Muslim League Protests Government Abuses of Minority Rights in India Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The All-India Muslim League was established in 1906 to promote the political, educational, social, and economic interests of colonial India’s minority Muslim community.

Summary of Event

On December 30, 1906, a meeting of delegates to the Muhammadan Educational Conference gathered to establish the Muslim All-India Confederacy. The site of the formation of what would be known thereafter as the All-India Muslim League was Dacca, the capital of the newly formed, predominantly Muslim province established by the 1905 partition of Bengal. Delegates to the conference, more than three thousand from all of India, answered a call by Khwaja Salimullah to discuss establishing a political organization that would safeguard Muslim social, economic, and political interests from unfair competition and influence by majority Hindus in British India. Muslim leaders perceived encroaching disenfranchisement from European-ruled India. All-India Muslim League[All India Muslim League] Minority rights;India Discrimination;religious Muslim separatism (India) India;Muslim separatism [kw]Muslim League Protests Government Abuses of Minority Rights in India (Dec. 30, 1906) [kw]Government Abuses of Minority Rights in India, Muslim League Protests (Dec. 30, 1906) [kw]Abuses of Minority Rights in India, Muslim League Protests Government (Dec. 30, 1906) [kw]Minority Rights in India, Muslim League Protests Government Abuses of (Dec. 30, 1906) [kw]Rights in India, Muslim League Protests Government Abuses of Minority (Dec. 30, 1906) [kw]India, Muslim League Protests Government Abuses of Minority Rights in (Dec. 30, 1906) All-India Muslim League[All India Muslim League] Minority rights;India Discrimination;religious Muslim separatism (India) India;Muslim separatism [g]India;Dec. 30, 1906: Muslim League Protests Government Abuses of Minority Rights in India[01760] [g]South Asia;Dec. 30, 1906: Muslim League Protests Government Abuses of Minority Rights in India[01760] [c]Organizations and institutions;Dec. 30, 1906: Muslim League Protests Government Abuses of Minority Rights in India[01760] [c]Indigenous peoples’ rights;Dec. 30, 1906: Muslim League Protests Government Abuses of Minority Rights in India[01760] [c]Civil rights and liberties;Dec. 30, 1906: Muslim League Protests Government Abuses of Minority Rights in India[01760] Aga Khan III Minto, Lord (Gilbert John Elliot-Murray-Kynynmound) Mohsin-ul-Mulk Salimullah, Khwaja

Thus was born an association conceived because of the perception of a duality of interests and goals between British India’s two main communities, Hindus and Muslims. India;relations between Hindus and Muslims The league would later facilitate not only Indian independence but also the partition of the subcontinent into two sovereign countries, India and Pakistan. That partition would have its origins in the communal and political diversity of Indian Hindus and Indian Muslims during the period from 1857 to 1947, which came to be known as the nationalist era.

Muslim separatism and the “two-nations principle” derived from the idea that Indian Muslims were culturally and politically distinct from India’s Hindus. Indian Muslims, however, comprised many ethnic groups, reflecting the nations of the subcontinent’s invaders. They were Arabs, Turks, Afghans, and Persians as well as indigenous South Asians who were converts from Hinduism. These ethnic groups constituted a syncretic Indian Islam influenced by varying cultural traditions; India’s Muslims did not, therefore, constitute a monolithic group except in terms of their communal differences with the Hindu majority.

After 1857, cultural and religious nationalism became especially important to Indians, especially Muslims. Hindus had tended to adapt better to their invaders, stressing their distinctiveness as a community less than Muslims did and assimilating more easily. With the political advent of the East India Company, Muslims and several martial ethnic groups such as the Rajputs, Sikhs, and Marathas found themselves jockeying for position to fill the political void left by faltering Moghul imperial rule. Several of these groups vied with one another and with the British and the French in an attempt to fill that void. After the Indian Mutiny of 1857, the British made tangible what had been true since the Battle of Plassey in 1757 and formally established the British raj (rule). The events of 1857 reflected badly, justifiably or not, on the Muslims, as they were perceived as having the most to gain by disrupting British rule in northern India. For a brief time after the conflict, however, because both Hindus and Muslims had been involved, there was a sense of Indian nationalism; for some it meant simply “anti-British.” Indian nationalism was cemented when Queen Victoria of England became empress of India and India was proclaimed the “jewel in the British crown.”

