Resurgence of Muslim identity in colonial times



March 19, 2022

Resurgence of Muslim identity


Hoor Asrar reflects upon an important matter

At no point during their existence in the subcontinent did the Resurgence of Muslim identity lose their sense of separate identities. When they were rulers their identity was obviously dominant but even when they lost the power to rule they were acutely aware of their moorings and never compromised on them. Mired in the intricacies of the colonial British rule they, for some time, found it cumbersome to bring about a resurgence of their identity as they were not only faced by the new rulers but also by a gradually challenging majority that was unwilling to accept them as a separate entity and was putting pressure on them with a view to pin them down and come under socio-cultural subjugation. Muslims, off course, could not take such attempts lying down and tried hard to find a way out of this quagmire.
Acutely aware of this problem Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and his colleagues prepared the groundwork for reform by adopting English and Urdu for their writings and by underlining the urgency of modern education, gender rights and a better understanding on all sides. After 1857 and official retribution, several missionary organisations also felt energised in their evangelical efforts and a few of them even began questioning the validity of the divine origins of Islam. Although the British colonial administration avoided overt patronization of evangelical enterprises, despite sympathies and favourable attitudes at individual levels, Western missionaries knew that many Indians, overwhelmed by the British status and power, might be tempted to convert. Muslims were equally aware of this eventuality and prepared to face it.
On the other hand Muslim religious scholars started holding elaborate and well-publicised debates with their Christian counterparts but serious Muslim intellectuals engaged themselves in scholarly works to refute a Western assault on Islam. Among these early Muslim jurists and scholars of Islamic history, Syed Ameer Ali was a pioneer historian who authored a profoundly sound book known as The Spirit of Islam along with a Short History of Saracens that proved to be extremely timely historical studies of authoritative nature. These books presented the history of Islam not only as a rebuttal of Western and missionary scholarship on Islam but also provided the means of empowering an evolving Muslim middle class. Syed Ameer Ali was the beneficiary of modern education but resented the defensive and apologetic attitudes of some of his fellow countrymen.
It became obvious that there was some resistance to reforms and modern education in northern India but southern regions were quite receptive with the result that cities like Bombay and Madras had a growing number of Muslim middle class professionals. The Mughal decline has deprived the traditional Muslim seminaries of the much needed official patronage in northern India facing tremendous isolation but in the south, their counterparts had, for a long time, fended for themselves and were not keen on seeking official patronage. The glaring example of this attitude was witnessed in Bombay where Justice Badruddin Tyabji established the Anjuman-i-Islam School in 1876, aimed at imparting modern education and this valuable addition to the academic field proved durable and it still exists today. He was one of the earliest Muslim leaders to advocate women’s education and perhaps the first Indian Muslim to send his daughters abroad for advanced studies.
Punjab was also at the forefront of the resurgence of Muslim identity where many similar anjumans including the Anjuman-i-Islamia in Lahore and Amritsar, opened schools for young men, whereas Anjuman-e-Himayat-ul-Islam pioneered schools for both girls and boys in central Punjab. The annual sessions of the Anjuman-e-Himayat-ul Islam played a leading role in creating cultural consciousness among Muslims in Lahore, Amritsar, and Gujranwala. It was here that the future poet-philosopher Allama Iqbal first gave his entry by started to recite poems at the Anjumans annual sessions with the cadres of Muslim Leaguers during the 1940s came from similar urban middle class backgrounds.
Going forward with this line of action, government College Lahore was founded in 1864 as a premier institution. Punjab University, Aitchison College (Chiefs College), and Mayo School of Arts—all located in Lahore—were founded during the subsequent decades. The Anjumans also opened up Islamia Colleges in Lahore and Amritsar and the Islamia College in Peshawar and Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental (MAO) College in Lahore were founded by charity organisations to answer the growing demand for modern education among younger Muslims. Missionary women had initiated some work for women inside homes but they largely focused on health matters and subsequently on education. The nineteenth-century Muslim reformers had dexterously prepared groundwork for education and primary schools for girls began to appear soon after 1857. The earliest contributions in this area were by Maulvi Mumtaz Ali, a vocal advocate of Muslim women’s rights, who authored a persuasive book, Huquq-un-Niswaan (Rights of Women), and led a debate on this topic.
It was noted that Maulvi Mumtaz Ali was a contemporary of Syed Ahmed Khan and believed in the complete equality of men and women. As a matter of fact, Syed Ahmed himself was an ardent supporter of women’s rights, as is evident from his incomplete commentary on the Quran. He was devoted to the cause of imparting modern education to Muslims and his influence was felt far and wide in the Muslim population of the subcontinent. Muslims, in great numbers agreed to lend their support for his MAO College at Aligarh. Maulvi Mumtaz Ali was an equally devoted reformer fervently believing in granting equal rights to Muslim women and owing to his relentless zeal for gender empowerment he published his volume and helped many future reformers in their efforts. He argued his case for gender equality on the basis of the Quran and Hadith, something unthinkable in those days when women of all persuasions remained totally homebound.
In the same vein Sheikh Abdullah, another early Muslim reformer, advocated women’s education and established a women’s school in Aligarh, which subsequently was elevated into a full-fledged college at a later stage. The reformist efforts of Abdul Latif and help for Syed Ahmed from wealthy Muslim Bengali families reaffirmed the desire among many Muslims for trans-regional alliances. Some of the educated Muslim families such as the Mians in Lahore and Suhrawardies in Bengal pioneered sending their women to schools. These early role models helped overcome existing prejudices against women’s education among urban groups. Efforts for universal education by Muslim pioneers in Punjab, such as Mian Muhammad Shafi were quite significant, as he sent his own daughters to the institutions of higher learning and encouraged their participation in active politics in the decades preceding Partition.
The Urdu renaissance at Lahore, which began in the late nineteenth century, not only created several literary masterpieces in fiction, poetry, drama, history and journalism but also helped sustain an urban and self-confident Muslim community in northern India. This was certainly a modernist approach to begin the resurgence of Muslim identity and the future proved that this approach was the right approach that ultimately created tremendous identity awareness within the Muslims of the subcontinent. This identity formation was also sided by antagonistic attitude of the majority community gradually paving the way for a separate homeland. TW

Read More

Hoor Asrar Rauf has remained a national swimming champion and recently Graduated from UCF-USA in Hospitality and Event Management


The writ of international law
The writ of international law
M Ali Siddiqi looks at a crucial...
Resurgence of fascism
Resurgence of fascism
M Ali Siddiqi describes a dangerous...
President Xi Jinping
XI on his way to ruling China for life
M Ali Siddiqi talks about apparent...
Governance and equitable distribution of resources
Governance and equitable distribution of resources
M Ali Siddiqi talks about Governance...
The Need For Pakistan
The Need For Pakistan
M A Siddiqi expresses surprise...
The Presence And Essence Of Pakistaniat
The Presence And Essence Of Pakistaniat
M Ali Siddiqi describes a strong...

Get Newsletters


Subscribe Us