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Jihad: Syed Ahmad - Haj & Emigration

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Jihad in India: Syed Ahmad

Syed Ahmad of Rai Bareilly (1786-1831) belonged to a family of Sufis. He was not a scholar. He came to Delhi and took Bai'at at the land of Shah Abdul Aziz. But he was not interested in the studies and went to Tonk and joined as a soldier. The Nawab held him in esteem and valued his advice. He was more a spiritual guide than an army officer. He was against the British sovereignty over the state. But when the Nawab accepted the terms and signed an agreement with the British surrendering his independence, Syed Ahmad left service and went to Delhi in 1816. There he started his mission of spiritual guidance. Maulana Abdul Haie, son-in-law of Shah Abdul Aziz, and erudite scholar took Bar at at his hand. Then Shah Ismail and Shah Muhammad Ishaq nephew and grandson of Shah Abdul Aziz respectively took 8ai"at and were initiated into his order. The initiation of these eminent scholars and the scions of the illustrious family of Shah Wahiallah came as a great surprise to all. People were amazed to know that these towering personalities had taken the Bai'at of a person far inferior to them. However, Syed Ahmad was now recognised as the most eminent spiritual leader in Delhi. People came to him to be initiated into his order. But, he was not an orator. Shah Ismail and Maulana Abdul Haie accompanied him on his tours. They compiled his exhortations into a volume in Persian entitled "Sirat-e-Mustaqeem" (The right path).


In another fatwa Maulana Abdul Haie, candidly declared Calcutta (Bengal) as the country of enemy.


The empire of the Christians from Calcutta to Delhi and the countries adjacent to Hindustan proper (North west provinces) are the country of enemy (Darul Harb) for idolatry (Kufr and Shirk) is everywhere current and no recourse is made to our Holy Law. Whenever such circumstances exist in a country, the country is a Darul Harb. It is too long here to specify all conditions but the opinion of all lawyers agree in this that Calcutta and its dependencies are the country of the enemy. (p-105)


In his preaching Syed Ahmad called upon the people to adhere to the pristine teachings of Islam and discard all the un-Islamic practices and beliefs. Shah Abdul Aziz who was old and had turned blind also blessed Syed Ahmad and gave him his cloak. He initiated the people into his order taking Bai-at in all four popular Sufi orders viz. Naqsh Bandi, Chishti Qadri and Suhrawardi. Since all these orders had adopted many corrupt practices having no sanctity of the Shari’ah, so Syed Ahmad, after taking Bai'at, initiated his disciples into his new order namely 'Muhammadia Order'. The disciples, under this order, were required to make a vow that they will strictly abide by the commandments of the Shari’ah and will not follow anything not proven by the Qur’an and the Hadith. The oath taken under the last or the 5th order would save the disciples from all the evil practices. That had crept in the four mystical orders.


It is however, intriguing that those who had embarked upon a mission of reforming the Muslim society, had no moral courage to reject the degenerated mystical orders, and insist on the adherence to the enjoins of Qur’an and the Hadith only. But in those days mysticism was the identity of all the Muslim divines and scholars. The masses would not recognise the superiority of an eminent theologian if he had not aligned himself with a popular mystical order.


So firm was the grip of the mysticism upon the masses that when Mujaddid-Alf-e-Sani (1564-1624/971-1034) discarded the theory of Wahdatul Wujud (pantheism) as being un-Islamic he could not reject it outright and had to expound an alternative theory of Wahdatul Shuhud (unity of perception). Similarly Shah Ismail and Syed Ahmad could not discard the degenerated mystical orders bluntly and had to initiate their disciples into a new 'Muhammadia order'. It was in fact an indirect rejection of the mysticism (1).


Syed Ahmad had now a following of thousands of the disciples. He toured many districts in LI.P. and elsewhere. He himself and Shah Ismail and Maulvi Abdul Haie delivered sermons and called the audience to abide by the Shari’ah and shun heretic deeds and practices.


