Abul Hasan Ali An-Nadwi: A Man of Hope through a Century of Turmoil (Part – IV)

1968 onwards, Ali Miyan began to travel to the Arab world with quite regularity. When asked to comment on the 1967 Arab defeat and the loss of Jerusalem, in an interview conducted by the “An-Nadwah” paper of Saudi Arabia, he replied, “For me the defeat, although disappointing, was not at all surprising. Many of those who draw inspiration from the Qur’an and the Sunnah were expecting this to happen. It did not require one to be prophetic to come to such a conclusion. The writings were on the wall. It was like a balloon in the air. You didn’t need to predict what would happen to it if someone punctured it with a pin.

The preparation for the conflict by the Arabs consisting of emotional speeches, beautiful print-media articles, thunderous radio and television talks. These were their main weapons against Israel. If there was any unity of purpose or action, it was against their own masses. The Arab leaders were not, as the Qur’an said, “Soft on believers and tough on unbelievers.” They were “soft on unbelievers and tough on believers.” Their preparation for the war was as dramatically portrayed to the public as the legendary Ali Baba and forty thieves. When they faced the enemy, the dramatists and actors ran for their lives. The battle was real. The drama failed.” When asked to comment on the reaction of the Arab masses to the disastrous defeat, he replied that it was quite disappointing. They behaved as if nothing had happened – neither anything holy was lost, nor was there any further danger facing them. They were back to making the best of their time completely oblivious of the loss of standing among the nations of the world. In that interview he invited the rulers, leaders, journalists and those who worked out the system of education, to jointly play their constructive roles in bringing up a new generation that had some self-respect, self-confidence, and was conscious of the great legacy of Islam. If the Islamic wealth is lost, he cautioned, it will be hard to bring it back alive. In fact, this was the only thing that the Arabs could export to the rest of the world and win respect for it.

To counter his own pessimistic mood, and in fear that it could spread, he wrote an article for the Arabs giving them the glad tidings of the final victory, because they were Muslims and Arabs. He pointed out that the future didn’t belong to the Jews, even if they came to occupy half of the world, because they had nothing to offer to the world. Allah’s law is reflected in the verse, “As for the foam it passes away as scum.” God is the Lord of the world, and not of the Israelites. He wishes to see justice, equality, respect to the human rights, prevail, and not the hegemony of this or that nation or race. The Arabs could establish all this, because they inherited these values through the revelation that they possessed. If the Arabs rose up with a call based on these beliefs and issues, there was no reason to doubt that the future belonged to them. Little surprise that the powerful Palestinian figure, Mufti Amin al-Hussaini got the article reprinted and distributed under a new title, “The Ultimate (victory) is for the Godfearing.”

In 1973 he was chosen to lead a delegation of six members of the “World Muslim League” based in Makkah to tour six Islamic countries. Afghanistan was already in turmoil then, but still there was no problem in visiting places and addressing the people. In Iran, just ten years away from the massive Shi`ite revolution, the delegation could not even smell of the on-coming typhoon that swept away the monarchic system and brought the clergy to power. Either the signs were invisible or the touring delegates were carefully kept away from observation. His question as to why a land which had produced geniuses and great minds in every field of human activity, hadn’t for a few hundred years now, produced a single great man worthy of mention on the international platform? Was it because of the Shi`ite hold on the minds of its adherents that did not allow them the freedom to think, or were there other causes? This question did not bring out a satisfactory answer from the Shi`ite scholars that he met there.

In Syria, it wasn’t the third day of their stay in the country when the famous “mabaahith” (Investigation Bureau) people arrived at the hotel they were staying, at their favourite time of operation: mid-night, loaded them onto a car and unloaded them on the Lebanon Border. In Iraq, they were treated a little better. The delegates were allowed to offer their Friday Prayers in a mosque 10 km. off Baghdad, of course in the company of the “mabaahith” in addition to other governmental agency people who were at hand to prevent any contact between the delegate members and the common people in that deserted area. The returning delegate couldn’t have had much to report on the Islamic countries of their visit. It was a triumph that they had entered those places at all.

In 1976 he had to attend the annual conference of the “Islamic Universities Federation” held that year in Morocco. In one meeting with King Hassan, who had newly descended on the throne, he expressed hope that he (Hassan) could prove to be the man the nation of Islam was hoping would appear and take its straggling ship through the rough waters, sailing towards the shores of power, renaissance and glory. The next year he was invited to attend a conference of the MSA in the United States. It was also an opportunity to get the cataract on the eye removed which had rendered him half blind for the last 13-14 years, unable to read out his own speeches or pen down his works. The operation was performed by a Christian doctor who became sort of friendly and didn’t charge him for the operation. The next year he visited Pakistan, now under Ziaul Huq, to attend the yearly “World Muslim League” conference.

