Muslim Religious Leaders in India's Freedom Struggle

Prof. Ishrat Ansari
Courtesy: The AIM Journal, USA, August 1997.

Commenting upon the activities of Maulana Mahmood Hasan and Maulana Obaidullah Sindhi, the viceroy of India wrote, "Realizing our weakness in India, they have been actually attempting to stir up trouble and even rebellion." Their efforts had not gone waste and they were able to create a very strong party in Afghanistan which was in favor of war with the English which compelled the amir to agree to commence hostilities as soon as a Turco-German force would arrive in the vicinity of Afghanistan.

In the meantime, in India, due to the maltreatment of Turkey by European powers and the danger of the Muslim holy places falling under the hands of Christians, a full-fledged Khilafat movement had started, which was backed by Indian National Congress. The ulema were frequently required to participate in it because they had contacts with the masses at grassroots level due to the continuity of their engagement in disseminating religious sciences and the efforts of the Ulema of Deoband to establish close contacts between the movement and the masses.

They became members and office bearers of the Khilafat committees and extensively toured and delivered speeches to draw the masses to the movement. The important figures among the ulema of Deoband who were active in this movement were Mulana Uzair Gul, Maulana Kifayatullah and Maulana Habibur Rahman. It became general practice that the ulema were frequently invited to the political meetings, were allotted a prominent place on the stage and attracted huge crowds in the meetings of the Khilfat movement. It is on record that in the meeting of October 17, 1919 at Delhi, the biggest meeting attended by some 50,000 persons, Maulana Kifayatullah delivered a speech. It was obvious that the politicians of those days wanted to win their credentials as leaders of the masses by exploiting the grassroots level contact of the ulema and had thought that they would monopolize politics and leave religion to the ulema.


Due to the efforts of Maulana Abdul Bari of Firangi Mahal, a meeting of all types of ulema took place at Delhi on November 25, 1919, which led to the formation of Jamiat-ul-Ulema-i-Hind for carrying out political activities. With the passage of time, it was exclusively monopolized by the ulema of Deoband. As soon as the Congress decided to launch its Non-Cooperation movement, which included renunciation of titles, resignation from government service, and non-payment of taxes, the ulema of Deband, under the leadership of Maulana Habibur Rahman, once again undertook extensive tours for winning the masses for this movement.

In the meantime, the English brought Maulana Mahmood Hasan and Maulana Hussain Ahmed Madni from Malta to Bombay on 7 June, 1920 and released them from confinement. They were warmly greeted by all the prominent leaders of the country, including Mahatma Gandhi, and Maulana Mahmood Hasan was honored with the title of Shaikh-ul-Hind. Although Maulana Mahmood Hasan was not in good health, he did not care for his illness and spent the rest of his life travelling extensively and speaking on behalf of the Khilafat and Non-Cooperation movement for mobilizing the masses.

Besides, a fatwa was also issued justifying Non-Cooperation and Swadeshi on religious grounds. For making alternate arrangements for education for those students who had boycotted the government schools and colleges and those run by the loyalist elements, Jamia Millia Islamia was launched on October 29, 1920. It was inaugurated by Maulana Mahmood Hasan, where he explained the need for liberating the country from the yoke of British imperialists.

After his death, the place of Mahmood Hasan as leader of the ulema of Deoband was taken by his close associate and disciple Maulana Hussain Ahmad Madni, known by his title of Shaikh-ul-Islam. To familiarize swadeshi, he extensively popularized the use of khaddar and pointed out that "independence is the fundamental right of everyone human being and everyone ought to strive to attain it and every action which could harm the enemy and his administration and power is permissible and enforceable."


In July, 1921, Maulana Husain Ahmad Madni, Maulana Kifayatullah and Mufti Azizur Rahman of the Dar-ul-uloom issued a fatwa reiterating the declaration of Jamiat-ul-Ulema-i-Hind made at its Bareilly session held on March 24-26, 1921, that "All Government services by which the government is helped are haram (forbidden/undesirable); specially serving in the police and the army is a great sin because they have to fire upon their brethren."

It was issued on the eve of heating up of the Greco-Turkish conflict in Asia Minor and the sympathy of the Britishers with the Greeks. In a resolution of the Jamiat, they congratulated the Turks on their recent victories and threatened that if the British went to war with Turkey, the Muslims, carrying the Congress with them, would launch a Civil Disobedience movement and proclaim India an independent republic. The fatwa was confiscated by the British government. They held a series of public meetings in Delhi in August and September, 1921 to protest against the confiscation. The meetings were attended by thousands of people.

