A historian and ideologue-II

Dr I. H. Qureshi, the father of Pakistan historiography

A historian and ideologue-II

The separatist pathway that Muslim society in India took which culminated in the establishment of Pakistan was to Ishtiaq Hussain Qureshi a natural outcome and in a way a foregone conclusion. Muslims of the subcontinent had a distinct trajectory of history having hardly any overlapping with the history of any other community.

It is undoubtedly hard to refute that countries always need the support of history for showing common historical development, proving their distinctive identity, national character and common political aspirations. All this can be attributed to the endeavours of Dr. I. H. Qureshi who wove together a nationalist discourse for Pakistan. Subsequent generation of historians particularly those opting to write Urdu textbooks, blindly toed his line of argument and analysis, accepted his interpretation and conclusions that he drew from Indian history without raising any shadow of doubt. The assertion, that I. H. Qureshi has been the most influential academic in the formation of the current Pakistani mindset, will not be a hyperbole.

But having given all that is due to Qureshi, it too is irrefutable that linear historical narrative that operates through meta-narratives and establishes binary opposites, very conveniently obviates the complexity that underlies the process of history. The historians peddling the nationalist cause usually resort to pick and choose the facts which fit well into the construction of such narrative. Beneath the mega-narrative(s), there always are the sub-sets of cultural and linguistic identities. They resist easy subsumption into the nationalistic narrative which are arbitrarily ignored or obliterated.

Qureshi’s historical writings are predicated on the themes of Islam, separate Muslim identity culminating subsequently into the establishment of Pakistan and the inveterate antipathy for the Hindus. Throughout his historical writings, Qureshi has highlighted the Hindu bid for assimilating Muslim civilization into its own fold. He was quite succinct in underscoring that the very foundation of a separate nation was laid down the day when the first Muslim came to inhabit the subcontinent. Thus, a nation’s identity is embedded in Islam.

A Short History of Pakistan was an edited volume which was an official chronicle rather than an independently conceived project of history. The emphasis of that book was on Pakistani Muslim linkage with central Asia instead of Indian Subcontinent.

Whenever Muslims faced the threat of Hindu assimilation different elements within Muslims emerged to safeguard that separate identity. They might be the invaders from the North-West or such personalities like Mujadid Alif Sani (Shakh Ahmed Sirhindi), Emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir or Shah Waliullah.

To him, the personality had always been the prime mover of history.

According to him, Islam is far more than merely a religion. It in fact is a comprehensive and compact social system as well as a complete code of life which encompasses all aspects of human beings in such a way that it can create an organised and well-integrated Muslim community. Differences created by caste, kinship, and regional particularity are disallowed in the system, based on the principles of Islam. Muslims according to him had always been motivated by an intense love of Islam in their conduct and the system of governance.

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About the sense of insecurity among Indian Muslims, Dr Qureshi pinpoints two causes, one, their minority status, and second, the assimilative tendencies of Hindu civilisation. Among several books that Qureshi produced, the Muslim Community of Indo-Pak subcontinent (1962), the struggle for Pakistan (1965) and A Short History of Pakistan (edited volume) are the best representatives of his historical sensibility.

The title of the book, The Muslim Community of Indo-Pakistan Subcontinent, contradicts the very crux of Qureshi’s reading of Muslim history of India. He is known as one of the pioneers who designated Indian Muslims as distinct nation and not a community. Conversely, he calls Muslims as a community in the title of this book. This book provides a synoptic overview of the historical process eventually leading to Muslim separatism throughout the history of 1400 years (610-1947).

While discussing the clash between orthodoxy and heterodoxy, he categorically supports orthodoxy, and trenchantly castigates the pluralistic policies of Mughal King, Akbar, incriminating him of the Mughal decline. He hails the policies of Aurangzeb and considers him as one who arrested the process of Mughal decline. Thus, Qureshi perpetuated the dialects signifying Akbar and Aurangzeb as binary opposites, former representing the ‘evil’ whereas later epitomises the ‘good’.


Analysing the Muslim Community of Indo-Pakistan Subcontinent, Huma Ghaffar quotes Dr Abdur Rashid, "Dr Qureshi is an imaginative writer and his work sometimes becomes impressionistic and speculative. Much of what has been written during the post-Independence period is suffered with romanticism and overstatement of cultural symbols particularly in the period of surging nationalism. Dr. Quershi’s book is no exception to this". I think that is a fair assessment of that book.

The Struggle for Pakistan is an important book, which was allegedly ghost written by Khurshid Kamal Aziz, a renowned and prolific historian who worked with Dr Qureshi for number of years. Aziz never minced words and openly revealed that secret which obviously scarred Qureshi’s image as the father of Pakistani historiography. That book is the narration of Muslim League’s struggle against Indian National Congress for a separate state with Quaid-i-Azam as the central figure. That book enunciates December 22, 1939 as an important day for it put a seal on the Indian disunity. That was the day when Congress ministries tendered their resignation and Muslim League commemorated it as the day of Deliverance.

According to Qureshi, "A feeling of revulsion for Hindu rule awakened in their hearts the desire for Muslim rule. Muslim separatism was the logical result of Hindu intolerance. The idea of Pakistan was capturing popular imagination." Pakistan came into being after a successful struggle of the Muslims against "two imperialisms, British and Hindus" and that "Pakistanis did not receive Pakistan on a silver platter."

A Short History of Pakistan was an edited volume which was an official chronicle rather than an independently conceived project of history. The emphasis of that book was on Pakistani Muslim linkage with central Asia instead of Indian Subcontinent. Despite official support, that book and the principal idea that it aimed at projecting failed to gain popularity. Despite having gone into many editions, it remained a Sarkari  history.

Qureshi also wrote Urdu plays and the number of his Urdu works exceeds a dozen. It will be worthwhile if his Urdu writings are analysed too because that important dimension of Qureshi’s scholarship is still unexplored. (Concluded)

A historian and ideologue-II