Ambedkar on Islam

August 10, 2020 Authored by: Koenraad Elst

Ambedkar on Islam

Unlike Jawaharlal Nehru, who was full of blind praise for anti-national forces, Dr. Ambedkar did retain the capacity to take a cool and hard look at the enemies of Hindu society, even while being bitterly critical of the same, and having been much less pampered by it than Nehru. About Islam, he was particularly outspoken, esp. in his book Pakistan or the Partition of India. According to his biographer Dhananjay Keer, “some penetrating and caustic paragraphs were deleted, it is said, at the instance of Ambedkar’s close admirers” for the sake of his own safety, but what remains is still impressive.

For instance, he utterly rejected the notion, now spread by “Ambedkarites” like V.T. Rajshekar, that Islamic society is more egalitarian or in other ways better than Hindu society. After giving Miss Mayo’s book of anti-Hindu vilification, Mother India, the credit for “exposing the evils [of Hindu Society]”, he observes that “it created the unfortunate impression throughout the world that while the Hindus were groveling in the mud of these social evils and were conservative, the Muslims were free from them, and as compared to the Hindus were a progressive people.” And then he enumerates all the social evils in Hindu society, and finds that they are generally also present in Muslim society, sometimes to a worse extent: child marriage, several forms of oppression of women, several forms of social inequality.

About the institution of slavery in Islam, Dr. Ambedkar quotes with approval from a book by Jon J. Pool, which after listing some Koran statements permitting slavery, concludes: “Thus the Koran, in this matter of slavery, is the enemy of mankind.” The colonial powers have abolished slavery, but, observes Dr. Ambedkar, “while it existed, much of its support was derived from Islam”, because: “while the prescriptions by the Prophet regarding the just and humane treatment of slaves contained in the Koran are praise-worthy, there is nothing whatever in Islam that lends support to the abolition of this curse.”

Islam also has its own caste system. Dr. Ambedkar quotes the Superintendent of the 1901 Census with approval: “The Mohammedans themselves recognize two main social divisions, 1) Ashraf or Sharaf and 2) Ajlaf. Ashrafmeans ‘noble’ and includes all undoubted descendants of foreigners and converts from high caste Hindus. All other Mohammedans, including all occupational groups and all converts of lower ranks are known by the contemptuous term Ajlaf, ‘wretches’ or ‘mean people’… In some places a third class, called Arzalor lowest of all is added. With them no other Mohammedan would associates, and they are forbidden to enter the mosque [and] to use the public burial ground. Within these groups there are castes with social precedence of exactly the same nature as one finds among the Hindus.”

For all his bitterness against Hindu society, Dr. Ambedkar’s verdict on Muslim society is even harder: “There can thus be no manner of doubt that the Muslim society in India is afflicted by the same social evils as afflict the Hindu society. Indeed, the Muslims have all the social evils of the Hindus and something more. That something more is the compulsory system of Purdah for Muslim women.” And then he sums up all the negative effects and Sid effects of the Purdah (“curtain”, seclusion) system.

Worse than the existence of social evils among the Muslims is, in Dr. Ambedkar’s diagnosis, the lack of any attempt, even any intention, to reform their society: “The Hindus have their social evils. But there is one relieving feature about them – namely that some of them are conscious of their existence and a few of them are actively agitating for their removal. The Muslims, on the other hand, do not realize that they are evils and consequently do not agitate for their removal.”

Dr. Ambedkar also addresses the question why the Muslims are opposed to reform: “The usual answer given is that the Muslims all over the world are an unprogressive people. This view no doubt accords with the facts of history. After the first spurts of their activity… the Muslims Suddenly fell into a strange condition of torpor, from which they never seem to have become awake. The cause assigned for this torpor… is said to be the fundamental assumption made by all Muslims that Islam is a world religion, suitable for all people, for all times and all conditions.”

Dr. Ambedkar quotes an unnamed source saying: “It is indeed one of the salient features of Islam that it immobilizes in their native barbarism the races whom it enslaves. Unfortunately, neither he nor his sources say explicitly why Islam of necessity immobilizes all initiative and free thinking: because the Koran is believed to be God’s final revelation, complete and valid till Judgement Day. The belief that Islam is “suitable for all people, for all times and all conditions” is not just an odd conceit, but is inherent in the most fundamental doctrine of Islam.

