100 Years Ago… – Malkana Rajput Apostasy Movement


The Review of Religions [English], April 1923

Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmadra MA (1893-1963)
India religion map 1909 en
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Among the burning questions of the day in India is that of the Apostasy Movement among the Malkana Rajputs of the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh. The movement originally began in the districts of Agra, Muttra and Bharatpur but is now spreading to other parts of the country as well. The Malkana Rajputs were converted to Islam mostly at the beginning of Mughal rule in India through the pious influence of Muslim saints, but after their conversion, they were badly neglected by the Musalman [Muslim] community and no arrangements were made for their education and training in Islam. The Mughal rulers also seem to have sadly neglected their duty, which they owed to these new converts. They were mostly left to their own fate, surrounded by the vastly predominating Hindu population of the countryside. The result was that only the name of Islam and certain Islamic practices remained, while the routine of their lives remained or gradually became essentially Hindu. These people have up to this day remained entirely cut off from the outside Musalman element of the country and the only people they have ever come across and have had to interact with were their Hindu kinsfolk of the neighbourhood, and it is a matter of wonder how these ill-fated people have been able to retain the name of Islam and certain Islamic practices. It is certainly not due to any effort on their part but is almost entirely the result of the fact that the Hindus have never thought before this of re-admitting them into their kinship. As a matter of fact, it is an essential rule in the orthodox Hindu society that a Hindu who once renounces Hinduism and becomes converted to any other faith, nay, one who openly practises some non-Hindu practice, e.g., eating cow flesh, breaking the laws of the caste system, taking food from the hands of a non-Hindu, etc., immediately becomes an outcaste and can never after this gain admission into the Hindu society. So, these Rajputs were saved from an earlier apostasy. Recently, however, the newly established community of Hindus known as the Arya Samaj has renounced the old idea and begun the work of propagation in good earnest. It is through the efforts of this community that the work of the reconversion of the Rajputs has been taken in hand by the Hindus and though the old-fashioned Hindus still look askance at the movement and are not prepared to take back these apostates, the educated Hindu community generally, whether Arya Samajists or others, actively supports the movement and is doing their best to make it a success.

Malkana Rajputs

The Malkana Rajputs, who it seems were given the name of Malkana by the Musalman kings in place of their old Hindu name of Thakur, are found in many districts of the UP [i.e, United Provinces, now Uttar Pradesh] such as Agra, Muttra, Aligarh, Mainpuri, Etah, Farrukhabad, Etawah, etc., and are also found widely scattered in the Native States of Rajputana such as Bharatpur, Alwar, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Gawalior, etc., but they are particularly known as Malkana mostly in Agra, Muttra and Bharatpur and these three places it will be remembered are the centres of the Rajput Apostasy Movement. The Malkana Rajputs ordinarily retain only three Islamic practices, i.e., they practise circumcision, bury their dead and are married according to Islamic law. Their names are a strange mixture of Islamic and Hindu types. Three sons of the same father will generally be found with such names as Murad Khan, Kishan Lal and Bhuri Singh, while all will profess to be Musalmans. Many of them keep ‘choties’ or pigtails on their heads and almost all practise ‘chhoot’, i.e., abstaining from eating and drinking from the hands of a non-Malkana Muslim. It looks strange to see them freely eating and drinking from the hands of Hindus but flatly refusing to take anything prepared by Musalmans except their own kinsmen. The Malkanas also retain the old Hindu caste system and believe in some of the ancient Hindu saints, such as Rama and Krishna. Some of them even practise idol worship. The very few who are educated among them can read and write Hindi, the language of the Hindus, but only very rarely know the reading or writing of Urdu. In some of their villages, mosques are quite unknown and wherever there are mosques, they are in a hopelessly deplorable condition, being mostly in ruins and the haunt of stray village animals. I doubt whether one among a thousand can verbally repeat the Islamic kalima [creed]. If questioned as to who they are and to what community they belong, they would never say that they are Musalman, but would invariably call themselves Malkana or Mian Thakur. To them, the word “Musalman” generally means only non-Rajput Musalman.

Estimated numbers

Such is the condition of the people whom the Hindus are nowadays converting to Hinduism. It is difficult to estimate exactly the number of these people in the affected area, but in the three districts of Agra, Muttra and Bharatpur, an estimate of between twenty and twenty-five thousand souls would not be much beside the mark; and if the whole province of the UP and that of Rajputana are taken into consideration, the number of Musalman Rajputs would probably be much more than a million. Then there are hordes of Musalman Rajputs in the Punjab but the condition of the Punjabi Rajputs is much better and there is very little danger of the apostasy movement finding a way into their ranks.

