A man who knew the future
The uncanny prescience of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad
BY SHORISH KASHMIRI
In April 1946, at a time when the British Cabinet Mission
was holding its proceedings in Delhi and Shimla, the then Congress
president, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, is said to have given
the following interview to journalist Shorish Kashmiri for a
Lahore-based Urdu magazine, Chattan. Azad made some startling
predictions during the course of the interview, many of which have been
borne out by subsequent events. He envisaged that religious conflict would
tear Pakistan apart, that its eastern half would carve out its own future
and that Pakistan’s incompetent leadership could pave the way for military
The interview has only been published in one book so far,
Kashmiri’s own book on Abul Kalam Azad which was printed by Matbooat
Chattan, Lahore, a now defunct publishing house. Former Indian cabinet
minister Arif Mohammad Khan discovered the book after years of
searching and translated the interview for Covert magazine.
Q: The Hindu-Muslim dispute has become so
acute that it has foreclosed any possibility of reconciliation. Don’t you
think that in this situation, the birth of Pakistan has become inevitable?
A: If Pakistan were the solution of the Hindu-Muslim
problem then I would have extended my support to it. A section of Hindu
opinion is now turning in its favour. By conceding the NWFP [North-West
Frontier Province], Sindh, Balochistan and half of Punjab on one side and
half of Bengal on the other they think they will get the rest of India – a
huge country that would be free from any claims of a communal nature. If
we use the Muslim League terminology, this new India will be a Hindu
state, both practically and temperamentally. This will not happen as a
result of any conscious decision but will be a logical consequence of its
social realities. How can you expect a society that consists 90 per cent
of Hindus, who have lived with their ethos and values since prehistoric
times, to grow differently?
The factors that laid the foundation of Islam in Indian
society and created a powerful following have become victims of the
politics of partition. The communal hatred it has generated has completely
extinguished all possibilities of spreading and preaching Islam. This
communal politics has hurt the religion beyond measure. Muslims have
turned away from the Koran. If they had taken their lessons from the Koran
and the life of the holy prophet and had not forged communal politics in
the name of religion then Islam’s growth would not have halted. By the
time of the decline of Mughal rule, the Muslims in India were a little
over 22.5 million, that is, about 65 per cent of the present numbers.
Since then, the numbers kept increasing. If the Muslim politicians had not
used the offensive language that embittered communal relations, and the
other section acting as agents of British interests had not worked to
widen the Hindu-Muslim breach, the number of Muslims in India would have
The political disputes we created in the name of religion
have projected Islam as an instrument of political power and not what it
is – a value system meant for the transformation of the human soul. Under
British influence, we turned Islam into a confined system; and following
in the footsteps of other communities like Jews, Parsis and Hindus, we
transformed ourselves into a hereditary community. The Indian Muslims have
frozen Islam and its message and divided themselves into many sects. Some
sects were clearly born at the instance of colonial power. Consequently,
these sects became devoid of all movement and dynamism and lost faith in
The hallmark of Muslim existence was striving and now the
very term is strange to them. Surely they are Muslims but they follow
their own whims and desires. In fact, now they easily submit to political
power, not to Islamic values. They prefer the religion of politics, not
the religion of the Koran. Pakistan is a political standpoint. Regardless
of whether it is the right solution to the problems of Indian Muslims, it
is being demanded in the name of Islam. The question is when and where
Islam provided for the division of territories to settle populations on
the basis of belief and unbelief. Does this find any sanction in the Koran
or the traditions of the holy prophet? Who among the scholars of Islam has
divided the dominion of god on this basis?
If we accept this division in principle, how shall we
reconcile it with Islam as a universal system? How shall we explain the
ever growing Muslim presence in non-Muslim lands, including India? Do they
realise that if Islam had approved this principle then it would not have
permitted its followers to go to non-Muslim lands and many ancestors of
the supporters of Pakistan would not have even entered the fold of Islam?