Dr. Ambedkar describes the dominant opinion that Islam imposes a uniformity of thought, and that “this uniformity is deadening and is not merely imparted to Muslims but is imposed upon them by a spirit of intolerance which is unknown anywhere outside the Muslim world for its severity and its violence and which is directed towards the suppression of all rational thinking which is in conflict with the teachings of Islam.”

However, against this competent opinion he sees the (then recent) developments in the Muslim countries, especially Turkey, where radical social reform has been imposed by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk: “If Islam has not come in the way of these countries, why should it come in the way of the Muslims of India?” At this point, Dr. Ambedkar is wrongly informed. The revolutionary reforms in Turkey, and the milder reforms in Iran, had been carried through against Islam (which is “a stinking corpse hindering all progress”, according to Ataturk), against the opposition of the official guardians of Islamic orthodoxy. Islam did stand in the way of progress in those countries. But it was so weakened, and the secular nationalist leaders were so determined, that Islamic opposition to progress remained ineffectual.

Dr. Ambedkar goes on to develop the argument that the minority position of the Muslims in India is a factor in making them defensive and unwilling to reform: “Their energies are directed to maintaining a constant struggle against the Hindus for seats and posts, in which there is no time, no thought and no room for questions relating to social reform.” Of course, that is correct, though it can by no means neutralize the more fundamental reason for Islam’s opposition to change in its God-given laws and customs. Today, we know that Pakistan, where Muslims are not in a minority, has even more retrograde laws than the Indian Muslims have ever demanded. So, the Muslims’ minority position can only have been a factor of secondary importance.

This then is Dr. Ambedkar’s conclusion about the reason for Muslim unwillingness to reform: “The Muslims think that the Hindus and Muslims must perpetually struggle… that in this struggle the strong will win, and that to ensure strength they must suppress or put in cold storage everything which causes dissension in their ranks.”

Dr. Ambedkar adds that the communal conflict which has increasingly characterized Hindu-Muslim relations, has also led to a stagnation in the Hindus’ efforts at reform, notably in the Hindu Mahasabha. In the case of Congress, it was another struggle that had taken all energy out of the efforts at reform (which had been so prominent a concern around the turn of the century), viz. the struggle against the British. In all tirades by Ambedkarites against Hindu society’s observed slackness at social reform, this effect of the pre-occupation with other matters should be borne in mind (as is done so charitably in the case of the Muslims, not only by Dr. Ambedkar but also by present-day secularists).

With that, we have touched the major topic of Dr. Ambedkar’s study of the Muslim problem, Pakistan or the Partition of India (Published in 1940): the communal conflict. He observes: “The Muslim’s spirit of aggression is his native endowment and is ancient as compared with that of the Hindu. It is not that the Hindu, if given time, will not pick up and overtake the Muslim. But as matters stand today, the Muslim in this exhibition of the spirit of aggression leaves the Hindu far behind.”

Dr. Ambedkar distinguishes three forms of “political aggression of the Muslims”.

  1. “The ever-growing catalogue of the Muslims’ political demands”. Follows a list of demands followed by agreements followed by increased demands, from 1892 till 1932.
  2. “The spirit of exploiting the weaknesses of the Hindus”. This means that “if the Hindus object to anything, the Muslim policy seems to be to insist upon it and give it up only when the Hindus show themselves ready to offer a price for it by giving the Muslims some other concessions”.
  3. “The adoption by the Muslims of the gangster’s method in politics”. Dr. Ambedkar explains: “The riots are a sufficient indication that gangsterism has become a settled part of their strategy in politics. They seem to be consciously and deliberately imitating the Sudeten Germans in the means employed by them against the Czechs.”

Dr. Ambedkar describes how the Muslims had been showered with concessions at the Round Table Conference in 1932, and how that was only the starting-point of a new series of demands, such as the choice of Urdu as sole official language, the unlimited freedom to perform cow-slaughter, recognition of the Muslim League as sole representative of the Muslims, inducement of the Muslim league in all the provincial governments, constitutional imposition of more than proportional job reservations for the Muslims in army and administration, Muslim representation at all levels through separate electorates, and finally “a 50% share in everything.”

