Hindustan Mein Zaat-Paat Aur Musalman (Urdu)

Author: Masood Alam Falahi

Pages: 640

Year of Publication: 2007

Publisher: Al-Qazi, F-A/86, Abul Fazl Enclave, New Delhi 110025


*Reviewed by Ayub Khan*

The problem of caste among Indian Muslims is gaining increased scrutiny
after a series of political and judicial events--the most recent being the
Supreme Court's notice to the Union government on the status of 'low-caste'
Muslims of Maharashtra. The traditional response of the Muslim community
has been to shove the issue under the rug and charge those who dare to
challenge the status-quo as indulging in anti-Islamic activity.

In the past decade, however, attempts have been made to shine the light on
this uncomfortable aspect of India 's Muslim society. Masood Alam
Falahi's*' Hindustan Mein Zaat-Paat Aur Musalman'
* is arguably the most successful of those attempts in providing a
comprehensive survey of the problem.

The author has a unique academic background having completed his
*Alimiat*degree from Jamiatul Falah in Azamgarh and his undergraduate
degrees in arts
and education from Aligarh Muslim University . He is at present pursuing his
M.Phil from Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi . It is perhaps
because of this background that Falahi adopts a multi-disciplinary approach
for this book; he approaches it from disciplines as varied as history,
Islamic jurisprudence, sociology, anthropology, and politics.

Tracing the origins of casteism to the Aryan invasions in India , Falahi
begins with a discussion of its conception in Hindu religion and how it
managed to keep a whole swathe of masses under its yoke. So forceful and
assimilative was the Brahminical social order that it even scuttled
efforts towards reform by egalitarian movements like Buddhism and
Jainism. Under
such an unjust order Muslim traders brought the liberating force of Islam to
shores of India which led to incremental rise in the 'low-castes' adopting
Islam. The author contends that the Arab invaders who first came were
completely free from casteism and believed in complete equality of mankind
as clearly elaborated by Islamic teachings. It was only after the non-Arab
rulers took over in 995 CE that proponents of the Brahminical social order
were able to smuggle their concept of Varn Ashram into the Muslim society.
The inroads were made through a sophisticated manipulation of the concept
of Kafa'a (suitability and compatibility in marriage) to the extent that it
became synonymous with the Varna Ashram.

Some of the early proponents of this new conception were scholars and
mystics attached to the court. The once unitary Islamic society now came to
be divided into the *Ashraaf *(*Syed, Shaikh, Mughal, and Pathan*) and
Ajlaaf *(Kunjda, Qasai, Nai, Julaha*, etc). Those non-Muslims who came from
the 'upper castes' were classified in the *Ashraaf* category and those from
'low castes' to the *Ajlaaf*. Among the *Ashraaf*, Syeds gained the
sacrosanct status similar to the ones of the Brahmans. High positions in the
government were reserved for them and their writ ran large especially under
the reigns of Iltumish and Balban. It was not until 1325 CE when Sultan
Muhammad Tughlaq took over that the Syed supremacy was challenged. He
brought in reforms by dismissing the old guard and bringing in a group of
scholars and administrators associated with the Sufi Shaikh Nizamuddin
Awliya. His fairness, justice, and large-heartedness towards all led a
large number of natives to convert to Islam.

Muhammad Tughlaq proved to be a thorn in the eye of the *Ashraaf *and a
group among them conspired to eventually oust and kill him thus bringing an
end to his reforms. One of his most vocal critics was Maulana Syed Ziauddin
Barani who claimed that it was against God's commandments to appoint the *
Arzaals* to governmental positions and called on the Sultan to consider his
religious duty to deny the *ajlaf *access to knowledge. Branding them as
'mean' and 'despicable' he urged that anyone found to be teaching them
should be punished and even exiled. He also prohibited marriage between the
two groups.

The rulers who followed Muhammad Tughlaq revived the concept of Kafa'at in
its various formations. It was Shari'ah minded Sufis like Shaikh Abdul Has
Muhaddis Dehlawi who fought casteism tooth and nail which again led to the
rise in conversions to Islam. It is the contention of Falahi that it was
to counter this threat posed to the Brahminical social order that movements
like Bhakti, Vaishno, and Sikkhism were introduced. Despite the best
efforts of anti-caste Ulema and Sufis the Muslim society was stratified on
the basis of caste especially with regards to marriage.

