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On the 65th anniversary of Dr BR Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism, read what he thought of Islam and the Muslims in India

Islam, according to BR Ambedkar, could have never allowed a true Muslim to adopt India as his motherland. For that to happen, the establishment of Islamic rule was imperative. Ambedkar opined that the teaching of the Holy Quran rendered the existence of a stable government almost impossible.

14 October 2021 marks the 65th anniversary of the day when the chief architect of India’s Constitution Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar undertook one of the biggest decisions of his life-giving up Hinduism and embracing Buddhism. He along with close to 3,65,000 of his supporters gathered at Deekshabhoomi, Nagpur, and renounced their faith to take up Buddhism.

Ambedkar was born into a Mahar (Dalit) caste, who were treated as untouchables and subjected to socio-economic discrimination. To bring an end to this predicament, Ambedkar decided to relinquish Hinduism and adopt another faith. After contemplating for over 2 decades on which religion dovetailed perfectly with his requirements, he homed in on Buddhism and converted to the said religion on 14 October 1956.

But before he decided which faith would he choose, Ambedkar was certain about one thing: His religion of conversion would be from the Indian soil and not the one that had its roots elsewhere. He had deeply analysed the Abrahamic faiths at that time and concluded that their homogeneity and monotheistic principles did not fit with the diverse and pluralistic nature of the Indian society.

Among the three Abrahamic faiths, Ambedkar was most critical of Islam. It is a travesty of history then that BR Ambedkar, whose mortifying critiques of the caste system is routinely cited by ‘liberals’ to scorn and deride Hinduism, but whose trenchant criticism of Islam, and more specifically the history of Muslims in India, have received little critical scrutiny and has been swept under the carpet.

One of the enduring traits of Babasaheb Ambedkar was his forthrightness and his unapologetic expression of his opinions. He did not flinch from speaking his mind out, often weighing in on complex issues that politicians at that time studiously avoided.

For instance, the criticism of Islam was considered a political hot potato then and even after decades of India’s independence, but that did not deter Babasaheb Ambedkar from expressing his strident views on the Islamic doctrines and beliefs.

Ambedkar’s scathing views on Islam and Muslims in India

A compendium of Ambedkar’s thoughts on Islam and Muslims in India could be found in the seminal book ‘Pakistan Or The Partition Of India‘, first published in 1940, with subsequent editions in 1945 and 1946. The book, a collection of his writings and speeches, lays bare a staggering account of what Ambedkar thought about Islam.

Those thoughts have the potential of earning him the tag of “Islamophobic” by radical Islamists today.

In crude and lucid language, Ambedkar expounded that Islam was a divisive religion, a faith that segregated people into rigid groups of Muslims and non-Muslims, where the benefits of brotherhood and fraternity were limited only to the former, i.e Muslims, while the latter was treated with contempt and enmity.

“Hinduism is said to divide people and in contrast, Islam is said to bind people together. This is only a half-truth. For Islam divides as inexorably as it binds. Islam is a close corporation and the distinction that it makes between Muslims and non-Muslims is a very real, very positive and very alienating distinction. The brotherhood of Islam is not the universal brotherhood of man. It is a brotherhood of Muslims for Muslims only. There is a fraternity, but its benefit is confined to those within that corporation. For those who are outside the corporation, there is nothing but contempt and enmity,” BR Ambedkar wrote in ‘Pakistan or Partition of India.

Ambedkar also elucidated the incompatibility of Islam with local self-government. Underscoring the Islamic ideology of Muslim Ummah, Ambedkar said loyalty of a Muslim is not based on his domicile in the country but on the faith to which he belongs. Islam, according to BR Ambedkar, could have never allowed a true Muslim to adopt India as his motherland. For that to happen, the establishment of Islamic rule was imperative.

This was a bleak possibility given that India was a Hindu majority nation. Therefore, he concluded that for a Musalman, India could never be his motherland. This, of course, was the cornerstone of the two-nation theory propounded by the Muslim League, which inevitably led to the partition of the country.

The second defect of Islam is that it is a system of social self-government and is incompatible with local self-government because the allegiance of a Muslim does not rest on his domicile in the country which is his but on the faith to which he belongs. To the Muslim ibi bene ibi patria [Where it is well with me, there is my country] is unthinkable. Wherever there is the rule of Islam, there is his own country. In other words, Islam can never allow a true Muslim to adopt India as his motherland and regard a Hindu as his kith and kin.”

‘For a Musalman, loyalty to faith trumps his loyalty to the country’: BR Ambedkar on the question of Muslim allegiance to India

On the question of Muslim loyalty to his country vis-a-vis his loyalty to Islam, Ambedkar wrote:

“Among the tenets, one that calls for notice is the tenet of Islam which says that in a country which is not under Muslim rule, wherever there is a conflict between Muslim law and the law of the land, the former must prevail over the latter, and a Muslim will be justified in obeying the Muslim law and defying the law of the landThe only allegiance a Musalman, whether civilian or soldier, whether living under a Muslim or under a non-Muslim administration, is commanded by the Koran to acknowledge is his allegiance to God, to His Prophet and to those in authority from among the Musalmans…”

Ambedkar opined that the teaching of the Holy Quran rendered the existence of a stable government almost impossible. However, he was more alarmed by the Muslim tenets that prescribed when a country is a motherland to the Muslims and when it is not.

