There is perhaps no more a quixotic movement in Indian nationalist history than the Khilafat Movement. It started as a campaign to protect the Khilafat and it ended with an attempt to mass-migrate Muslims of India to Afghanistan. Its most prominent leaders were Shaukat Ali (1873-1938), a young UP journalist, his younger brother Mohammad Ali Jauhar (1878-1931), the editor of Comrade, Syed Sulaiman Nadwi (1884-1955), student of Shibli Naumani, Hasrat Mohani (1878-1951), editor of anti-British Urdu-i Mu’alla, and Abul Kalam Azad (1888-1958). All of these leaders were members of what I referred to yesterday as the Aligarh Generation.
The movement failed in every respect except that it created the meme of a nationalism based on religion and proved the decisive break between Hindus and Muslims in their mutual struggle to get rid of the British.
A bit of background: In October 1918, Turkey signed an armistice agreement with the Entente Powers and the Ottoman Empire came to an end. The Khilafat Movement was a campaign, in India, to unite Muslims across the world in an expression of anxiety over the fate of Turkey and the Khalifa (Caliph) after the war. The leaders of the Khilafat Movement wanted to preserve the role of the Khalifa. Even though it was a purely ceremonious entity in the c. 20th – its existence held great symbolic value to the Pan-Islamic movements in India and Egypt. In 1918, Lloyd George had assured Indian Muslims that Britain will respect territorial integrity of Turkey. Muslim leadership saw that as just reward for their participation in the Great War as without Indian forces, the British would never have won the Near and Middle East theaters. Even Gandhi expressed his sympathy for their cause at the Delhi Imperial War Conference in 1918 by stating, “As a Hindu, I cannot be indifferent to their cause. Their sorrows must be our sorrows.” The All India Muslim League, the same year, passed a resolution asking the British respect the “full control by the Sultan of Turkey, Khalifa of the Prophet over the holy places and over the Jazirat-ul-Arab as delimited in the Muslim books”.
Promises kept, promises broken. Gandhi distanced himself as he began to sense that the Ali Brothers wanted way more from the British. Other Hindu leaders like Nehru and Bipin Chandra Pal never signed on. The Muslim League distanced itself as the ‘ulama joined the Khilafat Movement in droves and started a non-cooperation movement across India and issued fatwas to migrate. In 1922, Mustafa Kemal (Attaturk) abolished the Caliphate and all claims to the holy lands.
There is so much to say about the Khilafat Movement but I will stop here. The concepts of dar-ul Islam and dar ul-harb, the legality of jihad against fellow Muslims, the relationships between nationalist movements in Egypt and in India, the necessity of a Muslim state were all issues emerging out of the Khilafat Movement. In fact, were I to sit and write the intellectual history of Islamic revivalist movements, I would start here. Above all, though, was the split between Muslim and Hindu nationalist agendas. The Khilafat Movement was the height of cooperation but from its ashes rose two distinct, mutually distrusting nationalisms that set a course to 1947.
Go below the fold to read about the audience between the Prime Minister of Britain, Lloyd George, and the Khilafat Delegation led by Muhammad Ali Jauhar on 19 March 1920 and, again, some very contemporary issues (I have done some editing).
The Prime Minister (PM):Now, Mr. Muhammad Ali, will you state your case?
Mr. Muhammad Ali (MA): I have just noted down a few points which, if you will permit me, I will amplify as we proceed, so that you will have a fair record of what we desire to present.
I only want to make it clear that we have come here chiefly in connection with a religious question which is of great importance to us. With regard to this, we desire to point out what is the connection of Indian Musalmans with the Khilafat. Islam, as we understand it, is not a set of doctrines and dogmas; it is a complete outlook on life, a moral code and a social polity. It recognizes no lacerating and devitalising distinctions between things spiritual and things temporal, between Church and State. Islam recognises no ethnical, geographical or political barriers to free human intercourse and sympathy. Islam’s whole outlook on life is supranational rather than national.
