hen BJP leader Vinay Katiyar described B.R. Ambedkar as “anti-Muslim” in December 2002, he made many bristle, the Bahujan Samaj Party not the least of them. While it was predictably dismissed as an attempt to saffronise and appropriate Ambedkar, it did throw up a complex and little-explored aspect of the Dalit leader’s identity—his stand on Islam and Muslims and what exactly his views were on the Partition. It is a subject that even today brings up conflicting views amongst scholars.
For those who would like to appropriate Ambedkar as an anti-Muslim icon, his book Pakistan or the Partition of India (first published in 1940 and reprinted in 1946) is replete with references to Islam and Muslims that can easily be interpreted as originating from a strong bias against the two.
Other than criticising Muslims for stonewalling reforms and chiding them for prioritising their religious identity over their national one, the book makes a strong pitch for a separate India and Pakistan. “The Muslims have developed a ‘will to live as a nation’. For them nature has found a territory (Pakistan) which they can occupy and make it a state as well as a cultural home for the newborn Muslim nation,” Ambedkar wrote in the book.
Scholar and director-general of the National Archives of India Mushirul Hasan says, “Ambedkar’s book is actually an endorsement of the two-nation theory. He says clearly that Islam and Hinduism are mutually exclusive and at their core are irreconcilable. Even in another book of his (Thoughts on Pakistan), Ambedkar has this to say—‘There seems to be an inherent antagonism between the two (Hindus and Muslims), which centuries have not been able to dissolve’.” For Hasan, Ambedkar’s polemical book also seems out of sync at a time when others like Rajendra Prasad and Achyut Patwardhan were “celebrating the composite culture and insisting on the unity” between Hindus and Muslims.
One of the many controversial chapters in Ambedkar’s book looks at why Muslims in India are opposed to social reform. While Hindus too have their share of social evils, according to Babasaheb some Hindus at least acknowledged them and a few others militated against them. “The Muslims, on the other hand, do not realise that they are evils, and consequently do not agitate for their removal. Indeed, they oppose any change in their existing practices,” he writes, making a reference to how Muslim leaders opposed the Child Marriage Bill in 1930 that sought to raise the minimum age for marriage and launched a disobedience campaign once it was legalised.
Ambedkar gets into somewhat more contentious territory when he claims that the revolt of 1857 was actually a jehad proclaimed by the Muslims to try and reconvert India into a Dar-ul-Islam (abode of Islam) from Dar-ul-Harb (abode of war, one where the faithful are engaged in conflict with non-Muslims). This desire to be part of a greater Dar-ul-Islam, he argues, is the basis of pan-Islamism. “It is this which leads every Musalman in India to say that he is a Muslim first and Indian afterwards. It is this sentiment which explains why the Indian Muslim has taken so small a part in the advancement of India but has spent himself to exhaustion by taking up the cause of Muslim countries and why Muslim countries occupy the first place and India occupies a second place in his thoughts,” he writes. Influenced by western scholars and the way they described a nation as a cohesive unit that overrides social and economic differences, Ambedkar doubted if Muslims would obey the authority of a “government manned and controlled by Hindus”.
Khalid Anis Ansari, a research scholar with the University for Humanistic Studies in Utrecht, says that Ambedkar, who was no scholar of Islam, did have a problem with the sources he was referring to. “He was under the grip of Orientalist sources and relied on a particular kind of sources that spoke of a certain kind of Islam,” he goes on to say. In fact, one of the scholars Ambedkar quotes profusely in his book is the French scholar on Middle Eastern civilisations, Joseph Ernest Renan, who has often been seen as someone virulently anti-Islam. Renan has described Islam as “the reign of a dogma” and sees Islamism as “only injurious” to human reason. These are quotes that Ambedkar uses to explain “suppression of all rational thinking” in conflict with teaching of Islam. Agreeing with Ansari, Hasan says, “His portrayal of Islam is not as eclectic as is the case with Nehru.”
Many have also speculated that Babasaheb’s decision not to convert to Islam resulted from a bias against the religion. “I have often wondered why he didn’t convert to Islam,” says Hasan. But Valerian Rodrigues, a professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Centre for Political Studies, explains that it was not only Islam that Ambedkar had reservations against but also Christianity. “He found revealed religions like Islam and Christianity not adequately reasonable as they, in their talk of the ultimate truth beyond men and women, dwarfed human beings,” says Rodrigues.
He also argues that it would be incorrect to read Ambedkar’s text as something anti-Muslim or one that supports the two-nation theory. Instead, it was a call to check developments that had begun pushing India towards Partition. “His argument,” says Rodrigues, “was that if the process that has led to ascriptive identities becoming crystallised is not arrested or that if there is not any collective endeavour of the walled identities, Partition is going to be inevitable. I don’t see how the book in its entirety can be read in any other way unless one picks and chooses.” Krishna Swamy Dara, an assistant professor at Jamia Millia Islamia who worked on ‘The Idea of Minority in Ambedkar’s Thought’ for his doctoral thesis, adds that Ambedkar had even suggested a “quota-based proportional political representation” as a way out of Partition after he wrote the book. Dejected with Gandhi’s and Jinnah’s leadership, Ambedkar had even called for an International Board of Arbitration to work out a solution in an epilogue that appeared in the 1946 edition.
For all his well-meaning intervention, Hasan still believes Ambedkar had an “incorrect understanding (of Islam and Muslims) rather than a brilliant and perceptive one”. “Instead of looking at the divide,” Hasan says, “he should have discovered the commonality of interests, for the Muslims in a way are as bad as or worse-off than Dalits. It would have been ideal to forge a Dalit-Muslim front rather than the talk of division and irreconcilable interests.”
