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The Muslim population of the Republic of India, which came into existence in 1947 as a successor state, along with Pakistan, to British India, consists of some 14 percent of the population as a whole; Indian Muslims thus number approximately 140 million people and constitute one of the largest Muslim populations in the world (following only Indonesia and Pakistan). They are the world's largest minority population. Muslims have always been spread unevenly throughout the Indian subcontinent. Today in the old Mughal heartland of the Gangetic plain they are no more than 15 percent of the population; in Kashmir they form a majority; and in Malabar in the southwest they are about one-quarter of the whole. The areas of dense Muslim population in the northwest and northeast of British India were assigned to Pakistan at the time of Partition.

The Muslims of the Indian subcontinent have throughout history been characterized by diversity in economic and political status. They have also been divided by regional and linguistic affiliations such as Bengali, Deccani, Gujarati, Hindustani, Mappila, Oriyya, and Punjabi. Muslims typically marry within their region, and most prefer to marry within endogamous descent/status groups that are hierarchically ranked.

Muslims in this area are also characterized by multiple sectarian or denominational affiliations. Most Indian Muslims are Sunnī and of these most are Ḥanafī, with some Shāfiʿī in the south (reflecting ocean trade connections to the Middle East). About 10 percent are Shīʿī—mostly Ithnā ʿAsharī (Twelver Shiites). A small but significant Shīʿī community is the Ismāʿīlī, whose leader, the Aga Khan, made Bombay his home in the late nineteenth century; the core Ismāʿīlī population are traders based in that western area. Most Sunnī Muslims in the subcontinent have participated in the institutions of the Ṣūfī orders of which the Chishtīyah, Suhrawardīīyah, Qādirīyah, and Naqshbandīyah have been particularly strong. The subcontinent has had great traditions, continuing to the present, of both scholarly and spiritual leadership.

The variety of changes that have taken place among Muslims in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and the diversity of their cultural, religious, and political movements, span the spectrum of patterns characteristic of Muslims worldwide. Several thinkers and leaders—among them Sayyid Aḥmad Khān (1817–1898), Mawlānā Abū al-Aʿlā Mawdūdī (1903–1979), the poet Muhammad Iqbal (c.1877–1938), Mawlānā Muḥammad Ilyās (1885–1944), and Mawlānā Abulḥasan ʿAlī Nadvī (b. 1914)—have been influential beyond the subcontinent as well. Over all, Islam (like Hinduism in this context) has become the basis of a horizontal or “census-based” community and a central focus of social identity: Islamic symbols have been debated and objectified as part of public life in ways that are characteristic of modern times and modern state structures in particular. A variety of movements have shared the goal of defining, or even standardizing, Islam, and most have focused their concern on the category, emergent in this period, of “Indian Muslim.” At the same time, the Muslims of independent India have neither participated in “Islamist” or militant movements, nor have they organized any national-level Muslim political party. They have supported a range of political parties and participated in the regularly held elections that make the Republic of India the world's largest democracy.

India in the Eighteenth Century.

The eighteenth century is increasingly recognized as a period of far-reaching changes in regionalization of power, of monetization and long-distance trade, and of widening social networks of groups like traders, financial agents, and religious specialists. It was also a period of rich cultural change. These changes have been obscured by the emphasis on “decline,” “decay,” and “confusion,” beloved of British and in turn of nationalist historians. That view stems from an understandable focus on Delhi and the decline of imperial power, made especially dramatic by attacks on this imperial city by the Persian Nādir Shāh in 1739 as well as by Afghan rulers, for whom North India was a familiar area, in mid-century.

Among those caught up in the crises of the Delhi court was Shāh Wālī Allāh (1703–1762), whom virtually every Islamic movement in modern India has regarded as a forebear. Scion of a family of religious scholars patronized by the Delhi court, he was part of the scholarly circles based in the Hejaz that were concerned with setting a new standard of fidelity to ḥadīth. He himself linked the need for renewal to the political confusions of his day and expected religious reform to usher in worldly order as well. He urged scholars to draw freely from the four traditional legal schools instead of following one school blindly. A spiritual leader in the Naqshbandī tradition, he was also known for his visions and piety.

Unlike leaders of later movements, Shāh Walī Allāh was not concerned with popular influence but rather with playing the traditional role of the ʿulamāʿ in offering guidance to princes. Faced with the decline of central authority and the disruptions of competitors for power in the new regional configurations that were emerging, he sought the power of Muslim princes like the Afghan Shāh Abdālī, who he believed could restore order. His disciples and sons, particularly Shāh ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz (1746–1824), continued his scholarly work on ḥadīth. Notable among the latter's contributions was a collection of advisory opinions (fatwās), one of the first of many collections produced by scholars throughout this period. These were to become an increasingly important method for disseminating religious guidance and particular styles of interpretation to ever larger numbers of Muslims, particularly with the utilization, from the 1820s on, of lithographic presses. Also notable were translations of the Qurʿān into Urdu prepared by members of this family. Such works contributed to the growing importance of Urdu, a regional language, among the courtly elite: Urdu incorporated vocabulary and utilized themes and genres from the cosmopolitan Persian it was rapidly replacing.

