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The life & struggle of Haji Sahab Tarangzai

Haji Tarangzai is remembered for raising the flag of jihad against British imperialism at the turn of the 20th century

By Dr Muhammad Ali Jauhar Yusufzai |
PUBLISHED March 12, 2023

If Charsadda has been a political, religious and cultural centre in different eras, on the one hand, it has been the land of freedom fighters since ancient times on the other hand. It can be assessed from the political periods of Charsadda that the locals have always struggled against the imperialist forces and driven them out of the country. A renowned researcher Javed Iqbal writes in this regard that Charsadda has always been the central region of political and religious awareness and many movements took birth here. Hence, major political and religious figures are associated with this area, for example, Bayazid Ansari's “Roshnai Tehreek” and Hazrat Imam Syed Ahmed Shaheed's Mujahideen Movement.

The name of Mujahid Haji Sahab Tarangzai is at the top of those who raised the flag of jihad against British imperialism in the area.

I recently learnt that the freedom fighter Haji Sahab Tarangzai has ancestry in Charsadda. He belonged to Tarangzai, a historical place of Charsadda, but the interesting thing is that he left Charsadda in the latter part of his life and moved to Mohmand Agency.

This intrigued me so much that I made a journey to Mohmand Agency. Seeing Haji Sahab's grave, I was transported into the past and the struggle for freedom.

The Jihad Movement

Haji Sahab Tarangzai performed Hajj at the age of 32 in a delegation of elders of Deoband, including Maulana Rasheed Ahmed Gangohi, Maulana Qasim Nanonvi and Sheikhul Hind Maulana Mahmood Hasan. They visited the great Mujahid of the Liberation War in Makkah, Syed-ul-Taifa Hazrat Haji Imdadullah Muhajir Makki and swore on him to take up jihad. On his return, in June 1897, Haji Sahab took part in the jihad against the British. He gathered the people of Charsadda and his trusted tribes, and prepared a large army under the leadership of Huda Mulla. As a result, the British forces suffered a heavy loss. In these attacks, the people of Charsadda, especially the people of Tangi, participated in jihad at Malakand in large numbers against the British.

From here, Haji Sahab Tarangzai started practical jihad and then continued to fight on various fronts against British imperialism. The British Empire issued an arrest warrant against him, so he migrated from Charsadda to Mohmand Agency on June 15, 1875. On this occasion an English man said that to miss Haji Sahab from our hands is our biggest failure in India. So, after the migration, Haji Sahab started calling the Muslims in the tribal areas for armed struggle against the British. In the meantime, the Chief Commissioner of the Border, Rus Capel, sent a jirga to him asking Haji Sahab to write his demands on a piece of paper which the commissioner ensured would be accepted for Haji sahab to go back to Charsadda. Haji Sahib told the jirga that the British come from thousands of miles away and rule over us. I will go back only when they go back to their country.

He established a centre of jihad in Mohmand Agency. In 1916, Haji Sahab prepared an army and attacked Shabqadar Fort. The British built a bridge for the army at a distance of 400 and 800 yards from Machni to Abazai Bridge. Electricity was passed through barbed wire up to seven yards wide. But the Mujahideen were invincible to these ploys. Haji Sahab led the Mujahideen until the end in 1937 and personally participated in jihad against the British about 27 times. The British awarded the death sentence to Haji Sahab several times for this freedom struggle.

The Jihadi activities of Haji Sahab Tarangzai can be assessed from the quote of Mohmand Political Report page no.20, in which a British officer wrote that Haji Sahab Tarangzai never sat silent and he went to every house and asked the residents of that house for jihad in the way of God, explaining that Jihad in the way of God can grant the blessing of freedom. Similarly, thousands of Mujahideen in this Jihad movement along with Haji Sahab Tarangzai performed the great duty of Jihad against the British despite the obstacles and difficulties. Their lands and houses were confiscated, and they were thrown in prison. More than 200 Mujahideen hailed from Charsadda alone, from which the number of total freedom fighters of this land can be estimated.

