Book Review – The Islamic Connection: South Asia and the Gulf

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Name of the Book The Islamic Connection: South Asia and the Gulf
Author Christophe Jaffrelot and Laurence Louër
Genre Non-fiction
Publisher Penguin Viking (2017)

 

Disclaimer: Facts have been taken from the books “The Islamic Connection: South Asia and the Gulf” which is being reviewed here. Along with content of the book, my personal analysis is also added in this article for maintaining the flow of article. 

The main reason behind looking at this book to check the validity of the inferences given by US-based Pew Research Centre through the eyes of experts like Christophe Jaffrelot. US-based Pew Research Centre says that by 2070, the Muslim population is estimated to become the largest in the world and by 2050, it is believed that India will have the largest population of Muslims in a non-Muslim country. Second reason is the changing geopolitics of Muslim countries where Pakistan was forced by Saudi to reject the faction of Islamic politics led by Turkey and Malaysia. However, I got a different and interesting story after reading this book.

This book provides fresh insights in the form of articles to the topics such as Jihad, Islamic radicalization, Sufism, Pakistan’s failed attempt to become the leader of the Islamic world, the rise of Wahhabism, the Salafism and their influence, the tension between the Shias and the Sunnis. You will get impartial analysis of all these topics. It is to be noticed that south Asia has the largest Muslim population of any region in the world, i.e. 500 million. This book explores the religious interface between the Gulf and South Asia. It is to be noted that here ‘Gulf’ doesn’t stand for only 6 countries of Gulf Cooperation Council but west Asia in real sense. Thus, Indo-Islamic civilisation cultivated its own variety of Islam based on Sufism. 


Sufism ends with the end of Mughal empire from Indian subcontinent
In 711, the Umayyad Caliph Al-Walid ibn Abd al-Malik, upon hearing that some Arab traders had been captured by the ruler of Sindh, asked the governor of Baghdad to send an army to liberate them. This led to Muhammad bin Qasim capturing the whole of Sindh, marking the entry of Islam to the subcontinent. However, it was not the sword that brought Islam “in a sustainable manner”, but the Sufis who came from outside Arabia. They made India “a sacred land for Muslims”. The Muslims in India distanced themselves from the holy cities of Arabia and initiated spiritual relations with the Hindus. Deciding not to convert the latter, the Sufis started a spiritual dialogue with them. 

With the end of Mughal empire from the Indian subcontinent and arrival of British is that starting point for the end of Sufism from Indian subcontinent. The advent of the British East India Company in South Asia, made the Indian Muslims insecure of their identity. In this book a line is mentioned, “In the nineteenth century, British colonial rule in India accelerated the interactions of Indian Muslims with Islamic centres in the Gulf.” Christophe Jaffrelot gives the reason behind this as for centuries old Indo-Islam civilization was different from Gulf because Indian Muslim distanced themselves from Arabs. None of the Mughal emperors went to Mecca. It is the evidence of the given reason.


From this event onward, things started to change in Indian subcontinent. Indian Muslims started feeling the need to turn towards an Islamic authority against British empire and they could only find in the Middle East. Ayesha Siddiqa in her essay ‘Pakistani Madrasas’ points out that after independence Saudi and Pakistan didn’t come closer for the ‘religious cause’. In facts, Jinnah’s personality was seen in Saudi Arabia as an “English-speaking orientalist” with his Parsee wife. It was geopolitical need of USA to contain ‘communism’ and protection of monarch in Saudi by Saudi King, developed symbiotic relation between them. It prompted Saudi Arabia to go closer to Pakistan. The 1960s saw the start of large-scale Pakistani migration to the Gulf. Saudi-funded Deobandi madrasas reduced the hold of Sufi Islam in south Punjab. 


I think Arabization of Pakistan has become right now the major challenge for Pakistan which drag them on the ladder of development. End of Sufism led to the end of Indo-Islamic civilization in Pakistan. New imported civilization has created the problem of ‘clash of civilization’ between the Arab civilization and the regional civilization. Regionalism, often mixed with Sufism, has been an antidote to Salafism in South Asia. For example, Sindhi nationalists look at them themselves as descendants of the Indus Civilisation. Their ideologue, Ghulam Murtaza Syed used to say, “I am Sindhi for 5,000 years, I am Muslim for 1400 years, I am Pakistani for 63 years.” 


Rise of Wahhabization
World knows that Wahhabization is the concept of Saudi, proliferated by Pakistan and used by America. Same thing is mentioned in this book. Jaffrelot mentions in this book: “The Saudi influence gained momentum after Zulfikar Ali Bhutto turned to Middle East for help in the post-1971 scenario and even more after 1977 in the context of General Zia-ul-Haq’s Islamization policy and jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Zia-ul-Haq’s regime forced Pakistanis to fall in line and adopt Arabized forms of religious practices. Old fundamentalist groups, like Maududi’s Jamaat-e-Islami, contributed to this Wahhabization process.” 


