Protests against the CAA have impacted the image of the Modi government
Protests against the CAA have impacted the image of the Modi government | Photo: Manisha Mondal | ThePrint
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Maulana Abul Kalam Azad left us on 22 February 1958. He was not merely a freedom fighter and a politician but an Islamic scholar, and generally an erudite man. We need to remember him more seriously in the context of the ongoing divisive politics.  He was one of the prominent and the most forceful voice which questioned the very idea of two-nation theory on the basis of religion. He questioned Muslim League as well as the Hindu communal forces who were busy polarizing the freedom fighters in the name of religion. Maulana espoused an idea of composite/indivisible nationalism, where Hindus and Muslims can jointly form a nation.

The biggest threat to this indivisible nationalism, according to Azad, was the narrow-minded and divisive approach of some of our people. For Azad, narrow-mindedness in the domain of religion appears in the form of blind faith and deceives us in the name of orthodoxy. And in politics, it wants to overpower us in the guise of nationalism. It may sound prophetic in the context of the ongoing nationalism debate, where only majoritarian consensus is projected as a legitimate nationalist voice. We are blind to the commitment of leaders like Azad, who, all their lives, questioned those who peddled sectarian nationalism, whether Hindu or Muslim.

For the Muslim League and its divisive politics, Maulana Azad was the most formidable challenge and Muhammad Ali Jinnah knew it very well. This was precisely the reason Azad was viciously targeted by the communalists and dubbed as a show boy of the Congress party. Azad was a threat for the sectarian cause of the League, because, as an Islamic scholar he had the ability and credibility to convince a large number of Muslims that Islam is not antithetical to composite nationalism. It was possible to form a nation with non-Muslim others and the apt example for this was available in the early history of Islam. Prophet Muhammad formed the first Islamic government in Medina, which was based on a covenant signed between the Muslims and the Jews. If the Prophet could do that in the seventh century then why can’t we do it now and form a nation with Hindus and others?

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Where would Azad stand today

In the midst of the ongoing debate on CAA/NRC/NPR, the role and position of nationalists like Azad is under severe strain. He spoke (Syeda Saiyidain Hameed, ed, India’s Maulana, New Delhi, 1990, pp.147-164) in 1940 that “I have inherited Islam’s glorious traditions of the last thirteen hundred years. I am not prepared to lose even a small part of that legacy.” In the same breath he continued that “I am equally proud of the fact that I am an Indian, an essential part of the indivisible unity of Indian nationhood, a vital factor in its total make-up without which this noble edifice will remain incomplete. I can never give up this sincere claim.” Maulana Azad spoke this on behalf of the millions of Muslims who consciously decided to stay back in India-their homeland for centuries. Maulana wanted Hindus and Muslims to be part of one homogenous group which he called Ummat-i-Wahida (one nation).

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Muslims and composite nationalism

Many people argue these days that partition should have settled the issue of Muslim homeland. The Muslims asked for it so they all should have moved to Pakistan. It is misleading and ahistorical as a large number of Muslims stood with Maulana Azad and condemned Jinnah for his divisive politics. Darul Ulum, Deoband, in present-day Western Uttar Pradesh was openly committed (Maulana Husain Ahmad Madani, Composite Nationalism and Islam, first published in 1938, New Delhi, 2005) to the idea of composite nationalism. Maulana Husain Ahmad Madani of Deoband wrote passionately on composite nationalism in 1938 and had an intense debate with Allama Iqbal, who peddled the idea of Islamic nationalism.  Some hate-filled moron today may have the temerity to call Darul Uloom a den of terrorists but history speaks otherwise. I have reservations about its politics today on so many other counts but not on its stand on united India. Most of the Muslims who decided to stay back in India rejected the two-nation theory of Jinnah and the League and vouched for Maulana Azad’s and Madani’s composite nationalism. All those who taunt present-day Muslim Indians by repeatedly bringing in Pakistan are the ideological heirs of those whom Maulana Azad fought all his life.

I have many times wondered at the fact that Muslim population in Western Uttar Pradesh remained so high despite the region’s proximity to areas where partition violence was acute. It happened because the Muslim League appealed to the fears of professional, landed and business class Muslims, generally called ashraf, while the majority of others, mostly the poor and the lower middle class called the ajlaf, were under the spell of Darul Uloom as well as Maulana Azad. They had nothing much to lose, most of them were not ready to give up their homes for an unsure future. They made a conscious decision to stay back in India-their homeland.

