Book Review: A brief history of Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat

Majlis-e-Mushawarat: Ek Mukhtasar Tareekh AIMM

Author: Mohammad Ilmullah

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Pages: 198

Publisher: Pharos Media & Publications Pvt. Ltd, D-84 Abul Fazl Enclave – 1, Jamia Nagar, New Delhi-110025, India. Email: [email protected]

Disunity, lack of an effective representative body and absence of visionary and sincere leadership are some of the inherent drawbacks one comes across during discussions on the plight of Indian Muslims. However, hardly does one reflect upon one’s own role, inaction and disinterest in the ongoing efforts being made by others.

Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat, or simply Mushawrarat as it is generally known, has been in existence since 1964 and has been working in various ways to represent and highlight the challenges facing the Indian Muslims. This is, however, a pity that no effort had been made to record on how this body was formed, what it has done since its creation and how it has survived through difficult times and multiple challenges.

Mohammad Ilmullah’s book Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat: Ek Mukhtasar Tareekh in Urdu provides a timely, objective and honest assessment of the failures and achievements of Mushawarat. Despite not so easily available documents whatever the author could lay his hands upon, he has made full use of newspaper clips, resolutions, correspondence and related documents and provides a comprehensive history and background of the establishment of the organisation. He begins with a comparison between the 1857 upheaval of the so called mutiny, in which Muslims paid the heaviest price of their history, and from where the decline of Indian Muslims started and takes his readers to the depressing fall back of partition of the sub-continent in 1947. He writes:

“Historical evidences reveal that except few aspects, the disaster that Indian Muslims had to face in 1947 as a whole was far more severe than the havoc of 1857.”

The gravity of the situation led some Muslim leaders, most active of them Qazi Adeel Abbasi, to hold a consultative meeting in 1959 in Basti, UP.

This was followed by a “Muslim Convention” organised by Maulana Hifzur Rahman and Professor Humayun Kabeer on 11-12 June 1961 in Delhi; as usual much to the annoyance of the Government. According to Syed Sabahauddin Abdur Rahman:

“Dr Saheb narrates that Pundit Nehru did not like holding the Convention. But disregarding his displeasure he went ahead in organising the Convention and was elected as its Chair. This was the first ever large gathering of Muslims held 13 years after the country’s independence. His address in it, as the Chair, was very forceful. Some extracts of his speech reverberated all over the country. In it he said that ‘Muslims are being treated like criminals, traitors and as second class citizens. Muslims will not accept the status as second class citizens at any cost.’ Pundit Nehru had mixed reactions to these allegations. He was saddened by the points raised by his old comrade and expressed his displeasure with Dr Saheb. But according to Dr Saheb, Pundit Jib found himself compelled to say: ‘Although I consider the second class citizen’ allegation as wrong; yet when someone like Syed Mahmood is saying this, we must give it a thought. This is a matter of shame that due to our shortcomings Muslims are thinking like this.’”

But sadly this convention did not remain free from intrigues and internal differences. Maulana Abul Lais Islahi was boycotted because in Government’s view Jamaat-e-Islami was a “communal” and “anti-national” organisation. According to Maulana Abul Hasan Nadvi:

“Despite our intention and promise to attend the Convention about which information had already been given to Maulana Hifzur Rahman saheb prior to the meeting, I and my respectable colleague Maulana Mohammad Manzoor Naumani, did not attend. Maulana Hifzur Rahman was also saddened with this. The reason was that prior to the meeting an announcement was made that this would be a joint meeting of all the Muslim organisations and that it would be attended by all those Muslim leaders, and others who took interest in Muslim affairs. But at the prime time Maulana was faced with the dilemma either to postpone the Convention or to exclude from the list of invitees the names of Ameer of Jamaat-i-Islami Maulana Abul Lais Islahi, his associates and the leaders of Muslim League. The publicity of the Convention and its arrangements had reached to such a climax that to postpone it was very difficult. He then at the eleventh hour opted for the latter option. We therefore apologised from attending the meeting and also sent a press release to newspapers saying that because this convention was not a fully independent a representative meeting of all Muslims anymore.”

