100 Years Ago… – A misunderstanding removed: Letter to The Civil and Military Gazette, Lahore


The Review of Religions (English), July 1921

Hazrat Sir Chaudhry Muhammad Zafrulla Khanra, (1893-1985)


The address presented by the representatives of the Ahmadiyya community to His Excellency, the Governor-General, forms the subject of the leading article in your issue of 26 June [1921], and as the portion of that article which refers to the Hedjaz appears to be the result of a total misapprehension of the position taken up in the address with reference to that country, I venture to hope that you will be kind enough to give publicity to the following remarks in the columns of your valuable journal, so that any misunderstanding which might have resulted from your article may be removed. 

By confining my remarks to the question of the independence of the Hedjaz, I do not wish it to be inferred that I am in complete agreement with the rest of your article, but as the other points on which I differ from you are likely to lead to futile controversy in which neither side can hope to convince the other, I shall leave them to be dealt with in columns other than those of your valuable journal. 

As regards that portion of the Ahmadiyya address which deals with the question of the independence of the Hedjaz, you have been pleased to remark as follows:

“In addition to the well-worn problem of Smyrna and Thrace, they gave more attention than is usually assigned to it to the demand for the severing of British relations with the Hedjaz Government and the restoration of Turkish control over that country. This latter suggestion is, of course, neither practicable nor defensible. To deprive the Arabs of the Hedjaz of the new rights of nationhood they won for themselves by fair fight in the war would be an almost unthinkable act on the part of any British government. Lord Reading in his reply did not refer to this impracticable suggestion, but in his general review of the whole problem gave an illuminating exposition of the Government of India’s position in the matter.” 

I confess that this summing up of the position has caused me considerable surprise, and I find it difficult to believe that before making this remark you had taken the trouble to read that portion of the address which refers to the independence of the Hedjaz. Even a cursory glance at the summary of the address published in your own columns in the issue of 25 June [1921] would have been sufficient to convince you that the “restoration of Turkish control” over the Hedjaz was not the demand put forward by the Ahmadiyya community. The demand actually put forward in the address has been thus summarised in The Civil and Military Gazette of 25 June [1921]: 

“But more important still, in our opinion is the question of the independence of the Hedjaz, which must remain free from outside interference. When this question arose, every Muslim entertained a misgiving that the freeing of the Hedjaz from Turkish control might mean the bringing of it under the control of a European power. The Hedjaz being a sterile country would, it was feared, be unable to produce sufficient income to defray the expenses of its administration and the Hedjaz government would be compelled to borrow money from a foreign country, thus placing itself under the control of a European Power. Recent cables tend to strengthen these misgivings. Reuter, the other day mentioned a scheme outlined by Mr Churchill, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, wherein an annual subsidy is promised to the Hedjaz government provided the latter should undertake to maintain internal peace and put its sovereign policy under the control of Great Britain. This gives rise to certain misgivings and we request Your Excellency to draw the attention of the Home Government to their removal. 

“(1) The scheme coming, as it does, from the Colonial Secretary has nothing to do with independent status

“(2) To put foreign relations under the control of another government is clearly incompatible with independence.

“(3) The stipulation as to responsibility for the maintenance of internal peace runs counter to the very conception of independence

“The stipulation can only mean that if there is ever any disturbance in the country, Great Britain will have the right to change its government or interfere with its internal administration or put the country under military control. Surely, this is no independence. It amounts to complete subjection, with this difference, that Great Britain will rule the Hedjaz not directly, but through a Muslim Chief. 

If the Hedjaz government is not able to take care of itself, it may, better be put under Turkish control, subject to the same conditions under which Mr. Churchill proposes to place it under British control. We confidently hope that Your Excellency will be pleased to warn the Home Government of the dangerous consequences of such a fatal step and give publicity to the result of your representations.” 

