Khilafat Movement

A few months ago a group of friends were discussing the reasons for Partition when one of them said that the Khilafat Movement was the starting point of Pan-Islamism which made Muslims believe or reiterate that they constituted a separate nation.

The article tells you about this movement, was written in March 2001 and edited in May 2017. It is based on inputs from The History and Culture of Indian People by the Bharitya Vidya Bhavan and the Tragic Story of Partition by H.V. Seshadri.

Article has five parts namely -
1. Events in Turkey that gives you a background to Khilafat.
2. The Khilafat movement.
3. The non-cooperation movement is referred to briefly since it has its origin in the Khilafat movement.
4. The Moplah rebellion in Kerala is a result of the Khilafat movement.
5. Hindu-Muslim unity!

Events in Turkey

An attempt was made towards inaugurating a Pan-Islamic movement i.e. the Aligarh movement during the last quarter of the 19th century. It did not succeed but the sentiment never died out altogether. It is proved by the active sympathy of the Indian Muslims towards the Turks in their fight against Italy and the Balkhan powers. Turkey’s entry into the war as an ally of Germany put Indian Muslims into a quandary. Their natural sympathy lie with the Sultan of Turkey as their Caliph or religious head but as British subjects they were to be loyal to the British throne.

Realizing their predicament the British PM, Lloyd George declared on 05/01/1918, that the allies “were not fighting to deprive Turkey of the rich and renowned lands of Asia Minor and Thrace which are predominantly Turkish in race”. These assurances led the Indian Muslims to believe that whatever happened, the territorial integrity and independence of Turkey, so far as her Asiatic dominions would be maintained.

However, what happened was different. Thrace was presented to Greece while the Asiatic portions of Turkey passed to England and France. Thus, Turkey was dispossessed of her homelands and the Sultan deprived of all real authority. Indian Muslims regarded this as a great betrayal and carried on agitations through out 1919 but to no effect.

At the same time Mustufa Kemal Pasha, a highly gifted leader rose in Turkey brushed aside the weak regime of the Caliph and resolved to make a new, powerful Turkey on modern nationalistic lines. Aware that the Caliph was the religious leader of the Arab world he decided to get rid his country of Arabism and liberate it from the stronghold of the maulvis and mullahs. He was helped by Jamaluddin Afghani, an Arab born in Afghanistan in 1838.

The rise of a powerful state in Turkey did not suit the Brits. They prodded Aga Khan to join hands with the Caliph. Aga Khan and Amir Ali went to Kemal Pasha and begged him to save the Caliph. Abdul Majid. Kemal treated them with contempt and derided Aga Khan (a Shia) and Amir Ali (a Khoja) as heretics of Islam who had no business to advise the Sunni Turkish Muslims.

Kemal said that it was ironical that two men who were the pillars of the British rule in India had come to advise Turkey on their national policy. He exposed these two men, dethroned Islam from the pedestal of the official state religion and transformed Turkey into a secular state.

But the Khilafat leaders in India would not give up. Under the leadership of the Ali brothers they approached King Abdul Azeez of Arabia to become the new Caliph. The King had the Indians in a corner by asking them “If it is Islam that you are zealous about, why do you not join hands with Gandhi and free India of British rule. That’s what Islam teaches. You come to me as a slave of the Brits and it seems to me that you have come to lead me into a British trap”. Next the leaders approached Reza Shah, the ruler of Iran. But Shah proud of his Aryan tradition, evinced little interest.

In 1921, Muhammad Ali wrote a letter to the Amir of Afghanistan inviting him to invade India. The Brits got scent of this and arrested the Ali brothers. On his written assurance that he was no opponent of the Brits he was released.

In 1921, when the Khilafat agitation was at its peak, Ali again sent a wire to the Amir urging him not to enter into any agreement with the Brits. When Ali was taken to task by the Congress leaders he showed Swami Shraddananada (renowned Arya Samaj leader) a hand written draft of the wire. The Swami writes “What was my astonishment when I saw the draft of the same self-same telegram in the peculiar handwriting of the Father of the non-violent non-cooperation movement”.

Writing in the Young India in May 1921 Gandhi said, “I would, in a sense, certainly assist the Amir of Afghanistan if he waged war against the British govt. It is no part of the duty of a non-violent non-cooperator to assist the govt against war made upon it by others. I would rather see India perish at the hands of the Afghans than purchase freedom from Afghan invasion at the cost of her honor. To have India defended by an unrepentant govt that keeps the Khilafat and Punjab wounds still bleeding is to sell India’s honor”. Gandhi was criticized by Lala Lajpat Rai and B C Pal for his statements.

It is interesting to note that the Hindu Congress leaders took up the case of the Caliph when the Muslim world itself had refused to do so.

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