The Convention did go ahead and was attended by about 600 leaders. A look at the agenda of that Convention is a painful reminder of the fact that nothing has changed since 1961. Far from improving the condition of Indian Muslims and solving their problems listed in that agenda new problems such as the problem of Muslim youths being implicated in false cases of terrorism or involved in beef business have been added to the long list of demands and grievances.

While Muslim leaders were trying to arrive at some consensus on how to deal with that fast deteriorating situation, it was in 1964 that a series of anti-Muslim riots gripped several cities in Bihar, Orissa, West Bengal and Assam. According to late Syed Ameenul Hasan Rizvi, editor weekly Radiance, so severe were these riots that,

“Muslims were shaken by these riots to their core and situation became so serious that large number of Muslims in these areas in desperation started thinking of migration. This was a very disturbing situation that shook some of the concerned endowed with far sight and impelled them to do something about it. With this also dawned the realisation that no party or organisation was in a situation that could meet this challenge, fully, on its own. Therefore some of them took the incentive and initiated a discussion.”

Because of this common concern a conference was held, 9-8 Aug 1964, in Lucknow. In an atmosphere of despair and bewilderment, hopes and expectations aroused by this conference gained some ground and that is reflected in an excerpt from a piece in Nida-e-Millat, one of the most popular Urdu weeklies of that time.

“This is highly possible that the consultative meeting of different Muslim organisations and groups going to be held in Lucknow on 8-9 Aug will be a milestone in the modern history of Indian Muslims. The need of such a representative meeting of this kind was being felt for many years in sincere and conscience circles of the millat. The June 1961 convention held in Delhi under the auspices of Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind was meant to serve this very purpose…Sadly, for some reasons, some of the important Muslims organisations could not be invited, or they were unable, to attend that convention. However, thanks God, the consultative meeting to be held on 8-9 Aug did not face any such hurdle. It should be credited to the selflessness and sincerity of the real initiator and organiser of this meeting Dr Syed Mahmud that along with the two major and powerful organisations, i.e. Jamiat-e-Ulema, and Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, representatives of all sects are attending it.”

This was the first ever opportunity in independent India when Deobandis, Barelvis, Ahl-e-hadith, Shi’a, Bohara and all other sects ignored their differences and assembled on one common platform. The Convention adopted a resolution containing several points including the proclamation to form a consultative body.

After reading a selection of editorials and reports excerpted in the book one is struck with a mixture of sadness and disbelief that how come even after such successful and sincere efforts, the community is still so divided and disorganised. Keeping in view the present situation, and specially the recently organised Sufi Conference, and comparing it to the mood reported in Zindagi published from Rampur:

“The consultative meeting of Indian Muslims held in Lucknow on 8-9 Aug 1964 is a milestone in their history. Not only of the post-independence India, there is no example of such a unique congregation even in the distant history. Coming together of people of different religious beliefs and practices onto one stage to brainstorm on the problems being faced by the community itself is a very pleasing event. Another aspect that was very heart-warming for any Muslim was the religious and communal atmosphere that dominated throughout all of the proceedings and no one was seen unmindful of his duty towards Allah. The display of such heedfulness [especially] in a meeting like this that had assembled to reflect and discuss political affairs and where participants represented various different political ideologies, had not been seen for ages. Sense of being conscious of one’s Muslimness, and final answerability on the Day of Judgement while discussing issues had, it seemed, disappeared from our political gatherings…”

After the formation of Mushawarat, its leaders toured the country with a message of peace and communal harmony. Some of the non-Muslim leaders and social activists who joined and helped the Muslims in this journey and mission were Nanjibhai Patel, Pundit Sundarlal, Mansukh Lal Dube, socialist leader S M Joshi Dr Jan Singh Pundit and Takhat Mal Jain.

