By Professor Nazeer Ahmed
Mohammed Ali Jauhar was a product of the Aligarh movement and a principal figure in the historical processes that resulted in the emergence of Pakistan. To appreciate the contributions of this towering personality one must retrace the footprints of history in the latter part of the nineteenth century. The decimation of the Muslim aristocracy in northern India following the uprising of 1857 created a political vacuum which left the masses despondent and rudderless. A new order had come into being, dictated by British imperial interests in which the prerequisite for advancement and prosperity was acquiescence to, and adaptation of western education and cultural values. The Muslims distrusted the new order as hostile to their own values, beliefs and traditional educational systems. The distrust was mutual. The British, on their part, looked askance at the Muslims whose rule they had usurped in large parts of the subcontinent through conquest, diplomacy or deceit. a principal figure
Sir Syed Ahmed Khan broke this cycle of mutual distrust. Convinced that the advancement of Indian Muslims lay in acquiring the knowledge and wisdoms of the west and integrating them with traditional Islamic education, he moved into the educational arena and founded the institution, which in time evolved into Aligarh Muslim University. The Aligarh movement was a giant leap forward from the medieval to the modern age but the passage was not as smooth as Sir Syed had envisioned. Traditional school systems sprang up in Deoband, Nadva and other centers of learning, juxtaposed with the modernist Aligarh system. The graduates of the traditional schools had little understanding of the modern west while the graduates of Aligarh often were lacking in the traditional disciplines. The tensions between the traditional and the reformist persisted into the twentieth century, and indeed, they persist even to this day.
Mohammed Ali, one of three Ali brothers, was born into a Pashtun family of UP in 1878. His father, Abdul Ali Khan, passed away when Mohammed Ali was two years old. A bright student, Mohammed Ali studied at Aligarh, and in 1898, won a scholarship to study at Oxford University. Returning to India in 1904 he accepted employment first at Rampur as Director of the education department, then at Baroda in the Administrative services (1906). Later that year he resigned from civil service and dedicated himself to national service. He attended the first conference of the Muslim League in Dhaka in 1906 and, along with Wiqar al Mulk and Muhsin al Mulk, became a principal spokesman for Muslim aspirations on the national scene. Mohammed Ali showed his metal as a writer and a poet at a very early age. He was equally fluent in English and Urdu. The Times of India ran a series on his observations on contemporary affairs in 1907. Some of his early poems, written while he was a student at Aligarh show a remarkable synthesis of revolutionary zeal and Sufi resignation:
Life in its full splendor will arrive after death, O executioner!
Our journey starts where your journey ends;
Confront you, who can (O executioner)? But—
Blessed is my blood after your bleeding;
The martyrdom of Hussain is indeed the death of Yazid,
The breath of life wakes up the faith of surrender after every Karbala!
His poetry is animated by the passion for righteous action and the power of perseverance. It is this universal appeal that has made him one of the most quoted poets of all times. He sounds off his clarion call to the isolationists in the following words:
Tell those who hide behind curtains to hide in their tombs—
The inert—no refuge do they have in this world!
He scoffed at titles and sycophancy preferring a higher reward:
The occupancy of the chair, that is worth its felicitation, O Jowhar!
But higher is the recompense of the Day of Recompense.
Neither a seeker of wealth nor a pursuer of honor am I,
The mendicants at this door—they ask for something else.
He was an activist. In the pursuit of higher goals he was not afraid of making mistakes:
The intercession of Muhammed is a divine Grace for sure,
The Day of Gathering—Ah! That is a feast of Grace for the wrong doers.
There was no journal, and no newspaper that carried the voice of the Muslims. To fill this void Mohammed Ali started the weekly “Comrade” in 1911. Published in English from Kolkata, the journal electrified the Muslim educated class. It was read not just by English speaking Indians but also by the British bureaucrats who wanted to feel the pulse of the Indian political climate. It carried political commentaries, analysis and essays on social issues. The capital of India was shifted from Kolkata to Delhi in 1911. So the publication of “Comrade” was shifted to the new capital. It was soon obvious that to reach the masses, a publication in the Urdu language was required. So Mohammed Ali started a Urdu weekly “Hamdard” in 1911 as a companion publication to “Comrade”. International events of global import soon overtook national events and consumed the attention of the Indian Muslim intelligentsia. The Balkan War of 1911-12, in which the combined forces of Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece attacked the Ottoman Empire with the tacit connivance of Britain, France and Russia, alarmed the Muslim world. Italy invaded Libya and occupied it. There was not much that the large Muslim population of India could do except to petition the British government not to aid and abet the Balkan aggressors. The Maulana spoke up for justice through the voice of Comrade. His strident calls caught the attention of the ruling authorities. The publication of Comrade was stopped and the Maulana was jailed and stayed locked up until 1918.
The guns of World War 1 shattered the peace of the world in 1914. India, a captive colony of Britain, declared war on Germany. The Ottoman Empire entered the conflict ill prepared, goaded into the fray by the Young Turks who miscalculated that the initial rapid advance of the German armies into France presaged a quick victory, and their desire to recover territories lost in the Balkan wars of 1911-12. The
Indian army, largely recruited from the region between Delhi and Peshawar, consisted of Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus in roughly equal proportions. It was unceremoniously packed up and dispatched to Iraq and Palestine to fight the soldiers of the Khalifa. The war ended in a disaster for the Turks. The Middle East was carved up and swallowed by the British and French empires. The Arab revolt of 1917 stabbed the Turks in the back, shattering the illusions of pan-Islamism harbored by many Indian intellectuals.
