United colours of Khilafat - IV
by Shreerang Godbole on 03 Aug 2020 3 Comments

Who were the men who led the Khilafat Movement? Where did they learn the ropes of Islam and by extension, of pan-Islamism? How did their differing trajectories lead them to a common goal? To make sense of the events that played out from World War I to the Khilafat Movement (1919-24), it is vital to know the background of the main protagonists.


The Aligarh Movement


The British believed that the 1857 uprising had been staged by the Muslims, who had not yet reconciled to the loss of Islamic rule and the privileges that came with it. They were not very friendly with the Hindus whom they considered their subjects. From this sullen dejection arose the need for Muslim solidarity and thus was born the Aligarh Movement. Its progenitor was Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817-1898). As a loyal servant of the East India Company, he had sided with it against the 1857 Uprising. He was member of the Governor-General’s Legislative Council from 1878 to 1883. To Sayyid, the road-map to Muslim empowerment consisted of loyalty to the British, devotion to education and aloofness from politics.


In his address to the Mohamedan Educational Conference in Lahore, he described the aims of the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College that he founded in 1875, “It is essential for us to practise Islam. Our youth must receive instruction in religion and its history alongside English education. They must be taught the postulate of Islamic brotherhood, which is the most vital and intimate part of our faith. An acquaintance with Arabic or at least Persian is necessary to counteract disruptive tendencies. Fraternal feeling within the group can be best fostered by a large number of students living together, eating together and studying together. If this cannot be brought about, we can neither progress, nor prosper, nor even survive as a community”, (Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and Muslim Nationalism in India, Sharif Al Mujahid, Islamic Studies, Vol. 38, No. 1, 1999, p. 90)


It was in 1867 when Sayyid, in an interview to Shakespeare, the Commissioner of Benares, for the first time called the Hindus and Muslims as “two nations” (Al Mujahid, ibid, p.92). In a speech given in 1883, Sayyid asserted, “Now suppose that the English were to leave India... then who would be the rulers of India? Is it possible that under the circumstances, the two nations – the Muslims and the Hindus – could sit on the same throne and remain equal to power? Most certainly not. It is necessary that one of them should conquer the other and thrust it down”. (The Making of Pakistan, Richard Symonds, Faber, 1950, p. 31)


The Aligarh policy of loyalty to the British was incorporated into the founding principles of the All India Muslim League in 1906. Not all Muslims, including his Aligarh colleagues, approved of Sayyid’s pro-British attitude. In 1888, the Deobandis issued a fatwa against him. A former teacher at Aligarh College, Shibli Numani, founded the Muslim Education Society, known as Nadwat-ul-Ulama (lit. Assembly of Scholars) in Lucknow in 1894. The policy of loyalty to the British changed to one of resentment with the revocation of the Partition of Bengal in 1911, eliminating the Muslim majority province of Assam and East Bengal. The Balkan Wars (1911-13) which forced the Ottoman Turks out of their remaining territory in Europe and the British refusal to the Muslim proposal for the Aligarh University turned Aligarh into an anti-British hotbed. Thus, the anti-British feeling among Muslims started solely because pan-Islamic or Indian Muslim interests had come under strain.  


The brothers, Shaukat Ali (1873-1938) and Muhammad Ali Jauhar (1878-1931) who were to play a leading role in the Khilafat Movement were alumni of Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College, Aligarh and later its trustees and founder-members of the All India Muslim League. While Muhammad Ali started the English weekly Comrade (1911) and the Urdu newspaper Hamdard (1913), Shaukat Ali helped in founding the Anjuman-i-Khuddam-i-Kaaba (1913).The Aga Khan (1877-1957), religious head of the Ismaili Khoja sect, was one of Aligarh’s most generous patrons, and founder-President of the All India Muslim League from 1906-13. Though a supporter of the Khilafat Movement, he opposed the Non-cooperation Movement. Maulana Hasrat Mohani (1878-1951), founder-editor, Urdu weekly Urdu-i-Mualla, President of the 1921 Muslim League and leader of the Khilafat Movement, was also an Aligarh alumna.


The Deobandi school


The Dar al-Uloom (lit. abode of knowledge) was founded in 1867 in a mosque in Deoband in north-western Uttar Pradesh by three alumni of the Delhi madrasa started by Shah Waliullah – Maulana Muhammad Qasim Nanotavi (1832-1880), Maulana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi (1826-1905) and Maulana Zulfiqar Ali (1819-1904). While adopting some organizational features of Western education, they aimed to reform traditional Islamic curriculum and regenerate Islamic social order. Rather than rely on Government patronage, they sought financial assistance from all sections of Muslims. Like the Aligarhians, initially they stayed away from the newly founded Indian National Congress with Gangohi issuing a fatwa that it was alright for Muslims to cooperate with Hindus to obtain concessions from the British, provided such activity did not violate any basic principles of Islam (The Khilafat Movement: Religious Symbolism and Political Mobilization in India, Gail Minault, Oxford University Press, 1982, p.26). Like the Aligarhians, the Deobandis had Muslim interests alone in mind and any cooperation with Hindus was permissible if it served Muslim interests. 


