Academic journal article Pakistan Historical Society. Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society

Sir Sayyid and Gasprinsky: A Comparative Study of Two Modernist Civil Society Movements in India and Russia

Academic journal article Pakistan Historical Society. Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society

Sir Sayyid and Gasprinsky: A Comparative Study of Two Modernist Civil Society Movements in India and Russia

Article excerpt

Present day Muslim societies across the globe appear to be inclined towards obscurantism rather than modernism.1 Some western scholars have even labelled Islam as a ?rival' of modern civil society.2 This view seems to overlook the contribution of various modernist civil society movements in many Muslim regions during the 19th century which remain relevant and thought-provoking even today. Its true that amidst the gradual encirclement of the Muslim world by European imperialist powers, a socio-political ?dark age' had descended upon the Muslim societies. However, by the late 19th century, the movement toward intellectual and socio-political awakening was resumed in many regions including India and Russia, noticeably with a Modernist approach.lt is interesting to note that by that time the earlier approaches to revive the lost glory of Islam through a retrogressive puritanism had either failed or receded in significance and impact. Hence those of Arab and Indian Wahabism and of Senüssiyah of Tripolitania were gradually losing ground as viable agents of change in the Islamic world. Consequently, a whole spectrum of reform movements appeared wherein a new generation of intellectuals and thinkers came forward with their modernizing missions. From Shaikh Muhammed ?Abduh of Egypt, ?Abdul Haque Hamid, Namik Kemäl and Tevfik Fikret of Turkey, Sir Syed and Ameer ?All (Justice) of India, to Häjji Agus Salem of Indonesia, a galaxy of profound thinkers and reformers emerged and strove to reform the stagnant Muslim societies in their respective regions. These were the enlightened men who realized and pointed out despite severe opposition from some sections of their own peoples, that the traditional religious ideology was incapable of safeguarding the present and securing the future of the Muslim world in both spiritual and material sense. For the majority of these thinkers, salvation lay neither in religious revivalism nor in the outright repudiation of Islam but in its adaptation to modern life. Such movements were more or less successful in mobilizing the Muslim peoples in their respective regions, but without an organized and well-maintained connection with each other. Although some leaders like Jamäluddm Afghani endeavoured to unite the Ummah (international Muslim community) on Pan-lslamic lines, most of these movements remained rather localised and disjointed.

This paper is an attempt to bring to light two of such reformist movements that emerged in the same era but different areas, viz., South Asia and Central Asia.3 These two regions that have been historically linked were separated, rather tom apart under two rival imperialist powers of Europe viz., the British and the Russian. Here in South Asia (or British India) Sir Seyd Ahmed Khan (1817-1898) and his colleagues launched a reform movement that inspired the dejected and defeatist Muslim community with confidence and self esteem. Across the Hindukush, IsmäTI Bey Gasprinsky (1851-1914) and his followers struggled to enlighten the backward looking Muslim population of the Russian Empire. These two 19-century movements have a number of similarities that surprise casual observers. However, a deeper study reveals a multitude of factors on the basis of which these similarities become quite understandable. The purpose of this paper is to draw some parallels between these two movements and their leaders viz., Sir Syed and Gasprinsky. However, it must be noted that this paper does not attempt to probe into the deeper insights of the theological debates initiated by the two leaders which have already been discussed at length by scores of writers since the 19th century.4 It is rather a comparative study seeking to bring out the converging and also diverging areas of two very important movements which had a profound impact on the historical developments in Indian and Russian Muslim societies not only during the 19th century but also for a long time to come.

For this purpose the paper is divided into three main parts. …

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