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Historical misrepresentations


Shahid M Amin

MANKIND has suffered a great deal over the centuries due to the prejudices and passions raised by misunderstanding and misrepresentation of history. This is true of much that has happened in South Asia. Impartial research shows that in many instances, historical misrepresentations have raised passions that led to violence and tragedy. This is even happening today in Modi’s India. An anti-Muslim narrative has been developed by his party, and even others, portraying the role of Muslims in Indian history in the most negative light. They are depicted as descendants of foreign invaders, plunderers, tyrannical rulers, guilty of desecration of Hindu temples, massacres and forcible conversions.
Most Hindus believe in such a version of history, going back to the Muslim conquest of Sindh in 712 when Muhammad bin Qasim defeated Hindu Raja Dahir. In the last two centuries, Hindu authors have been rewriting history, a process that has gained momentum since India’s independence in 1947. Many Hindus believe that this historical narrative justifies what they regard as the overdue Hindu revenge against Muslims. But what are the facts?
Firstly, the argument that Muslims are descendants of ‘foreign’ invaders is not correct. Most Muslims in India are indigenous people converted to Islam through missionary work of sufis. Moreover, Indian history of last three thousand years shows a pattern of people entering the subcontinent from the northwest, as conquerors or migrants. Hindus claim that they are the ‘original’ inhabitants of India and trace their origin to Aryans. But the latter came to the subcontinent from Central Asia from around 1700 BC, and can also be categorized as invaders. The Aryans first came to settle in the territory that is present-day Pakistan, which they called Sapta Sindhu. Hindu religious literature records that Aryans fought against and destroyed ‘dark, flat-nosed’ people living in forts, probably the inhabitants of Indus Valley Civilisation, who should be regarded as ‘original’ inhabitants of the subcontinent. Hindu nationalism is clearly based on a wrong historical claim viz. that Hindus are the autochthonous (indigenous, rather than descended) people of India and Muslims are outsiders.
Another historical misrepresentation in Hindutva philosophy is the alleged ill-treatment of Hindus during Muslim rule. This stands disproved by the fact that even after a thousand years of Muslim rule, three-fourth of population in India consisted of Hindus. Had force been used to convert Hindus into Muslims, as policy of the state, there would have been few Hindus left in the subcontinent. For instance, in Spain, after the Christian reconquest, the entire Muslim population was exterminated within a few years. The allegation of forcible conversion of Hindus does not stand the scrutiny of history. In Sindh, Muslim rule was described as ‘liberal’ by historian Lane-Poole who noted that Qasim had proclaimed that “the (Hindu) temples shall be inviolate like the churches of Christians.”
The Delhi Sultanates (1192-1526) allowed non-Muslims to practice their religion if they paid Jizia. Many Hindus were inducted in their administration. Sher Shah Suri and Mughal Emperors kept Hindus as generals, governors and Ministers. Emperor Babur, in his will to Humayun, stated: “Do not harbour religious prejudice.
You should dispense justice, while taking note of people’s religious sensitivities and rites. Avoid slaughtering cows in order that you could gain a place in the heart of natives. Do not demolish or damage places of worship of any faith. Islam can be better preached by the sword of love and affection, rather than the sword of tyranny and persecution.” Emperor Akbar made Hindu Rajputs as co-rulers and this alliance lasted more than a century. The allegation that Emperor Aurangzeb was harsh towards Hindus is disproved by the fact that he had Hindu generals and governors and he granted lands for building of Hindu temples. The Mughals encouraged the study of Sanskrit. Holiest Sikh shrine in Amritsar is built on land gifted by Akbar. Sikh holy book has verses by Muslims sufi poets.
A more recent historical misrepresentation in India (and elsewhere) is that Muslims were responsible for the division of India. In actual fact, Muslim political leadership since the days of Sir Syed tried to reach all kinds of compromises to keep India united. However, they always insisted on representation according to their numbers. For this, they sought separate electorates. An agreement was reached between Hindus and Muslims in the Lucknow Pact of 1916, which was the handiwork of Jinnah. It was Congress that soon backed out of the Pact. Jinnah secured Muslim agreement to give up separate electorates in the 1927 Delhi Muslim Proposals. The Congress first accepted but soon backed out of this agreement. Jinnah next offered a compromise through his three amendments to the anti-Muslim Nehru Report of 1928. But all were rejected by the Hindu majority. A leading Hindu politician (later the main author of India’s constitution) Dr. Ambedkar said: “The three amendments of Jinnah showed that the gulf between the Hindus and Muslims was not in any way a wide one. Yet there was no desire to bridge the same.” After the demand for division of India was made by Muslims in the Lahore Resolution, the last opportunity for keeping India united was missed by Nehru and Gandhi, even after the Muslim League had accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan of 1946, which meant foregoing demand for Pakistan. Congress leader Azad and more recently a BJP leader Jaswant Singh put the blame on partition of India on Gandhi and Nehru rather than on Jinnah.
Indeed, Muslims have greatly enhanced Indian civilisation. The best cuisine for which India is known abroad is legacy of the Mughals. A Muslim ruler built the most beautiful building in the world, Taj Mahal, that earns India millions annually in tourism and is the symbol of excellence of Indian architecture. Muslim contribution in Indian music is outstanding and even today the great Ustads are Muslims. The greatest poetry in India is in Urdu with a galaxy of brilliant poets led by immortal Ghalib. The Hindutva ideologues in India should be proud of this legacy and should honour rather than denigrate Muslims for their part in the richness of Indian culture.
— The writer served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, the ex-Soviet Union, France, Nigeria and Libya.