Leaving Islam




Gandhi's  experiment with Islam and why it failed


by  Hindu Woman

When India '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. 

The demands of the Jamiat were simple. In Turkey 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 Turkey 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 British in India . 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 India , 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 Hindu-Muslim friendship.

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 Turkey 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.

(i) In the first place, the Jamiat presented the image of a Christian war against Muslims in the regions of Ottoman Empire . But this is a misreading based on their religious prejudices. What was happening in the Balkans and Arabia 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 Turkey from taking power. The British government had even financed a Khilafat trip to Europe to plead their cause. It was only after World War I when Turkey 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.

(ii) 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”)

(iii) 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 Caliphs. In India 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. 

(iii) 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. 

(iv) 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 India when it was realised that there was no way for any Muslim ruler to gain power, there had been a debate about whether India 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 India was enemy territory and so favoured migration to Turkey . A group actually set out to go to Turkey under their inspiration. It is obvious therefore such Muslims had no love for India or for their fellow citizens; they cared only for their pure Islam. 

(v) It cannot be emphasized enough that Khilafat movement had no real connection with India 's national movement. It was all about Turkey ; 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.

(vi)  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. 

(vii) 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 India . 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. 

Needless 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 Islamic movement:-

(a) The Muslim clergy became the centrepiece of Muslim politics in India .  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.

(b) Muslims blamed Gandhi for the failure of the restoration of Khalifa. 

(c) 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 agitation. 

 (c) The Khilafat movement made the Muslims more conscious of their Islamic identity. It was this that finally led to the Pakistan 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 India was divided on the basis of religion and a Muslim minority remained. 

(d) 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.   

In 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.  


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