A second major North Indian family of ʿulamāʿ that emerged in this period was associated with a center in Lucknow known as Farangī Maḥall. The Farangī Maḥallis pioneered a course of study known as the dars-i niẓāmī that became standard for training religious specialists. Like the Walī Allāhī family, the Farangī Maḥallis were both learned scholars and spiritual leaders in the Ṣūfī tradition. Among the new social formations emerging in the fluid world of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was that of the ʿulamāʿ whose ties to family and to scholarly centers increased in importance as court patronage declined.

Not only scholarly leadership but also Ṣūfī leadership changed in significant ways in this period. The Chishtī leadership in particular developed a parallel emphasis on new attention to scriptural sources. The Ṣūfī leadership also contributed to the newly significant regional configurations of the period through development of regional languages. Thus in both Punjab and Sind poets used the regional languages to express the themes of Persian mystical poetry; Shāh ʿAbdullaṭīf Bhiṭāʿī (1689–1752) and Bullhe Shāh (1680–1758) are particularly notable in this regard. Among the great poets of Urdu who wrote mystical love poetry in the Persian style were Mīr Taqī Mīr (1723–1810) and Khvājah Mīr Dard (1720–1785).

Although the East India Company had established itself in 1803 as overlord of the Mughal in Delhi as they moved north from their base in Bengal, the most significant Islamic movement of this period, led by Sunnī Sayyid Aḥmad Barelwī (1780–1831) continued the pattern of the regional state-building characteristic of the preceding century. A sometime soldier for the Nawāb of Tonk who had established a small kingdom south-west of Delhi, as well as a disciple and student of the Walī Allāhī family in Delhi, Sayyid Aḥmad sought to carve out a state where Muslim life could flourish. His was the first Islamic movement to utilize inexpensive publications to disseminate religious teachings, in this case intended to call Muslims to correct belief and practice and away from the corruptions of what were seen as false Sufism and Shiism that compromised the unity of God. Following tours throughout North India and a ḥajj undertaken in 1824, he launched a jihād in 1826 directed primarily against the Sikh kingdom of Ranjit Singh on the frontier; this movement collapsed as much from internal differences among the tribesmen as from Sikh resistance. Both Sayyid Aḥmad Barelwī and his associate Mawlānā Ismāʿīl were killed in 1831, and only embers of their movement remained. Their religious teachings and spiritual leadership, however, were disseminated across North India and into Bengal.

In Bengal, at about the same time as Sayyid Aḥmad began his preaching, an independent reform movement also rose. It was known as the Farāʿizī because of its emphasis on religious obligations (farḍ). Led by Ḥājjī Sharīʿatullāh (1781–1840), who returned in 1821 from some twenty years in Mecca, the movement stressed reform of individual practice in a context of British power. After his death subsequent leadership, including that of his son known as Dudhu Miyā, took up the cause of the Muslim peasantry against the Hindu landlords and resorted to military uprisings. These were suppressed in the 1830s with British help. The teachings of the movement, communicated in part by Bengali tracts, helped disseminate Islamic knowledge to ever larger numbers.

The Nineteenth Century and Establishment of British Institutions.

One of the most significant developments of the nineteenth century was the crystallization of the social category of ashrāf, the well born or privileged. This was typically marked by command of standard Urdu, embodiment of hierarchically correct behavior, and claims to descent from historically distinguished ancestors. Those claiming such descent took the titles of sayyid, a descendent of the Prophet; shaykh, a descendent of his companions; Mughal, a descendent of the Turco-Mongol ruling or military class; and Pathan, a descendent of the Afghan ruling or military class. Ashrāf families typically owned some land and might place some of their sons in government service; some might also be trained as religious specialists. By the end of the century the major cultural division of subcontinental society—that between the English-educated with their distinctive housing, habits, and skills, and all others—had begun to create a significant division within the elite.

The first major institution established for elite education in the Delhi area, however, contributed to the use of Urdu among the ashrāf. Delhi College, founded in 1825 and destroyed in the anti-British mutiny of 1857, introduced members of the Muslim elite to new patterns of institutional organization for education: a formal staff, a set curriculum, classrooms, examinations, and so forth. The presence of teachers and students associated with reformist circles meant that such educational patterns became known to the ʿulamāʿ.

Reprisals against Muslims after the Mutiny were particularly severe because they were regarded as the displaced rulers. The Mughal Empire came to a formal end, and with it an important symbol of Muslim political dominance; the last emperor was exiled, and the British crown claimed sovereignty in place of the East India Company. Some distinguished religious leaders moved to the Hejaz, maintaining their influence through correspondence, publications, and visits during the ḥajj, which was to become increasingly important in part thanks to steamships and rail. As part of the post-Mutiny settlement the British identified people they considered “natural leaders,” among them princes and large landlords, and moved to secure their positions as a loyal and conservative force throughout the empire. Notable among the Muslim princes were many of the taluqdars of Oudh, the nawab of Rampur, three successive women rulers (the “Begums”) of Bhopal, and the nizam of Hyderabad. These aristocrats were an important source of patronage for Islamic learning, music, and Greco-Arabic medicine, with medicine flourishing in the Indian subcontinent (in a rationalized, modern form) as nowhere else. (That school of medicine, Yūnānī ṭibb, is today supported by the philanthropic Hamdard Foundation and to a limited extent by government agencies.)

