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Past present: When the empire crumbled

Published Aug 25, 2013 04:53am


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When the Mughal empire disintegrated, the provincial governors took advantage of the weakening central authority, became independent. Others also adopted royal titles.

With the collapse of authority, robbers, bandits and thugs became encouraged to plunder caravan processions passing through unprotected cities, towns and villages. Amid chaos, the common people hoped that a leader would emerge, come forward and protect them from marauders wandering freely from one place to another.

After the death of Aurangzeb in 1707, the Mughal empire was involved in continuous wars of succession, which divided the nobility and erased the political structure.

Anarchy led to rebellions by the disgruntled nobility who wished to access high offices in order to loot and plunder state resources. The result was a decline of moral values which plunged the whole society into disarray and turmoil.

Under these circumstances, Shah Waliullah raised his voice against the course of decline and suggested measures for revival of Muslim power in the subcontinent. His main concern was to improve the political, social and economic condition of the Muslims, while disregarding other communities who also confronted the same situation and needed support and guidance to survive. Failing to produce capable rulers to control state affairs and to ably administer the political and economic system, the Mughal Empire finally lost its energy and vitality. The decline reached a point where reformation seemed impossible.

In his narrow-minded approach, Waliullah believed that he was sent by God to save and lead the Muslims of India. He claimed to have dreamt that he was appointed by the divine authority to guide the Muslims. As a self-proclaimed leader of the Muslims, his major concern was to unite the Muslim community which was in a state of chaos and disorder. In order to achieve his goals, he decided to win over the nobility and implement reforms with their help. He firmly believed that only the Muslims were capable of ruling India and that if the Hindus were desirous of power, they would have to convert to Islam.

According to Waliullah, this was what had happened with the Turks who had accepted Islam after becoming rulers. He believed that Islam was a universal religion and therefore, all other religions should be eliminated and Islam imposed on everyone as the true faith. Waliullah exhorted the followers of Judaism and Christianity to adopt Islam and any refusal was regarded as an unpardonable denial of God.

To revive Muslim power in India, Waliullah decided to take a strong step against the Marathas, Sikhs, and the Jats. However, he failed to understand that it was not possible to recruit an army which purely consisted of Muslims, since the society consisted of many religions, communities, sects and ethnicities intermingled and inseparable from each other.

He wrote letters to Najib-ud-Daulah and Ahmad Shah Abdali, advising that Muslim property should not be looted by the army. In one letter he warned Ahmad Shah Abdali to watch out for some Hindus in his service whoappeared loyal to him but were actually insincere to Abdali’s cause. In his letters, he advised that Muslim soldiers could not fight against Muslim rulers as God would check their movement and prevent any action which could be harmful to Islam.

Waliullah believed that the main reason for the decline of the Muslims was that they shared their business, social and political affairs with non-Muslims.

Shah Waliullah did not realise the fact that the Hindus served in the army, the revenue and other government departments and the Muslim rulers relied on their services for running the state administration which the Muslim community alone could not have managed. His suggestion to exclude the Hindus and their welfare antagonised the two communities.

When the Muslim nobles did not respond to his appeal, he called upon Ahmad Shah Abdali to help materialise his scheme. He urged Abdali that it was his religious duty to help and save the Muslims when the Marathas attacked them. Consequently, the Marathas were defeated in the third battle of Panipat in 1762. It failed to revive the Mughal power in the subcontinent but helped the East India Company to gain power as Shah Waliullah had overlooked the growing influence of the British in the subcontinent.

According to Shah Waliullah, the subcontinent was not the real homeland for the Muslims and that they were mere strangers. He introduced the idea among the Muslims of India that they should embrace Arab culture and language and that God would help them to get out of the subcontinent.

Sadly, the ulema of the subcontinent led the Muslim community towards separation rather then integration with other communities.

Comments (27) Closed

Shahbaz Asif Tahir Aug 25, 2013 05:45am

Your views about Shah Waliullah are non sense.

