Muslims and India’s Freedom Struggle

Muhammadullah Khalili Qasmi

India, from ancient times is famous for its civilization, rituals and natural recources. It existed even in the immemorial times. According to many prophetic traditions, the Prophet Adam (alayhissalaam), the first man on earth, landed in India. Interestingly Adam, the first prophet of Allah to the people, was the first man to stay at the soil of India. It is known to all that Muslims believe in all the prophets sent down by Allah on this earth. It is also known that all the prophets of Allah came with one religion that is Islam. So in this way, Muslims are the true successor of this land. 

After the seventh century AD, the atlas of the world changed. As two great world empires i.e. Persia and Rome collapsed. India also could not guard itself from the effect of the international revolution that was brought about by Islam. In 711 AD, Muhammad Qasim entered India and cut off Sind. Later, it was the turn of Sultan Mahmood Gaznavi (reign 998-1030) who conquered a good part of western and northern India. Soon after him came Sultan Shihabuddin Gauri in 1206 who laid the foundation stone of Delhi Sultanate (1206-1526). Finally came Babar whose Mughal empire lasted for centuries (from 1526 to 1857). 

The Mughal Empire with its all glory after the period of Aurangzeb Aalamgir (1618-1707) started declining. The undeserving successors of throne could not protect the inherited government from declining. Europe those days was passing by boundless scientific and economical progress while the Muslim empires like Ottoman Caliphate in Turkey and Mughal Empire in India could not sense the importance of scientific developments that were taking place in Europe. The onslaught of Europe on India started by the Portuguese pirates and colonialists in seventeenth century, but it was heightened when the English looters and terrorists disguised as ‘traders’ established bases with an eye on India’s wealth  and land. Later the East India Company began taking the country into its grip and finally it put an end to the 7-century old Muslim rule. 

First, East India Company established its base in Surat where it got permission to operate business in the period of Jahangir in 1612. The company got marvelous success and occupied all three important ports of Bombay, Calcutta and Surat. Shah Waliullah Muhaddis Dehlawi (1703-1762) was the first person who apprehended the danger and was disappointed of the Muslim government to stand to an action. So he chalked out a plan of complete revolution. Shah Waliullah’s various books reflect this thought and propound a complete framework. Shah Waliullah is the frontrunner of this field. Later, his sons and pupils forwarded his mission. 

Meanwhile, the company began to expand its area. It resulted at a fierce fight between the company and Sirajuddaula in Palasi (Plassey) (Bengal) in 1757. Sirajuddaula was defeated and the door was open for Britain to occupy Bengal. Afterwards, Haidar Ali and his son Tipu Sultan stood up to stop English steps in Deccan (Southern India). But this campaign suffered a major setback due to internal treachery and Tipu was martyred fighting in Srirangapattam in 1799. The English general Nell climbed up his dead body and shouted: “From today India is ours”. Finally, one day in 1803 the Mughal king in Delhi was forcibly asked to sign a paper that read, “The people for Allah, the country for King his majesty and the order for the Company”.

Meanwhile, Shah Abdul Aziz (rahimahullah) (1746-1823) who was realizing the situation very carefully issued a fatwa saying that India has become a Darul Harb (non-Muslim country); Muslims must wage war against the British. 

After 1803, there was no real threat to the English. The ground was not prepared to start any revolutionary movement. So, Syed Ahmad Shaheed (rahimahullah), a disciple of Shah Abdul Aziz (rahimahullah), with his some companions migrated to Qandahar in Afghanistan in search of a land from where he can run a movement and prepare a team for the revolution. There, he established an Islamic government and confronted with Sikhs who were a big obstacle in the way of their movement. Unfortunately, the greatest militant movement of this subcontinent suffered sedition of Afghans and finally collapsed. The remaining people, especially the Ulama-e-Sadiqpur, continued their mission inside India.  

The sparks of hate and anger against the English burst again in 1857. This time it was not a mutiny of a group but mass revolt against the English throughout the country. In Shamli people revolted in the leadership of Haji Imdadullah (rahimahullah) while they were fighting in Lucknow and Faizabad under the command of Begum Nawab and Maulana Ahmadullah. Meerut and Delhi were the centers where Indian army men were with Sultan Bahadur Shah Zafar. The revolt continued for months, but the Indians were defeated in the long run. 

It is noteworthy that the caravan of freedom was led purely by Muslims till 1857. Since the power was snatched from Muslims so they were naturally the first enemies of the alien government. According to historians, 27,000 Muslims were only hanged to death. Not to speak of the 7-day-long massacre. Even the children were not spared. The atrocities that were perpetrated on women are beyond imagination. Shah Zafar was exiled to Rangoon and his descendents were finished off. 

After the failure of 1857 revolution, the Muslim leaders changed their strategy. They started setting up educational institutions across the country to combat the government’s disastrous policies. On the foremost of them was Maulana Muhammad Qasim Nanautavi and his colleagues who established Darul Uloom Deoband to produce a team of Ulama who can fight eyeball to eyeball with British government. The first student of Darul Uloom Deoband, Maulana Mahmood Hasan known as Shaikhul Hind, with his people drew a plan known as “Reshmi Rumal Movement” (Silken Letters Movements). Hazrat Shaikhul Hind had a secret agreement with Ottoman Caliphate of Turkey to attack on British bases in India and prepare ground for revolt. But this plan also was sabotaged by some Muslims. Consequently, he with his colleagues was arrested and sent to Malta Island where they spent 3 years and later released when no guilt was proved. 