This disagreement perhaps only indicates room for further scholarship on a sparsely researched aspect of one of India’s thinking leaders: was there a gap in his thought?
The article on Ambedkar and Muslims (Bias That Wasn’t) quotes Valerian Rodrigues, who says Ambedkar refused conversion to Islam and Christianity because, as revealed religions, they were not adequately based in reason. This, in a way, finds support in a Hindi book of a Dalit professor who later became VC of Avadh University. The reasons for the decline of Buddhism in India lie in the assimilative powers of Hinduism, lack of a martial tendency in Buddhism and its adherents, and the atrocities of Muslim invaders and rulers.
Mitra >> Hindus are safer and happer in most parts of Bangadesh today than Muslims are in Gujarat
We don’t hear people from Gujarat illegally infiltrating into other states or nations and they migrate legally and create opportunities for others as well. In contrast people of Bangladesh illegally immigrate into other places and bring their poverty. Despite being geographically disadvantaged, Gujarat has made rapid strides in industry and agriculture and is now a place where lakhs of folks outside Gujarat work. In contrast Bangladesh is famous only for its textile exports (made possible by its underpaid workers) and for its unofficial human exports. This is despite being blessed with finest water resources on the planet.
Just Joe King >> Bengali parochialism at it's best here.
This parochialism is so widespread and shameful too. Even someone like Amartya Sen is having this big way. He always compares India with Bangladesh and says latter fares better in HDI – without recognizing that Bangladesh has sent its millions of poor and illiterate to India. And he refuses to accept the poor HDI rating of west Bengal . The so called left leaning intellectuals of bengal are the most narrow minded idiots ever to be seen.
Gambler >> It is not Al-Qaeda suicde bombers or illiterate Mullahs but people like Musharil Hasan would ensure that Islam will never have a Muslim Ambedkar
People like Musharil Hasan are well established frauds who thrive on public money and patronage by a perverted establishment.
Just Joe King >> Please read sam harris's views on Islam where he makes it clear that most muslims are like the christians of 1400.
Not read but if Harris saw Pakistan he would say that they (Pakistanis) are the neanderthals in 5000 BC. And we Indians , living in 2012 are talking peace with these Neanderthals !
Mitra >> Also, relatively progresssive Islamic countries like Indonesia or Turkey are not like Pakistan –
Certainly, Indonesia and Turkey are progressive. Hindus in Indonesia are much much safer to practice their faith than in so called Hindu secular India (eg Kashmir). Even so called theocratic Iran has treated its very tiny Jewish minority well. The problem is not so much with the religion but more with South Asia as a region. The socio-political leadership of South Asian Muslims (be it India/Pak/Bangladesh) loves fundamentalism, extremism and refuses to adopt secularism, they still dream of return to medevial era. Though a minority, this leadership is having absolute control on the millions of ordinary muslims who otherwise appreciate and understand the need for tolerance and secularism. This is the outstanding curse of the subcontinent. The curse should be eradicated at earliest.
@ wayne alfred: People who support reservation voted for Ambedkar. Plain and Simple. Ask them how much they know him and they wouldnt know much. Reservation is an evil. But it is benefitting crores of people who cannot complete through merit. Its a boon that he has left an option for free lunch. Nobody will oppose him. Remember India is the only nation where people are happy to vote for cash. Anything for "Freebies" is the culture.
Ambedkar against Muslims. Understandable viewpoint for any thoughtful leader.
Funny that anyone who criticizes Islam will automatically become anti-Muslim.
Any religion or society will benefit from a towering reformer and intellectual like Ambedkar who put a mirror to its people.
Strength of any religion or society can be judged by tolerance of its own social rebel if rebel completely rejected traditional structures in non-violent ways.
Ambedkar is priceless asset to Indians and Hindus in particular.
Thinker like him acts as effective filter to remove the filth spreading in society. Great philosopher like Ambedkar come to loose the rigidity of ideas and non-humane habits of people. Ambedkar tried to unchain a section of society which was fixed to caste evil.
Despite millions of flaws at the end it was victory of liberal humanist tradition of India where a Dalit played key role in formulating modern humanist laws which became foundation of India’s constitution.
Strange that Hasan questioning Ambedkar’s source on Islamic knowledge. Did Ambedkar not live in India which always has huge Muslim population and where Muslims have ruled in many parts of country? Did Ambedkar really need to rely on someone else’ wisdom to understand Islam? Did he not watch collective behavior of Islam to expand political power?
Could a Muslim Ambedkar be able to criticize Islam? Could he question deeds of Prophet? Would Islam allowed him to come down heavily on Quran with his brutal honesty after reciting Kalma that Quran is final words of God?
Mr Mushirul Hasan knows that if a Muslim Ambedkar dared to point a finger at Islam after accepting it, a Ghazi would be running for his head. After task accomplishment a Jinnah would be defending him in Court and when accused is hanged a Alama Iqbal would read prayer at his Janaza.
It is not Al-Qaeda suicde bombers or illiterate Mullahs but people like Musharil Hasan would ensure that Islam will never have a Muslim Ambedkar who can openly criticize, denounce and reject Islam and still survive among Muslims of Meerut, Heyderabad, Lahore, Tehran, Mumbai, Riyadh or Lucknow.Because they always come forward with jet speed to shield the inexcusable.
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