Muslims and India's Freedom Movement

Shan Muhammad



Opinions are frequently expressed by historians on the role of Indian Muslims in the national movement which tend to prove that there was a general tendency among the Muslim leaders to preach the gospel of separation right from the Revolt of 1857 to the achievement of freedom in 1947. It is said that the Muslim antagonism to the Freedom Movement of India dates back to its beginning itself and that 'Islam can never allow a true Muslim to adopt India as his motherland'. It is also presumed that this tendency was ultimately responsible for the partition of the country in 1947 and this ideology of 'separatism' has influenced the Muslim masses so intensely that they were not satisfied by the concessions granted to them by the majority community and these concessions only created a superficial contentment resulting into fresh demands till they were successful in achieving the goal- a separate homeland.

The result of all this has been the campaign of hatred and the press propaganda against the Muslims. After the attainment of independence it was hoped that our intellectuals would say good-bye to the British historiography of infusing communal politics and sowing the seeds of dissension between the two communities in India and usher in the golden age of freedom. But it was a vain hope. Contrary to the expectations, the role of Indian Muslims in the national movement has not been given adequate coverage in the Press or books. It has either been sidetracked or referred to here and there by scholars. Instead of factual and secular historiography it has been communalised. The contribution of Muslim revolutionaries, poets and prose writers is not known today. Similarly scarcely is known about the contribution of Muhammad Ashfaq Ullah Khan of Shahjehanpur who conspired and looted the British treasury at Kakori (Lucknow) to cripple the administration and who, when asked for his last will, before execution, desired:

"No desire is left except one that some one may put a little soil of my motherland in my winding sheet"

Likewise present generation of students do not know about Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, a great nationalist who had passed 45 years of his 95 years of life in jail for the freedom of India; Barkatullah of Bhopal, one of the founders of the Ghadar party who created a network of anti-British Organizations and who died penniless in Germany in 1927; Syed Rahmat Shah of the Ghadar party who worked as an underground revolutionary in France and was hanged for his part in the unsuccessful Ghadar uprising in 1915; Ali Ahmad Siddiqui of Fyzabad (U.P.) who planned the Indian Mutiny in Malaya and Burma alongwith Syed Mujtaba Husain of Jaunpur and who was hanged in 1917; Umar Sobhani, an industrialist and a millionaire of Bombay who presented a blank cheque to Gandhiji for Congress expenses and who ultimately gave his life for the cause of Independence, Mohammad Basheer, Khuda Bux, A. Zakaria, Zafar Hasan, Allah Nawaz, Abdul Aziz and tens of thousands of revolutionaries have been ignored.

That the Muslims have contributed massively to the national movement, there is no doubt about it. Their struggle started since the advent of British rule in our country. The Sanyasi and the Faraizi Movements and later the Wahabi Movement have no match when their struggle, activities and confrontations with the British Government are thoroughly studied in the annals of archives. Qaiser-ul-Tawarikh mentioned that the number of Muslims executed only in Delhi during 1857-58 was 27,000, not to speak of those killed in the general massacre. This shows the great sacrifices they made for the emancipation of their country from British.

In all the national uprisings from Sanyasi Movement to independence, the files of the Home Department are replete with their immense sacrifices that finally led to the withdrawal of British from India in 1947. What surprises one is the thing that even during the celebration of 50 years of independence, their role was not properly taken care of by the Press which led the All-India Milli Council, a body of Muslims to launch a Karavan-e-Azadi Rally, one from Srirangapatnam where the mausoleum of Tipu Sultan is located and the other from Silchar (Assam) to educate people about the role of Muslims in the country's freedom struggle.

What further pains one is the fate of Sultan Tipu's epitah, put on the memorable place where he fell fighting with the British in defence of his metropolis-his country- which had been made a cricket wicket by the youngsters for their cricket practice during the World Cup 1999. No one, not even the local administration prevented this. This shows the ignorance of Indians of their greatest patriots who laid their lives for India's freedom.

There is no dearth of books on the Indian National Movement but only passing references have been made in them about the role of Muslims. So much so that in her book entitled Women in India's Freedom Movement Manmohan Kaur makes reference only of Begum Hazrat Mahel and Bi-Amma out of the hundreds of Muslim women who fought the battle of freedom with their menfolk against the British.

Several monographs in which Santimay Ray's Freedom Movement and Indian Muslims or P.N. Chopra's Role of Indian Muslims in the Struggle For Freedom; Kamta Chaubey's Muslims and Freedom Movement in India and a few regional studies like Muzaffar Imam's Role of Muslims in the National Movement and Hasan Imam's Indian National Movement regarding the role of Muslims have been published. But the subject is wide and needs a comprehensive study. The present study is a humble effort in this direction and an objective assessment of their services in the background of the incidents leading to the emancipation of India. I feel that such a study is essential to help eradicating prejudices and many misconceptions against the Muslims grown in the absence of a fair historiography. The history of the national movement would be incomplete and biased without the presentation of the actual role of Indian Muslims in it.

I am indebted to authorities of the National Archives of India, New Delhi, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi, Dr. Zakir Husain Library, Jamia Millia, New Delhi, Maulana Azad Library, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, Allahabad University Library, Public Library, Allahabad and the National Library of Calcutta who gave me full facilities of accessing the records and books.

I am indebted to my revered teachers (Late) Professor A.B. Lal, Professor A.D. Pant, Allahabad University, (Late) Professor Syed Nasir Ali, Professor S.A.H. Haqqi and my colleagues, Professor A.F. Usmani and Professor T.A. Nizami, Professor Adnan Raza, Aligarh Muslim University, Mr. Sarfaraz Husain (Allahabad) with whom I had been discussing many themes while writing this monograph.

Above all my thanks are due to Dr. Manzoor Alam, Chairman, Institute of Objective Studies, New Delhi, whose ungrudging assistance and encouragement brought this work in its present shape. This project was to be released on the 50th Anniversary of our independence but my indisposition and sometimes preoccupation delayed its submission. I am sorry for it.


Shan Muhammad

Department of Political Science

Aligarh Muslim University

Aligarh-202 002




Preface                                                                                                                                             I-IV

Chapter-I                                                                                                                                            1-35                                                                                                                                                                         

The Beginning of the Struggle

Chapter-II                                                                                                                                        37-58

Muslims and the Indian National

Congress—Two Schools

Chapter-III                                                                                                                                        59-81

Rising Tide of Nationalism

Chapter-IV                                                                                                                                     83-105

From Estrangement to Rapprochement

Chapter-V                                                                                                                                       107-159

Khilafat and the Non-Cooperation Movements

Chapter-VI                                                                                                                                   161-183

From Civil Disobedience Movement to Lahore Resolution

Chapter-VII                                                                                                                                    185-202

Muslim Political Organisations and the Demand for Pakistan

Conclusion                                                                                                                                   203-211

Bibliography                                                                                                                                213-231

Index                                                                                                                                              233-241