Flight of the bulbuls - IX
by Shreerang Godbole on 07 Sep 2020 2 Comments

Poetry has been described as the spontaneous outburst of innermost feeling. But poetry that seeps into the collective consciousness of a people also reflects their psyche and influences behaviour. Bankim’s Vande Mataram extols the country of residence not as a mere piece of land but as a Divine Mother to be revered and worshipped by her children. Once the vision of the Divine Mother has been revealed to the people, as Sri Aurobindo said, “... there can be no rest, no peace; no further slumber till the temple has been made ready, the image installed and the sacrifice offered” (Rishi Bankim Chandra, Collected Works of Sri Aurobindo, 16 April 1907).


It is possible for a people to have an alternate view of their country of residence. To them, it is sacrilegious to refer to a piece of land as their mother, and indeed blasphemous to confer divinity and pay obeisance to it. In his poem Taranah-e-Hindi (Anthem of the people of Hindustan), better known as Saare jahan se accha, the poet Iqbal offers his view: “Ham bulbulen_ hain_ is ki, yih gulsitan_ hamara(We are its nightingales, it is our garden abode). Birds flock to a garden to enjoy the fruit that hang from its trees. They are certainly not obliged to stay there if the garden becomes desolate; they simply emigrate.


In the summer of 1920, the Khilafat Movement was still undecided regarding its final course of action. From May to November 1920, nearly 60,000 bulbuls emigrated (undertook hijrat) because in their view their abode had become unholy due to the forces of disbelief. It is inconceivable that an emigration of this proportion could take place if it did not have theological basis.   


Islamic injunction on Hijrat


The Quran clearly enjoins the believers to emigrate to a land where they can attain faith rather than remain in the state of wronging themselves (by continuing to live in unbelief). To those who do not emigrate saying they were oppressed in the land, (the angels) will say, “Was not Allah’s earth spacious that ye could have migrated therein? As for such, their habitation will be hell, an evil journey’s end” (Quran 4.97). Only the feeble who are unable to devise a plan and are not shown a way are exempt. The Quran gives the following assurance to those who emigrate, “Whoso migrateth for the cause of Allah will find refuge and abundance in the earth, and whoso forsaketh his home, a fugitive unto Allah and His messenger, and death overtaketh him, his reward is then incumbent on Allah...” (Quran 4.100).


The Prophet encouraged hijrat, indeed performed it himself. In the fifth year of his mission, when the Prophet saw the affliction of his Companions, he said to them: ‘If you were to go to Abyssinia (it would be better for you), for the king will not tolerate injustice and it is a friendly country, until such time Allah shall relieve you from distress’ (The Life of Muhammad, A Translation of Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah with Introduction and Notes by A. Guillaume, Oxford University Press, 1965, p. 146). The affliction and distress refers to the ‘persecution’ at the hands of the yet non-Muslim Quraysh tribe of Mecca. In September 622, upon the loss of support of his clan after the death of his uncle Abu Talib, the Prophet himself undertook hijrat from Mecca to Medina. It may be noted that hijrat is not the flight of cowards. It is strategy to regroup in Islamic lands and then wage war to reclaim the infidel land for Islam. Hijrat and jihad are not different. Hijrat is preparation to wage jihad with a vengeance.


Clearly, those who look upon the country of their birth as a Divine Mother and those whose attachment to a land depends on its state of belief or otherwise are a world apart! Those who cannot or will not grasp this simple truth will be unable to fathom the hijrat of 1920.


India as Dar al-Harb


Sometime after 1803, Shah Abdul Aziz (1746-1824), son of Shah Waliullah, issued a fatwa (Fatawa-i-Azizi) that the country was being ruled not by the orders of the ‘Imam-ul-Muslimin’ but those of the Christian rulers. With regard to India under the British, the ruling of his disciple and son-in-law Abdul Haiy (d. 1828), was even more specific, it was ‘the country of the Enemy’, for ‘no recourse is made to our holy law’. Interestingly, Abdul Haiy accepted service under the East India Company (The Khilafat Movement in India, 1919-1924, Muhammad Naeem Qureshi, dissertation submitted to University of London, 1973, p.118; see also Shah Abdul Aziz: His Life and Time, Mushirul Haque, Institute of Islamic Culture, 1995, pp. 24-26).