Central to the British idiom of rule was the notion that India was fundamentally divided into communities, above all the two great religious communities of “Hindu” and “Muslim.” The emphasis on religion was in part a reflection of the British assumption that India represented an earlier stage of human culture, and that religion made a society “traditional” and not “modern.” The framework set by that assumption helped create the reality. On the Muslim side, the leadership of Sayyid Aḥmad Khān, later knighted as Sir Sayyid, responded to the opportunity to argue that Muslims, far from being potentially disloyal, could be a base of support—well suited to cooperate in governing because of their former experience as the area's rulers and well able to relate to British culture on the basis of shared monotheism. In 1875 he founded the Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College, later Aligarh Muslim University, modeled on Cambridge and Oxford and intended to produce English-educated gentlemen assimilated to British patterns. Sayyid Aḥmad Khān traced his intellectual heritage to the Walī Allāhī reformers. His overriding goal, however, was to show the fundamental harmony of Qurʿānic revelation and modern science, stripping away from Islam the elements contingent in particular times and places and maintaining only what was essential. He embraced ijtihād (independent judgment) to replace historic interpretations.

Among those sharing his modernist position were Chirāgh ʿAlī (1844–1895), whose apologetic writing focused on jihād and Ottoman reforms; the poet Alṭaf Ḥusain Ḥālī (1837–1914), whose didactic poetry contributed to the idealization of past historic glory as a spur to change; the Shīʿī thinker Ameer Ali (1849–1928), whose best-known work was tellingly entitled The Spirit of Islam; the novelist Naẓīr Aḥmad (1830–1912), who wrote instructive Urdu novels for girls; and Shiblī Nuʿmānī (1857–1914), a distinguished essayist on Islamic topics, closely associated with the Nadvatul ʿUlamāʿ (an academy meant to produce reformed religious leaders who would be fluent in Arabic and linked to the Middle East).

Leaders of the ʿulamāʿ also responded to the changed situation that followed the Mutiny. In 1867 a group of ʿulamāʿ associated with Walī Allāhī reform and familiar with British institutions through Delhi College and government service founded the Dār al-ʿUlūm at Deoband. Deoband was intended to provide bureaucratically organized training in the traditional learning of the ʿulamāʿ. Students followed a six-year course, moving through a fixed syllabus, taking formal exams, and participating in a convocation. The school was particularly distinguished for its work in ḥadīth and by the end of the century had established a network of schools that has continued to grow to the present. Deoband also pioneered the use of widespread fundraising in an era when scholars could not depend on state patronage. Deoband, like Aligarh, helped make Urdu a lingua franca for Muslims throughout the subcontinent. The Deoband ʿulamāʿ sought to be apolitical and to devote themselves wholly to disseminating correct guidance through training teachers, prayer leaders, trustees of endowments, writers, and so on. This orientation has continued in independent India (in contrast to ʿulamāʿ-based political parties in Pakistan and militant Deobandi Taliban in Afghanistan).

Rivals to the school's reformist style included the Ahli ḥadīth, which favored direct use of sacred texts instead of following the Ḥanafī or any other law school, and the Barelwīs (who would ultimately identify themselves simply as the Ahl-i Sunnat va Jamāʿat) associated with Mawlānā Aḥmad Riz ā Khāṉ Barelwi (1856–1921); the latter were also Ḥanafī but were supportive of the customary practices associated, above all, with Ṣūfī shrines. All attempted to define Islam, made Islamic issues a subject of debate, and utilized the new technology of inexpensive publications for tracts and fatwās; all these activities contributed to a dissemination of Islamic teaching and a role for Islamic symbols as central to social identity. These ʿulamāʿ debated with one another, with the Aligarh reformers, and with Hindu groups like the Arya Samaj who were also attempting to eliminate present practice in favor of an ideal past as well as to reconvert non-Hindus to their presumably original Hinduism. The groups of ʿulamāʿ also debated with, and fiercely opposed, a movement that emerged at the end of the century under the leadership of Mirzā Ghulām Aḥmad (1839–1908) of the Punjab town of Qādiān. Claiming that he was the promised Mahdī of the Muslims, the Messiah of the Christians, and an avatar of Krishna, Mirzā Ghulām Aḥmad created a Ṣūfī-like, highly demarcated community whose members were notable for their mutual support, high educational level, and successful missionary work throughout the world. (In 1974 the Aḥmadīyah was declared non-Muslim by the National Assembly in Pakistan.)

