CHENNAI: Muhammad Ali Jinnah, once described by a British author, as the “most important man in Asia” and who went on to become the founder of Pakistan, may have perhaps never assented to the 'Two-Nation' theory of a 'Hindu-majority' India and a 'Muslim-majority' Pakistan, had it not been for the untimely demise of his sweetheart and beloved wife, Ruttie, the only child of the Parsi business magnate Sir Dinshaw Petit, in 1929.
Mentored in politics by moderate visionaries like Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Dadabhai Naoroji, Jinnah in the formative days of his political career in the early 1900s', enjoyed a unique position even as he was struggling to firm up his Law practice in Bombay. Jinnah was perhaps one of the few who were members of both the Indian National Congress (INC) and the Muslim League (ML). That conferred him a unique status as “ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity”.
And then when Jinnah, at 40, fell in love with Ruttie, it created a mini-storm. Dinshaw rebuffed his proposal to marry his daughter, until in 1918, Ruttie, “converted to Islam and married Jinnah according to Muslim rites.” The story goes on about how his marriage began to “fall apart”. There were serious differences between the two - their only daughter Dina years later also married a Parsi in Neville Wadia, who had converted to Christianity. And in 1929, Ruttie passed away after her serious illness. “In the same year, hope for Hindu-Muslim unit also died,” writes Ali Mahmood in this voluminous work, 'Muslims- The Real History'.
Suffering in “agony and despair” after his wife had passed away, Jinnah then left for London to attend the Round Table Conference and as “one of the fifty-eight delegates of British India, he still hoped for Hindu-Muslim unity. However, at the conference was another “famous delegate, the poet and philosopher, Mohammad Iqbal, who openly rejected Hindu-Muslim unity and argued strongly in favour of the partition of India,” writes the author.
“For almost a decade, Jinnah resisted the idea of partition; in political eclipse, he decided to settle in England and give up politics in India. He bought a house in Hampstead, in London and brought over his sister Fatima to look after Dina, while he resumed his legal practice,” recounts Ali Mahmood in a delectable piece of historical memory.
“The quiet years spent in London seemed to be the end of Jinnah's political career. He felt defeated, saying, 'I began to feel that neither could I help India, nor change the Hindu mentality. I felt so disappointed and depressed that I decided to settle down in London.' In 1933, Liaquat Ali Khan, who was to become Pakistan's first Prime Minister after partition, came to London and persuaded Jinnah to return.”
Back in India, the elections held in 1937, the first after Provincial Assemblies were created under the 1935 GOI Act, “gave an overwhelming victory to Congress.” Jinnah's perceptions began to change. In 1940, “Jinnah finally gave up the quest for Hindu-Muslim unity,” writes Ali Mahmood. Subsequent developments were such that “nothing could stop the birth of Pakistan”.
However, after Independence and the birth of two states amid the bloody partition, Jinnah lived for only 13 months. Liaquat, the first Prime Minister of Pakistan was subsequently assassinated. With one casualty after another, “democracy withered as Martial Law and rule by the generals took Pakistan within ten years of the Quaid's death,” writes Mahmood. Subsequent decades were no better, more so after the creation of Bangladesh.
“And finally, Jinnah's Islam- moderate, tolerant and supportive of women's rights- was replaced by General Zia's Islam and the fundamentalist civil strife that followed, leading to violent deaths of Bhutto, Zia, Benazir and many others. Had Jinnah survived, he would have been heartbroken by the Pakistan of today that is so far removed from his dream,” thus concludes the author his chapter on Jinnah.
It is such lesser-known facets and interesting aspects, lucidly told that makes Ali Mahmood's 460-pages account on the Muslims - spanning nearly 14 centuries from the year Muhammad, the Prophet, was born in 570 AD in Mecca to the present times, including the “seeds of terror laid by US war in Afghanistan” and not to ignore Donald Trump's ban “on the entry of Muslims from seven countries into America”-, a readable book of popular history.
