The making of the modern maulvi — IX

Published: October 14, 2011
The writer edits a quarterly Urdu literary journal Aaj from Karachi, runs a bookshop and City Press, a small publishing house

The writer edits a quarterly Urdu literary journal Aaj from Karachi, runs a bookshop and City Press, a small publishing house

Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi opposed the Khilafat movement so fiercely that he was willing to sacrifice his life for the cause of opposing it. His Malfoozat have the following entry concerning the events. “During the peak days of the Tehreek-e-Khilafat, fiery people were in a state of great rage. There was fire all around. Matters came to such a pass that in addition to abuses, condemnations and sundry allegations, I began receiving letters containing death threats in case I did not join it. Hazrat Maulana Khalil Ahmad Sahib (RA), out of his extreme fondness for me, sent a special envoy to me with his advice that I should consider the dangerous times and if I decided to participate just a little bit only formally, there was room [in the religious sense]. I sent my reply that what he said certainly showed his affection, but the biggest threat was that of losing one’s life, for which I was prepared. However, I was neither willing to participate without being convinced [of the movement being correct] nor could I participate outwardly and remain aloof from the inside, as I considered it hypocrisy. So, behamdillah, I am alive and well before you today. These people have made it like a game for little girls: Either do as we do, or else get killed. During those days I went to the jungle as was my morning routine. On my way I met a Hindu Rajput old man, also from Thana Bhavan. The old-fashioned and elderly Hindus too have affection for me. He said, Maulvi-ji, do you have any idea what kind of things are being proposed for you? You should not come to the jungle alone like this. I said, Chaudhry, I know that, and I also know something that you do not know. He asked me what that was. I said, Without His order nobody can do anything. Despite being Hindu, he was so impressed by it that he exclaimed, Maulvi-ji, you may go wherever you feel like without any jokham (danger). For a man like you, jungle and mountains are no different from home.”

The leaders of the Khilafat movement, apart from collecting donations for the aid of the Ottoman Turks (which, according to reports, never made it to them), asked the Indian Muslims to quit their military or civilian jobs with the British colonial government because it was involved in a world war in which the Ottoman Khalifa had chosen to be in the opposite camp. Apart from producing a lot of sound and fury, such appeals remained largely ineffective, and the process of socio-economic change, initiated as a result of the policies of the colonial government continued. Thanvi, obviously, was opposed to any such adventure. Not only was his brother a district-level employee of the government, a large number of his mureeds and even khulifas, including his official biographer, were in the service of the government.

An offshoot of the same Khilafat movement was what is called Tehreek-e-Hijrat. Although Thanvi chooses to blame the Congress for it, fact is that it was the Deobandi maulvis belonging to Jamiat-ul Ulema-e-Hind (JUH) who, in their infinite wisdom, declared the subcontinent unfit for Muslims to live. They issued a religious fatwa for the shurafa Muslims, who could not undertake jihad against the British government for obvious reasons, to migrate to Afghanistan. The fatwa was obviously not directed at the vast majority of South Asian Muslims who were converts from lower castes and had no reason to feel any historical, ancestral or strategic affiliation with Afghanistan. Perhaps we could discern in this fantastic fatwa of the modern followers of Shah Waliullah an early version of what we today know as ‘strategic depth’, according to which it is presumed that the poor Afghans have a duty to let their land be used to enable ‘us’ to realise our regional, international, Pan-Islamic or whatever dream. Thousands upon thousands of starry-eyed Muslims sold their property and crossed the northwestern border into Afghanistan. The Afghans and their King Amanullah Khan, who could have no truck with the peculiar worldview of the Indian maulvis, felt that their country was unable to host so many uninvited guests, and so the borders were sealed to stop further migration. Those who had already landed there met a tragic fate, many of them even losing their lives.

When commenting on the ideas of Hijrat and quitting government jobs in his Malfoozat, Thanvis does not challenge the religious interpretation which provided the basis of the JUH fatwa. Curiously enough, he avoids even mentioning it. Instead he blames some ‘resolution’ (probably a Congress resolution) for it. He writes: “In the times of the Khilafat movement, a resolution was passed for Hijrat. Muslims stood up saying labbaik to it. Thousands of Muslims were made homeless as a result. Everyone knows its effect on the community (zaat) of Muslims. Then it was advised that they should quit government jobs. Those who had lost their minds (‘jin ki matain mari gayi theen’) left their jobs. The vacancies created by Muslims leaving their jobs were filled by Hindus. Many of them have still not found employment (‘ab tak jootian chatkhate phirte hain’). I receive letters in which people write that they had taken that stupid step then, and till now they are jobless and worried.”

Another tragic incident that took place as a result of Khilafat movement, which has been all but forgotten by our North-centric historians, was the armed rebellion of the Moplah Muslims in the southern region of Malabar in which around 10,000 people (including about 2,500 rebels) were killed, many more injured, and 20,000 deported to Kala Pani or the Andaman Islands. Thanvi comments on these events: “The nation (qaum) of Moplahs was destroyed by these leaders and the maulvis following them who lectured and flared them up. Their passions were aroused as they were of Arab descent. And then everyone knows what happened to them.”

