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.