Back home, when the government of India seriously began to consider formation of a “Uniform Civil Code” in the 70s, and, during the same year intended to take over the running of the Muslim University Aligarh, then, once again he stood up against the moves along with the Muslim scholars and intellectuals. He reminded his country-men that an educational institution was not a sugar mill from which only one kind of product was expected to roll out. That would happen if the government took over the educational institutes: variety, and hence richness, would be the cost that would be paid for uniformity. If in any country, the government took over the educational institutions, tutoring one doctrine, producing one model of men, faithful to one political party (the ruling party), and the teachers and administrators reduced to executing the policies of the government, instead of vying to improve the educational standards, then, surely, nothing else would be required to destroy that country’s educational system and the country itself.

When Indira Gandhi’s election was declared null and void in 1975, she answered by declaring a state of Emergency in India. The special powers that the Emergency afforded were used more by her son than herself. And, the Muslims became the targets of his energies and newly acquired power. Tens of thousands of homes were demolished in the clean up drive launched by him. According to Kuldip Nayar, in Lucknow alone 10,000 homes were demolished and the inhabitants sent into the cold as shelterless and unrecognised refugees. And, when the Family Planning drive was launched it was first the Muslims who were forcibly made to undergo vasectomy operations, rendering them incapable of bearing children anytime in the future. When the party members of the non-Muslim extremist were imprisoned, the Jamat-e-Islami members, exemplary peaceful citizens, were also put into jails. When the situation prolonged, then, coaxed by others, and following his own instincts, Ali Miyan wrote a memorandum and then personally went and met Indira Ghandhi. In his memorandum he reminded her of the constructive role that her father and grandfather had played in the past. He said that he was pretty sure that the imposition of the Emergency on the country was something she too didn’t approve of in her heart, rather, she had been forced to take that extreme step. He pointed out that perhaps it was without her knowledge that excesses were being committed against the people. He reminded her that the Indians looked at her not simply as a political figure, rather as a mother of the nation. He was sure she didn’t know what beastly methods were being adopted to force vasectomy on the citizens. They were being caught like ducks and operated on like chickens. He warned her that the goodwill that her family had built and gained over several generations could be lost in as many years and they might not come back. During the conversation that followed, he also informed her that many people were remembering the good old British days when they felt less oppressed.

We do not know how Indira reacted to being referred as a mother, but, she was in power again a decade later, when the Muradabad attack on Muslims took place in which thousands lost their lives in the Prayer-Field. In fact, during her reign, Muslim lives were attacked no less in riots than at any other time. In 1977 however, when she had lost in the election, she came down all the way to the Nadwah to meet him. He tried to avoid seeing her, but she almost forced her entry in. He told her that he sympathised with her as a person wronged, since, he was sure she had been kept in dark over the gross injustices that were committed under the cover of emergency imposed by her. A Muslim woman accompanying Indira broke into the conversation to say that Ali Miyan should pray for Indira. He replied that he prayed for everyone who was truly devoted to the cause of the nation! One can imagine the face of a politician beaten on her own ground.

Interestingly, during the 19 months of the Emergency rule, it was Muslims alone who stood in protest and it was their voice alone that had reverberated in the halls and corridors of the government. The so-called patriots of the country who showed all signs of fanaticism in their display of patriotism in peace times, targeting and killing those who were truly patriotic towards the country, went into peaceful hybernation during the entire period, to come out of their slumber only after the Emergency was lifted. And once they were freed from jails, again they appeared in public as the true sons of India and ready to jump at the throats of the peaceful citizens! And, if they once again received a massive hearing, then one question on the I.Q. list stood answered.