Division of territories on the basis of religion is a contraption devised
by the Muslim League. They can pursue it as their political agenda but it
finds no sanction in Islam or the Koran. What is the cherished goal of a
devout Muslim? Spreading the light of Islam or dividing territories along
religious lines to pursue political ambitions?
The demand for Pakistan has not benefited Muslims in any
manner. How Pakistan can benefit Islam is a moot question and will largely
depend on the kind of leadership it gets. The impact of western thought
and philosophy has made the crisis more serious. The way the leadership of
the Muslim League is conducting itself will ensure that Islam will become
a rare commodity in Pakistan and Muslims in India. This is a surmise and
god alone knows what is in the womb of the future. Pakistan, when it comes
into existence, will face conflicts of a religious nature. As far as I can
see, the people who will hold the reins of power will cause serious damage
to Islam. Their behaviour may result in the total alienation of the
Pakistani youth who may become part of non-religious movements. Today, in
Muslim-minority states, the Muslim youth are more attached to religion
than in Muslim-majority states. You will see that despite the increased
role of the ulema, the religion will lose its sheen in Pakistan.
Q: But many ulema are with Quaid-e-Azam [MA
A: Many ulema were with (Mughal emperor) Akbar-e-Azam
too; they invented a new religion for him. Do not discuss individuals. Our
history is replete with the doings of the ulema who have brought
humiliation and disgrace to Islam in every age and period. The upholders
of truth are exceptions. How many of the ulema find an honourable mention
in the Muslim history of the last 1,300 years? There was one Imam Hanbal,
one Ibn Taimiyya. In India, we remember no ulema except Shah Waliullah and
his family. The courage of Alf Sani is beyond doubt but those who filled
the royal office with complaints against him and got him imprisoned were
also ulema. Where are they now? Does anybody show any respect to them?
Q: Maulana, what is wrong if Pakistan
becomes a reality? After all, "Islam" is being used to pursue and protect
the unity of the community.
A: You are using the name of Islam for a cause that is
not right by Islamic standards. Muslim history bears testimony to many
such enormities. In the battle of Jamal [fought between Imam Ali and
Hazrat Ayesha, widow of the holy prophet], Korans were displayed on
lances. Was that right? In Karbala, the family members of the holy prophet
were martyred by those Muslims who claimed companionship of the prophet.
Was that right? Hajjaj was a Muslim general and he subjected the holy
mosque at Mecca to brutal attack. Was that right? No sacred words can
justify or sanctify a false motive.
If Pakistan was right for Muslims then I would have
supported it. But I see clearly the dangers inherent in the demand. I do
not expect people to follow me but it is not possible for me to go against
the call of my conscience. People generally submit either to coercion or
to the lessons of their experience. Muslims will not hear anything against
Pakistan unless they experience it. Today they can call white black but
they will not give up Pakistan. The only way it can be stopped now is
either for the government not to concede it or for Mr Jinnah himself – if
he agrees to some new proposal.
Now, as I gather from the attitude of my own colleagues in
the (Congress) working committee, the division of India appears to be
certain. But I must warn that the evil consequences of partition will not
affect India alone, Pakistan will be equally haunted by them. The
partition will be based on the religion of the population and not based on
any natural barrier like mountain, desert or river. A line will be drawn;
it is difficult to say how durable it would be.
We must remember that an entity conceived in hatred will
last only as long as that hatred lasts. This hatred will overwhelm the
relations between India and Pakistan. In this situation, it will not be
possible for India and Pakistan to become friends and live amicably unless
some catastrophic event takes place. The politics of partition itself will
act as a barrier between the two countries. It will not be possible for
Pakistan to accommodate all the Muslims of India, a task beyond her
territorial capability. On the other hand, it will not be possible for the
Hindus to stay, especially in West Pakistan. They will be thrown out or
leave on their own. This will have its repercussions in India and the
Indian Muslims will have three options before them:
1. They become victims of loot and brutalities and
migrate to Pakistan; but how many Muslims can find shelter there?
