In 1601, an East India company trade delegation under the leadership of Vasco da Gama anchored at Bombay Harbour. They requested the government of that time for assistance. They promised to improve trade links with India by exporting Indian goods back to the British market and to then reinvest the profits back to India. The Mogul king of that time, Ahmad Shah Abdali was very short-sighted and failed to understand the policies of the English. He provided this trade delegation with a number of concessions. By 1701, a hundred years later, a number of territories were already under British rule.
Shah Waliyullah: The First cry against British
The British came to India in 1601 and Shah Waliyullah, was born in 1702. By 1740, Shah Waliyullah, realized that the British had already seized control of four main territories. When Shah Waliyullah witnessed the British seizing authority from all four sides, he, for the very first time, translated the Quran into Persian. He realized that if Islamic knowledge was not propagated, the British government will continue consolidating its rule over India. In 1762, after the demise of Shah Waliyullah, Shah Abdul Aziz succeeded his father and for the first time in history planted the seeds of antagonism against the British. He was the first person to pass a fatwa on the validity of jihad against the British and their supporters in India. Due to the fatwa, Fatah Ali Sultan Tippu accompanied by his army eventually fought four battles in Mysore. Sultan Tippu himself engaged in physical combat against the enemy. He was martyred in 1792 while fighting alone right up to the very end. This warrior of India was martyred at the fort of Mysore whilst his chief general, Mir Sadiq betrayed him for 22000 acres of land by the British.
Ulema and First Battle of Independence in 1857
After 1831, when the ulema (Muslim religious scholars) realized that the British government was getting more and more fortified in the country, they called up a number of meetings first. Many warriors gathered from all parts of the country and many decisive battles were fought against the British. This continued for some time. In 1856, a meeting of all the senior ulema of India was called up in Delhi. This meeting was attended, amongst others, by Maulana Jafar Thaneseri, Maulana Wilayat Ali, Haji Imdadullah, Maulana Qasim Nanotwi, Maulana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi and Hafidh Dhamin Shahid.
In this meeting, Maulana Qasim Nanotwi is reported to have said,
“Aren’t you aware that the British are sitting right on our heads? They have laid a snare of their rule throughout the country. Be prepared for some rather decisive battles against them. We will either be cut up into pieces or fight against them right up to the end. We will not allow the British to live in this country“.
As a result of this meeting of the ulemas, the battle of Independence in 1857 was fought on two fronts, one in Ambala under the leadership of Maulana Jafar Thaneseri and the other in Shamli under Haji Imdadullah Makki. However due to their limited resources and betrayal of a few people, the ulema failed to win this battle. The spirit of freedom however still remained alive.
Unmatched Sacrifices of Ulema in Battle against British
At the termination of this battle of 1857, the British viceroy to India requested his own ministers and counselors of India to submit a report on how they can firmly secure the British government’s hold over India in the post-war period. One of the leading politicians of India, Doctor William Yur submitted a report to the viceroy. He wrote:
“Of the entire population of India, the Muslims are the most spirited and vigilant. The battle of independence was fought mainly by the Muslims. As long as the Muslims cherish the spirit of jihad, we will not be able to impose our rule upon them. Hence, first and foremost, the snuffing out of this spirit is imperative. The only way this can be achieved is by weeding out the ulema and by eradicating the Qur’an.”
Acting on this advice, in 1861 the government launched a campaign against the Qur’an. 300 000 copies of the Noble Quran were set alight by the government. Thereafter, they made a resolution to eradicate the ulema. An English historian, Mr. Thompson writes in his memoirs:
“From 1864 to 1867, the British government firmly resolved to eradicate all the ulema of India. These three years are one of the most heart-wrenching periods of Indian history. The British hanged 14000 ulema to death. From Chandi Chowk of Delhi up to Khaibar, not a single tree was spared the neck of the ulema. The ulema were wrapped in pig-skin and hurled alive into blazing furnaces. Their bodies were branded with hot copper rods. They used to be made to stand on the backs of elephants and tied to high trees. The elephants would then be driven away and they would be left hanging by their necks. A makeshift gallow was set up in the courtyard of the Shahi Mosque of Lahore and each day up to eighty ulema were hanged. The ulema were at times wrapped up in sacks and dumped into the Rawi river of Lahore after which a hail of bullets would be pumped into each sack.”
Thompson writes further;
“As I got into my camp at Delhi, I perceived a stench of putrefied flesh. As I stepped out and went behind my camp, I saw a blazing fire of live coals. I saw a group of forty naked ulema being led into the fire. As I was witnessing this scene, another group of forty ulema were brought onto the field. Right before my eyes, their clothes were taken off their bodies. The English commander addressed them thus: O Molvies! Just as these ulema are being roasted over this fire, you will also be roasted. To save yourselves, just one of you must proclaim that you were not part of the 1857 uprising of freedom. I will release all of you the moment I hear just one of you affirming this.”
“By the Lord who has created me! Not one of the ulema said any such thing. All of them were roasted over the fire and another group was also brought and roasted over the blazing fire. Not a single alim surrendered to the demands of the British.”
By 1867 not a single Islamic institute remained. One would be quite astonished to realize that in 1601 when the British arrived in India for trade, there were a thousand Islamic institutes in Delhi alone.