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The question of social reform

Anjuman-e-Himayat-e-Islam sought to inculcate a modern consciousness among the Punjabi Muslim bourgeoisie

The question of social reform

My last column, Politicians and reformers (July 14, 2019) has drawn constructive criticism from Maria-Magdalena Fuchs, a perceptive scholar pursuing her PhD at the Princeton University, USA. Anjuman-e-Himayat-e-Islam is the topic of her dissertation. Her detailed feedback therefore provides a valuable perspective on the subject. She has mentioned Khalifa Hamid-ud-Din, an Islamic scholar and his pupil, Ghulamullah Kasuri, highlighting their contribution towards the establishment of the Anjuman, which was a response to the Christian missionaries’ aggressive proselytisation of their faith.

Since the main focus of this column is the Anjuman, let me first give a concise introduction. The establishment of the Anjuman was formally announced on September 22, 1884. Qazi Hamid-ud-Din was elected its first president. The Anjuman aimed at working towards the following aims and objectives: to educate Muslim boys and girls; to propagate and defend Islam against attacks by Christian missionaries and Hindu revivalists like Arya Samaj and Brahmo Samaj; and to counteract the propaganda unleashed against Islam (through speeches and publications).

The Risala-e-Anjuman-e-Himayat-e-Islam was brought out in 1885 as the Anjuman’s mouthpiece, which published the principles of Islam. In 1892, the Anjuman established the Islamia College in Lahore, which was elevated to a degree college in 1903. The college’s contribution to Muslim awakening in the region was enormous. Its students played an important role in the Muslim national movement in the Punjab.

In 1939, the Anjuman established the Islamia College for Girls. Besides, the organisation set up educational institutions for arts, sciences and technology for boys and girls and orphanages for the helpless, to which homes for widows were later added. The Moplah orphans, the victims of Bihar and Quetta earthquakes, and later the destitute children and widows of the 1947 holocaust, found shelter at these institutions.

Some very influential people were associated with the cause of the Anjuman. Among them were Nawab Sir Fateh Ali Khan Qazilbash, Mian Sir Muhammad Shafi, Sir Muhammad Iqbal, Sir Abdul Qadir, Munshi Najm ad-Din, Chiragh Din, Shaikh Rahim Bakhsh and Mirza Abd ar-Rahim and Dr Khalifah Shuja-ud-Din. A few of these people had been under Sir Syed’s influence, a fact that has led me to the conclusion that Sir Syed Ahmad Khan was (one of) the main inspirations for the Anjuman to be established, a point that Fuchs does not fully agree with.

Another point worth highlighting is the ashraaf character of the people at the forefront of the Anjuman. Class was a social variable of critical importance in the Anjuman’s agenda. That exactly was what Sir Syed, too, subscribed to. But more important are the questions Fuchs raises at the end of her formulation. I quote her verbatim: “The question is then, how social reform is really defined, and what its actual purposes were. It is difficult to separate it from politics, but most of all, from class and economic interests.” After a great deal of deliberation on how to define social reform, I have been unable to come up with a comprehensive definition applicable to every epoch. Social reform has always been subject to the exigencies of historical context. Its fundamental objective usually is to ensure social stability in a state and society. If the reform process is hampered, then the potential for violent changes, including tectonic shifts, is realised and the occurrence of events like the French and Bolshevik revolutions, with all their travails and tribulations, becomes inevitable.

A social reform movement seeks to change the social status of the marginalised or the under-privileged groups through political action. Social reform movements involve marginalised groups and activists in a bid to change political policy while creating public awareness through protests, amended legislation and the media. At times, as in the case of Indian Muslims, when a community or a group of people lose their position of political ascendancy and are colonised by a foreign power, pre-eminent people within that community take it upon themselves to chart out a reformatory path. People in the vanguard of such social reform belong to the upper strata and their reform agenda is confined to their class. That was what Sir Syed believed in and advocated.

The male belonging to the upper social strata can ensure that the whole community can be brought out of an era of decline and subjugation through embracing modernity, with Western education being the central instrument. The Anjuman-e-Himayat-e-Islam had embraced similar agenda. It worked to inculcate modern consciousness among Punjabi Muslim bourgeoisie. By the first decade of the 20th century, Islamia College in Lahore and Islamia schools in various districts had been established to produce a Muslim leadership, adequately equipped to respond to the emerging challenges. The question of identity was the foremost. To address this question, the Indian Muslim ‘self’ had to be re-invented. Muslim ashraaf exercised the option of doing so in the light of modernity.

One needs to clarify that modernity was not adopted at the expense of tradition. Tradition and history, however, were reconstructed. Shibli Naumani, Syed Amir Ali and Hussain Bilgrami took upon themselves the task of re-discovering the Muslim past and create a new Muslim self. That is the most vital part of any social reform movement. It aims at creating a new self by re-interpreting the past. That is the only way motivation can be invested in the people inhabiting the present.

Despite having a very strong link to their tradition and the golden past, these people could not escape modernity. Thus, the newly-reimagined Muslim self, which Iqbal and other luminaries alluded to, was constituted in the light of the postulates emanating from the enlightenment. The important aspect that ought to be borne in mind is that multiple traditions imbibed different sorts of influences from the postulates of the Enlightenment. Therefore, the social reform movements constructed exclusionary devices and thereby prevented socio-cultural interaction among various communities and factions. This point will be taken up at length in another column.

