August Issue 2018

By | Bookmark | Published 3 months ago

Muslim scholars and ulema wielded a great influence on the politics of undivided India. One of the most prominent schools of Sunni ulemas was known as the Farangi Mahalis. Farangi Mahal was a building in Lucknow that was owned by a French merchant in the 17th century. The Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb bestowed this palace upon the four sons of Mullah bin Qutubuddin Shaheed, a leading scholar, in recognition of their service to Islam. Qutubuddin’s heirs moved there in 1695 and used it both as a madrassa and as a meeting place for Muslim scholars from India and abroad. 

The ulemas of Farangi Mahal are credited for introducing rational sciences such as logic, philosophy and theology in Islamic education.  A curriculum, known as Dars-i-Nizami, which gave a central place to logic and philosophy, was introduced in the Farangi Mahal madrassa in the 18th century and it is still followed in various parts of the world. 

The most prominent Farangi Mahali scholar in the early 20th century was Maulana Abdul Bari (1878-1926).  He was a proponent of Hindu-Muslim unity against British rule. Prominent Hindu leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Motilal Nehru visited and stayed at Farangi Mahal as guests of Maulana Abdul Bari. He played a central role in galvanising both Indian Muslims and Hindus to resist the British attempt to dismantle the Khilafat in Turkey, after the British victory over the Ottomans in the First World War. Two well-known leaders of the Khilafat Movement, the brothers Maulana Mohammad Ali and Maulana Shaukat Ali, recognised Bari as a spiritual mentor. Bari also penned a large number of books and papers on Islam. 

It was in these times of anti-colonial sentiment that Jamal Mian (1919-2012) was born. He was only seven years old in 1926, when his father passed away, leaving him the mantle of Farangi Mahal. 

Jamal Mian attended the Farangi Mahal madrassa and completed the four certification levels of education offered there – Mulla, Maulvi, Maulana and Allama. He entered politics at age 18, when Muhammad Ali Jinnah asked him to deliver a speech at the 25th session of the All-India Muslim League, in Lucknow, in 1937.   

The book notes that Jamal Mian was a fiery orator. It was this that made him the darling of the Muslim League leadership. His Farangi Mahal credentials, refined upbringing, and exposure to the influential figures in the Indian political landscape provided him with the necessary background. He remained fully engaged in the Muslim League from 1937, in spite of the distractions of having to reluctantly make a living as a businessman. He played a prominent role in the 1946 elections that were, as the book notes, “considered a referendum for Pakistan.” 

Jamal’s campaigning and fund-raising skills, coupled with his talents as a public-speaker, contributed to the resounding success of the Muslim League in the 1946 elections and the subsequent creation of Pakistan.    He was a young man of 28 when Pakistan was born. Sadly, it seems that this shining star of the Pakistan movement dimmed with the dawn of a new era. 

Unlike his much-revered predecessors of Farangi Mahal, Jamal did not get involved further with the madrassa. He didn’t write any significant treatise on important subjects, such as the necessity of rational knowledge for Muslim nation-building, or the nature of the new Islamic state that he was so committed to create. The prominence and respect he received seems to be due to the solid body of work done by his forbears in establishing Farangi Mahal as the most important centre of Muslim scholarship across the globe. His speeches, although stirring, were not intellectually stimulating. His 1943 Eid khutba in Calcutta (reproduced in full in the book’s appendix), comprises what any prayer leader would talk about: the need for unity among Muslims, the importance of charity and the problems with the western ways. 

To be fair, he was faced with the difficult task of filling the shoes of his father, a revered and larger-than-life figure. Being a family man, Jamal had the added pressure of providing for his family.

Jamal Mian’s political career was launched from the solid political base his father, Abdul Bari, had built during his courageous opposition to British rule and in his support for the Khilafat Movement. Once Pakistan was created, Jamal Mian lost interest in politics.  This may have been partly due to his financial worries and involvement in business – an activity that did not sit well with his intellectual nature. The displacement from ancestral Lucknow to Dacca (Dhaka), his troubles with the Indian government who refused to renew his Indian passport, and his being uprooted again in 1971, when he moved to Karachi when East Pakistan became Bangladesh, collectively took a toll on his mental health. The book mentions that he suffered from depression that periodically led to breakdowns. 

Nevertheless, he remained in politics as a peripheral figure, supporting military dictator Mohammad Ayub Khan and actively participating in his election campaign against Fatima Jinnah. However, he never went on to become an active member of any political party. This subject could have been discussed in more detail in the book, shedding light on the man’s political outlook following Partition.

It seems that Jamal Mian did not achieve the intellectual stature of his predecessors, who had turned Farangi Mahal into a leading centre of the struggle to revive the thinking processes of the Muslims, in India and in the rest of the world, that had become dormant for many centuries. This may well be because he was thrust into the Muslim League long before before making his mark as a scholar. 

Francis Robinson is the foremost scholar of the Farangi Mahal school of ulemas and wrote a book on the subject in 2001. This biography adds to the canon material from Jamal Mian’s letters and diaries. Unfortunately, there is nothing new ‘revealed’ in his diaries. Moreover, the letters are the ones written to Jamal, rather than those written by him.

The biography leaves a key question unanswered: Did Jamal Mian leave a lasting mark on the political and cultural landscape of the subcontinent, or did he bend under the pressures that came with the partition of India and become a mere footnote in the annals of history? n

The writer is an engineer by training and a social scientist by inclination.