Muslims and India’s Freedom Struggle
Recalling the Untold Bright History

Muhammadullah Khalili Qasmi

India, from ancient times is famous for its civilization, rituals and natural recourses. It existed even in the immemorial times. According to many prophetic traditions, the Prophet Adam (peace be upon him), the first man on earth, landed in India. Interestingly Adam, the first prophet of Allah to the people, was the first man to stay at the soil of India. It is known to all that Muslims believe in all the prophets sent down by Allah on this earth. It is also known that all the prophets of Allah came with one religion that is Islam. So in this way, Muslims are the true successor of this land.

After the seventh century AD, the atlas of the world changed. As two great world empires i.e. Persia and Rome collapsed. India also could not guard itself from the effect of the international revolution that was brought about by Islam. In 711 AD, Muhammad Qasim entered India and cut off Sind. Later, it was the turn of Sultan Mahmood Gaznavi (reign 998-1030) who conquered a good part of western and northern India. Soon after him came Sultan Shihabuddin Gauri in 1206 who laid the foundation stone of Delhi Sultanate (1206-1526). Finally came Babar whose Mughal empire lasted for centuries (from 1526 to 1857).

The Mughal Empire with its all glory after the period of Aurangzeb Aalamgir (1618-1707) started declining. The undeserving successors of throne could not protect the inherited government from declining. Europe those days was passing by boundless scientific and economical progress while the Muslim empires like Ottoman Caliphate in Turkey and Mughal Empire in India could not sense the importance of scientific developments that were taking place in Europe. The onslaught of Europe on India started by the Portuguese pirates and colonialists in seventeenth century, but it was heightened when the English disguised as traders established bases with an eye on India’ wealth  and land. Later the East India Company began taking the country into its grip and finally it put an end to the 7-century old Muslim rule.

First, East India Company established its base in Surat where it got permission to operate business in the period of Jahangir in 1612. The company got marvelous success and occupied all three important ports of Bombay, Calcutta and Surat. Shah Waliullah Muhaddis Dehlawi (1703-1762) was the first person who apprehended the danger and was disappointed of the Muslim government to stand to an action. So he chalked out a plan of complete revolution. Shah Waliullah’s various books reflect this thought and propound a complete framework. Shah Waliullah is the frontrunner of this field. Later, his sons and pupils forwarded his mission.

Meanwhile, the company began to expand its area. It resulted at a fierce fight between the company and Sirajuddaula in Palasi (Bengal) in 1757. Sirajuddaula was defeated and the door was open for Britain to occupy Bengal. Afterwards, Haidar Ali and his son Tipu Sultan stood up to stop English steps in Deccan (Southern India). But this campaign suffered a major setback due to internal treachery and Tipu was martyred fighting in Srangapattam in 1799. The English general Nell climbed up his dead body and shouted: “From today India is ours”. Finally, one day in 1803 the Mughal king in Delhi was forcibly asked to sign a paper that read, “The people for Allah, the country for King his majesty and the order for the Company”.

Meanwhile, Shah Abdul Aziz (1746-1823) who was realizing the situation very carefully issued a fatwa saying that India has become a Darul Harb (non-Muslim country); Muslims must wage war against the British.

After 1803, there was no real threat to the English. The ground was not prepared to start any revolutionary movement. So, Syed Ahmad Shaheed, a disciple of Shah Abdul Aziz, with his some companions migrated to Qandahar in Afghanistan in search of a land from where he can run a movement and prepare a team for the revolution. There, he established an Islamic government and confronted with Sikhs who were a big obstacle in the way of their movement. Unfortunately, the greatest militant movement of this subcontinent suffered sedition of Afghans and finally collapsed. The remaining people, especially the Ulama-e-Sadiqpur, continued their mission inside India. 

The sparks of hate and anger against the English burst again in 1857. This time it was not a mutiny of a group but mass revolt against the English throughout the country. In Shamli people revolted in the leadership of Haji Imdadullah while they were fighting in Lucknow and Faizabad under the command of Begum Nawab and Maulana Ahmadullah. Meerut and Delhi were the centers where Indian army men were with Sultan Bahadur Shah Zafar. The revolt continued for months, but the Indians were defeated in the long run.

It is noteworthy that the caravan of freedom was led purely by Muslims till 1857. Since the power was snatched from Muslims so they were naturally the first enemies of the alien government. According to historians, 27,000 Muslims were only hanged to death. Not to speak of the 7-day-long massacre. Even the children were not spared. The atrocities that were perpetrated on women are beyond imagination. Shah Zafar was exiled to Rangoon and his descendents were finished off.

After the failure of 1857 revolution, the Muslim leaders changed their strategy. They started setting up educational institutions across the country to combat the government’s disastrous policies. On the foremost of them was Maulana Muhammad Qasim Nanautavi and his colleagues who established Darul Uloom Deoband to produce a team of Ulama who can fight eyeball to eyeball with British government. The first student of Darul Uloom Deoband, Maulana Mahmood Hasan known as Shaikhul Hind, with his people drew a plan known as “Reshmi Rumal Movement” (Silken Letters Movements). Hazrat Shaikhul Hind had a secret agreement with Ottoman Caliphate of Turkey to attack on British bases in India and prepare ground for revolt. But this plan also was sabotaged by some Muslims. Consequently, he with his colleagues was arrested and sent to Malta Island where they spent 3 years and later released when no guilt was proved.

As the 1st World War erupted the Indian subcontinent was resounding with the slogans of Khilafat Movement. Until this point of time, no prominent Hindu leader was in the field. Due to the World War, the global scenario changed and India Hindus got up from their long slumber. Shaikhul Hind in his way back to India from Malta was supposed to get down in Bombay. Gandhi Ji was amongst those who came to receive him. After that in a meeting Shaikhul Hind, Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar, Mukhtar Ansari and other Muslim leaders elected Gandhi Ji as the leader. Since Hindus were in majority, so it was necessary to win the local and international support by putting Hindu leaders forward.

Around 1919 Jamiatul Ulama came into being to provide Muslims a platform to fight against the English. It is worth mentioning that it was Jamiat, which taught the Congress to follow the path to freedom. Otherwise, it was not founded with sole purpose of independence. The Jamiat leaders worked closely with the Congress and inspired it to adopt non-cooperation, complete freedom and other programme.

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the genius scholar and prolific water of the Indian subcontinent, was the hero of India’s independence. Through his writings and particularly historic newspapers al-Hilal and al-Balagh he heated up the continent with warm slogans of freedom that made the colonialists restless. He headed the Congress especially in the most crucial times of independence history during the II World War and afterwards. It was the continuous pressure and wise policy of the Congress under his leadership that materialized the dream of freedom in shorter period.

These are some brief extracts from the history of freedom. Otherwise, the sacrifices that Muslims have offered to free India from the clutches of the English cannot be described in a short article. If we take only the names of the Muslim fighters it will take hours to finish. The most important thing is that Muslims were pioneer in freedom fighting and only they carried it on till 1900. The Hindu leaders appeared long after them and Muslims went parallel with them till the country was free. Muslims had always held high the torch of patriotism and freedom fighting.

Today, it is tragic enough that Muslims are blamed that they are traitors. Muslim fighters instead of being paid homage their names are removed from textbooks and history. While, many in Hindu community think that Muslims have got their share in the form of Pakistan, but they forget that still India has more Muslims than Pakistan or any other country in the world except Indonesia.

The purpose to mention these sacrifices is to remind today’s Muslims of our brave past. Since, it is said that a nation which fails to treasure its history is lost in the darkness of ages. It has nothing that inspires it to face any threat with courage and determination.