Posts Tagged ‘Muslims’

Some of My Best Friends are Extremists

October 12, 2017

By Anjum Altaf

Could it be argued that there are good and bad extremists just as there are good and bad Muslims? If so, the proposal to identify extremists in universities might be misplaced.

Extremism has become conflated with violence and terrorism which is a partial interpretation. The dictionary defines extremism as “belief in and support for ideas that are very far from what most people consider correct or reasonable” which widens the scope for a more nuanced understanding.

Put that neutral definition together with the observation of Bertrand Russell that “the tyranny of the majority is a very real danger” and that “it is mistake to think that the majority is necessarily right” and one can argue that almost all human progress has been due to extremists who have challenged the moribund ideas of majorities. Think of Galileo  or of the injunction to learn even if it required traveling to China.

It is possible, of course, that extremism could lead to poor judgement with negative consequences. Mr. Jinnah’s position in Dhaka that Urdu would be the sole national language of Pakistan was arguably extremist and one that contributed to subsequent problems. However, no one would accuse Mr. Jinnah of evil intentions. Mitigating errors of judgement calls for inclusive decision-making not surveillance by intelligence agencies.

The example above should remind us that extremism is often not an individual attribute but is contextually determined – the position regarding Urdu could have been mainstream opinion in one part of the country but a fringe one in the other. Consider another example, the position on Creation where the mainstream view in Pakistan accords with the story of Adam and Eve. If a mainstream Pakistani migrated to Europe he would become there the holder of a relatively extreme position. Would it be warranted for European intelligence agencies to interrogate his “extremism” when nothing else changed in his personality?

Increasing globalization has exacerbated this problem of contextual extremism. In the West beards and turbans have become symbols of extremism while bikinis and bars are considered likewise in other parts of the world. The clash of civilizations reflects in part the harmless divergence among different mainstream opinions.

In the face of these arguments many discussants concede the point that private views, however extreme, are not problematic per se. In their view the problem emerges when some individuals try to impose their extreme views on others. This suggests that the problem is not extremism of one’s views but intolerance of those of others.

This is a serious concern if true because the entire ethos of the educational system in Pakistan is built around bolstering the conviction that we are right and those who disagree with us are wrong. Every unsanctioned opinion is liable to severe punishment. The State also propagates the extremist sentiment that every citizen should be prepared to die for the nation and destroy its enemy. An apocryphal story of a teenager apprehended crossing the border in 1965 to annihilate infidels is telling in this regard. Asked to identify the source of his extreme views he ascribed them all to watching PTV. Hannah Arendt had warned that such “commitment can easily carry you to a point where you no longer think.” Only a heavy dose of self-reflection of the type exemplified by Bulleh Shah and Kabir can reverse the trend towards mindlessness.

This lethal problem of intolerance cannot be solved by surveillance of students but by a renewed examination of State commitments and the realization that many agents of the State are themselves extremely intolerant. It is ironic for a set of agents fostering intolerance to start combing campuses for the victims of their efforts.

A different perspective on extremism holds that it is worrisome only when it engenders violence. This prompts two reflections. First, that those holding extreme views rarely resort to mass violence in their individual capacity. Individuals act in politically motivated ways more when they are part of groups espousing violent aims — no surprise that violent actions are immediately claimed by groups like ISIS or TTP. Putting an end to such violence requires proscribing the groups and not pursuing individual extremists which is an impossible task with a huge margin for error. When a State leaves such groups alone allowing them to morph under various guises while claiming to ferret out individuals, it loses the claim to credibility.    

Second, one must confront another conundrum obscured by the blanket castigation of violent extremism. Recall the phrase that characterized the 1964 US presidential campaign of Senator Goldwater: “Extremism in the defence of liberty is no vice.” Clearly, Goldwater did not consider extremism to be an unambiguously negative phenomenon nor was he averse to violence if warranted by the situation. Many others would recall that both Begin and Mandela started as individuals with “extremist” views, joined groups with “violent” aims, and propagated “terrorism.” Yet, both went on to lead their countries and were honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize.

One can reconcile with such extremism only if the focus on groups with violent aims includes States that use violence to oppress their own or foreign citizens. It is hard to justify passivity against the depredations of such states — “Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue” was the second half of Goldwater’s pronouncement. The glaring case at present is the ethnic cleansing in Burma. Unless there are global mechanisms to prevent such state-sanctioned atrocities, non-state groups will cite the precedence of Begin and Mandela to resist and the world will be in no moral position to criticise their violent extremism.

The bottom line of this reflection is that intolerance not extremism is the major threat to  society; that intolerance is the inevitable outcome of State-sponsored indoctrination in education; that this indoctrination can only be countered by a tradition of self-reflection that includes within its ambit one’s most cherished beliefs; that effectively restoring social harmony requires proscribing groups that espouse violent aims and these can include States themselves. The surveillance of individuals by the State, here or elsewhere, is the wrong prescription.

The writer is the former dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at LUMS. This opinion was published in Dawn on September 29, 2017 and is reproduced here with the author’s permission.

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Mr. Modi: Good for Pakistan, Bad for Muslims?

June 4, 2014

Early on in Ulysses, Joyce has Stpehen Dedalus harking back to Aristotle and thinking the following thoughts:

Had Pyrrhus not fallen by a bedlam’s hand in Argos or Julius Caesar not been knifed to death? They are not to be thought away. Time has branded them and fettered they are lodged in the room of the infinite possibilities they have ousted. But can those have been possible seeing that they never were? Or was that only possible which came to pass? Weave, weaver of the wind.

We are at that momentous point in South Asia where all of a sudden there is a burgeoning of potentialities only one of which will turn into reality – the actuality of the possible as possible in Aristotle’s formulation.

I have no way of knowing which of those possibilities will become the reality we will look back on ten years from now. What I can do is sift through them and palpate the one that, a priori, seems more than likely to oust the rest.

So let me weave and explicate the thesis that Mr. Modi could be good for Pakistan and bad for Muslims.

First, there are the things that Mr. Modi has come to believe about himself: that he is decisive and that he is a manager par excellence. Whether he is or not, whether he has always believed so, or whether he is the victim of his own sustained rhetoric, is now irrelevant. His reputation and his legacy rest on his acting out that role and delivering on his promise of development and economic growth.

This could be good for Pakistan because he will be decisive in bilateral relations but not so decisive that it comes in the way of the economic development of India.

At one level this is obvious enough, at another slightly more nuanced. Why might Mr. Modi’s decisiveness in bilateral relations be good for Pakistan? Look at it from Pakistan where the state is accountable neither to its people nor to anyone else. No amount of carrots, cajoling, or appeals to common sense can make it alter its ways that rest on fooling all the people all the time. It is only the stick that can possibly impose any kind of constraint on its behavior.

Think of the scenario with regard to polio. The Pakistani state has absorbed billions of dollars in aid and advice and yet remains amongst the only sources of the virus in the world. For years it has fudged the figures and laughed its way to the bank. Only when the world has finally imposed restrictions on travel that inconvenience the rulers has there been any acknowledgement of the seriousness of its irresponsibility.

What holds for polio holds just as well for terrorism. No amount of argumentation is likely to come in the way of what has become an integral strategy to prevent a durable peace that would undercut the control of vested interests. Only the threat of a decisive retaliation could force a rethink of this strategy.

This, of course, would call for a very fine balance. Irrationalities in Pakistan have spawned to such an extent and control over violence become so fractured that nothing can be ruled out by way of likely actions. A decisiveness that discourages but does not push over the edge would be good for Pakistan; a misstep could be a disaster for South Asia.

At the same time, the quickest boost to development of at least the western parts of India would come from a quantum increase in trade with Pakistan. Given Mr. Modi’s imperative to deliver development, and that too in short order, this might be one of the pills he would be willing to swallow. And any increase in trade would be disproportionately beneficial for Pakistan by virtue of its much smaller economy and land mass.

But second, and counterweights to the above, are the things about Mr. Modi that are unlikely to change even if he tries to change them. Mr. Modi has a communal and majoritarian perspective and just as the overt promises of development have to be delivered, so have the winks and nods to his core constituency be made good. He would be held equally to both poles of the bargain he has entered into with his supporters.

The concessions to Pakistan that might be necessitated by the imperative of development could well be compensated by the narrowing of space for Indian Muslims, more so because Indian Muslims wield very little countervailing power. Mr. Modi’s party has no representative from the community and the Lok Sabha as a whole the lowest representation ever. Pakistan, of course, would care little for the fate of Indian Muslims; it never has. They will be entirely at the mercy of Mr. Modi and Mr. Modi is not a sympathetic man.

As I said at the outset, I have no way of knowing if it is this particular possibility that would be actualized though it does seem plausible. I can only hope I am right about the first part and wrong about the second.

One might ask what is to be gained by displaying such displeasing weaves and airing such unpalatable thoughts. It is the hope that looking the implications of a possibility square in the face could well lessen the likelihood of its actualization. In the room of infinite possibilities, another, more benign one could take its place. It is up to us to articulate the possibilities and be part of the movement that stands in the way of one and lends a helping hand to the other.

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The Jihad Movement – II

September 24, 2013

By Ahmed Kamran

With the departure of Raja Mahindra Partap and Maulvi Barkatullah and others from Kabul, the Provisional Government of India was now almost solely entrusted to Obaidullah Sindhi and some of the Lahore students, including Zafar Hasan Aibak, Allah Nawaz Khan, and Mohammad Ali who tried to infuse a new life in it. However, under severe pressure from Britain, the Provisional Government was made totally restricted after conclusion of the Third Anglo-Afghan War in August 1919. Eventually, under the instructions of the Afghan Government, it was formally disbanded in 1922. Obaidullah Sindhi and his colleagues quietly left for Tashkent. They reached Termiz in Soviet Union in Oct 1922.

The Hijrat Begins

Ironically, at this time when, on the one hand, Indian nationalist revolutionaries in Kabul were being expelled or leaving it in disgust, and on the other hand, the Turks now led by Mustafa Kamal were taking measures to wrest all political and secular powers from the institution of Caliphate in Turkey, Muslim Ulema, quite naively, helped develop a highly emotional and explosive situation for Muslims in India.

During the Third Anglo-Afghan War, the Muslim Urdu press created another sensational and emotionally charged atmosphere among Indian Muslims. Muslim prayer leaders and some of the leading Ulema again senselessly declared India as Darul Harb (an abode of war; a place where Muslims must either wage a war or migrate from) and encouraged Muslims to leave India for a Darul Islam (an abode of peace; an Islamic country) in Afghanistan and fight for the restoration of old glory of the Muslim Caliphate. It is, indeed, a moot point whether these nationalist Ulema did all this deliberately to mislead people, knowing full well the implications of the situation abroad, or they did it, albeit foolishly, but in good faith. I, for one, am inclined to believe that, probably, it was more of the latter than the former.

However, clearly, not having a clue of the international situation and the current alignment of forces and their respective strengths, some pious and well-meaning sentimental Muslims, unwittingly, fell prey to the deceptive situation. They started undertaking migration to neighboring Afghanistan. Initially, a slow trickle, it gained strength and, soon, turned into a torrent.