Notwithstanding their role during the Emergency, hatred against the Muslims was being spread by the tons in India, in consequence of which riots against them became the order of the day, not to speak of threats of new legislations every other day, with the view to forcibly incorporate the Muslims into Hinduism in the name of cultural assimilation, patriotism, national integration etc. The situation forced Ali Miyan to taking greater and greater interests in socio-political affairs at home. The whirlwind started by the fanatics was too powerful to let anyone escape from its after-effects. Ali Miyan was so strongly drawn into it that – although brought up on a style of life more belonging to the world of the pen, books and the khanqah than of the tongue, and the public platforms, he never thought of returning to the role his Sufi fore-fathers had played. Except that he did not participate in active politics, Ali Miyan went almost entirely public. Also, the field was empty. Important political and social figures who could give a lead in attempting to solve the problems of the Ummah had almost entirely disappeared. When the second line leaders looked for someone who could chair their meetings, be it of literary, political, social, educational or of reformist nature, and scanned the length and breadth of India, the eyes rested on him. Not that he had emerged as the undisputed leader of the Indian Muslims; but that there were no disputants. Not that there were no scholars at all. A few were still around. But they wouldn’t play the role Ali Miyan was ready to play: what with traveling around the country and outside, spending the best part of the year in journeying from place to place. Others were either not interested, or were too busy with other pursuits to play that role. That was soon to happen to the Islamic world too. When the Arab ruling classes further tightened their iron grip on the Islamists, and the second line Arab leaders and field workers looked for someone to stand for Islamic causes, especially in the eighties and nineties and say something sensible from the podium, the choice fell on Ali Miyan. Once again, not because he had outrun the rest. There were no rest: in the sense that a few left-overs were either not interested in the role or, were pretty sure what would happen to them if they stepped in. On his part Ali Miyan had perhaps realised – with special reference to India – that when the Ummah’s existence, and not simply identity, was being threatened, then articles and books were not the most urgent requirements. Accordingly, although he never gave up retreating to Takya Kalan for long or short spells, the demands of the community works pulled him out and put him on the long road to seminars, travels, speeches during those years when his tired bones would have been calling for some relief.

His new role as one who called people to unite over social and moral issues, against the dangerous trends in life and society in a country under massive transmission, took him across the country addressing huge crowds (composed both of Muslims as well as non-Muslims). Wherever he and the delegates of the newly found “Majlis-e-Mushawarat” appeared, they touched on the hearts of the people and their sentiments more than on their minds and faculties of reason and logic. One such campaign alone took him across 4500 miles in the South of India. Things however, didn’t work well with the Majlis-e-Mushawarat. It experienced revival and cold storage, off and on, at short intervals. In the meanwhile, Ali Miyan felt that the Indian nation at large, composed of millions of Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, was also in need of people who could work against the slow but sure decline the country was facing in every field of activity and expression. The country’s sure slide towards political, social and moral anarchy needed that all those who stood for sanity, moral integrity and reasonableness should join hands and try to rescue the nation. Following this urge Ali Miyan began giving fresh attention to the revival of his own movement “Payam-e-Insaniyat” (Message of Humanism) that he and Mawlana Manzoor No`mani had given birth to in 1954. It was put into cold storage soon after. He revived it in 1974, although he was now without many able men that were available in 1954 and, moreover, the atmosphere was so poisoned with hatred of the Muslims, that many were very skeptic of its results. Some people even questioned the participation of Muslims in the movement, when the problem lay entirely with the majority community, and no Muslim gain seemed to be possible in the volatile and violent atmosphere that the extremists organisations had succeeded in creating. Ali Miyan’s point was that the Muslims being the torch-bearers of justice, human rights, moral integrity, equality, and service to the down trodden, it was their moral responsibility to work on these lines even if the dividends were poor. To the questions such as, when the situation in India was so horribly disheartening that students fell on class-mates with daggers, teachers attacked and killed colleagues of the same college – as in Jamshedpur – what could the victims, the Muslims, do in response? Ali Miyan replied that when there is fire, even the lame and the physically handicapped run to combat it. When a boat sinks then just about everyone sinks. If the majority community had lost its sense of balance, the common people were defying all moral restraints, and when the leaders of the country cared for nothing but power, wealth and influence, then, as a result, just about everyone was going to pay the price: the Muslims as well as the non-Muslims. It was a duty of the Muslims then, as bearers of a Message, to rise up first in protest and make efforts at correction. Didn’t they have the Prophetic example before them who – before he was appointed a Messenger – had participated in the famous “Hilf al-Fudul” pact at Makkah that promised to help the helpless and get the oppressed his right? If that was the Prophetic role in Makkan anarchy, that should be the Muslim role in Indian anarchy.