After the death of the three founders, the mantle of Dar al-Uloom Deoband fell largely on Maulana Mahmud al-Hasan (1851-1920) who later became active in politics and was given the title of ‘Shaikh al-Hind’ on June 8, 1920 by the Central Khilafat Committee (CKC). To give Islamic orientation to Western-educated Muslim boys, Maulana Mahmud-al Hasan started a Quranic school in Fatehpuri Masjid, Delhi, the Nazarat al-Ma’arif al-Quraniyah (lit. splendour of the knowledge of the Quran), in 1913, that lasted for two years. He was assisted by his former student Maulana Obaidullah Sindhi (1872-1944), a converted Sikh. Interestingly, due to internal rivalries, the Deoband establishment had issued a fatwa in 1913 declaring Obaidullah Sindhi an infidel.


The Nazarat al-Ma’arif al-Quraniyah venture had among its patrons two Aligarh trustees, Hakim Ajmal Khan (1865-1927) and Dr. Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari (1880-1936) whose clinic was situated close to the Nazarat. Hakim Ajmal Khan was a founder-member, All India Muslim League and its President in 1919. He became Vice-President of CKC from 1919-25 and was also President, Indian National Congress (hereafter Congress) in 1921. Dr. Ansari became intimate with Ajmal Khan and the Ali brothers at Delhi. In 1912-13, he led Red Crescent Medical Mission to Turkey. The same year, he joined the All India Muslim League. From 1919, he was member of both the All India Congress Committee and the CKC. He became President, Khilafat Conference, Gaya, in 1922. It was Dr. Ansari who introduced Maulana Obaidullah Sindhi to Muhammad Ali and Abul Kalam Azad who were journalists at that time (Minault, ibid, p.30).


Both Mahmud al-Hasan and Sindhi were implicated in the Silk Letters Conspiracy (1913-20) wherein they organised efforts to start an armed revolution against British rule by forming an alliance of Ottoman Turkey, Germany and Afghanistan. Another Deobandi associate of Mahmud al-Hasan was Maulana Husain Ahmad Madni (1879-1957) who migrated to Medina in the Hedjaz and acquired Ottoman citizenship in 1902. He was Mahmud al-Hasan’s co-conspirator in his pan-Islamic schemes and was arrested in 1916 and interned at Malta from 1917-20 by the British. He subsequently joined the Khilafat movement. In October 1920, Jamia Millia Islamia was founded on October 29, 1920 at Aligarh by Mahmud al-Hasan, Maulana Muhammad Ali, Hakim Ajmal Khan, M.A. Ansari and others with a view to start a Muslim university free of British influence.


Firangi Mahal


Firangi Mahal (lit. palace of Franks/Europeans), an area in old Lucknow developed into a seat of Islamic learning from the time of Aurangzeb. It was here that the dars-e-nizamiyya (after founder Mulla Nizamuddin) or basic Islamic curriculum of Indian madrasas developed.


Maulana Abdul Bari (1879-1926), a descendant of Mulla Nizamuddin, received his initial education in Firangi Mahal before going to Hedjaz. There, he developed friendship with Hussain ibn Ali, later Sharif of Mecca and King of the Hedjaz. Maulana Bari travelled extensively in the Ottoman Empire before returning to India in 1908. In 1911, he actively collected funds for the Red Crescent Medical Mission and came in contact with Westernized Muslims such as the Ali brothers and Dr. Ansari. In 1912, he came under the influence of M.H. Kidwai. He was instrumental in founding the Anjuman-i-Khuddam-i-Kaaba in 1913 with the Ali brothers who later became his religious disciples. The Anjuman aimed to maintain the honour of the Kaaba and other Islamic holy places and to protect them from non-Muslim aggression. Its prominent members included Dr. Ansari and Hakim Ajmal Khan. Maulana Bari took a leading part in the founding of Jamiat-ul-Ulama-i-Hind in 1919. He was the founder-member of the CKC. As late as 1921, he had strong objections to uniting with Hindus as he considered this harmful for the Muslim community (The Khilafat Movement in India, 1919-1924, Muhammad Naeem Qureshi, dissertation submitted to University of London, 1973, p.58).


Maulana Bari served as a bridge between the ulama and Westernized Muslim leaders. He felt that “until the ulama take the reins of politics in their own hands and cross their voices with those in authority, it will be difficult for them to establish their religious supremacy. Also, the fulfilment of their higher aims, the protection of Islam, will remain merely an empty dream” (Qureshi, ibid, p.303).


