Intro: Scholars, who had spent years contemplating the vast historical legacy of their forefathers in the land of their birth, suddenly found themselves in need of a new narrative, a compulsion to create a past for a nation in which they had just been reborn.
Contestatory points of view are evident in the polarity between the treatments of the seemingly ecumenical, syncretistic Mughal emperor Akbar and his orthodox grandson Aurangzeb. It seems logical that Pakistani textbooks would delve at length on the “Medieval Period” of Islamic ascendancy in South Asia as part of their historical legacy, since the Mughal empire gives historians the opportunity to capitalise on a ‘golden age’ of Mughal glory. What is surprising is the discursive treatment of information provided about this period in the standard Pakistani textbooks.
The Mughal emperor Akbar, in textbooks published by NCERT, is portrayed as a truly Indian ruler, the father of national integration. This is in direct contrast to the perception of Pakistani historians who see Akbar as harmful to the ultimate interests of Muslims in the Subcontinent. Most Indian and Western treatments represent Akbar’s reign as “a high peak of cultural assimilation and religious harmony.” While Pakistani historians see Akbar’s religious theories as apostasy, Indian textbooks represent him as the first truly “Indian” ruler, who along with the Emperor Ashoka Maurya before him in the second century BCE, personified the liberal, pan-Indian leader.
Mubarak Ali, an articulate historian living in Lahore, asserts that Akbar has been systematically eliminated from most textbooks in Pakistan in order to “divert attention away from his ‘misplaced’ policies.” Discussions of Akbar are short and superficial, such as in Social Studies for Class VI, in which his name is simply listed, but events of his life are not elaborated. In Pakistan Studies Class IX-X, Akbar’s name is not even listed among the Muslim rulers of India; and in Pakistan Studies for Secondary Classes, his name is not mentioned in the text alongwith other famous Islamic figures, a list that includes Mahmud Ghaznavi, Babur, Humayun, Shah Jahan, and Aurangzeb.
Akbar ruled India for over five decades, longer than any of his predecessors or descendants; Akbar nonetheless does not find mention in Pakistani textbooks. The Mughal king, redundantly called “Akbar the Great” expanded his domain across a larger area of India than the Mauryan dynasty. However, in discussions of this seminal regime that firmly established the Mughal Empire on Indian soil, Pakistani textbooks, though necessarily brief in their presentation due to space limitations inherent in a chronological march through the centuries, are almost unanimously silent about Akbar. This omission is an amazing hick-up of historiography in which fifty-five very essential years are simply eliminated. Typical of most treatments, in Pakistan Studies a textbook written by Rabbini and Sayyid, Akbar is mentioned only while discussing Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi, who is projected as a hero challenging Akbar's religious policy and restoring Islamic values in India. This perspective of Akbar’s “misguided policies” is derived in part from I H Qureshi’s interpretation of Mughal history as articulated in his magna opus, The Muslim Community of the Indo-Pakistan Subcontinent and also in his book about Akbar in which he states,
“It can be seriously contented if he possessed wisdom of the highest order. If he had, he would not have sought to weaken Islam and the Muslim community of the Subcontinent. At least he would have refrained from interfering with the established principles of Islam. Even Vincent Smith, who narrates Akbar’s aberrations from Islam with relish, concludes that ‘the whole scheme was the outcome of ridiculous vanity, a monstrous growth of unrestrained autocracy. . .’ How can it then be asserted that Akbar possessed wisdom in the highest degree?”
By the time Akbar’s orthodox grandson had killed his brothers and imprisoned his father, Akbar was already perceived as a quasi-heretic. The Medieval historian, K S Lal in Delhi told me, “The Muslim chronicler, Khafi Khan, a contemporary of Aurangzeb, does not mention Akbar, though he names Babur, Shah Jahan, and the rest.”
