Although it is almost seventy years since the last Partition of the Subcontinent disquieting chasms remain on account of the partial knowledge not just of the Partition, but in the recognition of the activities of important participants, of communities, of belief systems in the struggles for Independence.
In this informative composition, Tariq Hasan, a journalist seeks to correct palpable lapses in historiography, of present academic scholarship highlighting several critical omissions seeking as he does to redress the transmission of fabricated interpretations: his, is an indispensable endeavour and necessitates discussion.
Whether it is the mediocrity of the prolific Whig/Utilitarian publications, inheritors of the colonial mantle, or, scholarship by the nationalists or, at the other end of the spectrum, contributions by liberal or left-wing historians, Mr. Hasan argues that the critical role of the Ulema in the anti- British movements spanning over three centuries has simply not been appreciated. Thus, reflecting the appalling abyss in documentation of scholarship of our past which has only served to reinforce and consolidate the transmission of incomplete truths built on pernicious understandings. Indeed, acknowledging authoritative participation by influential Muslim scholars and thinkers in the struggles for Independence will provide much deeper appreciation of the all-inclusive opposition to British rule for over three centuries.
Further, in Mr. Hasan account is the implicit recognition of the detrimental colonial legacy — stranglehold of bureaucratic authoritarianism that remains present in the civil services as colonial infrastructure draw upon pervasive patron-client relations; such personalistic, opportunistic networks remain fundamental to state-society linkages penetrating institutions of civil society and liberal democracy, undermining programmes of socio-economic and political reform.
Utilitarianism and Empire
Mr Hasan perceptively re-affirms that it was John Stuart Mill and his merry band of English liberals which included Macaulay, Curzon and British administrators who laid the foundations of the two nation theory by dividing the history of the Subcontinent into the Hindu and Muslim periods – thus, instituting an official separation of the two communities as a natural outcome of history regardless of the centuries of entwined affability’s, of collective narratives resulting from the ebullient syncreticism – making obligatory such standardisation accompanied as they were by racial/ethnic markers: Hindus and Muslims were to be marked (and maintained) as two separate communities firmly opposed to each other from time immemorial.
Utilitarianism refers to "the Greatest Happiness Principle" — it seeks to promote the capability of achieving happiness (higher pleasures) for the most amount of people (this is its "extent"), benign paternalism or Pax Brittanica. Interestingly, in The Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche attacks Utilitarianism, "on account of its harmful consequences for the exemplary human being." He noted,”These historians of morality (mostly Englishman) do not amount to much…. they claimed the consensus of the nations, at least of the tame nations…and then they infer from this that these principles must be unconditionally binding also for you and me….Ultimately they all want English morality to prevail: inasmuch as mankind, or "the general utility," or "the happiness of the greatest number"…. No! How the happiness of England would best be served; they would like with all their might to prove to themselves that to strive after English happiness, I mean after comfort and fashion…. indeed that all virtue there has ever been on earth has consisted in just such a striving…”
What Mr. Hasan’s narrative makes explicit is how Utilitarian philosophy seeks to separate, inventing distinctions to produce a dichotomous’ ideal type’, a facet which remains unacknowledged by historians/ social scientist theorists of the Indian Subcontinent. Indeed, these persistent dichotomies generated conceptualized the basic social differences separating East and West in terms of social "stationariness," from which was conceived the concept of "oriental despotism,". That Asian and non European societies were primitive, a stagnant social entity, without history or imagination had been pivotal in European political thought for centuries and such thinking was to used to justify British Imperialism.
For instance, over the next two centuries, colonial administrators’ settlement reports, gazetteers, royal commissions affirm what James and John Stuart Mill as examiners in the East India Company had fostered: an integral connection between Utilitarian social policies and the empire. Specifically in the Indian Subcontinent, it was highly formative in establishing not just the colonial commercial aspects of administration, closing down of cottage industries, introducing zamindari systems, alienation of land from people, encouraging cash crops such as opium and sugarcane at the expense of food crops– but also of education, fixing of caste, hierarchical classifications of people, indeed, of polity. The colonies provided a social laboratory in which rational principles of Utility, homo economicus could be applied and tested through as Scott has pointed out the ‘colonisation of the conscience’. …”. Certainly, the imposition of the Black Letter Law dismembered heimat, separating people by creating differences, making obligatory such standardisations through two centuries of oppressive institutional regulations.