By the end of the century, at a national level stimulated by the foundation of the Indian National Congress in 1885, issues regarded as “Muslim” had entered into public discussion. Some Muslim leaders, following Sir Sayyid, argued that the proposed democratic elections were inappropriate in a society with a minority like themselves, the former rulers, who should be influential beyond their numbers. Issues of contention often revolved around what later would be called “arithmetic” of communalism: the number of Muslims in schools, the number of Muslims in public employment, and so on. The three-part competition—Hindu, Muslim, and British “mediator”—also entailed issues like observation of holidays and adjudication of routes for religious processions. A major issue for Muslims at the end of the century was the status of Urdu as an official language, a status it enjoyed not only in the United Provinces but also in Bihar and Punjab. In 1900 Urdu, with its Persian heritage and Arabo-Persian script, was displaced as the sole indigenous official language for the United Provinces and made to share official status with Hindi, written in the Devanagari script associated with Sanskrit. The public symbols of Muslims—the Urdu language, processions, and mosques—were more the contribution of the politically active, many associated with Aligarh, than of the ʿulamāʿ.

Twentieth Century to Partition.

Three issues were embraced in the early years of the twentieth century that focused a distinctively Muslim political agenda and intensified India-wide networks among a politicized Muslim elite. In 1905 the Government of India announced the division of the large state of Bengal into two new states, the eastern half emerging as a Muslim-majority area. The protests of Bengali nationalists, who saw this move as a way to narrow their base, produced a reaction defending the division and its opportunities for Muslims; indeed, the issue of creating Muslim-majority provinces was to be part of the arithmetic of communalism for the rest of British rule. In 1911 the British reunited the province and, as with the status of Urdu, the politicized Muslim elite felt that their assumed privileged position had been undermined.

A second issue of this decade was the announcement of the first of three occasions before independence of reforms to enhance Indian participation in the various councils of government. As a prelude to these reforms a delegation of Muslims, led by the Nawab of Dhaka and made up of other landed and aristocratic leaders, pressed the viceroy to acknowledge the particular place of Muslims. British rule operated in terms of various corporate groups and welcomed this initiative. The most important principle established in the Morley-Minto Reforms of 1909 was that not only would seats be reserved for Muslims, but separate electorates would also be established in which only Muslims could vote for Muslim representatives. The delegation took institutional shape as the All-India Muslim League.

The third issue was that of Pan-Islamic concerns regarding the political fate of Muslims beyond India, above all in the weakened Ottoman Empire and in what were seen as incursions on Muslim rule in the Balkans and in the holy places. Muslim concern had been evident as early as the Russo-Turkish was of 1878 and was stimulated by Jamāl al-Dīn al-Afghānī (1838–1897), who visited India several times. An organization to press for the defense of Muslim interests in the Hejaz (Anjuman-i Khuddām-i Kaʿbah) was formed in 1913, as was a medical mission to the Balkans. These concerns forged a persistent alliance between some of the ʿulamāʿ and the secularly educated leadership. An incident defending the washing place of a mosque in Kanpur in 1912, where the municipality planned to build a road, showed the extent of new networks as leaders from outside converged in a successful protest. By World War I there was a distinct Muslim intelligentsia linked not by a single organization but by a shared concern for certain public Muslim symbols and by an agenda of Muslim interests. They communicated through new media including the Urdu newspapers produced by intellectuals like Mawlānā Abū al-Kalām Āzād (1888–1958), who would become one of the most prominent Congress Muslims and India's first minister of education.

By the end of World War I the expectations of Indian political leaders had been raised by British promises, by a glimpse of European weakness, and by their own success during the war in forging platforms like the so-called Lucknow Pact between the Congress and the League. The British countered with continuation of wartime emergency legislation, and they announced very limited constitutional reform, not the hoped-for self-rule, in the Montagu Chelmsford Reforms of 1919. The Muslim leadership was particularly aggrieved at Britain's role in the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire. In response the Khilāfat movement sought to defend the position of the Ottoman sultan as the caliph of all Muslims. The movement engaged a wide Muslim leadership, created a new level of mass support, and provided an occasion for Congress leadership—in particular Mohandas Gandhi—to embrace a Muslim issue. In turn, the Khilafatists and the newly-organized Jamiʿat ʿUlamāʿ-i Hind (the Association of Indian Ulama) endorsed the Gandhian program of non-cooperation even before the Indian National Congress did so. The Khilāfat movement was led jointly by the Aligarh-trained brothers Muḥammad ʿAlī and Shaukat ʿAlī, who adopted a religious style and dress, along with their spiritual guide Mawlānā ʿAbdulbārī (d. 1925/26), a saintly and scholarly man associated with Farangī Maḥall. The Khilāfat movement, while eliciting non-Muslim support, underlined and even reinforced the very differences (often articulated through religious symbols) between the League and the Congress. The cause of the caliphate proved a chimera when the Turks on their own initiative abolished the caliphate in 1924 under Atatürk's modernizing policy. At the height of Khilāfat-Congress cooperation a group associated with Aligarh, dismayed by the institution's political loyalty, broke off to form a new “national” Muslim university infused with Gandhian idealism, the Jamīʿah Millīyah Islāmīyah in Delhi.

