From A’daab → Khuda Hafiz → Allah Hafiz – How cultural expressions are transformed?
By Ahmed Kamran
In Part-1 of this discussion we briefly traced how a highly tolerant Indo-Persian culture, a Ganga-Jamni Tehzib, emerged in India over many centuries of interaction between a Muslim Persian empire and a rich Indian civilization before the advent of European powers in India and the spread of their influence in our intellectual and cultural life. Let’s now see how particularly the Muslim thought process in this Ganga-Jamni culture responded to the disrupting influences of the English ascendency.
None of the Muslim invaders or rulers of India, starting from Mehmud Ghaznavi and Shahabuddin Muhammad Ghori and the first permanent Muslim kingdom of Qutubuddin Aibak in Delhi down to Aurnagzeb Alamgir and his weak and inept successors, was in fact really interested in establishing an Islamic state as it had been conceptualized by many Muslim scholars following the model of the first Islamic state founded in Medina in early 7th century by the prophet of Islam and his immediate successors. However elusive this model of the state in realpolitik might be, it has continued to lure Muslims as a panacea of all economic and social ills and deprivations. All Muslim rulers, including Aurangzeb (notwithstanding the rather exaggerated halo of a religiously pious ruler or a hated zealot out for spreading Islam at the point of a sword that has been erroneously created around his historical personality by many historians, depending upon their personal perspective), were, in effect, no more or less Muslim as any other king or emperor of the medieval ages was a Christian or a Buddhist or a Hindu.
Undoubtedly, depending upon their personal or key advisers’ assessment of prevailing political situation and the balance of forces, each one of them used various policy levers at their disposal, including orthodox religion or alternatively a liberal dispensation, to consolidate and strengthen their power and sway. Although not an exact parallel but quite a few similarities could be drawn between Aurangzeb and the military dictator of Pakistan General Ziaul Haq. In their own times both skillfully used the orthodox Islam for furthering their political agendas. No wonder, if judged by the standards of their own religious rhetoric, both were riddled with extreme contradictions in their political conduct and affairs of the state. Neither was Akbar a humanist or an all sugar-and-honey benevolent ruler. If we fall into the trap of believing the public images built around these rulers while evaluating their historical role and the harmful effects and damages that their manipulation of the religious lever has caused to the society, we are likely to lose our objectivity of perspective. I do not wish to completely preclude the role played by, and the impact of, the personal bent of mind and the belief system of an individual ruler, especially in an autocratic society. My intention is only to underline the fact that in the long run this role is less important and it largely remains confined to non-critical areas and to the limits dictated by the larger political considerations.
Mostly faced with a deteriorating political situation around him, the Indian Muslim always harked back to the original form of an ideal Muslim state, a true caliphate. It is like having a yearning for Ramrajya among Hindus or a Jesus’s ‘Kingdom of God’ among Christians. There is a strong common belief among most religious people, including many Muslims, that one day a religious reformer or a Mehdi would arrive who will exterminate all evil and inequalities from the world and would usher in a new kingdom of God. Further, the Muslims believe that with this the whole world will be converted to Islam. But the really disturbing part is that many Muslims believe it is their religious obligation to fight for the establishment of this ultimate caliphate, the kingdom of God. Muslim history is replete with innumerable failed religious and political movements for the establishment of a caliphate around many so-called self-proclaimed Mehdis or religious reformers of their times in Arabia, Persia, and India.
Shah Waliullah Muhaddis of Madarsa-e-Rahimia, founded by his father Shah Abdul Rahim in Delhi, was one of the most eminent Sunni Muslim religious scholars, a Sufi and a rather puritan reformer of Islamic faith in India during 18th century. He was also instrumental in inviting Afghan king Ahmed Shah Abdali for invading India and containing the rising influence of Marhattas who had become de-facto rulers of Delhi at the expense of Muslims. Ahmed Shah Abdali invaded Punjab and Northern India, defeated the Marhattas at Panipat and plundered India in 1748 and again in 1756. After Shah Waliullah’s death in 1762, his young son Shah Abdul Aziz took over his grandfather’s seminary. The Marhatta forces were finally crushed by the British General Gerard Lake in 1803 when he entered Delhi and took over its control, retaining a nominal presence of a Mughal king stripped off all his powers and confined to the Red Fort only.
With the swift rise and victory of European powers, the political power structures of the local ruling elite of India completely collapsed. Pockets of deep frustration and moroseness in the Muslim world in the face of rapid decline from the splendors of the glorious past and looking at the corruption of the spineless Muslim elite gave rise to a stirring for going back to the fundamentals of the Islam and reviving the simplicity of early Muslim state in Medina. Shah Waliullah in India and later Muhammad bin Abdul Wahab of Nejd in Hejaz built and developed these concepts that were initially compiled by Imam Ibne Taymia in Iraq in early 14th century. Experiencing the searing pain of a rapid fall of the Muslims lot compared with the political and technological rise of the British, Indian Islam produced two responses:
First, an aggressive and immediate reaction was for passionate jihad against the infidels. Politically, people can be galvanized to fight and lay down their lives for an ideal. This was initiated by Maulana Shah Abdul Aziz by preparing the ground and issuing the first formal Fatwa declaring India a Dar al Harb instead of a Dar al Islam. The declaration of a country as Dar al Harb means no Juma and Eid prayers can be offered in that country, and enjoins upon all Muslims to either declare a Jihad against its rulers or else leave the country.
