Role of Fatawa in the Freedom Movement

By Zafarul Islam Islahi

It is an established fact that the Muslims after their settlement in India adopted it as their home and considered it their duty to work for socio- economic and cultural development of the country and general welfare of the people. In fact, they took part in the freedom movement with the same sense of duty and worked whole-heartedly along with their country-fellows to achieve the desired goal of the freedom of their homeland. The different sections of the Muslim society, including ulama, utilised their respective resources for this purpose.

As torchbearers of the Muslim community, the ulama employed various methods to serve the cause of the freedom movement. Apart from actively participating in different programmes of the movement which were going on in those days under the leadership of Gandhiji, they did their best to make the movement successful through their speeches, writings and issuing fatwa for creating awareness among the Muslims about the Britishers or in support of the crucial programmes of the freedom movement.

The fatwa (pl. fatawa), as it is well-known, is exposition of the Shariat's point of view by a mufti or a learned jurist with regard to any emergent problem in response to a legal query (istifta) by any person or on his own. As a matter of fact, the institution of ifta (writing or issuing fatwa) is an integral part of Islamic juridical system and has important role in guiding the ummah in emergent problems or new situations. It is pertinent to explain here that the fatwa issued by the competent legal authority about any issue is given much importance by the common Muslims, because it is believed that a fatwa is a declaration of the Shariat's point of view expressed either in the light of the Quran and Hadith or through interpreting their text. As such it is considered binding as a provision of the Shariat, though, of course, a mufti individually can not force any one to follow his fatwa. It can not be denied that in recent times, some of the fatawa issued by certain muftis in haste, without thorough examination of the concerned cases, have undermined the dignity of this great institution of Islam.

The issuing fatwa is not an easy job as it is generally thought. It requires extreme care and utmost regard for the well-defined principles of the ifta. As a matter of fact, issuing fatwa or delivering legal verdict about different issues or cases has a very old history in India. In the modern media, the fatwa is sometimes dubbed as document which negates democratic principles, serves the sectarian approach and undermines the rights of women and non-Muslims. It has been forgotten that it was the fatwa which had set into motion the struggle against the Britishers who had established their control over India and had snatched the rights of the Indians to rule over their country. There are enough evidences to suggest that fatawa of the Indian ulama had mobilized the Muslims to render services and make sacrifices for the sake of their homeland and had boosted the cause of the freedom movement in its several stages.

In the history of the freedom movement in India, the fatwa of Shah Abdul Aziz Dehlawi, issued in 1803, has crucial importance as it declared India of that time as Darul Harb and thus prompted the Muslims to start struggle against the Britishers and permitted them to wage war for bringing change in the situation.

In fact, it was the starting point of the freedom movement in a practical way, though it is rightly said that the ground for the movement was actually prepared by the writings of Shah Waliullah Dehlawi (d. 1762 CE) about the political situation of India in the 18th century. The historic fatwa of Shah Abdul Aziz was endorsed by many ulama of that period, including Qazi Sanaullah Panipati, Shah Rafiuddin, Shah Abdul Qadir, Shah Ismail Shaheed, Shah Muhammad Ishaq and Mufti Ilahi Bakhsh. It is noteworthy that the fatwa of some of these ulama had clearly declared that in the present situation it had become obligatory for the Indian Muslims to wage jihad against the Englishmen to change the situation of the country. This edict had certainly given legal sanction for the same to check the enslavement of the country and its inhabitants and had also awakened the people to prepare themselves for further line of action. During the subsequent period, the fatawa continued to be issued by the contemporary ulama in support of the different programmes of the freedom movement. Quite obviously, the fatawa that were issued with the signature of a large number of ulama proved to be more effective. Some such fatawa belonged to the pre- and post-first war of independence. Just before the painful event of 1857, when the Britishers were exhausting their energies to gain full control over Delhi and were damaging the life and property of those who were resisting it, a fatwa was issued with the signature of 31 ulama of Delhi, which declared jihad farz-i-ain for the Muslims of Delhi and farz-i kifayah for those of adjoining areas. The signatories to the fatwa included Sayyed Nazir Husain, Maulana Rahmatullah Kairanwi, Mufti Sadruddin, Mufti Ikramuddin, Maulana Abdul Karim, Shah Abdul Ghani Mujaddidi, Mufti Rahmat Ali Khan and Maulana Ilahi Bakhsh.

It is well-known that after 1857, the main target of revengeful action of the British government were Muslims, as they had led the first war of independence and had posed great challenge to the rising power of the Britishers. In this situation, some of the ulama, including Maulana Kifayatullah of Muradabad reinforced the above edict to motivate the Muslims for struggle against the oppressive Government.

Another important fatwa issued by Shaikhul Hind, Maulana Mahmud Hasan in July, 1920 is related to non-cooperation with the British Government, which was actually an important part of the freedom movement to put pressure on it. The fatwa of the Shaikhul Hind declared it unlawful for the Muslims to join the government service, especially in police and army and to cooperate with it in any way. The fatwa endorsed by a large number of ulama in the meeting of the Jamiatul Ulama (held at Calcutta in September, 1920) was printed with the signature of 474 ulama and distributed in different parts of the country. It contributed a lot to make the programme of non-cooperation more effective as many Muslims following the dictates of the fatwa left the government jobs, discarded the military service and returned the government awards and titles. Moreover, echoing the same edict, a resolution supported strongly by Ali brothers, was passed in the Khilafat Conference session of September, 1921, (held at Karachi) openly declaring the police or military service of the British government unlawful (haram). Subsequently, the resolution was compiled under the fatwa format by Shaikhul Islam Maulana Husain Ahmad Madani and was signed by him along with Maulana Nisar Ahmad and Peer Ghulam Mujaddid. It was also sent in the printed form to several parts of the country, which generated more heat in the freedom movement as the non-cooperation had become a mass programme among Muslims due to the impact of the fatwa. The situation was quite alarming for the government which took steps to suppress the rising impact of the fatwa by seizing it and arresting the compiler and supporters of the same. It was the same fatwa on the basis of which the famous Karachi case of inciting sedition was started against the above prominent freedom fighters who were put to trial and finally awarded punishment of two years rigorous imprisonment. Instead of bringing any setback to the movement, these repressive measures spread the message of the fatwa far and wide and strengthened the people's resolve to go ahead on the path of the freedom.