2. They become subject to murder and other excesses. A
substantial number of Muslims will pass through this ordeal until the
bitter memories of partition are forgotten and the generation that had
lived through it completes its natural term.
3. A good number of Muslims, haunted by poverty, political
wilderness and regional depredation, decide to renounce Islam.
The prominent Muslims who are supporters of the Muslim
League will leave for Pakistan. The wealthy Muslims will take over
industry and business and monopolise the economy of Pakistan. But more
than 30 million Muslims will be left behind in India. What promise does
Pakistan hold for them? The situation that will arise after the expulsion
of Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan will be still more dangerous for them.
Pakistan itself will be afflicted by many serious problems. The greatest
danger will come from international powers who will seek to control the
new country and with the passage of time this control will become tight.
India will have no problem with this outside interference, as it will
sense danger and hostility from Pakistan.
The other important point that has escaped Mr Jinnah’s
attention is Bengal. He does not know that Bengal disdains outside
leadership and rejects it sooner or later. During World War II Mr Fazlul
Haq revolted against Jinnah and was thrown out of the Muslim League. Mr HS
Suhrawardy does not hold Jinnah in high esteem. Why only the Muslim
League, look at the history of the Congress. The revolt of Subhas Chandra
Bose is known to all. Gandhiji was not happy with the presidentship of
Bose and turned the tide against him by going on a fast unto death at
Rajkot. Bose rose against Gandhiji and disassociated himself from the
Congress. The environment of Bengal is such that it disfavours leadership
from outside and rises in revolt when it senses danger to its rights and
The confidence of East Pakistan will not erode as long as
Jinnah and Liaquat Ali are alive. But after them, any small incident will
create resentment and disaffection. I feel that it will not be possible
for East Pakistan to stay with West Pakistan for any considerable period
of time. There is nothing common between the two regions except that they
call themselves Muslims. But the fact of being Muslim has never created
durable political unity anywhere in the world. The Arab world is before
us; they subscribe to a common religion, a common civilisation and culture
and speak a common language. In fact, they acknowledge even territorial
unity. But there is no political unity among them. Their systems of
government are different and they are often engaged in mutual
recrimination and hostility.
On the other hand, the language, customs and way of life
of East Pakistan are totally different from West Pakistan. The moment the
creative warmth of Pakistan cools down, the contradictions will emerge and
will acquire assertive overtones. These will be fuelled by the clash of
interests of international powers and consequently both wings will
separate. After the separation of East Pakistan, whenever it happens, West
Pakistan will become the battleground of regional contradictions and
disputes. The assertion of sub-national identities of Punjab, Sindh,
Frontier and Balochistan will open the doors for outside interference. It
will not be long before the international powers use the diverse elements
of Pakistani political leadership to break the country on the lines of
Balkan and Arab states. Maybe at that stage we will ask ourselves what
have we gained and what have we lost.
The real issue is economic development and progress, it
certainly is not religion. Muslim business leaders have doubts about their
own ability and competitive spirit. They are so used to official patronage
and favours that they fear new freedom and liberty. They advocate the
two-nation theory to conceal their fears and want to have a Muslim state
where they have the monopoly to control the economy without any
competition from competent rivals. It will be interesting to watch how
long they can keep this deception alive.
I feel that right from its inception, Pakistan will face
some very serious problems:
1. The incompetent political leadership will pave
the way for military dictatorship as it has happened in many Muslim
2. The heavy burden of foreign debt.
3. Absence of friendly relationship with neighbours and
the possibility of armed conflict.
4. Internal unrest and regional conflicts.
5. The loot of national wealth by the neo-rich and
industrialists of Pakistan.
6. The apprehension of class war as a result of
exploitation by the neo-rich.
7. The dissatisfaction and alienation of the youth from
religion and the collapse of the theory of Pakistan.
8. The conspiracies of the international powers to control
In this situation, the stability of Pakistan will be under
strain and the Muslim countries will be in no position to provide any
worthwhile help. The assistance from other sources will not come without
strings and it will force both ideological and territorial compromises.