As plans for a further round of reforms continued, Muslim political leaders continued to focus on protecting Muslim interests, for example in the League's “Fourteen Points” of 1929. Some important issues were separate electorates and reserved seats, “weightage” (i.e., representation beyond their percentage in the population) in minority provinces, delineation of more provinces where Muslims dominated, and greater provincial power in relation to the center. In the Punjab and Bengal landlord parties emerged that expressed a powerful class rather than religious interest. The period witnessed an intensification of Muslim-Hindu friction at the popular level and competition that often manifested itself in communal riots. In the interwar period three movements led by religious leaders took shape, all of them influential in the subcontinent to the present day.

The Jamʿīyatul ʿUlamāʿ-i Hind was founded in 1921 as an association of ʿulamāʿ. Their leaders, among them Mawlānā Ḥusain Aḥmad Madanī (1897–1959) and others from the seminary at Deoband, turned from their long history of a-politicism to join with the Congress in their shared goal of expelling the British from India. Deobandī ʿulamāʿ, if not the school, had been caught up in politics over the previous decade, particularly in relation to Muslim interests abroad. The ʿulamāʿ had little interest in political negotiations as such: their primary concern was the end of British rule as a prelude (they hoped) to the opportunity for Muslims to order their community lives on Islamic terms and in so doing to draw non-Muslims to convert. They envisaged an independent India in which Muslims would control their own educational and jurisprudential lives. The Jamʿīyat (in an interesting parallel to traditionally educated Jewish leaders’ position on the establishment of Israel) opposed Partition.

Two other noteworthy Islamic movements of the period each extended the nature of religious leadership beyond that of the traditionally educated. The Tablīghī Jamāʿat was one of a number of movements in the 1920s that focused on tablīgh, a neologism conveying the enunciation or pronouncement of Islamic teaching with the goal of guidance or proselytization. Most proved ephemeral, but one—led by Mawlānā Muḥammad Ilyās, associated with the Deobandīs, and based in Delhi—flourished and is today one of the most influential Muslim movements in the subcontinent as well as in the diaspora. Ilyās's movement came into being in competition with Hindu movements trying to “reconvert” Muslims; however, it was radically apolitical and non-confrontational, directed only at Muslims and geared to providing gentle guidance in a nonjudgmental mode. Ilyās's innovation was to engage everyone in similar teaching; the teachers thus teach themselves and assume a role that had heretofore been limited to the learned and spiritually connected. Although the movement always tried to enlist the ʿulamāʿ, it also insisted on the obligation of even the humblest Muslim to teach others.

The Jamāʿat-i Islāmī, founded by Mawlana Abū al-Aʿlā Mawdūdī, widened the scope of religious leadership in yet another way, turning to the secularly educated but who lacked the traditional training of the madrasah. Convinced that Muslims needed to abandon the medieval interpretations of their faith and focus on Qurʿān and ḥadīth, Mawdūdī taught a scripturalist, non-Ṣūfī style of Islam, explicitly proposing Islam as a “system,” “a complete way of life,” in contrast to the decadent, materialist West that was epitomized above all by the unregulated lives of women. The Jamāʿat-i Islāmī was founded in 1941 as a highly selective core group who could bring society-wide change. Mawdūdī's vision of Islam, the party, and the state—explicitly anti-Western—replicated many characteristics of the capitalism and communism it opposed: the idea of a system, the cell-like organization explicitly copied from European fascism and communism, and even the elaboration of an essential female specificity based on European “science.” Mawdūdī opposed Partition but ultimately emigrated to Pakistan, where the party, although small, has been influential. His writings have been widely circulated outside India—influencing figures like the Egyptian Sayyid Quṭb (d. 1966) whose writings have inspired contemporary militants—but are of marginal importance within India.

At the time of elections following the third constitutional reform, the Government of India Act of 1935, the Muslim League found itself with little electoral appeal and with its concerns marginalized in the Congress-dominated provincial assemblies that took power in several states in 1937. At this point Mohammad Ali Jinnah, a Bombay lawyer who had been active in the Congress and had cooperated with it even after he joined the Muslim League, now determined to assert the League as a mass party and as the single voice of Muslims. His cause was helped by his expression of loyalty during World War II, when much of the Congress leadership were imprisoned for their unwillingness to participate in a war they had not been allowed to enter independently as well as for their participation in the “Quit India” movement of 1942. Jinnah was profoundly influenced by the great poet Muhammad Iqbal who drew on European philosophy and Islamic theology to celebrate Islamic history and the ummah (worldwide Islamic community) but used nationalism as a context for the Islamic dynamism he enjoined. During the war the League persuaded Muslim leaders in Punjab and Bengal that a united, independent government with Congress at its center would not protect Muslim interests. At the conclusion of the war and following various constitutional proposals, a divided India gained independence on August 15, 1947. The “Muslim state” excluded the areas where most of the All-India leadership were based.