I H Qureshi, K K Aziz and A H Dani were Pakistan’s preeminent historians who, in footnoted articulate style, grounded their arguments in the Two-Nation Theory, thus creating a post-Partition intellectual milieu within which educators and bureaucrats could inscribe the face of a new nation. References to historical precedence are essential to justify and develop new definitions of nationhood. In this politically dynamic scenario, heroes were created and recreated, villains exchanged or expunged, and entire eras deemed meaningless. I H Qureshi taught at St. Stephen’s College and at the University of Delhi before Partition. AH Dani received a PhD in Sanskrit from Banaras Hindu University in the late thirties. Both scholars, who had spent years contemplating the vast historical legacy of their forefathers in the land of their birth, suddenly found themselves in need of a new narrative, a compulsion to create a past for a nation in which they had just been reborn.
Upon reaching Pakistan these scholars, trained in India had to reevaluate and rewrite their own histories completely. By necessity, they constructed an alternative past distinct from their previous knowledge of the Subcontinent as they began to search for heroes, new symbols and meanings, had to identify new martyrs, and discover variant milestones to fill in the details of Pakistan’s historical antecedents. Much of A H Dani’s work focused on the Central Asian roots of Pakistan, though as a scholar he does not dismiss the bedrock of Indic influences in Pakistani culture. Qureshi and Dani were patronised by both Ayub Khan and Zia-ul Haq. They were instrumental in constructing a past for their new nation that would set it apart from Indic Civilisation.
“The issue was not just the defence of Partition, or Independence from Pakistan’s vantage point, but a different reading of the past involving, among other things, the rejection of a diverse but vibrant composite-cultural and intellectual legacy. In order to legitimise Pakistan as a Muslim homeland, historians had to nurture the “image of the Muslims as a monolithic entity, acting in unison and committed to specifically Islamic values and norms”.
Tendencies that led to cultural accommodation or spiritual syncretism between Hindus and Muslims, that could have preempted and perhaps prevented the call for Pakistan, came to be criticised as agents working against the interests of the Two-Nation Theory. Deen-i-Ilahi, the religion created by Akbar and Bhakti movements, which opened a spiritual space where Sufis (Islamic mystics) and Hindus could find common metaphors and experiences of God, were seen as dangerous forces that almost subseemed Indian Islam. These syntegrationist energies are roundly rejected by IH Qureshi as threats to true Islam. Akbar is therefore interpreted as dubiously Islamic, whereas his great grandson, Aurangzeb, inspired by the orthodoxy of scholars such as Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi, is credited with saving Indian Islam from being swallowed up as yet another monist sub-sect of Hinduism.
Using the past selectively, passages from the writings of Indian Muslim scholars and chroniclers were appropriated where they seemed to support the eventual establishment of a Muslim nation. In the search for ideological validation, Pakistani historians reached into the past to claim as their own leading Muslim intellectuals of 18th and 19th century North India, such as Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Shah Waliullah, and Syed Ahmad Barelwi, highlighting their ideas wherever they could be construed to support the Two-Nation Theory.
Aurangzeb, like Mahmud Ghaznavi, has earned a similarly controversial place in the hotly contested historical record of the Subcontinent. According to Zafar, “[Aurangzeb] reversed the policies of Akbar and made a genuine effort to give the State an Islamic orientation.” Zafar adds, “Under Aurangzeb the Pakistan spirit gathered in strength.”
Though Jane Husain’s textbook, written for upscale private schools, in part blames Aurangzeb for the decline of the Mughal Empire, she ultimately acts as his apologist, explaining that he was caught in “a ‘vicious circle’ set in motion by Akbar’s misplaced ‘religious adventurism’,” which then precipitated “an ‘opposite reaction’ characterised in Aurangzeb’s reign by ‘anti-Hindu policies’,” which in their turn created a Hindu back-lash. She defends Aurangzeb against his critics while pointing to the sharply divergent historical interpretations of this controversial figure,
“Because of Aurangzeb’s religious fervor, historians tend to judge him according to their own religious leanings. Hindu and Christian historians often present Aurangzeb’s religious policies as the main cause of the disintegration of the Mughal Empire, while some Muslim historians try to completely ignore the negative effects of these policies.”
Yvette C Roser (The writer also known as Ram Rani is an American Scholar who writes on Hinduism)
(July 19, 2015 Page :36-37