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When Azad invoked India

While delivering his famous Congress Presidential address at Ramgarh in 1940, Azad referred to several centuries of Muslim presence in India and how these “years of common history have enriched India with our common achievements. Our languages, our poetry, our literature, our culture, our art, our dress, our manners and customs, the innumerable happenings of our daily life, everything bears the stamp of our joint endeavour.” For all those today who have arbitrarily defined a certain brand of nationalism to profile the fellow citizens, need to recall what Maulana Azad said at the convocation address at Patna University in 1947, cautioning (Speeches of Maulana Azad, Publications Division, New Delhi, 1961, pp.12-22) people to be wary of nationalism. He said “We have to keep in mind that the nationalism propagated in the nineteenth century Europe is all shattered and the world is sick of the bounds of narrow nationalism. It is anxious to break those shackles. Instead of small cooped up nationalities the world wants to build super nationalism. Obviously, there is no room for narrow-mindedness in this modern age. We shall find a secure place in the comity of nations only if we are international minded and tolerant.” Azad could see the consequences of faith-based aggressive nationalism, which divided the country and killed millions in the name of religion.

Do we want to pursue the divisive politics of the communalists who caused havoc in our lives during the freedom struggle or espouse the composite nationalism which was the foundation of our independent India? Maulana Azad failed to keep India united despite his unbridled faith in indivisible nationalism. However, he remained committed to the fact that religion alone can never be the basis for nationhood. This fact was never as relevant in the past seventy years as it is today.

The author is former Maulana Azad Chair, National University of Educational Planning and Administration. Views are personal.

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14 Comments Share Your Views


  1. How this writer has guts to call others as bigot when he is himself a religious bigot who believes in 7th century bedouin’s rule. Secondly, the covenant he talks about was broken in few yrs time and was nothing more than Taqqiya. This is India land of Dharmics (Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains) and not yours, why we sign any covenant in our homeland, why not in Arabia your homeland.

  2. The writer takes the cake for hipporacy and false narrative. I invite the attention of the writer and readers to a seminal book – ‘Pakistan : Past, Present and Future’ by well-known writer and journalist, M. J. Akbar. He has devoted a full chapter to the referendum held by the British Indian Government in 1946. He has given province-wise figures of number of Hindu and Muslim voters, number of candidates put up by the Congress Party and the Muslim League, the number of votes secured by each candidate and seats won by each party. These figures clearly show that Muslims all over India voted overwhelmingly for the Muslim League. Yet 90 % of them stayed back. Is it anybody’s contention that they had a sudden change of heart and determined that Muslim League and its Pakistan was an evil? They stayed back because reaction of the Hindus to partition slaughter unleashed by the Muslim League remained confined to certain pockets and Hindu leaders of the Congress party went out of their way to defend Muslims. The talk of composite nationalism, Ganga-Jamni Tehjeeb etc is only a smokescreen for the sole objective – JIHAD.

  3. This fellow would have more credibility if he showed any professional honesty as a historian. Instead, he served as a court historian of a commy- congressi regime in perpetuating a grand fraud on the nation. He willingly served as a tool of the establishment in manufacturing a false narrative and a false national identity. Your views are not worth the paper they are written on.

  4. If large numbers of Muslims stood with Maulana Azad then who voted for the Muslim League? How did the League got approx 90% of Muslim reserved seats? All Muslim intellectuals are injecting false and fake narrative regarding the partition of India.

  5. The Maulana couldn’t convince even his own co-religionists. So much for his advice. Jinnah defeated him in 1947. The Communist party of India, to whom the author owes allegiance was one of the biggest supporters of forming Pakistan and religion based nationalism. The author needs to first convince those of his own ilk, before pontificating here.

  6. Religion can never guide your preference for food, dress, language. Essentially culture belongs to a region not religion. It is Arabian culture in the name of Islam which is creating so much hatred between communities. The intellectual like Habib never criticize it. In secular country , people also have to secular.

  7. 1. Writer of this article may be aware of fact that the grand old party called Indian National Congress has lost political ground since it failed to reinterpret nationalism as required in 21st Century. It may be said that actually Congress leaders have abandoned truly secular traditions just to secure votes of one minority community. 2. Congress led State government think that they would get back to winning ways by opposing Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). In this context I am reminded of ‘meaningless’ resolutions passed in the Punjab and Rajasthan State Assemblies against CAA. Therefore, I say that actually the vested interests are providing support to those who are making protests against CAA. 3. As I see it, principles of secularism cannot be interpreted to say that the majority should make all sacrifices and minorities (a term which some politicians use to describe people of Islamic faith) be allowed to maintain a separate identity. Secularism will survive in our country only if it serves (a) interests of the majority community and (b) of all minorities. 4. Our Constitution is meant for protection of India’s majority. How can provisions of the Constitution be interpreted to cause permanent damage to the vast majority? I say that it is sheer political opportunism and dishonest interpretation of our Constitution to oppose CAA.