In fairly large numbers, Muslims sold or gave away their houses, shops, chattels, and personal belongings and undertook en mass Hijrat (migration) to Afghanistan and Turkish lands. Barrister Jan Mohammad Junejo organized a special train of Muhajirs from Sindh to Peshawar. This was the second major Hijrat movement of Indian Muslims after Syed Ahmed Barailvi’s first, albeit limited, movement in early 1830’s. Starting from about June 1920, Indian Muslims from all walks of life in their hundreds started leaving for Afghanistan without even bothering to find out how and where they would be staying in their new adopted country. As if in a trance, they believed in a hazy dream of an ideal Muslim state that was supposed to be waiting, with open arms, to welcome them. Young and old, people from Punjab, Sindh, UP, Bihar, Kohat, and Hazara, together with their women and children were heading for the Afghan border in the NWFP, in droves by train, oxen carts, tonga, and on foot.

The migration started with a trickle. Initially, a few hundred arrived in Peshawar, the first camp on their way. Then it soon grew into an almost uncontrollable torrent. Amir Amanullah Khan also, perhaps unwittingly, provided impetus to the movement by issuing a thoughtless statement that ‘the whole country of Afghanistan would welcome Indian Muhajirs’. Probably, it was intended more to score a few rosy points by a new emerging leader of the Muslim world than to expect a real migration in significant numbers. Certainly, he had underestimated the zeal of some pious Indian Muslims.

Though initiated by the religious leaders of Deoband by issuing a Fatwa, a religious edict, and supported by the eminent Muslim scholar Maulana Abdul Bari Farangi Mahli of Lukhnow, the movement grew rapidly without a central leadership or proper guidance. It was, probably, one of the biggest spontaneous movements in the history of India in recent times. Towards the end, large groups of up to 1,000 people were arriving at the border in one day. It is estimated that in all about 40,000 to 50,000 people left their homes and hearths to undertake this Hijrat.

Notable people among those who reached the border for Hijrat included a young Khan Abdul Ghafar Khan from Charsadda, Abdul Qadir Sehrai from Peshawar, Abdul Aziz and Waris Butt from Amritsar, Shaukat Usmani from Bikaner, Rajputana, and Fazal Elahi Qurban and Firozuddin Mansoor from Punjab. Others included Fida Ali Zahid, Iqbal Shaidai, and Murtaza Ahmed Khan Maikash. Most of them were educated urban youth, belonging to the middle class families of Punjab, UP, and CP. During the fervor of initial heady days of the Hijrat, some notables of Peshawar including Haji Jan Mohammad, Syed Maqbool Shah, and few others made camping arrangements for Muhajirs, after getting many inns and living quarters vacated in the Namak Mandi of Peshawar. Volunteers of ‘Hijrat Committee’ distributed food and water among tired Muhajirs. Curiously, the British government didn’t stop anyone from crossing the border. The Government officials were, however, quietly observing the movement of people.

A Dream Turns Sour

But soon the bitter reality started to dawn upon the unsuspecting Muhajirs. After crossing over into Afghanistan, the conditions were quite harsh and much different from what these enthusiastic Muhajirs had, perhaps, imagined. It was highly rugged terrain, with almost no agriculture or commercial life. There was hardly any sign of modern built infrastructure in the border areas of Afghanistan. The tribal people were illiterate and living in most primitive and savage conditions, compared to what these Muhajirs, mostly from urban areas of British India, were used to in their fairly developed and civilized towns. Raising slogans of Allah-o-Akbar on their way, when Muhajirs started arriving near Jalalabad, there was no one to receive them or make arrangement for their stay. People were staying overnight in the open fields. They were like sitting ducks before birds of prey. Soon, armed bands of the local tribesmen started looting and plundering the bewildered Muhajirs, and abducting their young women. While situation was rapidly deteriorating in Afghanistan and Muhajirs couldn’t find an escape from the cruelty of the armed tribesmen, more and more groups of Muhajirs were pouring in. The initial shock and a sense of shame and humiliation prevented these Muhajirs to quickly retrace their steps and return to their homeland.

Unfamiliar with the rough terrain, many Muhajirs took flight in whichever direction they could find an escape from this calamity. Many perished in their endeavors for finding a safe way back home. Some managed to reach Kabul. They were temporarily provided with some shelter by the Afghan Government But soon, the number of Muhajirs arriving every day was beyond the limited capacity of the nominal government of Afghanistan. A panicked Amir Amnaullah Khan tried to stem the tide and urged Obaidullah Sindhi to stop the train of people arriving at the border with India. But the movement was clearly without a central leadership and planning. It was no longer possible to put a lid on it.

It took a few months before the shocking news of the plight of the Muhajirs in Afghanistan started reaching back home and the flow of the new groups slowed down, eventually stopping it in large measure by September 1920. The Hijrat Movement grew rapidly like a balloon and was deflated as quickly in a few months.

Its weaknesses and total lack of planning notwithstanding, it was an enormous human tragedy, which, usually, does not even find a brief mention in our history books. We may not, perhaps, doubt the intentions of the religious leaders and some of the prominent Ulema. But, undoubtedly, these religious leaders apparently had no clue of the dimensions and the implications of what they were exhorting equally uninformed people to undertake. It was not a forced Hijrat undertaken under some compulsion. It was, on the contrary, a deliberate and voluntary action undertaken without any homework.

This huge Hijrat movement, in a strange way, however, played an important role on the future course of events. Many of the more ambitious and determined people from these Muhajirs persisted in their efforts and moved forward in spite of difficulties.

But even this great human tragedy was used by the Afghan Government as a bargaining chip in its rounds of negotiations with the British Government at Mussoorie and Kabul, following the Third Afghan War. Sardar Mohammad Tarzi, the Afghan foreign minister and father-in-law of Amir Amanullah Khan managed to obtain from Obaidullah Sindhi a few confidential letters addressed to notable Muslim leaders of India including Mohammad Ali Jauhar, and Dr M.A. Ansari asking them to incite Muslims to rise in revolt against the British Government. Sardar Tarzi made Obaidullah Sindhi to believe that these letters will only be used in the event British Government did not agree to meet Afghanistan’s just demand for acknowledging it as a truly independent sovereign country and agreeing to home rule in India. Sardar Mohammad Tarzi, however, without even raising the issue of home rule in India, showed Maulana Sindhi’s letters to his British counterparts, with a view to push them for obtaining maximum concessions for himself and Amanullah Khan. The British conceded many Afghan demands but, in return, upon information provided by the Afghan delegation, widespread arrests of the Indian revolutionaries were made, multiple conspiracy cases were instituted, and many revolutionary workers were executed and jailed.

By now Obaidullah Sindhi had also seen through the duplicity of Afghan leaders and started looking for help towards the newly established Soviet Union for the independence of India. He allowed Lahore student Khushi Mohammad to leave for Tashkent for seeking help. Khushi Mohammad reached Tashkent in mid 1920 and there he met M.N. Roy and others. He entered into the ‘Communist University for the Toilers of the East’ and studied communist ideology.

Jihad Revolutionaries

At the beginning of the Hijrat movement of 1920, probably, the first to arrive in Afghanistan was a young man of 22, Rafiq Ahmed from Bhopal. He reached the Afghan border together with his elder brother Kabir Ahmed. Kabir Ahmed, being a government employee in Bhopal, was not allowed by the British border security officials to pass without government authority. His repeated passionate requests could not buy him passage. Kabir Ahmed returned home disappointed and Rafiq Ahmed moved ahead. He reached Kabul and met Amanullah Khan. This was a little before Muhajirs in large numbers started arriving in Afghanistan. Soon, few more young men arrived in Kabul. These were Mohammad Akbar Khan, Gohar Rehman1 and Sultan Mehmood from Rihana, Haripur Hazara, and Mian Akbar Shah from Noshehra. They met Obaidullah Sindhi, Abdul Rab2 of former Berlin Committee, and the group of Lahore students who were already there for few years.

Soon, with the arrival of increasing number of Muhajirs in Kabul, it became difficult for the Afghan Government to keep an eye on them. With the Afghan-British negotiations already underway, Amanullah Khan’s support for the Indian revolutionaries had also started cooling off. The Muhajirs, including Obaidullah Sindhi, Abdul Rab, and Rafiq Ahmed were once again shifted to Jabalul Siraj, a camp about 75 Km north of Kabul. There were now about 180 Muhajirs placed at the camp and were, for all practical purposes, forgotten and ignored by the Afghan Government The Muhajirs had no other choice but to either return to India in humiliation or to advance further ahead. They split into two groups. One was led by Mohammad Akbar Khan of Hazara, and the other was led by Mohammad Akbar Jan of Peshawar. The first group proceeded around July 1920 to Mazar Sharif for crossing Jaihun River (Oxus or Amu Darya) to enter into Russian Turkistan near Termiz (in present day Uzbekistan) to reach Anatolia in Turkey via Turkmenistan. At Termiz, Muhajirs were welcomed by a small contingent of soviet army posted there. The local governor of Termiz tried to persuade Muhajirs to abandon their journey to Turkey in the rapidly changing situation on the war front but they were highly enthused with the idea of joining the Turkish army in defense of Muslims.

Haji Shahabuddin and Shaukat Usmani, both heavily imbued with Islamic revolutionary fervor, addressed Muhajirs, passionately exhorting them to move forward without wasting time and for realizing their dream of fighting the British and European powers alongside their brave Turkish brethren. With shouts of Allah-o-Akbar, the Muhajirs were fired up to immediately proceed ahead. From Termiz, Amu River runs as a border between Afghanistan’s Balkh province and present day Uzbekistan for about 100 Km before it enters into Turkmenistan. Acting against the Soviet military officers’ advice for waiting for a steamer boat for undertaking upward journey from Termiz, the Mujahidin boarded country sail boats for their next destination at Kirki in Turkmenistan via Amu River.

Mujahids’ Miseries

After this it is a horrible and tragic story of these enthusiastic Muhajirs’ long ordeal. The untold stories of these adventures have been well recorded in many memoirs and autobiographies of those people who survived the rigors and eventually returned after many years to play notable roles in the larger struggle of the independence of their country.3

The Muhajirs were captured by savage Turkmen Basmachis (Basmachi is derived from Uzbek word Basmak, which means armed robber and highwayman) shortly before reaching Kirki. These Turkmens robbed Muhajirs depriving them of their money and last material possessions, and cruelly beating them on one pretext or other. Riding on horses and with lashes in their hands, they made the Indian Muhajirs run barefoot on the rugged terrain under a burning summer sun. The Muhajirs’ pleadings and appeals to their Muslim brotherhood with repeated recitation of Quranic verses and Kalma-e-Shahadat (an avowed declaration of being Muslim) all fell on deaf ears. After entering into Turkmenistan, another group of about 28 Muhajirs was attacked by Turkmen Basmachi. Their belongings were looted, and all but one was killed. The only survivor was Ghulam Rasool, who managed to escape with fatal injuries, barely reached Termiz to tell the story, before dying the next day. Of this unfortunate Muhajirs group, he was the only one who got a burial and a grave. The dead bodies of all others remained scattered in desolate grounds and were consumed by scavengers.