The Call for Jihad against Christian Evangelicalism
Hasan enlightens us of the eminent, influential theologians whose phenomenal contributions pioneered pathways in anti-colonial agitations laying the foundations for the 1857 Mutiny, of fatwas, several decades before the formation of the Indian National Congress. He focuses on seven influential figures (albeit there were many more), weaving their histories: the mystic Sufi revolutionary, Sayyid Ahmad Barelwi, Maulvi Ahmadullah Shah, Maulana Mahoodul Hasan, Maulana Obaidullah Sindhi, Maulvi Barkatullah Khan, Maulana Hussain Ahmad Madani as indeed, Raja Mahendra Pratap of Musan.
To begin with, in the Indian Subcontinent upon the foundations of Hanafi Islam for millennia, there remain powerful Sufi mystical traditions adhering to the Sunna and the Hadith. Mainly, they were Naqshbandi, Qadiriyah, Chistiyah,Suharwadiya tariqats marked by acceptance of religious eclecticism and bidat. They were strongly opposed to the Wahabbi philosophy in intent and in content. It was the Walliulahi movement inspired by Shah Walliullah grounded in mystical thinking advocating ijtihad and innovation in the spirit of the hadith which was one of the first anti colonial agitations that sought to reform Islam. Indeed, the Farazi movement in Bengal against the imposition of the Permanent Settlement which alienated cultivators from the land they had cultivated was powerfully evocative of Walliulallahi’s teachings.
Shah Walliullah’s son Shah Abdul Aziz issued a Fatwa in 1803 declaring British rule in India as Dar-al-Harb and called for Jihad. For, in addition to the Christian control from Delhi to Calcutta, the aggressive conversion to Christianity by the missionaries aided institutionally by the East India Company was as he put it a gross violation of local sensibilities; in addition freedom of movement of local people was not allowed and mosques were being demolished. Sayyid Ahmad Barelwi, the descendant of a famous Sufi saint Shah Allamullah inspired by the Walliulahi movement started the Tariqa –i – Mohomedia movement inspired mainly by the three Sufi orders Naqshbandi, Qadiriyah and Chistiyah. He observed that it was offensive that traders are seeking to assume the dignity of the Sultanate and it was imperative for jihad. On account of his anti-colonial activities, Sayyid Barelwi was hunted down by the colonial government and forced to escape to NWFP where he inspired the Afghans and is revered. He was buried in Balakot which has since become a shrine in a region now a war zone. His movement like many others of the time was strongly opposed to the aggressive evangelicalism of the Christian missionaries who were engaged in large scale conversions – a new phenomenon in the Subcontinent. It led to a growing, serious anti-missionary resistance- not against Christianity per se but against colonial government’s implicit support for missionaries and conversions in the face of hostility from the inhabitants for the region. Hasan argues this was one of the pivotal causes of the 1857 Mutiny which most scholarship has perilously neglected. Indeed, there is an urgent need to consult a number of original writings of this period in Persian, Urdu and other languages which remain buried.
Hasan also is keen to correct misinterpretations: the injunctions of the Holy Qu’ran states that Jahada is for collective well being of whole community consisting of believers and non-believers; Jahada is not an armed struggle but asserts first of all the struggle for righteousness and ethics from within. Indeed, prohibitions against warring occur more than seventy times in the Qu’ran, but when oppressive measures and tyranny abound, there is the need to challenge the oppressors.
