The Merriam Webster dictionary’s definition of Anglophile states:
noun An·glo·phile \ ˈaŋ-glə-ˌfī(-ə)l \
:a person who greatly admires or favors England and things English
While a bulk of the Indian Muslims, and a cross-section of their Hindu compatriots, rose up against British atrocities at home, and spoke up against British foreign policy that was inimical to Muslim interests in the larger global arena, there were many Muslims and non-Muslim subjects who did not swerve from their loyalty to the Crown even in the face of brazen acts of intransigence and even instances where the British reneged from their solemn promises to their subjects. These were Anglophiles in every sense of the term.
In earlier posts I have documented the role of Indian Muslims in taking up the cause of the Ottoman Sultans, pleading with the British rulers to respect the office of the Caliph and to ensure the Allied forces do not dismember the Turkish empire. The earlier posts dealt with their selfless sacrifices in this regard, and their active opposition to British policies against the Ottoman empire and the subsequent nationalist government headed by Mustafa Kemal.
This post deals with the role played by a few Anglophiles in the Indian Muslim community. The most notable among them, during the days of the British Raj, was the celebrated scholar, now famous for his widely popular rendering of the Quran in English, Abdullah Yusuf Ali. His meticulously written biography, Searching for Solace, by M.A. Sharief, pays due homage to his services to Islamic scholarship. However, the biographer, minces no words in exposing his misplaced enthusiasm for the British Empire.
The biography records many articles and speeches of Yusuf Ali, a person of great academic achievements, which he made in unbridled praise of the Crown, and to further British interests. Most dubious of which is his publication, in November 1916, Mestrovic and Serbian Sculpture, which was actually in praise of Serbian nationalism. As his biographer observed, the subject and style suggest that it could have been commissioned by the British Intelligence[i]. His aforesaid work criticised the Ottomans for having crushed Serbian independence after the battle of Kosovo in 1389. However, Yusuf Ali’s criticism of the Ottomans was not shared by his contemporaries in Bombay from where he hailed.[ii]
His lecture-tour of Scandinavia at the behest of the British Foreign Office is also a case in point. But, newspaper reports of his talks there were met with severe criticism by a section of the Indian resistance residing there.[iii]
Yusuf Ali’s loyalty was rewarded in many ways by the British rulers. The crowning glory was him being conferred the CBE (Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire). Another great honour accorded him was having been chosen, along with other Empire Loyalists like the Aga Khan and Sahibzada Aftab Ahmad Khan, to accompany the then secretary of state for India, Edwin Montagu, to the Paris Peace Conference which resulted in the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919, followed by the even more severe and humiliating Treaty of Sevres in 1920.
The Aga Khan (Aga Sultan Muhammad Shah III) though an Anglophile himself, did have sympathies for the Ottoman Caliphate and pleaded with Britain to ensure the office of the Caliph was not abrogated. However, his advice to the Ottoman Sultan, during the Balkan wars when Turkey was faced with military reverses, to give up his suzerainty over the European territories of the Ottoman Empire in order to save his nation from being frequently attacked by European powers met with strong dislike within the Indian Muslims. The noted scholar, Shibli Nomani, even wrote a lengthy satirical poem, in Persian and Urdu, haranguing the Aga Khan[iv].
You can read my translation of the Urdu poem here.
A glance at Yusuf Ali’s writings during the later part of his life do reflect his eventual disenchantment with British policies. And, not surprisingly, despite his undying loyalty, Britain had no use for him after the World Wars, and Yusuf Ali died an almost forgotten, distraught man.
A summary of Yusuf Ali’s life, and death, is succinctly captured in the Educational Encyclopedia of Islam, published from Bangalore, India. Here is a link to the article.
[i] Searching for Solace, MA Sherif, p. 48
[ii] Searching for Solace, MA Sherif, p. 49
[iii] Searching for Solace, MA Sherif, p. 54
[iv] Kulliyat-e-Shibli, Compiled by Syed Sulaiman Nadwi, pp. 69-70