Reading of Hayat Alvi’s Nonviolent Activism in Islam: Message of Abul Kalam Azad (2021)
The 20th century saw a number of thinkers/leaders who not only influenced their native people but also made a global footprint. Also in India, a number of personalities belonging to various religions/religious beliefs have appeared on the scene and left a lasting mark on the life and thought of the masses and the rulers. Among Muslims, one such prominent and renowned figure was Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (1888-1958): scholar, journalist, political leader and pedagogue. He was India’s first Minister of Education and his birthday (November 11) is celebrated as National Education Day.
Although in most writings about him his role as a freedom fighter/political leader, journalist, religious scholar or Quranic exegete (author of Tarjuman al-Qur’an) is discussed and highlighted, but one aspect important to his life and thought is his role as a propagator, preacher and practitioner of nonviolent activism – an aspect of his multidimensional personality in which he was heavily influenced by the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi and his practice of ‘Ahimsa (non-violence) and Satyagraha (civil disobedience).
In this context, below is an assessment of a recently published book, Nonviolent Activism in Islam: Message of Abul Kalam Azad. Written by Hayat Alvi (Associate Professor in the Department of National Security Affairs at the US Naval War College), who claims to be a “Gandhian” by heart, in this book she “tells the history and explains the Islamic legal precedent of non-violent civil war”. disobedience which Maulana Azad undertook in the face of British repression” (p. ix).
This book consists of five (5) main chapters, excluding the introduction and the conclusion, and its main purpose is “to illustrate the legal basis of nonviolent activism in Islam”, as that proposed, practiced, promoted and exemplified by Maulana Azad with the hope that contemporary leaders and activists can learn from his example, which “can be an argument against blind dogma and extremism in the modern age”.
In other words, Alvi highlights and discusses Azad’s nonviolent activism (hereafter abbreviated as NVA) as an anecdote or corrective measure for extremist interpretations of Islam (in particular) and Islam. other religions/religious traditions in general in the present day. .
Alvi is a staunch ‘Gandhian’, and therefore a staunch supporter and follower of Azad’s NVA, and is fed up with the ‘spreading of intolerant and militant ideologies (both secular and religious) which inspire acts of violence” (p. viii) or with “radical interpretations of Islam”. She therefore focused on and paid attention to “non-violent interpretations of Islam, particularly in the context of political activism in pursuit of social justice” (p. viii; emphasis in original). In other words, the book aims to provide “a counter-argument to violent Islamist extremism by educating the reader on the non-violent principles of Islam and how they can be used to counter extremism and radicalism”. (p. 16).
In this context, Alvi’s work makes a substantial contribution and she rightly argues that focusing on raising awareness of “non-violent aspects of Islam in today’s environment is equally invaluable” (p. 16). Below is a brief description of each chapter followed by a summary of the main arguments presented in the conclusion of this vis-à-vis their relevance to today’s scenario:
In the “Introduction” (pp. 1-19), the author gives a brief overview of current trends in Islamic thought; context of the NVA within Islam, as described, understood and interpreted by Azad; brief profile of Azad; and the purpose, direction, and outline of the book.
Chapter 1, “Abul Kalam Azad: Who Was He?” (pp. 21-47), delves deeply into Azad’s life, thought and ideas, his principles of NVA in the context of his “rational” interpretation of Islam, and his role as a leader of Muslims Indians in the freedom movement. Describing Azad as a “man of principle”, Alvi argues that “Azad’s pragmatism aligns with the Congress Party’s demands for an independent, united and secular India”; and above all, “Azad embraced and practiced Mahatma Gandhi’s strategy of ahimsa (non-violence) and satyagraha (civil disobedience), which, in turn, solidified Islam’s compatibility with non-violent activism” (p. 43).
Chapter 2, “The Concept of ‘Adl [Justice]Zulm [Oppression]and Mazlum [One who is Oppressed] in Islam” (pp. 49-68), presents a detailed description of the concepts of ‘Adl, Zulm, Mazlum and the violent persecution of the first converts to Islam, then draws connections between these concepts and historical events and the movement independence against the British in India, with an emphasis on the thoughts and practices of Azad.
Chapter 3, “Islamic Principles of Social Justice: From Maulana Azad to Arab Revival” (pp. 69-88), discusses Islamic principles of social justice in detail by examining its historical context, beginning with early Islamic history. , followed by the period of British colonial rule and the Indian struggle against it, and “analyzes the principles of Maulana Azad in the fight against injustice, and how this compares to the principles and practices of violent extremism” (p. 69).