Islam has always had two centers, the first is a personal one and the other a local one. The personal one is the Caliph, or the Khalifa, as we call him, the successor of the Prophet. The local center is the region known as Jazirat-ul Arab or the “Island of Arabs”, the land of the Prophet.
To come to our claims, Sir, the first claim that we put forward is that the Khilafat must be preserved by the entire body of Muslims at all times with adequate temporal power. Not going into the matter more fully, we would say that after the various wars in which Turkey has been engaged recently, and after the Balkan War particularly, the Empire of the Khalifa has been reduced to extremely low limits.
PM: Does that mean, for instance, that you are opposed to the act of the Syrian Muhammadans who declared Amir Feisal King of Arabia?
MA: I hope, Sir, it will be possible for us, if we are givenan opoortunity, to meet with these people and reconcile them. There have been differences between Arabs and the Turks, but I hope the Emir Feisal when he looks upon this matter as a Muslim will realise that his own personal ambition and even the ambition of Arabs, can be entirely satisfied within the scheme of Turkish sovereignity.
PM: Does that mean you are opposed to the independence of Arabia?
MA: Yes. The Muslims claim that the local center of their faith, namely the ‘Island of Arabia’ should remain inviolate and entirely in Muslim control (through Turkey). The ‘Island of Arabia’ inclludes Syria, Palestine and Mesopotamia, as well as the region commonly known to Europeans as the Arabian peninsula. Muslims cannot acquiesce in no form of non-Muslim control, whether in the shape of mandates or otherwise, over any portion of this region. The Khalifa must be the warden of the three Sacred Harams of Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem; and overwhelming Muslim sentiment requires that he should be warden of the holy shrines of Najaf, Kerbala, Kazimain, Samarra and Baghdad. In this connection, Sir, I might mention one point that the Muslims cannot tolerate any affront to Islam in keeping the Khalifa as a sort of hostage in Constantinople. He is not the Pope at the Vatican much less can he be the Pope at Avignon, and I am bound to say that the recent actions of Allied powers is likely to give rise in the Muslim world to feelings which it will be very difficult to restrain, and which would be very dangerous to the peace of the world.
I think I might now turn to the Jewish claims in Palestine. The Delegation have no desire to cause an injustice to the Jewwish community, and I think Islam can look back with justifiable pride on its treatment of this community in the past. No aspiration of the Jewish community which is reasonable can be incompatible with Muslim control of the Holy Land, and it is hoped that the Ottoman Governement will easily accomodate the Jewish community in such aspirations. Some responsible propogandists of the Zionist movement with which I have conversations frankly admit: ‘We do not want political sovereignity there; we want a home; the details can be arranged and discussed’. I asked them: ‘Do you mean that Great Britain herself should be the sovereign power there, or should be mandatory?’ and they said: ‘No, what we want is an ordinary humanly speaking reasonable guarantee that oppotunities of autonomous development would be allowed to us’. We, ourselves, who have been living in India, are great believers in a sort of Federation of Faiths, and we cannot rule out the possibility of development in Palestine on the lines of ‘cultural autonomy’. The Jews are, after all, a very small minority there, and I do not believe for one moment that Jews could be attracted there in such large numbers as the Zionist enthusiasts sometimes think.
May I now sum up the claims we here put forward? If the Khalifa retains his wardenship of the Holy Places, which he can very well do if the exclusive control over every part of the Island of Arabia is retained by the Khalifa himself, and if your own pledge, Sir, is redeemed in full, while the 12th point of the President of the United States, on the basis of which the Armistice was concluded, is observed, then the result wil be the restoration of the territorial status quo ante bellum which Muslims claim as the irreducible minimmum for the preservation of the Khalifat.
[Syed Hussain interjects]:I have only one other point to put before you, and that is in regard to feelings in India at present. As you know, this Delegation has been sent by the All India Khilafat Conference, which is not a purely Muslim organization. Besides Muslims it includes most of the foremost leaders of the Hindu community also, and I should just like to state why it is that they are with us in this matter. There has been extraordinary growth of Hindu-Muslim unity in India in recent years, and it reached its climax, if I may say so, the moment the Hindus, after realizing that this question was a matter of grave concern for Muslims, came into this movement with us.
