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Muslim Political Thought During The Colonial Period (2)
Political Issues
Saeed Malik

Since the educational system imposed by the colonial powers had been evolved on the basis of the materialistic concept of life and nationalistic political thinking a percentage of those who passed through this mental exercise and indoctrination imbibed in them the western outlook of life, values and political thinking. This section began to get inspiration from the basic western philosophy of materialism. It provided human material for the foreign rulers who fitted them here and there in their administrative machinery and used them as their tools in the political field. Some of them who accepted nationalism as a creed, of course, played a significant and an active role in freedom struggles. But the creation of a gulf between the general run of Muslim political thought on the one hand and views of these modernists and nationalists on the other brought about a rift and insolvable problems in the political life of the Muslims. This was to the advantage of the colonial powers and a set-back to the homogeniety of the Muslim Ummah’s political thought.

From the long range point of view, even after the achievement of independence this phenomenon has been responsible for an acute type of rift in the polity of Muslim states. It has created difficulties in the implementation of the concept of a world Muslim unity not to speak of a world Muslim state.

So generally speaking from the ideological point of view there were two stages of Muslim political thought which played their part in the liberation of their lands. The stage of initiation of struggle and hard fighting, and the stage of a negotiated settlement for independence on the diplomatic level with the colonialist powers, when the latter had been forced to form the opinion that they could no longer politically retain the colonies under their physical occupation. At this stage they considered it better to exploit them economically for which their westernized rulers would submit voluntarily because of the miserable and dependent state of their economies to which the colonial powers had reduced them.

Political outlooks of the Muslim personalities and organizations who played leading parts in these two stages differed drastically. The motivating force in the first stage was Islam, but in the second stage the leadership passed into the hands of westernized minority which had in the meantime received training in the art of western style of diplomacy. Because of acquiring western thought they were more acceptable to the colonialists. Moreover, they could also more easily understand one another’s political language. So by and by political struggle, imperceptibly for the Muslim masses, assumed the colour and content of nationalism. Nevertheless, the support of the Muslim masses was obtained in the name of Islam.

In the domain of thought, Muslims possessed a unique position in world history, and this fact is acknowledged even by the most rabid orientalists who hold very adverse and biased opinions about Islam. No ideology, whose followers having once fallen has ever been able to retain its grip on adherence in the consequent hope of rehabilitation with the sole exception of Islam. Even in the period of political decadence of Muslims which has ended with the termination of the colonial period only on de jure basis after the second world war, and not in the real sense, intellectual stalwarts and men of exemplary character have been appearing. They presented and struggled for the propagation and implementation of the pristine principles of Islam and for the unity of the Muslims on the global level. The last three centuries have witnessed the Ummah falling in a deep abyss of ingloriousness, but it never gave up the conviction relating to the exclusive claim of Islam for solving human problems in all times and circumstances.

Great men of letters and high political acumen kept on striving to ensure the ideological purity of Islamic views. They also cleansed it of the extraneous ideas which might have succeeded in penetrating in the Muslim society under the influence of the dominant west, which, due to technological advancement had assumed global dimensions. They also pin-pointed the failings of the Muslims to act upon Islam.

As is expected in a country or a society where foreign political hegemony is reinforced by the onslaught of civilizational and cultural values backed by advancement in the field of knowledge, some conversions are bound to take place. Our society, I have already acknowledged, was already in the grip of stagnation and decay when foreign dominance intervened. This led to further degeneration. So on the political level confusion became the order of the day, and darkness hemmed us from all sides. Lack of clear thinking was discernible in all sectors of our community life.

Advanced political thought and striving for the achievement of sound political ends remained the prerogative of a few big personalities. But the lower strata of the learned remained wedded to old interpretations and methods of application of political and other principles of Islam to human life without entertaining any regard for changed circumstances and cultural evolution. To avoid any misunderstanding in respect of this submission of mine I would like to give an example: One cardinal and mansoos Islamic prinicple which also encompasses the political and governmental sector, according to the Qur’ān, is ‘the believers run their affairs of state by mutual consultation’ (42:38). This principle is binding on the Muslims and cannot be the subject of compromise whatever be the circumstances. But the mode of its implementation will continue to be amended with the cultural advancement and change. Here comes the role of Ijtihaad. Our right thinking ulema, philosophers and political leaders upheld this Islamic principle as Allama Iqbal attributes in “Javednama” the following characteristic of Islamic thought to Allama Syed Jamaluddin Afghani, about whom I shall say a lot later on:

baatini oo as taghayyur bai ghamai
zaahiri oo inqalaabi har damai

(while the inner core and fundamentals of Islam have to be preserved intact the demands of new problems and of evolutionary trends in an Islamic society have to be met with a revolutionary zeal.)

If we are prepared to uphold the universally accepted principle that it is that section of the elite and the learned who have the capacity and the aptitude of in-depth original thinking which represents and voices the inner feelings of their society, then I can safely say that even in the dark colonial days the Muslims had not forgotten the thought system of Islam. I shall demonstrate shortly that personlities upholding this viewpoint appeared in every part of the Muslim world during the period under review. These personalities commanded, then and even now, respect and following of a vast majority of Muslim intelligentsia and general public.

As I have said before, the West did not feel content with subjugating the Afro-Asian countries exclusively by brute force. They thought it more expedient to thrust their ideology and socio-political institutions on these areas. The basic principles which they held, and still hold, were the concepts of secularism, nationalism and materislism. These are basically three facets or offshoots of the same philosophy of life. These concepts were based on the denial of everything which was beyond the mental grip of man. This resulted in a superficial and a contradictory view about the life objective of the human species and about this universe. Muslims had their own metaphysical philosophy, of which the most important item pertained to Tauheed. This was the basis of the concept of the sovereignty of God, and as its corollary the institution of Khilaafat. Therefore, by accepting the materialistic concept of life they would have demolished the very foundation of their own ideological and political system. Muslims did not refuse to accept this philosophy only in colonized lands but great Muslims like Allam Afghani entered into public controversy about the veracity of Islamic ideology and the weakness of the Western view of human life with philosophers of the status of Ernest Renan in the European media.

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