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The Ulama of Deoband and Jihad

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By Mawlana Ahmad

After the Battle of Balakot, a number of battles were fought against the British invaders of India. In 1856 a meeting of the senior ‘Ulama of India was convened. Amongst others, those who attended were Mawlana Ja’far Thaneseri, Mawlana Wilayat ‘Ali [these two were survivors of the Battle of Balakot],

Haji Imdadullah, Mawlana Muhammad Qasim Nanautwi, Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi and Hafidh Muhammad Dhamin (Allah have mercy on them all).

At this meeting, Mawlana Nanautwi said: “Are you not aware that the British are sitting on our heads. They have laid their snare throughout the country. Be prepared for decisive battles. We shall either be cut to pieces or fight them to the end. We shall not allow the British to occupy this country.”

One of those attending the meeting said: “Hadhrat, we are few in number and limited in resources.” Mawlana Nanautwi responded: “Is our number less than the number of the mujahideen of Badr?” The spirit of Jihad was kindled in the hearts of those who attended. It was firmly resolved to free India from the clutches of the British.

Two major battles took place. One was the War of Independence under Haji Imdadullah, and the other was The War of the Red Shawls under Mawlana Mahmud al-Hasan who was the student of Maulana Qasim Nanautwi.

After this battle about 14,000 ‘Ulama were executed by the British. The War of Independence was fought on two fronts: One in Ambala under the command of Mawlana Ja’far Thaneseri, and the other in Shamli under the command of Haji Imdadullah.

As Allah Ta’ala willed, the battle was lost, but not the spirit of Jihad of our ‘Ulama. They did not surrender to the British.

After this battle, the British viceroy to India requested his ministers and counsellors to submit a report on how to entrench British rule in India. One of the leading British politicians, Dr.William Yur, stated in his report: “Of the entire population of India, the Muslims are the most spirited and vigilant.

The Battle of Independence was fought by Muslims.

As long as Muslims cherish in them the spirit of Jihad we shall not be able to vanquish them. It is therefore imperative to first and foremost snuff out this spirit by eliminating the ‘Ulama and the Qur’an.”

Giving expression to this advice, the government in 1861 launched a campaign to destroy copies of the Qur’an. 300,000 copies of the Qur’an were set alight by the government.

An English historian writes in his memoirs: “From 1864 to 1867, the British government firmly resolved to eradicate all the ‘Ulama of India.

From 1864 to 1867 heart-rending acts of brutality and torture were perpetrated against the ‘Ulama . The British executed 14,000 ‘Ulama by hanging them on trees. From Chandi Chowk of Delhi up to Khaibar, from every tree hung the body of an ‘alim. ‘Ulama were sewn into pig’s skins and hurled into blazing furnaces.

Their bodies were branded with hot copper rods. Gallows were set up in the courtyard of the Badshahi Musjid of Lahore. Each day up to 80 ‘Ulama were executed by hanging.

Sometimes ‘Ulama would be wrapped in sacks and dumped into the Ravi River of Lahore. A hail of bullets would then be pumped into the sacks.

Thompson writes further: “As I reached my camp in Delhi, I saw a blazing fire. I saw a group of 40 naked ‘Ulama being led to the fire. As I was witnessing this scene, another group of 40 ‘Ulama were brought. In front of my eyes they were stripped of their clothing.

Addressing them, the English commander said: ‘O molwis! You will be roasted in this fire just as these ‘Ulama are being roasted. To save yourselves, one of you should say that you were not part of the 1857 uprising. The moment I hear this proclamation, I shall release you all.’”

Thompson continues: “By the Lord who has created me! Not a single one of the ‘Ulama said anything of the sort. All of them were roasted on the fire. Then another group of forty was brought and roasted over the blazing fire. But not a single ‘Aalim surrendered to the demands of the British”.

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