Classically, dar al-harb includes those countries where the Muslim law is not in force in the matter of worship and protection of the ‘Faithful’ and dhimmis (non-Muslims who pay tax to get protection). When a Muslim country does become a dar al-harb, it is incumbent upon all Muslims to withdraw to a dar al-Islam and re-conquer the dar al-harb, erstwhile dar al-Islam. When in 622 CE the Prophet performed the hijrat to Medina, he returned to Mecca eight years later as a conqueror. The supporters of the hijrat of 1920, in advocating emigration to Afghanistan, had this very end in view (Qureshi, ibid, p. 119).


As the British rulers were endangering the Khilafat, India had become ‘unholy’ in the Khilafatist view. The chief proponents of this view were the Ali brothers. In a letter dated April 24, 1919 to Viceroy Lord Chelmsford, they stated, “he (a Muslim) must migrate to some other and freer land with a view to return to it when it is once more safe for Islam... In view of our weak condition, migration is the only alternative for us...” (Qureshi, ibid, pp. 119, 120).


The Afghan offer


As Turkey, Arabia and Persia were under European Christian rule, Afghanistan was the only dar al-Islam. Afghanistan dreamed of filling the power vacuum created by the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. On February 9, 1920, Amir Amanullah (1892-1960) of Afghanistan delivered a speech stating he was ready to give up his life for the Khilafat and would welcome Muhajarin (those who perform Hijrat) from India to Afghanistan. This speech was widely publicized in India and created great excitement (The Hijrat of 1920 and Afghanistan, Abdul Ali, Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, Vol. 43, 1982, pp. 726, 727).


Amir Amanullah issued the following Nizamnama (Ordinance) for the comfort of the Muhajarin (Source Material for a History of the Freedom Movement in India: Khilafat Movement, Vol. X, Government of Maharashtra, 1982, pp. 398,399) :

1)      Any individual who thinks of migrating into Afghanistan shall obtain a passport either at Peshawar or Dhakka. He who places his foot on the soil of Afghanistan shall be treated as an Afghan subject enjoying full rights as such. He shall consequently be bound to abide by the Muhammadan Law and the internal laws of the realm.

2)    Any person entering the soil of Afghanistan and swearing allegiance to the Government of Afghanistan shall be given plots of culturable lands as detailed below:- An unmarried man 6 jaribs (1 jarib=0.49 acres or 2000 sq.m) of land. A married man 8 jaribs of land. An unmarried girl or any minor shall get no plot of land.

3)     Till before the crops of the lands allotted to them (Muhajirin) are ready to be reaped, these persons shall get the following ration: An adult 5 seers (Kabul weight; 1 seer=7.066 kg or 15.58 lbs) of wheat flour per month; A minor (from 6 years till puberty, 3 seers (Kabul weight) of wheat flour per month.

4)    Those persons to whom plots of lands have been allotted shall be advanced, in the first year, by way of takavi (advance), 6 Seers of wheat and Rs. 5 per jarib to enable them to buy ploughs, etc. The cash takavi shall be refunded after three years in three yearly instalments.

5)     The Indian Muhajir shall be exempted from payment of land revenue for a period of three years. This shall, however, be realised in the fourth year in accordance with the State rules.

6)    No political work shall be undertaken without consulting the Afghan Government.

7)     Persons who are educated, or those who know Art and Science, and the Government considers it necessary to engage their services, shall be taken in service if desired by them, and shall get pay according to their qualifications. The rest of the men shall be at liberty to take up service or follow any trade or profession.

