Role of Darul Uloom, Deoband in India’s Freedom Struggle

By: Khursheed Alam Dawood Qasmi
When the English imprisoned Abu Zafar Sirajuddin Muhammad Bahadur Shah Zafar (1775-1862), the last Indian Moghul Emperor, in the Jail of Rangoon in 1857, instead of Indian Flag, Union Jack started hoisting at Dehli’s Red Fort and Queen Victoria became the full-fledged ruler of India without any obstacle, at that time, many country patriots came into field united to fight against the British rule. Maulana Muhammad Qasmi Nanautavi (1832-1879) was one of them too. In 1857, one Fatwa for Jihad against the English was issued. The Fatwa carried the signature of 34 prominent Ulama. One among them was Maulana Nanautavi himself. As other elders had participated in the Jihad of Shamli in 1857, Maulana Nanautavi also had participated personally with his colleagues. Briefly in the battle of Shamli, Nanautavi and his colleagues got defeated to British forces.
He was a far sighted scholar. He comprehended that the British has not only occupied India and would attack the Indian culture, but even the faith of Indians would be at risk. Therefore, while on the one hand, he started fighting against the English, he began debating with clergyman on the other. But to that time, the freedom wasn’t destined for India, so he didn’t succeed in the mission. In this situation, intending to free India from the British rule, in the company of some friends, Maulana Nanautavi adopted another policy to establish a Madrasa on 21st May, 1866 (a famous learning centre of Indian Subcontinent, Darul Uloom, Deoband) beneath a pomegranate tree in Chattah Masjid of Deoband. So that the trained products of the Madrasa would sacrifice themselves to preserve the country and Islam both in British India. Alhamdulillah, Nanautavi succeeded in his mission and a good number of Darul Uloom’s product gave sacrifices for the sake of Indian freedom and Islam.
The noted Islamic scholar Maulana Manazir Ahsan Gilani (1892-1956) quoted in his book, “Ihaatae Darul Uloom Men Beete Huwe Din” (The Days Passed in the Campus of Darul Uloom) from his teacher and the first graduate of the seminary, Shaikhul Hind Mahmood Hasan Deobandi (1851-1920) saying:
“Did my teacher (Maulana Muhammad Qasim Nanautavi) establish this seminary only for the teaching and learning? The seminary was established before me, as far as my knowledge goes, my teacher established this one in 1866 to compensate the defeat of 1857 from the British. I have chosen the same mission for which it was established before me.”
Very few people know the fact: “In the meeting of Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind at Kolkata in 1926, the participants included graduates of Darul Uloom, Deoband and they supported the group which called for complete independence of India from the British rule. Indian National Congress was to declare complete independence as its goal three years later, in its session at Lahore.” (Wikipedia, Darul Uloom Deoband)
The famous freedom fighter, Frontier Gandhi, Khan Abdu Ghaffar Khan (1890-1988), who visited Darul Uloom, during his visit to India in 1969, had said, “I have had relation with Darul Uloom since the time, Shaikhul Hind Maulana Mahmood Hasan, was alive. Sitting here, we used to make plans for the independence movement, as to how we might drive away the English from this country and how we could make India free the yoke of slavery of the British Raj. This institution has made great efforts for the freedom of this country.” (Wikipedia, Darul Uloom Deoband)
Due to the great interest in India’s freedom struggle, Shaikhul Hind became an icon of Indian independence movement. Though he was a teacher of Darul Uloom, but made much effort to start an armed revolution against British rule from the both inside and outside India. He started a programme to train volunteers and his students in the seminary from India and abroad for that goal. The most eminent among those who joined the movement were his students: Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi (1872-1944), Maulana Husain Ahmad Madani (1879-1957), Maulana Muhammad Mian Mansoor Ansari etc.
Shaikhul Hind sent Maulana Sindhi to Kabul and Ansari to the North-West Frontier Province to mobilize the popular support and recruit volunteers. And he with Maulana Husain Ahmad Madani travelled to Hijaz (KSA) to secure Turkish support. Getting the Turkish governor, Ghalib Pasha’s signature on a declaration of Jihad against the British, he planned to return to India via Baghdad and Bluchistan to start the rebellion.
When Shaikhul Hind planned to return, the Silken Letter Movement was captured by Punjab CID. Due to this movement, Shaikhul Hind was arrested in Hijaz. He was imprisoned in Malta, where he was tortured mercilessly, for more than three years.