The italics are mine. Now it is perfectly clear from this extract that the demand put forward is that the Hedjaz must remain free from outside interference and that it must be accorded complete independence. An apprehension is next expressed that the scheme outlined by Mr Churchill would, if adopted, amount to the putting of the Hedjaz under the complete control of Great Britain, which is incompatible with independence and that the mere fact that such a scheme is being considered is an indication of the fact that Great Britain desires to bring the Hedjaz under its complete control. This is deprecated. 

In anticipation, however, of the objection that the Hedjaz by itself is not able to take care of itself, and that the form of control suggested by Mr Churchill would not in any way derogate from the independent position of the Hedjaz, it is suggested that if outside control is absolutely necessary then that control should be Turkish rather than British, the conditions being the same in either case. You have been pleased to designate this suggestion as at once impracticable and indefensible. 

May I ask which part of the suggestion deserves to be so condemned? Is the complete independence of the Hedjaz or its freedom from outside control both impracticable and indefensible? Presumably, it is the latter portion of the suggestion which has appeared to you to verge on the absurd. What is it? As already indicated, the suggestion is that if you are going to put the Hedjaz under any control, let it be Turkish rather than British. Where does the impracticability or the indefensibility come in? Would the form of control suggested by Mr Churchill destroy the independence of the Hedjaz, or would it not? If it would, such control would in itself be indefensible, and, therefore, the primary demand put forward in the address was that there should be no outside control, British or Turkish. If it would not, then why should Turkish control over territory within which are situated Mecca and Medina be condemned as impracticable and indefensible and British control over the same territory held out by inference, as both practicable and desirable? 

It was clearly stated in the address that the apprehension is gaining ground that Great Britain desires to reduce the King of Hedjaz to the position of a dependent chieftain, and it was prayed that this apprehension may be removed. The only way in which this could be done was by stating clearly that no such measure was contemplated, directly or indirectly. 

The Ahmadiyya community has from the very beginning advocated the complete independence of the Hedjaz and as early as October 1919, the present Head of the community laid a stress on it in his pamphlet entitled The Future of Turkey

On pages 12 and 13 of that pamphlet he says:

“The second point which must be attended to for the achievement of success is that the Mussalmans must leave alone the question of the Kingdom of the Hedjaz. It is a matter of common knowledge how great are the losses suffered by the Arabs under a foreign yoke in their political status and their language. The facts are well known to those who know the history of the country. It is also no secret that the Arabs have made large sacrifices in order to regain their present independence. The national pride of the Arabs has been aroused, and the pulse of freedom is beating strong. Under no circumstances can they now be replaced under the Turkish rule. 

“After 1300 years the Arabs have once more become masters of their own house and have already justified their rule by justice and good government. Any new suggestion with regard to them has, therefore, little chance of success. No such suggestions can be entertained by any reasonable man and the Arabs themselves will be the last to accept them. The independence of the Hedjaz is now advantageous to the interest of Islam and is preferable to its being under the dominion of Turkey. The holy places will be safer under a small State, which will not tempt the cupidity of inimical powers. The question of the Hedjaz should, therefore, be considered as an accomplished fact.”

So that is clear that what the Ahmadiyya community desires is an independent Hedjaz, but failing that, Turkish rather than British control. 

One can, of course, appreciate the desire of all statesmen and journalists to avoid facing awkward questions but it does not follow that because a question is awkward and had much better not have been touched, therefore, all suggestions concerning its solution must be ridiculed as impracticable and indefensible. 

I hope that the above will make it clear that the Ahmadiyya community does not desire the restoration of Turkish control over the Hedjaz, only, to put it bluntly, it prefers a certain amount of Turkish control, if absolutely unavoidable, to a similar amount of British, or for the matter of that any non-Muslim control, as the lesser evil. Indeed to anybody not actuated by the desire wilfully to misrepresent or to misunderstand the views of the community, as an escape from an uncomfortable position, the matter would have been perfectly clear without the above exposition. 

Zafrulla Khan (Bar-at-Law), Amir of the Ahmadiyya Community of Lahore. Majitha House, 23 Nisbet Road, Lahore. 28 June [1921].

(Transcribed by Al Hakam from the original article in The Review of Religions [English], July 1921)

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