All For a Song: Vande Mataram and the Jamiat’s Patriotism. By Yoginder Sikand


The furore stoked by the media over a recent declaration by a faction of the Jamiatul-Ulema- e Hind declaring the singing of the song Vande Matram to be un-Islamic has, not unexpectedly, been seized upon by vociferously anti-Muslim elements to press their claim of Muslims being ‘anti-national’. The fact that this song is undeniably Hindu and polytheistic, and that the novel of which it forms a part is unabashedly anti-Muslim is well-known, making the reservations that many Muslims (along with other monotheistic Indians) about it quite understandable. What many Muslims are asking, a legitimate question that the media has failed to seriously raise, is why one’s attitude to a song (and that too in a language that few Indians understand) should be made the litmus test of Indian patriotism. What many Muslims also demand to know is how long they must continue to be forced by Hindu communalists to bear the burden of being compelled to prove their patriotic credentials.
At the same time, however, many Muslims are also asking why the Jamiat decided to rake a controversy about the Vande Mataram at this particular juncture. Was it to do with the ongoing rivalry within various factions of the Jamiat leadership of late that has delivered a major blow to the image of the organization among Muslims? Was it a clever ploy on the part of Mahmood Madani, the head of the Jamiat faction that passed the resolution, to grab media attention and to present himself as spokesperson for the Muslims of India? Was it a reflection of how out-of-tune the Jamiat’s diehard mullahs are with contemporary social realities?
The Deobandi mullahs of the Jamiat may be irredeemably conservative, even obscurantist, on a whole host of issues, but one thing that they cannot be accused of is disloyalty to India. The role of leading ulema of the Jamiat in the anti-colonial struggle and in opposing the creation of Pakistan is a story of which the Jamiat is justly proud of, and one that should serve to silence critics who are now raising questions about its patriotic credentials. The pro-Hindu slant of our education system has, lamentably, led to this glorious story being wiped out of our school textbooks, leaving the vast majority of Indians completely ignorant of a very vital chapter in the country’s history.
A recently-reprinted Urdu booklet published by the Jamiat provides the best guide to the Jamiat’s committed patriotic stance since pre-1947 times. Those who, ignorant of the Jamiat’s history, charge it for being allegedly anti-national simply for its position on Vande Mataram would do well to read it (Sadly, the Jamiat, despite the massive funds at its disposal, has not translated it into English or various other Indian languages). The booklet’s title ‘Hamara Hindustan Aur Uske Fazail’ (’Our India and Its Glories’), brilliantly encapsulates the Jamiat’s firm commitment to Indian patriotism.
The booklet consists of two essays, one by the late Maulana Hussain Ahmad Madani, former Jamiat President (and, incidentally, paternal grandfather of Mahmood Madani, head of the faction of the Jamiat that recently issued the statement about Vande Mataram), and the other by the late Maulana Syed Muhammad Miyan, one-time General-Secretary of the Jamiat. The essays were first published sometime in the early 1940s, in opposition to the Muslim League’s demand for Pakistan and to rebut the claim (one that continues to be made today by Hindu chauvinists) that Indian nationalism is necessarily synonymous with ‘Hindu nationalism’ and that the Indian Muslims simply cannot not be loyal to their country.
Maulana Madani begins by arguing that India has a special place in Muslim tradition. Hence, he stresses, the Muslims of the country should consider themselves ‘particularly honoured to have been born in India’, and that they must also work for the welfare and unity of the country. Contrarily, to demand the partition of India, he argues, would be to defy the Divine Will itself. He writes that Muslim tradition has it that God directed Adam, the first man and the first prophet, to be sent down to earth to India. It was thus from India that the human race sprang from Adam’s progeny. This implies, he writes, that the Indian Muslims must consider India as their ‘ancient home’ (watan al-qadim). In addition, he refers to the Quran as mentioning that God has sent prophets to every nation, taking this to mean that prophets must have also been sent to India as well. This, he says, is further suggested by the fact the numerous Muslim saints have ‘discovered’, through ‘spiritual encounters’, the graves of various prophets in India. Since, as the Quran says, the primal religion taught by all the prophets of God, including those who were possibly sent to India, was one and the same—al-Islam (’The Surrender’)—it is obvious, he suggests, that from ancient times onwards, even prior to the advent of the last prophet, Muhammad, Islam has been present in India. In fact, Maulana Madani argues, ‘it is an unchallengeable fact that from the very beginning India has been the land of Islam (islam ka watan)’.