8)    The Indian Muhajirin, when first entering the soil of Afghanistan, shall stay for a period of one to two months at Jabal-us-Siraj, when sites would be selected by the Government, where plots of lands shall be allotted to them and quarters built for them in the event of there being no free quarters.


The Khilafat Workers Conference held in Delhi on April 25, 1920 welcomed the Afghan offer. The ulama were divided on whether hijrat should be performed. One prominent Khilafatist who advocated the hijrat was Maulana Azad, blue-eyed ‘nationalist’ of the Congress.


Maulana Azad, champion of Hijrat


Maulana Azad’s contribution to the Khilafat Movement was mainly conceptual. His speech at the Calcutta Khilafat Conference on February 28-29, 1920 summarised arguments for the theological interpretation of the Khilafat movement in a classical manner. His treatise Masala-e-Khilafat wa Jazirat al-Arab (The Khilafat issue and the Holy Places of Islam) was the major Islamic document summarising the views of Indian Muslims on the Khilafat.


On March 25, 1920, Maulana Azad had argued that hijrat was not possible as Muslims had no place to go to. In an about-turn, he wrote the so-called Hijrat ka fatwa which was published in the Urdu daily Ahl-e-Hadith of Amritsar on July 30, 1920. He advised those ‘seeking righteousness’ to get in touch with him or obtain instructions from pro-hijrat ulama.


In his fatwa, Azad said, “After taking into account all the provisions of the Shariat, contemporary events, the interests of the Muslims, and pros and cons (of political issues), I feel satisfied... the Muslims of India have no choice but to migrate from India... Those who cannot migrate immediately should help the migrants (Muhajirin).” Those who remained in India were ‘not allowed to have any co-operation or connection with the body known as “the enemy of Islam”, and one who fails to do this will, in accordance with the holy Quran also be counted as “the enemy of Islam”. Azad maintained that his opinion was not at all based on political grounds.


Azad’s object was not (the temporal aim of) saving Constantinople but saving the Muslim faith. His only reservation about the hijrat was regarding its conduct. It ‘should be made in an organised form and not in a haphazard manner’. His other qualification was that he considered it ‘essential to take an oath of migration before one actually migrates’. Late in the campaign, when he could see its limitations and dangers, he remained stubborn and true to his principles, making only minor qualifications on practical grounds (Hijrat: The Flight of the Faithful: A British File on the Exodus of Muslim Peasants from North India to Afghanistan in 1920, Dietrich Reetz, Verl. Das Arabische Buch, Berlin, 1995, pp. 35, 36).


Preparing for hijrat


The Khilafat Committee seems to have been the main organisational base of the hijrat campaign. A Central Hijrat Office with branches all over India was opened; a broad-based propaganda campaign was launched. Local hijrat committees sprang up all over India and in the Frontier Province in particular. The Peshawar Committee bore the brunt of the preparations for hijrat and was known by the name Anjuman-i Muhajirin-i Islam Subah Sarhadi (Organisation of Islamic Emigrants of the Frontier Province; Dietrich Reetz, ibid, pp. 44, 45).


Mosques were frequently utilised for encouraging hijrat. Maulvis preached from the pulpit that Muslims who did not migrate would become infidels. Writers stirred popular emotions through prose and poetry. The vernacular press published rosy accounts of life in Afghanistan. The people were told stories of red carpet receptions which awaited the muhajirin (Qureshi, ibid, pp.125, 126).


Beeline of the faithful


For commencement of the campaign, a symbolic gesture was intended. The Urdu-paper Zamindar announced on May 7, 1920 that 1338 persons, corresponding to the year of the Muslim Hijra era, were ready to proceed to Afghanistan. Though some enthusiasts had secretly started crossing the border, the hijrat as an organised exodus started on May 15, 1920, - the day the peace terms with Turkey were published in India - when the first qafila of eager muhajirin crossed the border for Kabul ‘with great happiness and success’.