Q: But the question is how Muslims can keep
their community identity intact and how they can inculcate the attributes
of the citizens of a Muslim state.
A: Hollow words cannot falsify the basic realities nor
slanted questions make the answers deficient. It amounts to distortion of
the discourse. What is meant by community identity? If this community
identity has remained intact during the British slavery, how will it come
under threat in a free India in whose affairs Muslims will be equal
participants? What attributes of the Muslim state do you wish to
cultivate? The real issue is the freedom of faith and worship and who can
put a cap on that freedom. Will independence reduce the 90 million Muslims
into such a helpless state that they will feel constrained in enjoying
their religious freedom? If the British as a world power could not snatch
this liberty, what magic or power do the Hindus have to deny this freedom
of religion? These questions have been raised by those who, under the
influence of western culture, have renounced their own heritage and are
now raising dust through political gimmickry.
Muslim history is an important part of Indian history. Do
you think the Muslim kings were serving the cause of Islam? They had a
nominal relationship with Islam; they were not Islamic preachers. Muslims
of India owe their gratitude to Sufis, and many of these divines were
treated by the kings very cruelly. Most of the kings created a large band
of ulema who were an obstacle in the path of the propagation of Islamic
ethos and values. Islam in its pristine form had a tremendous appeal and
in the first century won the hearts and minds of a large number of people
living in and around Hijaz. But the Islam that came to India was
different, the carriers were non-Arabs and the real spirit was missing.
Still, the imprint of the Muslim period is writ large on the culture,
music, art, architecture and languages of India. What do the cultural
centres of India, like Delhi and Lucknow, represent? The underlying Muslim
spirit is all too obvious.
If the Muslims still feel under threat and believe that
they will be reduced to slavery in free India then I can only pray for
their faith and hearts. If a man becomes disenchanted with life, he can be
helped to revival but if someone is timid and lacks courage then it is not
possible to help him become brave and gutsy. The Muslims as a community
have become cowards. They have no fear of god; instead, they fear men.
This explains why they are so obsessed with threats to their existence – a
figment of their imagination.
After British takeover, the government committed all
possible excesses against the Muslims. But Muslims did not cease to exist.
On the contrary, they registered a growth that was more than average. The
Muslim cultural ethos and values have their own charm. Then, India has
large Muslim neighbours on three sides. Why on earth will the majority in
this country be interested [in wiping] out the Muslims? How will it
promote their self- interest? Is it so easy to finish 90 million people?
In fact, Muslim culture has such attraction that I shall not be surprised
if it comes to have the largest following in free India.
The world needs both a durable peace and a philosophy of
life. If the Hindus can run after Marx and undertake scholarly studies of
the philosophy and wisdom of the West, they do not disdain Islam and will
be happy to benefit from its principles. In fact, they are more familiar
with Islam and acknowledge that Islam does not mean parochialism of a
hereditary community or a despotic system of governance. Islam is a
universal call to establish peace on the basis of human equality. They
know that Islam is the proclamation of a messenger who calls to the
worship of god and not his own worship. Islam means freedom from all
social and economic discriminations and the reorganisation of society on
three basic principles of god-consciousness, righteous action and
In fact, it is we Muslims and our extremist behaviour that
has created an aversion among non-Muslims for Islam. If we had not allowed
our selfish ambitions to soil the purity of Islam then many seekers of
truth would have found comfort in the bosom of Islam. Pakistan has nothing
to do with Islam; it is a political demand that is projected by the Muslim
League as the national goal of Indian Muslims. I feel it is not the
solution to the problems Muslims are facing. In fact, it is bound to
create more problems.