Falahi provides exhaustive quotes from those ulema, Sufis, and movements
which supported casteism, the ones which did not, and others who adopted a
dualistic approach. Thus, for instance Shah Waliullah Farooqui Dehlavi
supported the by then well entrenched concept of 'Kufu' eventhough he had no
hesitation in inviting a Hindu ox-cart driver to share a meal with him. The
driver was impressed by this brotherly treatment and adopted Islam.

Mufti Muhammad Shafi, of Deobandi school who later on became the Grand
Mufti of Pakistan, wrote a book titled *Nihayat al Arab fi Ghayat al
Nasb*in which he made several statements which pointed towards the
supposed glory
and magnificence of *Ashraaf* and ruled that customary concept of Kufu doesn't
violate any of the Islamic principles. Maulana Ashraf Ali Farooqui Thanwi,
Maulana Syed Mehmood Madani, and Maulana Qari Muhammad Tayyab Siddiqui
Qasmi approved of Mufti Shafi's stance and dismissed the critics as those
influenced by the West's God-less ideologies. There was a disturbance in
Deoband when this book came out and Mufti Shafi had to take refuge at Darul
Uloom from the hostile crowd.

Maulana Ahmad Raza Khan Barelwi was so respectful towards the Syeds that he
wrote that even if a charge of theft and fornication is proven against a
Syed, the Qazi shouldn't have the *Niyyah** *of applying the 'Hadd.' He
claimed that even though Mughal and Pathan are *Ashraaf *they are not the
Kufu of Syeds. He went on to write, "The original good (communities) have
good qualities (and manners) and it is the opposite among the *razeel. *It
was due to this that rulers of the past did not allow the *Razeel *to get
too much education. Now see how the barbers and *manhars *have spread the
various forms of *fitna *by acquiring education…"

Not only the ulema but also the proponents of modern education were not
immune from the claws of casteism. Falahi proves with unimpeachable evidence
that Sir Syed had only the Ashraaf interests in mind when he started
hiseducational movement. In an address at the foundation laying
ceremony of
'Madrasa Anjuman-e-Islamia' in Bareli where children from the so-called
'low-caste' communities used to study, he said that he finds no use in
teaching English to them. "It is better and in the interests of the
community that they are engaged in the old form of study… It appears
appropriate if you teach them some writing and math. They should also be
taught small tracts on everyday affairs and through which they know basic
beliefs and practices of the Islamic faith," he told them.

Masood Alam Falahi's meticulous pen doesn't spare anyone and he has
discussed the views of almost all religious and ideological schools of
thought present in the sub-continent including the Deobandis, Barelwis,
Jamaat-e-Islami, Ahle Hadith, and views of high officials of umbrella
organizations like the All India Muslim Personal Law Board. He also
provides a list of series of instances of caste based discrimination
in 21stcentury India which include not allowing the 'Ajlaf' from
attending mosques,
denying burials in the graveyard, not respecting the honor of their women,
etc. There is also a an elaborate discussion on the reservations for the
backward Muslim communities.

For all his attention to detail, however, Falahi doesn't define 'caste.' It
would have been helpful if the difference between class and caste would have
been clearly elaborated. In his discussion he casts a net which is too wide
which fails to take into consideration that there are regional differences
among the Muslims of India. In South India , for instance, caste is not the
main criteria in marriage as is evident from a survey of matrimonial

Some of Falahi's criticism and leveling of charges need further
investigation. His treatment of quite a few historical sources indicates a
casual approach. For example, he claims that Nasiruddin Chiragh-e-Dilli was
involved in the killing of Muhammad Tughlaq without any evidence. Similarly,
he categorizes some ulema in the casteist class without offering substantial
evidence. He places Mufti Taqi Usmani in this category based on a solitary
reference where he joking refered to a 'julaha.'

His recommendations to wipe out casteism while generally helpful also
advocate a radical approach. For example, his absolute insistence on
marriage between different communities, abandoning of last names, are
impractical and some like the first one might even aggravate the situation.

Despite the drawbacks and irrevent tone *Hindustan** Mein Zaat-paat aur
Musalman *should be read by anyone who is interested in removing the
un-Islamic concept of casteism among Indian Muslims. The criticism of the
revered religious and social leaders should be taken in the right spirit. It
is only through a critical self analysis that the community can rise itself
out of its current morass.

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