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19th century Indian Ulama repudiated Jihad against British rule

Research article in Pakistani journal

(The Light & Islamic Review : Vol.70; No. 2; Mar-Apr 1993; p.11-13)

Introduction/ Fatwas/ New terms / Hazrat Mirza's arch-opponent on jihad.

A paper has 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, proving exactly our point. It is shown therein 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 modem 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 in bold.)

"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 words in bold, because the actions described therein are just those which are attributed to Hazrat Mirza 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.


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 on facts."

New terms.

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 stateorgans 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.

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