The non-conformists


There were a few leaders who do not fit a single pattern. The outstanding example of such ‘non-conformist’ leaders was Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (1888-1958). Born of an Arab mother in Mecca, he was educated at his Calcutta home according to the dars-e-nizamiyya and at Nadwat-ul-ulama in Lucknow. He was greatly influenced in his early days by Sir Sayyid Ahmed’s writings. He started or edited Urdu newspapers and journals such as Lisan-us-Sadiq (1904), an-Nadwa (1905-06), Vakil (1907), al-Hilal (1912) and al-Balagh (1913). Azad joined the Muslim League in 1913 and remained its member till 1920 while also being the driving force behind the creation of Jamiyat-ul-Ulama- e- Hind (lit. association of ulama of India) in 1919 along with Maulana Husain Ahmad Madani. Azad was a strong proponent of Quran-based religious reform and political activity by the ulama. Azad was an egotist. He never got along with the Ali brothers. To him, Shaukat Ali was inferior intellectually while Muhammad Ali was referred to as munshi (clerk) in private conversation (Minault, ibid, p.42). In 1923, at an age of 35, he became the youngest person to serve as the President of the Congress.


The greatest amount of space in al-Hilal was devoted to coverage of news from Turkey. During the Balkan Wars, Azad extolled the virtues of various Turkish leaders, made constant appeals for the Turkish Red Cross and Red Crescent funds and wrote a regular column called ‘Conditions in the Ottoman Empire’. In one issue, Azad said unequivocally, “We must always remember that the Ottoman Caliph is the guardian of the holy places of Islam, and that support for Turkey is the same as support for Islam” (Minault, ibid, p. 43).  


To Azad, the iconoclastic theologian of the Hanbali juridical school, Ibn Taimiyyah (1263-1328), was the greatest hero. Under his influence, Azad propagated jihad in political life and Ittehad (lit. unification) in intellectual life (Ideological Influences on Abul Kalam Azad, Qazi Mohammed Jamshed, Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, Vol. 71, 2010-2011, p. 665). Ibn Taimiyyah’s teachings have influenced Wahhabism and organizations such as al-Qaeda.  


Jamiyat-ul- Ulama- e-Hind


The Jamiyat-ul- Ulama- e-Hind was founded in November 1919, in the wake of the Khilafat Movement. It started as a body of ulama belonging to different Islamic juridical schools but over time, it came to be dominated by the Deobandi ulama. Even today, it is counted as a ‘nationalist’ Muslim body that supported the Khilafat Movement and later opposed the demand for Pakistan. Maulana Azad was a prominent member of both the CKC and Jamiyat-ul- Ulama- e-Hind. Its aims and objects as laid down in its Constitution (The Deoband School and the Demand for Pakistan, Ziya-ul-Hasan-Faruqi, Asia Publishing House, 1963, pp. 68-69) are so explicit that comment regarding its true nature is superfluous.


1.      To guide the followers of Islam in political and non-political matters from a religious point of view.

2.     To defend on shar’i grounds, Islam, centres of Islam (Jazirat-ul-Arab and seat of Khilafat), Islamic rituals and customs, and Islamic nationalism against all odds injurious to them.

3.      To achieve and protect the general religious and national rights of the Muslims.

4.     To organise the Ulama on a common platform.

5.      To organise the Muslim community and to launch a programme for its moral and social reform.

6.     To establish good and friendly relations with non-Muslims of the country to the extent permitted by the Shariat-i-Islamiyah.

7.     To fight for the freedom of the country and religion according to the shar’i objectives.

8.      To establish ‘mahakim –i-Shariyah (religious courts) to meet the religious need of the community

9.      To propagate Islam, by way of missionary activities in India and foreign lands

10.  To maintain and strengthen the bond of unity and fraternal relations (as ordained by Islam) with Muslims of other countries. 


Such were the men who led the Khilafat Movement. What is striking is that they were united in their commitment to Islam and Muslim self-interests, despite differences in their backgrounds. To them, secular Indian interests were subservient to Islamic interests. Freedom or self-government for India hardly mattered to them; what mattered was the prestige of the Turkish Khalifa. Unity and cooperation with Hindus was a means to achieve their larger Islamic goals.


Theodore Morrison (1863-1963), British educationist associated with the Aligarh movement, said about the Muslims in India, “Such sentiment of nationality as they do possess link them not with Sikhs and Bengalis, with whom they share the soil but with their co-religionists, wherever they are found, be it in Arabia or Persia or within the frontiers of India” (Roots of Islamic Separatism in Indian Subcontinent, Om Prakash, Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, Vol. 64, 2003, p. 1053). Morrison’s observation is more than true for the leaders who championed the Khilafat Movement.


Two protagonists of that period are yet to be mentioned - both subsequently came to be known as the fathers of their respective nations. They are, of course, Mahatma Gandhi and Muhammad Ali Jinnah.


(Continued on August 10, 2020)


See also:

1] Khilafat Movement:  Relevance and discourse – I


2] Khilafat scriptural sanction and historical antecedents - II


3] Khilafat Movement: The previous hundred years - III


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