WASHINGTON DIARY: Feudal-mullah alliance —Dr Manzur Ejaz
The combination of rising mullah shahi and feudalism has produced the most corrupt and inhumane systems in human history. From mediaeval Europe to India to modern Pakistan, the feudal-clergy alliance — in most cases the clergy was the feudal — has devastated social development
The last time I checked the history books, it was clear to me that the British gave lands to our feudals. I had to check it again during the last week and I did not find anything contrary to my previous assessment. The cause for doubting my own recollection of history was due to an e-mail response to one of my articles from a reader.
The reader had serious problems with my emphasis on abolishing feudalism and enforcing a strict land reforms programme. The reader asserted that the land was given to the feudal class by God and that land reforms were akin to negating religion and the will of the Creator. The reader had suggested that we should plead to the rich to be kind to the poor and not indulge in methods negating the essence of our religion.
There is nothing new about this reader’s critique. Such arguments were common in pre-industrial Europe where the Catholic Church was part of the ruling classes in exploiting the poor serfs. The fundamental thrust of Martin Luther’s revolution was to free the masses of the feudal church’s tyranny and translate the Bible into the German language, something that was absolutely prohibited: the Bible could be written in Latin only, understood by the clergy and not by common citizens. The Church of Rome wanted to hang Martin Luther for translating the Bible into German, but he was saved by the German rulers’ adamant opposition.
The evolution of feudalism in India was no different from the one in Europe. Dr Ram Sharan Sharma has proved, taking pains in noting historical details, that feudalism in India was incubated by the rulers’ grant of land to Brahmans and mandirs (temples). It was a bit later when those land grants were awarded for military services. Therefore, the earliest feudals were the clergy and the warriors. The Indian clergy’s monopoly of Sanskrit as the only language of religious scriptures was just like Latin of the Catholic Church not being understood by common folks in Europe.
During Muslim rule in India, specifically during the Mughal era, the jagirdar (feudal) was a temporary post, besides permanent land grants to shrines and religious establishments. Usually, a dignitary was assigned a large tract comprising several villages for a certain period but transferred to another area after that time. A jagirdar of Punjab could have been transferred to Bengal after two years. Consequently, the jagirdars had no permanent stakes in an area and were bent on skimming off from the people as much as they could because of their uncertain future. However, the landed aristocracy created through land grants to shrines and religious establishments was perpetual.
The British continued the practice with some fundamental changes. They expanded the land grants to shrines of all kinds and that is why we see so many feudals bearing the last name of Shah, Makhdoom, etc. The British also made large grants to Jat and Rajput leading families like the Tiwanas, Noons and Daultanas for providing crucial services to the British Raj. In short, the feudals, religious or otherwise, were granted land for aiding the colonialists.
The land grants were always given by the rulers whether they were Hindus, Muslims or the British. How did it then become the recipients’ God-given right? I am sure that rulers, corrupt, cruel or otherwise, could not be elevated to the status of God as our reader believes. Therefore, if the rulers of today abolish feudalism, they will just be reversing the decisions of earlier rulers and not of God.
In the early days of Islam, land holdings were not a big issue because there were no big tracts of agricultural land in Saudi Arabia. However, the issue became divisive when the Muslims conquered the fertile lands of Syria, Iraq and Egypt. The conquering generals wanted possession of the newly fertile conquered lands but the second caliph, Hazrat Umar, did not permit this. Many believe that he was martyred by the group of generals whose possession of lands he was opposing. It is noteworthy that the third caliph, Hazrat Usman, granted the right of land possession immediately after being installed.
One thing is clear: the nexus between feudalism and the religious establishment, clergy or spiritualists, is the basis of the rise of feudalism. Therefore, our reader’s assertion reflects the traditionalist, mullah shahi view. Sufi poets like Sultan Bahu, Bulleh Shah and Waris Shah were not only attacking the mullah shahi’s religious doctrine but also their cooperation with the feudal. Waris Shah was much clearer and straight in taking the corrupt religious establishment to task for their servitude to the feudal. Sometimes, it feels that we are still living in the 18th century where mullah shahi is doing the same job for the feudal. It does not come as a surprise that the feudal and mullah/jihadi do not bother each other.
The combination of rising mullah shahi and feudalism has produced the most corrupt and inhumane systems in human history. From mediaeval Europe to India to modern Pakistan, the feudal-clergy alliance — in most cases the clergy was the feudal — has devastated social development. Feudalism may be defended on economic grounds — fractionalisation of land may lead to a less productive system — but it cannot be defended on a political and social basis.
The grip of the narrow-minded and backward feudal class does not allow the development of a modern state. The US, Europe and other industrial nations may spend billions of dollars to modernise the Pakistani state but it is not going to happen unless feudalism is abolished. The US should know better that Japan and South Korea developed after the end of feudalism. The new generation of Americans, wedded to ‘Reaganism’, has no clue about the post-World War II ideologies that prompted the land reforms in Japan and South Korea. Therefore, the movement for ending feudalism has to come from within the country. Unless feudalism is abolished, neither democratic governments nor military rule can modernise the state.
Pleading to the rich to be kind to the poor has never happened in history. It always takes a bloody revolution to distribute wealth. Pakistan is not going to be any different from other countries.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org