Second, a more patient and defensive response was for reorganization and re-tooling of Muslims by imparting them modern western knowledge for meeting the new challenge. This campaign was led by Syed Ahmed Khan (later Sir), who had been, incidentally, a student of Maulana Mamluk Ali at Delhi College, a former senior teacher and a product of Madarsa-e-Rahimia before it was demolished.
Syed Ahmed Barailvi, briefly enrolled as a student of Shah Abdul Aziz in Madarsa-e-Rahimia, was the first to take upon himself the task of raising the flag of Islamic Jihad against infidel rulers. With the blessings of his teacher and after obtaining brief guerilla military training with Pindari Amir Khan in Rajisthan, Syed Ahmed Barailvi with his volunteers set out in 1826 for the north western border Pukhtun areas and made Nowshehra as his first base for the Jihad operations against Sikh rule, ostensibly as a first step towards an eventual jihad against the British. Shah Abdul Aziz’s nephew Maulana Shah Ismail, and his son-in-law, Maulana Abdul Hayi, also joined him in this Jihad. Barring a few successes in some initial tactical raids, the rag-tag jihad campaign failed miserably. Same was the fate of a series of few other limited scale militant attempts like the rebellion of Teetu Mir and Faraizi movement of Maulana Shariatullah and his son, Muhammad Mohsin, known as Dhudu Mian, in Bengal culminating in the great, but again a failed, uprising of 1857.
The Jihad efforts of Syed Ahmed Barialvi and others were poorly organized. Various bands of these Jihad volunteers (modern day terrorists) intoxicated with the ideals of setting up a puritan caliphate in the liberated lands made parts of Pukhtun lands as their base and launched an armed struggle. This Jihad, for all practical purpose, became a fight against Ranjeet Singh’s Sikh armies as the Jihad’s base areas were straddling between kingdoms of Ranjeet Singh in the east and Amir Dost Muhammad Khan Barakzai of Afghanistan on the west. Barakzai rulers in Kabul being engaged in their own struggle against British military interventions in their hilly kingdom were natural allies for the Indian Jihadis. (It is hard missing the amazing and striking similarity between events of those days and what is happening today between Afghan Taliban, US and NATO forces, and the Pakistani Taliban in those very areas.) Naively oblivious to the cultural and religious sensibilities of the local population (Pukhtuns were mostly Hanafi Sunnis and the doctrinaire Ahle Hadith Hindustani Jihadis had morphed into something more closer to Wahabis, shunning all manifestations of non-Arab cultural and religious traditions (like visitations to the graves, offering fatiha, holding Mila’ad and other localized but popular traditions), they quickly ended up in antagonizing the local elders and the influential Maliks and Khans. Understandably, the local support for Jihadis quickly evaporated and turned into hostility. Left alone, the Jihadis soon met a humiliating defeat at Balakot in 1831 at the hands of a well trained Sikh army under the command of French general Ventura who had the experience of fighting bigger wars under Napoleon in Europe. With the debacle at Balakot and the death of Syed Ahmed Barailvi and Shah Ismail, and having most of other leadership migrated to Arabia, the militant nationalist ulema shifted further away from Shah Waliullah’s ‘middle course’ and closer to hard line Wahabi interpretations of Islamic jurisprudence.
Similarly, although heroically fought on a much wider scale but very poorly organized and ill equipped, the uprising of the 1857 was simply no match for the well trained and experienced British army. Only a handful of the British army officers stationed at that time in India, quickly recovering from their initial setbacks, reorganized themselves with needed maturity and using a local army raised in Punjab easily regained control of the whole of northern India even before the first reinforcement contingent hurriedly dispatched from England could land at the shores of India.
With a full Mongol-like destruction and razing to the ground of almost all of Delhi and the remnants of past Mughal glory by the British, most of the records and historical evidences relating to the 1857 uprising are apparently lost forever but still there are scattered evidences that indicate planned attempts by few religious circles at organizing a jihad before the actual uprising and that a network of many influential former students of Madarsa-e-Rahimia was clearly at work during the great uprising.
A series of crushing defeats on the path of aggressive jihad against the foreign occupiers produced a different response especially in the aftermath of the failed uprising of 1857. The utter helplessness among Muslims of India gave rise to a reasoning that advocated temporary reconciliation with the British and acquiring important European knowledge tools together with traditional sources and disciplines of oriental knowledge for preparing the nation for meeting the great challenge. The actual efforts for putting these ideas into practice also fell into two divergent streams, apparently opposite to each other but trying to achieve similar stated objectives.
