Bangladesh Table of Contents
Procession in Dhaka honoring the martyrdom of Muhammad's
grandson shows clothing, buildings, and other aspects of early
nineteenth-century society. Watercolor by Alam Musavvir, ca. 1820
Courtesy Bangladesh National Museum, Dhaka
The recovery of the Muslim community from its low status after the 1857 mutiny was a gradual process that went on throughout the ensuing century. In education, commerce, and government service the Muslims lagged behind the Hindus, who more quickly adapted themselves to rapidly changing socioeconomic conditions. During British rule in India, most industry was Hindu-owned and Hinduoperated . Muslims lagged behind in business and in industry, especially those from eastern Bengal, which had long been regarded as remote from the hub of commerce. The words of Bengali commentator Mansur Ali succinctly describe the Hindu dominance and Muslim inferiority in virtually all spheres of society in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: "In Bengal, the landlord is Hindu, the peasant Muslim. The money lender is Hindu, the client is Muslim. The jailor is Hindu, the prisoner is Muslim. The magistrate is Hindu, the accused is Muslim." By remaining aloof from the Western-oriented education system, the Muslims alienated themselves from the many new avenues opening up for the emerging middle class. This self-imposed isolation led to an intensified awareness of their minority role. Curiously, however, it was Muslim opposition to the extension of representative government--a political stance taken out of fear of Hindu dominance--that helped to reestablish rapport with the British, who by 1900 welcomed any available support against mounting Hindu nationalism.
In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, under the leadership of a Muslim noble and writer, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (1817- 98), a beginning was made toward reconciling the traditional views of Indian Muslims and the new ideas and education system being introduced by the British. Syed was responsible for the founding in 1875 of the Muhammadan-Anglo Oriental College (renamed the Muslim University of Aligarh in 1921), where Islamic culture and religious instruction were combined with a British university system. Syed was one of the first Muslims to recognize the problems facing his community under a government ruled by the Hindu majority. He did not propose specific alternatives to majority rule, but he warned that safeguards were necessary to avoid the possibility of open violence between the religious communities of India.
Data as of September 1988