The mass meetings that were organised by the Payam-e-Insaniyyat Movement to spread the message of tolerance, moral rectitude, patriotism, respect for other human beings, honesty, integrity and sacrifice were well attended by the people. Surprisingly, a large number of non-Muslims attended the meetings. He reminded the non-Muslims that the best way of changing a man’s attitudes and behavior was to make him God-Conscious. That was sure to instill in him the fear of being held responsible one day by the Divinity. It was this power that transformed thieves into guardians. But, if that couldn’t be attempted, and a movement of the kind he had launched, couldn’t attempt to create God-consciousness, then the next best thing was to evoke feelings of patriotism, since, social, economic, moral and political corruptions had reached such levels as to threaten the very survival of India as one entity. The threads that were being pulled off then, would one day tear the cloth into shreds. The Muslims were also reminded that the sinking boat required everyone to plug every possible hole to save everyone, including those who made those holes, from sinking. Their responsibility in fact was two-fold. They were responsible to man, and, as Muslims, responsible to Allah. Then both the communities were given a dose of hope by assuring that humanism was not dead. It was sleeping. It needed to be merely woken up. Presently, in the charged atmosphere, the situation was not normal. And, in that abnormal situation, nothing would work. No number of universities – in a speech delivered in a University – would be any effective, if under the volatile and hostile situation, one student was ready to jump on the throat of another. With this message he travelled through the whole of north India covering thousands of miles. In Chandigarh, (as in many other places) the meeting was presided by a non-Muslim. When he spoke at length, repeating what he had been saying all along, the huge mass of men present, mostly Sikhs and Hindus, sat in complete silence. When some Muslims (who were but a few there) wanted to leave the gathering, the non-Muslims pulled them down saying they wouldn’t hear those beautiful words too often.

Between 1974 and 1980, Ali Miyan gave the movement whole six years.  But, as he admitted, the movement could not create a second line leadership. Although non-Muslims participated in mass meetings, none ever came forward to move the movement. If anyone spoke, after he had spoken to soften the hearts, he only advised the Muslims to reform themselves, and join the mainstream, meaning, Hindu stream, meaning turn Hindus. Ali Miyan thought the situation with them was pathetic. While a couple of hundred Hindu newly-wed girls were burned to death every month for not having brought enough dowry, and the society suffered from some very serious ailments and moral failures that threatened the balanced life of the country-men, Hindus and Muslims alike, the Hindus only perceived Muslims as the main threat to the country. Whatever the other effects of his movement, especially aimed at the non-Muslims, it is curious to note that at the end of six years of hard work in 1980, a huge attack on the Muslim lives took place in Muradabad. And, the day chosen was that of  ‘Eid, and the place the ‘Eid-gah (place where ‘Eid Prayers are offered). Another specialty of this attack on Muslims was the murder of small children who had come in their best attires to attend the Prayers.  On a small pretext the police opened fire killing some 2000 Muslims on the spot, in the Prayer-yard. The number of children killed was 700.  Next day onwards for a few days, it was a free killing of Muslims, burning, looting and destruction of their property and industries.  A city where Muslims dominated in the handicraft business, Muradabad was reduced to ashes in a few days.  The whole thing, so well-planned and so well-executed, appeared as an answer to Ali Miyan’s “Message of Humanism” movement.  Aligarh, Banaras, Meerut, Allahabad and Bhiwandi were other cities where the Muslims controlled some business or industry, and where similar messages of “acceptance” were delivered to the “Message of Humanism” movement.  As usual, another convention of the Muslims was held, a few speeches made, a few suggestions offered, some resolutions passed, the government reminded of its responsibilities, and some encouraging remarks of a few Hindus obtained – according to Ali Miyan, what more could be done?!

The “acceptance” of his “Message of Humanism” was once again demonstrated when in 1993 the police entered the Nadwatul Ulama, of which Ali Miyan was the honory rector, at night, threw furniture and beat up the students looking for supposed Kashmiri Mujahideen.  As a final honour, extremist hooligans went one step ahead and entered Takya Kalan in 1996, in particular looking for the 80 year old Ali Miyan, for the reasons that he had made a statement that the Muslims will never sing “Vande Matram,” a poem steeped in polytheistic concepts.  Luckily Ali Miyan wasn’t at home.  The majority community, especially those who came to power walking over pools of blood, seemed to have well received the message.