One was founding of a traditional school imparting religious education together with basic elements of modern scientific knowledge (Deoband), and the other was a Cambridge-like school providing modern education together with basic elements of traditional religious education (MAO College, Aligarh).
Madarsa-e-Rahimia of Delhi was razed to the ground by the British in 1858 after they reoccupied Delhi. Many of its key leaders migrated to Arabia. However, a few of them (Maulana Rashid Ahmed Gangohi, Maulana Qasim Nanautvi, and Sufi Abid Hussain of Deoband were among them), quietly established a seminary known as Darul Uloom on the lines of Madarsa-e-Rahimia in a sleepy obscure town of Deoband, UP, in 1867. Though, carefully avoiding a direct confrontation with the British rulers, Darul Uloom Deoband played an important role in nurturing anti-British sentiments among the Muslim intelligentsia. In course of time, it acquired international repute, attracting students and scholars from other Muslim and Arab countries. No funds were accepted from the British government and no donors were permitted to interfere in the affairs of the college at any cost. Maulana Qasim Nanautvi, Maulana Muhammad Yaqub, and Maulvi Syed Ahmed Dehlavi were initial architects of Darul Uloom. Maulana Mehmudul Hasan, the first student to enroll at Darul Uloom at its inception, was appointed the principal of school in 1890. Later, Maulana Mehmudul Hasan played an important role in the freedom movement of India; he was arrested by the British and was interned in Malta. Among his distinguished pupils were Muft Kifayatullah of Delhi, Maulana Ashraf Ali of Thana Bhawan (writer of Baheshti Zevar), and Maulana Shabbir Ahmed Usmani (who later played an important role in the Muslim League’s Pakistan Movement and the adoption of famous ‘Objectives Resolution’ in Pakistan’s early legislative work after its founding in 1947). Two sister institutions of Madarsas on similar lines were set up at Saharanpur and Muradabad. Other notable centres of Muslim learning radiating their influence on Muslim intelligentsia were Farangi Mahal (Lukhnow) specializing in Islamic Fiqh, Khairabad specially focusing on teachings of rational sciences, and Delhi mainly devoted to Quranic studies and Hadith.
A parallel Islamic institution was founded by Maulvi Naqi Ali Kahn in Barailley who did not support the aggressive character of the Deoband school emphasizing on purely Arabic traditions to the exclusion of even benign Indian customs and local traditions. This Madarsa developed into a famous institution in the time of Maulana Ahmed Raza Khan. Another Madarsa on similar lines was set up by Maulvi Naeemuddin in Muradabad and another one in Badayun by Maulvi Abdul Qadir. This alternate school of thought was later known as Ahli Sunnat wal Jamaat, or more commonly as Brailvi school.
Another conscious attempt to synthesize Islam with modern knowledge and to build a bridge between the old and new ideas during the late 19th century while seeking to avoid the accusation of servile submission to the foreign culture was the movement of Nadwat-ul-Ulema started at Madarsa Faiz-i-Islam in Kanpur in 1894. It attempted to bring a wider spectrum of Muslim ulema, (from Hanafi, Ahli Hadith, and Shia schools of thought) on one platform. It was led by Mufti Lutfullah of Aligarh and Syed Sulaiman Nadvi of Patna, Bihar. Nadwa with its journal Al-Nadwa and the sister organization of Dar-ul-Musanifin at Azamgarh had prominent luminaries associated with it like Maulana Habib ur Rehman, Maulana Shibli Naumani and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, besides Syed Sulaiman Nadvi.
On the other hand, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan advocated a strong case for modern scientific education among Muslims with the stated objectives of ‘eradicating from the minds of the Muslims their prejudices against western education’, to set up an educational institution to impart teachings of Islam along with Western sciences, and ‘make the Muslims politically conscious’. He established Scientific Society in 1864 for translating European books in Urdu, started his own organ The Aligarh Institute Gazette published both in Urdu and English in 1866, commenced another Urdu journal Tahzib-ul-Akhlaq in 1870, addressing mainly to Muslim intelligentsia and, eventually established Mohammaden Anglo-Oriental College (Later Muslim University) as an elementary school at Aligarh in May 1875 with only 11 students enrolled in the first year.
Although acknowledging himself as a ‘Wahabi’ in his personal beliefs, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan worked enthusiastically against the political ideas of the Deoband Ulemas who were quite close to Wahabi beliefs, though, slightly different in some details. Sir Syed Ahmed was a man of apparent contradictions: from an image of an outrightly loyal British agent betraying the cause of national independence and openly siding with the colonial oppressors on the one hand, to an image of a great strategist and visionary who as a faithful Muslim selflessly worked for saving his people from total destruction, and brilliantly provided them with modern tools to rise again from the ashes and regain their confidence and self-prestige. We need to correctly place his role in the historical map of India of the last couple of centuries. The impact of Sir Syed’s educational movement on the political and cultural life of an Indian Muslim in the late 19th and 20th century also needs to be evaluated.
To be continued in Part-3 …