In the beginning, the hijrat took off slowly. One reason was that the CKC and Jamiyat-ul-Ulama were preoccupied with the proposed inauguration of the Non-cooperation programme. Besides, the hijrat was encountering strong opposition from prominent Khilafatists like Ajmal Khan, Kitchlew, Jinnah, Iqbal and others who honestly believed that the venture was not in the best interest of the community (Qureshi, ibid, p. 126).


The first batch of intending migrants consisted of 53 persons who crossed the famous Khyber Pass during the week ending May 15, 1920. At its height (July 1920) the campaign was limited to the North-West Frontier Province from where around 85 per cent of the emigrants hailed, while around 10 per cent came from Punjab and another 5 per cent from Sind. The highest estimate assessed the number of muhajirin who had arrived in Afghanistan at over 50,000 (Dietrich Reetz, ibid, p. 52). In addition to the 40,000 muhajirin estimated by the Afghans, over 7000 had emigrated after the Amir announced suspension of hijrat. Besides, small parties had gone to Khost as late as September 1920, and a large number of the muhajirin had gone to Afghanistan through routes other than the Khyber. The total numbers involved may safely be estimated at between fifty and sixty thousand (Qureshi, ibid, p. 148).


Two factors were worrisome to the British. As whole villages were vacated, there was heightened speculation over land and property which the intending emigrants were forced to sell and prices tumbled. The second factor which alarmed British officials was the growing impact of the hijrat on police officers and the army. By early August, the number of Muslim soldiers who had proceeded on hijrat was equivalent to one complete company with its Indian officers (Dietrich Reetz, ibid, pp. 53, 54; also Qureshi, ibid, p. 132).


The bubble of pan-Islamism


The muhajirin had to pass through barren mountainous country in the heat of Indian summer. Food and water were scarce. Once they left Indian territory, their trek turned into a nightmare. In spite of the Amir’s promises, very little was actually done. The muhajirin were oppressed by the Amir’s officials, who kicked and beat them. They were subjected to harsh, even brutal treatment at the hands of the people of their adopted country. Their womenfolk were dishonoured. The muhajirin were reported to be so bitter against those who induced them to emigrate that they were swearing to shoot the Mullahs when they reached their homes. The road from the Frontier to Kabul was dotted with muhajirin graves. According to eye-witnesses, the Khyber Pass was littered with corpses (Dietrich Reetz, ibid, p. 69).


During August 1920, the roads to Kabul were congested and winter was approaching. Afghanistan could accommodate only 40,000 Muhajirin up to winter. On August 12, 1920, the Amir postponed the hijrat. There were reports that the Afghans were turning back the muhajirin at the point of gun and bayonet (Qureshi, ibid, p. 141).


Disillusioned, the muhajirin wanted to come over to the Indian side. But before that, a group of Afghans from the Khost area attempted to flee the ever-increasing stream of muhajirin and come over to the Indian side in a sort of counter-hijrat. They had been dispossessed of their land in favour of the arriving muhajirin. Trouble was brewing in Khost area where both the arriving emigrants and the local population were deeply discontented (Dietrich Reetz, ibid, p. 70). About seventy-five per cent of the Indian muhajirin finally returned to India (Qureshi, ibid, p. 146).


The Hijrat movement, conceived as it was in the make-believe concept of pan-Islamism, was doomed to failure. Once the Afghans started feeling the heat of the hijrat, they suspended it and turned their Muslim ‘brothers’ back after dishonouring them and their women-folk. The bulbuls who had deserted their garden discovered that the grass was certainly not greener on the other side!


(Continued on September 14, 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


4] United colours of Khilafat - IV


5] World War I and the Indian Muslim response - V


6] Muslim-British nexus and Hindu naiveté (1857-1919) - VI


7] Petition and persuasion (December 1918-July 1920) - VII


8] Coercion and carnage - VIII


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