Dr. Ambedkar comments: “In this catalogue of new demands, there are some which on the face of them are extravagant and impossible, if not irresponsible. As an instance, one may refer to the demand for fifty-fifty… In 1929 the Muslims insisted [in the context of Bengal and Punjab] that in allotting seats in Legislatures, a majority shall not be reduced to a minority or equality. This principle, enunciated by themselves, it is now demanded, shall be abandoned and a majority shall be reduced to equality… with this new demand, the Muslims are not only seeking to reduce the Hindu majority to a minority, but they are also cutting into political rights of the other minorities. The Muslims are now speaking the language of Hitler had been doing for Germany. For their demand of 50% is nothing but a counterpart of the German claims for Deutschland uber Alles and Lebensraum for themselves…

Dr. Ambedkar also deals with the social aggression by the Muslims, and he gives a lengthy survey of the communal riots they started in the years 1920-1940 (meaning the spontaneous riots, as opposed to the riots orchestrated by politicians).

Formally, this list of riots and Muslim atrocities against Hindus serves as illustration to his critique of Mahatma Gandhi’s policy of Hindu-Muslim unity at all cost. He makes a bitter and almost sarcastic indictment of the Mahatma’s absent or anomalous or contradictory reactions to Muslim attacks on Hindus, and to the Mahatma’s unwillingness to make any change in his policy in response to the feedback he was getting from reality. In style and contents, it resembles Nathuram Godse’s critique of Gandhi’s policies (formulated in the speech which he, as the prime accused, held during the Mahatma Gandhi murder trial). One didn’t have to be a Hindu fanatic to notice that Hindu-Muslim unity wasn’t working.

One of his allegations against Gandhiji is this: “He has never called the Muslims to account even when they have been guilty of gross crimes against Hindus.” Dr. Ambedkar cites, among other examples (like the Moplah rebellion), the series of murders of people who had criticized Mohammad and the Quran: Swami Shraddhananda, “who was shot by Abdul Rashid on 23 December 1926 when he was lying in his sick bed”, Lala Nanakchand, a prominent Arya Samajist, Rajpal, the editor of the book Rangila Rasool (gossip on Prophet Mohammed’s life, in reaction to a scurrilous Muslim publication on Sita), “stabbed by Ilamdin on 6th April 1929 while sitting in his shop”, Nathuramal Sharma, “murdered by Abdul Qayum in September 1934… in the Court of the Judicial commissioner of Sind where he was seated while awaiting the hearing of his appeal against his conviction under Section 195, Indian Penal Code, for the publication of a pamphlet on the history of Islam”. That is “only a short list, and could easily be expanded”.

Dr. Ambedkar points out that, while the murderers were tired by British judges, the Muslim leadership gave its full moral support to the murderers: “The leading Muslims, however, never condemned these criminals. On the contrary, they were hailed as religious martyrs… Mr. Barkat Alli, a barrister of Lahore, who argued the appeal of Abdul Qayum… went to the length of saying that Qayum was not guilty of murder of Nathuramal because his act was justifiable by the law of the Koran. This attitude of the Muslims is quite understandable. What is not understandable is the attitude of Mr. Gandhi.

The Mahatma has often been accused of Muslim appeasement. Dr. Ambedkar makes that criticism his own: “Mr. Gandhi has been very punctilious in the matter of condemning any and every act of violence… But Mr. Gandhi has never protested against such murders. Not only have the Mussalmans never condemned these outrages, but even Mr. Gandhi has never called upon the leading Muslims to condemn them. He has kept silent over them. Such an attitude can only be explained on the ground that Mr. Gandhi was anxious to preserve Hindu-Muslim unity and did not mind the murders of a few Hindus, if it could be achieved by sacrificing their lives.”

Dr. Ambedkar quotes an editorial of the Congress paper Hindustan, which draws some lessons from the unrelenting communal violence. “To talk about Hindu-Muslim unity from a thousand platforms or to give it blazoning headlines is to perpetrate an illusion whose cloudy structure dissolves itself at the exchange of brickbats and the desecration of tombs and temples.” And he comments: “Nothing I could say can so well show the futility of Hindu-Muslim unity. Hindu-Muslim unity up to now was at least in sight although it was like a mirage. Today it is out of sight and also out of mind.”

Dr. Ambedkar quotes a number of statements by Muslim political and religious leaders showing that Hindu-Muslim co-existence in one independent state is impossible because the Muslims will settle for nothing less than to be the rulers. For instance, Maulana Azad Sobhani is quoted as saying, with a typical Pan-Islamic outlook: “our big fight is with the 22 crores of our Hindu enemies, who constitute the majority… if they become powerful, then these Hindus will swallow Muslim India and gradually even Egypt, Turkey, Kabul, Mecca… So it is the essential duty of every devout Muslim to fight on by joining the Muslim League so that the Hindus may not be established here and a Muslim rule may be established in India as soon as the English depart.”

