Nehru's word: Efforts to oppose a modern civilisation are doomed to fail

Rahul Gandhi in his speech at a massive public meeting near the Red Fort called out those who were continuously trying to divert people’s attention from the real issues with cries of ‘Hindu-Muslim’

Nehru's word: Efforts to oppose a modern civilisation are doomed to fail

Mridula Mukherjee

Latterly there has been an interesting development in the speeches and statements of some of the Muslim communal leaders….Stress has been laid on the ‘Muslim nation’ in India, on ‘Muslim culture’ on the utter incompatibility of ‘Hindu’ and ‘Muslim’ cultures. The inevitable deduction from this is (although it is not put baldly) that the British must remain in India forever to hold the scales and mediate between the two ‘cultures’.

A few Hindu communal leaders think exactly on the same lines, with this difference, however, that they hope that being in a majority their brand of ‘culture’ will ultimately prevail.

Hindu and Muslim ‘cultures’ and the ‘Muslim nation’—how these words open out fascinating vistas of past history and present and future speculation! ...Politically, the idea is absurd, yet it helps us a little to understand the mentality behind it... To talk of a ‘Muslim nation’ means that there is no nation at all but a religious bond; it means that no nation in the modern sense must be allowed to grow; it means that modem civilisation should be discarded and we should go back to the medieval ways; it means either autocratic government or a foreign government; it means, finally, just nothing at all except an emotional state of mind and a conscious or unconscious desire not to face realities, especially economic realities.

Emotions have a way of upsetting logic, and we may not ignore them simply because they seem so unreasonable. But this idea of a Muslim nation is the figment of a few imaginations only. But for the publicity given to it by the Press, few people would have heard of it….

So also the ideas of Hindu and Muslim ‘culture’. The day of even national cultures is rapidly passing and the world is becoming one cultural unit. Nations may retain, and will retain for a long time much that is peculiar to them—language, habits, ways of thought, etc., but the machine age and science, with swift travel, constant supply of world news, radio, cinema etc., will make them more and more uniform….There are certainly many differences between the traditional Hindu and Muslim philosophies of life. But these differences are hardly noticeable when both of them are compared to the modem scientific and industrial outlook on life, for between this latter and the former two there is a vast gulf…

I have no doubt, personally, that all efforts to oppose modern scientific and industrial civilisation are doomed to fail, and I shall watch this failure without regret. Our choice was unconsciously and involuntarily made when railways and the like came here. Sir Syed made his choice on behalf of the Indian Muslims when he started the Aligarh College.

But what is this ‘Muslim culture’? Is it a kind of racial memory of the great deeds of the Arabs, Persians, Turks, etc.? Or language? Or art and music? Or customs? I do not remember any one referring to present-day Muslim art or Muslim music. The two languages which have influenced Muslim thought in India are Arabic and Persian, especially the latter. But the influence of Persian has no element of religion about it.

The Persian language and many Persian customs and traditions came to India in the course of thousands of years and impressed themselves all over north India. Persia was the France of the East, sending its language and culture to all its neighbours. That is a common and a precious heritage for all of us in India.

Pride in the past achievements of Islamic races and countries is probably one of the strongest of Islamic bonds. Does anyone grudge the Muslims this noble record of various races? As a matter of fact, this past record is also to a large extent a common heritage for all of us, perhaps because we feel as Asiatics a common bond uniting us against the aggression of Europe. Whenever I have read of the conflicts of the Arabs in Spain or during the Crusades, my sympathies have always been with them. I try to be impartial and objective, but, try as I will, the Asiatic in me influences my judgment when an Asiatic people are concerned.

I have tried hard to understand what this ‘Muslim culture’ is, but I confess that I have not succeeded. I find a tiny handful of middle-class Muslims as well as Hindus in north India influenced by the Persian language and traditions. And looking to the masses the most obvious symbols of ‘Muslim culture’ seem to be: a particular type of pyjamas, not too long and not too short, a particular way of shaving or clipping the moustache but allowing the beard to grow, and a lota with a special kind of snout, just as the corresponding Hindu customs are the wearing of a dhoti, the possession of a topknot, and a lota of a different kind.

As a matter of fact, even these distinctions are largely urban and they tend to disappear. The Muslim peasantry and industrial workers are hardly distinguishable from the Hindu. The Muslim intelligentsia seldom sports a beard, though Aligarh still fancies a red Turkish cap with a fez (Turkish it is called, although Turkey will have none of it). Muslim women have taken to the sari and are emerging rather slowly from the purdah…

In recent years, Indian Muslims have had repeated shocks, and many of their deeply cherished notions have been shattered. Turkey, that champion of Islam, has not only ended the Khilafat, for which India put up such a brave fight in 1920, but has taken step after step away from religion. In the new Turkish constitution, an article stated that Turkey was a Moslem State, but, lest there be any mistake, Kemal Pasha said in 1927: “The provision in the constitution that Turkey is a Moslem State is a compromise destined to be done away with at the first opportunity.” And I believe he acted up to this hint later on.

Egypt, though much more cautiously, is going the same way and keeping her politics quite apart from religion. So also the Arab countries, except Arabia itself, which is more backward. Persia is looking back to pre-Islamic days for her cultural inspiration. Everywhere religion recedes into the background and nationalism appears in aggressive garbs, and behind nationalism other ‘-isms’ which talk in social and economic terms.

What of the ‘Muslim nation’ and ‘Muslim culture’? Are they to be found in the future only in northern India, rejoicing under the benign rule of the British?

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