When the British officially announced their political hegemony, Indian nationalism became interlocked with culture, religion, and politics, most noticeably between Hindus and Muslims. With the government in the hands of foreigners who needed indigenous bureaucrats and administrators to operate it, there was keen competition for economic and political representation and influence. Muslims, shouldering a greater part of the burden in 1857 and having been defeated by the British in governance of India, fell behind more progressive Hindus who eagerly sought positions within the British raj. Hindus also adapted more readily to the British educational system, and educated Hindus were the first chosen when opportunities for Western education and government and military employment were opened to Indians. If this were not enough, the influence of the British extended even to social matters, affecting the lives of the indigenous governed in terms of religious and cultural practices and even language usage. This trampling on social traditions had led directly to the conflict of 1857.

Accompanying Hindu participation in the British raj was a Hindu renaissance reviving the symbols, myths, heroes, and history of ancient Hindu rule in India. Such organizations as the Brahmo Samaj Brahmo Samaj and the Arya Samaj Arya Samaj suggested to non-Hindus that Indian nationalism reflected only the interests of the majority. Muslim revival and reassessment was one response to this.

The nineteenth century Muslim community was reflected by two main schools of thought, the Aligarh and Deoband movements. Both looked toward Islamic revitalization, but the Aligarh movement, Aligarh movement founded by Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan, Ahmad Khan, Sir Sayyid was progressive, looking toward Western traditions and science to uplift the Muslim community rather than the orthodox revival desired by the Deoband movement. Deoband movement In 1875, Ahmad Khan founded the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College at Aligarh. Unlike some other Muslims, he saw British India not as a Dar al-harb, a country of the enemy, but as Dar al-Islam, a country of peace. Within the latter, Ahmad Khan believed Muslims and Islam could flourish and prove loyal to the government. In 1867, Maulana Muhammad Qasim Nanawtawi Nanawtawi, Maulana Muhammad Qasim founded the Deoband movement. Members of this group had been very active during 1857. Both Ahmad Khan and Nanawtawi saw education as paramount to cultural revival and survival under British rule. Whereas Ahmad Khan more than accommodated Western learning, Nanawtawi did not. His curricula reflected more orthodox Muslim learning and focused on Islamic distinctiveness. It did not reflect an interest in equipping its students for participation in a government believed to be hostile to Muslims.

Further straining communal harmony was the birth in 1885 of an institution instrumental in bringing about Indian independence from British rule in 1947—the Indian National Congress. Indian National Congress With it came the beginnings of a political separation that would evolve into partition of the subcontinent. Although Muslims were members and officials of the Congress, many were concerned that it did not adequately reflect their interests and would work only to the advantage of its predominantly Hindu membership. Ahmad Khan was very much against the Congress, in part because he wanted to foster better relations between Muslim subjects and British officialdom. He saw the Congress as antigovernment and as a vehicle only for protest and “agitational” politics. To this end, he established the Joint Committee of the Friends of India, Joint Committee of the Friends of India opposing the Congress’s goals and objectives.

All these political machinations, as well as the 1905 partition of Bengal, which created a new province in which Muslims increased their representations on legislative bodies, led to the deputation to Simla of thirty-six influential Muslims to see Lord Minto, the viceroy of India, on October 1, 1906. The delegation, led by Aga Khan III, included Muslim landowners, lawyers, nobles, and merchants addressing the viceroy on “communal interests of diverse Indian communities.” The delegation advised the government that the relative numerical strength of a community should not be an issue for the government but instead the “political importance and value” of each community should be considered. In detailing the distinctiveness of Indian Islam, the delegation built on the recent partition of Bengal, which would have worked in Muslims’ political favor had Hindu protests not nullified it in 1911. Two months after the delegation, Mohsin-ul-Mulk explained the difference between the newly formed Muslim League and the Congress. The league did not seek to emulate the agitational politics of the Congress but to submit any demands to the government with due respect. The league stressed a (Muslim) national duty to be loyal to the British rule, to defend the British Empire, and to give the enemy (Hindus) a fight in doing so.