Waseem, Canada Aug 25, 2013 06:52am

Throughout muslim empire history, one dynasty was replaced by another. This process stopped at Mughals. They continued to decline but another family did not replace them. Nadir Shah and Ahmed Shah Abdali both had the opportunity to replace Mughals and consolidate the empire into a larger empire. Alas, their ambitions were restricted to looting Delhi. At the same time, Ottoman empire was also declining only to be replaced by Young Turk movement whose racist ideology invoked arab racist revolt. This led to the present chaos in the Middle east. Muslim nation theory led to formation of a Hindu nation in India with 6% of Brahmin and Banya castes as the leader of millions of untouchables who Muslims should have embraced. Pakistani nation could have pumped new blood into the ailing muslim umma but alas it disintegrated along racial lines with Mohagirs adding a new race to existing ones. When we live away from the subcontinent we do not appreciate the different shades of brown skin that we have. Why do we see them at home? Islam is not about color or race.... And Islam is not about building empires, palaces and which we find glory. We don't try to follow in foot steps of those down to earth, high moral characters who devoted their lives to advance knowledge and to make earth a better place?

Khalid Pathan Aug 25, 2013 08:47am

Taking an impartial view of the society and its problems, it seems that we have reached the event horizon, and are doomed to vanish into the "Black Hole" of insignificance on the world stage. People with little regard for humanity are using religion to promote and to protect their vested interests. This has resulted in hypocrisy, disorder, bloodshed, loot and a complete disregard of human life. I do not think that any state can go lower than this stage.

Tariq K Sami Aug 25, 2013 08:55am

A rather abrupt and weak conclusion. For example the writer does explain what might have happened had the battle of Panipat not taken place in 1762. The end might have come sooner for the besieged muslims of north India. A muslim majority in the North West of the Subcontinent would have been decimated for ever. Another Spain perhaps!

BISWAJIT ROY Aug 25, 2013 10:44am

Unnatural fault lines will get corrected in due time

LalaLahori Aug 25, 2013 12:37pm

Ramblings of an empty stomach.

Rao Aug 25, 2013 02:10pm

Now Pakistanis politicians and military believe in what Shah Waliullah believed.

Dr HR Ahmad Aug 25, 2013 05:56pm

Dr Mubarak Ali is presenting etiology of the illness of the current state of affairs driven by feudal-military-clergy complex. It separates people rather than integrates them. How we are carrying Moses virus from generation to generation successfully is unimaginable. The phase I of Pakistan from 1947 to1970 was apparently less virulent than Phase to 1971 to to date. May be the mode of life split from public orientation to private and public. This apartheid has weakened the state like the period of downfall of Mughal empire with all its consequences so well described by the able scholar Dr Mubarak Ali. Thanks for opening our eyes.

khanm Aug 25, 2013 06:14pm

For I have failed to understand as to why we keep on dwelling on history

Feroz Aug 25, 2013 06:25pm

Truth is very bitter so no one wants to accept your version of history. Very sorry to see zero comments.

zoro Aug 25, 2013 06:57pm

No wonder the muslim clergy in the Indian sub continent is vary of DNA testing even in rape cases ...

Sukhbir Aug 25, 2013 09:15pm

At last there is someone who has found the root of "Muslim Separation" in the continent. Look at the intellectual dishonesty, one breath one claims " Muslims must adopt the Arab Language and Culture" and in the very next breath states " Convert all other CULTURES to become Muslims". In fact the Great Shah Waliullah did not have a solution for the decline of the Muslim Raj as well as the Poor Muslims of the land. Well since then not many have come who professed any thing different and the Result is there for all to see. Separate Land yet discord, Land of the Pure yet Poor and with no prospect of becoming a prosperous, peaceful Democracy. Question that hurts most is "Our Continent has not produced a Leader who could Unite the People of the Land and urge them to March towards Peace and Prosperity in the last 400 Years." If there is GOD, "May He Have mercy on the Poor souls of the Indian Subcontinent".

Akhlesh Aug 26, 2013 02:27am

Mubarak Ali Sahib, You are absolutely right. Any doctrine of militant exceptionalism is a curse to peaceful and prosperous coexistence of diverse communities. Akbar realized that fact, but Aurangzeb didn't.

Citoyen Aug 26, 2013 06:06am

Alas, one more example of how religious thinking leads to bigotry and how bigotry corrupts the mind. There are many Shah Waliullahs today, in every community across the sub continent. They are a burden to mankind.

My suggestion to everyone is abandon religion and embrace science.

Citoyen Aug 26, 2013 06:27am

@Tariq K Sami: Perhaps not. Its instructive that during the 1857 uprising, the rebels ( Maratha, Jhansi, Awadh etc) nominated Bahadur Shah Zafar II to be their ruler.

Vijay Aug 26, 2013 07:53am

The very idea that any religion or race is fit to rule the world is non-sense. Most religions are based on some type of miracle and any claims of anyone being a messenger is bogus. That's why they are called faiths. They are just beliefs and nothing has been proven.