Insurgencies of 1857
Following the Vellore Mutiny of 1806, Hasan notes with treachery and cunning the defeat of Tipu Sultan in 1799 was effected by the British; there emerged considerable disquiet among the people, and the Ulema. Added to that the annexation of Awadh in 1856 by deposing the Nawab Wajid Ali Shah triggered anger and defiance. Indeed, the British administration, Hasan notes, systematically dismembered the deep syncreticism of Awadhi culture leaving behind a bitter legacy of anguish which we continue to experience. Indeed, Hasan describes how altercations between clerics and others often were resolved but with the British civil service, divisiveness became the norm. A chapter on Awadhi syncreticism would have been useful.
There were immediate challenges to colonial annexation which triggered the 1857 revolt. An important figure was Ahmadullah Shah a Prince from Chennaptna whose erudition, charisma and mystical presence had mesmerised several thousands of mureed (followers); he came to be known as the Maulvi of Faizabad. He was drawn to the Qadiri tradition, and as is the case with Sufi traditions, averse to all forms of intolerance embracing religious eclecticism. Tilism, an Urdu newspaper he began was circulated widely. As Maulvi of Faizabad his anti British activities came to the fore in the siege of Lucknow. The Firangi Mahal was the centre of activities. He joined Begum Hazrat Mahal and her son Bilkees, What Hasan does not mention is that Begum Hazrat Mahal was a devotee of Hanuman and called her son Manglu, such was the depth of syncreticism. A number of original Persian accounts such as Ahsan utTawarikh, Tarikh-i- Shahjahanpur, Naqsh-i- Suleiman East India co aur Baghi Ulema have fortunately recently been translated.
Following the ruthless crushing of the revolts and imprisonment, the Ulema were indefinitely interned and were the among first prisoners to be deported to the Andaman Island prison–‘Kala Paani’. Also Hasan observes that religious places were desecrated and occupied by British soldiers. Quoting Metcalf, he notes in Delhi Jama Masjid was occupied for five years, Fatehpuri Masjid for twenty; the Zinatu’l-Masajid was used as a kitchen for over half a century. Akbari Masjid where social reformers met was razed along with the madarasa Daru’l-Baqa. And over 1400 people were killed in the Kucheh Chelan Mohalla where Abdul Aziz had preached- the list is incomplete and needs fresh scholarship. These events estranged people further. Since the 18th century, Hasan needs to note that several hundred societies came into being such as the Anjuman-i-Kaba as it was feared that Europeans would occupy Makkah and Medina. Over the next decade, innumerable societies came into being such as the Anjuman-i-Kaba, Nazarat ul Muarif which published two important books: Taleem-ul-Qu’ran and the Kuliad-e-Qu’ran; these books reveal that many Hindus and Sikhs also participated with Muslim Ulema in anti-colonial agitations.
There were different movements such as the Ahl-i-hadees, the Barelvis—all seeking to reform Islam and also, imbued by anti –colonial sentiments. Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad set up the Hisballah founding the Al-Hilal newspaper in Calcutta which co-ordinated the activities with the Ghadr party founded by Lala Hardayal; all these movements created a network of anti-British organisations; Like many others enagaged in anti-colonial activities were crushed by the British.
Similaryly, the Junood al Allah association worked with the Ghadr party. Hasan discusses in great length Jamaluddin Al Afghani born in Persia – whose Pan Islamic ideology covered the Subcontinent, Ottoman Empire setting up a bank Islamic Caliphate Bank with a religious decree, ghalibnama asking Arabs to join the freedom struggle. Hasan could have also mentioned of Shahjehanpur conspired to loot the British treasury at Kakori, Syed Rahmat Shah of the Ghadar party who worked as an underground revolutionary in France and was hanged for his part in the unsuccessful Ghadar uprising in 1915; Ali Ahmad Siddiqui of Faizabad attempts to extend anti- British struggles in Malaya and Burma along with Syed Mujtaba Hussain of Jaunpur; he was hanged in 1917. Indeed, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan spent fifty out of his ninety years incarceration– the list is endless. Such accounts could inspire further scholarship for post-graduate students.