It was not the Ottoman defeat in the Great War but the British attempt to abolish the Caliphate that riled the Indian Muslims and impelled them to political activism. The Caliphate was an institution that had survived the vicissitudes of Islamic history for 1300 years. Most Muslims believed that it was an integral part of Islamic faith. A Khilafat committee was formed in 1920 to apply pressure on the British government on this issue. A delegation headed by Maulana Mohammed Ali was sent to London and returned empty handed later that year. .
The Khilafat movement was a milestone in the history of South Asian Muslims. It brought together ulema like Maulana Hussain Ahmed Madani, secular nationalists like Dr. Saifuddin Kuchlo and Hakim Ajmal Khan, universalists like Maulana Azad and pan-Islamists like Maulana Mohammed Ali under one umbrella, and when it ended it unleashed communal forces whose frenzy propelled the subcontinent into the holocaust that accompanied partition in 1947. It defined the career of Maulana Mohammed Ali who felt that an enslaved India could not successfully resist the international intrigues of the British Empire. Cooperation with the majority Hindu community was essential if India was to achieve its independence. The emergence of this conviction coincided with the rise of Gandhi on the national stage. Gandhi saw in the Khilafat movement a golden opportunity to fuse together the Hindus and the Muslims into an integrated political movement that would force the British out of India. But it was a marriage of convenience in which the national agenda of independence was wedded to the pan-Islamic idea of Indian support for the Khilafat based in far-away Istanbul. The injection of religion into the struggle for independence provided an entry for fringe right wing elements, both Hindu and Muslim, to enter politics. It was an idea fraught with explosive potential for the future of communal harmony in the subcontinent. Indeed, partition was born in the communal politics of the 1920s. Jinnah, a strict constitutionalist and a secular nationalist at the time, saw through this danger and warned his countrymen and fellow Muslims about it. He was opposed to the Khilafat movement. No one listened. Indeed, it estranged Jinnah from Muhammed Ali and the motley collection of scholars and opportunists who had gathered around the issue. It also solidified the estrangement of Jinnah from Gandhi.
The coalition was inherently unstable and it was bound to break up sooner or later. And break up it did in 1922. Gandhi was chosen as the leader of the Khilafat movement in 1920 and he proposed peaceful non-cooperation to compel the British to listen to Indian demands. The movement was launched with much fanfare with the Ali brothers, Maulana Azad and others traversing the country to whip up support from the masses. But India was not ready for peaceful non-cooperation. The situation got out of hand when violence broke out in Chauri Chaura in 1922 and Gandhi called off the struggle leaving its ardent supporters in the lurch. The issue died a peaceful death when the Turkish parliament under Kemal Ataturk abolished the Caliphate in 1924.
The failure of the Khilafat movement compelled the Hindu and Muslim communities to face one another and try to work out a modus operandi. To give a voice to Muslim sentiments, Maulana Mohammed Ali restarted the Comrade weekly in 1924, soon to be followed by its Urdu counterpart, Hamdard. But the India of the 1920s was a changed India from that of the 1910s. Just as Jinnah had warned, communal forces were let loose. Communal riots rocked Nagpur, Meerat and other cities. The Hindu Mahasabha gained traction and in 1925, its president Golwalkar proposed the two-nation theory. A disunited and confused Muslim leadership held several meetings to chart out a vision and a course of action for the future. An all parties conference held in Delhi in 1925, which included representatives of the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League, failed to agree on guidelines for a future constitution for India and instead delegated the task to a committee headed by Motilal Nehru.
The Nehru report was a watershed in the independence struggles of India and Pakistan. The report, compiled by an eleven member committee including two absentee Muslim participants, came up with a unitary concept for the proposed constitution of India with residual powers vested in the center. This was a reflection of the socialist leanings of Jawarharlal Nehru who stayed wedded to top down, planned, government controlled economic models throughout his influential political career, but which had as its corollary the domination of majority views on the minority. The Muslim leadership preferred a federal constitution with residual powers vested in the states. Secondly, the Nehru report abrogated the separate electorate agreements reached between the Congress and the League in 1915 in Lucknow which were brokered by Jinnah. Both of these were unacceptable to the majority of Muslim leadership. Maulana Mohammed Ali failed to convince Gandhi and the Congress party to change these provisions of the Nehru report. In bitterness, he broke with Gandhi and walked away from the Congress.
Maulana Muhammed Ali attended the first round table conference in London in 1931, called by the British to discuss a dominion status for India. It was also attended by Jinnah, Dr. Ambedkar, the Agha Khan, Sardar Ujjal Singh, Tej Bahadur Sapru, B.S. Moonje and others. It ended in failure because the Indian National Congress, the largest political party in India, boycotted it. Mohammed Ali died in London and was buried in Jerusalem as he had wished.
The primary legacy of Maulana Mohammed Ali was to give forceful expression to the voice of his generation through his consummate journalistic and poetic skills. He was at once a nationalist and a mujahid. Addressing one of the meetings of the Khilafat committee, he declared, “As far as the command of God is concerned, I am a Muslim and Muslim alone; as far the issue of India is concerned, I am Indian and Indian alone”. He roused the Muslim masses in support of the Khilafat movement and sought a cooperative independence struggle through Gandhi. In these attempts he failed because he failed to grasp the inherent contradictions in his positions on national and international issues. At the onset of the Khilafat movement he fell out with Jinnah but while in London in 1931, he and his brother Shaukat Ali begged Jinnah to return to India and take charge of the Muslim League. The rest is history.
Reference for further reading: Mujahid e Azam, Maulana Mohammed Ali Jowhar, Farooq Argali, Fareed Book Depot, Delhi