Similarly, one great Mujahid who along with Haji Sahab Tarangzai actively participated in the Jihad movement at every turn was undoubtedly Haji Muhammad Amin. He was appointed by Haji Sahab Tarangzai as the war general of the Mujahideen in the Jihad against the British at Nakhqi in 1935.

After the death of Haji Sahab Tarangzai, Haji Muhammad Amin continued the jihad against the British. Later, Haji Muhammad Amin also played a prominent role in the Kashmiri Jihad.

Haji Sahab Tarangzai and Society Reform Movement

Haji Sahab Tarangzai started a reform movement against the customs and practices and innovations in the Pashtun society after returning from Hajj. This was the period when there were many innovations in society due to imperial suppression. So, Haji Sahab Tarangzai went from village to village, town to town and forbade people from adopting new customs and enlightened them with the teachings of Islam. There was a group of scholars who used to go to different areas and preach the Quran and Sunnah. The reform efforts of Haji Sahab Tarangzai had such an impact on the public that people pledge commitment to him in large numbers and promised to adhere to the Muslim way of life. They used to write formal statement and submit them. A written statement in this regard was presented by the local people of Garhi Mardan to Haji Sahab Tarangzai in 1904.

Establishment of independent madrassahs

One of the most important projects of the British to strengthen their rule in the subcontinent was to make the locals loyal and like-minded to the British. Lord McCauley was sent to India to study the ways of thinking and living of the Indian people. Lord McCauley stayed for about four years in various parts of India and compiled a report. He presented his report on February 2, 1835 in the House of Lords after his return to Britain. He wrote that he travelled in India in a palanquin from North to South and from East to West. He offered some suggestions in the light of his deep observation and experience for the stability of the British Raj here. In one of his suggestions he said:

We will not be able to conquer the subcontinent unless we push the people away from their culture, the customs of their forefathers and their history. For this we will have to change the educational system and make them think that they are inferior and we are superior.

It was this usurpation of thinking that the British set up an educational system under the guidance of Lord McCauley. Special consideration was given to the Frontier Province (present-day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and the tribal areas because the colonial powers had always been in trouble from the freedom fighters of this area.

Explaining the education policy devised for this area Sir Herbert said that:

The warrior tribes of the area should be made interested in Christianity through preaching and education of Christianity in the educational institutions in frontier province. The tribes of NWFP will become automatically loyal to the British throne after they become inclined towards Christianity and then a time will come when the same tribes will support Britain and will fight against the enemies of the Britain as if they were their own enemies. The British founded missionary schools in frontier as they did in other parts of India.

Edwardes Collegiate (Mission) School was set up in Peshawar city as a result of this policy. It was an educational institution of the Church Mission Society. A small mission school was also set up at Utmanzai in Charsaddah. Christian preachers including Dr Pennell, Herbert Edwards, Dr Clark and Dr Penders were sent to present day KP. They did tireless efforts to turn the local people away from Islam and toward Christianity.

Aziz Javed has stated in his book Haji Sahib Tarangzaib that the first person who understood the conspiracy of the British and took practical steps was Haji Sahib Tarangzai. This mujahid chose this place to start foiling the conspiracy of the British from here. This movement is known as Movement of the Independent Schools. The goals behind establishing these schools were:

1: People of the frontier who had been subjected to tyranny of the Sikhs and English will be able to come out of the darkness of illiteracy through these schools.

2: Local people will not become prey to missionary schools and Christian preachers.

3: The youth of the frontier will be imparted education and prepared for jihad for independence.

Haji sahib set up more than 50 independent schools in a very small time in various areas including Charsadda, Mardan and Swabi.

Haji Sahib Tarangzai also set up independent schools in Muhammad Nari, Durgai, Gul Abad, Utmanzai, to name only a few and appointed Moulvi Abdul Aziz as organiser of all independent schools. Education up to class five was imparted in these schools.

Haji Sahib Tarangzai owned a lot of land, he had thousands of disciples (mureeds) in various areas. They would present gifts in the shape of cash or commodities. Haji sahib would have a lot of yield or income from his lands as well. He would keep only enough money for the living of himself or his family and would deposit rest into the funds of independent schools.