Here it seems necessary to mention that what was the Silken Letter Movement. Shaikhul Hind wanted an armed revolution against the British rule, as I mentioned. So, he needed arms and ammunition. He and his colleagues, therefore, travelled to different countries to seek support from the anti-British countries; such as Afghanistan, Turkey and Russia. During the visiting different countries, letter exchanged between Shaikhul Hind and his colleagues, containing the outlines of the plan to recruit the volunteers for army and to establish a national government were written on silk piece of cloth. That is why the movement was known as the Silken Letter Movement/Tahreeke Reshmi Rumal (in Urdu)/Silk Letter Conspiracy (according to British government).
When he returned to India, after release, was conferred upon by the title of Shaikhul Hind, leading leader of India. Now he issued a Fatwa making it a duty of all Indian Muslims to support and participate with Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) and the Indian National Congress, who had prescribed a policy of non-cooperation and mass civil disobedience through non-violence. He died on November 30, 1920 wishing to get martyrdom for India’s freedom.
Though Shaikhul Hind was no more, but he left a good number of students, who followed the footprint of their elders and worked tirelessly for the freedom of India. Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi (1872-1944), a 1891’s graduate of Darul Uloom, was also among them. He was the most active and prominent member of India’s freedom movement. He was among those leaders of Darul Uloom who left India, following the commandment of Shaikhul Hind, during World War 1, to get support of the anti-British central powers for an armed revolution against British rule.
Maulana Sindhi reached Kabul to rally the Afghan Amir Habibullah Khan. After a period of time, he offered his support to Raja Mahendra Praratab’s plans for revolution in India with German support. He joined the Provisional Government of India formed in Kabul on 1st December, 1915. In this government, he was nominated the Minister for India. It was declared a revolutionary government in exile, which was supposed to take the charge of independent India, if the British government has been overthrown according to the plan. But unfortunately, in 1919, the provisional government was dissolved under the diplomatic pressure to Afghanistan. He stayed in Afghanistan for 7-year nearly. Then visiting Soviet Russia,he reached Turkey, where he issued the charter for the independence of India from Istanbul. He left Turkey for Hijaz and remained there until 1929. He journeyed from a country to country for the sake of India’s independence. He died on 22nd August, 1944, at Deenpur in Pakistan.
Shikhul Islam Maulana Husain Ahmad Madani (1879-1957) was also one of the Shaikhul-Hind’s students and graduate and latter Professor of Hadith at Darul Uloom, Deoband. Though he had been not convicted, but he accompanied Shaikhul Hind to Malta voluntarily, to take care of him. He stayed in Malta three years upto the release of Shaikhul Hind. Returning to India, he actively became involved in the freedom struggle. He had been imprisoned several times by the British authority for his participation in the freedom movement. It was he who dared to issue a Fatwa in the meeting of Indian National Congress at Karachi that working as British army and police is Haraam. After this Fatwa, he was rewarded two years rigorous imprisonment. He never stepped down from the freedom struggle movement, until India got freedom.
At the time of independence, the Muslim League and the Indian National Congress were at logger heads on partition of united India. On that occasion, Madani opposed the partition thoroughly. He journeyed the different provinces of India along with Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (1888-1958) and Mahatama Gandhi to assure the people safety and security and tried his level best to stop them to migrate from India to Pakistan. Many people targeted him, but he never conformed to the opinion of the partition. After the independence, he was served a ministry, but he refused and restricted himself under the four walls of Darul Uloom and Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind for teaching and social works. Like Madani and Sindhi, there were hundreds of Darul Uloom’s graduates, who actively took part in the freedom struggle of India. To mention the works of those patriots, the volumes and volumes are required.
It’s sorrowful matter that historians of modern India ignored completely the role played and efforts made by Darul Uloom for India’s freedom struggle. Today, most of the people aren’t aware of this historical institution. Some people know that Darul Uloom is a conservative seminary that produces merely Maulanas or a factory that only issues Fatwaas. And some say that Darul Uloom is “a Station of Terrorism” and “it produces terrorists”. This one is a famous opinion among Hindu fundamentalists, while the fact is otherwise as I stated in the essay. It’s a bird’s eye view of the role of Darul Uloom, Deoband in India’s freedom struggle. One who is interested on the topic, should go through the book, “Taarikhe Darul Uloom” (History of Darul Uloom). May Allah accept the works of the seminary!
Khursheed Alam Dawood Qasmi is a notable freelancer. He has authored dozens of pieces on diverse topics such as politics, religion, Muslim World and society.