Khilafat Movement

Khilafat Movement

The annulment of the Partition of Bengal and now the anti-Turkey moves by the British sent waves of hatred and anger amongst the Muslims for the Brits. The Congress thought it was a golden opportunity to win Muslims to their side. At a time when the League was weak and ineffective, the Congress boosted its morale and contributed in no small measure to projecting the League as the sole representative of the Indian Muslims. It was also the first time that the Muslims had remembered the Hindus. Said Maulana Abdul Bari at the Khilafat Conference “The Muslims honor would be at stake if they forget the co-operation of the Hindus. I for my part will say that we should stop cow-killing, because we are children of the same soil”.

In early 1920 Indian Muslims started an agitation to bring pressure on the Brits to change her policy towards Turkey. This is known as the Khilafat (K) Movement, received enormous strength because of Gandhi’s support.

He told the Muslims, “Arise, awake or forever be fallen. If the Hindus wish to cultivate eternal friendship of the Muslims, they must perish with them in the attempt to vindicate the honor of Islam”. He felt that the Muslim demand was justified and he was bound to secure the due fulfillment of the pledge the British PM had given to Indian Muslims during the war.

The last para of the letter Gandhi wrote to the Viceroy immediately after the war conference reads “ In the most scrupulous regard for the right of those Muslim states and the Muslim sentiment as to their places of worship, and your just and timely treatment of India’s claim to Home Rule lies the safety of the empire”. Thus Gandhi had equated the Khilafat movement with India’s freedom movement.

It was not surprising that Gandhi was elected president of the All India Khilafat Conference on 24/11/1919. The Conference asked Muslims to hold threats of boycott and non-cooperation if the Brits did not resolve the Turkish problem to their satisfaction.

The release of the Ali brothers towards the end of December 1919 gave a great fillip to the Khilafat movement. Gandhi had a soft corner for them and they took full advantage of it. Swami Shraddananda narrates one such incident at the Khilafat Conference at Nagpur. “The verses of the Koran recited by the Maulanas on that occasion contained frequent references to jehad and the killing of kafirs. But when I drew attention to this phase of the Khilafat movement Gandhi smiled and said they are alluding to the British bureaucracy. In reply I said it was subversive to the idea of non-violence and when the feeling of revulsion came, the Muslims would not refrain from using these verses against the Hindus”.

The Moplah rebellion only proves how true the Swami’s words were. Thus the Congress party lent full support of its power, prestige and organization to fight for an event that had occurred outside India.

Since the Viceroy did not respond favorably to their requests, Gandhi issued a Manifesto on March 10 outlining his course of action if their demands were not met. The Manifesto is important as it contains the first elaboration of Gandhi’s Non-violent non-cooperation movement. “The power that an individual or a nation forsaking violence can generate is a power that is irresistible, non-cooperation is therefore the only remedy available to us. England cannot expect a meek submission by us to an unjust usurpation of rights which to Muslims is a matter of life and death”.

Lofty, idealistic sentiments no doubt, but is it not pertinent to ask whether England’s treatment of Turkey was a greater humiliation to an Indian than England’s treatment of India during the last 150 years and even the recent atrocities in Punjab (Jallianwala Bagh massacre).

While the Mahatama said this, it is worthwhile to note that five years later when the post of Caliphate was abolished by the Turks themselves it did not create a stir in the Muslim world.

Muslim historian Prof I H Qureshi admits that the claims of the Sultan of Turkey as the supreme religious authority of the Muslim world had no practical influence outside the Ottoman Empire. He adds “But now the Indian Muslims had lost their own liberty, they had reason to feel a strong emotional attachment to a Caliph whom they could claim as their own sovereign, even though in a nominal and religious sense. Indeed before the First World War, prayers for the Turkish Sultan had come to be included in the Friday prayers of Indian mosques”.

Going back in time, in 1912, Muhammad Ali, the leaders of the Khilafat movement scoffed at the idea that Indian Muslims should be affected by events outside India or form a pact with the Hindus to bring pressure on the Brits, two features that marked the Khilafat movement of 1919.

Said J.W. Hore “there is no canon which lays down that the Sultan will always remain the Khalifa”. Criticized by his friends but said the Mahatma “We talk of Hindu-Muslim unity. It would be an empty phrase if the Hindus hold aloof from the Muslims when their vital interests are at take”.

Great sentiment but what Gandhi failed to realize that the Pan-Islamic idea, which inspired the Khilafat movement, cut at the very root of Indian nationality. If the sympathy and vital interests of a large section of Indians were bound with a state so distant from India, they could never form a part of Indian nationality.

In a way Gandhi admitted that they formed a separate nation, they were in India yet not part of it. Hindu-Muslim unity is fine but the Congress failed to understand the Muslim mind and religion. Today, when 2000 year old Buddha statues are destroyed in Afghanistan and the Indian army has lost thousands of soldiers to Islamic terrorism, the Muslims of India rarely take to the streets. However, they are quick to protest publicly on a matter affecting Middle East Muslims and recently Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar.

What did Khilafat achieve?

First, Muslim fanaticism secured a position of prestige in Indian politics, thereafter; their religious loyalty took precedence over national loyalty. Two, Muslim population so far was divided among various groups and political pulls now became one solid force. Three, a new fanatic leadership riding on the crest of the Khilafat wave came to wield the reigns of the Muslim leadership. Four, it led to a series of Hindu Muslim riots referred to at the end of chapter three and the Moplah rebellion in chapter four.

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