The holy prophet has said, "God has made the whole earth a
mosque for me." Now do not ask me to support the idea of the partition of
a mosque. If the nine crore Muslims were thinly scattered all over India
and a demand was made to reorganise the states in a manner to ensure their
majority in one or two regions that would be understandable. Again, such a
demand would not have been right from an Islamic viewpoint but justifiable
on administrative grounds. But the situation as it exists is drastically
different. All the border states of India have Muslim majorities sharing
borders with Muslim countries. Tell me, who can eliminate these
By demanding Pakistan we are turning our eyes away from
the history of the last 1,000 years and, if I may use the League
terminology, throwing more than 30 million Muslims into the lap of "Hindu
Raj". The Hindu-Muslim problem that has created political tension between
the Congress and the League will become a source of dispute between the
two states and with the aid of international powers this may erupt into
full-scale war any time in the future.
The question is often raised that if the idea of Pakistan
is so fraught with dangers for the Muslims, why is it being opposed by the
Hindus? I feel that the opposition to the demand is coming from two
quarters. One is represented by those who genuinely feel concerned about
imperial machinations and strongly believe that a free, united India will
be in a better position to defend itself. On the other hand, there is a
section who opposes Pakistan with the motive to provoke Muslims to become
more determined in their demand and thus get rid of them. Muslims have
every right to demand constitutional safeguards but the partition of India
cannot promote their interests. The demand is a politically incorrect
solution of a communal problem.
In future, India will be faced with class problems, not
communal disputes; the conflict will be between capital and labour. The
communist and socialist movements are growing and it is not possible to
ignore them. These movements will increasingly fight for the protection of
the interests of the underclass. The Muslim capitalists and the feudal
classes are apprehensive of this impending threat. Now they have given
this whole issue a communal colour and have turned the economic issue into
a religious dispute. But Muslims alone are not responsible for it. This
strategy was first adopted by the British government and then endorsed by
the political minds of Aligarh. Later, Hindu short-sightedness made
matters worse and now freedom has become contingent on the partition of
Jinnah himself was an ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity. In
one Congress session Sarojini Naidu had commended him with this title. He
was a disciple of Dadabhai Naoroji. He had refused to join the 1906
deputation of Muslims that initiated communal politics in India. In 1919
he stood firmly as a nationalist and opposed Muslim demands before the
Joint Select Committee. On October 3, 1925, in a letter to The Times of
India, he rubbished the suggestion that the Congress is a Hindu
outfit. In the All-Parties Conferences of 1925 and 1928 he strongly
favoured a joint electorate. While speaking at the national assembly in
1925, he said, "I am a nationalist first and a nationalist last" and
exhorted his colleagues, be they Hindus or Muslims, "not to raise communal
issues in the House and help make the Assembly a national institution in
the truest sense of the term".
In 1928 Jinnah supported the Congress call to boycott the
Simon Commission. Till 1937, he did not favour the demand to partition
India. In his message to various student bodies, he stressed the need to
work for Hindu-Muslim unity. But he felt aggrieved when the Congress
formed governments in seven states and ignored the Muslim League. In 1940
he decided to pursue the partition demand to check Muslim political
decline. In short, the demand for Pakistan is his response to his own
political experiences. Mr Jinnah has every right to his opinion about me
but I have no doubts about his intelligence. As a politician, he has
worked overtime to fortify Muslim communalism and the demand for Pakistan.
Now it has become a matter of prestige for him and he will not give it up
at any cost.
Q: It is clear that Muslims are not going to
turn away from their demand for Pakistan. Why have they become so
impervious to all reason and logic of arguments?
A: It is difficult, rather, impossible to fight
against the misplaced enthusiasm of a mob but to suppress one’s conscience
is worse than death. Today the Muslims are not walking, they are flowing.
The problem is that Muslims have not learnt to walk steady; they either
run or flow with the tide. When a group of people lose confidence and
self-respect, they are surrounded by imaginary doubts and dangers and fail
to make a distinction between the right and the wrong. The true meaning of
life is realised not through numerical strength but through firm faith and
righteous action. British politics has sown many seeds of fear and
distrust in the mental field of Muslims. Now they are in a frightful
state, bemoaning the departure of the British and demanding partition
before the foreign masters leave. Do they believe that partition will
avert all the dangers to their lives and bodies? If these dangers are real
then they will still haunt their borders and any armed conflict will
result in much greater loss of lives and possessions.