Financial state

The financial condition of the Malkanas is pitiable. Most of them are badly involved in debt and owe enormous sums to Hindu moneylenders who charge exorbitant interest, and as there is no Land Alienation Act in the UP as there is in the Punjab, the larger portion of their lands has passed into the hands of the Hindus. In many of the Malkana villages, not a rod of land belongs to the Malkanas, who formerly owned the whole villages in proprietorship. Thus, most of them are not better off than mere tenants-at-will under Hindu landlords who are never friendly. Such circumstances have created in the minds of the Malkana people the idea that their Hindu kinsmen are enjoying a better social position and are more honoured than they are, and this difference has made them dissatisfied with their present lot and situated as they are, they naturally jump to the conclusion that they can better their condition only by joining hands with their Hindu kinsmen.

Arya preachers

The Arya preachers have been working among them for the last fifteen years, but partly owing to the strict secrecy maintained by the Arya workers and partly to the isolated condition of the Malkanas, the Musalmans have come to know of this state of affairs only very recently.

The Aryas first began their work of conversion among the Malkanas in the village of Raibha in the Agra District. Raibha is a fairly large village, of which the predominating portion consisted of Hindu Rajputs, the Malkanas being only a few hundred, who were all converted. Then followed Ikran and its suburbs, Pipra and Bilothi, in quick succession. These villages, though not far off from Raibha, are in the Bharatpur State and contain a population of about 2,000 souls, a portion of whom are Gujars who have also been converted. This great and possibly unexpected success turned the heads of the Aryas, who trumpeted this news from the press and the pulpit and thereby ruined their own cause. Musalmans, slow and careless though they are, could not bear this national disgrace, and so, more from political and national causes than from religious motives, different Islamic bodies made hasty preparations to combat the movement. The later history of the struggle presents the scene of the most unprecedented bloodless religious warfare ever fought on Indian soil.

Muslim preachers

The different Muslim Anjumans who have sent and are maintaining preachers in the affected area are the following:

Name of Body                                         Number of Workers

Anjuman Hidiatul Islam, Delhi                           About 10

Badayunies of Badayun, UP                                 About 3

Anjuman Dawat-o-Tabligh, Lahore                   About 10

Anjuman Ahl-i-Hadith, Amritsar                Probably 20

Jamiatul Ulema, Delhi                                                 About 15

Raza-i-Mustafa, Bareilly, UP                                  About 10

Deobandies of Deoband, Saharanpur                About 50

Shias, not known, probably not more than    About 5

Anjuman Ahmadiyya Ishatul Islam, Lahore About 10

Ahmadiyya Community, Qadian                        About 90

Need for a united front

It will be noted that the Punjabi element greatly predominates while Bombay, Madras, Behar and Bengal are absolutely unrepresented, as are also the Native Musalman States of India. Among the Hindu workers, the Arya element of course predominates, but Sanatan Dharm Sabhas have made no mean contribution. The means adopted by the Hindu preachers in their work of conversion are manifold, the most important being; (1) pressure of kinship and a strong sentimental appeal to the Malkanas to elevate their status by joining their Hindu brethren; and (2) financial help freely and lavishly given. As a result of these efforts, a strong current has been set in motion in favour of “Shuddhi” and even firm Malkanas sometimes find the land slipping from under their feet; and but for the arrival of so many Musalman preachers on the scene, the whole or almost whole of the Malkana Community would have been led astray. It cannot be said that the Shuddhi Movement has ceased or even that it has considerably weakened, but certainly it has received a setback, and the presence of our preachers is distinctly exercising wholesome influence. There have also been a large number of re-conversions to Islam and it is not without grounds to hope that, with persistent efforts along the right lines, most of the misguided Malkanas would come back to the fold of Islam. What is so badly needed in the Musalman camp, however, is a united front. Differences in the camp mean certain failure and defeat. But it is a pity that differences in the Islamic camp not only exist but tend to increase and intensify. Differences in the doctrines and practices of the preachers must of course exist, because every honest worker will act and believe according to his own conscience, and so long as his attitude is sympathetic and cooperative, it is unjust and unwise to expect him to be otherwise. However, a lack of sympathy and cooperation and a show of active hostility towards one another means a house divided against itself, and such a house cannot hold its own against the besieging enemy. It is high time that the Musalmans should open their eyes and see that the present is not the time to decide to what Islamic sect the Malkanas belong or should belong. The question rather is whether they should remain Musalmans or be converted to Hinduism, whether they should remain the servants and followers of the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings be on him, or join those who abuse him and believe him to be an impostor (God forbid). If Shias work among the Malkanas and save them from apostasy by making them Shias, or if through the preaching of the Ahl-i-Hadith the Malkanas become Ahl-i-Hadith and thereby abstain from becoming Hindus, or if the influence of the Ahmadis wins them over to Ahmadiyyat and by this means they become firm in Islam and refuse to be corrupted, does not Islam triumph and is not Hinduism defeated? Moreover, every community must work according to its own methods or it will lose its efficiency. The members of the Ahmadiyya Community, for instance, are trained to preach and work according to the specific methods of their community. Now force them to preach as Shias do, or make them express only those views that are held by Ahl-i-Hadith or compel them to play the part of a strict orthodox Hanafi, and they are helpless. So, liberty of conscience and liberty in the option of the method of preaching must remain, or our efforts will defeat their own end.

