19th century Indian
Ulama repudiated Jihad against British rule
Research article in
(From The Light & Islamic Review: Vol.70;
No. 2; Mar-Apr 1993; p.11-13)
A paper appeared in Hamdard Islamicus (autumn
1992, pp. 93-100), a quarterly joumal of Studies and Research in Islam,
published from Karachi, Pakistan, entitled The Repudiation
of Jihad by the Indian Scholars in the Nineteenth Century by
a Ghulam Mohammad Jaffar. It is shown in it that, after the efforts of
Sayyid Ahmad Barelvi and his followers in the early part of the nineteenth
century to fight a jihad by war against non-Muslim rule (in that case,
the Sikh rule of the North-West), by about the mid-1860s Muslim religious
leaders had started to reject such jihad against the British rule of India.
The paper ends with the following conclusion:
"After 1871, the movement of Sayyid Ahmad [Barelvi] lost its
momentum, and the modern Muslim leaders of India began to follow the
new political strategy which was based on applying the principles
of reconciliation and co-operation with the British government."
Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad's writings first appeared ten years after
this date, and those publications in which he has expressed loyalty
to British rule (to refute charges of disloyalty made against him by
some other Muslims) generally came after 1891. It is therefore as clear
as daylight that, long before Hazrat Mirza came to
public prominence, the Muslim leaders of India were already, in the
words of this article, "applying the principles of reconciliation
and co-operation with the British government". Hence
all the charges made against him in this respect are simply false, and
based merely on malice and misrepresentation.
The change in the Muslim view of jihad, according to the paper, began
in the following way. (In this extract, we have highlighted three phrases.)
"The state trials which resulted in the transportation and exile
of the Tariqah leaders in 1864 and 1865 brought about a significant
change in the attitude of the urban Muslims towards jihad and
the Tariqah-i-Muhammadiyah movement. They repudiated
the doctrine of jihad and its validity in British India. In
this context the efforts of Nawab Abdul Latif Khan, Mawlawi Karamat
Ali, Sayyid Amir Hussian, the Personal Assistant to the Commissioner
of Bhagulpore, and Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan, are worth mentioning. They
took a leading part in denouncing the concepts of
dar al-harb [that Muslims could wage war in India].
They tried to convince both the British authorities and the Muslims
that according to the Islamic law, jihad against
the rulers was unlawful because the Muslims were now mustamin
or protected under the British rule."
We draw our readers' attention to the highlighted words about the Muslim
leaders of India:
The actions described above are exactly those which Hazrat Mirza is accused
of doing by his opponents in their present-day propaganda against him.
For instance, he is accused of repudiating the doctrine of jihad,
and of calling jihad as unlawful. Here we learn that most of the
acknowledged Muslim leaders did the same.
- they repudiated the doctrine of jihad
- they were denouncing the concepts of dar al-harb
- they told the British authorities and the Muslim public that jihad
against the rulers was unlawful.
The paper then deals with the various fatwas issued by the ulama declaring
it unlawful to fight a jihad against the British government of India.
One fatwa was given by the ulama of northern India, and another by muftis
of Makka. Then the Muhammadan Literary Society of Bengal discussed this
question. Its Mawlawi Karamat Ali announced in his decision:
"Now if any misguided wretch, owing to his perverse fortune,
were to wage war against the ruling power of the country, British
India, such war would be rightly pronounced rebellion, and rebellion
is strongly forbidden by the Muhammadan law. Therefore, such war will
likewise be unlawful, and in case anyone would wage such war, the
Muhammadan subjects would be bound to assist their ruler, and in conjunction
with their rulers, to fight such rebels."
The paper then moves on to the views and work of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan
with respect to this question. It may be noted that Sir Syed is regarded
as a great servant of the Muslim cause, who roused them from slumber
and pointed them on the right path of progress, and whose work of Muslim
revival laid the foundation of the demand for independence. He is quoted
as having written in the Pioneer newspaper:
"A jihad would be perfectly lawful for Mahommedans against
such an infidel country which oppressed Mahommedans. A jihad by
the Mahommedans of India against their rulers would be a false one,
would be rebellion pure and simple, and the misguided men who took
part in it, would, according to their religion, deserve death."
In 1871 Dr. William Hunter, a British civil servant in Bengal, published
his famous book The Indian Mussalmans, in which he raised questions
about the loyalty of the Muslims to the British government and referred
to the earlier military campaigns of Sayyid Ahmad Barelvi to establish
Muslim rule. Sir Syed's reaction to this book is described as follows:
"Sir Syed Ahmad Khan took Hunter's book very seriously, and
vehemently criticised its contents by publishing a review on it. In
the review he tried to argue that the jihad movement of Sayyid
Ahmad [Barelvi] and his followers was directed solely against the
Sikh rule in the Punjab and that it had nothing to do with the British
government in India.... He adopted an apologetic tone to convince
the British authorities that the Indian Muslims, including the followers
of Sayyid Ahmad [Barelvi], were not opposed to the British rule.
"The articles of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, which were published in
The Pioneer and in the Aligarh Institute Gazette, refuted
William Hunter's ideas alleging that there was a widespread conspiracy
among the Indian Muslims. He tried to convince the English readers
and the British authorities that the accounts of William Hunter about
the followers of Sayyid Ahmad and their jihad movement were not based
The traditional Islamic legalistic terms such as Dar al-harb (land
of war) now being inappropriate to express the Muslims' view of India,
the paper tells us that new terms were coined by Muslim leaders to describe
the status of India under British rule:
"On the 23rd of November 1871, an article was published in The
Pioneer in which India was termed as being dar al-aman. The writer
of the article totally rejected the term dar al-harb as used to describe
India under the British rule. He wrote:
'To call such a country Dar al-harb, in the strict and only legitimate
sense of the word, is absurd . . . it might rather be called dar
al-aman, in this the free exercise of faith is secured to the believers
and jihad is unlawful'.
. . .New terms, such as dar al-aman and mustamin (protected) were
invented to convince the British authorities and the Muslims that
the Indian Muslims had nothing to do with the jihad movement . . ."
The paper then mentions Mawlawi Chiragh Ali's English book A Critical
Exposition of the Popular Jihad, (Calcutta, 1885) in which "he
tried to explain that the term jihad, which was used in the Quran, had
nothing to do with religious war".
Hazrat Mirza's arch-opponent on jihad.
The author of the paper gives the names of half a dozen of the most
prominent leaders who rejected a war-like jihad against British rule.
Among these is Mawlawi Muhammad Husain Batalvi, who is well-known in
Ahmadlyya history as one of the chief opponents of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam
Ahmad, becoming his bitter adversary after the latter's claim to be
the Promised Messiah. He also instigated the Ulama to declare Hazrat
Mirza as kafir. Such an arch-enemy of Hazrat Mirza also believed, nay
did his best to convince Muslims, that jihad by arms was not allowed
by Islam against the British government of India. The paper cites two
of his publications on this subject.
What an irony that this paper has been published in Pakistan, the country
whose religious and state organs are daily broadcasting the allegation
that "Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, at the behest of the British, told Muslims
to give up all thought of jihad against the government". But at
least the paper has appeared in the country whose public and authorities
need to read it most of all.