What Lessons Contemporary Muslim Minorities Can Learn from the Khilafat Movement

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What Lessons Contemporary Muslim Minorities Can Learn from the Khilafat Movement

 Indian Muslims today are perhaps living in a situation not very different from the time when the Jats and Marathas used to prey on them even in their capital Delhi, after the demise of Muslim political power in the late eighteenth century. In some cases, their condition is as bad as the Muslims after the 1857 Mutiny when their major mosques were closed, and their populations banished from their cities. Of course, patches of calm and stability are visible in some parts as was the case even during the worst crack-down by the British. The present political dispensation has begun applying draconian laws similar to the Rowlatt Act, like UAPA.  It has been invoking it to stifle Islamic propagation activities in particular and crushing any expression of dissent by the Muslim community. Especially targeted are educated young Muslims. A virtual propaganda war to demonize Indian Muslims is being waged from the nation’s top media houses. Hatred for Muslims has been growing to proportions witnessed during Hitler’s time and during the Serbian and Rawandan genocides. A new term, Genocide Journalism, has been coined for such biased reporting.

Intellectuals like Arundathi Roy have warned that a genocide of Muslims in India is imminent given the present climate of demonizing Muslims.[1] This seems not very different from the propaganda unleashed by Moonjee’s Sanghtan movement. Hindu volunteers even as early as the 1920s were given training in use of arms to ‘defend’ themselves against Muslims.[2]

The Muslims of the subcontinent, from the middle of the nineteenth century up to early twentieth century, as we have discussed in Chapter two, were left incapable of expressing their anguish and anger at the blatant discriminations they were facing at home, and the disgrace to which brotherly Muslim countries were being subject to by the British.

Then, from early 1910, despite the dismal conditions, one could hear the rumblings of a movement that was determined to uplift the conditions of the Muslims at home and abroad. This movement picked up pace and crystallized into the Khilafat Movement. We have already discussed how the Khilafat movement empowered Muslim statesmen and the public during the 1919 to 1924 period. We noticed how the Khilafat movement made Muslims fearless. So much so that when the Turks themselves abolished the Khilafah, which the Khilafat movement strove to maintain, the leaders did not go back home and rest. Many took up causes like the restoration of the sovereignty of the Jazirat-ul-Arab, and many more worked to free India from the British. Commentators are unanimous that the Khilafat Movement laid the foundation for India’s own independence movement.

Contemporary Indian Muslims need to incisively analyse the success and failures of the Khilafat movement, and other allied movements, like the Mappila Uprising, and chart a way out of the quicksand of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hatred that is only getting worse by the day. If a community under colonial rule, whose economy was deliberately stunted, could have achieved so much, the modern Indian Muslim can do things better, faster and in a more accomplished way. Most importantly, when Indian Muslims could have contributed on such a large scale to a nation they were not beholden to in any way, nor was it a country where they had any filial connections— they are quite capable of strengthening themselves and warding off their adversaries.

Another major lesson that contemporary Muslims can learn from the Khilafat movement is not to romanticize their goals but keep them realistic. The failed Hijrat to Afghanistan in 1920 should serve as an eye-opener. This huge tragedy taught the entire community that it was sheer gullibility to trust external powers who have their own agenda. Financial control and proper audits must be given the top-most priority to avoid the embezzlement that took place during the peak of the Khilafat movement.  Moreover, assessments of global political developments must be based on proper investigation, and not emotions.

An interesting observation by Watson on the reasons for the quick decline of the Khilafat movement can serve as a pointer for future movements by the beleaguered Indian Muslim community. According to him, the movement’s failure was mainly due to the fact that its stated objectives: the rescue of the caliphate and swaraj for India were unattainable at short notice; it was lack of any short-term achievements that killed the movement”.[3]

Last, but not least, a major lesson learnt from the Mappila Uprising is that the Mappilas did not communicate their side of the story, leading to spread of scurrilous misinformation concerning their so-called forced conversions and atrocities against Hindus. This misinformation continued to guide the anti-Muslim campaigns of the Shuddi and Sanghatan movements. The so-called Moplah atrocities were often invoked during Hindu-Muslim dialogues during this period. Similarly, A.C. Niemeijer states that the Turks were not quite aware of the sacrifices made by the Indian Muslims during their most difficult days.[4] This definitely influenced their attitudes towards Indian Muslims when they requested a reversal of the abolishment of the Caliphate.

[1] https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/arundhati-roy-indian-muslims-facing-genocidal-climate-amid-pandemic/

[2] The Khilafat Movement in India 1919-1924, Niemeijer, A.C , p. 161

[3] Quoted in “The Khilafat Movement in India”, Niemeijer, A. C., p. 173

[4] The Khilafat Movement in India 1919 to 1924, p. 174

2021-07-04T20:32:04+05:30 July 4th, 2021|Khilafat Movement, Mappila, Ottoman|

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