Q: But Hindus and Muslims are two different
nations with different and disparate inclinations. How can unity between
the two be achieved?
A: This is an obsolete debate. I have seen the
correspondence between Allama Iqbal and Maulana Hussain Ahmad Madani on
the subject. In the Koran, the term qaum has been used not only for
the community of believers but has also been used for distinct human
groupings generally. What do we wish to achieve by raising this debate
about the etymological scope of terms like millat [community],
qaum [nation] and ummah [group]? In religious terms, India is
home to many people – the Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Parsis, Sikhs, etc.
The differences between the Hindu religion and Islam are vast in scope.
But these differences cannot be allowed to become an obstacle in the path
of India gaining her freedom nor do the two distinct and different systems
of faith negate the idea of unity of India. The issue is of our national
independence and how we can secure it. Freedom is a blessing and is the
right of every human being. It cannot be divided on the basis of religion.
Muslims must realise that they are bearers of a universal
message. They are not a racial or regional grouping in whose territory
others cannot enter. Strictly speaking, Muslims in India are not one
community; they are divided among many well-entrenched sects. You can
unite them by arousing their anti-Hindu sentiment but you cannot unite
them in the name of Islam. To them Islam means undiluted loyalty to their
own sect. Apart from Wahhabi, Sunni and Shia, there are innumerable groups
who owe allegiance to different saints and divines. Small issues like
raising hands during prayer and saying ‘Amen’ loudly have created disputes
that defy solution. The ulema have used the instrument of takfir [fatwas
declaring someone an infidel] liberally.
Earlier, they used to take Islam to the disbelievers; now
they take away Islam from the believers. Islamic history is full of
instances of how good and pious Muslims were branded kafirs. Prophets
alone had the capability to cope with these mind-boggling situations. Even
they had to pass through times of affliction and trial. The fact is that
when reason and intelligence are abandoned and attitudes become fossilised
then the job of the reformer becomes very difficult.
But today the situation is worse than ever. Muslims have
become firm in their communalism; they prefer politics to religion and
follow their worldly ambitions as commands of religion. History bears
testimony to the fact that in every age we ridiculed those who pursued the
good with consistency, snuffed out the brilliant examples of sacrifice and
tore the flags of selfless service. Who are we, the ordinary mortals; even
high-ranking prophets were not spared by these custodians of traditions
Q: You closed down your journal, Al-Hilal,
a long time back. Was it due to your disappointment with the Muslims who
were wallowing in intellectual desolation or did you feel like [you were]
proclaiming azan in a barren desert?
A: I abandoned Al-Hilal not because I had lost
faith in its truth. This journal created great awareness among a large
section of Muslims. They renewed their faith in Islam, in human freedom
and in consistent pursuit of righteous goals. In fact, my own life was
greatly enriched by this experience and I felt like those who had the
privilege of learning under the companionship of the messenger of god. My
own voice entranced me and under its impact, I burnt out like a phoenix.
Al-Hilal had served its purpose and a new age was dawning. Based on
my experiences, I made a reappraisal of the situation and decided to
devote all my time and energy to the attainment of our national freedom. I
was firm in my belief that the freedom of Asia and Africa largely depends
on India’s freedom and Hindu-Muslim unity is key to India’s freedom.
Even before the First World War, I had realised that India
was destined to attain freedom and no power on earth would be able to deny
it. I was also clear in my mind about the role of Muslims. I ardently
wished that Muslims would learn to walk together with their countrymen and
not give an opportunity to history to say that when Indians were fighting
for their independence, Muslims were looking on as spectators. Let nobody
say that instead of fighting the waves, they were standing on the banks
and showing mirth at the drowning of boats carrying the freedom fighters.
(This article was published in Covert magazine,
November 1, 2009.)
Courtesy: Covert; www.covertmagazine.com