I would just emphasize that until a decade or two back the tradition in India was for the Hindus and Muslims to be separate. When the Indian National Congress was first founded, the Muslims were openly opposed to the whole movement, but gradually Muslims came into the COngress and gradually this national movement has built up to this extraordinary point today.
We are on the eve of a new era in India. The British Empire is the greatest Muslim Power in the world. The world is undergoing very many phases of transformation, but if this Indo-Islamic-British unity could be achieved on a basis of reality and real contentment all around, it would certainly be a very splendid fulfilment of the destiny of the British Empire. That is all I have to say.
PM: Gentleman, you have put your case with very great lucidity and with moderation, and as the head of a Government which, as the last speaker has very well said, has to deal with an Empire which is the largest Muhammadan Empire in the world, I feel bound to listen with great care to everything that comes from our Mussalman fellow-subjects in any part of the Empire.
The second thing I want to say is this. I should like to get out of the mind of any Mussalman throughout the Empire that we are treating Turkey upon different principles to those we applied when we came to consider Christian countries. We were at war with three Christian countries and one Muhammadan country. We did not seek war with any of them. The governors of Turkey took upon themselves to wage war upon us. We have never in my recollection waged war with Turkey.Our quarrel was not with Turkey. Our death struggle was with Germany and the German Military Power and we deeply regretted that the Young Turkish Party should have misled their country and brought Turkey into war with Great Britain.
Now Turkey has been beaten. So has Germany. So has Austria, Austria has fallen to pieces. She was an Empire. What is she now? She has fallen to bits, and her fragments are scattered about. But she is not a Mussalman country. She is a Christian country. Therefore it is no use talking about crusades. We have no crusade against Austria. She has paid the penalty of defeat. What happened to GErmany? We took away Alsace-Lorraine away from Germany. The whole of Poland has been taken away. She is not Mussalman. Wy should we do it? Because we are aplpying the principle of self-determination to there countries which oppressed subject peoples and provoked war to destroy libery throughout the world. I do not want any Mussalman in India to think we are applying any different principle to Turkey.
The Arabs have claimed independence. They have proclaimed Feisal King of Syria. They have claimed that they should be severed from Turkish dominion. We are applying exactly the same principles in Christian places and to impose the dominion of the Sultan upon Arabia, which has no desire for it, is to impose upon Arabs something which we would not dream of imposing upon these Christian communities.
What is the other case which is put? It is the question of the temporal power of Khalifa. The question is not confined to Islam, as Mr. Muhammad Ali knows very well. It is one of the greatest controversies of Christendom too. There are Roman Catholics who believe in the tenmporal powers of the Pope and Roman Catholics who do not. But after the Pope was deprived of his temporal power his spiritual power was as great and very likely greater than before. I am not going to interfere in a religious discussion where men of the same faith take different views. I know of Muhammadans, cincere, earnest, zealous Mussalmans, who take a very different view of the temporal power to the one taken by Mr. Muhammad Ali today. All I know is this. The Turk will exercise temporal power in Turkish lands. We do not propose to deprive him of Turkish lands. Neither do we propose that he should retain power over lands which are not Turkish.
All I want to say in conclusion is this. The Mussalman of India stood by the Throne and the Empire. We gratefully acknowledge it. They helped us in the struggle. We willingly and gladly recognize it. We recognize that they have a right to be heard in matter which effects Islam. We have heard them. Not merely have we heard them, but we have very largely deferred to their wishes in this matter. The settlement was largely affected by the opinion of India and especially the Mussalmans of India. But we cannot apply different principles to those which we sternly applied in our settlement with the Christian communities with whom we were also at war.
That is all I have to say, and I thank you for putting your case before me and putting it so clearly.