  8. Who is saying that religion should be the basis of nationhood? You Muslims have unfortunately allowed yourselves to be brainwashed into believing that the BJP is making religion the basis of nationhood. If you calmly reflect for a moment you will realize that whatever BJP does, there are parties that twist it around and tell you people, “See? See? They are doing this to beat you”, and you guys swallow it up.
    I’d like the author to reply to my question right here: What is it that the BJP has done that has actually hurt a Muslim? Please tell me. Don’t bring in fears of the unknown; don’t bring in stray incidents such as Aklaq’s, which have always been happening. Don’t bring in statements such as ‘goli maro’ by some nuts. Give me actual instances of where a certain action of the BJP has hurt Muslims. Look beyond the political rhetoric and look at real actions. And give me examples, here and now.
    Dear Mr Habib, please realize that till now Congress was cheating your community; now the AAP has begun to do that. Please realize that your community, like the rest of India, is much better off under the BJP than anyone else–because the BJP doesn’t do anything for this community or that community–whatever it does, it does for the country as a whole.
    Please reflect calmly.

  9. “Prophet Muhammad formed the first Islamic government in Medina, which was based on a covenant signed between the Muslims and the Jews. If the Prophet could do that in the seventh century then why can’t we do it now and form a nation with Hindus and others?”

    Islamic Taqqiyya in play. Please also write how Mohammed broke his covenant at the first chance, and ordered the mass-killing of Jews.

  10. Close to 95% of all muslims, who had voting rights in British India, mosty of Turki lineage, Ashraf class according this author, opted for Pakistan. Hawa me to nahi bana Pakistan. Mr Muhammad Ali Jinnah, a second generation convert, Gujarati, was just a toy in their had. The lowly Classes, of Indic lineage of course had no voting rights….In 1951, the population exchange stopped, cross border trains stopped…and since then rest of the Ashrafs like Owaisi brothers…had no choice but to live in kafiristhan. Land of idol worshippers….to crave out another Pakistan in another decade. Just check their language….as if the Turks are still ruling India.
    CAA is for those indians left behind in those Caliphate – Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh…the real victims of dividing India in the name of Islam.
    Bas bhi karo. Sharam bhi karo.
    Indic Muslims are citizens of India
    Will remain so for ever. But I am not so sure about the Turki class.
    They simply dream to bring back the Turkish Khalifate in India….
    This author is a known Islamist, believer of political Islam, not a republic, a secular republic. That is why he will quote 7th century barbarians from Arabia…
    Remember, Muhammad bin Abdullah was a known desecrator of others places of worship and temple and idol breaker. He maybe a prophet for Arab beduins … definitely not for non believers and idol worshippers like Indic people.
    He is not an icon of democracy, tolerance, diversity, peace, coexistence and spiritual enquiry…but a war leader and a totalitarian dictator. If historical (we jave no proof of that either) He is simple not a Buddha.
    Denounce Caliphate, denounce dictatorship, denounce religious dominance on people’s life…but this man will quote Riyasat al Madina…and go nuts with Caliphates.

  11. What Irfan is writing is problematic in many ways. First, CAA has to be brought in as Pakistan failed completely in its commitment to its minorities over the years. The origin for this idea starts from 1947 onward. So the cause for CAA is external to India. NRC is required as we have huge illegal migration mainly from East Pakistan. So CAA-NRC have nothing to do with any Indian citizen! Besides, CAA is just a one time fast track citizenship for a specified set of people and the normal route for acquiring citizenship for anybody from anywhere is always open. This is as simple as it is. What can be an issue for NRC is the difficulty in producing relevant documents for proving citizenship but this will be an issue for everybody and not for a particular community. Further, the process for NRC has not yet been decided and hence, it is too premature to talk about it. It could just be that a voluntary declaration on oath of being a no-Indian could suffice and these would be given residency card and rest of the population could be given citizenship certificates. Of course, in case of a false oath, law will take its course. Secondly, there is no point now is talking about why someone chose to stay in India in 1947; that is not the issue at all, as it is neither a sacrifice nor a condescension. Once the choice is made, it stays forever but when protests, at times violent and opposition build up affecting the security and integrity of the country, then all doubts come alive in the background of partition and creation of Pakistan.

  12. Maulana Azad was in Gandhi mode and did not migrate to Pakistan in order to serve Muslims of India. In that he was serving Muslim interest and was deadly against Hindu nationalism. In his book – India Wins Freedom, he did not oppose Muslim fundamentals of Jinnah but opposed Hindu nationalism of Sardar Patel.

  13. These eminent historians are a deadly virus. They did their best to ruin Ayodhya Temple case. Now, this man is back in action about CAA. Maulana Azad opposed Partition of India inasmuch he wanted Indian subcontinent to emerge as the biggest muslim populated country in the whole world. There was no lesson to learn from Azad. This writer is an out-and-out Muslim communalist. His progeny are now shouting Pakistan Zindabad even in south India.


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