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The first permanent Muslim foothold in the South Asian Sub-continent was achieved with Muhammad Bin Qasim's conquest of Sind in 711 C.E. An autonomous Muslim state was established and Arabic was introduced as official language. At the time of Mahmud of Ghazna's invasion, Muslim rule still existed, though in a weakened form, in Multan and some other regions. The Ghaznavids (976-1148) and their successors, the Ghurids (1148-1206), were central Asian by origin and outlook and they ruled their territories, which covered mostly the regions of present Pakistan, from capitals outside India. It was in early 13th century that the foundations of Muslim rule in India were laid with extended boundaries and Dehli as the capital. From 1206 to 1526 C.E., five different dynasties held sway. Then followed the period of Mughal ascendancy (1526-1707), and their rule continued, though nominally, till 1857.
From the time of Ghaznavids, Persian replaced Arabic as the official language. The economic, political and religious institutions developed by the Muslims bore their unique impression. The law of the state was based on Shariah and in principle the rulers were bound to enforce it.
The question of Muslims identity assumed seriousness during the decline of Muslim power in South Asia. The first person to realize its acuteness was the encyclopedic scholar-theologian Shah Waliullah (1703-62). He laid the foundations of Islamic renaissance in the subcontinent and became a source of inspiration for almost all the subsequent social and religious reform movements of the 19th and 20th centuries. His immediate successors, inspired by his teachings, tried to establish a model Islamic state in the north-west of India and they, under the leadership of Sayyid Ahmad (1786-1831), waged an unsuccessful Jihad against the Sikhs.
Meanwhile, the British had emerged as the dominant force in South Asia. Their rise to power was gradual extending over a period of nearly one hundred years. They replaced the Shariah by what they termed as the Anglo-Muhammadan law. English became the official language. These and other developments had great social, economic and political impact especially on the Muslims of South Asia.
The failure of the 1857 War of Independence had disastrous consequences for the Muslims. Determined to stop such a recurrence in future, they followed deliberately a repressive policy against the Muslims. Properties and estates of those even remotely associated with the freedom fighters were confiscated and conscious efforts were made to close all avenues of honest living for the Muslims.
The Muslims kept themselves aloof from western education as well as government service. But their compatriots, the Hindus, did not do so. They accepted the new rulers without reservation. They acquired western education, imbibed the new culture and captured positions hitherto filled in by the Muslims. If this situation had prolonged, it would have done the Muslims an irreparable loss. The man to realize the impending peril was Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (1817-1898), a witness to the tragic events of 1857. His assessment was that the Muslims' safety lay in the acquisition of western education and knowledge. He took several positive steps to achieve this objective. He founded a college at Aligarh to impart education on western lines. Of equal importance was the Anglo-Muhammadan Education Conference, which he sponsored in 1886, to provide an intellectual forum to the Muslims for the dissemination of views in support of western education and social reform. Similar were the objectives of the Muhammadan Literary Society, founded by Nawab Abdul Latif (1828-93), but its activities were confined to Bengal.
Sir Syed Ahmed Khan was averse to the idea of Muslims participation in any organized political activity which, he feared, might revive British hostility towards the Muslims. He also disliked Hindu-Muslim collaboration in any joint venture. His disillusionment in this regard primarily stemmed from the Urdu-Hindi controversy of the late 1860s when the Hindu enthusiasts vehemently championed the cause of Hindi in place of Urdu. He, therefore, opposed the Indian National Congress, when it was founded in 1885, and advised his community to abstain from its activities. His contemporary and a great scholar of Islam, Syed Ameer Ali (1849-1928), shared his views about the Congress, but he was not opposed to Muslims organizing themselves politically. In fact, he organized the first significant and purely communal political body, the Central National Muhammadan Association. Although its membership was limited, it had above fifty branches in different parts of the subcontinent and it accomplished some solid work for the educational and political uplift of the Muslims. But its activities waned towards the end of the 19th century.
At the dawn of the 20th century, a number of factors convinced the Muslims of the need to have an effective political organization. One of the factors was the replacement of Urdu by Hindi in the United Provinces. The creation of a Muslim province by partitioning the Province of Bengal and the violent resistance put up the Hindus against this decision was another. But the most important factor was the proposed constitutional reforms. The Muslims apprehended that under such a system they would not get due representation. Therefore, in October 1906, a deputation comprising 35 Muslim leaders met the Viceroy at Simla and demanded separate electorates. Three months later, the All-India Muslim League was founded at Dhaka mainly with the object of looking after the political rights and interests of the Muslims. The British conceded separate electorates in the Government of India Act of 1909 which confirmed League's position as an All-India Party.