Most religions are about establishing some type of order in the society in my opinion. You may or may not agree but most religions are unfortunately used to control people and society. I do agree with Mr. Mao that the religion is opium for the masses.

Musa Ali Khan Aug 26, 2013 07:56am

@Shahbaz Asif Tahir: What a hypocrisy that Pakistani Textbooks depict this selfish person as a hero. Bravo Dr Mubark for correcting our distorted history.

Musa Ali Khan Aug 26, 2013 07:58am

Bravo Dr Mubark for correcting our distorted history

basha khan Aug 26, 2013 08:42am

"Waliullah believed that he was sent by God to save and lead the Muslims of India. He claimed to have dreamt that he was appointed by the divine authority to guide the Muslims. As a self-proclaimed leader of the Muslims, his major concern was to unite the Muslim community which was in a state of chaos and disorder" Isn't this what most of the Muslim leaders still think

Sri Aug 26, 2013 09:40am

the problem with the muslims is that they have mixed state and religion and are hopelessly confused unlike the europeans who separated them and succeeded. I hope the muslims realise it sooner than later.

Shahnavaz Aug 26, 2013 11:47am

Such a sweeping generalization of history. Shah Waliullah was a scholar and a philosopher. Numerous studies, very profound ones, have studied Waliullah's philosophy but it seems Mubarik Ali has read none. PhD theses on Waliullah's understanding of various religions have been written which emphasize how Waliullah believed that the essence of all religions were the following four qualities, ikhlaq. namely Ikhbat, Taharat, Samahat and Adalat 1.being humble to a superior force, 2.cleanliness of body and soul, 3.continual betterment 4.and justice. So much has been written on how Waliullah provides a theoretical bedrock in the shape of these concepts to the idea of religious harmony. There are so many books available on Shah Waliullah's approach towards various religions of the world and most of the scholars have praised Waliullah for his philosophical rigor and his acumen in explaining Islam in the transformation 18th century. I suggest just the introduction to Marcia Hermanssen's translation of Shah Waliullah's magnum opus entitled The Conclusive Argument from God to anyone genuinely interested in the thought of this great scholar. As far as Mubarik Ali is concerned, he is yet again guilty of sheer dishonesty which is not even intellectual. It is so sad Dawn considers such crap even worth the paper it is printed on.

Lala Lahori Aug 26, 2013 02:56pm

@Feroz: Are you still sorry?

Umer Khan Aug 26, 2013 03:24pm

Your analysis is somewhat true if we consider things in context of pluralization of society at that time, but u sir have overlooked certain facts, Deeni Akbari, If my memory serves me well was something Akbar started to unite people from different religions under one common flag. And he forced people to bow infront of him when they see him. According to my limited knowlegde of Islam this is totaly unaaceptable (If u think its not please do give a reason). Shah Walliuallah did what he had in those times to save Islam. He might not have been that far sighted to fully understand British involvment but whatever he did was good for Islam. Disintegration of empire was a fault of Mughal emperors not many Sufis who professed Islam back then.

Shehzad Zafar Aug 26, 2013 05:51pm

@Shahnavaz: I totally agree with Shahnavz. I am reading dawn since my childhood but since past few years dawns standard has reached new limits at the lower level.

Ahmer Aug 26, 2013 10:25pm

Islam in the sub continent is in greater danger today than it was during the period of Shah Waliullah and his teaching more relevant today than they were at that time.

AbbasToronto Aug 27, 2013 03:08am

Empire died much earlier than 1707 when Aurangzeb died. It was history when this narrow minded took over in 1658 imprisoning his father and killing his brothers.

Arab Lover Shah Waliullah's lament that India was not the real homeland for the Muslims and that they were mere strangers is racism pure and simple. He may have believed that Islam came for the Arabs and not for humanity. Contrast this with Iqbal:

Cheen o Arab hamara, hindostan hamara Muslim hein ham watan hey sara jahan hamara.

Silajit Aug 28, 2013 06:27am

Leaving aside the religious aspect, politically this was a daft thing to do. Inviting outsiders to address internal squabbles is a recipe for disaster.

Not claiming that Shah Waliullah was the only person to do that - these things sadly happened a lot in the tragic history of the subcontinent. But hopefully this is taught as an example of what not to do.

Those that feel that the Brits would be better at filling the void than the Marathas are doomed to repeat history.