Syud Hossain, Muslim Voice of Freedom

Syud Hossain

I have a book that I got about ten years ago, I think at a yard sale but it’s been so long I can’t remember. If I paid more than a buck for it, I’d be surprised. It is called Gandhi: The Saint as Statesman by Syud Hossain, an author who at the time I had never heard of. This is a first edition, published in 1937, and it turns out that Hossain, a Muslim, was a friend of Gandhi and was active in the Indian Independence Movement.

The book has an inscription signed by Hossain and Carl F. Sutton, the publisher. Dated August 20, 1938, it reads “To Stephanie and Cyril (?) Holton, with best wishes.” What’s more, inside I found two Christmas cards, obviously from the late 30’s or early 40’s (one looks handmade), sans envelopes, given by Syud Hossain to a Mr. and Mrs Ludwik Opid or Ford (the handwriting is hard to read). I don’t have the foggiest idea who these recipient were.

Hossain was an interesting guy, although his biographical information is scattered around here and there. “He exiled himself to the United States to find support for Indian independence, giving lectures and writing articles and books. In 1933, Jacques Marchais helped him organize the ‘Roundtable of Contemporary Religion’ in New York,” is how he is described on the Tibetan Material History website. It also says that “Jacques Marchais was a woman who had an early interest in Tibetan culture and who built a museum on Staten Island [Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art] that she thought of as an educational center to provide American people with a place of encounter with the East.” Sounds like another interesting person.

Here is a description of Hossain written by Blanche Watson for Pearson’s Magazine in 1922 (included the book’s appendix) that has some parallels with today’s situation:

From the moment almost of his landing Syud Hossain has been an animated denial. He has been obliged to deny, not once but scores of times, that the Mohammmedans and Hindus are deadly enemies; that the former are all Turks; that India is the size of Texas; that the Mohammedan is a ferocious war-maker; that India is unfit to govern itself; that England is in India for the ‘welfare’ of Indians; that Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent resistance movement is a preparation for bloodshed and violence.

Unfortunately, the aftermath of Gandhi’s revolution did result in a great bloodletting. As for the rest of that statement, it would appear that the misconceptions about Muslims and the East Syud Hossain had to contend with are not much different from those existing today. We haven’t come too far, have we?

Syud Hossain was born in 1888 in Calcutta to a well-to-do and prominent family.  His father was a scholar and the Registrar General of Bengal. In 1909, he went to England to study law.  In 1916, he became a journalist with the Bombay Chronicle and worked with its legendary editor, B G Horniman. While in Bombay he became involved in the Home Rule Movement, and in 1918 he returned to England as secretary of the Home Rule deputation.

In 1919, he joined the Independent where he gained notoriety with some passionate editorials that provoked the displeasure of the British Government.

Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit

Hossain fell in love with Vijayalakshmi Pandit, the sister of Nehru, who was an Indian diplomat and politician. This was a rather controversial relationship that attracted the attention of the international press for several years. The couple faced immense opposition to their marriage, and from some reason, it seems that Gandhi was vehemently opposed to it. According to the April 27, 1949 issue of the Miami Daily News “just a few weeks before her Washington appointment [as Indian ambassador to the US and Mexico] was announced, Syed Hussain was found dead in his corner suite at the famous Shepherd Hotel . . . His intimates there swear he died of a broken heart”.

This is confusing since the site that provided this information also says that Hossain “was made India’s first ambassador to Egypt where he died on February 25, 1949,” and elsewhere it is claimed that he and Pandit eloped and had a child.

While in the United Sates, Hossain became somewhat of celebrity. He was said to be a masterful speaker and he lectured at universities, social clubs, and various international organizations throughout the country on Gandhi and the Indian independence movement.

Much of this information, I culled from an article by Danish Khan entitled “Syud Hossain: India’s Voice For Freedom Abroad.” You can read the entire article at Indian Muslims.

Here is an excerpt from Gandhi: The Saint as Statesman in which Hossain discusses Gandhi’s principle of Ahimsa:

Nonviolence is thus both a principle and an instrument of Gandhi’s technique, but if any Westerner held that nonviolence, in Gandhi’s sense and use of the term, was anything pusillanimous he would make a grievous blunder. There is nothing namby-pamby about Gandhi. He is a spiritual athlete. His is no creed of cowardice . . .

By ruling our hate from his scheme of things Gandhi automatically rejects and repudiates violence or coercion which he regards as merely the instruments which subserve hate.  To him the attainment of any end, however intrinsically laudable it may be in itself, by methods of forcible compulsion, is a gross immorality. For Gandhi emphatically the end does not justify the means . . .

And Gandhi holds it to be the bounden duty of every individual not to acquiesce in or compromise with Evil, but on the contrary, positively to give it battle. But the difference is that Gandhi gives battle to wrong not by retaliatory hate and violence but by love and self-suffering. In other words, it is the practical unvarying application in daily life and to mundane affairs of the spirit embodied in “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” The application, however, is at once retrospective and redemptive.

Perhaps the most distinctive contribution of Gandhi to the ethical idealism of his time is his application of these principles on a scale that is unprecedented, and in a domain where it has never been tried before, namely, the notoriously sanguinary field in which Imperialism and Nationalism deadlock for mutual destruction.

We may now perhaps better realize how the saint came to be also the recognized and undisputed leader of perhaps the greatest national revolutionary movement of history.

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