Hajj: Now Syed Ahmad announced his intention to go and Maulana Abdul Haie were also to accompany him. Hundreds of men and women also gathered to go with him for Ilajj. In 1821 A.C., he travelled to Calcutta en-route to Arabia with an entourage of 400 disciples. He passed through Allahabad, Banaras, Patna, Bhagalpur and Monghyr. The itinerant spiritual guide was warmly received in every town and thousands of people took Bai'at. The nobles and the rich, offered money and gifts (including horses, swords and guns), to him. Sumptuous foods were served and garments were also presented to them. Making short stay at many places, the caravan reached Calcutta. The arrival of such a large group of people in the city made many people apprehensive, particularly those who knew Shah Ismail and his vigorous campaign against the social and religious evils in the Muslim society. His remarkable book 'Taqwiatul Eiman' had caused a tremor in the domain of mysticism. The protagonists of the Sufis and the retrogressive theologians lodged a complaint with the police that such a large number of people who roam in the bazaars, with arms on their person, should be a caust of concern to the authorities. Since Shah Ismail. Maulvi Abdul Haie and Syed Ahmad all were busy in the dissemination of the message of reform and regeneration based on the enjoins of the Qur’an and the Hadith, the authorities had no reason to interfere in the purely religious activities. After staying there for three months. Syed Ahmad and his party embarked for Arabia. They performed Hajj in 1823 A.C. (1237 A.M.) and stayed in Hijaz for 8 months. Shah Ismail and Maulvi Abdul Haie rendered the book 'Sirat-e-Mustaqeem' in to Arabic to apprise the Arabs of the aims and objectives of their reformative movement. Maulana Abdul Haie gave lessons in Mishkat (an authentic collection of Anadith) in the Harem and Shah Ismail delivered his lectures on the subjects of "Hajjatullahil Baligha" (the most remarkable book authored by his illustrious grand father Shah Waliallah)


Those were the days when Arabia had witnessed the turbulent reformative movement of Imam Muhammad bin Abdul Wahab of Najd. The entire Arab society was in turmoil. The great revolutionary reformer had out rightly rejected all heretical beliefs, deeds and practices. He vehemently denounced the practice of going to the tombs of the saints to beg for worldly and spiritual blessings. The society was infested with all such evil practices, the vested interest, therefore, joined hands to fight against him. He was turned out from his hometown. Attempts were made on his life. Arabia at that time was under Turkish administration and the Turkish authorities were also not sympathetic to him. The Imam died in 1792. The administration had taken stringent measures to curb the Wahhabi movement. The pious and righteous devotees were persecuted. They were not allowed to preach and spread the message of the pristine faith. When Shah Ismail, Syed Ahmad and Maulana Abdul Haie were in Madman, one of their zealot companions was arrested by the authorities, on the charge of being a Wahhabi as he had sharply criticized the un-Islamic practices prevailing in the society. He was produced before the Qazi. Maulana Abdul Haie pleaded on his behalf and convinced the Qazi that there was nothing malafide in his preaching. The man therefore was released. There was a deep-rooted conspiracy to incriminate Shah Ismail and Maulana Abdul Haie, the two scholars who were the motivating force behind Syed Ahmad1 s mission. But both were eminent theologians and it was not easy to inculpate them. The caravan returned home in 1824 A.C. Shah Abdul Aziz died in 1823 and his grand son Shah Muhammad Ishaq had succeeded him as the teacher and spiritual guide. Syed Ahmad and Shah Ismail and Maulana Abdul Haie, now planned to embark upon their mission of fighting the colonial occupation of India. The Jihad movement was therefore launched. * A campaign was started to mobilise the masses. Syed Ahmad's disciples took the message of Jihad to every nook and comer of the sub-continent. Maulana Wilayat Ali and his younger brother Inayat Ali were deputed to Deccan (South) and Bengal. The two scions of the illustrious family of Patna landlords successfully completed their mission. Bengal particularly became the most important centre for the recruitment of the Mujahideen. It was because that Bengal was the first to come under the colonial rule. The British exploitation had ruined the peasantry and other weaker sections df the society. Since the British had usurped the power from the Muslims, they were the main target of the company's repression. The peasants were deprived of their lands and a new agrarian system was introduced under which the landlords were given such rights that were bound to have devastating effects on the poor peasants who had already been groaning under the vindictive laws of the company.


So when the emissaries of Syed Ahmad gave a call to join the liberation movement (Jihad), the hard pressed and persecuted peasantry responded with fervour and religious enthusiasm. The British were responsible for their plight and economic ruin so when they were called to wage a holy war against the white infidels, they readily offered themselves to be recruited as the Mujahideen. The preachers assured them that when India was liberated they would get back their forfeited lands and the ownership rights as well. This was the greatest attraction for the poor peasants. The end of the colonial occupation, restoration of the previous political set up and restitution of their lands had fascinated them. The recruitment and training centre was at Sadiqpur in Patna. After a brief orientation and a short span of training, the recruits were transported to the front.