These Turkmen were the soldiers of the former Amir of Bukhara who were banded together, financed, and supplied with weapons by the British agents to rise in revolt against the newly established Soviet Revolutionary government. The legends of these savage armed brigands’ exaggerated piety, bravery, and heroic fight against communist Bolsheviks was widely propagated during those days by the British and European journals among unsuspecting Muslim population of India and the Middle East. The Amir of Bukhara, Syed Salimuddin had been defeated only weeks before and a Soviet Peoples Republic was founded with Usman Khwaja as its first President. Bukhara had long degenerated into a centre of decadent and stagnant reactionary interpretation of Islam. According to 1911 census, there were 1,440 religious schools and 1,320 Madrassas where about 200,000 religious students were enrolled. Teaching of not only natural and social sciences but even Islamic history was prohibited in the religious schools of Bukhara, lest the young and simple students get misguided. It was a similar story, a kind of déjà vous that was to be repeated seventy years later in Afghanistan when the Islamic Mujahidin were fighting a guerrilla war, financed and managed by the American CIA and Pakistan’s ISI against Russian army in 1990’s.

Finally, the Turkmen elders and religious leaders declared all captive Indian Muhajirs as Jadeedis (The Modernists) and ordered their killing. The group of about eighty Muhajirs was made to stand in a circle waiting for execution by a firing squad. Moments before the execution was to be carried out, fortunately, a Red army contingent arrived there and attacked the Turkmen positions. After a pitched battle for few days, the Turkmen militants dispersed in haste. Exhausted and impoverished due to extreme hardship and hunger during about two weeks of captivity, the Indian Muhajirs were finally rescued by the Bolsheviks.

After a little rest and recuperation under the protection of Soviet army unit, the Indian Muhajirs finally reached Kirki. Here a Soviet army contingent welcomed them and provided shelter for taking rest. At Kirki camp, some of the Muhajirs also participated, shoulder to shoulder with soviet army, in a battle against a week-long raid of a large contingent of Basmachis on the Soviet post. Others, under Haji Shahabuddin, however, remained confined to the barracks during the fighting.

Muhajirs who had lost their communication links with the outside world for some time, received news of Turkey and other countries after a long time at Kirki. Here they came to know that the Turks under Mustafa Kamal have already declared establishing a Republic at Smyrna that did not recognize the Ottoman Caliph. The Turkish forces were fighting for their own country’s survival against occupying armies of the West and that Turkey, in its current situation, was in no position to help India win its freedom. Not willing to take further risks of again falling into the hands of Basmachis, Muhajirs proceeded from Kirki to Charjui by a Russian steamer. They were given a warm send off with a military band by the Soviet army.

New Horizons

After reaching Charjui, the group was split into two opposing groups. One group still wished to proceed to Turkey to join the war while the other group by now had a change of heart and was of the opinion to go to Tashkent to seek help from the Soviet forces. Shaukat Usmani4, who had been a staunch supporter of Haji Shahabuddin and thus far had been solely guided by his Islamic religious motivation, also had seen through the harsh reality of the situation. He also parted ways from Haji Shahabuddin. One group that finally left for Tashkent via Bukhara by train was led by Mohammad Akbar Khan of Hazara and included Firozuddin Mansoor5, Mir Abdul Hamid, Sultan Mehmood, Shaukat Usmani, Rafiq Ahmed, Masood Ali Shah, Gohar Rehman, Mian Mohammad Akbar Shah, Abdul Qadir Sehrai, Fida Ali Zahid, and Ghulam Mohammad. It reached Bukhara by end September 1920.

The other group under the leadership of Haji Shahabuddin included Fazal Elahi Qurban, reached Baku at a time when an intense battle between Turks and the Greeks was being fought at Smyrna (now Izmir). Baku was an important military station from where regular materials and weapons supplies were being dispatched in support of Turkish army. The Mujahidin arrived in Baku to join the Turkish war at Smyrna. But Turkish military officers at Baku were in no mood to let these Mujahidin from India to join. These Indian volunteers were suspected to be British agents. Unfortunately, at the same time news of the arrest of a British Muslim agent Mustafa Saghir (from Muradabad in UP) in Anatolia reached Baku. Arriving from India in the guise of a Muslim volunteer on his mission to assassinate Mustafa Kamal, Mustafa Saghir was arrested by Turkish army. The British secret police had planned to assassinate Mustafa Kamal to demolish Turkish war efforts against Greeks. Captured with ample documentary evidence of his assassination mission, Mustafa Saghir was tried in a military court and was executed. With the breaking of this news, the fate of the newly arrived contingent of enthusiastic Indian Mujahidin was completely sealed. In fact, now they were viewed as highly suspect in Baku.

There was a large number of Indians, mostly belonging to trading communities, who were long settled in the Central Asian towns, including Bukhara, Baku, and Samarkand. They were primarily engaged in trading and commerce. Many of these Indians had formed Indian nationalist association with branches operating at Samarkand and Baku. The Baku branch of an Indian group used to bring out a fortnightly paper under the name of Azad Hindustan. While Indian Muhajirs were still at Baku, a news item was published in the paper providing details of Rehmat Ali Zakaria (from the Indian students stationed with them at Jabalul Siraj) addressing the Third Congress of the Communist Party at Tashkent. Zakaria had arrived in Soviet Union in November 1917. He had presented the case of India’s revolutionary struggle for its independence from the British colonial rule to the Congress in Tashkent. Khushi Mohammad of Lahore students (who had changed his name to Mohammad Ali) had arrived in January 1920.

Frustrated with the denial of access to Turkish war and after interaction with the members of the Baku branch of the Indian revolutionaries, the Indian Muhajirs again split into two groups: one was of the view to proceed to Tashkent to join other Indian revolutionaries in their continued struggle, while the other larger group wanted to quit and leave for their homes in India.

The larger group led by Haji Shahabuddin that set out for returning to India, unfortunately, met with yet more disasters. Only a few managed to reach their homes. Most of them perished on their way or were brutally killed by Turkmen Basmachis. Those who were killed by Turkmens included the group leader Haji Shahabuddin.

Life in Tashkent

The first group heading for the Soviet Union reached Tashkent in October 1920. Abdul Rab received them and arranged for their stay at the India House. Next day, M.N. Roy6, Abhinath Mukerji7, and Mohammad Shafiq arrived to meet them. The second Muhajirs group arrived in Tashkent via Ashkabad and Samarkand by the middle of Ocobert 1920. It included Fazal Elahi Qurban8.

About 40-50 Muhajirs arriving in Tashkent were mainly divided into three groups. Dejected and disappointed, the majority wished to return home, while, some wished to stay in Tashkent and continue their struggle for the independence of India with the help of the new Soviet revolutionary government, and a few others, albeit in very small numbers, still insisted on proceeding to Turkey. Those who wanted to return home were facilitated to go back to India, and those heading for Turkey were helped to push on but they were soon turned back by the Turkish authorities at the border, denying them visa, most likely, on the suspicion of them being the ‘British spies’. The others returning home gathered in Kabul by the summer of 1921 and undertook their journeys to India.

The Indians in Tashkent formed an Indian Revolutionary Association that was headed by Abdul Rab. Its branch in Baku had Fazal Qadir as secretary and Mohammad Farigh as treasurer. Most members of the association were Punjabi and Pathan soldiers who had deserted from the British army after refusing to fire upon Muslim Turkish army. Some of these soldiers stayed in Tashkent and others proceeded to Samarkand and Baku.

About 26 of the Muhajirs staying back in Tashkent joined the political and military training school, Indusky Krus, set up by the Communist International under the guidance of M. N. Roy. They were put up at the ‘India House’ set up in Tashkent. Later, they were sent to Moscow to continue their training at the newly established ‘Communist University for the Toilers of the East’. At Tashkent and Moscow, the Indian Muhajirs met other Indian revolutionaries of the Ghadar Party and the Berlin Committee who had by now gathered together there. The convergence and fusion of these three independent streams of Indian nationalism – the Ghadar Party, the Berlin Committee, and the Hijrat Movement – produced a group of revolutionaries who became the founding fathers of the Communist Party of India in September 1920 in Tashkent.

Ever since the first group of students from Lahore had gone to Afghanistan in February 1915, the British secret police was alert and keeping track of the movements of different groups of Muhajirs and of the members of the Indian Provisional Government From the intelligence reports reaching from Kabul, Bukhara, and Tashkent, the British Indian secret police was already aware of the gradual return of the Indian Muhajir groups. Most of them returned to Peshawar via Kabul and some took the Pamir route via Chitral. A few also arrived at Quetta via Kandahar. Most of them were intercepted and interrogated at the border by Mr. Ewart, the officer-in-charge of the British Intelligence Bureau at Peshawar. The first batch of the returning Muhajirs arrived at Peshawar in June 1921.

Barkatullah – a True Revolutionary

Maulvi Barkatullah and Virendranath Chattopadhia9 and other Berlin Committee leaders lived in Soviet Union for a while. Barkatullah and Mahindra Partap met V. I. Lenin and gained his personal confidence. From Moscow, Barkatullah was sent with the Soviet delegation at the end of 1919 to Geneva for participating in the talks between Soviets and the Allies. He was instrumental in building strong working relationships with, and diplomatic support for, the Turkish delegation at the Peace Talks. He returned to Moscow and stayed there till 1922 before, he eventually returned to Berlin to continue his mission from there. He brought out a journal Al Islah from Berlin and lived in a small, dark cell-like room.

While in Soviet Union, Maulvi Barkatullah had said in one of his interview to Petrograd Pravda in 1919, ‘neither am I a socialist nor a communist. My political mission is to expel the British and other imperialists from Asia. I am strongly opposed to the European capitalism in Asia that is represented by the British. In this struggle I am a staunch ally of the communists and I consider them as necessary allies for achieving my political objectives. I think today without their practical support winning freedom from the imperialists is a pipe dream’.

Later, in another interview to the newspaper Ishtrakyon (Socialists), in Tashkent, he had again said, ‘I am not a communist. I am an anti-imperialist revolutionary. But I respect communist ideology from my heart. Communism or Bolshevism is a social and economic system that I, as a Muslim scholar, find much closer to Islam. Islam is a religion for poor and oppressed. And communism is an ideology of those who are downtrodden and oppressed for centuries and it seeks guarantees for their basic and democratic rights. The imperialist robbers and Zamir Farosh [Conscience Seller] Mullahs and so-called religious leaders who are stealing the fruits of labour of workers and peasants in collusion with the imperialists are living a luxurious life. One day I must return to my creator, and today, I make my Allah as witness to say that these Mullahs and religious leaders who are opposing Bolsheviks and communists have sold their religion and faith’.10

It was a cold evening with snow softly falling on the streets of Berlin in February 1924, when the small creaky door of Barkatullah’s room was knocked. Barkatullah, now 70, was deeply absorbed in reading; he slowly got up and opened the door. A man of medium height, with ‘neat black hair and dark eyes expressing something biting and cruel’, stepped inside. His lower lip drooped deeply and he was too slick in a demonstratively elegant suit. Everything in his manner expressed something haughtily indifferent to his surroundings’11. He was the British super-spy, Lieutenant Sidney George Reilly, a Jewish Russian born in Odessa, Ukraine, an adventurer and killer secret agent employed by the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS). He was alleged to have spied for at least four nations. His notoriety during the 1920s was created owing to his key role in a thwarted operation to assassinate V. I. Lenin and overthrow the Bolshevik regime in 1918. It is strongly believed that British author Ian Fleming’s popular character James Bond was inspired by Reilly’s exploits12. Calmly, Barkatullah inquired from Reilly whether he had come to murder him. With a mischievous sly smile, the hardened ace spy told Barkatullah that Lenin was his prime target and he had already died the previous month on 24 January in Moscow and that he (Barkatullah) was too old and weak to be killed by him.