Alvi makes a comparative analysis of “Islamist extremism” and Azad’s principles of non-violence, pluralism, peaceful coexistence and secular democracy, in chapter 4 (pp. 89-120). It deals, among other things, with the “rise of the Islamic State” (pp. 90-93) and the impact of “political Islam on the subcontinent” (pp. 110-116). In these discussions, Alvi attempts to compare and contrast Azad’s “principles of nonviolence to those of the most violent and puritanical extremists” (p. 89) and comes to the conclusion that Azad was “a staunch pro-independence Indian nationalist, the right of Mahatma Gandhi”. Muslim leader, and a loyal, selfless and diligent nonviolent activist” (p. 117).
In the context of the discussions made in the previous chapters, chapter 5 is devoted to “Implications of nonviolent Islam for peace and security” (pp. 121-135) because “there is not enough literature on nonviolent Islamic activism” (p. 121). In this context, Alvi highlights Azad’s nonviolent philosophy and activism, arguing that his “precedent of making nonviolent civil disobedience compatible with Islam” should be highlighted because it has the potential to “cut the grass under the foot of violent Islamist extremism” (p. 121-22). Referring to the calls of Azad, Abdul Ghafar Khan (aka Frontier Gandhi) and Gandhi to achieve “political unity” between Hinduism and Islam, “unity within Islam” ( in refuting “sectarianism”) and for “unity between as well as within religions” (p. 130, 131), Alvi concludes that “the disciplines of nonviolent activism in the fight against tyranny, injustices and the oppressions succeeded in obtaining justice without violence and an insatiable revenge” (pp. 132-33).
The book ends with a seven-page “conclusion” (pp. 137-143), and the main points made by Alvi are summarized below:
1. Through his preaching and practice of nonviolent struggle against oppression and injustice, Azad provided the design/model for the use of “ammunition to disarm violent extremism around the world” ( p.137)
2. Azad’s personal example in the “struggle against injustice under the British Raj is a model of choice for nonviolent activists to follow in demanding justice and eliminating oppression” (Ibid.).
3. Azad set the religio-legal precedent in modern Islamic history for “nonviolent civil disobedience” by strongly counter-arguing against “violent extremism”, and so his principles and message can be ” used in any fight against violent extremism” (p. 137). -38).
4. “Azad’s moderate orientation to Islamic teachings and non-violent practices” is very helpful in overturning “current negative stereotypes of Islam and Muslims” (p. 139).
5. Azad and his like-minded figures, such as Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., found “inspiration for nonviolent activism in their respective religions”, and their “faith messages to the masses were proven effective in mobilizing them to participate in their respective morally credible causes” (p. 139).
6. “Nonviolent activism typically results in conflict resolution and changes in laws and policies towards more just social and legal codes,” while “violent conflict” results in terrible violence with negative consequences on all aspects of human life, it is therefore rightly said that everyone “benefits from nonviolent activism” and every aspect of life is affected by violent conflict (p. 141).
7. Azad’s idea and practice of nonviolence refutes the argument of “extremists” that “oppression must be fought with violence” (p. 141).
8. Telling and relating Azad’s story is one of the most effective ways to free Islam from the “traps of the extremists” who have “hijacked” Islam in the current era (p. 142).
9. “Maulana Azad is proof that nonviolent activism in Islam exists with full legitimacy and offers the formula for successful conflict resolution, as well as the greatest likelihood of peace, tolerance and security for all ” (p. 143).
Thus, Alvi’s Nonviolent Activism in Islam presents a “compelling religious (Islamic) argument supporting nonviolent activism with ample historical evidence and examples, serving as ideological and intellectual ammunition against violent extremism” (p. 142). Azad not only embraced and practiced nonviolence and civil disobedience (i.e. Gandhi’s principles of Ahimsa and Satyagraha), but his “embracing and implementing these concepts and strategies indicate that ‘they are entirely compatible with Islam’ (pp. 142, 143).
Overall, the theme and subject of Alvi’s book – which is supplemented with images/pictures and Azad’s speeches (both in the original Urdu and in the English translations) – touches on a crucial question and important that needs to be given more space amid the ‘extremist atmosphere for a real image of Islam to be presented. Alvi should be recognized and appreciated for highlighting nonviolent activism, both in theory and in practice through historical events (especially in reference to Azad), and for emphasizing the relevance of nonviolent activism. violence in the 21st century – a century of extremism, violence, protests, and uprisings.
In summary, Alvi’s Nonviolent Activism in Islam can be described as a significant work that presents a positive, tolerant and peaceful image of Islam in a setting awash with negative stereotypes about Islam and Muslims. It is useful work to learn and adopt nonviolence as a solution to their problems, because everyone benefits from the tools of nonviolence and nonviolent activism and every aspect of life is affected by violence. and violent conflicts.
The author is Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies at Government Degree College Sogam (Kupwara). Comments to [email protected]