Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind: Building bonds

The Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, in its centenary year, reiterates its demand for a pluralistic India and composite nationalism and the determination to carry on the struggle to stand for what is right.

Published : Oct 31, 2019 07:00 IST

Maulana Hifzur Rehman Seoharvi addressing the Urdu Conference presided over by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel (second from left, partly hidden) are also seen. A file photograph.

Maulana Hifzur Rehman Seoharvi addressing the Urdu Conference presided over by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel (second from left, partly hidden) are also seen. A file photograph.

THE Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, the largest and oldest Muslim organisation in the country, which played an important role in India’s freedom struggle, is celebrating its centenary this year. The pluralistic ethos it stood for at the time of its formation in 1919 has not been diluted over the years. In fact, its leaders have reiterated time and again that the organisation will fight divisive forces the same way it fought Muslim communalism in the past and opposed the Muslim League’s demand for Pakistan during the freedom struggle.

This principle is well expounded in the words of the Jamiat president Maulana Arshad Madani: “The idea of India is in danger. Fears are being expressed about the Constitution. Innocent men are being lynched. The situation is worse than at the time of Partition. But there is no alternative to love, to social harmony, to peaceful resistance. Our community should step forward to build bonds with other communities. There is a great strength in this. Let’s not underestimate the power of people-to-people dialogue. We do not want Muslims to come out on the streets to protest lynching of innocent Muslims because if we come out on the streets, it will become a Hindu-Muslim issue. We have no fight with those who lynch. Our fight is with this government. Nobody can dare to take the life of another human being without political support. We believe in taking legal measures in our fight. If we step out on the road to protest, the planning of the Hindutva forces to make this a Hindu-Muslim issue will be successful. As long as we fight through the courts, and we will always fight through the courts, we will be successful in negating Hindutva forces. That is our goal.”

The Jamiat has always stood for a pluralist India, as opposed to the Muslim League’s view of a separate state for Muslims or M.S. Golwalkar’s idea of a Hindu Rashtra where Muslims and Christians can live only at the will of the majority community.

Territorial nationhood

This principle of taking everybody along, cutting across religious barriers, has extracted a heavy price. At various times, Jamiat leaders have been either accused of “leaning towards the Congress” or arrested during the freedom struggle. One of the early leaders of the Jamiat, Maulana Syed Hussain Ahmad Madani, advocated the idea of composite nationalism and a joint struggle against the British. He justified his views on the basis of the Quran and the Hadith. In the face of a religion-based nation theory, he advocated “the theory of territorial nationhood”, arguing that is “not necessary that a nation to be a nation should share the same religion and culture. Nowadays, nations are made by homelands”. He said that in the context of a separate homeland for Muslims. He could as well have said it for the rising din around the idea of a Hindu Rashtra.

The Jamiat played an important role in India’s freedom struggle. Its contribution has been marginalised gradually in history textbooks. It is as if the Jamiat’s contribution for 30 years towards the struggle for independence, coinciding with the rise of Hindutva forces whose principal enemy were not the British but Muslims, took place in a time vacuum.

Maulana Niaz Ahmed Farooqui, secretary, Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, said: “It is not only the role of the Jamiat which has been ignored in textbooks, but also the role of Muslims as a community, Dalits and the poor. Our history books are often lopsided. The role of Muslims in the freedom struggle has been undermined. The community is being discriminated against. That reality is reflected in every walk of life. The books are not in our control. But this marginalisation of Muslims or underplaying their role in the freedom struggle did not start in 2014. It started soon after Independence. We cannot be held responsible for that. What we can do is to educate our children. It is a fact that the Muslim community is among the most backward. Education will take care of any wrong depiction. We are working for awareness of the community.”

In 1924, a year before the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh was founded, the Jamiat’s well-respected leader, Maulana Hussain Ahmad Madani, gave a call for Independence. This call for complete independence was a culmination of the first conference of the Jamiat held in Amritsar on December 28, 1919. The conference was called to protest against the continued incarceration of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Mahmood Hasan, one of the founding figures of Darul Uloom, the Islamic seminary in Deoband. The conference’s demand was heard. Mahmood Hasan was released and on July 19, 1920, he issued a fatwa in favour of the Non-Cooperation Movement launched by Mahatma Gandhi. His decision was affirmed by some 500 ulama. Through this fatwa, the leaders and workers of the Khilafat Committee entered into a prolonged struggle against the British.

When the Simon Commission visited India in 1927, the Jamiat was the first body to announce its boycott. Freedom fighters came up with the slogan, “Simon go back”. For the Jamiat, there was no going back on its well-entrenched belief in India and its pluralist tradition. Some four years after the Simon Commission, the Jamiat leaders were arrested for participation in the Civil Disobedience Movement. Yet, the biggest role of the Jamiat was neither in the boycott of the Simon Commission nor in its whole-hearted participation in the Civil Disobedience Movement.

Soon after its formation in 1919, the Jamiat demanded the restoration of the Caliphate after the Ottoman empire’s defeat in the First World War. The British had got rid of the Caliphate in Turkey, greatly angering Muslims across the world who believed in the Caliph as the leader of the entire community, cutting across political divisions.

With Mahatma Gandhi sensing in the Khilafat Movement an opportunity to bring more Muslims into the national mainstream for the freedom struggle, Jamiat luminaries such as Mahmood Hasan and Maulana Kifayatullah led the way.

The participation of the Jamiat in the Non-Cooperation Movement marked the culmination of a long journey for its leaders, many of whom had taken part in an armed struggle against the British in the 19th century.