In 1980 he received the coveted Islamic Faysal Award, which he hadn’t expected since he had recently written a memorandum to the rulers of Saudi Arabia, expressing his fears that the country would be seriously affected by its drive to modernism, losing its Islamic character in its development efforts, especially in view of the purposeless life of its citizens fed on film and football.  Sheikh al-hadith, Mawlana Zakariyyah was alive and living in Madinah.  Aware of Ali Miyan’s nature of rejecting honours and awards, he sent him the message that the award could be accepted.  Ali Miyan nominated Dr. Abdullah Abbas Nadwi to receive the award at Makkah and announce on his behalf that half the amount (about 200,000 Saudi Riyal) would go to the Afghans, and twenty-five percent each to two Qur’anic and religious schools in Saudi Arabia itself.  In 1981 he was awarded a doctorate degree by the Kashmir University, where the chairman of the convocation, B.K. Nehru was so moved by his speech that he stood up to say that he had never heard any such talk in any of the several convocations that he had attended. The content of the speech was that humanising an individual should be the aim, and character building the objective of any educational system. He pointed out that the principles of a civilised life were respect for man, self-control, preference of collective interests over personal interests, protection of human life, property and honour, protection of the poor and the oppressed, the will to face the usurpers of human rights, fearlessness before those who cared for nothing but power and wealth, the courage to speak out the truth even if against one’s kin, race and nation, justice for all, and the fear of being watched and reckoned by a Supreme Power.  These are the qualities that lead to a person being called civilised.  The educational system should be designed to inculcate such qualities.  Obviously, a call of this nature had been heard in a University hall since the universities had come to exist.

1981 saw him participating in an Algerian yearly religious Seminar.  That the authorities didn’t wish him get too close to the youth was quite clear.  Early in February the next year he was in Sri Lanka, to preside over the convocation of the first graduates of the Nazimia College at Colombo.  It was set up by a diamond trader Nazimi who had taken the step eight years ago after being influenced by Ali Miyan’s “The New Apostasy that has no Abu Bakr For It.”  Built entirely at his cost, the University was awarding degrees to its first batch of graduates.  In 1982 when Beirut was under siege, and such crimes were committed by the Israelites, the Phalangists and Maronite Christians that put humanity to shame – Palestinians were tied to two jeeps by their legs and the vehicles driven apart to split the man into two – he wrote a strong article that someone in Chicago translated and sent a copy to Ronald Reagan, the then President of the United States on whose strength the crimes against the Palestinians were committed.  Otherwise too the article received a wide circulation.

At home, and despite his chronic gout problem, Ali Miyan kept himself busy attending Seminars, Conventions and mass meetings.  He participated in an All-India Seminar on “Arabic Language: its teaching and problems” held at Hyderabad in 1982.  Once in the city, he delivered lectures in various places.  In one of his lectures he pointed out that the decline of a nation begins with its moral decline.  Greek, Roman, Sassanid, those civilisations of the past gradually slid into oblivion when they paid no attention to their moral decline.  The situation in India was the same now.  It was obvious that the only thing that mattered in the country was money, caste, lucrative jobs, high-posts and political power.  Nothing else mattered.  From one end of the country to another end, there was not a single protest over what was happening, not a single voice raising a moral issue.  Nobody ever gave a call to save humanism, morals, and the country.  All that one could hear was, “Join our ranks and take up our issue, right or wrong. Accept our hegemony.”  The country was fast sliding towards self-destruction.

In another session, he reminded the religiously committed that no amount of personal piety would be enough to save the Muslims of  a place from meeting destruction unless they took interest in their surroundings.  If political, social, economic and moral problems were not addressed, soon the Muslims would face problems – not of leadership role – but in offering their Prayers and if they remained oblivious of the rights of the country on them, they’d soon discover that their mosques were under threat.

In 1983 he was invited by the Oxford University to attend the founding of the Islamic Centre in the university.  Later, he was also made the chairman of the institution.  In his address he complained that although the West had created great minds in the past, those who changed the ways of the world, especially in the fields of science and technology, it was now passing through a static stage unable to produce men who could exercise restraint on the society.  The West also failed to give a constructive turn to the scientific and technological developments.  Before starting to travel to Oxford, he had wished to be able to address a good assembly of non-Muslim Western intellectuals, specialists and experts and press a message on them, which either it was never delivered to them in the past, or, if delivered, superiority complex and a sense of achievement, had not allowed for close attention.  That was his main objective in his travel to Britain.  But, as things would go, neither was the targeted audience there in numbers he had wished, nor, one would say, the message was powerful enough – being clothed in easternism – to influence those it reached. Translation reduced the power of speech.  The same year he also travelled on invitation to Sharjah, Dubai and Kuwait, as usual addressing huge gatherings and reminding various classes of people of their duties towards Islam, the society they lived in and the humanity at large.  In one speech he stressed on the need to construct a fully committed Muslim society on a wholly Islamic pattern, as a model for the rest of the world.

(To be concluded)