By: Manzar Imam*
New Delhi: Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, the largest and probably the oldest organization of Indian ulama, founded against the backdrop of freedom struggle in 1919, has been celebrating 100 years of its completion. In a series of events, national level conferences and seminars are being organized at its headquarters in Delhi and elsewhere in the country. One such two-day seminar was held on 21-22 September in New Delhi in memory of two of its founding members Maulana Ahmad Saeed Dehlawi and Maulana Abdul Bari Firangi Mahalli.
Scholarly papers were presented on the two personalities in different sessions. The papers highlighted the stellar role played by Maulana Ahmad Saeed and Maulana Firangi Mahalli in freedom struggle and in mobilizing the masses for it. A paper presented by a young Deoband scholar Muhammadullah Khalili Qasmi marked the “historic churning” simultaneously taking place in two North Indian cities Lucknow and Delhi during the receding Mughal power which took revolutionary form.
The centre of Lucknow’s movement was the Firangi Mahal family of Mulla Nizamuddin Sahalwi (d. 1748) whereas the gravity of the Delhi movement was Madrasa Rahimiya started by Shah Abdur Rahim (1644-1719), father of the eighteenth century great Islamic scholar and reformer Shah Waliullah Dehlawi. Following the crushing defeat of 1857, the two movements were continued by the ulama of Deoband and Firangi Mahal. Among the proud sons of the Firangi Mahal family is Maulana Qayamuddin Muhammad Abdul Bari Firangi Mahallhi (1868-1926) who was not only an ‘aalim (scholar, theologian) of great stature but founder of several movements. He treaded in the thorny path of national and social service.
Among his remarkable religious services is the establishment of Madrasa Aliya Nizamia on 12 July 1905 under the auspices of Anjuman Mu’ayyid-ul-Uloom. Khalili said that the 37 principles which Maulana Firangi Mahalli formed are the benchmarks of pedagogy which could not be fully implemented by him due to his engagement in other activities and his death in 1926.
Maulana Firangi Mahalli was in close contact of many nationalist leaders including Mahatma Gandhi who sought his advice to continue the freedom struggle. Scholars maintained that the credit for encouraging Gandhi to leave his suit-boot and British lifestyle by wearing dhoti, to a large extent, goes to him.
A paper of Mahmood Jamal, grandson of Maulana Firangi Mahalli, living in London, focused on the letters written by Gandhi to Maulana Firangi Mahalli. Most of these letters are in English but a few of them were written in Urdu by Gandhi himself. These correspondences, according to Jamal, “give us a glimpse of a unique moment in the history of Indian Independence when the Non-cooperation Movement and Khilafat Movements worked in unison.”
Maulana Ahmad Saeed Dehlawi (1888-1959) was an outstanding politician, a great orator, a committed nationalist and author of several books. He started participating in national movements in 1919 and became the first General Secretary of Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, its Vice-President and President after the demise of Maulana Hussain Ahmad Madani. According to Dr Mohammad Ajmal, an Assistant Professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, if one read about religious and social issues in the books of scholars of those times one would easily get bored. However, the writings of Maulana Ahmad Saeed on those issues are different which make an interesting reading because of his facility of language and style of writing. They “inform about the prevalent socio-cultural conditions of his time”.
Dr Abdul Malik writes that Maulana Ahmad Saeed was arrested at least eight times by the British and in all he spent seven years in jail. One can understand his political stature with the fact that when he died on 4 December 1959, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and other senior leaders not only came for his last glimpse but many of them including Indira Gandhi accompanied his janazah (dead body) till the graveyard.
Journalist Nurullah Jawaid made a special mention of Ahmad Saeed’s exegesis of the Qur’an, Kashfur Rahman which was written painstakingly over a period of 18 years. He also mentioned about Maulana Saeed’s concerns about the need for change in the syllabus of madrasas. However, one of his biggest services could be his stand on the Palestine and Kashmir issue. For Jawaid, Kashmir is going through a difficult phase and the stand of many organizations on it remains vague and beyond description. He quoted from Maulana Saeed’s historic speech delivered in a conference on “Islamic unity and the issue of Kashmir” held in Delhi. Maulana Ahmad Saeed had then said, “The Kashmir issue is being seen with a communal lens. The day when decisions on the Kashmir issue and about people of Kashmir are taken on the basis of humanity, there is no reason that the crisis cannot be solved and the people of Kashmir cannot join the national stream.”
Earlier, Maulana Mahmood Madani, General Secretary of Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind said that from the beginning of the movement for freedom to its culmination the role of Jamiat and its leaders and elders cannot be denied. Maulana Asghar Ali Imam Mahdi Salafi expressed happiness for holding the seminar on such eminent personalities.
Prof Saiyid Zaheer Husain Jafri, a senior professor of history of the University of Delhi remarked that books of history of freedom struggle that are generally taught in universities give a different sense from what is written in Urdu books. Therefore, there is need to highlight the ulama’s role in India’s freedom struggle and do fresh research on them. Scholars put various suggestions to underscore the role that Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind and ulama had played in the country’s freedom struggle.
Dr Abdul Malik Rasoolpuri, Maulana Imranullah Qasmi and Mufti Muhammad Affan Mansurpuri coordinated the proceedings of different sessions of the seminar. The two-day seminar ended with concluding remarks and prayers for world peace and peace and stability of India by Qari Muhammad Usman Mansurpuri.
*(A graduate of Darul Uloom Deoband, Manzar Imam is a senior journalist based in New Delhi)