Published in The Express Tribune, October 15th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (17)

  • Ali Tanoli.
    Oct 14, 2011 - 11:29PM

    @ Ajmal sahab
    Oct 2006 earth quake happend in northen pakistan and that time turk peoples donated there home stuff for peoples of pakistan with this message what u sent us during the
    ww1 time for saving ottoman this is little return please mr ajmal sahab.Recommend

  • csmann
    Oct 15, 2011 - 12:03AM

    unfortunately the pakistani text books will be only mentionaing the story of meeting of maulvi saahib and the rajput,and claim how a hindu was impressed by a muslim’s piety.the rest will not even get a mention.For them only this part happened;the rest is a historic propaganda against a muslim aalim. and islam


  • Mj
    Oct 15, 2011 - 12:58AM

    Much I have read about maulvis and maulanas has led me to conclude that to become one you have to suspend the usage of common sense, reason, and logic. It may not apply to all of them, but as a whole they are a sorry lot indeed.


  • faraz
    Oct 15, 2011 - 1:32AM

    Khilafat movement is one of the dumbest movements in history. The Ottoman Caliph was sitting in Constantinople under the protection of British army while Turks under the leadership of Ataturk were based in Ankara fighting their war of independence. Caliph was conspiring against the Turks and was a traitor to their cause. Comically, the mullahs in Subcontinent were planning to migrate to Turkey to fight the British empire while being a colony of the same British empire. When someone asked Ataturk why he had abolished the Caliphate, he replied that if I had restored the Caliph, people would have laughed. Recommend

  • M Ali Khan
    Oct 15, 2011 - 1:33AM

    @Ali Tanoli.:
    Is that what the Urdu press and Pak Studies revisions say?


  • Syed
    Oct 15, 2011 - 2:01AM

    Ajmal sahib please Ahmadiyya community as well whose leader advised Muslims not to fall in the trap of this migration to Afghanistan.


  • Max
    Oct 15, 2011 - 5:03AM

    I have a different view of this Ashraf Thanvi guy. Is he not the one who wrote Bahashti Zevor? Just a look on that book reveals that it is written by some traditional Maulvi.
    I also read somewhere that about sixty percent Hijratis (migrants to Afghanistan) never made it back, and died of starvation, extreme weather conditions, and psychological sufferings. Here we are ready to fight anyone’s jehad (better call washing anyone’s dirty laundry). That has been our tragedy.
    Turks were sick and tired of their Caliphs and we were waging a war to save these tyrants. Shame on us and I mean it.


  • Imran
    Oct 15, 2011 - 10:10AM

    What is the conclusion?


  • csmann
    Oct 15, 2011 - 11:00AM


    read the other installments


  • A.J
    Oct 15, 2011 - 2:16PM

    The fact that those Mulvies are just talk about the relations but they never say a single word regarding the social aspect of the Muslims.They have their own language and if someone is not obeying(the way that talk)they simply declared him Kafir.


  • Nadeem
    Oct 15, 2011 - 2:53PM

    Very illuminating, need to go back and read the previous installments. In this day and age, it is very important to understand the “plate tectonics and continental drift history” of a maulvi’s brain going back through the ages.


  • Ali Tanoli,
    Oct 15, 2011 - 5:20PM

    @ M Ali Khan,
    I was in Balakot Hazara after this heart breaking incident happend and i help these peoples
    with so many Turks peoples and i witniced this thing and i lost my friend family i cant say


  • Ali Tanoli,
    Oct 15, 2011 - 6:23PM

    @ faraz,
    Was not WW1 was part of great game of 20th century and where u got the idea of Brithish
    and its chy loyelist of india were protector of Othmans Empire and one last thing dont try
    to fabricate the history u all libralls (thats a reason how Raj used indian contienent peoples
    in there war they got killed and what they got peace of sugercane in 1947) in this regard
    i will say gandhi ji was great man when he opposed to sending indians peoples to fight
    for Raj i respect him.


  • faraz
    Oct 15, 2011 - 7:20PM


    Seriously i couldnt understand what you are trying to say.

    You should study the history of Turk war of independence…Recommend

  • Cynical
    Oct 15, 2011 - 10:36PM


    You are spot on. I still wonder why Gandhi (though I admire him a lot) supported the khilafat movement.


  • Oct 18, 2011 - 9:29PM

    Dear Sir

    The article seems to be a true reflection of what the British East India Company and the Hindus of the than days wanted to achieve. We must not forget the Muslims empire in India, Turkey and Africa were all being engulfed by the emerging super colonial powers of that era namely British, French, Italian etc. The common aim was to seek and control the natural resources and capture them for colonial rule thus making available fodder for the industrial revolution.

    The great game is being played in the present world politics with NATO and its hidden and open aims.

    May I seek my fellow Europeans followers of western political thought to examine the present situation of Italy, USA etc where hundreds of people are fighting for their self economic rights. Few have lot and lot have few.

    Why are these people outstretching to the calls of each other is it religion which is joining them together or the societal economic unrest.

    Lets not draw unwise lessons from the history. Let humanity prevail. let us live peacefully without the fear for children of future to live in harmony.

    May I ask the editor of worthy newspaper to NOT to publish such articles with out historical evidence and may ask the Turks for truth. Fuad Hanif


  • csmann
    Oct 19, 2011 - 12:30AM

    same typical lame resposes/lies from same typical people that write responses to these articles ,and jump on the author without even reading the article;and now the ills of maulvis are also due to indians,british and whatever their minds can fictionalise.


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