Haji Sahib’s mission earned a lot of fame in the subcontinent. It inspired a lot of kindhearted people who promoted the movement and set up similar schools in their areas. One of the people inspired by Haji Sahib’s movement was Sahibzada Abdul Qayyum who decided to set up a great school in Peshawar and very soon, on 21 March, 1912, the greatest mujahid Haji Sahib Tarangzai laid the foundation of Darul Uloom Islamia Peshawar. It is known as Islamia College Peshawar today.

When Haji Sahib Tarangzai went to tribal areas on 15 August, 1915, the British government started closing down these schools. The teachers of these schools were arrested; they were subjected to worst physical torture and their properties were confiscated.

The Reshmi Rumal Movement

The Silk Letter Movement of Sheikhul Hind Maulana Mehmood Hassan Deobandi has a prominent place among the movements against British rule in India. Others who took part in this movement include Raisul Ahrar Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar, Maulana Shaukat Ali, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi, Dr Ansari, Haji Sahib Tarangzai, Bacha Khan, Moti Lal Nehru, Lajpat Rai, and Rajindar Prashad. The goal was to free the homeland from the British Raj. These leaders devised a comprehensive program for the freedom of the homeland named Tehreek-e-Hizbullah/ Jamiatul Ansar. A mutiny was to be organised in the country and simultaneously the tribal people would launch an attack with the support of the Turkish army. A Muslim army was set up named Junood-e-Rabbania. Madinah Munawarah was its center and the commander in-chief was the Ottoman caliph, the commander general was Sheikhul Hind Maulana Mahmood Hasan. According to the plan, the Turkish army was to attack through Afghanistan. The leaders of the movement also obtained the support of the president of Afghanistan Habibullah Khan. They made a 10-point comprehensive plan in 1905. One important point of the plan was to set up secret centres across India which would help prepare people for mutiny, under a central office in Delhi.

Two centres were set up in Charsadda area. One was in Utmanzai for which Abdul Ghaffar Khan alias Bacha Khan was made Amir. The second centre was established in Tarangzai for independent tribes. Haji Sahib Tarangzai was appointed Amir for this centre. The present Charsadda was the only area in the subcontinent where two centres were set up. This reveals that the leaders of the movement were clearly aware of the freedom fighters here. Therefore, they decided to set up two centres here.

The leaders of the movement travelled to the holy land and met Ghalib Pasha, the secretary of the War Committee of Turkish governor Anwer Pasha. With his full cooperation, it was decided that Turkey will attack India through Afghanistan on 19 February, 1918.

But meanwhile, someone leaked this information and disclosed the great and secret movement of the movement. The British discovered the full plan of the movement that was written on a silk handkerchief. They dispatched troops wherever there was a threat of mutiny. Because the threat of mutiny in this area was greater, a double number of troops was kept here. The government started arresting mujahideen. In the British records this movement is mentioned as

Conspiracy Case Silk Letter. These files are available in India Office London and have full details of the movement. The report compiled by CID (Political) Punjab mentions Haji Sahib Tarangzai as one of the top mujahideens of the movement:

“In his letters to Maulana, he mentions him as Haji only. His name is Fazal Wahid but he is famous as Haji Sahib Tarangzai. He is son of Haji Khail Muhammad Pirzada of Umarzai of Tarangzai, near Charsadda district Peshawar. He has influence among the pirs of late Buda Mulla and a lot of villages of Peshawar. He is very prejudiced and has hostile emotions against the government. He had left for independent areas in 1915 on the instructions of the Maulana Mahmood Hasan of Deoband. He joined Yousuf Rehman. After that he has been active to uprise Mohmand Bonzwal and other tribes to mutiny. He is responsible for the Shabqadar attack in particular. He has contacts with conspirators of Kabul and has taken help from Deoband party through M Hamdullah of Panipat and Moulvi Ahmed of Sufi Masjid of Lahore."

There is a small graveyard adjacent to Lakro Baba’s shrine where the close associates of Haji Sahib Tarangzai are buried. These were the people who were always on the side of Hajis Sahib in moments of grief and happiness.

Dr Muhammad Ali Jauhar Yusufzai is a senior journalist, radio presenter and broadcaster based in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. All facts and information are the sole responsibility of the writer.