Although Hindu nationalist ideology by the 1990s vilified the League, and Jinnah in particular, as responsible for the “vivisection” of India, many hands were involved in that outcome. For decades religio-political movements had drawn ever sharper boundaries around communities. For decades politicians had negotiated on the basis of community, to the point that some have argued that Jinnah used the ambiguous demand for a separate state (first articulated by the League in the Lahore Resolution of 1940) as a bargaining ploy, never expecting it to materialize. Many in the Congress, moreover, in the end welcomed the result: partition removed the claim for decentralized federalism that would, they thought, stand in the way of a socialist pattern of development. Similarly, it removed a powerful conservative force in the landlords of the League. Bengali Hindu leaders came to see an advantage to their own power in accepting a second partition of Bengal. Many in the end hoped that Partition would end the violence that characterized the final years of the British Raj.

The Republic of India.

In the horrific course of the partition of British India some ten million people migrated and perhaps a million others died. By the terms of British withdrawal, the ostensibly autonomous rulers of the various princely states could themselves make the choice of political allegiance. Two major states posed particular problems. Hyderabad, whose population was majority Hindu, was ruled by a Muslim Nizam, a great patron of Muslim cultural life, who preferred that his large state, located in central India, remain independent. But the emergence of a peasant-based movement against the Nizam led to the intervention of the Indian Army and the forcible inclusion of the state into India. Even more difficult was the fate of Kashmir, the only major state adjoining both India and Pakistan. Kashmir's Hindu rulers had notoriously discriminated against the Muslim majority population. While the Maharaja vacillated over his options, Pakistani irregular troops invaded in the hope of forcing Kashmir's accession to their new state. From the Pakistani perspective, the Maharaja's subsequent decision to opt for India seemed to defy the logic of Partition and the new national boundaries drawn on the basis of religion. From the view of many in India, the integration of Kashmir represented India's claim to be a secular and not a Hindu state. At the end of the conflict in 1948, Pakistan secured some northern regions of the state; India held the rich Srinagar valley, a “line of control” that has persisted through two subsequent wars, United Nations resolutions, and various negotiations until today. By the late 1980s the Indian state was overtaken by a separatist movement and soon under siege. Mutual animosity has been a theme in the nationalism of both new states and a particular burden for the large Muslim population of Indian citizens.

The horrors of Partition, and revulsion at Hindu extremism after the murder of Mahatma Gandhi on January 30, 1948 by a Hindu extremist, contributed to a period of quiescence in communal relations in the early years of independence. Gandhi's assassination, ostensibly motivated by his intervention in adjudicating Pakistan's share of undivided India's cash assets, revealed a Hindu nationalism predicated on cultural symbols that identified India's Christians and Muslims as “foreigners.” This “Hindutva” nationalism had intellectual and institutional roots that had taken shape during the nationalist movement, and, though rarely visible in those years, would resurface in the 1970s during a period of arbitrary rule and again during the social dislocations of economic change from the 1980s.

India's constitution, promulgated in 1950, rejected the divisive separate electorates and reservation of seats on religious grounds that had been the practice of colonial rule. Its avowed secularism sought to sustain all of India's varied religious traditions, more in a European than an American style. There emerged no single party or organization to speak for Muslim interests. At first Muslims largely supported the Congress party, which espoused secularism and wooed Muslim votes. Congress's decline, coupled with increased riots in the 1960s and fear for Muslim interests, led to new Muslim parties, including the Majlis-i Mushāvarāt (founded in Uttar Pradesh in 1964 but now dormant) and a revived Muslim League that has been part of coalitions in the south. By the turn of the century, Muslims were voting primarily for regional parties deemed likely to support their interests. Three of those filling the largely ceremonial role of India's president have been of Muslim background: Zakir Hussain, from 1967–1969; Fakhruddin ʿAli Ahmad, 1974–1977; and A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, 2002–2007.

The constitution articulated as one of its “Directive Principles” the creation of a “uniform code” of civil law to replace the separate colonial era “personal laws,” administered by secular institutions but specific to religious communities on such matters as marriage, divorce, inheritance, and adoption. Muslim Personal Law, however, has persisted as a key symbol of Muslim cultural autonomy, ever more entrenched as anti-Muslim sentiment grew by the end of the twentieth century. The issue came to a head over the case of an elderly Muslim woman, Shāh Bānū, who in 1985 sued for long-term maintenance from her estranged husband, despite the fact that such support is traditionally limited in Islamic law to a period of months. The Supreme Court, as it routinely did in such cases across religions, on the basis of the common criminal law ordered maintenance as necessary to prevent the woman from becoming destitute. Many Muslims protested this intervention as well as the judge's gratuitous comments that condemned Muslim practices in relation to women. Subsequently Prime MinisterRajiv Gandhi, seeking Muslim support pushed through parliament the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act of 1986, enshrining Muslim Personal Law rulings on divorce. This action, construed as “pandering” to Muslims, intensified the backlash against Muslims.

