of Islam). The faithful are commanded to fight
until the non-Muslims are converted, subjugated or annihilated.
Though the Koran also allows treaties with pagans, according to
traditionalist interpretations based on Muhammad's own actions, such a
peace is to be kept only as long as Muslims are weak. A strict
interpretation of such commandments means there can be no tolerance in
Islam for other religions, particularly of non-Abrahamic variety.
After the British conquest of
when it was realised that there was no way for any Muslim ruler to gain
power, there had been a debate about whether
was Dar Al-Harb or Dar Al-Islam. One school favoured the former since
Muslims were no longer sovereigns. During the Khilafat movement the
Ali brothers and Maulana Azad declared that
was enemy territory and so favoured migration to
. A group actually set out to go to
under their inspiration. It is obvious therefore such Muslims had no
or for their fellow citizens; they cared only for their pure Islam.
It cannot be emphasized enough that Khilafat movement had no real
's national movement. It was all about
; but the Turks themselves have kicked out their Caliph. Yet Indian
Muslims were asked to fight for this deposed leader. The reverence was
based solely on religious feeling. Though 'moderate' Islamic
intellectuals like Ashgar Ali Engineer lecture that it was through
Khilafat movement that Muslims were brought into the secular fold,
there is nothing secular about a movement that tried to replace the
secular government by a religious government. Gandhi thus ignored
the actual nature of Khilafat agitation. It was only later when many
Congressmen began to question the extra-territorial loyalty of Muslims
that Gandhi woke up.
Gandhi viewed Islam through
his own spirituality ignoring how the parishioners of Islam actually saw
it. For them religion and politics are inseparable. To Gandhi this was
not bad since he also believed that religion and politics should not be
separable and religion is needed to make politics ethical. He himself
was a devout Hindu and declared his allegiance to Hinduism as an
essential component of national struggle. But his Hinduism was of a
different brand than the Islam practiced by orthodox Muslims. About
Hindu sacred texts Gandhi said, "My
belief in the Hindu scriptures does not require me to accept every word
and every verse as divinely inspired... I decline to be bound by any
interpretation, however learned it may be, if it is repugnant to reason
or moral sense. ... Every word of the printed works passing muster as `Shastras'
is not, in my opinion, a revelation ... The interpretation of accepted
texts has undergone evolution and is capable of indefinite evolution,
even as the human intellect and heart are .... Nothing in the
shastras which is manifestly contrary to universal truths and morals can
stand... Nothing in the shastras which is capable of being
reasoned can stand if it is in conflict with reason."
Such evolutionary Hinduism is a part of Hindu tradition. But no
devout Muslim can accept this as true of the Koran or even the Hadith.
For them their revealed texts are eternal and immutable; the
commandments are not to be rationally scrutinized but simply accepted.
Though there is a limited space for interpretation, there is no space
for questioning or rejecting the doctrines even if they conflict with
reason and morality. That was the essential difference between the way
Gandhi practiced his religion and the orthodox Muslims practice theirs.
It was not that Gandhi was ignorant of Islamic fanaticism. He complained
that Muslims are bullies and Hindus are cowards during riots. The Ali
brothers had invited the Amir of Afghanistan to invade
. Swami Shraddhananda who was converting Muslims into Hinduism was shot
dead by Abdul Rashid. No Muslim condemned the murder; instead Rashid
was declared a martyr and was given a namaaz (prayed upon) in the
mosques. However Gandhi's response was the mistaken one of appeasement:
the belief that the bully would be transformed if only one shows
friendship. So he pardoned every Muslim fanaticism. He said, "I
have called Abdul Rashid a brother and I repeat it. I do not even regard
him as guilty of Swami's murder. Guilty indeed are those who excited
feeling of hatred against one another". He did not support the
Hindu and Sikh protests against the cruelties of Nizam of Hyderabad.
After 1947, he said "Hindus should never be angry against the
Muslims even if the latter might make up their minds to undo even their
existence." Also: "They (Hindus) should not be afraid of
death. After all, the killers will be none other than our Muslim
brothers". Unfortunately spirituality and brotherhood do not have
any impact on Muslim fanatics who by the very tenets of their religion
are called upon to regard the non-Muslims as their enemies. No matter
how much you give them they are never satisfied until the world is
Islamic according to their views.
to say Gandhi's experiment with Islam failed. The results were
disastrous for both Hindus and Muslims. In the first place since the
movement understood nothing about the dynamics of Turkish politics and
nationalism it was bound to fail – the time of Sultans was over. In
1922 there was violence and Gandhi withdrew his support for the
movement. Now let us take a look at the consequences of support to this
The Muslim clergy became the centrepiece of Muslim politics in
. Though they had a toehold in politics they were not very
powerful. But now they became de facto leaders and the genuinely secular
and educated Muslim leaders were sidelined. As usual Congress leaders
bent backwards to help fundamentalist Muslim leaders to come to power
– a policy they have continued to this day.
Muslims blamed Gandhi for the failure of the restoration of Khalifa.
It led to Mopla riots. The Mopla Muslim community heard rumours that the
time for jihad had come and an end must be put to all kaffirs. So they
violently attacked the Hindus, killing old and young, raping women,
tearing off fetuses from wombs. Finally the British restored peace. This
must be the only time during the national movement when British troops
were welcomed with open arms by the Indians. It is evidence that
religion-addicted Muslims cannot live in peace with non-Muslims for
long. That was what Hindus got for taking part in a purely Islamic
The Khilafat movement made the Muslims more conscious of their Islamic
identity. It was this that finally led to the
movement and partition. Even if the partition was inevitable and the net
result had been good for Hindus, a great chance was lost to reform
Indian Islam so that it can cope with the modern world. Instead
was divided on the basis of religion and a Muslim minority remained.
Let us see how the orthodox Muslims repaid Gandhi: In 1924,
Mohammed Ali to whom Gandhi showed such affection said, : "However
pure Mr. Gandhi's character may be, he must appear to me, from the point
of religion, inferior to any Mussalman even though he be without
character." In 1925 he emphasized: "Yes, according
to my religion and creed, I do hold an adulterous and a fallen Mussalman
to be better than Mr. Gandhi". That is the true Islamofascist
mentality revealed in all its glory.
this way Gandhi's experiment with Islam failed. This should serve as an
object lesson to all who try to appease the fanatic Muslims. It will not
succeed but only lead to greater fanaticism and destruction.