To deter further activities of the Jamiat, Maulana Hussain Ahmad Madni was arrested at Deoband. He was whisked away to Karachi, where he was imprisoned in a secluded cell with handcuffs and chains in legs. The food given to him was extremely salty with a mixture of millet. The Jamiat wanted to start Civil disobedience Movement forthwith but postponed the matter till the meeting of Congress on October 4, 1921. Mahatma Gandhi issued a manifesto signed by leaders, Congressmen and others endorsing the resolution of Karachi and on November 4-5 the All India Congress Committee authorized the provinces to begin mass or individual Civil disobedience, including non-Payment of taxes.

Maulana Hussain Ahmad Madni and others were tried at Karachi and sentenced to two years of rigorous imprisonment. The ulema of Deoband were involved in demonstrations made at the time of the visit of Prince of wales to India in November, 1921. Due to these activities the resignations of the Muslim policemen became frequent and the support of the Muslim masses to the Non-Cooperation movement became massive. There was a violent incident at Chauri Chaura in Bihar in which 21 policemen were killed and the movement was suspended by Congress.


In 1923 the ulema of Deoband had to divert their attention to the Shuddhi movement of Arya Samaj, through which about 18,000 Malkana Muslim Rajputs had been converted to Hinduism. Passive attempts to get it suspended failed and, hence, the ulema of Deoband were compelled to send preachers and propagandists to persuade the above converted Rajputs to re-enter the fold of Islam. Maulana Kifayatullah even formed tabligh-ul-lslam for the same purpose. These measures were given up as soon as the limited purpose of these was achieved. During the same year, the Jamiat declared that it was for the boycott Of the election to the Reformed Council, which was supported by Congress and other leaders of the Khilafat movement.

In March 1924, Turkey (Kamal Ataturk) abolished Caliphate. The ulema of Deoband took a realistic stand on the issue and decided to forget the Khilafat question and to pay attention to the affairs near home. In 1926, the Jamiat passed a resolution demanding total freedom for India, which was further reiterated at its Peshawar session in 1927. They also participated in the boycott of Simon Commission wholeheartedly.

Maulana Anwar Shah Kashmiri of the Dar-ul-uloom devoted himself fully to establishing a lasting Hindu-Muslim amity. He said, "The fear what shall be the reaction of the Muslims if India is attacked by any Muslim power is baseless and ill-founded. If the Muslims will be satisfied from the side of the Hindus on the strength of some sort of agreement and will not fall a prey to their oppression, their reaction will be the same as one whose house is invaded even if the invader belongs to his own creed. If the Hindus enter into a just agreement with the Muslims and honor it, they will find the Muslims the most faithful and dispassionate neighbors. There is no way to convert India into a Dar-ul-Islam now, and it will continue to be Dar-ul-Aman for the Muslims. The Muslims will be one Jamaat and one Qaum with the non-Muslims of India."


In 1939, the Jamiat was instrumental in bringing together several Muslim organizations under the banner of the Azad Muslim Conference which played a significant role in Indian politics. The Jamiat actively participated in its activities. It demanded a united India in which Muslims religious, economic and cultural rights would be secure. It also established that the Muslim League was not the sole voice of Muslims in India.

For one of his political speeches for the Jamiat, Maulana Hussain Ahmad Madni was arrested on June 25, 1942, and was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment. The Dar-ul-uloom held a series of peaceful but effective demonstrations and meetings. Ultimately, the British government released Maulana Hussain Ahmad Madni unconditionally on 26 August, 1944 after which the Maulana delivered a speech at Deoband in which he declared that he would not rest content till the attainment of freedom.

Dar-ul-Uloom Deoband allowed its students to take part in the Quit India movement by postponing the annual examination and closing the seminary. Maulana Husain Ahmad Madni propounded the concept ofMuttahida Qaumiyat wherein all communities of India would share power. He believed that the Indian people, irrespective of their religion, are one Qaum being Indian and citizens of a common country. None should interfere in the religious affairs of others and everyone should be totally free to practice his own religion. Everybody Should be at liberty to keep intact his personal law and culture.


Courtesy: The AIM Journal, USA, August 1997.   Excerpted by K. Kawaja.