The liberation movement (Jihad) had been launched, now the question was, where to establish the headquarters of the movement. It was obvious that such a movement could not be conducted from the British controlled areas. The native rulers, who had accepted the British over lordship, also could not have allowed anti-British activities in their states. This was the most intricate problem. Some Pathan disciples offered their territory, the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) for the purpose. This area was not under the British control and was ruled by the tribal chieftains who enjoyed an independent or at least autonomous political status in their principalities. Since the region was abutting on the Punjab, the Sikh who had established a mighty empire under Ranjit Singh in Punjab, considered it as their sphere of influence. They plundered the localities, tortured the inhabitants and recovered heavy fines from the tribal chiefs. The weak and defenseless chiefs had to suffer humiliation at the hands of the Sikh army. People had to flee their houses to save themselves from the brute soldiers. There was a deep discontent against these incursions and pillage. But there was no one to come to their rescue. Therefore, when Syed Ahmad announced his intention to wage a war against the British and was in search of a suitable and strategically safe place, the Pathans offered their land, hoping their own emancipation.


This was the best-suited offer for the Wahhabis. The region was predominantly inhabited by the Muslims, and was surrounded by the provinces having majority of the Muslim population such as Kashmir, Kabul, Sindh etc. it was an ideal place to mobilize the local tribal to join the Jihad movement. The tribal warriors, with their religious zeal, could prove to be the best soldiers. Military assistance could also be sought from Kabul and other regional rulers of Afghanistan. Contacts could also be established with the countries of Central Asia and Iran (1).


(I) Addressing a gathering of the Frontier people, Syed Ahmad, once said, "I was in search of a safe place where I could lead the Muslims and plan for Jihad. Despite the vastness 1 could not find a place in India where migration was possible. There were many people who advised me to stay in India and embark on Jihad. They promised all help, money and material, but I did not agree, because Jihad was to be organised and waged according to the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (PBUH)".


A number of Frontier people were also present there. They said that their country was best suited for the purpose. If you go and encamp there, lakhs of Muslims will join you. Particularly because Ranjit Singh of Lahore had been persecuting the Muslims of the region and they had been suffering badly at their hands. I agreed to their proposal and decided to emigrate to this land to mobilize the Muslims for Jihad.

(Syed Ahmad Shaheed, p-264)



In 1826 A.C., Syed Ahmad along with his companions and followers, left Bareilly. Enroute to his destination the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) he had a halt at Gwalior and then at Tonk. In Gwalior Raja Hindu Rau, brother-in-law of the ailing Raja Daulat Rau, who had been looking after the affairs of the state on behalf of the Raja, received him warmly. Raja Hindu Rau was an admirer of Syed Ahmad and appreciated his activities. The caravan was treated as the state guest. Raja Daulat Rau also sent for Syed Ahmad and sought his blessings for his recovery. Raja Hindu Rau offered cash and valuable gifts and garments to Syed Ahmad.


In Tonk, Nawab Amir Khan gave him a standing ovation. The caravan encamped at a place later known as 'Mohalla Qafla'. Nawab Amir Khan was a devotee of Syed Ahmad. He treated him lavishly and offered money, arms, horses and other gifts to him and to his associates. Passing through Sindh and Kandahar, he arrived in Kabul. Wherever he went, people received him with religious fervour and joined his caravan. So immense was the public response to his mission that the ruler of Kandahar was frightened that the overwhelming mass convergence might turn against him. So, he sent a secret message to Syed Ahmad to leave the town at the earliest. Syed Ahmad tried to allay his apprehension but he was extremely upset and insisted on his immediate departure. Thousands of people were willing to follow him but he politely turned down their requests and advised them to stay back. Crossing the Khyber Pass he reached Peshawar and then moved to Naushera.


The movement of Syed Ahmad and the mass support he got in the tribal areas, alarmed the Sikhs. This territory, abutting Punjab, was in fact the sphere of influence of Lahore Darbar. The Sikhs enjoyed a privileged position among the local chiefs. They were the overlords of the region. They intervened in their feuds by siding one ruler or supporting the other, and then demanded heavy price for their support. The arrival of Syed Ahmad and the Mujahidin was an exhilarating event for the masses. They hoped that with the help of the Mujahidin they would be able to repulse the Sikh marauders. The Sinks were alarmed at the mass movement of the Mujahidin in the tribal areas. A contingent of 10,000 soldiers under General Budh Singh, cousin of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, was sent to keep a watch on the movement of the Mujahidin. Syed Ahmad was not yet settled in the new land when he was confronted with a mighty Sikh army. In December 1826 A.C., the Sikhs clashed with the Mujahidin at Akora near Naushera. The Sikh army could not withstand the zeal and the spiritual fervour of Mujahidin and Budh Singh had to retreat with heavy casualties (500 dead).


The battle of Akora opened a new chapter in the history of the tribal people. The defeat of the Sikh army not only stunned Lahore Darbar but also the tribal chiefs, who were not happy at the turn of the events. However the masses hailed the victory and Syed Ahmad was now their Messiah, the emancipator.

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