Asif M Basit
Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Promised Messiah and Imam Mahdias, has been criticised extensively by our opponents for his loyalty to the British Crown. The responses from our Jamaat have also been extensive, but we wish to bring to light some facts that should, without any comments from us, be sufficient to prove how these opponents of the founder of the Ahmadiyya Jamaat responded to the British Raj.
One of the so-called scholars who has been at the forefront in bitterly opposing the Ahmadiyya Jamaat and has written a large number of books on this subject is Syed Abul Hassan Ali Nadwi. As the suffix “Nadwi” suggests, he was closely associated to the Nadwatul Ulama and also went on to be the secretary of the Nadwatul Ulama. Sanaullah Amrtisari, another staunch associate of the Nadwatul Ulama, spent most of his energy and time in trying to prove that the Promised Messiahas was loyal to the British Raj.
Before we go on to introducing the Nadwa, let’s first go back in history and see what “British Raj” actually meant.
India was the largest colony of the British Empire and this meant that India was ruled by the British Crown. The monarch of England was also known as the Emperor or Empress of India and the governance, just as in England, was carried out by the British parliament. There would be a secretary of state for India in the British parliament. Then those representing the parliament were the viceroy, the governor general at the top and lieutenant governors or chief commissioners at provincial level and further down was the bureaucracy who ran the day to day affairs of their respective areas. In short, the British Government was the ruler and the people of the land were the ruled class.
This rule of India had been passed down to the British Crown by the East India Company that had virtually ruled the subcontinent from when they had landed there for trade purposes. This handover took place after the great rebellion of 1857 when Indians revolted against foreign rule. Although this revolt did not turn out to be successful in anyway, but it left behind a legacy of fighting off foreign rule. Political, social and economic theories were formed but what proved most efficient in mobilising the masses was religion.
Every religion had its own theory to offer, but for Muslims, Jihad was the element that worked most. This led to a never-ending debate of whether the British were eligible to be taken as enemies of Islam so as to determine whether Jihad could be waged against them or not. The Promised Messiahas, from the very outset of his mission, had been of the opinion that the liberty of religion that the British granted to their Indian subjects made them, in no way, an enemy of Islam. Hazrat Ahmadas rather emphasised that all Indians, irrespective of what religion they belonged to, should be grateful to the British Government for granting them the freedom to profess and practice their religion with complete freedom – a privilege that no previous ruler, Hindu, Muslim or Sikh, had ever been able to extend to their Indian subjects.
Ayesha Jalal, the great South-Asianist of our time, sees “the great rebellion of 1857” to be “of great importance for understanding the reformulation of the idea of jihad”. She notes that the modernists like Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Maulvi Chiragh Ali, Karamat Ali Jonepuri and “Mirza Ghulam Ahmad… made concerted attempts to rethink jihad in the light of British colonial rule”. How the important role of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas has been understood by historians is evident from the following passage of Ayesha Jalal’s book, Partisans of Allah:
“Though endorsing the modernist Muslim argument about the Prophet’s defensive jihads, he maintained that the permission had been valid only so long as there had been a threat to the nascent Muslim community. It was a grievous mistake to assume that such an interpretation of jihad was intended to ‘extend over the future of Islam’.
“The wars fought by Muslims after the death of the Prophet and first four caliphs went against the grain of the Quranic concept of jihad. If the Christians violated the rights of Allah by making a man their god, ‘Muslims did violence to humanity by unjustly drawing the sword upon their fellow-beings under the guise of Jehad’. Both had turned their respective violations into symbols of their salvation and the road to paradise. Although violating the rights of God is the worst possible form of crime, Ghulam Ahmad was more concerned about the violation of human rights by Muslims. The doctrine of jihad spread by maulvis was ‘altogether unknown in Islam’ and ‘serves only to generate savage qualities in the ignorant masses and blot out all noble qualities of humanity’. The Quran and the hadith stated that the coming of the messiah would mark the end of warfare – prayer would be his only implement and resolution his sword. ‘The days of Jehad are gone,’ Mirza Ghulam Ahmad announced. Its continued propagation was a ‘death-blow to all moral and social laws and lays the axe to the root of all kind-heartedness and fellow-feeling.’ By a strange quirk of fate, religious charlatans among Muslims, known as mullahs, had joined Christian mullahs to hide the ‘real excellence of Islam’ by ‘drawing a veil on the true significance of Jehad.’ As the promised messiah, he commanded Muslims to ‘refrain from… shedding blood for the sake of religion.’”
Explaining this stance of the Promised Messiahas of not waging Jihad against the British in India, Jalal goes on to comment that “He marvelled at the peace of tranquillity prevailing in colonial India, in sharp contrast to the Punjab under the Sikhs. The British had given Islam a fresh lease on life in the Punjab.”
The actual teachings of Islam, as we have just seen, did not allow Jihad to be waged upon the British; firstly, because they were not hindering the practice or propagation of Islam in any way, and secondly, because they were the rulers and the Holy Quran categorically commands all Muslims to obey the ruler and to respect the law of land.
Now let us turn to the Nadwatul Ulama. The Nadwa was an institution founded in 1891 by Muslim scholars with the goal described as bringing harmony and co-operation among various groups within the Muslim ummah to bring about the moral, religious and educational reform and progress. This Nadwa and its adherents like Sanaullah Amritsari and Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadawi have spilled a great deal of ink on a huge pile of papers to prove that the Promised Messiahas was loyal to the British, he sought help from them, was granted land by them and what not.