Beginning in 1984, antagonism toward Muslims had focused on the existence of a mosque built by a Muslim general of the Emperor Babur in the sixteenth century, commonly called the Bābrī Masjid and situated in the northern Indian town of Ayodhya. Hindu activists insisted that the mosque marked the birthplace of the god Rama and that Babur had destroyed a Hindu temple to build the mosque. The mosque was closed to Muslim worship after a statue of Rama was surreptitiously placed inside it in 1949, and Hindu worship ceremonies took place in close proximity. Led by the Vishva Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Organization or VHP) and often supported by the political party Bharata Janata Parishad (BJP), the conflict drew national attention. In response, a Muslim organization, the All India Bābrī Masjid Action Committee, argued (as did secular historians) that there was no evidence for the birthplace or for a temple on that site and organized to defend the mosque. VHP-led mass actions—for example, India-wide processions transporting bricks to rebuild the temple—led to far-reaching anti-Muslim violence. On December 6, 1992, activists succeeded in tearing down the entire stone mosque. This action was followed by many episodes of local violence in which the vast majority of victims were Muslim, particularly in Bombay where the complicity of officials led commentators to speak of the action as a “pogrom.” In the following year, bomb blasts rocked Bombay, leading to perhaps 200 deaths. In 2007 court judgments were handed down against perpetrators of this latter terrorism, instigated by mafia-style gangsters of Muslim background, but virtually no action has been taken against those responsible for the earlier shocking attacks on Muslims.

The growth of anti-Muslim sentiment, rooted in the suspicion of minorities so characteristic of—and so useful to—modern nationalism, soared in the decade launched with the violence in Ayodhya and Bombay. The increasing influence of the Hindu Nationalist party, the BJP, culminated in the successful formation of a coalition to lead the central government from 1998–2004. In its anti-Muslim and anti-Christian rhetoric and actions, the BJP and the organizations associated with it seemed a betrayal of the secular values of Nehru and Gandhi. For supporters of Hindu nationalism, however, Indian Muslims became a surrogate for opposition to what was seen as an immoral and increasingly intrusive state structure. Muslims were imagined much as other minorities who have played similar roles in other countries: a vested interest with special privileges; disloyal to the Indian state and with connections to “foreign” interests in Pakistan, the Gulf, and elsewhere; a community unassimilable to the values of Hindu morality. With the dislocations brought about by economic liberalization and the increased political activism of previously suppressed social classes, moreover, the small businessmen, traders, and white-collar workers who formed the backbone of the BJP denied the relevance of class in favor of the unity of religion. In case after case, demands for affirmative action for lower strata of society evolved into anti-Muslim violence. In short, Muslims could be seen as playing a role as scapegoat for problems not of their making and as a foil for creating majoritarian identity.

In the Gujarati town of Godhra in March 2002, a railway fire in which several dozen Hindu activists returning from Ayodhya were killed sparked a weeks-long pogrom against Gujarat's Muslims. It was routinely and erroneously concluded that Muslims had deliberately set the train cars on fire, and BJP spokesmen and others connived at what were treated as “reprisals.” Hindu nationalist activists, using official computer printouts, identified Muslim shops and residences and killed, raped, and mutilated without impunity until the army was deployed. At the very least 1000 Muslims were killed and 150,000 driven to relief camps. The BJP state government was subsequently reelected; trials against perpetrators, frustrated; and rehabilitation of those impacted was marginal. There was hope in the heroic role played by civil society human rights and other organizations, especially in bringing the events to light, but the situation of Gujarati Muslims continued precarious. Anti-Muslim sentiment took on new salience after the al-Qaʿida attack on America on September 11, 2001 and stereotypes about Muslims could now be given new life as part of “the global war on terror.”

Buoyed by 2003 state-level electoral victories, the BJP called for early elections with every expectation of victory. In fact they faced defeat, and a Congress ministry, headed by the distinguished economist Manmohan Singh took power in 2004 with a commitment to sustain economic growth but redirect attention to the soaring disparities that placed huge populations outside the mainstream. For Muslims, the end of BJP dominance at the center was a welcome change, but the depth of anti-Muslim sentiment, and the linking of India's Muslims to global militancy, continued. Despite individual success stories, Muslims continue as among the poorest and most marginalized citizens in India, the fruit not of their “medievalism,” as critics would have it, but decades of prejudice, everyday discrimination, and neglect.

In late 2006 the government released the report of the prime minster's committee on the social, economic, and educational status of Muslim indians (or the “Sachar Report”, for Justice Rajinder Sachar, who chaired it). The report confirmed that they were dramatically underrepresented in the armed forces, the police, and the public sector generally; largely outside the economic boom; and woefully behind in literacy and education, generally. The report put to rest any notion that Muslims were a “pampered minority,” but rather demonstrated systematic underinvestment in education and other services in Muslim localities. It also put to rest demographic bogies of Muslim fertility poised to produce a Muslim majority. Muslims faced evident discrimination, limited job prospects, and most were self-employed or employed in small undertakings or the informal sector, many in artisan roles like weaving and metalwork traditionally associated with Muslims. For the most part, they lacked access to credit. The report also confirmed that Muslims were divided sociologically into three strata roughly analogous in practical terms to: respectable castes (ashraf); what are labeled “Other Backward Castes”; and the “Scheduled Castes,” the former “untouchables.” This distinction had ongoing relevance to the controversial question of whether Muslims (and Christians) should be eligible for the affirmative action, from which they have been largely excluded, that served the “SCs” and to some extent the “OBCs” since Partition.