Reilly called into the room four tall, rugged men of Central Asian origin, with long thick beards and high caps who were still waiting outside; these men were Mustafa Jarullah, Mullah Shakoor Khan, Mustafa Chowkhif, and Mullah Ibrahim. These people had been recruited by the British agents from Bukhara and Samarkand region to organize an anti-Soviet campaign in the Muslim lands for inciting rebellion in the Central Asia. Sidney Reilly offered Maulvi Barkatullah to join and head the Turkistan Ulema delegation to India and the Middle East to speak against Bolsheviks and narrate horror stories of their cruelty and the strict ban on Islam and the Muslims in the Central Asia. Advising Barkatullah that he was now too old and feeble to continue in his hopeless struggle for the independence of India, it was high time for him that he should accept the British offer and live his last days in comfort and official respect in his own homeland. In return Barkatullah was offered an estate worth Rs. 200,000 in India, in addition to a comfortable pension of Rs. 60,000 per annum for life. He indicated that the stakes could be raised, provided Barkatullah was willing to talk.

Maulvi Barkatullah looked at Sidney Reilly’s face and said, ‘I have been sincerely struggling all my life for the independence of my country. Today, I regret that my attempts did not succeed. But at the same time I am also satisfied that hundreds and thousands of others who have followed me are brave and truthful. With satisfaction I will place the destiny of my beloved nation in their hands13. I have no desire to go down in history as a traitor to my country. You may easily find others who will gladly join you. Leave me alone.’ He firmly rejected the offer, saying to the Turkmen Ulema,

Qahba chun peer shawad, paisha kunad dallali
(When a whore gets old, she turns into a pimp)

Sidney Reilly and Turkmen Mullahs quietly left the room.14

Diabetic and suffering from many illnesses, Maulvi Barkatullah continued in his struggle till he breathed his last. Jawaharlal Nehru met Barkatullah in Berlin and again at Brussels Conference in 1927 and was visibly impressed as is recorded in his Autobiography. Together with his long time friend, Raja Mahindra Partap Singh, Barkatullah visited US in July 1927 at the invitation of Indian revolutionaries in India. On 15th July 1927, he was given a reception by the Indian community at Ceylon Indian Inn on 49th Street in New York. He also met the Pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey, founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League. The two also spoke at a joint gathering of African-Americans and Indians. Barkatullah travelled to Chicago, Gary, and several other cities of the Midwest renewing his links with the Indian and Irish communities among whom he had many friends.

He arrived at the Yugantar Ashram, the Ghadar Party’s headquarters in San Francisco. He then proceeded to Marysville where he gave his last public speech. Barkatullah died in San Francisco on 20 September 1927. His body was taken from San Francisco to Sacramento where he was buried in the Muslim Cemetery with the promise that after the freedom of his country, his body would be transported to his own motherland for burial in Bhopal. His remains, however, still lie buried in Sacramento City Cemetery, California15.

Faiz phir kab kisi maqtal meiN karen gay aabad
Lab pe veraaN haiN shaheedoN ke fasaney kab se


1. Gohar Rehman from village Rihana, Haripur Hazara was to be a brother-in-law of Muhammad Ayub Khan, later a General and the President of Pakistan.

2. Abdul Rab from Peshawar had been a senior officer in the British Consulate in Baghdad. After WW1 started, the British Consulate was closed and the entire staff left Baghdad. Abdul Rab, already influenced by Wahabi religious movement and of Pan Islamism, stayed back in Baghdad. As the influence of Pan Islamic movement grew on him, he became more and more anti British. He was taken on board by the Berlin Committee members in their endeavor to raise war efforts and had arrived in Kabul with Raja Mahindra Partap and Maulvi Barkatullah. Later, he also moved to Tashkent.

3. The Muhajirs’ tragic stories are told in great detail in various memoirs and autobiographies, including Peshawar se Moscow (From Peshawar to Moscow) and Main Stalin se Dobara Mila (I met Stalin Again), Shaukat Usmani, Swaraj Publishing House, Banaras, 1927; Unforgettable Journey, an autobiography of Rafiq Ahmed, MS, extensively quoted in The Story behind Moscow-Tashkent Conspiracy Cases, S.M. Mehdi, New Delhi, 1967; Mushahidat-e Kabul-o-Yaghistan, Maulvi Mohammad Ali Qasuri, Anjuman Taraqi-e-Urdu, Karachi, 1955;  Auraq-e Gumgashta (The Pages that Were Lost), Rais Ahmed Jafri; Reshmi Rumal Tehrik (Silk Handkerchief Movement), Zubair Ahmed Firdousi, Nigarshat, Lahore, 1988; Gumshuda Auraq (The Lost Pages), Shaukat Siddiqui, Riktab Publications, Karachi, 2011; Documents of The History of The Communist Party of India, Vol. Two (1923-1925), Ed. G. Adhikari, People’s Publishing House, New Delhi, 1974. Moreover, personal accounts of the Hijrat Movement have been provided in detail in the Autobiography of Zafar Hasan Aibak in two volumes, Sarguzisht-e Mujahidin (The Story of Mujahidin), Maulana Ghulam Rasool Meher; Mian Akbar Shah’s account was serialized in Monthly Sarhad, Peshawar in 1970; Dastaan-e Khanwada-e Mian Mehmood Ali Qasuri (Family Saga of Mian Mehmood Ali Qasuri), Abdullah Malik, Jang Publishers, Lahore, 1995; an Autobiography of Fazal Elahi Qurban was also published.

4. Shaukat Usmani was from Bikaner in Rajputana. His real name was Maula Bux and he was a student of Dungar College in Bikaner when he decided to undertake Hijrat. In his love for Usmani (Ottoman) Government of Turkey, he changed his name to Shaukat Usmani (Glory of Ottomans). Later, Shaukat Usmani was to become one of the early communist leaders of India and figured prominently in the well-known Kanpur Conspiracy Case, 1924 and Meerut Conspiracy Case of 1929, under which many of the leading members of the Communist Party of India were tried.

5. Commonly known as Dada Firozuddin Mansoor, together with Dada Amir Hyder and Fazal Elahi Qurban, was one of the earliest Muslim members of the Communist Party of India in Punjab and, later, a veteran communist leader of the Communist Party of Pakistan in its early days.

6. M.N. Roy, born in District 24 Parganna near Calcutta, studied engineering and chemistry. Joined Bengali revolutionaries and went to Java for raising arms from Germans. Disappointed, he went to Japan and met Chinese nationalist leader Dr Sun Yat Sen, the founder of Chinese Koumintang Party. Followed by the British police, he reached San Francisco via Korea. At Palo Alto he met and married Evelyn Trent, a young Stanford graduate. The couple moved to New York where Roy was first introduced to Marxist ideology and actively engaged in revolutionary activities. Haunted by the police, the couple escaped to Mexico where M.N. Roy became a founding member of the Socialist Party of Mexico (later converted into the Communist Party of Mexico) in December 1917, gaining the distinction of the first Communist Party outside Russia. Roy also provided support to the penniless Mikhail Borodin, a Bolshevik leader in exile. Upon Borodin’s returning home after Bolshevik revolution, grateful Moscow invited M.N. Roy to the Second Congress of the Communist International in Moscow in 1920. Briefed about his activities in the US and Mexico, V.I. Lenin warmly received Roy and was taken into the Presidium of the ComIntern, which he served for eight years. Roy was personally commissioned by Lenin to prepare the East – particularly, India – for the revolution. M.N. Roy founded the political and military training school for Indian revolutionaries in Tashkent and helped formulate Lenin’s Preliminary Draft Thesis on the National & Colonial Questions. Stalin appointed Roy as head of the ComIntern delegation to China in 1927 to help develop agrarian revolution. Later, owing to the internal party rivalries between Stalin, Trotsky, Zinoviev, and Bukharin, Roy fell from Stalin’s grace and managed to escape Russia with Trotsky’s deportation in May 1928. He was expelled from ComIntern in Dec 1929. Roy returned to India in Dec 1930 and was arrested in Jul 1931. He was sentenced for 12 years RI in jail in Jan 1932. The sentence was, however, reduced to six years. He was released in Nov 1936 in broken health, with lasting damage to his lungs and kidneys. Disillusioned with both Western democracy and communism, Roy devoted the last ten years of his life to developing an alternate philosophy which he called Radical Humanism of which he wrote a detailed exposition in his book Reason, Romanticism and Revolution. Finally, settled in Dehra Dun, Roy died in Jan 1954.

7. Abhinath Mukerji, born in Jabalpur was trained as a weaver in cotton mills in Ahmadabad. Sent for professional training in Germany and Japan, he was exposed to socialist ideas. Joined revolutionary movement in Calcutta and arrested in Singapore in 1915 while arranging for arms shipment to India. Escaped from prison in Singapore, he reached Dutch Java and joined the communist party. Travelled to Amsterdam, attended Second Congress of ComIntern in Moscow in 1920 and met Lenin and M.N. Roy. Together with Roy and his wife Evelyn, Mukerji wrote The Indian Communist Manifesto which was published in Glasgow Socialist. Stayed in Tashkent as in-charge of the Indian Military School. There becoming a formal member of the Russian Communist Party. Mukerji returned to India in 1922 and for a while worked in Bengal and helped forming Labour Kisan Party of Hindustan in Madras. Later, he returned to Moscow but broke away from Roy. He became an academician and Indologist at the Oriental Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, becoming President of the All India Association of Orientalists. Mukerji married Rosa Fitingov, of Russian-Jewish origin; she was a member of the Communist Party and an assistant to the Lenin’s private secretary, Lydia Fotieva. Mukerji eventually fell victim to the great purge in the Soviet Communist Party and was executed in October 1937.

8. Fazal Elahi Qurban was to emerge as a veteran communist leader in Punjab in united India. Later, at the time of the formation of the Communist Party of Pakistan in 1948, he was involved in an attempt to form a parallel Communist Party of Pakistan in defiance of the instructions of the Communist Party of India. He and few of his comrades scorned the CPI decision of appointing Sajjad Zaheer from UP as the first Secretary General of CPP. He was subsequently expelled from the party by Sajjad Zaheer after his assumption of office in Pakistan.