Significance

The establishment of the All-India Muslim League provided Indian Muslims with a national political and communal voice different from the usual regional cultural and educational organizations, which were not as effective in political lobbying. The league, however, largely represented the interests of prosperous and influential Muslims wanting equal input into the governance of India along with influential Indian Hindus. With the Indian National Congress, it was a major negotiating factor in the bid for svaraj (self-government), a Congress goal announced in 1906, and later in the bid for independence and, finally, in the establishment of Pakistan.

The league was in place to protest the nullification of the partition of Bengal in 1911, which depleted Bengali Muslim representation on legislative and advisory boards and councils. The league’s purpose was also to harness and focus the political and economic interests of subcontinent Muslims. It was not, however, a grassroots movement, as the Congress became under the guidance of Mohandas K. Gandhi Gandhi, Mahatma and Jawaharlal Nehru. Nehru, Jawaharlal Its impact on the lives of average Muslims was thus negligible until 1947, when the partition of India led to mass migrations of Hindus and Muslims and to a painful and often deadly refugee problem. The league, however, provided a regional voice on world problems affecting the status of Muslims, particularly the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the resultant Indian Khilafat movement. The league and its leaders became symbols of pan-Islamism.

As a political voice of Muslim leadership, the All-India Muslim League was necessary to the passage of the Minto-Morley Reforms under the Indian Councils Acts of 1909, Indian Councils Acts (1909) which provided the foundation for a set of constitutional safeguards for Muslims and other groups. These safeguards included separate electorates and proportional representation, instruments to strengthen the political influence of Muslims on government. The league also addressed nationalist inclinations, especially as it became clear that gradual self-government would eventually lead to political independence from Great Britain. It would be the Muslim League and its leader, former congress member Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Jinnah, Mohammed Ali that would usher in the Islamic state of Pakistan, with Jinnah as qaid-i-azam (supreme leader) of the new country. It is safe to say that without the political machinations of both, there would be no Pakistan. It was Jinnah, as president of the league, who articulated most effectively the two-nation policy that finally convinced the British that there would have to be a division of the subcontinent upon their leave-taking. In August, 1947, Pakistan became a reality—the embodiment of minority rights politics in India. All-India Muslim League[All India Muslim League] Minority rights;India Discrimination;religious Muslim separatism (India) India;Muslim separatism

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Aga Khan III. Aga Khan III: Selected Speeches and Writings of Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah. Edited by K. K. Aziz. New York: Kegan Paul International, 1998. Collection of the speeches and writings of Aga Khan from 1902-1955. Provides comprehensive exposure to the ideas of this first president of the All-India Muslim League.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ahmad, Aziz. Studies in Islamic Culture in the Indian Environment. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1964. Excellent study looks at Indian Islam in a regional way, highlighting its evolution and development in a non-Muslim environment. Discusses the “long story of divided coexistence of Hindus and Muslims in India, leading to divided existence as India and Pakistan in the twentieth century.”
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Faruqi, Ziya-ul-Hasan. The Deoband School and the Demand for Pakistan. New York: Asia Publishing, 1963. Rare monograph on the Deoband school, which—like the better-known Aligarh movement—contributed to the sense of separatism among prosperous Muslims during the Indian nationalist era. Includes a helpful glossary.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gopal, Ram. Indian Muslims: A Political History, 1858-1947. New York: Asia Publishing, 1959. History begins with the military conflict of 1857 at Meerut and the events that transpired as a result of it. Concludes that the separatism between Hindus and Muslims was not communally based but rather the result of divide-and-conquer strategies by the British colonial powers.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Metcalf, Barbara, and Thomas Metcalf. Concise History of India. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001. Provides a brief yet comprehensive overview of the people and events that shaped India’s history. Includes a chapter on colonial India, a glossary, and a bibliographic essay.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mujeeb, M. The Indian Muslims. London: Allen & Unwin, 1967. Encyclopedic cultural, social, and religious study of Indian Muslims provides a comprehensive look at this community up to 1960. Good resource for the specialist.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rajput, A. B. Muslim League: Yesterday and Today. Lahore, Pakistan: Muhammad Ashraf, 1948. Important and rare monograph on the history of the All-India Muslim League. Very light on the history of the league’s inception but includes strong coverage of personalities and the last twenty years of British India. A definite polemic, but very useful.

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