The eclectic approach of the author Ali Mahmood, educated in UK and Pakistan, in Politics, Economics and Law and a Pakistani politician and businessman, tries to unravel the multiple dimensions to this historical narrative, even if it may not be considered a strictly academic work; his work also portrays the killings, plunder, usurpations and other ugly facets of Muslim dynasties across eras. His broad sweeps, at places chatty, and finer details that come from the pen of a well-informed person, reflect the chronicler's thirst for objectivity to the extent possible. The text, comparatively less judgmental in alluding to different religious cultures, though the narrative is also underpinned by the 'clash of civilizations', should also hopefully make social science students less cynical of the past.
At the beginning, Ali indicates what impelled this work, researched for over five years: “Today, the word 'Muslim' brings up visions of oil, petrodollars, jihad or terrorism, and veiled women. They have become the key issues that define the relationship of the Muslim world with the West. But, we need to look beyond the sensational headlines and breaking news and consider who the real Muslims are - the silent moderate majority, or the aggressive fundamentalist minority; the suited doctors and heart surgeons, or the turbaned executioners of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) with their slave girls captured in war?” Despite the polarization after 9/11 terror attack, the 'West' is also to blame, feels the author.
Thus in a sense, the book is revisiting the history of 'Muslims' in the light of a deluge of developments, contemporaneously and in the recent past, say with the first major global 'oil shock' in the early 1970s', when the Middle East began to have a firmer grip on the 'global energy politics' and access to oil as a resource, a key driver of industrialization and technology development post World War-II.
The scope of the subjects covered is truly vast and the author has managed to squeeze in a lot of information and issues. Right from the days of the rise of the Prophet, the basics that gave Islam a political tinge, more than the other Judeo-Christian religions, the differing perceptions on 'Jihad' itself in Early Islam and in modern times and the status of women in Islam, are well analysed. Mahmood has a fascinating chapter on the 'The Golden Years of Islamic Civilization', wherein under the reign of Harun al Rashid and his son Mamum, it made great strides in the sciences, including mathematics, physics, astronomy, medicine and architecture. And thanks to their forays into translation, the knowledge created by the Greeks moved out of the Mediterranean.
China and India were two other “great centres of knowledge”, but they were separated by both distance and language then. But Muslim conquest “removed the geographical barriers”, while translations “removed the barriers of language.” “The century of translation brought Aristotle, Plato, Hippocrates, Galen, Euclid and Ptolemy onto the library shelves in Baghdad,” writes the author. In the reverse flow centuries later, the 'Upanishads' from India went to Europe, again thanks to translation.
That was the 'golden era' (roughly late eighth to tenth century AD), when Cordoba- capital of Muslim Spain and Cairo, were the home to the World's first great universities. Knowledge began to move, thanks to the dedicated translators under the Caliphates. A scholar like Al-Khwarizmi, a mathematician, acknowledges that he learnt the concept of 'Zero' from Hindu mathematicians. With trade and conquests, urbanization also moved.
Succinctly capturing that trend, the author writes: “Today, the great cities of the world are London, New York and Paris. In the golden years of Islamic Civilization, the cities that amazed the world were Baghdad, Cordoba and Cairo. As centuries passed, they were replaced by Agra and Delhi, home to the Moguls of India; Isfahan, the seat of Shah Abbas; Istanbul, the capital of Ottoman; and Samarkand, the city of Tamerlane the conqueror.”
The political dynasties of Iran, the rise and fall of the Ottomans, the inquisitions in Spain, rise of modern Egypt, last but not least, the ascent of Saudi Arabia as a great power in the 20th century thanks to its oil wealth, right up to the Taliban the Americans created to fight the Russians and the challenges that Islam faces today, add to the narrative's richness.
All these show that religions may not give up their 'core' positions in their textual theology, but religions also at another level change considerably, with pushes and pulls of a modern, industrialized political economy. Ali Mahmood has done well to open our eyes to those living signs of inclusivity....