9. Viren Chattopadhia stayed in Soviet Union working at the Communist International with M.N. Roy. After developing differences with M. N. Roy, Viren returned to Germany in 1927 when Barkatullah died in San Francisco. He formally joined the German Communist Party (KPD) as its head of Indian section. With Hitler’s rise in Germany, he approached Krupskaya, Lenin’s widow and Georgi Dimitrov, ComIntern’s General Secretary for returning to Soviet Union. M. N. Roy, in the meantime, had been expelled from the ComIntern. Chatto returned to Soviet Union in 1934. He was last seen in Moscow in 1937, before he was arrested during Stalin’s ‘Great Purge’ in the party. He was sentenced to death and executed in Sep 1937. Jawahar Lal Nehru in his Autobiography writes about Viren, ‘a very able and a very delightful person… Of the few I met, the only persons who impressed me intellectually were Virendranath Chattopadhia and M. N. Roy’. It is believed that the British writer Somerset Maugham’s character in his story Giulia Lazzari and the character of Ananda in American socialist writer and journalist, Agnes Smeldey’s autobiographical novel Daughter of Earth were inspired by Virendranath. Agnes Smeldy met and got involved with Indian revolutionaries including Lala Har Dayal and M.N. Roy in New York. She met and lived together as his partner with Viren Chattopadhia in Berlin. Agnes also accompanied Viren in Russia and lived with him until 1929 when she left Viren in Berlin and went to Shanghai in China as a press correspondent.

10. Daily Ishtrakyon (Socialists), 29 Mar 1919 c.f. Shaukat Siddiqi, Gumshida Auraq (The Lost Pages), Riktab Publications, Karachi, 2011, pg175

11. Sidney Reilly’s description is based on the observations of Alexander Yakushev, one of the Soviet secret agents, who were instrumental in capturing Reilly after luring him into Soviet Union on the border of Finland in September 1925. Reilly was later tried and executed by the Soviet authorities on charges of attempted coup against the government of the Soviet Union.

12. Reilly’s friend, former diplomat and journalist Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart had worked for the British Secret Service with Reilly in Russia in 1918 in a failed attempt to overthrow Lenin’s Bolshevik government. He was also briefly detained in Moscow. Robert Lockhart was a close acquaintance of Ian Fleming for many years and had recounted to Fleming many of Reilly’s super spy adventures. Within five years of his disappearance in Soviet Russia in 1925, the British press had turned Sidney Reilly into a household name, lauding him as a master spy. Like Fleming’s fictional creation James Bond, Reilly was also multi-lingual, fascinated by the Far East, fond of fine living, and a compulsive gambler. Robert Bruce Lockhart had written an autobiographical book Memoirs of a British Agent in 1932, which was an instant success. His son, Robin Bruce Lockhart also wrote a book Ace of Spies in 1967 about the life of his father’s friend, Sidney Reilly. This book was, later, adapted for an award winning television mini-series, Reilly: Ace of Spies in 1983.

13. According to the account of Barkatullah’s long time colleague and friend Raja Mahindra Partap Singh in his autobiography, these words were, in fact, said by Barkatullah to him while dying in his hands during travel in San Francisco.

14. Shaukat Siddiqi, op cited.

15. The Bhopal University has been named ‘Barkatullah University’ in 1988 as a token of recognition of this great revolutionary, otherwise a forgotten hero of the Indian Independence movement.

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The Jihad Movement – I

September 8, 2013

By Ahmed Kamran

The Background

In the early decades of the 1900s, the international situation in Europe and the Middle East was getting tense, especially for the Indian Muslims. Their anxiety was increasing with the news of each new development taking place on the borders of a vast Muslim Turkish Empire. While the British Empire was still in ascendency in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Turkish Empire was disintegrating bit by bit. Much of its possessions in the Eastern Europe had already been broken away or annexed by other empires in the last century.

Italy landed its army at Tripoli (in today’s Libya) in 1911, initiating the first War of Tripoli between Turkey and Italy. The Italian invasion of Tripoli was soon followed by the start of Balkan Wars in October 1912. Britain fully supported these European incursions into the areas of Turkish Empire. These invasions and gradual encirclement of the Turkish Empire, the last bastion of the so-called Muslim Khilafat, caused great unrest in the Indian Muslims. Dr Mohammad Iqbal, Shibli Naumani, Abul Kalam Azad, and Maulana Zafar Ali Khan in Punjab wrote fiery articles and poems in support of the Turkish Muslims. Iqbal read his well-known poem Shikwa in a rally outside Mochi Darwaza in Lahore in 1913. Shibli Naumani read his Sheher-Aashoob-e-Islam at Qaisar Bagh in Lukhnow1. Prominent newspapers like Comrade of Maulana Muhammad Ali, Al Hilal of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, and Zamindar of Maulana Zafar Ali Khan created a great fervor among Indian Muslims and a longing for going out and participating in the action in support of Turks against flagrant and unjust European invasions.

Apart from their religious affinities, the Indian Muslims also shared a particularly strong bond and heightened feelings of a common cause with Turks because of their own sense of deprivation of their empire in 1857 and colonial oppression of the British occupation in India. But to raise support for Turkey, mainly Muslim’s religious sentiments were whipped up. Weekly Friday prayer leaders in the mosques in every town of India exhorted Muslims to help the Turks by every means, including generously contributing in Turkish Support Funds and physically going to the war front and participating in the holy war against aggressors. Indian Muslims contributed in the Balkan War Fund in a big way, women donating their entire jewelry and dowries.

A Medical Mission, under Dr Mukhtar Ansari was sent to Turkey as a gesture of goodwill and for treating the wounded soldiers. The delegation included Chaudhry Khaliquz Zaman, Shoeb Qureshi, and Dr Naeem Ansari and Abdul Rehman joining the delegation, immediately after returning from England, having completed their education. The fervour for support of Turkey was so much that, according to Maulana Syed Suleman Nadvi’s account, an eminent and highly respected scholar like Shibli Naumani was present at the Railway station at Lukhnow to personally see off the delegation. At the last moment, overwhelmed by his emotions, Shibli moved forward and, while weeping, he kissed the feet of Dr. Ansari that would tread the Turkish land.

By October 1914, Turkey declared joining WW1 against Britain as an ally of Germany and Austria. Turkish Sultan Muhammad V, in his position of Khalifa of Muslims, issued a religious edict (Fatwa) declaring it mandatory for all Muslims of the world to participate in the war against Britain and its allies. A Jamat-e-Mujahidin was also revived, somewhat following the tradition of the failed Jihad carried out by the Mujahidin of Syed Ahmed Barailvi in early 1830s, but this time the Jihad war was to be fought against a foreign power, Great Britain.

Many students discontinued their education and left their homes to join the Turkish war. A common tarana of the youth of that time was

Lutf marnay ka agar chahay tau chal Balqan chal
Who bhi kiya marna keh fitrat khud tujhay day day jawab

[Should you wish to die with some joy, let’s go to Balkans
Dying at the hands of Nature is not worth dying]

A Pledge on Ravi

In a cold misty evening, when the night was falling in Lahore on 16 January 1915, a group of students from few colleges in Lahore secretly gathered on board in a boat on Ravi River to discuss an idea. This was the time when preparation of the mutiny of second Ghadar was secretly underway in Punjab. These young men decided and each took an oath to perform the sacred act of Hijrat to Turkey via Afghanistan for taking part in active Jihad. These brave students included Khushi Muhammad, Rehmat Ali Zakaria, Abdul Majeed, and Shujaullah from the King Edward Medical College, Muhammad Hasan Yaqub from Islamia College, Abdul Bary, Sheikh Abdul Qadir, Abdul Majeed Khan, Sheikh Abdul Rashid, Zafar Hasan Aibak, and Allah Nawaz Khan from the Government College, and Abdul Khaliq from the Aitchison College of Lahore2. The travel and crossing of the Afghan border arrangements were made in secret with the help of Maulvi Fazal Ilahi and Maulvi Bashir of the Jamat-e-Mujahidin. The first batch of these students under the leadership of Khushi Muhammad left Lahore on 5 February, 1915 for Haripur as their first stop. Another group followed the next day. The student volunteers remained hidden in the residence quarter of Abdul Rahim, the Railway station master at Haripur who was sympathetic to the movement. Here they changed their dresses to wear common Pukhtun dresses and Peshwari Chappals. The students left British territory by crossing the Indus River from a small princely state of Amb, in the Hazara district south of Swat valley in present day Pakistan, to enter the buffer zone of the independent Tribal Area between British India and Afghanistan. Staying at some rag tag isolated camps of Jamat Mujahidin at Asmas and Chamarkand in the Pukhtun Tribal Area, these students, swinging in the spirit of Jihad, and now led by Abdul Majeed Khan, entered Afghanistan and arrived in Jalalabad on 29 March 1915. Here this group met with their first rude shock, when they were swiftly detained in their lodging quarters under the orders of a senior Afghan official visiting Jalalabad from Kabul.

By the time orders came to transport the detainees to Kabul after spending over two weeks in confinement without much food and facilities, one of the students, Abdul Majeed Khan fell sick with high fever. Without providing any medicine or care to the sick, the students were put on mules like prisoners and were taken to Kabul, under increasingly hot sun. By the time, the detainees arrived in Kabul around 13 April and were again instantly put into confinement, the health of Abdul Majeed Khan had seriously deteriorated. When the condition of Abdul Majeed Khan worsened, an Indian Doctor, Abdullah Joya, came to see him four days later. Dr Abdullah was also one of those who had in his anti-British spirit migrated to live in an independent Muslim country but was now in total despair. He could not do much for these young men.

Two days later, Abdul Majeed Khan, the 20 year old former student of the Government College of Lahore died during the night of 19 April in Kabul, remembering his mother in his last moments.  Abdul Majeed was the only son of his young widowed mother in Lahore, who that night must also be waiting for his son to return home. Zafar Hasan Aibak, the other detainee from the Government College, says in his autobiography that the detainees were shifted to another ‘house’ in Kabul with scant living facilities in June 1915 and there was no hope for their release. Apparently, no one in Kabul was worried or bothered about these ill-fated young men from Lahore.

A Jihad in the Making

This was the time when the first round of Ghadar Party workers arrested in the 19 February police crackdown were being tried and sentenced in Punjab. Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi, as a part of Maulana Mehmudul Hasan’s delegation for organizing Jihad, was preparing to reach Kabul. Together with his colleagues, Abdullah, Fateh Mohammad, and his nephew Mohammad Ali, Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi arrived in Kabul in October 1915.3 Ubaidullah Sindhi, originally born in Sialkot, was a convert from Sikh religion. Graduated from Darul Uloom Deoband, and an energetic student of Maulana Mehmudul Hasan, he went to live in Sukkur and established a religious school at Amrot, and later at Pir Jhanda, in Sindh (hence commonly known as ‘Sindhi’). In 1909, on the behest of Maulana Mehmudul Hasan, he returned to Deoband and, later, established a seminary at Fatehpuri Mosque in Delhi for teaching Arabic and Islamic studies. Maulana Sindhi had an ardent desire to build a movement for revolt against the British rule. With the support of Maulana Mehmudul Hasan, he was quietly working for this mission for some time.4

Finally, as per the agreed plan, a group of key leaders of the Darul Uloom, including Mehmudul Hasan and Ubaidullah Sindhi left India and reached Kabul in Oct 1915.

