Are madrasas anti-national? A historic perspective

Last Updated: Tue, Oct 17, 2017 15:15 hrs
Indian Muslims celebrate Independence Day with national flags on the terrace of the Madrasa Arabia Islamia in the Juhapura area of Ahmedabad

Earlier this month, Allahabad High Court made it compulsory for all madrasas in Uttar Pradesh to sing the national song. This perpetuates the negative image of madrasas or Islamic centres of learning in India.

An image surrounding the madrasas has painstakingly been created by an overtly zealot media showing the madrasas in a negative light.

The media has tried to project madrasas as the centres of anti-national zealots who have no regards to the nation, no affection for its ethos, no love for the motherland and no respect for other people living in their midst.

But this image cannot be starker than the truth, in utter disregard to the reality and with a single-minded aim to defame these institutions who were centres of freedom fighters for decades. The very same madrasas who are mocked day and night by the likes of Times Now, Zee TV, Republic TV and their umpteen other avatars, were in the forefront of fighting for independence and driving out the British Raj.

The High Court verdict further perpetuates this narrative, being cultivated for a long time, under the onslaught of a certain ideology that wants to showcase everything Muslim in a negative light.

In the twenties of the last century and even earlier, it was neither Congress Party nor anyone else that was in the forefront of fighting for the nation’s independence. The struggle was waged by Mahmud Hasan, who was named Shaykh-ul-Hind or the supreme leader of India and surrounded by the ulama of Deoband.

While Indian leaders were still trying to find a way to raise their voice for even a dominion status, these people, with the help of their Hindu brethren were setting up government in exile and negotiating with Russia, France, Germany and Turkey to recognize their government in exile in Kabul.

Maulana Mehmud Hasan, popularly known as Shaikh-ul-Hind is one of the foremost freedom fighters, scholar and educationist of nineteenth and early twentieth century. No one has any iota of doubt that it was he who launched the long struggle to attain freedom for the country, enslaved by the British Raj.

Maulana Mehmud Hasan graduated from Darul Uloom, Deoband in the year 1873 and then went on to serve the institution as a teacher from 1874. In the year 1890, he was appointed the rector of the Darul Uloom. With his academic accomplishments at Darul Uloom, initially as a teacher and later as the principal, he won the hearts of many people in the entire Indian Subcontinent. It was pretty soon that the Shaykh-ul-Hind realized that the people of India need to drive the British Raj out of the nation as soon as possible.

He didn’t want to be a mute spectator as the British continued to occupy the ‘golden bird’ called India. Shaykh-ul-Hind organised efforts to start an armed revolution against British rule from both within and outside India. He launched a programme to train volunteers from among his disciples in India and abroad who joined this movement in a large number. The most eminent among them were Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi and Maulana Mohammad Mian Mansoor Ansari. Sending Sindhi to Kabul and Ansari to the North-West Frontier Province to mobilize popular support and recruit volunteers, Mahmud Hasan himself travelled to Hijaz, present-day Saudi Arabia to secure Turkish support. Obtaining the Turkish governor Ghalib Pasha's signature on a declaration of war against the British, Mahmud al-Hasan planned to return to India via Baghdad and Balochistan to start the rebellion.

The plan, referred to as the Silk Letter Conspiracy (Reshmi Roomal Tehreek), however, was captured by Punjab CID, and he was arrested in Mecca. He was imprisoned in Malta, for more than three years before his release in 1920.

Maulana Mahmood Hasan launched several organizations to fight the British at every level. He launched an organisation called “Thamaratu-tarbiyah” (result of training) in the year 1877. This outfit actually prepared long-term planning to start the freedom struggle at an opportune time. These people were given advanced armed training by many Army veterans who also happened to be the disciples or his supporters. The British Raj, annoyed at such activities put pressure on Darul Uloom to stop meddling in political affairs. At one point, the British Raj toyed with the idea of shutting down the Darul Uloom at Deoband.

In the year 1913, he took the most daring decision of his life and established a government-in-exile in Kabul. Maulana Sindhi was dispatched along with Maharaja Mahindra Pratap Singh who had to act as president, Maulana Barkatullah Bhopali as prime minister and Maulana Sindhi as one of the ministers. Historic accounts suggest that this government got wholehearted support of German and Turkish governments and the government in exile established a ragtag army too that occasionally attacked British post inside the British India.

When he returned to the country after three-year long incarceration he saw that the nation was up in arms against the Raj. The Shaykhul Hind issued a fatwa making it the mandatory for all the Muslims in the entire Indian Subcontinent to not just support but also participate with Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian National Congress. Later, Mahmud Hasan laid the foundation stone of the Jamia Millia Islamia, in Aligarh that was later shifted to Delhi.

Maulana Muhammad Mian Mansoor Ansari is another stalwart who was at the forefront of the struggle against the British raj. He was not just a great scholar but was a leader with a huge fan following across the nation.

He was instrumental in setting up the first Indian government in exile in Kabul that survived for seven long years despite all efforts by the British authorities to shut it down. He was among the stalwarts who risked their lives, spent long years in exile for their only crime that they wanted to see India freed from British Raj and their occupation of the sacred land of India.

He was one of the few people closest to Shaikhul Hind and instrumental in launching a government in exile in Kabul. When Maulana Obaidullah Sindhi was sent to Kabul by Shaikh-ul-Hind in the first quarter of the last century to launch a government in exile, he accompanied the revered scholar and India’s most respected freedom fighter Mahmud Hasan to Hejaz.

During World War-I, he was among the leaders of the Deoband School, who, led by Maulana Mahmud Hasan, left India to seek support of world powers to overthrow the British Raj. It has been well-documented as to how Maulana Mansoor Ansari went to Kabul during the war to rally the Afghan Amir Habibullah Khan. He joined the Provisional Government of India formed in Kabul in December 1915 and remained in Afghanistan until the end of the war. He travelled to Russia and spent two years in Turkey, as well as passing through many other countries.

Indian National Congress requested the great scholar and freedom fighter to come back to India and guide the freedom movement here. Indian National Congress asked the British Government to allow him to enter India. He was allowed, but couldn’t come back due to illness and died one and half years before India’s independence on 11 January 1946 in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.

Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi, another disciple of Mahmud Hasan, the Shaykh-ul-Hind was on the forefronts of war against the colonial occupation. He established a government in exile in Kabul, Afghanistan along with Mahendra Pratap Singh as the President. He was a revolutionary who, despite being among the top Islamic scholars in the region always opposed the establishment of a Muslim religious government as was being advocated by many. On the contrary, he was a staunch supporter of Mahatma Gandhi and along with Shaykh-ul-Hind supported Mahatma Gandhi’s Non-Cooperation Movement. He met Lenin in Moscow and sought his support for the government in exile. He and Shaykh-ul-Hind Mahmud Hasan, both, despite being among the top Islamic scholars were secular to the core.

There is no denying the fact that Deobandi ideology has never looked divisive or sectarian. It was very multi-cultural and multi-religious type ideology in twenties of the last century and it remains the same to date. The only difference being the fact that during the twenties and thirties of the last century there were many leaders of vision and fortitude who saw the future clearly, while the present lot doesn’t seem to be in the same league in any way.

More columns by Syed Ubaidur Rahman:

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Syed Ubaidur Rahman is a New Delhi based writer and commentator. He has written several books on Muslims and Islam in India including Understanding Muslim Leadership in India.

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