Muslims in India vary radically—by sectarian orientation, by class and occupation, by education. They vary a great deal by location, whether urban or rural, whether living in Kashmir, or Gujarat, or relatively prosperous and stable Kerala. Taken together, they are a large minority, widely scattered and embedded in all segments of society. They participate as citizens in a democratic state that, whatever its limitations, is committed to insuring their safety and inclusion. Now, as throughout history, they participate richly in all dimensions of Islamic life.



  • Ahmad, Aziz. Islamic Modernism in India and Pakistan, 1857–1964. London, 1967. A lucid analysis of the religious thought of key Muslims in the high colonial and early independence periods.
  • Ahmed, Rafiuddin. The Bengal Muslims, 1871–1906. Delhi, 1981. A study of the development of Muslim identity in the colonial context, primarily through the spread of Bengali Muslim tracts known as puthi.
  • Bayly, Susan. Saints, Goddesses, and Kings: Muslims and Christians in South Indian Society, 1700–1900. Cambridge, 1989. A major study based on both archival and interview materials showing common regionally-specific religious styles across boundaries.
  • Chatterjee, Joya. Bengal Divided: Hindu Communalism and Partition, 1932–1947. Cambridge, 1994. A study by the foremost scholar of Partition and its aftermath in Bengal, here demonstrating the importance of Hindu nationalism within Congress and ultimately the interest of its leadership in securing its own dominance through the division of the province.
  • Dallal, Ahmad. “The Origins and Objectives of Islamic Revivalist Thought, 1750–1850.”Journal of the American Oriental Society, 113.3 (1993): 341–359. A seminal investigation of the label “Wahhabi,” often taken as historically and geographically continuous but here shown to mask locally-specific patterns.
  • Freitag, Sandria B.Collective Action and Community: Public Arenas and the Emergence of Communalism in North India. Berkeley, 1989. A pioneering work on the development of Hindu and Muslim “communalism” in the modern period with a focus on rituals and claims on public space.
  • Gilmartin, David. Empire and Islam: Punjab and the Making of Pakistan. Berkeley, 1988. A key study of the transition from the dominance of a landlord-based party, the Unionist Party, to the triumph of the Muslim League in the critical province of Punjab.
  • Hardy, Peter. The Muslims of British India. Cambridge, 1972. The classic study, still not superseded, of the history of Muslim intellectual, social, and political history in colonial India.
  • Hasan, Mushirul. Nationalism and Communal Politics in India, 1885–1930. Delhi, 1979. A scholarly critique of the nationalist movement from the perspective of an Indian opposed to Partition and committed to a vision of the possibilities of religious unity.
  • Jalal, Ayesha. The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, the Muslim League and the Demand for Pakistan. Cambridge, 1985. A compelling study of the moderate nationalist who emerged as the leader of the party that in the end demanded the creation of a separate Muslim state.
  • Lelyveld, David. Aligarh's First Generation: Muslim Solidarity in British India. Princeton, 1977. An evocative account of the early history of the centrally important English-language college founded for Muslims in 1875; the work provides a rich, culturally sensitive study of student experience.
  • Metcalf, Barbara D.Islamic Revival in British India: Deoband, 1860–1900. 2nd ed. New Delhi, 2002. An account of the early history of the major reformist madrasa that pioneered the use of a new-style institutional and financial structure and educated the ʿulamaʿ who subsequently formed the Deoband movement; brief introductions to other movements associated with Aligharh, Nadwah, the Ahl-i Hadīth and the Barelwī ʿulamaʿ.
  • Minault, Gail. The Khilafat Movement: Religious Symbolism and Political Mobilization in India. New York, 1982. A comprehensive study of the first mass movement among Indian Muslims, an important moment of collaboration between religious scholars and the Indian National Congress.
  • Minault, Gail. Secluded Scholars: Women's Education and Muslim Social Reform in Colonial India. New Delhi, 1998. A study of educational and reform projects for Muslim women, particularly enriched by the use of women's periodicals and other literature of the period.
  • Mujeeb, Mohammad. The Indian Muslims. London, 1967. A humane and learned review of a range of topics in the history of “Indian Muslims,” organized topically in each of three periods.
  • Rai, Mridu. Hindu Rulers, Muslim Subjects: Islam, Rights and the History of Kashmir. Princeton, 2004. A study that shows the crucial role of the colonial period in contributing to the intractable problems of Kashmir.
  • Shani, Ornit. Communalism, Caste and Hindu Nationalism: The Violence in Gujarat. Cambridge, 2007. An important case study of the argument that anti-Muslim violence is not rooted in some age-old religious antagonism but rather must be linked to calls for Hindu solidarity in the face of emerging intra-Hindu class and caste tensions, now displaced onto Muslims.
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