According Syed Ameenul Hasan Rizvi:

“Mushawarat had made [to create] communal amity and unity between Hindus its first goal and for this made mass contacts its priority. This strategy was soon put into action. Mushawarat leaders started touring [different areas] in groups. In the beginning respectable figures like Pundit Sundarlal and other fair-minded Hindus too accompanied them. Wherever the Mushawarat delegation went it was warmly received. The main reason of it was that whoever they met, be it in a special gathering of VIPs in a town or a general public meeting, their only message was love, brotherhood, communal harmony and mutual trust. This message penetrated deep in the hearts of the people and Mushawarat’s programme became a topic of the time… As a result the weakening confidence of Muslims started to strengthen and the thought of migration started evaporating from their minds…”

However, right at the time when Mushawarat was gaining popularity and its message of peace was getting wide acceptance, the 1967 elections approached. This was the time when some of its members thought that that was the right time to participate in electoral politics and fight elections while others strongly opposed it. Dr Abdul Jalil Faridi was one of those who vigorously supported the idea of participating in the elections while Dr Syed Mahmud opposed with equal forcefulness. A letter by Maulana Syed Abul Hasan Nadvi to Dr Mahmud shows that he too was in favour of participating in those elections. In a lengthy letter written to allay Dr Mahmood’s anger, Maulana said:

“Despite my inhibitions and disposition and against my family traditions, I am in favour of Muslims’ meaningful participation in the elections… and through this election, after which we will have to wait for five years, I definitely want to convey the message to the powerful party and the Government that Muslims are dissatisfied and unhappy… The party in power will have to address their [Muslims’] issues with sincerity and determination…and the party thus will not be allowed to assume that the country has been mortgaged to it.”

By organising a Jamhoori [Deomocratic] Convention Jameeat had already parted its ways in 1965. However, its impact on Muslims was not as big as the division within the Mushawarat. This also led to the resignation of its main architect and first President Dr Syed Mahmud. After him Mufti Atiqur Rahman Usmani was elected as its President. He served the Mushawarat to the full of his capacity. However, the fact that despite his ill health and frailty Mufti Saheb was kept going as its President is in itself a painful commentary on the affairs of Mushawarat. However, one has to admit that despite having been a resource less, office less and centre less for the last so many years, the organisation has remained active and is still alive is no less than a miracle.

In 1983 when Mufti Saheb was still Mushawarat’s President, Sheikh Zulfiqarullah and Syed Shahabuddin were made as vice presidents. Most of the work was done by Shahabuddin Saheb though. During this period Mushawarat got split into two groups and matters went as bad as that even some individuals who did not have good reputation in financial dealings managed to join its cadre. This period also saw the formation of a parallel organisation, the Milli Council.

As its Working Vice President Shahabuddin Saheb gave Mushawarat a new life. He introduced new but necessary amendments in its constitution. It was in his tenure as President that Mushawarat managed to acquire a proper office (According to the writer of the book Maulana Shafi Moonis had played an important part in this), Mushawarat’s bulletin was started, an office clerk and an office secretary were appointed, several successful seminars on important issues were organised and Mushawarat was widely re-introduced within and outside India also.

However, despite his untiring efforts Mushawarat could not reach to common people. According to the writer there are various reasons of it but he specifically mentions only two. He writes:

“During this period Mushawarat’s official language was changed from Urdu to English which is not the language of communication of Muslims and those educated in madarsas. Similarly Syed Shahabuddin tried to recruit among members those who were connected more to VIPs than ordinary people…retired high officials, judges, lawyers professors etc.”

