Mohammad Habib

(1895 - 1971)

New: Biographical essay by Irfan Habib.

Mohammad Habib's family was based in Lucknow, and they were split in two by Partition. He and his younger brother Mohammad Mujeeb were Congress nationalists. Their cousin Khaliquzzaman was quite prominent in Muslim League affairs. Their elder brother moved to Pakistan and his son Mohammad Haleem eventually became a judge in the Supreme Court.(One of the minority who voted against Bhutto's execution.)

Later in life, Prof. Habib became an admirer of communism, and at one stage the Opposition in Parliament nominated him for the post of Vice-President. In an interview at the time, he said he accepted the nomination only because he could not win.

In his professional life as a historian, he made his mark by being one of the first to investigate the social structure and the "spirit of the age" as opposed to the study of famous individuals in isolation. His outlook on India, its history, and its historians, found poignant expression in his Presidential address to the Indian History Congress in December 1947.

In our present strained times, his writings and comments on the early Muslim invaders in India carry a special interest. I list some excerpts from his essays on Mohammad Qasim and Mahmud of Ghazni. Of the latter he says that religion was only a convenient excuse for his depredations, the real cause being his desire to finance a strong empire at Ghazni. The inspiring motive was not Islam but the spirit of the Persian Renaissance. He wrote this not to defend Mahmud from his critics, but to criticise those Muslims who hold up Mahmud as an ideal and a religious hero -- and these were also Prof. Habib's most virulent critics.

It is curious, and a sign of our sad times, that his critics now are of the Hindutva persuasion and accuse him of whitewashing Mahmud's crimes. (For instance, one may look at the writings of Koenraad Elst.) As a look at his writings will show, this is very far from the truth.

Some of his writings:

1. Hazrat Amir Khusrau of Delhi
1st Pakistan ed. Lahore : Islamic Book Service [1979].

2. Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya: hayat aur talimat.
Dihli : Shubah-yi Urdu, Dihli Yunivarsiti, [1972] University of Delhi. Dept. of Urdu. Silsilah-i matbuat-i Shubah-yi Urdu [1970].

3. The political theory of the Delhi sultanate (including a translation of Ziauddin Barani's Fatawa-i Jahandari, ...
Allahabad, Kitab Mahal [1961].

4. Politics and society during the early medieval period :
collected works of Professor Mohammad Habib / edited by K. A. Nizami. New Delhi : People's Pub. House [1974-1981].

5. Some aspects of the foundation of the Delhi Sultanat [sic].
Delhi, Dr. K. M. Ashraf Memorial Committee; [sole distributers: Kalamkar Cooperative, 1968] Dr. K. M. Ashraf memorial lecture, 1966

6. Sultan Mahmud of Ghaznin. 2d ed.
Delhi, S. Chand [1967].

This page prepared by Amber Habib