India, Maulana Madani insists, is as much the motherland of the Muslims as it is of other communities in the country. He goes so far as to claim that Muslims do, or at least should, display an even greater concern for India’s welfare than other communities because while many Hindus burn their dead and throw their ashes into rivers, and the Parsis let vultures feed on their dead, the Muslims bury their dead in the bosom of the earth, in the very soil of their motherland. In contrast to the Hindus and the Parsis of the country, the mortal remains of the Muslims remain in India in their graves and shall remain so till the Day of Judgment. The Hindus believe in reincarnation of the dead, and there is no guarantee that their dead would be reborn in India, while the Muslims believe they shall remain in their graves till the Day of Judgment. Hence, Maulana Madani argues, it is only the Muslims who remain faithful to India even after their death. This itself means, he writes, that Muslims are, or should be, even more attached to India and concerned about its welfare than people of other communities.
No community can, therefore, claim a monopoly of Indian patriotism, Maulana Madani insists, challenging Hindu assertions to the contrary. Just as the Aryans, the Huns and the Greeks came to India and settled here and made this their home, he writes, so did the early Muslims. The only difference between the Muslims and the others is that the former arrived in India earlier. In fact, Maulana Madani argues, the Muslims, as a whole, can be more legitimately said to be the original inhabitants of India, since the vast majority of the Indian Muslims are descendants of converts from India’s pre-Aryan aboriginal people. Hence, he asserts, it is completely misleading to claim that India is not the land of the Muslims or that it belongs to the Hindus alone. The welfare of all the communities of India, including the Muslims, depends on the overall welfare of the country, and this is yet another reason why the Indian Muslims must love and serve their country, he argues.
Maulana Miyan’s piece, titled ‘Sarzamin-e Hindustan Ke Fazail’ (‘The Blessings of India’), echoes the same views as Madani’s, stressing the claim that the Indian Muslims are bound to ‘love’ and ‘serve’ India primarily because Islam commands them to do so. Like Madani, Miyan claims that India has been accorded a special status by God Himself. He bases his thesis on an Arabic text written by the eighteenth-century Indian Muslim scholar, Ghulam Azad Bilgrami, which puts together reports attributed to the Prophet Muhammad that are said to refer to the ‘glories’ of India.
Quoting Bilgrami, Miyan writes that while Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem are, undoubtedly, the ‘most holy’ places in the world, Muslim tradition has it that India, too, is a ‘blessed land’. According to narrations from such several early Muslim figures as Imam Ali (cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet) and Ayesha (one of the Prophet’s wives), Adam was sent down to earth to India, to the island of Serendib or modern-day Sri Lanka, while Eve was sent to Jeddah. Adam then travelled to Arabia, where he met Eve at a place near Mecca. After building the Kaaba at Mecca, Adam took Eve with him and returned to India, where they settled down and had children. The incident involving the sons of Adam, Cain (Qabil) and Abel (Habil), occurred, or so Miyan says, in India. After Abel was killed by Cain,Adam had another son, Sheesh, who, according to some accounts, is buried in the town of Ayodhya, which is sacred to many Hindus today. Adam is said to have undertaken forty pilgrimages (haj) from India to Mecca on foot. He is also said, some ulema claim, so Miyan tells us, to have died in India and to have been buried here.
This close connection between Adam and India points to what Miyan claims to be the obvious fact that Muslim tradition accords to India the status of a ‘blessed land’. This suggests, Miyan writes, that India had a special place in God’s scheme of things for the world, which Muslims living in the country need to recognise. The fact that Adam first appeared in the world in India means that the world’s first dar ul-khilafa (’abode of the Caliphate’) was India, because this was where God’s first khalifa or deputy was sent down. The island of Serendib or modern-day Sri Lanka, which can be said to be, in some sense, part of ‘greater India’, was the first place in the world where God sent his revelation. Adam, the first man and the first prophet, was made out of ‘Indian soil’. Since Adam is the father of all human beings, including all the other prophets and the saints, the rest of humanity was also fashioned out of the ‘mud of India’, or so Miyan claims.
To reinforce his argument of India being accorded the status of a ‘blessed land’ in the Islamic tradition itself, Miyan notes that some Muslim scholars believe that the oath of ‘alast’, which the Quran refers to, also took place in India. On that occasion, God gathered all the souls of men who would appear in the world till the Day of Judgment and addressed them, asking them if He was not their Lord. All the souls answered that He indeed was. This shows, Miyan writes, that India was the country where the ‘slaves’ of God first acknowledged Him as Sustainer, from which started the long chain of spiritual advancement of humanity. Through this incident the land of India was ‘brightened by the light of all the prophets’, Miyan writes.