In addition to the non-cooperation programme, the salt satyagraha movement started by Gandhiji in March, 1930 against the anti-people salt law of the government also proved to be more effective to air the feelings of resentment and anger against the Britishers and exhorted them to work more vigorously to relieve the country from their oppressive and unjust rule. The Muslims, including ulama, actively participated in this historical satyagraha, and worked hard to give it wider acceptance through their speeches and writings. Some of them, like Mufti Atiqur Rahman Usmani, are reported to have given a verdict that no government has right to levy tax on items like water and salt and that it is permissible to make struggle against a government which dares to do it. Such fatwa had led to create more awareness among the common Muslims for participation in the satyagraha.

It is well-known that the freedom movement and the Khilafat Tahrik were interlinked. They got support and strength from each other. The whole-hearted support of Gandhiji to this Tahrik had made it an all India issue. Consequently, the Khilafat Tahrik had given great strength to the Hindu-Muslim relationship and their unity which was obviously the most powerful source for the country to achieve the lofty goal of freedom from the foreign rule. The Indian ulama, as is well- known, had been in the forefront in the Khilafat movement led by Ali brothers. Though I could not come across any formal fatwa issued in support of this movement, but it could not be overlooked that this Tahrik itself was started on the basis of the well-considered opinion of the Indian ulama that according to the Shariat at that time no one was legitimate Khalifa of Muslims except the Sultan of Turkey. So, the Muslims all over the world were required to raise this issue and work for restoration of his Khilafat. Moreover, just about one month before the formation of the Khilafat Committee in India, in a public meeting of Anjuman Muaiyyidul Islam held in Farangi Mahal (Lucknow) in February, 1919 under the chairmanship of Maulana Abdul Bari Farangi Mahli, it was resolved unanimously that a fatwa giving details of the rules of the Shariat about the institution of Khilafat be prepared and after being signed by the ulama of the Arab and Islamic countries be sent to the Governor General.

Another well-known matter which was juridically examined by the ulama in course of the freedom movement was joining the Congress party by the Muslims and working in coordination and cooperation with the Hindus to bring freedom to their country. Some of the ulama of the period put their seal to it by their fatawa to remove any misgiving, if found in this regard. The fatwa in support of joining the Congress party had been issued by the famous freedom fighter Maulana Habibur Rahman Ludhianwi in 1888. It was published with the signature of about 300 ulama and distributed in different parts of country. This fatwa, though confiscated by the government like other important fatawa, had also served the cause of the freedom movement, because it is generally accepted that among the political parties of that time the Congress was playing the leading role in this movement. In the same way, many ulama of the period stressed the need of the Muslims jointly working with the Hindus against the Britishers who had subjugated their country and had enslaved them. What is important in this regard is that some of them openly declared that there was no bar from the Shariat for Muslims working with non-Muslims for a good cause.

In brief, it is quite clear from the above details that many important programmes of the freedom movement were supported by the ulama and given wide acceptance among the Muslims through their fatawa. This was actually an important part of the multi-dimensional role of the ulama (especially those belonging to Darul Uloom, Deoband) in the freedom movement which is generally overlooked by the historians and writers of the modern period. The real importance of their fatawa lies in the fact that they contributed to build up the opinion of the common Muslims against the Britishers who had adopted repressive policies towards the Indians particularly Muslims and under whose rule their life and property was insecure and their religious and political rights were in peril. Besides, these fatawa led to make them more active and dutiful with regard to the struggle for freedom of the country. The Britishers, as also became clear from the above deliberations, were themselves fully aware of the inherent impact of the fatwa and had tried their best, though unsuccessfully, to suppress it by seizing copies of different fatawa and subjecting their authors, printers and propagators to harsh and humiliating punishment. It may be also added here that the fatawa referred to above in relation to the freedom movement are merely a fragmented part of huge fatawa literature of the same nature available in the well-known Fatawa-collections, records of Darul Ifta of different madrasahs and treasures of private libraries. These are required to be brought out, studied thoroughly and compiled systematically to assess their quantum and to find out the real role of this hitherto-neglected literature produced by the Indian ulama.

Lastly, it can not be missed to point out that the ulama, who prepared the above fatawa and took care of their distribution in printed form among the people to make them more effective, were mostly products of the madrasahs or institutions of Islamic learning. This strongly supports the view that they are not only assets to the Muslim community, they are also rendering (as they did in the past) many services (khidmat) to the country “ the noblest being promotion of learning, reform of moral life and socio-cultural upliftment of the people. Their good works, undoubtedly, cannot be obliterated by the ongoing hateful campaign and adverse comments about them in a section of modern media.

Professor Islahi teaches in the department of Islamic Studies, AMU

Source: The Milli Gazette, 1-15 November 2006, p. 16