The fact, however, is that, no matter how painful it is for us, the language of communication of younger generation of Muslims is Hindi not Urdu. As far as Deeni Madarsas are concerned, most of them support an individual or an organisation on the basis of which sect or peer they follow. (While writing these lines I am reminded of an attack by the students of Darul Uloom Deoband, instigated by Jamiat leadership, on a public meeting of Mushawarat in Deoband, near Madarsa Asgharia, in 1966 when I was about seven. Obviously, I was very young to understand the complexities of politics then but I do remember our elders talking in the morning that Mufti Atiqur Rahman Saheb had to flee to save his life. (But I have been told by my father that Dr Abdul Jaleel Faridi while discussing issues with a Hindu MP whose name he can’t remember too had to run for their lives.) However, lack of interest of younger generation in the affairs of Mushawarat is a serious issue that needs to be looked into seriously.

One has to agree with the writer’s observations about Dr Zafrul Islam Khan who recently completed his tenure as Mushawarat’s president. He writes:

“Dr Zafrul Islam Khan is a known figure in academic and social circles in India. His name as an author of a number of books in Arabic, English and Urdu, as a researcher, a translator and as the editor of Milli Gazette was already known in academic circles and in the community. After taking the reins of Mushawarat, he got more opportunities to work for the community. His contribution is reflected in the work he undertook in the rehabilitation of riot affected people in riot torn areas, publication of fact finding reports following these incidents, letters written to various ministries and relevant authorities to control these incidents. In addition to having meetings with the Prime Minister, organising sit-ins and conferences and raising a voice from the platform of Mushawarat against Muslims being implicated in terrorism and other actions taken against them there are several issues he has tried to solve.”

The author has reviewed all of the periods of previous presidents of Mushawarat with praiseworthy honesty and impartiality. And in doing so he has provided some interesting insights and pieces of information. For example we learn that Islamic Cultural Centre at Lodhi Road, Delhi, owes its existence to Mushawarat and that losing its control is one of the failures of Mushawarat. The establishment of such a centre was one of the projects of Mushawarat. Its plan was presented to Mrs Indira Gandhi by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, on 12 March 1974, during an 11 member delegation meeting headed by Mufti Atiqur Rehman Usmani.

According to Abid Raza Bedar:

“With help of Justice Hidayatullah, the centre was allotted a piece of land, in front of Mausam Bhawan, to mark the Hijrah celebrations. Hakeem Abdul Hameed Saheb donated Rs 12 lakh for the purchase of the land. A society was registered for the Centre. Hakeem Abdul Majeed Saheb was elected its chairman, Mufti Atiqur Rahman Usmani Saheb as Vice President, Tayyabji Director, and M W Yusufzai, Abidah Begum, S M Shafee and Choudhry Arif etc were registered as members. Few days later when Hakeem Saheb resigned from his position, another committee was formed whose new head was Begum Abidah, Director General Moosa Raza and then Mohammad Afzal.”

Now Mushawarat’s reins are in the hands of a new leadership. It’s newly elected president Naveed Hamid Saheb’s background is in contrast to all previous presidents. He is basically an activist and one hopes and prays that under his leadership Mushawarat will become stronger and more vibrant organisation and the bitterness witnessed following recent elections will never be seen again.

Mushawarat is an important an invaluable asset of Indian Muslims that needs to be strengthened. The opinion expressed by Maulana Abul Hasan Nadvi is as relevant today as it was in 1984. Then he said:

“The structure of Mushawarat still exists but has lost the zeal, spirit and vibrancy that Muslims had shown by welcoming it during the first five years of its creation. (You do not know: maybe Allah will cause something to happen to pave the way ‘for reconciliation—Qur’an, At-Talaq, 68:1’. Its need and benefits remain the same. No alternative of this federal unity has been found yet.”

Perhaps it would be most appropriate to close this review with an excerpt from a speech of Mufti Atiqur Rahman Saheb delivered in Bombay. He said:

“The ego of [some Muslim] organisations has caused serious harm to Mushawarat. Some of the organisations have made it a habit that either an issue should be solved by them and through them otherwise it should not be solved at all…Mushawarat experienced many tribulations and faced ups and downs; it has witnessed many blossoming successes but all praise be to Allah Mushawarat still exists. God forbid if this body disintegrates then such a collective platform is almost impossible to be formed again.”