How to work in unison

It is sometimes argued that all the workers must give expression to and preach only those doctrines that are common to all the sects. This looks plausible, but it can appeal only to those who are either away from the field of action or are hopelessly ignorant of the necessities of warfare.

As a matter of fact, it is impossible to adopt this method practically. Scores of occasions may arise daily when a preacher, if he wishes to work according to this method, will have to either admit his defeat before the attacking enemy or break the rule. For example, an Arya preacher makes an attack on Islam by saying that Islam teaches irrational and unreasonable things and, as an illustration, cites the popular doctrine of the Musalmans that Jesus Christ, peace be with him, was taken up into the heavens in flesh and blood. What will a non-Ahmadi answer? If he admits that Islam does really teach this doctrine but proceeds to prove that it is not irrational, he is not treading on common ground and so breaks the law. And if, in answer to the Arya, he expresses the Ahmadiyya view, i.e., it is wrong to say that Islam preaches such a doctrine, he acts against his conscience and so defeats his own end. Again, suppose an Arya preacher attacks Islam by saying that Islam cannot be the true religion because it calls upon its followers to use force in religious matters and enjoins them to spread their religion at the point of the sword and, as an illustration of the same, he cites the case of the Warrior Mahdi whose advent is so eagerly anticipated by most of the Musalmans. Now, what will a non-Ahmadi answer? Will he not say that the Warrior Mahdi shall certainly come and shall kill all those who refuse to embrace Islam, including the Arya critic himself, and that the use of force is permissible under certain circumstances? Most Musalman preachers cannot answer otherwise. But is that the common ground? Similar questions might arise between Shias and Sunnis, between Hanafis and Ahl-i-Hadith, between Razai Mustafa and Deobandis and in fact between any two sects of Islam where it would be vain to search for a common ground because no such ground exists.

From the above, it should be clear that unless we base our unity on some broader and more practical principles, we cannot become united, and troubles must and will continue to crop out. Where we have to face an enemy, whose attacks are not confined to any particular Islamic doctrine but cover the entire field of religion, it is useless to expect the Musalman preachers to confine themselves to the so-called common ground. It can be possible only if we can enter into an understanding with the Hindus that they would make no attack against Islam that would force our preachers to say in answer anything except that Allah, our God, is One, Muhammad, peace be with him, is His Apostle, and the Quran is his revealed book.

Then, there is the practical side of religion, where under the existing circumstances it is sheer madness to think of a common ground. A Shia, for instance, would stand in his prayers with his hands hanging down, while a Sunni would fold them on his breast; an Ahl-i-Hadith would sometimes combine two prayers, while a Hanafi would think it to be unlawful. Again, an Ahl-i-Hadith would recite ‘Amin’ rather loudly, but a Hanafi would never do so; an Ahl-i-Hadith would lift his hands to his ears in every change of posture, but a Hanafi would not.

Similarly, there are scores of such differences among the various sects of Islam, and such differences cannot be concealed. Hence, it is futile to search for unity on this principle. A united front can be formed and maintained only if we recognise the principle that there must be liberty of conscience and liberty in the option of the method of preaching and that, in spite of differences, all must cooperate and sympathise with each other and abstain from making any show of hostility toward one another.

After this course of action has been decided upon, separate territories should be allotted to the different communities, and then unless a community breaks the above-mentioned rule, there should be no interference from outside. But in the allotment of territories, one thing is very essential, and if that is disregarded, very unhappy results might accrue, and that is this groups of villages should be formed on the principle of relationship. Suppose A, B and C are three villages that are nearly related to one another, now all these three villages must go to one anjuman. The remote relationship is, of course, negligible, for if that is taken into account, it would mean that only one anjuman should occupy the whole field to the entire exclusion of others, because all Malkanas are somehow or other related to one another. Moreover, the remote relationship does not matter much. The danger lies in two villages that are very nearly related to each other being under the influence of two different bodies. If that danger is safeguarded, the work may go on satisfactorily.

In short, a united front is absolutely necessary and a united front cannot be formed unless our Musalman brethren free themselves from blind prejudice against one another and broaden their vision; otherwise, the present state of affairs cannot last long. The Aryas are eagerly watching our differences and are waiting for the hour when an open rupture in the Islamic Camp will give them a golden opportunity to gather a rich and plentiful harvest from the Malkana field. As a matter of fact, our differences have already given them half the share of the produce, for it is an unpleasant fact that in the central districts of Agra, Muttra and Bharatpur the Hindus have succeeded in winning over to Hinduism about half of the Malkana Community. There was a time when the ranks of Islam were daily increased by the conversion of hordes of unbelievers and the present is the time when hordes of Musalmans are being daily converted from Islam. What an irony of fate! But who is responsible?

(Transcribed and edited by Al Hakam from the original, published in The Review of Religions [English], April 1923)

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