The Seminary at Deoband
A major contribution of the book is the discussion on the Deoband Islam which Hasan notes has been erroneously interpreted. The foundations of Deoband seminary in 1867 was laid by Maulana Qassim Nanautawi and Maulana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi imbued by the spiritual legacy of the Chistiyah tariqat.While they sought a pure form of Islam they also acknowledged religious eclecticism, bidat and offered fatia at tombs of Sufi saints. The Daru’l-uloom method of education referred as Dars –i-Nizamia was a six year course: Tafsir, Hadith, Fiqh, Usil-i-Fiqh, Faraid, disciplines based on Qu’ran guided by Sunnah traditions. It gained eminence and attracted students from Ottoman Empire, Persia and other kingdoms.
To the Deoband Maulvis and their followers, two directives of the Prophet were the guiding principles: afzalul jihad highest form of jihad is to utter truth against oppressive rulers’, secondly, hubbulwatan juz-al-imaan or love of country is an element of Islamic faith. Indeed, Maulana Mahmud ul-Hasan known as Sheikhul-Hind, one of the famous Deoband teachers established an association, Samar-i- Tabariya in 1878 to rid India of foreign rule. Shortly after the Indian National Congress was formed, it received recognition and support from Deoband. Of pivotal significance is the Fatwa in 1888 signed by two hundred eminent theologians titled Nusrat-ui-Abrar declared Muslims had the full sanction of their Hindu brethren to liberate country from foreigners, this spirit continued well into the 1950s. One of the most famous disciples was Obaidullah Sindhi, a Sikh who had converted to Islam and set up the Jamiat-ul-Ansar which comprised of Deoband alumni; it became the force behind such assemblies such as the Reshmi Rumaal or Silk Letters ‘conspiracy’ as the British titled it, organizing also the Khilafat agitation.
Syed Ahmed Khan's Aligarh Muslim University was opposed to Deoband. It was influenced by western education methods and firmly emphasized scientific education, but it was like Deoband also aiming to uplift Muslim population in Indian Subcontinent. Needless to say, most Muslims were opposed to the Partition of the Subcontinent and, the majority disavowed the Muslim League. Deoband remained firmly nationalistic. Hasan observes that it was only during the 1940s when a few clerics left Deoband and moved to Pakistan which they had supported. Maulana Sayyid Abul ala Mawdud founded Jamaat e Islami in 1941 which has as scholars such as Akbar Zaidi have noted with concern, have disavowed Hanafi South Asian Islamic traditions and espoused Salafi fundamentalism; these strains have influenced many umbrella groups such as the splinter groups Lashkar-i-Taiba, Jaish-i Mohammed and so forth. Clearly, the Jamiat- Ulema –e- Islam influenced by Muslim League separatism broke away from the original Jamiat Ulema- e Hind, the latter which remained fiercely nationalist and anti- Partition. Hasan reiterates that it was with US funding of madarassas in Pakistan since the 1970s after the Soviet occupation that Deobandis embraced Wahabbi thinking and have become increasingly Salafist. Thus Hasan makes a critical distinction between the Pakistani Deobandis and original Deoband School which had distanced itself from separatist politics. Salafi doctrines need to be investigated further as different strains exist- and religious scholars of Islam would be in a position to investigate these developments.
The 'Reshmi Rumaal conspiracy’ was organized by Maulana Obaidullah Sindhi, Barkatullah Khan, Maulana Hussain Ahmad Madani as indeed, Raja Mahendra Pratap of Musan. In 1914, messages woven in silk were sent by Muslim clerics who sought support of the Germans and the Ottomans to rid India of British rule Among them was Maulana Hussain Ahmad Madani whom Gandhi held in high esteem. He along with Maulana Obaidullah Sindhi, Barkatullah Khan and Raja Mahendra Pratap of Musan made inroads – travelling across on horseback to meet the Amir in Kabul. remained in exile until Independence. All these leaders were great scholars and inspired by freedom.The Ghadr party are also founded at this time. Hasan’s account covers the events in the Ottoman Empire and he observes that the course of the history could have been changed if Al Afghani and his attempts towards Pan Islamism had succeeded. Indeed, the only success that was possible came with the all India struggles that gained in strength over the next three decades. Here the contributions of the Ulema cannot be underestimated.