The visible trend of the two major communities going in opposite directions caused deep concern to leaders of all-India stature. They struggled to bring the Congress and the Muslim League on one platform. Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah (1876-1948) was the leading figure among them. After the annulment of the partition of Bengal and the European powers' aggressive designs against the Ottoman empire and North Africa, the Muslims were receptive to the idea of collaboration with the Hindus. The Congress-Muslim League rapprochement was achieved at the Lucknow session of the two parties in 1916 and a joint scheme of reforms was adopted. In the Lucknow Pact, the Congress accepted the principle of separate electorates and the Muslims in return for 'weightage' to the Muslims of the Muslim minority provinces agreed to surrender their slim majorities in the Punjab and Bengal. The post-Lucknow Pact period witnessed Hindu-Muslim amity and the two parties came to hold their annual sessions in the same city and passed resolutions of similar content.
The Hindu-Muslim unity reached its climax during the Khilafat and the Non-cooperation Movements. The Muslims of South Asia, under the leadership of Ali Brothers, Maulana Muhammad Ali and Maulana Shaukat Ali, launched the historic Khilafat Movement after the First World War to protect the Ottoman empire from dismemberment. Mohandas Karamchand Ghandhi (1869-1948) linked the issue of swaraj (or self-government) with the Khilafat issue to associate the Hindus with the Movement. The ensuing Movement was the first country-wide popular movement. Although the movement failed in its objectives, it had far-reaching impact on the Muslims of South Asia. After a long time they forged a united action on a purely Islamic issue which created momentarily solidarity among them. It also produced a class of Muslim leaders experienced in organizing and mobilizing the public. This experience was of immense value to the Muslims during the Pakistan Movement.
The collapse of the Khilafat Movement was followed by the period of bitter Hindu-Muslim antagonism. The Hindus organized two highly anti-Muslim movements, the Shudhi and the Sangathan. The former movement was designed to convert Muslims to Hinduism and the latter was meant to create solidarity among the Hindus in the event of communal conflict. In retaliation, the Muslims sponsored the Tabligh and Tanzim organizations.
In the 1920s the frequency of communal riots was unprecedented. In the light of this situation, the Muslims revised their constitutional demands. They now wanted preservation of their numerical majorities in the Punjab and Bengal; separation of Sind from Bombay; constitution of Baluchistan as a separate province and introduction of constitutional reforms in the North-West Frontier Province. It was partly to press these demands that one section of the All-India Muslim League cooperated with the Statutory Commission sent by the British Government, under the chairmanship of Sir John Simon in 1927. The other section of the League boycotted the Simon Commission for its all-white character and cooperated with the Nehru Committee to draft a constitution for India. The Nehru Report had an extremely anti-Muslim bias and the Congress leadership's refusal to amend it disillusioned even the moderate Muslims.
Several leaders and thinkers having insight into the Hindu-Muslim question proposed separation of Muslim India. However, the most lucid exposition of the inner feelings of the Muslim community was given by Allama Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938) in his presidential address to the All-India Muslim League at Allahabad in 1930. He proposed a separate Muslim state at least in the Muslim majority regions of the north-west. Later on, in his correspondence with Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, he included the Muslim majority areas in the north-east also in his proposed Muslim state. Three years after his Allahabad address, a group of Muslim students at Cambridge, headed by Chaudhry Rahmat Ali, issued a pamphlet Now or Never in which, drawing letters from the names of the Muslim majority regions they gave the nomenclature of Pakistan to the proposed state.
Meanwhile, three Round Table Conferences was convened in London during the period 1930-32, to resolve the Indian constitutional problem. The Hindu and Muslim leaders could not draw up an agreed formula and the British Government had to announce a 'Communal Award' which was incorporated in the Government of India Act of 1935. Before the elections under this Act, the All-India Muslin League, which had remained dormant for some time, was reorganized by Muhammad Ali Junnah, who had returned to India in 1935 after a self imposed exile of nearly five years in England. The Muslim League could not win a majority of Muslims seats since it had not yet been effectively reorganized. However, it had the satisfaction that the performance of the Indian National Congress in the Muslim constituencies was bad. After the elections, the attitude of the Congress leadership was arrogant and domineering. The classic example was its refusal to form a coalition government with the Muslim League in the United Provinces. Instead it asked the League leaders to dissolve their parliamentary party in the Provincial Assembly and join the Congress. Another important Congress move after the 1937 elections was its Muslim mass contact movement to persuade the Muslims to join the Congress and not the Muslim League. One of its leaders, Jawaharlal Nehru, even declared that there were only two forces in India, the British and the Congress. All this did not go unchallenged. Quaid-i-Azam countered that there was a third force in South Asia constituting the Muslims. The All-India Muslim League, under his gifted leadership, gradually and skillfully started to consolidate the Muslims on one platform. It did not miss to exploit even small Congress mistakes in its favor.