Dr. Ambedkar also quotes a few statements by Hindus who are apprehensive that independence will inevitably lead to a struggle with the Muslims, because Islamic scripture imposes on them the duty to establish Muslim rule in the entire world, especially in countries which they had already ruled once. For instance, Mrs. Annie Besant has said: “It has been one of the many injuries inflicted on India by the encouragement of the Khilafat crusade, that the inner Muslim feeling of hatred against ‘unbelievers’ has sprung up, naked and unashamed… we have seen revived, as guide in practical politics, the old Muslim religion of the sword, … In thinking of an independent India, the menace of Mohammedan rule has to be considered.” Lala Lajput Rai is quoted as writing about Hindu-Mohammedan unity: “I have devoted most of my time during the last six months to the study of Muslim history and Muslim law and I am inclined to think, it is neither possible no practical… I am also fully prepared to trust the Muslim leaders, but what about the Quran and the Hadis? The leaders cannot override them.”

So, Dr. Ambedkar was aware of the profound causes of Muslim hostility to Hindus and to co-existence within a non-Islamic state. Though he had not studied Islamic theology and was consequently unable to trace Islamic fanaticism to its source, he was an honest observer of past and contemporary history, and refused to fool himself about the incurable character of Islam. He totally rejected the facile explanation, sold today by the entire secularist establishment, that the cause of the communal problem could be found in British “divide and rule” policies: “The Hindus say that the British policy of ‘divide and rule’ is the real cause of this failure [of Hindu-Muslim unity] … But time has come to discard the facile explanation so dear to the Hindus… what stands between the Hindus and Muslims is not a mere matter of difference, and this antagonism is not to be attributed to material causes. It is formed by causes which take their origin in historical, religious, cultural and social antipathy, of which political antipathy is only a reflection.” That is not yet a sufficient analysis of Muslim separatism, but is a recognition of the intrinsic hostility between Islam and Hinduism, as opposed to the accidental effects of British divisive ploys.

Dr. Ambedkar effectively accepted the two-nation theory: Hindus and Muslims are so different in many cultural respects, and their political wills are so divergent, that it is not desirable to force them to live together in one state. So, the principle of a separate Muslim state should be conceded.

Among the Non-Muslim leaders, Dr. Ambedkar was probably the only one who accepted the Partition of India before the power shift (to the League’s advantage) and the bloody events of the 1940s nearly forced the acceptance of Partition on India’s political class. The Hindu Mahasabha equally accepted a version of the two-nation theory (in Veer Savarkar’s words, Hindus have India as their “fatherland and holyland”, unlike the Muslims), but nonetheless insisted on maintaining the unity of India. The Indian National Congress rejected the two-nation theory and built its demand for a United India on the Vanishing dream of Hindu-Muslim unity.

In a lengthy chapter, Dr. Ambedkar argues that neither Savarkar nor Mahatma Gandhi had a solution for the problem that Muslims are unwilling to live in peace as a minority in a secular state. He even says that suppression of a minority (which, according to Dr. Ambedkar, was not the intention of Veer Savarkar, who is constantly accused of just that till today), of which “the aim is to bring into being one nation”, is preferable to having two distinct nations living together in one state. He rejects Savarkar’s vision of two nations living in one Hindustan as dangerous and unworkable. For the “irregular” and “Vague” views of the Congress, with its denial of the plain fact that Hindus and Muslims function as separate nations, Dr. Ambedkar has nothing but contempt.

Dr. Ambedkar advocates Partition, and is consistent in this demand. If the reason for Partition is that two distinct nations cannot live together, then it is undesirable that the two new states retain minorities belonging to the nation for which the other state was founded. Therefore, Dr. Ambedkar advocates an exchanges of population. He still leaves open the possibility that many Hindus in Pakistan and many Muslims in India will prefer to stay on, but with an eye on the successful exchange of population between Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire, he proposes a practical outline for organizing such an exchange of population. Thus, legal instruments have to be created to transfer reasonable property rights of migrants, pension rights etc. instead of moaning that such an exchange would be unfeasible or a renouncement of the Congress dream of Hindu-Muslim unity, Dr. Ambedkar just sits down to work out in detail how it is to be done.

