Abul Kalam Azad's legacy provides the counter-narrative for radical Pan-Islamism

After the end of World War 1 and with the establishment of League of Nations, the idea that all the nations should have their separate homelands had become a fundamental truth. According to this modern concept of nation-formation, a nation is formed by a common land, a common tradition, a common history, a common language and a common culture. Only this concept of nation-state is valid today in the modern world.

The sovereign, territorial nation-state is a fundamentally different ensemble of governing practices from city-states and traditional imperial states. The city-state is a territorially small, independent urban conurbation that constitutes an autonomous political entity. It represented itself within an ensemble of governing practices that involved an intensive logic of place. That is, its representations of power and authority invoked a history and mythology of its distinctive place. The best historical examples of such entities are the city-states of ancient Greece (Athens, Sparta, etc.), the cities of the Hanseatic League along the coast of what is today Northern Germany (Bremen, Hamburg, Danzig, etc.), and the republican cities in what is now Northern Italy (Venice, Genoa ,Pisa, etc. ) during the early Renaissance. A contemporary city–state is Singapore, which occupies only 641 square kilometers, an area smaller than New York City.

The modern nation-state is also different from the traditional imperial state. The central government of traditional empires, such as the Roman, Chinese, Inca, Syrian and Zulu had only limited, sustained authority over the extensive territory of the empire, which was internally fragmented and ethically heterogeneous, being composed of numerous culturally distinct tribal societies. They did not exhibit a sense of what today would be called “nationalism.” The frontiers of traditional empires were not internationally recognized as boundaries are today. Boundaries were simply the limits of military expansion that could be moved outward at will through additional conquests. Thus, there was no recognition of “inter-imperial: rights or law, that is, no globalized system of empires.

The modern nation-state is a unique creation of specific historical, political, social and economic circumstances. It is different from city-states and traditional empires in that the nation-state claims sovereignty over a fixed territory. Through governing practices and artifacts, nation-states diffuses a singular identity within the bounded space their borders arbitrarily but legally enclose. The sovereign territoriality of a state is represented by a capital city, a flag, an anthem, a passport, a currency, armed forces, national museums and libraries, embassies in other sovereign states and usually a seat in the United Nations. Today’s global world comprises about 203 recognized nation-states.

The general presumption amongst the Muslims is that the modern concept of nation-states contradicts the teachings of Islam. Most of the Muslims believe that Islam puts forward the concept that all the Muslims are a single nation. They should not have separate nation-states rather they should give up their national identities and must strive for a single state for all the Muslims around the world: caliphate.

If we study the ideologies of most of the Islamist terrorist organizations (like ISIS, Al-qaedaetc) thoroughly, we shall see that they follow this approach and their aim is to establish caliphate: a singular state for all the Muslims. This concept of Pan-Islamism is responsible for most of the terror around the world and hence must be countered and removed.

When it comes to countering Islamic terrorism and presenting a counter narrative for some of the things which are mostly considered as un-Islamic by most of the Muslims like secularism and nationalism, one must be definitely aware of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad.

There is none other than Abul Kalam Azad in the Indo Pak history who was par excellence in wisdom, erudition and clarity of thought. The nation aspire for such leaders and wait for centuries to have one like Abul Kalam Azad. He was an esteemed literary figure, poet, religious scholar and a unique statesman.

Of the leading tolerant Muslims who have left a deep impact on the idea of pluralism in Islam, Maulana Azad stands out unique. Abul Kalam Azad was a man of constant introspection and critical self-examination. His contribution to Indian nationalism and Hindu-Muslim unity in India, and to the idea of universal humanism is tremendous. As such Maulana Azad will not only be remembered in the history of India for the role he played in the national liberation movement of the country, but he will also be considered as a Muslim leader who stood for a dialogue among Muslims and Hindus.

After 1920 a radical change appeared in the views of Maulana Azad and he ceased to be a revivalist Muslim and embraced Indian secular nationalism as a political philosophy. The evolution of Azad’s outlook from Pan-Islamic to secular nationalist, with no doubt, was determined by his friendship and collaboration with Mahatma Gandhi and by the rise of the communal problems in the Indian liberation movement. Through Gandhi, Azad learned that communal harmony played an important role in the future of India. He believed that in spite of religious, ethnic and linguistic differences, India was one nation. Azad believed that the “two-nation theory” offered “no solution of the problem of one another’s minorities, but only lead to retribution and reprisals by introducing a system of mutual hostage.” [Maulana Azad: India Wins Freedom]. Like Gandhi, Azad considered Hindu-Muslim unity as a necessary principle for the national reconstruction of India. In his famous address to the Agra session of the Khalifat Conference on August 25, 1921, he referred to Hindu-Muslim unity as a moral imperative for the future of India. He proclaimed: “If the Muslims of India would like to top perform their best religious and Islamic duties…then they must recognize that it is obligatory for the Muslims to be together with their Hindu brethren… and it is my belief that the Muslims in India cannot perform their best duties, until in conformity within the injunctions of Islam, in all honesty, they establish unity and cooperation with the Hindus. This belief is based on the imperative spirit of Islam.”

He was a staunch believer in Hindu-Muslim unity and was never ready to accept an independence which may divide the two communities, he said at a special session of All Indian National Congress:

 “If an angel were to descend from the clouds today and settle on Delhi’s Qutab Minar and proclaim that India can win Swaraj (self-rule) within two hours provided that India renounces Hindu-Muslim unity, then I would renounce Swaraj and not unity. Because if Swaraj is delayed that is a loss to India, but if unity is lost that is a loss to humanity.”

Pandit Nehru, in one of his tributes to Azad, once said:

“He represented and he always reminded me of what I have read in history about great men of several hundred years ago, say if, I think of European history, the great men of the Renaissance, or in a later period, of the Encyclopaedists who proceeded the French Revolution, men of intellect, men of action. He reminds me also of what might be called the great qualities of olden days the graciousness of them… He was a peculiar and very special representative in a high degree of that great composite culture which has gradually grown in India.” 

Paying tribute to his versatile genius, Nayaz Fatehpuri wrote:

“If he had focused on Arabic poetry, he would be a Mutanabbi and Badiuz Zaman. If he had taken on the reformation of law and religion, he would be the Ibn Taimiya of his age. If he had dedicated himself to philosophy, he would be no less of a peripatetic philosopher than Ibn Rushd and Ibn Tufail. If he had turned his attention to Farsi poetry and literature, he would find a place along with Urfi and Nazeeri. If we was inclined towards Tasawwuf and renovation, he would be no less than al Gazzali and Rumi. And if he had taken on applied Shariah, he would be a Wasi Bin Atta…..”

"I am a Muslim and this fills me with pride”, he proclaimed in his Presidential Address in 1942 at Ramgarh. “But in addition to these feelings, I am also the possessor of another, which has been created by the stark realities of my external life. The soul of Islam is not a barrier to this belief: in fact, it guides me in this path. I am proud to be an Indian. I am an integral part of this unified and impartible nation.” 

He once said: “It is one of the greatest frauds on the people to suggest that religious affinity can unite areas which are geographically, economically, linguistically and culturally different”. [India Wins Freedom]

With Islamic terrorism threatening and tearing the whole world apart by their radical Islamic Ideology, the teachings of Maulana Azad and the way he learnt and understood Islam can serve as a counter-narrative to challenge such evil ideologies. Although the sub-continent got divided in August,1947, Maulana Azad’s message of tolerance, interfaith harmony and coexistence is still alive and must be propagated amongst the Muslim society to reform and change the extremist mindset prevalent.

Ammar Anwer is a student with an interest in philosophy, rationalism and politics

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