This is true that after independence during 1971 India-Pakistan war which led to liberation of Bangladesh. The then Pakistan’s President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who took over after the surrender of his country’s armed forces, went on a ‘journey of resistance’ to Muslim countries seeking money to build an ‘Islamic bomb’. Saudi Arabia gave a loan of $20 million to Pakistan. From here onward, interdependence and closeness between Saudi and Pakistan even increased more. The Wahhabization of Pakistan would begin soon afterwards during the rule of Zia ul-Haq.


End game of USA was to contain ‘communism’ in South Asia. USA was afraid of proliferation of communism due to domino effect. In fact, in the recent UNGA 2019, Pakistan prime minister, Imran Khan has admitted the same thing. He confessed in his long speech that Pakistan was financial backed by the USA to build ‘Jihadis’. But the disintegration of USSR during 90s led to the end of cold of war. After end war USA’s project becomes irrelevant. Those trained Jihadis fired back on Pakistan itself. End game of Saudi with respect to USA was that Saudi wanted itself to refrain from ‘Arab Spring’. USA helped Saudi but in return asked help to contain ‘communism’ through Wahabism. 

Indo-Islamic civilization different from Middle Eastern variants of ‘Muslimness’
Jaffrelot mentions that for centuries, the Indian subcontinent was imbued with an Indo-Islamic civilization that did not share much with the Middle Eastern variants of ‘Muslimness’. I completely agree with this notion because even in India a part of Muslim community celebrates “Chhath Pooja” in eastern side. In the same eastern region like Bihar, Bengal and North East, some Muslim women uses ‘Sindoor’ at the forehead. Even Muslims in Indian subcontinent including Pakistan and Bangladesh might be Muslims by religion, but they are Hindu by tradition. Have you ever noticed the ‘Mehandi Rasam’ in the marriage practices in the Arab world? It all just because of shared history between Hinduism and Islam.

However, Muslim elites have been trying to destroy the diversities within the Muslims communities by homogenizing them. By and large Pakistan has been successful in homogenization but diversity within the Muslim community still exists in India. Zia-ul-Haq during his reign reads “There is no such thing as South Asian Islam. There is only one true Islam, based on the Qur’an and the Prophet Muhammad.” That’s why Tarek fatah in his book “An illusion of an Islamic state” says that Muslim population in Pakistan lives in ‘Islamic state’ but Muslim population in India lives in the ‘state of Islam’. However, Christophe Jaffrelot in this also claims that it began to change after the decline and the demise of the Mughal Empire, a time when Indian Muslims felt the need to turn towards an Islamic authority that they could only find in the Middle East.

Rise of Muslim Nationalism and caste system in Indian Islam
During the decline of Mughal empire in India, along with looking toward the Arab, India saw a rise of Muslim Nationalism, “Indian Muslims from the intelligentsia developed a new, nationalist ideology in reaction to the post-1857 British repression and the rise to power (economic as well as political) of the Hindus in North India.” during the rise of Muslim intelligentsia, Islam developed a caste system. Nationalism always exist in binary: one in superior and other is inferior. In order to create a binary, a class within class was developed. This led to the caste system in Indian Islam. 

This book pointed out that “The aristocratic, upper caste background of this intelligentsia led them take pride in their Middle Eastern origins. Indeed, the so-called noble (Ashraf) upper castes are made up of descendants of Muslims who (allegedly) migrated to India from abroad, whereas those who converted to Islam after it spread throughout the Indian territory make up the two lower categories, the Ajlafs (lower castes) and the Arzals (formerly Untouchables).” In this way also, Muslims of Indian subcontinent have adopted the Hindu tradition of caste system. Before reading this book, I was letting caste system as artificial but in facts it is natural. It is created to exercise power and show oneself as superior over another through elitisms.

Present scenario
In fact, I agree with the writer that Muslims of south Asia and Muslims of the Arab can be common in the sense of ‘follower of same god i.e. Allah’, ‘following same book i.e. Quran’ and ‘followers of same religion i.e. Islam’ but they are and should be separated in the sense of civilization. I agree with the Sindhi ideologue, Ghulam Murtaza Syed who used to say, “I am Sindhi for 5,000 years, I am Muslim for 1400 years, I am Pakistani for 63 years.” On the same line Indian Muslims must let themselves as Indians for more than 5000 and Muslim for nearly 1400 years. 

I recently heard the interview of Munawar Rana on citizenship amendment act and the notion of Pakistan where he says “Don’t say me to go Pakistan, if you want to send me other countries then send me to Arab”. It is the reality of modern Muslim elites who have been trying to connect themselves with Arab and appeal for homogenization of Muslims for the sake of same book, same god and same religion. 

Homogenization of any society will lead to the confrontation among the communities. To live in a peaceful society, diversity is needed. Today, Fruit of diversity and tolerance has made India to move far ahead of Pakistan. In spite of much smaller and less diverse than our India, Pakistan is more vulnerable in terms of clashes among societies than India.

 

See also  Can economy be solution for the conflict between India and Pakistan?
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