Before we move on, let us see how Barbara Metcalf, in her book “Islamic Revival in British India”, sees the very foundation of the Nadwa:
“Nadwah also fostered relations with the [British] government, for, in a colonial society, any ambitious leadership required its support. After a period of intense suspicion because of their presumed Pan-Islamic sentiments, the government agreed to patronize secular learning at the school, contributed land for its fine building on the banks of the Gumti in Lucknow, and, in 1908, sent the lieutenant governor himself to lay the foundation stone.”
Now another allegation could be that Metcalf was a Western historian and our Muslim brethren do not hold her credible. So we pull out an issue of the An Nadwah, the official organ of the Nadwatul Ulama, and copy their own statement:
“The honourable Lieutenant Governor [Sir John Hewitt] agreed to lay the foundation stone of the Darul Uloom [madrasah] of Nadwat-ul-Ulama. This ceremony was held on 28 November 1908.” (An Nadwah, December 1908, Vol. V, no. 10, pp. 1-2)
To give our Nadwi brothers a bit more flavour of history, we present another line from their own beloved An Nadwah:
“Although the Nadwah has nothing to do with politics, its real aim is to produce enlightened Ulama, and it is an essential duty of such Ulama to be familiar with the blessings of the government’s rule, and to spread feelings of loyalty in the country.” (An Nadwah, July 1908, p. 1)
The proceedings of the foundation stone ceremony of the building of the Darul Uloom Nadwah were recorded by none else but the famous historian of Islam, Shibli Numani, who also held the office of secretary of the organisation. He quoted some extracts in the reports of the school from the welcome address presented to Sir John Hewitt on this occasion:
“We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for honouring the Muslims generally, and members of the Nadwah particularly, by consenting to lay the foundation stone of Darul-Uloom, Nadwah, with your own hand. We are sure that all Muslims of India will be grateful to you for the encouragement you have given us on this occasion, because no part of India is without the well-wishers of Nadwah. By laying the foundation stone of a religious institute, your honour has set yet another example of the liberality and fair-mindedness which is a distinctive quality of the English people and the central pillar of British rule.
“It is certain that our method of education will create a group which will be more able to resist the rebellious and emotive ideas of today. This will be a group which will be respectful to elders, friendly to neighbours, sympathetic to people in general, and loyal to the government…
“We are grateful from the bottom of our hearts for the land which your honour has granted us. Recently, your honour bestowed upon us a gift of Rs.500 per month, for which we cannot sufficiently express our thanks.” (Raudad Darul-Uloom Nadwat-ul-Ulama for 1907 to 1909, pp. 24-33)
We are sorry if our non-Ahmadi brothers, who accuse the holy founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat to be overwhelmingly loyal to the British Government, are feeling uneasy by now. But the best part is yet to come.
When Britain plunged into the First World War, and Turkey decided to side with the axis forces against Britain, many Muslim organisations expressed their sympathy and loyalty with the British Government. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat, we are proud to say, was also one of such Muslim communities. We are proud because we got to follow the teachings of the Holy Quran, the Holy Prophetsa of Islam and of the Imam of the age. But those who thrived on accusing the Ahmadis of doing so must be ashamed to know that their elders, too, had done the same.
The British have always been keen on securing their history. Having been a British colony, their history happens to be our history as well. A list of all such Muslim communities was compiled by the government of India and sent to the India office here in London. The same file that has the letter sent by Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmadra from Qadian also has the letter sent by the Nadwatul Ulama. It reads (translation below):
“We, the undersigned office-bearers of the Nadwa-tul-Ulama consider it desirable to make the following announcement in respect of the war which has commenced between the British Government and Turkey, i.e., we, the Muhammadans of India, who, under the protection of the British Government are enjoying peace and religious liberty should maintain our loyal attitude towards the British Government and keep as out idial the same patience and perseverance which has characterized our career up to this time.
“The teachings of the Quran and the Hadis [the traditional sayings and doings of the prophet] also demand that we should preserve peace and tranquillity by remaining thoroughly loyal to our Government.”
(Sd.) Maulvi Khalil-ur-Rahman, Nazim (Secretary) of the Nadwat-ul-UIama
(Sd,) Maulvi Abdul Hai, Rukn-i-Intizami (Member, Managing Committee) of the Nadwa
(Sd.) Muhammad Aijaz Ali, Rukn-i-Intizami (Member, Managing Committee) of the Nadwa
(Sd.) Muhammad Ehtisham Ali, Rukn-i-Intizami (Member, Managing Committee) of the Nadwa”
(Dated 17 December 1914, in the File titled “The War: Muslim Feeling; expressions of loyalty” in the India Office Records)
These two thousand and something words that have been written above seem more than enough to bring to shame the hundreds of thousands of books produced by the so-called Ulama, in their bias, prejudice and jealousy, against the Jamaat. They accused us of what they too had been doing. The difference is that we did it with pride; we did it openly; we sought authority from the Holy Quran. They, on the other hand, did it but were too shy to admit it. Admitting it would mean agreeing with Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, the Promised Messiah; and this would mean agreeing with the Holy Quran and the Hadith. They denied him; they denied the core foundation of their own faith. Alas!