According to the Quran, Miyan adds, at the time of taking the above-mentioned oath, another oath was taken from all the prophets, in which each prophet testified to the prophet who would succeed him.
Since the chain of prophets ended with Muhammad, every other prophet testified on that occasion to Muhammad being a prophet, reposing faith in him and promising to help him. This second oath, too, was taken in India, Miyan claims. Hence, Miyan writes, ‘India is that holy (muqaddas) land where the chain of religious instruction (rashd-o-hidayat), and knowledge of the closeness of God (ma‘arif-e qurb-e ilahi) and salvation in the hereafter (nijat-e akhiravi)’ had their origins.
The claim of God having chosen India to send Adam to has other crucial implications, Miyan suggests, which reinforce the special place that India is said to occupy in the Muslim tradition. Miyan writes,echoing a view held by many Sufis, that the first thing God created was the noor-e muhammadi or the ‘light of Muhammad’. This light was first put into Adam and was then transferred through all the prophets till it reached the Prophet Muhammad when he appeared in Mecca. Because Adam lived in India, the first time that the noor-e muhammadi appeared on earth was in India, and the last time that it appeared was in Arabia, this establishing a firm spiritual link between the two lands.
All these ‘facts’, Miyan argues, stresses the need for the Indian Muslims to recognise that ‘it is our good fortune that this India is our beloved country’. Because India is said to have held a special place in God’s plan for the world, Miyan argues, God has blessed it with numerous assets. The source of all good things is heaven,and whatever good things are found on earth are a limited reflection of their heavenly counterparts. All good things that are found in the world were first brought by Adam to India, from where they spread to the rest of the world, or so Miyan claims.
Besides the alleged Adam connection, Miyan marshals other ‘evidence’to put forward his claim of India’s special status in Islamic terms.Thus, he writes that some Muslim scholars believe that Noah built his ark in India, and that India was unaffected by the Great Flood in Noah’s time. In addition, several companions of the prophet, thousands of Muslim saints, martyrs and pious ulema made India their home and died and were buried here. All these facts clearly suggest, Miyan contends, that from the Islamic point of view the ‘greatness’ of India is ‘undeniable’. Hence, he stresses, it is the religious duty of the Muslims of India to work for the sake of the unity and prosperity of the country as a whole. Hence, too, he suggests, the claim of Hindu chauvinists that only Hindus can be genuine Indian patriots and that Muslims, by definition, cannot, must be challenged and countered.
Not being a national chauvinist, I do not agree with all that Maulanas Madani and Miyan wrote in fulsome praise of India. Nor do I share all of their interpretations of alleged Muslim traditions about India, which several Islamic scholars believe to be weak and of doubtful authenticity. Some of these interpretations I find, to put it mildly, completely outlandish. Be that as it may, they certainly serve as a resounding answer to those who have now pounced upon the Jamiat’s resolution on the Vande Mataram song to brand the Jamiat, and, with it, the entire Indian Muslim community, as ‘unpatriotic’ and ‘anti-nationalist’.

(Yoginder Sikand works with the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Social Policy at the National Law School, Bangalore)

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