As the 1st World War erupted the Indian subcontinent was resounding with the slogans of Khilafat Movement. Until this point of time, no prominent Hindu leader was in the field. Due to the World War, the global scenario changed and India Hindus got up from their long slumber. Shaikhul Hind in his way back to India from Malta was supposed to get down in Bombay. Gandhi Ji was amongst those who came to receive him. After that in a meeting Shaikhul Hind, Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar, Mukhtar Ansari and other Muslim leaders elected Gandhi Ji as the leader. Since Hindus were in majority, so it was necessary to win the local and international support by putting Hindu leaders forward. 

Around 1919 Jamiatul Ulama came into being to provide Muslims a platform to fight against the English. It is worth mentioning that it was Jamiat, which taught the Congress to follow the path to freedom. Otherwise, it was not founded with sole purpose of independence. The Jamiat leaders worked closely with the Congress and inspired it to adopt non-cooperation, complete freedom and other programme. 

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the genius scholar and prolific water of the Indian subcontinent, was the hero of India’s independence. Through his writings and particularly historic newspapers al-Hilal and al-Balagh he heated up the continent with warm slogans of freedom that made the colonialists restless. He headed the Congress especially in the most crucial times of independence history during the II World War and afterwards. It was the continuous pressure and wise policy of the Congress under his leadership that materialized the dream of freedom in shorter period. 

These are some brief extracts from the history of freedom. Otherwise, the sacrifices that Muslims have offered to free India from the clutches of the English cannot be described in a short article. If we take only the names of the Muslim fighters it will take hours to finish. The most important thing is that Muslims were pioneer in freedom fighting and only they carried it on till 1900. The Hindu leaders appeared long after them and Muslims went parallel with them till the country was free. Muslims had always held high the torch of patriotism and freedom fighting.

Today, it is tragic enough that Muslims are blamed that they are traitors. Muslim fighters instead of being paid homage their names are removed from textbooks and history. While, many in Hindu community think that Muslims have got their share in the form of Pakistan, but they forget that still India has more Muslims than Pakistan or any other country in the world except Indonesia. 

The purpose to mention these sacrifices is to remind today’s Muslims of our brave past. Since, it is said that a nation which fails to treasure its history is lost in the darkness of ages. It has nothing that inspires it to face any threat with courage and determination. 

After the Battle of Balakot, a number of battles were fought against the British invaders of India. In 1856 a meeting of the senior ‘Ulama of India was convened. Amongst others, those who attended were Mawlana Ja’far Thaneseri, Mawlana Wilayat ‘Ali [these two were survivors of the Battle of Balakot], Haji Imdadullah, Mawlana Muhammad Qasim Nanautwi, Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi and Hafidh Muhammad Dhamin (rahimahumullah).

At this meeting, Mawlana Nanautwi (rahimahullah) said: “Are you not aware that the British are sitting on our heads. They have laid their snare throughout the country. Be prepared for decisive battles. We shall either be cut to pieces or fight them to the end. We shall not allow the British to occupy this country.”

One of those attending the meeting said: “Hadhrat, we are few in number and limited in resources.” Mawlana Nanautwi responded: “Is our number less than the number of the mujahideen of Badr?” The spirit of struggle was kindled in the hearts of those who attended. It was firmly resolved to free India from the clutches of the British.

Two major battles took place. One was the War of Independence under Haji Imdadullah, and the other was The War of the Red Shawls under Mawlana Mahmud al-Hasan who was the student of Maulana Qasim Nanautwi.

After this battle about 14,000 ‘Ulama were executed by the British. The War of Independence was fought on two fronts: One in Ambala under the command of Mawlana Ja’far Thaneseri, and the other in Shamli under the command of Haji Imdadullah. As Allah Ta’ala willed, the battle was lost, but not the spirit of Jihad of our ‘Ulama. They did not surrender to the British.

After this battle, the British viceroy to India requested his ministers and counsellors to submit a report on how to entrench British rule in India. One of the leading British politicians, Dr.William Yur, stated in his report: “Of the entire population of India, the Muslims are the most spirited and vigilant. The Battle of Independence was fought by Muslims. As long as Muslims cherish in them the spirit of struggle we shall not be able to vanquish them. It is therefore imperative to first and foremost snuff out this spirit by eliminating the ‘Ulama and the Qur’an.”

Giving expression to this advice, the government in 1861 launched a campaign to destroy copies of the Qur’an. 300,000 copies of the Qur’an were set alight by the government. An English historian writes in his memoirs: “From 1864 to 1867, the British government firmly resolved to eradicate all the ‘Ulama of India.

From 1864 to 1867 heart-rending acts of brutality and torture were perpetrated against the ‘Ulama . The British executed 14,000 ‘Ulama by hanging them on trees. From Chandi Chowk of Delhi up to Khaibar, from every tree hung the body of an ‘alim‘Ulama  were sewn into pig’s skins and hurled into blazing furnaces. Their bodies were branded with hot copper rods. Gallows were set up in the courtyard of the Badshahi Musjid of Lahore. Each day up to 80 ‘Ulama were executed by hanging.

Sometimes ‘Ulama would be wrapped in sacks and dumped into the Ravi River of Lahore. A hail of bullets would then be pumped into the sacks.

Thompson writes further: “As I reached my camp in Delhi, I saw a blazing fire. I saw a group of 40 naked ‘Ulama being led to the fire. As I was witnessing this scene, another group of 40 ‘Ulama were brought. In front of my eyes they were stripped of their clothing. Addressing them, the English commander said: ‘O molwis! You will be roasted in this fire just as these ‘Ulama are being roasted. To save yourselves, one of you should say that you were not part of the 1857 uprising. The moment I hear this proclamation, I shall release you all.’”

Thompson continues: “By the Lord who has created me! Not a single one of the ‘Ulama said anything of the sort. All of them were roasted on the fire. Then another group of forty was brought and roasted over the blazing fire. But not a single ‘alim surrendered to the demands of the British”.

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