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maintain some place for religious education, and to “live according to their station in life,” Sir Sayyid recommended English medium education for professional mobility and western scientific education for social capital (Malik 1989, 167). Sir Sayyid used the Urdu word qaum to define this community, and though its meaning in different contexts has been contentious, 2 for him it connoted the Muslims of India who were differentiated from the greater body of Muslims worldwide by their unique interaction with the Indian situation (Malik 1989, 144 & 231). His was not a territorial nationalism, not linked to a specific geography, but to shared experience; it was sustained by Indian Muslims who voluntarily subscribed to this theory, and worked to support the community’s sustenance through their actions and priorities. The students of the Aligarh Muslim University were on the front lines of the movement to consolidate Muslim nationalism. During the period of 18751947, when the leaders of the Muslim community sought to unify Muslims in opposition to British and Hindu domination, the needs and values of the elite were broadly interpreted and portrayed as the values of the community as a whole. Aligarh students saw, in their community, Muslims from all over India living together. As General Ghulam Umar told me, Mohammed Ali Jinnah visited Aligarh and I was a student there. He addressed the students and during his address he used the words ‘Muslim India.’ One of the students got up and asked him, ‘Where is Muslim India? There are some provinces where Muslims are in the majority, four or five provinces, but otherwise, Muslims are in Bengal, in Madras, everywhere. What is this Muslim India?’ And [Jinnah] said, ‘There is not a corner of India from which a Muslim student is not present here. This is Muslim India.’ (personal interview, Aug 8, 2006, Karachi) Jinnah thus taught them that they represented India’s Muslims, and hence that India’s Muslims were like them, regardless of their regional or linguistic origin. The Urdu speaking elites subscribed wholeheartedly to the idea that Jinnah inherited from Sir Sayyid, that the Muslims were a united moral community—a nation—because when they looked at its values, they saw themselves reflected.


For a history of the transformation of the idea of qaum to communalism see: Ayesha Jalal, Self and Sovereignty: Individual and Community in South Asian Islam Since 1850 (London, New York: Routledge, 2000).

Sagar XVII — 2007