As many of the Kabul’s influential religious and other leaders were educated at Darul Uloom, Deoband, and had personally known Maulana Mehmudul Hasan and Ubaidullah Sindhi, they were received in Kabul with respect. Meeting highly placed Afghan influential officials and some royal family members, and presenting before them their plan for building a volunteer army in Kabul and invading India to liberate it and set up an Islamic government with an Afghan prince on the throne, Ubaidullah Sindhi won support of some key members of the royal family, including a brother and two sons of Amir Habibullah Khan.

While Maulana Mehmudul Hasan proceeded to Hijaz for performing Haj and meeting Turkish officials for obtaining their support, Ubaidullah Sindhi and some of his colleagues stayed back to make necessary further arrangements. Precisely, this was the time when members of the Berlin Committee and the envoys of Turkish and German governments had also arrived in Kabul and met with each other and joined hands. Getting to know about the unfortunate students from Lahore still held in confinement in Kabul, they approached Afghan officials and eventually had them released after about eight months of confinement.

Through their influential contacts, Ubaidullah Sindhi and Barkatullah met with Amir Habibullah Khan and with his consent, it was decided to establish a provisional government of the Independent India based in Kabul in December 1915. As discussed in the previous post, Raja Mehendar Partap Singh was appointed as the President, Maulvi Barkatllah was the Prime Minister while Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi was appointed Interior Minister, and Maulvi Basher of Jamat Mujahidin was appointed the War Minister, Champakiramin Pillai was selected as the Foreign Minister, and Dr Mathra Singh, Khuda Bux, and Muhammad Ali were also appointed as ministers. Freed from confinement and restored to a respectable position in the Indian delegation, Khushi Mohammad, Rehmat Zakaria, Allah Nawaz Khan, Zafar Hasan Aibak, and Abdul Bari from the Lahore student group were also given official responsibilities in the provisional government.

Initially, Germany was scoring quick victories on the western front and did not expect a major threat from a weakened Russia from the east. Turkish army was also scoring initial victories against Britain, greatly raising hopes for its victory in the war. But Russia, in alliance with French, quickly built up its massive army and attacked Germany opening the eastern front.

Ghalib Nama, Golden Letter, and Reshmi Rumal

Meanwhile, in Hijaz, Mehmudul Hasan had succeeded in obtaining letters of support from Ghalib Pasha, the Turkish Governor of Hijaz province that included in addition to the present day Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Iraq. It was also discussed that a Muslim army would be raised by Maulana Mehmudul Hasan under his command from Arabia and Turkey, with headquarter at Madina. The Turkish Fatwas and Ghalib Pasha letters asked for a general Jihad against the British and exhorted all Muslims to join war efforts. Copies of ‘Ghalib Nama’ were sent by Mehmudul Hasan by hand with Mohammad Mian Ansari to Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi in Kabul for further building upon it. Copies of these Jihad letters, later more commonly known as ‘Ghalib Nama’, were distributed all over the Muslim lands.

After establishing the Provisional Government and armed with the supporting measures from Germany and Turkey, it was decided to send various delegations to Russia, Iran, and Japan approaching them for support on the assumption that they would be inclined to support an Indian liberation against Britain. Germans, who were abetting the Indian Provisional Government against Britain, did not think it was opportune time for approaching Russia for the support, however, Raja Mehendar Partap did not agree with German ambassador and expecting Russian support he relied mainly on the age old rivalry between Russia and Britain in their ‘Great Game’ for expanding into Asia and controlling India.

The Provisional Govt delegation to Russia included Mehendar Partap, Barkatullah, Dr Mathra Singh, and the Lahore student Khushi Mohamed. The delegation carried a letter to Czar written on a ‘Golden Plate’. But the Indian delegation was prevented from moving forward from Tashkent. The Czarist governor received the ‘golden letter’ with a promise to send it to Czar in Moscow. The delegation was asked to wait at Tashkent for the reply. Months passed and no reply was forthcoming. Eventually the failed delegation was sent back to Kabul in Feb 1916. Meanwhile, Amir Habibullah Khan had quietly informed the British agents about the Indian delegation to Russia. This was to put increased pressure on the British Indian government in his negotiations for more favours and higher ‘subsidies’. As a bribe the British Govt increased Afghan budget ‘subsidies’. The British Indian government was providing Rs. 1.8 million ‘subsidy’ to the Afghan government, most of which was spent on Amir’s extravagance and personal harem of over 100 women. Some spoils were distributed among other members of royal family and key tribal leaders. The Afghan people were living in utter poverty in mud houses, without any civic amenities, roads, schools or hospitals. They were still living in dark ages.

Ironically, on the other hand the Russian Czar was also playing the similar game. Using the Golden Letter as a bargaining chip, he provided its copy to the British ambassador. Panicked at this move, the British government taking France into confidence, immediately sent a high powered joint delegation to Moscow and entered into an agreement with Russia in May 1916 that is known as Sykes-Picot Agreement. In return for its full support, the agreement promised Russia attractive terms and parts of Turkish lands from the spoils of the Great War.

Meanwhile, Ubaidullah Sindhi prepared another detailed letter in the form of a report written on a large piece of Reshmi Rumal (silk cloth) in his own hand and was secretly sent to Sheikh Abdul Rahim at Hyderabad Sindh for arranging to send, or personally carrying it, to Maulana Mehmudul Hasan in Hijaz under the cover of Haj pilgrimage. The courier selected for the job of carrying the silken letter to Hyderabad was Abdul Haq, a trusted man of the Lahore student Allah Nawaz, with letter being stitched inside his jacket. Abdul Haq, later suspected to be on the roll of British secret police, instead of going to Hyderabad, went to Allah Nawaz’s father Khan Bahadur Rab Nawaz Khan in Multan, who happened to be a loyal subject of the British government. In spite of his own son being involved, Rab Nawaz promptly informed the British police and the letter eventually reached in the hands of Michael O’Dyer, the British Governor in Punjab.

British Counter Moves

By now having successfully neutralizing Afghanistan’s Amir Habibullah and blocking the potential support of the Russian Czar for the Indian provisional government and its plans for rebellion, the British Indian administration came down heavy on the revolutionaries in India and abroad. Widespread arrests were made. Maulvi Khalil Ahmed was arrested upon arrival from Arabia and was interned at Naini Taal. Haji Allah Bux was arrested upon reaching Hyderabad. Hearing of these arrests, Maulvi Masood and Maulvi Wali, about to return to India, stayed back in Arabia. Later, Maulvi Masood was arrested at Bombay, immediately after arriving from Jeddah. Thus the Reshmi Rumal Conspiracy together with the ‘Golden Letter’, and the Ghalib Nama was brought to public in Aug 1916. These were also made part of the notorious Rowlatt Sedition Committee report in 1919. Soon Sharif Hussain of Mecca helped arresting Maulana Mehmudul Hasan and others, including Maulana Hussain Ahmed Madani, in Mecca and handed them over to the British police. Maulana Mehmudul Hasan and others were interned, initially at Cairo, and later, at Malta, earning him the title of Aseer-e-Malta (the Prisoner of Malta), in addition to him being declared the Sheikhul Hind in India.

A second delegation headed towards Japan via Russia included Dr Mathra Singh and a Lahore student Abdul Qadir. Armed with prior information of their movement leaked from Kabul, Russians arrested and handed them over to the British who transported them back to India. Dr Mathra Singh who was already sentenced to death in a Ghadar Party trial in Lahore was immediately hanged. Abdul Qadir was placed in confinement, where he soon died, most likely succumbing to torture. The third delegation comprising of two students Abdul Bary and Shujaullah headed for Iran also met the same fate. They were, arrested at Mashhad in Iran, tortured, and sent back to India to face long terms in jail.  The arrests of these delegation members and the hanging of Dr Mathra were, however, kept secret to keep the provisional government in Kabul in the dark and to keep tracking their movements. Amir Habibullah was playing a double game and was waiting to see which side was winning in the WW1. On the one hand, he kept promising the Indian provisional government that he would, in his turn, declare war on India, as soon as the German and Turkish forces reach near Afghanistan in their march to victory, and, on the other hand, he was busy negotiating with the British for additional favours, using the Indian revolutionaries as the bargaining chip.

In the false hopes, the Indian provisional govt members tried to dispatch wireless messages to the Berlin Committee and the German and Turkish Governments to advance their forces via Afghanistan but Germans were too bogged down in Europe to pay attention to these desperate messages from a few Indian revolutionaries in Kabul.

Because of these conspiracy cases instituted in India based on the Ghalib Nama, Golden Letter, and the Reshmi Rumal being widely made public, Ubaidullah Sindhi also faced a difficult situation in Kabul. Together with the Lahore students, he was also interned in Kabul and, later, shifted to a camp at Jabalul Siraj, about 75 Km north of Kabul. Two Indian teachers employed with Habibia School (it was established for the children of Afghan elite) in Kabul, Maulvi Mohammad Ali Qasuri (a Cambridge University graduate and elder brother of NAP leader Mian Mehmud Ali Qasuri and the uncle of Khurshid Qasuri, the Foreign Minister of Pakistan 2002-2007, during General Pervez Musharraf’s reign) and Sheikh Mohammad Ibrahim who were sympathetic to the cause of Indian independence and were popular among Mujahidin were expelled from Kabul in June 1916.5 Both went to the Jamat Mujahidin base camps in the Tribal Area between Afghanistan and British India. Maulvi Bashir of Jamat Mujahidin and the War Minister of the provisional government also returned to the base camp. Sheikh Abdul Rashid of Lahore Government College and Mohammad Hasan Yaqub of Islamia College and few other students also moved to the Mujahidin base camp.

As a reward, Abdul Haq, the courier of Reshmi Rumal letter was formally employed by the British police service, and Khan Bahadur Rab Nawaz, the father of Allah Nawaz, was granted very large tracts of agricultural land as a gift for his loyalty6.

Sheikh Ibrahim, together with two Lahore students, went to Russian Turkistan via Badakhshan but all of them were reportedly killed by the British agents on their way and no trace of them was ever found. After spending few more years in trying to organize Mujahidin activities in the Tribal Area, Maulvi Mohammad Ali Qasuri managed to return to India in July 1918 and was pardoned due to influential contacts he and his family had with Sir Sahibzada Abdul Qayum and Sir George Roos-Keppel, the Chief Commissioner of NWFP7. Maulvi Mohammad Ali Qasuri, having married and settled down, entered into business and continued to provide financial support to the Mujahidin. He died in Lahore in 1956.8

At the Tribal Area base camp, the Amir of Jamat Mujahidin was Maulvi Naimatullah who was a highly eccentric, morally and financially corrupt, and autocratic person, ruling as Amirul Momineen over his personal fiefdom at the Mujahidin base camp9. One day, probably after getting frustrated with his own impossible situation and intolerable idiosyncrasies of Maulvi Naimatullah, in a fit of anger, Sheikh Abdul Rashid of Lahore spontaneously killed the Maulvi. The personal guards of slain Maulvi Naimatullah instantly killed Abdul Rashid in vengeance by throwing him alive in a burning oven10. Mohamad Hasan Yaqub, however, continued to stay with the remaining Mujahidin now under Maulvi Fazal Ilahi from Wazirabad at the Chamarkand camp. Yaqub Hasan never returned to Lahore and probably died somewhere in or around the Chamarkand camp.

