Review by Ismaeel Nakhuda – Islamica Magazine, Autumn Issue 2005
Since partition in 1947, India has been witness to a great deal of sectarian violence, not to mention Kashmir and the various wars fought with neighbouring Pakistan.
With rivalry so intense in the sub-continent, it is a sad reality that Indian Muslims are viewed contemptuously as a fifth column. During the Gujarat pogroms in 2002, right-wing Hindutva fanatics ripped through Muslim neighbourhoods chanting slogans such as: “Go to Pakistan, or otherwise to Qabrastan (graveyard).”
Sadly many Indians, Muslim and Hindu, are oblivious of the contribution of the Muslim populace, especially the Ulemah, towards securing a free and secular India. Describing this as ‘a tragic irony’, D.R Goyal, a veteran journalist, author and promoter of minority rights and communal harmony, says that in academia the effort of Indian freedom fighters such as Mahatma Ghandi and Jawaharlal Nehru has been acknowledged where as the struggle of the Ulemah has largely gone by unnoticed.
With an aim of creating religious harmony, Goyal attempts to fill this academic vacuum by presenting a biographical study of the political life of Maulana Sayed Husain Ahmad Madni (1879 – 1957).
Unfortunately, very little of the works and biographies of the Ulemah of Indo-Pak has been translated from Urdu into English. So it is a novelty to come across an English biography of one of the foremost Alims the subcontinent has seen in the last century and that also written by a non-Muslim.
In a nutshell, Maulana Husain Ahmad Madni, or Sheikhul-Islam as he became widely known in the sub-continent, spent a number of years throughout his political life incarcerated in British prisons.
In 1916, after the Ottomans were driven out from the Hejaz, Madni, who was resident at the time in Medina-Munawwarah and teacher at the Prophet’s Mosque, was arrested in Makkah al-Mukarramah by the British together with his teacher Sheikhul-Hind Maulana Mahmudul-Hasan, who was in his 80s. The two were taken to Cairo with a number of other Indian Ulemah and accused of plotting to overthrow the British Raj with the aid of the Ottomans.
After being questioned in Cairo, the Ulemah were sent to the island of Malta (the British Guantanamo Bay of World War One), where they spent four years without charge or trial until their release in 1920.
Upon their return to India, both Sheikhul-Hind and Maulana Madni began to rally Muslim support for the non-violent non-cooperation movement spearheaded by Ghandi. Until the British left India in 1946, Sheikhul-Islam remained fervently involved in the freedom movement, being arrested on a number of occasions and even serving two separate jail sentences of two years each in various prisons across India.
Goyal covers the above but mainly focuses on the political nature of the Maulana as an advocate against the ‘two-nation theory’ and a champion of inter-religious peace.
With brief references to the Maulana’s lineage as a Hussaini Sayed, family life, education, Tasawwuf and teacher of traditional Islamic sciences, the book is certainly a delight to read. In fact, Islamaphobic elements in Indian society would be abhorred to read about the patriotism emanating from a graduate and teacher of Darul-Uloom Deoband, dubbed baselessly by much of the Indian right-wing press ‘an institute of terror’.
By and large Goyal adequately achieves his objective in presenting the political life and contribution of an Indian scholar in successfully gaining freedom for India from an imperial power. Interestingly, he also gives the reader a brilliant insight into the manner by which the British implemented ‘divide and rule’ policies to sow distrust between Hindus and Muslims during Congress and Muslim League negotiations for independence.
Goyal also makes a unique point about how post-partition; Sheikhul-Islam would use his influence to grant safety to destitute Muslims in non-Muslim dominated areas and would lobby the government to secure the respect and custody of abandoned Darghas (Sufi Shrines) in Indian Sikh-dominated Punjab. Goyal writes that this is indicative of the ‘Maulana’s liberal attitude’ towards other Sunni Muslim groups ‘because the Sunni Islam that he himself (Madni) practised and preached did not approve of the worship’ at such sites.
The life of Sheikhul Islam Maulana Husain Ahmad Madni is an epic in itself. For readers wanting to know more about the Maulana from an Islamic perspective in relation to his education at Darul-Uloom Deoband, family background, his Tasawwuf as a Chishti-Sheikh, migration to Medina al-Munawwarah, teaching of classic Islamic texts in the Prophet’s Mosque, impressions of living under the Ottomans, imprisonment with his teacher in Malta, his return to India and involvement in politics, role as teacher of Hadeeth at Darul-Uloom Deoband and immense sorrow at the time of partition, then the autobiography of the Maulana, Naqsh-e-Hayat (recently translated into English from the original Urdu) would be a definite must.
Naqsh-e-Hayat is sure to stir compassion and pity for the Maulana and is a testimony to the sacrifice and selfless service of Indian Ulemah for the betterment of not only Indians, Muslims and otherwise, but for all colonised nations irregardless of religion.
With India and Pakistan coming close to war on every random issue from Kashmir to Cricket, perhaps the words of Sheikhul-Islam would be most appropriate: “The good of the entire country, nay the whole of Asia, demands that the relations between the two countries (India and Pakistan) should be friendly, the two should have mutual trust and all the differences should be resolved peacefully. The common people on both sides should come close and develop maximum possible trade and economic relations.”