The contrast between Ambedkar’s and the Congress leadership’s attitude towards Partition is striking. Ambedkar faced the inevitability of Partition at least from the moment the Muslim League had decided to work for it. Gandhi and Nehru kept on exhausting themselves till the last in all kinds of unequal compromises and shameful concessions in order to avoid the inevitable. Ambedkar prepared for an equal deal among grown people, Gandhi and Nehru allowed themselves to be forced into submission by the Muslim bully’s insistent battering. Ambedkar proposed a clean and consistent settlement, Gandhi and Nehru refused to give up their shattered rhetoric of Hindu-Muslim unity and opposed the logical consequence of population exchange even after having effectively swallowed the two-nation theory and the Partition of India.

The Congress leaders opposed the exchange of population, and they refused to organize it. Nonetheless, in 1947 at least a partial exchange took place anyway, but with an estimated 6 lakh people killed on the road. Part of the responsibility rests with the Congress’ unrealistic refusal to co-operate with the inevitable. Moreover, in one direction the “exchange” would continue at a slower pace: The Hindus have been leaving Pakistan and Bangladesh, which are effectively becoming mono-religious states. At the same time, the Muslim minority in India has been making such demands and creating such trouble, that today there can be no doubt about which was the wisest option: a completed Partition which would settle the entire “two nations” each in their own state.

After partition the Schedule Caste politician Jogendranath Mandal was given a seat in the Pakistani cabinet, as a show boy to lure the Schedule Castes into converting to Islam. It was a bitter disappointment for Mandal, to which he gave expression by stepping down.

Dhananjay Keer reports on this episode and on Dr. Ambedkar’s reaction: “Jogendranath Mandal… who had asked the Schedule Castes in Pakistan to look upon Jinnah as their savior and had even asked them to wear a badge blatantly suggestive of Islamic associations, was now rudely shaken from his dream… Ambedkar was terribly upset, and he issued a statement denouncing the Pakistani government. He complained that the Scheduled Castes were not allowed to come to Hindustan and that they were being forcibly converted to Islam. He further said that in the Hyderabad state too, they were being forcibly converted to Islam in order to increase the strength of the Muslim population in the Hyderabad state. He therefore advised his people: ‘I would like to tell the Schedule Castes who happen today to be impounded inside Pakistan to come over to India by such means as may be available to them. The second thing I want to say is that it would be fatal for the Schedule Castes, whether in Pakistan or in Hyderabad, to put their faith in Muslims or the Muslim league. It has become a habit with the Schedule Castes to look upon the Muslims as their friends simply because they dislike the Hindus. This is a mistaken view. Ambedkar further asked the Schedule Castes in Pakistan and Hyderabad not to succumb to conversion to Islam as an easy way of escape; and to all those who were forcibly converted to Islam he pledged his word that he would see that they were received back into the fold… whatever the oppression and tyranny that the Hindus practiced on them, he asserted, it should not warp their vision and swerve them from their duty. He warned the Scheduled Castes in Hyderabad not to side with the Nizam and bring disgrace upon the community by siding with one who was the enemy of India.

Dr. Ambedkar also rejected Islam because it had destroyed Buddhism in India and other countries. Many present-day Ambedkarites never tire of quoting this rather disputable line: “The history of India is nothing but a history of a mortal conflict between Buddhism and Brahmanism.” But Dr. Ambedkar has also, and very accurately, written: “There can be no doubt that the fall of Buddhism was due to the invasions of the Muslims.”

Referring to the Persian word for “idol”, but, derived from Buddha, Dr. Ambedkar observes: “Thus the origin of the word indicates that in the Muslim mind idol worship had come to be identified with the religion of Buddha. To the Muslims they were one and the same thing. The mission to break idols thus became the mission to destroy Buddhism. Islam destroyed Buddhism not only in India but wherever it went. Bactria, Parthia, Afghanistan, Gandhara and Chinese Turkestan… in all these countries Islam destroyed Buddhism. More precisely: “The Muslim invaders sacked the Buddhist universities of Nalanda [etc.] … They razed to the ground Buddhist monasteries with which the country was studded. The monks fled away in thousands… A very large number were killed outright by the Muslim commanders.

Short, the pro-Islamic orientation which agitators like V.T. Rajshekar want to give to the Ambedkarite movement, is not at all in consonance with Dr. Ambedkar’s own view of Islam. In fact, many of Dr. Ambedkar’s observations on Islam would now be branded as “Hindu communalist” by the very people who claim his heritage.

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