Hamid Dalwai: A Mutiny Within Islam

Hamid Dalwai, a Maharashtrian Muslim social reformer, died forty years ago. He was only 45 when he passed away. It was a tremendous loss for the Muslim community and secular India.

Many prominent Muslims in India have supported the demand for. abolition of practices such as triple talaq or polygamy. However, Dalwai was unique for a singular reason: he said that if something is unjust, it should be opposed NOTWITHSTANDING what the Quran says. In other words, Quran cannot be the last word. Shamsuddin Tamboli, president of Muslim Satyashodhak Samaj (an organisation founded by Dalwai) says in his recent Loksatta article that “nowhere in the world” Muslim reformers took this bold stand.

The importance of asserting ‘rationality and humanity first, religion second’ can not be overstated. It’s because this rebellion didn’t come to Islam, we are witnessing the ISIS phenomenon. To put the blame at the door of the US is to be blind to the root cause.

If we try and seek modern interpretation of ancient laws of Manu or Mohammad and base the demand of reforms on it, we are sure to tie ourselves in knots; it’s going to be a fraught exercise, because who decides whether my interpretation is correct or Taliban’s? The right course of action is to toss away the ancient book when we are seeking to formulate rules of behaviour in our times.

This is what Dalwai dared to preach to fellow Muslims. At the same time, he also debunked the thought of Hindu right wing. I remember reading an article by him where he coolly shows how juvenile some of Savarkar’s contentions and agenda are.

In person he must be a delightful man, full of sense of humour and warmth. Anil Awchat’s long profile piece on him makes one admire him hugely.

He received a lot of admiration from Hindu liberals in Maharashtra and hostility in equal measure from Muslim community which even today doesn’t celebrate him. Had Dalwai succeeded in his mission, he would have become saviour of Muslims in India, because much of the distrust of Muslims which the Hindu middle class harbours springs from the perception that the community is full of fanatics. Dalwai could have cut the ground from under the feet of Hindu communal parties. He was and is badly needed.

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