Friday, March 1, 2024
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Need to Reassess Composite Nationalism

Asad Mirza

Composite Nationalism as espoused by Hussain Ahmad Madani in early 20th century, holds validity even today also, besides becoming more relevant and giving a new interpretation to nationalism.

Husain Ahmad Madani was a traditional Islamic scholar and a political activist, as well as an advocate of both a unified global Islamic polity and an Indian nation- state democracy, in which Muslims and non-Muslims were to consider one another as equal members of the same nation; and each of these aspects is demonstrated in his seminal work Muttaḥida Qaumiyyat Aur Islām (Composite Nationalism and Islam) published in 1938.

It provides an analysis of the Islamic intellectual tradition from someone considered to be a conservative and which can be seen to accommodate a secular governmental order for a Muslim minority.

Barbara D. Metcalf in introduction to the book had said, ‘The assumption that a scholar like him was motivated by some “hermetic” Islam is thus misplaced,’ and he was ‘one of the most important Muslim figures in the history of twentieth-century South Asia’.

Madani, as a traditional Islamic scholar, clothes his vision in terms of an Islamic consciousness; in other words, it is not merely Muslim consciousness - i.e. the thoughts of someone who happens to be Muslim - but it is set forth as being scripturally coherent and faithful. He argued that Indian Muslims and non-Muslims possess a ‘united nationalism’ (Muttaḥida Qaumiyyat).

Madani’s discussion of Qaumiyyat or nationalism can be seen as keeping with the age in which he lived, described as one in which ‘nationalism [was] without doubt the most influential of the world’s political creeds during much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries’.

Within the context of the many debates surrounding notions of nation, nationalism, nation-state, citizenship, culture, multiculturalism, etc., Madani’s work provides an argument for how Muslim minorities can be fully integrated and socially cohesive, without being considered disloyal to their faith or their compatriots.

Madani’s Theory of United Nationalism

Written in the final days of the British Raj, Madani’s theory of united nationalism was ostensibly composed in response to misgivings that poet Allama Iqbal expressed about united nationalism, in which he saw - to use Madani’s characterisation – united nationalism as ‘unethical’ and ‘un-Islamic’ for ‘Indian Muslims’.

As a result, Madani’s response was to fit with the main aims of his life, which were: removal of British rule from India through a uniting of the various religious groups in India. Towards these goals, one can understand certain points regarding Madani’s theory, which he always contends is in conformity with the principles of Islamic law: namely, Muslim and non-Muslim Indians are one Qaum or nation, and must unite against their common foe; Islam is the final religion of truth, for the whole of mankind, and it provides the strongest bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood that humans can attain; Muslim minorities can accept living under secular political law, but their ‘personal law’ must be safeguarded under such a government.

Madani builds his case – citing the ‘Madinah Pact’ and using the Arabic language, the Holy Qur’an and the Prophet’s teachings – explaining the notion of nationalism or Qaumiyyat as comprising communities or aqwām.

Ultimately, although Madani does not directly address the complexities of race, his urge for Indian unity between Muslims and non-Muslims can be used for a call of greater togetherness amongst races, cultures or ethnicities (as one chooses to define such ‘groupings’).

Yet Madani’s sense of not losing one’s own identity in such a social enterprise entails retaining the notion of Islam’s finality and acknowledging that greater bonds of brotherhood exist between Muslims.

He wrote, “By united nationalism I mean here ‘nationalism’, the foundation of which was laid down by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in Madinah. That is to say that the residents of India as Indian, as a nation united (having religious and cultural diversity), should become one solid nation and should wage war against the alien power that has usurped the natural rights of the citizens of this great country.

“It is incumbent upon every Indian to fight against such a barbaric regime and break the shackles of this slavery. In this regard, one should not hinder another’s religion; rather, all nations (or communities) residing in India are free to follow their religions and moral values, and act as per their respective religious traditions. While maintaining peace and tranquillity, they should also publicise their ideology.

Indeed, they should all follow their respective culture, promote and protect their own personal law. Neither should a minority interfere in the personal affairs of other minorities or the majority, nor should the majority strive to absorb the minority in itself.”

In summation, it is apparent that Muslims can form a nation with non-Muslims and it is neither an undue interference in religious affairs nor is it against the spirit of common welfare that Islamic law envisages. So a Muslim, while (faithfully) observing his religion, can join hands with non-Muslims and can become a nation as they have lived earlier.

Further, it becomes obvious that Madani’s interpretation of Qaumiyyat or nationalism, was not applicable only during that time, but it is relevant even more, today also.

It would be more prudent if the current dispensation can try to include the interpretation of nationalism as espoused by other thinkers also, including Madani, to their own theory of nationalism. Only this act would be able to provide a more sustainable and growth-oriented approach to tackle many ills confronting out nation, today.

Besides promoting this interpretation of nationalism, not only India will be able to handle many of its current issues but will also be able to influence the global narrative of the concept, and thus be really seen as a ‘Vishwa Guru’.

(Asad Mirza is a political commentator based in New Delhi. He was also associated with BBC Urdu Service and Khaleej Times of Dubai. Email: [email protected] can also be contacted on

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