In November 1919, Maulana Mahmood Hasan, on the occasion of the Khilafat conference held in Delhi, resolved to constitute a new organisation for carrying on the non-violent freedom struggle in cooperation with fellow countrymen. The organisation was designated as the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind. Maulana Kifayatullah was elected its first president. The establishment of the organisation was a turning point in their movement. They gave up armed struggle and chose non-violent struggle and adopted non-cooperation, a strategy that eventually helped India win independence from British rule.

Between 1808 and 1915, many Islamic scholars had fought organised battles against the British. The edict issued by Shah Abdul Aziz Dehlawi—“Our country has been enslaved. To struggle for independence and to put an end to slavery is our duty”—provided the impetus for an armed struggle against the imperialist forces. Leaders such as Haji Imdadullah, Qasim Nanotavi, Rashid Ahmad Gangohi and Zamin Shaheed did not shy away from battling the British with arms.

Ulama prime target

In the famous battle of Thana Bhawan in Uttar Pradesh, many of the luminaries, who later set up Dar-ul Uloom (from which the Jamiat emerged) took part. Incidentally, after the War of Independence in 1857, the ulama were the prime target of the British. Of the 200,000 people martyred during the revolt, 51,200 were ulama. In Delhi alone 500 ulama were hanged. Between 1864 and 1871, there were five major sedition cases against the ulama. In all these cases, the accused were either sentenced to death or to life. The ulama started their struggle with armed resistance, but repeated failure in such attempts motivated them to revise their approach and adopt a new strategy.

Particularly, the failure of the Silk Letters conspiracy (a movement organised by Deobandi leaders aimed at freeing India from British rule) in 1916 and the arrest of 222 ulama, among them Shaikhul Hind Maulana Mahmood Hassan and his disciple Maulana Hussain Ahmad Madani, along with Maulana Obaidullah Sindhi, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, forced them to restructure their strategy for resistance and opt for non-violent struggle with the support and cooperation of their fellow countrymen.

Importantly, the 1919-20 period was only a landmark, not the benchmark, with which to judge the Jamiat. That came some 20 years later when the Jamiat stood up against the divisive politics of the Muslim League and gave a cry for a united India for all Indians. At a time when Muhammad Ali Jinnah was gaining ground with his fight for a separate state of Pakistan, the Jamiat stood for a united India, consistently exposing the duplicity of the political leaders who used religion to fuel their ambition.

Love for motherland

The Jamiat leaders believed that Islam preached love for the motherland and that it was the duty of every believer to love and respect his motherland. It was in stark contrast to the views of those working for the creation of Pakistan. As far as the Jamiat was concerned, Muslims were equal partners in nation building.

In the Jamiat Ulama Moradabad conference held at Bachhraon (April 23-25, 1940) in the present-day Uttar Pradesh, Maulana Hussain Ahmad Madani raised the question of Indian independence. He was arrested and imprisoned in Naini Jail. On August 5, 1942, the Jamiat gave a call to the British to quit India. Thereafter, on August 9 the Bombay session of Congress passed the famous Quit India resolution, which led to the arrest and incarceration of Congress and Jamiat leaders.

After 1942, the Jamiat opposed the idea of Pakistan, and its leaders, specially Maulana Hussain Ahmad Madani, were victims of the Muslim League’s violence.

Today, when Union Ministers Giriraj Singh and P.C. Sarangi suggest that Muslims should go to Pakistan if they cannot sing “Vande Mataram” or if they did not vote for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Jamiat leaders say that they are pained by such calls. But the Jamiat is not ready to take recourse to sweeping generalisations.

Maulana Niaz Ahmed Farooqui said: “If there is a group in the ruling dispensation that does not have an official voice, we do not bother. Any group has such elements. We present our viewpoint to the government. But on the basis of such loose talk, we cannot allow anybody to spread fear within the community. To make the community feel disheartened is wrong. We are living in a democratic society. We have a role to play. Whatever the situation, we should not get disappointed or harassed. Before 1947, when we were fighting for the freedom of the country, these forces were there. Was the Hindu Mahasabha not there? Were there not those people who assassinated the Mahatma? Was not the Muslim League there? There were challenges then, there are challenges now. We would not say we are not alarmed by these developments, or that we are ignorant of the goings-on. We are very much concerned. But we are not ready to be defeated by the kind of milieu sought to be created by vested interests for their own agenda. If we react with violence we will only be helping them. Within the democratic framework, we are working. We are demonstrating. We are approaching the courts. We are approaching the media. The fight is not of the Muslim community, but the entire country.”

Madani said: “In 1940s, the Muslim League sold the dream of a Muslim, an Islamic country to Muslims. Today, the BJP is selling exactly the same dream to Hindus. There is no difference. But we fought the League then, we will fight the Hindutva forces now. After all, India belongs to us all. We fought Muslim communalism in the past, we will fight majoritarianism now.”

However, Madani, and indeed the Jamiat, remain steadfast about following the path of social reform. After 1947, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad advised the organisation to shun its political role. Since then the Jamiat has limited itself to social reform and rehabilitation of the riot-affected. In the run-up to the Lok Sabha election in April/May, Jamiat leaders called on Muslims, from the pulpit of the mosque in its headquarters in Delhi, to vote despite the election dates scheduled in the month of Ramzan. “It is our duty to choose the right candidate,” said the imam.

The struggle to stand by the right goes on. “We are not celebrating in the sense of having achieved something. We are only trying to spread awareness among people about our ideals and the work we have done. We are not jubilant about whatever has happened in the last hundred years. It is time for stock-taking,” Farooqui said.

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