One of the shortcomings of Hasan’s account is that he has not included the followers of the Ulema –many of them were non Muslims – these movements require to be investigated by fresh archival scholarship- as also, original sources in Persian, Urdu and Arabic. Another is omission of several movements occurring elsewhere in the Subcontinent, such as the Mappilla revolts. Mapilla means son-in-law in Malayalam showing how locals accepted Arab traders as their own, these customs are integral to Indian Subcontinent. The British mis-spelt them as Moplah and had deliberately, it appears according to scholars interpreted all Muslim agitations including the Mapillas as Wahabbi to discredit them and alienate them from local populations, both Hindu and Muslim.
This is also an autobiographical endeavour. Hasan describes his upbringing, like most of his contemporaries– of shared traditions. Born in Aligarh and raised in a pious family he was taught to honour all faiths. Pandit Sunderlal was a family friend who wrote on the Gita and the Qu’ran . His village Garhi Samdabad- nestles on the banks of the Ganga and an ancestor was an artillery commander to the Awadh Nawab Asad Khan who had participated in the 1858 mutiny – thus his lands were confiscated, Abdul Majeed Khwaja was staunch nationalist and remained in the Congress. He founded CIPLA which challenged foreign pharmaceutical companies and was praised by Gandhi. However, during the 1960s he became deeply disenchanted by Nehru’s lukewarm response to the communal riots in Jabalpur and left the Congress to join the Republican party of 1961. Hasan notes that after Independence, the unacknowledged Congress persecution of the Muslim communities created rifts among the people. The Chair of the National Commission for Minorities Wajahat Habibullah spoke against the Congress government framing innocent, nationalist Muslims on terror charges.
Further, perhaps very significant is the insight he offers of the post Independence Indian Administrative service. His family had been custodians for several hundred years of the Jwala Devi temple which they maintained- Ganga Jamni Tehzeeb, However, in the 1950s they were divested of its control by an Indian bureaucrat in Independent India. It is worth noting that the colonial bureaucracy was created as a social monolith to serve the regime, and not the people; to divide and to rule. Take for example the various commissions – Matthew Commission that deemed that in Punjabi Gurmukhi was for the Sikhs and Hindi for Hindus- when all Punjabis spoke Punjabi and wrote in Gurmukhi, regardless of whether they were Sikh or Hindu. Time and again the bureaucracy has acted mainly on its own impulses free from any form of control; its stranglehold over the institutions and people being complete. Importantly, the bureaucracy has became a political organization without a legitimate constituency, unrepresentative and unresponsive to the needs of the people. Today, it is the bureaucracy which is omnipotent exercising direct control of the people, ministers and governments come and go. Since Independence, with the Congress governments, communalism has remained on the rise and we are increasingly being alienated officially from our millennial rich syncretic heritage.
Ibn Khaldun in his philosophical work Muqqaddimah observed,” Untruth naturally affects historical memory… the result is falsehoods are accepted and transmitted…” Hasan has certainly corrected the incomplete knowledge, encouraging fresh, rigorous academic scholarship for social scientists. Further, some serious philosophical reflections are required to recognise that syncretic traditions are not so easily wiped out and can challenge successfully the pernicious legacy of Utilitarian colonialism by restricting bureaucratic power and reforming the civil administration as also, disseminating knowledge of rich syncretic heritage in the Subcontinent.
Be Part of Quality Journalism
Quality journalism takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce and despite all the hardships we still do it. Our reporters and editors are working overtime in Kashmir and beyond to cover what you care about, break big stories, and expose injustices that can change lives. Today more people are reading Kashmir Observer than ever, but only a handful are paying while advertising revenues are falling fast.