Mushirul Hasan wrote Legacy of a Divided Nation: India’s Muslims Since Independence in the aftermath of the devastating destruction of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya by the Indian government, on the grounds that it covered an earlier Jain temple. This removal of a sacred site important to Muslims as both a religious place and a historical treasure dedicated to the Emperor Babur sparked riots that eventually involved 150,000 people and killed more than 100. This was yet another low point in Hindu-Muslim relations, part of a pattern of fractured identity politics encouraged by India’s colonial rulers, then exploded in the murderous chaos after partition in 1947, in a string of riots in the 1960s which eclipsed local police and military ability to control them and for Hasan’s purposes, climaxing in the orgy of violence around loss of the mosque.
However, rather than seeing this pessimistically, Hasan analyzed the larger sweep of India’s history, and looked beyond the sectarian politicians to find a core of moderate Muslims who chose to stay in India rather than move to Pakistan, and who, while they might be very religious, see the maintenance of India as an egalitarian, socialist, secular state to be the best guarantee of freedom to practice their faith. This paper examines the reasons Hasan truly believes that this crucial population can support a less violent, more secular India, and ways in which policies based on those ideas have play out since 1993, especially in the wake of 9/11, the long intervention of the US in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the 2008 Mumbai Hotel attacks by Muslim extremists tied to Pakistan.
Deeper Indian history is important to understanding how recent the horrific animosity has been. Islam entered India beginning in the 1300s, along with the Mughals, who established an imperial presence in Delhi and ruled over a multi-ethnic and multi-religious realm of millions of people. While things were not always perfectly peaceful, great Mughal rulers like Babur (of the mosque) and Akbar insisted on toleration of all religious faiths. Akbar in particular scattered Mughal Muslim officials across India in the interest of better, impartial government bureaucracy, creating a patchwork of Muslim villages among the Hindu ones, as well as cities where the two religions lived side by side and intermarried. This official support aided a process of syncretism that was happening as people merged some aspects of their religious practice. While never abandoning their core religious beliefs, people absorbed ideas from their neighbors, with many Hindus, for example, adopting veneration of the martyr Hasan, the grandson of Muhammad who was murdered at Karbala, as a worthy and courageous person.
Additionally, because Islam has no overall central authority, as Catholicism has the pope, the “Little Tradition,” or the specifics of how the faith is practiced in everyday life, developed with wide differences around the...