Book Review- Creating a New Medina by Venkat Dhulipala

Creating a New Medina authored by Venkat Dhulipala is an insightful and deftly crafted book, that provides a fresh perspective to long-established scholarship on the creation of Pakistan and its conceptions. Past historical accounts on its origins have been founded on the fundamental premise that Pakistan was a “bargaining counter”, an idea that was insufficiently visualised and one that accidentally resulted in the formation of a nation-state. First elucidated in Ayesha Jalal’s book, The Sole Spokesman, this narrative has since come to form a central part of the debate and historiography surrounding the partition. Far from supporting this notion, however, Dhulipala’s “Creating a New Medina” contends that the idea of Pakistan was widely discussed,  critiqued and debated and ultimately, came to be the result of Jinnah’s persistence and the Muslim Leagues concerted vision.  

Fundamentally, as the book’s name suggests, Pakistan was envisioned as a Medina of sorts; an “Islamic state under God’s law”. While discussions of the feasibility of the nation ensued, several factions of the Ulama (​​guardians, transmitters, and interpreters of religious knowledge and doctrines in Islam) voiced their hope that Pakistan would take its place in the world as the voice for Muslims and act as a worthy successor to the defunct Turkish Caliphate, a “pre-eminent symbol of Islam” prior to its collapse during the First World War.  

Furthermore, the book highlights the fundamental role of the minority provinces, particularly that of the United Province, in crafting the demand for Pakistan after the publication of the 1940 Lahore Resolution. Despite the fact that the United Provinces were never to touted become territory part of Pakistan, the regional Ulama provided the intellectual and political support needed to present Pakistan as an idea backed by the Muslim Community. Jinnah once summarily described it as a worthy “sacrifice for the emancipation and liberation of our brethren in regions of Muslim majority”.

Most importantly, however, Venkat Dhulipala challenges the notion that a majority of the Ulama was opposed to partition and promulgated the idea of composite nationalism “Muttahida Qaumiyat”. While scholarship suggesting sections of the community were in disagreement with the idea of the partition are accurate, a greater part of the community were vocal advocates of the two-nation theory, encouraged by the idea of an “Islamistan or Pan-Islamic entity”. To delve deeper into this Dhulipala explores the opposition to the idea of the partition spearheaded by Maulana Husain Ahmad Madani who was a fierce proponent of nationalism based on “homeland” as opposed to religion. More significantly, however, Dhulipala brings out the strong support for Pakistan from the Deobandi Ulama under the leadership led by Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanawi using extracts from speeches and correspondence, effectively ruling out any notions suggesting otherwise. Thanawi popularly described his support for the two-nation theory and the Muslim League by claiming that there was an “urgent necessity of politically organizing the community under its own separate organisation otherwise its identity would get erased” 

In essence, Dhulipala’s book provides a percipient view of the role of the Ulama and provinces in establishing Pakistan and encouraging emerging ideas of the two nation-theory. It effectively deconstructs the myth that there was an intentional lack of discussion on Pakistan by evidencing a variety of sources that stand testament to the fact that Pakistan was envisioned as a Medina of sorts, a worthy successor to the defunct Turkish Caliphate.

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