According to Muslim Canon Law, the world is divided into two camps, Dar-ul-lslam (abode of Islam), and Dar-ul-Harb (abode of war). A country is Dar-ul-Islam when it is ruled by Muslims. A country is Dar-ul-Harb when Muslims only reside in it but are not rulers of it. That being the Canon Law of the Muslims, India cannot be the common motherland of the Hindus and the Musalmans. It can be the land of the Musalmans—but it cannot be the land of the ‘Hindus and the Musalmans living as equals.’ Further, it can be the land of the Musalmans only when it is governed by the Muslims. The moment the land becomes subject to the authority of a non-Muslim power, it ceases to be the land of the Muslims. Instead of being Dar-ul-lslam, it becomes Dar-ul-Harb,” he said.

As per Islamic teachings, the world was divided into a binary setting: Muslim and non-Muslim countries. This division, Ambedkar explained, was the premise of the extremist concept of Islamic Jihad. The appellation used to describe non-Muslim lands, Dar-ul-Harb, which roughly translates to Land of War, is another testament to the bigotry promoted against the non-believers.

‘To Muslims of India, a Hindu is a Kaffir and therefore, undeserving of respect and equal treatment’: BR Ambedkar

The Muslim Canon Law made it incumbent upon Muslim rulers to convert Dar-ul-Harb into Dar-ul-Islam. This ideology was the cornerstone of the numerous crusades that Islamic invaders from the middle east carried out to conquer India starting from around the 9-10th century.

In fact, this ideology powers Jihad even today when thousands of Islamic terrorists around the world carry on with their crusade against non-believers, whom they pejoratively refer to as Kuffars or Kaffirs. How Muslims were instructed to convert Dar-ul-Harb into Dar-ul-Islam was summarised by Ambedkar as:

“…It might also be mentioned that Hijrat [emigration] is not the only way of escape to Muslims who find themselves in a Dar-ul-Harb. There is another injunction of Muslim Canon Law called Jihad (crusade) by which it becomes “incumbent on a Muslim ruler to extend the rule of Islam until the whole world shall have been brought under its sway. The world, being divided into two camps, Dar-ul-Islam (abode of Islam), Dar-ul-Harb (abode of war), all countries come under one category or the other. Technically, it is the duty of the Muslim ruler, who is capable of doing so, to transform Dar-ul-Harb into Dar-ul-Islam.” And just as there are instances of the Muslims in India resorting to Hijrat, there are instances showing that they have not hesitated to proclaim Jihad,” Christophe Jaffrelot quoted Dr BR Ambedkar as saying in his book ‘Dr Ambedkar and Untouchability: Analysing and Fighting Caste‘.

Addressing the question of Muslim obedience to a Hindu majority government at the centre, Ambedkar opined that it is an improbable prospect to expect Muslims to accept the authority of a government ruled by a Hindu majority because for them Hindus are Kaffirs and therefore, unworthy of respect and undeserving of ruling them.

“To the Muslims, a Hindu is a Kaffir. A Kaffir is not worthy of respect. He is low-born and without status. That is why a country that is ruled by a Kaffir is Dar-ul-Harb to a Musalman. Given this, no further evidence seems to be necessary to prove that the Muslims will not obey a Hindu government. The basic feelings of deference and sympathy, which predispose persons to obey the authority of government, do not simply exist. But if a proof is wanted, there is no dearth of it. It is so abundant that the problem is what to tender and what to omit…In the midst of the Khilafat agitation, when the Hindus were doing so much to help the Musalmans, the Muslims did not forget that as compared with them the Hindus were a low and an inferior race,” BR Ambedkar had said.

Ambedkar’s take on the prevalence of caste inequities within Islam

Ambedkar was also first among prominent intellectuals of his time to bring to fore the prevalence of the caste system in Islam. Hinduism hitherto had long been vilified for the existence of the caste system but Ambedkar highlighted that the dominance of the caste system and the practice of untouchability was pervasive in Islam as well.

He said Muslim society was riven by the social division between the Ashrafs and Ajlafs. The Ashrafs or the nobles included the foreign descendants and converted Brahmins whereas the Ajlafs or wretches were the lower caste Muslims.

Even after their conversion into Islam, Muslims were identified and stratified accordingly based on their caste. Besides Ashraf and Ajlaf, there was a third category called Arzals, which by many accounts is the most discriminated community among Muslims. Muslims were forbidden from associating themselves with Arzals. Arzals were not allowed to enter mosques to offer prayers. In addition to this, Arzals were also prohibited from using the same burial grounds as other Muslims. On occasions, they were also treated as untouchables.

Ambedkar did not stop just there. He pulled no punches in criticising Islam for the prevalence of child marriage, religious intolerance, the concept of slavery, rabid adherence to faith, the status of women in the society, polygamy and various other controversial practices.

“Take the caste system. Islam speaks of brotherhood. Everybody infers that Islam must be free from slavery and caste. Regarding slavery, nothing needs to be said. It stands abolished now by law. But while it existed much of its support was derived from Islam and Islamic countries. But if slavery has gone, caste among Musalmans has remained. 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,” Ambedkar said while describing the scourge of casteism that plagues Islamic society in India.

Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar was a man of great discernment and character. At a time when other Congress leaders were condoning behaviour that needed to be called out, Ambedkar made no bones about what he felt about Islam and Muslims in India. Unfortunately, decades later as ‘liberals’ appropriate him and selectively invoke his statements to have a go at Hinduism, in order to drive Dalits away from their Hindu roots, this facet of his life where he presided over a thorough and comprehensive assessment of Islam and the social maladies afflicting Muslims is conveniently brushed aside. It is time that Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s views on Islam receives the same critical scrutiny as his opinions on Hinduism have.

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Jinit Jain
Jinit Jain
Writer. Learner. Cricket Enthusiast.

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