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.