Mehendra Partap and Maulvi Barkatullah were, however, not arrested in Kabul as their continued presence there was a useful bargaining chip for Amir Habibullah Khan. But, by now realizing its extremely difficult position, owing to the duplicity of Amir Habibullah, the provisional government had considerably scaled down its activities. Ubaidullah Sindhi was finally released, after about a year of confinement, with the help of Afghan General Nadir Khan (he later overthrew the next Amir Amanullah Khan and occupied the Afghan throne) who had some respect for him. But the release order from Amir Habibullah was obtained, only after detainees filing a mercy petition and admission of their mistakes.

By now, totally frustrated with the false hopes of support from the Amir of Afghanistan, the Indian revolutionaries in Kabul started making attempts to slip to Russia where Soviet Revolution under V.I. Lenin had already shaken the world. Lenin had publically rescinded all secret treaties and pacts signed by Czarist Russia with the imperialist powers and made public all secret agreements that the Imperialist powers together with Russia had signed to share the spoils of war. He had declared full support to the national liberation efforts and the wars of independence of all colonial people in the East. Soviet Russia was the first to recognize the national government of Mustafa Kamal in Turkey that was battling against the invading Imperialist armies in their attempt to dismember and divide parts of Turkey among themselves.

Rehmat Ali Zakaria and Abdul Razzaq, two of the Lahore students, were the first to escape from Jabalul Siraj camp in Nov 1917. Crossing over Russian border, they reached Tashkent in early 1918.11

Amir Habibullah Khan was assassinated in Feb 1919, near Jalalabad and his son Amanullah took over after some resistance from his uncle Sardar Nasrullah Khan. For a while, situation again turned favorable for the Indian revolutionaries. Ubaidullah Sindhi was restored and he became a close advisor to the new Amir Amanullah Khan. Other office holders of the Indian Provisional Government including Mehendra Partap, Maulvi Barkatullah, Acharya, and Abdul Rab were also given due respect by the new Amir. Amanullah Khan sent Maulvi Barkatullah as his special envoy to Moscow for negotiating a friendship treaty on behalf of the Afghan government. The visit proved very successful and the relations between Soviet Union and Afghanistan considerably warmed up. Maulvi Barkatullah left Kabul in March 1919 for Tashkent and proceeded to Moscow in May 1919. Mehendra Partap Singh, MPT Acharya and others also reached Moscow. They never returned to Kabul.


  1. Shaukat Siddiqi, Gumshida Auraq (The Lost Pages), Riktab Publications, Karachi, 2011, Pg. 195
  2. Ibid, Pg.193
  3. 3.      Raees Ahmed Jafri Nadvi, Karwan-e-Gum Gashta (The Lost Caravan)
  4. Zuber Ahmed Firdausi, Reshmi Rumal Tehreek, Nigarshat Publishers, Lahore, 1988, Pg.43
  5. Abdullah Malik, Dastan-e Khanwada-e Mian Mehmud Ali Qasuri, Jang Publishers, Lahore, 1995, Pg. 78
  6. Shaukat Siddiqi, op cited, Pg.235
  7. Muhammad Ali Qasuri, Mushahidat-e-Kabul-o-Yaghistan, Anjuman Taraqi-e-Urdu, Karachi, 1955, Pg 143-146
  8. Abdullah Malik, op cited, Pg. 80-81
  9. Muhammad Ali Qasuri, op cited, 108-110
  10. Shaukat Siddiqi, op cited, Pg.249
  11. Ibid, Pg.241

To be continued…

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The Lahore Effect

April 1, 2011

By Ishtiaq Ahmed

I am a long-time resident in Sweden where I have been living since September 1973. When the initial euphoria of living in a new place subsided and life assumed some sort of normality, it began to dawn upon me that I shared the distinction of longing for a very special place on earth which has a global following: Lahore, the city of my birth. It does not matter if the decision to leave was economic or political, voluntary or under duress and threat. For most old residents of this city, sooner or later, Lahore comes back in their lives as the centrepiece of a personal pride. The mystique of Lahore is special and grows on one with every passing year.

In Stockholm, a core Lahore connection has served as the basis of a continuous monthly rotating all-evening social get-together since 1991. It began on every Friday at six o’clock in the evening, but has now changed to Sunday afternoons. (more…)

On Culture and the Clash of Cultures

March 18, 2011

By Anjum Altaf

The “West” versus the “East,” the “West” versus “Islam” – there is much talk of the clash of cultures in these ideologically charged times. Yet, there is as much confusion about the understanding of culture itself. If we are to be clear about the nature of the conflict, we need to first define what the argument is about.

Culture as a thing in itself: “the power of culture”

Culture has many dimensions and meanings – we can talk of the power of culture as well as of the culture of power – and some of the meanings have altered over time. In its original sense the notion was applied to humans as it was to the earth, the equivalent of agriculture – a way of cultivating the mind akin to cultivating the soil. It was common to speak of a cultured person as one who had cultivated good taste (even the choice of the word ‘taste’ hints at the commonality of the origins) – tastes could be refined with effort much like sugar. In this usage, culture was something an individual aspired to acquire and refine. The oft-heard European characterization of Americans as ‘uncultured’ reflects this usage. Within countries, ministries of culture were the facilitators of the cultivation of tastes.

It is less common these days to speak of culture in this manner because the focus has shifted to conflict and therefore away from the individual to the group. Yet, some of the sense of culture as taste remains when there is talk of the “cultural wars” between highbrow (elite) and lowbrow (popular) cultures.

Culture as the ethos of something else: “the culture of power”

There is a transition to associating culture with a pattern of behavior when one refers to the culture of power. Notions of the cultures of affluence or poverty convey the same sense – the powerful or the affluent or the poor behave in ways that are recognizable and common to the members of the group. It is also common to speak of the culture of organizations – the distinction was often made between the vertical culture of IBM (based on hierarchy) and the flat culture of Apple (based on equality).

The culture of a place

This transition to the behavior of groups can be rooted further in a specific geography. The association of culture with place – the culture of New York, for example – is an obvious extension although it is not as simple as it seems because a place can contain subgroups with quite distinct cultures of their own – say, the poor and the rich or the elite and the commoners. This nuance is vividly illustrated by an observation about New York by E.B. White: “Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness; natives give it solidity and continuity; but the settlers give it passion.” All these distinct subcultures come together to comprise the composite culture that New Yorkers claim as their own.

Residents of New York and San Francisco would insist that the cultures of the two cities are very different. One cannot conceive of saying about New York what was said of San Francisco – “If you’re going to San Francisco be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.” Those going to New York might be better advised to wear a Blackberry on their hips.

One should note that in this conceptualization of the composite culture of a healthy organization or place, the differences in the subcultures of its members, their religions or ethnicities for example, have relatively minor importance. Thus the culture of IBM is not sensitive to the different religions of its employees. Likewise, residents of Chinatown and Little Italy readily identify themselves as New Yorkers.

This is rather more difficult for us to appreciate in South Asia where we have witnessed composite cultures fragment and polarize around subcultures of language, religion or ethnicity. Nevertheless, despite the traumas of recent history, it still remains possible to speak meaningfully of a composite culture of UP or Punjab that subsumes religious differences. Indeed, we often speak of an even larger Ganga-Jamni culture that emerged out of the interaction of two initially very distinct cultures – something that was the subject of Dara Shikoh’s justly celebrated work, Majma-ul-Bahrain (“The Confluence of the Two Seas”).

Culture and religion

This conception of the composite culture of an organization or place should caution us against falling into the trap of giving primacy to religion in the discussion of culture. Religion influences culture but is itself embedded in pre-existing cultures – every place has a culture before religion is introduced into it. It is for this reason that the culture of Saudi Arabia is distinct from the culture of Iran or Indonesia even though they are now all countries with Muslim majorities. It is also the reason why society in Pakistan shuns social equality when the message of its holy book espouses equality quite explicitly. And within Pakistan, the social norms that prescribe how honor is defended in the different provinces vary from each other and also from the prescriptions of the Shariah.

West, East, Islam: misplaced categories

We are now in a position to return to the issue of interest – that of the so-called clash of cultures. It should be noted immediately that there is a serious incompatibility in talking about a culture clash between the West and Islam – the former is a spatial unit while the latter is a type of a non-spatial organization. We can either talk of a clash between Christianity and Islam or remove the incompatibility in some other way.

A formulation in terms of Christianity and Islam is much too broad – one has never heard, for example, of a conflict between the Christians of Latin America and the Muslims of Sub-Saharan Africa. Reformulation as a conflict between the West and the East is equally problematic because the East itself is too large a unit – there is little that can be considered common in the cultures of South Asia and East Asia, for instance.

Conflict of cultures or conflict of interests

A little thinking should reveal the intellectual laziness or subterfuge in such formulations. What initially motivated the proponents of the theory of culture clash was the problematic of the different interests of the USA and Europe on the one side and the Muslim countries of the Arab world on the other. It lent a false generalization to the articulation to conflate the former with the “West” and the latter with “Islam.” No doubt it also helped to mask the real nature of the material differences in interests that fueled the conflict. Over time, the generalization acquired the momentum of a self-fulfilling prophecy as more and more people began to see the world in its frame of reference.

Posed against each other in this formulation were the democratic, secular, and peace-loving values of the “West” against the totalitarian, religious, and aggressive values of  “Islam.” After the recent developments in the Arab world the mask has slipped to some extent from the emptiness of this conflation and questions have begun to be asked about the odd reality in which the friends of the “West” in the Arab world were precisely those totalitarian autocrats who were receiving billions of dollars to deny democracy and freedom to their own people. The choice of friends was the giveaway in the gulf between the rhetoric and reality of this false clash of cultures.

Culture and values

Although there is a very clear political economy rationale to the articulation of the clash of cultures, let us set it aside for the moment to discuss the conceptual issues in the understanding of culture. What exactly might we mean when we speak of a culture of the “West?” We are in the realm of geography and had mentioned earlier the notion of a culture of New York that was distinct from a culture of San Francisco. If we think of culture as a manifestation of shared values, to what extent can we enlarge a geographical unit while still recognizing some significant value that remains common across that unit?

In this sense can we associate certain shared attributes with as broad a geographical unit as the “West?” We can say perhaps that the West is relatively horizontal in terms of social relationships and that religious beliefs have relatively little impact on political behavior. In contrast, we can easily recognize some societies that are relatively vertical in terms of social relationships and where religious beliefs have relatively greater impact on political behavior. South Asia immediately comes to mind but note that East Asian societies are markedly different from South Asia in many respects so that a simplistic West-East classification would be very misleading.

Values and social structures

Thinking further along these lines would suggest that these attributes are not intrinsic to people but related to the structures of societies at particular moments in time and that there is a relationship between structural attributes and social values. The values of a pre-industrial society could be expected to differ from those of an industrial one. We can quite readily characterize a set of values as “feudal” and another as “capitalist” – it would be quite natural for honor and loyalty to be carry more weight in the former while the bottom line and merit gain more prominence in the latter. This also suggests that values change over time as the structures of societies evolve. Europe too was feudal, clerical, and dynastic at one time.