Tahir Kamran

tahir kamran
The writer is Professor in the faculty of Liberal Arts at the Beaconhouse National University, Lahore


  • Nasir Abbas Nayyar

    A brilliant piece indeed. Mentioning similiraties of Ashraf character and embrace of modernity between Ajuman and Aligargh movement is enlightening. However, the point that Syed Ahmad Khan’s embrace of modernity didn’t ignore tradition needs a little bit more elaboration. I think the notion of modernity Syed formed and disseminated was not western in true sense. By and large Western modernity is an abstract term. Every western country experienced distinct form of modernity. What Syed was advocating in the name of modernity was a product of his engagement with the newness both in terms of historically and epitemilogically under the heavy influence of colonialism. Nothing is more abstract than the idea of tradition. Abstraction is characterised by elusive ness, so remains an open-ended system, giving rise to multiple interpretations. What sort of tradition Syed was trying to affix to his particular notion of modernity needs to be elaborated. Modernity has antagonistic view of traditi

  • Dear Tahir sahib, thank you very much for your generous mention of my work! I would like to point out that Pakistani scholars have already been doing excellent research on the Anjuman-i Himayat-i Islam for many decades. First and foremost among them is Ahmad Sa’id, who formerly taught at the MAO College Lahore and published a book on the history of Islamia College in Urdu: Islamia College Lahore ki sad salah tarikh, 1892-1992 (published by the Pakistan Research Society). I have learned a great deal from Dr. Sa’id’s scholarship and the insights it provides!

    Please allow me to make a minor correction to your listing of the Anjuman’s aims and objectives: they do not mention the Arya Samaj or the Brahmo Samaj. The first objective, translated from Urdu, merely states: “To answer, either spoken or written, and with the proper etiquette (tahzib), objections against Islam, and to defend and propagate the religion’s foundations and principles.” Judging from the sermons given at the Anjuman’s

  • meetings, list of publications sold from its book store, and articles published in its Risalahs and annual reports, the Himayat-i Islam mostly wanted to defend Islam against attacks by Christian missionaries. Actually, the organization had many Hindu and Sikh donors until the early 1920s, among them Sir Ganga Ram. Another objective, as you have rightly pointed out in your text, was to provide welfare for orphaned Muslim boys and girls, a third one to instill a passion for reform in Muslims, and the fourth objective was actually to create loyalty towards the British colonial government in Muslims. Until the late 1930s, the leadership and main body of the Anjuman remained very loyal to British rule.

    Most importantly, you bring up the point of social reform. I believe the Himayat-i Islam was not oriented towards uplifting the marginalized. As I pointed out in my earlier comment, they only took children from sharif families into their orphanages. Both the Islamia High School, which was

  • know as the Madrasat al-Muslimin, or Shairanwala Gate School, and Islamia College charged fees, and even though these were lower than those demanded at Government College or FC College, they restricted its audience to people belonging to the colonial middle classes. It is true that the Himayat-i Islam handed out stipends for poor, by talented and pious students, but those did not come from marginalized classes. Rather, they were the sons of lower clerks, school teachers, traders, shopkeepers, and artisans. Sons of peasants and laborers, who made up the great majority of the Punjab’s population at that time, could not be found among Islamia College’s students. You are right that the question of identity was central: what does it mean to be a Muslim in such radically changing times?, was what the Anjuman asked itself. And you are also correct in stating that the Islamic tradition played an important role. In addition to Shibli Numani and Khalifah Hamid ad-Din, many traditionally-trained

  • scholars were affiliated with the Anjuman, such as Abdullah Tonki, Ashgar Ali Ruhi, Maulavi Nazir Ahmad, Sayyid Zahur al-Hasan (the sajjada nashin of Batala), Maulavi Sayyid Abd al-Hayy and Maulavi Ghulam Muhammad Hoshiarpuri of the Nadwat al-Ulama. The question is not though, whether they engage with the tradition at all, but rather how they do this, and how they reinterpret and treat the Quran, the hadith, early Islamic history and so on. In that sense, I very much agree with Nasir Abbas Nayar’s comment above.

  • I am happy to see such an article which stimulates the thinking process.there are many snags putting name of Iqbal before sir Abdul qadir seems a bit awkward to me as the latter is v senior and rather mentor of Iqbal.
    Looking for social reform in this also does not not seem to be v plausible.literacy rate at that time was not even worth mentioning.education was a previlage enjoyed by few. . Labourers and farmers had no idea of their upliftment.the preachers and imams of Masjid did scarcely included the plight of the downtrodden in their sermons.
    As Maria has stressed it was more in defence of their faith that this Anjuman came into existence
    Seeking Parallel with Sir Syed Ahmad Khan also seems far fetched as the Aligarh movement was aimed towards modern education
    The points raised by Nasir Abbas Nayyar are very pertinent.besides any Society is always heterogeneous in living thinking acting and reacting to a particular situation
    This article needs translation into Urdu n other tongues

  • Dear Arman najmi sahib, thank you for the reply! The Himayat-i Islam was similar to the Aligarh movement in the sense that it also focused on education. It established several girls’ schools in the Walled City starting from 1885, as well as the Madrasat al-Muslimin close to Shairanwala Gate in 1886, and Islamia College in 1892. The Himayat-i Islam believed that education could cure all evils that had befallen the Muslim community. However, by education, they meant a “modern” English education along the lines of Aligarh and Government College. Their curriculum included English literature, natural sciences, maths, geography, economics, history, philosophy etc. Diniyyat, Arabic and Persian were taught as well, but those subjects were much less important and more of an afterthought to pacify Muslim parents. Even though Muslims studied Islam at Islamia College, they only learned select aspects from the Islamic tradition, and many of them filtered through European Orientalism.

  • And I agree with your suggestion that this article should be translated into Urdu!

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