The 1930s saw realization among the Muslims of their separate identity and their anxiety to preserve it within separate territorial boundaries. An important element that brought this simmering Muslim nationalism in the open was the charter of the Congress rule in the Muslim minority provinces during 1937-39. The Congress policies in these provinces hurt Muslim susceptibilities. These were calculated aims to obliterate the Muslims as a separate cultural unity. The Muslims now abandoned to think in terms of seeking safegaurds and began to consider seriously the demand for a separate Muslim state. During 1937-1939, several Muslim leaders and thinkers inspired by Allama Iqbal's ideas, presented elaborate schemes of partitioning the sub-continent on communal lines. The All-India Muslim League on March 23, 1940, in a resolution at its Lahore session, demanded separate homeland for the Muslims in the Muslim majority regions of the subcontinent. The resolution was commonly referred to as the Pakistan Resolution.
The British Government recognized the genuineness of the Pakistan demand indirectly in the proposals for the transfer of power which, Sir Stafford Cripps brought to India in 1942. Both the Congress and the All-India Muslim League rejected these proposals for different reasons. The principle of secession of Muslim India as a separate dominion was, however, conceded in these proposals. After the failure, a prominent Congress leader, C. Rajagopalachari, suggested a formula for a separate Muslim state in the Working Committee of the Indian National Congress, which was rejected at the time but later on, in 1944, formed the basis of the Gandhi-Jinnah talks.
The Pakistan demand was popularized during the Second World War. Every section of the Muslim community - women, students, Ulema and businessmen - was organized under the banner of the All-India Muslim League. Branches of the party were opened in the remote corners on the subcontinent. Literature in the form of pamphlets, books, magazines and newspapers was produced to explain the Pakistan demand and distributed largely.
The support gained by the All-India Muslim League and its demand for Pakistan was tested after the failure of the Simla Conference 1945. Elections were called to determine the respective strength of the political parties. The Muslim League swept all the thirty seats in the central legislature and in the provincial elections also its victory was outstanding. After the elections, on April 8-9, 1946, the All-India Muslim League called a convention of the newly elected League members in the central and provincial legislatures at Dehli. This convention which constituted virtually a representative assembly of the Muslims of South Asia, on a motion by the Chief Minister of Bengal, Hussein Shaheed Suhrawardy, reiterated the Pakistan demand in clearer terms.
In early 1946, the British Government sent a Cabinet Mission to the subcontinent to resolve the constitutional deadlock. The Mission conducted negotiations with various political parties but failed to evolve an agreed formula. Finally, Cabinet Mission announced its own plan which, among other provisions, envisaged three federal groupings, two of them comprising the Muslim majority provinces, linked at the Center in a loose federation with three subjects. The Muslim League accepted the Plan, as a strategic move, expecting to achieve its objective in a not-too-distant future. The Congress also agreed to the Plan but soon realizing its implications to the Congress, its leaders began to interpret in a way not visualized by the authors of the Plan. This provided the All-India Muslim League an excuse to withdraw its acceptance of the Plan and the party observed August 16 as a 'Direct Action Day' to show Muslim solidarity in support of the Pakistan demand.
In October 1946, an Interim Government was formed. The Muslim League sent its representatives under the leadership of its General Secretary, Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan, with the aim to fight for the party objective from within the Interim Government. After a short time the situation inside the Interim Government and outside convinced the Congress leadership to accept Pakistan as the only solution of the communal problem. The British Government, after a last attempt to save the Cabinet Mission Plan in December 1946, also moved toward a plan for the partition of India. The last British Viceroy, Lord Louis Mountbatten, came with a clear mandate to draft a plan for the transfer of power. After holding talks with political leaders and parties, he prepared a Partition Plan for the transfer of power which, after its approval by the British Government, was announced on June 3, 1947. Both the Congress and the Muslim League accepted the plan. Two largest Muslim Majority provinces, Bengal and Punjab was partitioned. The assemblies of west Punjab, East Bengal, and Sind; and in Baluchistan, the Quetta Municipality and the Shahi Jirga voted for Pakistan. Referenda were held in the North-West Frontier Province and the District of Sylhet in Assam which resulted in an overwhelming vote for Pakistan. On August 14, 1947, the new state of Pakistan came into existence.