The clash of values

This should lead to an important observation. The fact that societies have different values does not imply that they must necessarily clash. To revert to an earlier illustration, IBM had a vertical culture while Apple had a horizontal culture but this in no way made a clash between the two inevitable. There was competition for sure but even this was modulated within the meta-rules of a composite capitalist culture.

However, and this is an equally important observation, when there is a conflict of material interests, real or perceived, one can expect a clash of values even within the same society. One can see this in the conflict over caste-based quotas and reservations in India as well over race-based affirmative action in the US. These material conflicts are recast in terms of a clash of values, between social justice and individual responsibility or between desert and merit, for example.

The conflict of interests

The key to understanding an articulation of a clash of cultures is to recognize the underlying clash of material interests and to identify the parties representing those interests. From there one can follow how the conflict of interests is recast as a conflict of values, how each party characterizes the values of the other as the exact opposite of its own to the point that the conflict is transformed into one between good and evil. This rhetoric of good and evil is then used to rally popular support – how often have we heard in recent years that “they” hate “us” because they dislike our values and our freedoms.

Seeing through the fog

This strategy continues to pay because there is always a pool of people ready to line up behind it. The resulting jingoism and chauvinism leads many to fall into the deeper hole of believing and wanting to prove their values superior to those of anyone else. This is easy enough – any one of hundreds of possible indicators can be picked as evidence of the superiority. Thus many Muslims claim Islamic values superior to Western values because the divorce rate is lower in Muslim countries. The failure to realize that they are comparing apples and oranges or that there may be other indicators suggesting the opposite conclusion illustrates well the benumbing influence of seeing the world through the lens of a clash of cultures. There are no clashes of cultures, only clashes of interests masquerading as clashes of cultures.

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Good Muslims: A Material Theory of Culture?

March 11, 2010

By Anjum Altaf

I attended a talk by Professor Vali Nasr where he presented the central argument of his new book Forces of Fortune: The Rise of the New Muslim Middle Class and What it Will Mean for Our World. Professor Nasr is an influential voice as senior advisor to Richard Holbrooke, the special Representative of the US for Afghanistan and Pakistan, which makes it relevant to summarize his views and to identify some areas of agreement and disagreement.

Professor Nasr’s underlying hypothesis was quite straightforward: the middle class transformed the modern West and it can transform the Muslim world as well. The rise of trade, capitalism and merchant life is the most important trend at work and one that shapes the contours of culture and delimits the uses of religious belief. From this vantage point the prescription follows logically: if Islamic countries are integrated into the global economy, this trend would shape the cultural landscape of the Muslim world. (more…)

On Thinking About the Past

September 29, 2009

The past is political, which makes interpreting it very tricky. In this post we try and illustrate some of the pitfalls involved in thinking about the past.

One common tendency is to look at the past from a position that is anchored in the present. If the anchor is political it nearly always leads to finding an interpretation of the past that helps to justify or strengthen the stance in the present. In The Idea of India, Sunil Khilnani puts it very plainly: “In India, as elsewhere, present politics are shaped by conceptions of the past. Broadly, there have been two different descriptions of Indian history…”

We need not be concerned here with the details of the two descriptions. We only need to note that more than one interpretation of the same facts is possible and that the choice depends upon which political position in the present is being supported. (more…)

On the Poverty of Indian Muslims

May 23, 2009

By Anjum Altaf

Being a Tribute to Dr. G.M. Mehkri 

The 2006 Sachar Committee report on the status of the Muslim community in India found that Muslims were amongst the poorest of the poor in the country.

How do we square that with the fact that up until 1857 Muslims had ruled parts of India for over 800 years? I mention this fact because, in the minds of some people, Muslims had expropriated all the wealth of India during this period and oppressed all the non-Muslims.

India has been independent for a little more than 60 years, so this transformation from being the owners of the land to being the poorest of the poor could not conceivably have occurred during this short period.

So, did the decline of the Muslims occur during the less than hundred years of British rule between 1857 and 1947? If so, how?

I don’t know.  I am writing this post partly to find out and partly to discharge a long-owed debt to Dr. G.M. Mehkri, a remarkable man in my opinion, who I met just once in the mid-1980s and have never forgotten because he had a very unique perspective on this issue.

Dr. Mehkri had a hypothesis that intrigued me. I don’t really know if it would survive a rigorous test but that seems beside the point. What fascinated me was the audacity and innovativeness of his thinking and his ability to communicate the excitement of such thinking to a younger generation. He was the kind of teacher one would have loved to have as a thesis advisor.

Here is the gist of his hypothesis as best as I remember after all these years:

Islam was born as a religion of the desert where land was of little value. The principal forms of property in the early years of Islam were animals (camels, horses, sheep) that are reproducible assets.

When a man died, his property was divided according to the Islamic law of inheritance to all his heirs in certain proportions. With reproducible assets, even if an heir inherited a pair of sheep, he/she could build up a stock again with a reasonable amount of diligence and common sense.

You should already be getting the drift of the story.

When Muslims came to India, they applied the same law of inheritance in a country where the principal form of property was land, which is a non-reproducible asset. You divide up land amongst the heirs and pretty soon (say over two or three generations) the size of a holding becomes uneconomic to farm. The owners have no option but to sell the land and join the category of the landless.

Dr. Mehkri had some extensions to this story:

First, the Hindu inheritance law and joint family institution were adapted to land being the principal form of property. This must have had many other implications but one that was relevant was that the process of inter-generational dilution of property was not the same. In general, Muslims whose land holdings became too small to farm did not sell out to other Muslims but to non-Muslims.

Second, that there were three Muslim trading communities (Bohris, Khojas and Memons, if I remember right) who converted to Islam from Hinduism but retained their old institution of joint property holding. These were the only three communities that remained prosperous amongst the Muslims.

Once again, I don’t know if these hypotheses would be sustained by detailed research but at the level of theory they do highlight the fact that the laws of inheritance have a great bearing on economic outcomes over generations. And this relationship has attracted very little attention.

There are a number of fascinating extensions that came to mind as I pursued the line of thought opened up by Dr. Mehkri. I will write about them in a later post.

To conclude this tribute, I want to return to the reason I raised the possibility that the British period might have a bearing on the phenomenon of Muslim impoverishment. Under the Mughals, all land was the property of the emperor and was subject to tax-farming under the mansabdari system. I doubt that the mansabdars cared whether those from whom they extracted taxes were fellow-religionists or not, just as modern factory owners don’t discriminate amongst their employees on the basis of shared identities. That should take care of the speculation that ordinary Muslims had benefited inordinately from Muslim rule in India.

But more importantly, if there were no ownership of land Dr. Mehkri’s theory would not have applied during that period. It was only under the British that the Permanent Settlements were introduced (beginning with Bengal in 1793) and private ownership of land became a reality with the mansabdars being transformed into lawful owners of their domains. Only after this change could the process of dilution of land holdings of this Mughal elite could have started.

This hypothesis is extended to include the implications of primogeniture in More on the Law of Inheritance.

I wonder if someone would be able to obtain a copy of Dr. Mehkri’s dissertation and delve into this topic in more depth. The details are as follows: Mehkri, G.M.  The Social background of Hindu-Muslim relationship, Ph.D. Thesis, University of Bombay. Bombay: Bombay University, 1947, English. National Social Science Documentation Centre (NASSDOC), 35 Feroz Shah Road, New Delhi: 110001, India.

June 2011 Update: The NASSDOC copy is missing. A copy of the thesis has been located in the archives of the Bombay University library. I have not had access to it yet.


Hinduism – 4: Early Interaction with Muslims

December 4, 2008

Continued from Hinduism – 3: Interaction with Muslims

This series of posts has a limited objective – to understand the nature and impacts of the historical interactions of Hinduism with Muslims and Britons. In order to make our point we took the incursions of Mahmud of Ghazna around 1000 AD as an adequate starting point. However, this created the impression that the first Muslims in India came as raiders. This is an incorrect impression and in fact there is an extensive prior history of peaceful contact. Although this history is not directly related to the objective of this series, it is important to document it in order to avoid misunderstandings.

Arab, Greek and Jew contact with the Malabar Coast of India had long existed on account of trade in spices and other articles and became predominant in the post-Roman period. Thus Arab contact with India pre-dates Islam. There were settlements of pre-Islamic Arabs in Chaul, Kalyan Supara and Malabar Coast and Arab merchants travelled along the Coromandel Coast on their way to China.

The emergence of Islam did not give rise to the Arab connection with India but it added a new dimension. Trade continued after the Arabs embraced Islam and Arab traders brought it to Malabar almost immediately. Colonies of Arabs became Muslim settlements and existed at major ports such as Cambay, Chaul, and Honawar. In other settlements along the Bay of Bengal the presence of Muslims is traceable back to the eighth century. The largest Arab coastal settlements were in Malabar where Muslims form a substantial part of the population today. These communities came into existence through the marriage of local women to Arab sailors. In Malabar, the Mappilas were the first community attracted to Islam because they were more closely connected with the Arabs than others. Mappilas comprise descendants of pure Arabs, descendants of Arabs through local women (the vast majority), and converts from among non-Arabic locals (mostly from the lower caste Hindus with some exceptions).

Native rulers extended facilities and protection to these communities because trade contributed to economic prosperity. The conversion of a local ruler to Islam further integrated the Muslim community into the social life of the region.

These trading contacts were accompanied by equally extensive intellectual exchanges.     

Indo-Arab intellectual collaboration was at its height during the reigns of Mansur (753-774) and Harun-al-Rashid (780-808). Embassies connecting Sind to Baghdad included scholars who brought important books with them, scholars were sent to India to study medicine and pharmacology, and Hindu scholars came to Baghdad as chief physicians of hospitals and as translators into Arabic of Sanskrit books on such subjects as medicine, pharmacology, toxicology, philosophy, and astrology.

In mathematics the most important contribution of India to Arabic learning was the introduction of what are known in the West as ‘Arabic numerals,’ but which Arabs themselves call ‘Indian numerals’ (al-ruqum-al-Hindiyyah). Indian medicine received even greater attention; the titles of at least fifteen works in Sanskrit which were translated into Arabic have been preserved, including books by Sushruta and Caraka, the foremost authorities in Hindu medicine. Indian doctors enjoyed great prestige at Baghdad and were personal physicians to the Caliphs. Many Indian medicines, some of them in their original names such as atrifal, which is the Hindi tri-phal (a combination of three fruits), found their way into Arab pharmacopoeia.

Literary works gained great popularity. Some of the stories of the Arabian Nights are attributed to India, and Arabic translations of the Panchatantra, popularly known as the story of Kalila and Dimna, have become famous in various Arabic and Persian versions. The games of chess and chausar were also brought from India and transmitted by Arabs to other parts of the world.

It is important to keep this narrative in mind as we cover the journey from the past to the present. Because so few students today are exposed to a study of history it becomes easy to project the present onto versions of the past that have no correlation with real events. The onus of verification rests on us.

To be continued…

Sources consulted:

1. Muslim Civilization in India by SM Ikram

2. Wikipedia on Mapillas 

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