Subjugation of Scholars and Religious Institutions in Colonial India
By Shaykh Zulfiqar Ahmad
The Campaign of 1857 and English Terror
Two fronts were opened against the British in 1857 – one to the north of Amritsar commanded by Hadrat Jafar Than-Siri (ra), and the second just to the south commanded by Haji ImdadUllah Muhajir Makki (ra). Together with Hadrat ImdadUllah (ra) stood noted scholars and warriors of the time such as Hadrat Rashid Ahmed Gangohi (ra), Hadrat Qasim Nanotwi (ra), and Hafiz Damin Shaheed (ra).
The Muslims suffered a crushing defeat in the War of 1857, and scores of noted scholars including Hadrat Hafiz Damin Shaheed (ra) met with martyrdom. The British then decided to tighten their rope and began a horrendous ‘Reign of Terror’ to crush any resistance in the subcontinent.
Over a thousand religious schools (madaaris) were burnt to the ground, and the rest shut down automatically as finances throughout the country were seized. Hadrat Shah WaliUllah Muhaddith Dehlvi (ra)’s Madrasa Rahimia was leveled by a bulldozer. In the following year, over a thousand Muslim scholars were hanged and their bodies were left hanging throughout the country to instill terror in the populace. Still more scholars were chained to cannons and ripped apart as the cannons were fired to salute the British victory.
Despite this mass slaughter to crush all resistance, the British were still anxious to find a solution to these rebellions. They launched a three year survey headed by William Moore to determine a way to permanently keep this resistance from [resurfacing]. After three years Moore submitted a proposal to the Viceroy that Britain would need to implement three measures to free itself from these frequent uprisings.
Moore’s first suggestion was that the Muslims’ strong link to the Holy Quran needs to be severed; his second suggestion was that the British would have to find a means to root out the intense passion for Jihad from the hearts of Muslims. The third and last thing he stated was that the British had to sever any ties that the common Muslims had with their scholars, and thus their knowledge base. Moore said that Britain would have total control only when these three measures were implemented and seen through to their completion.
The Viceroy of Britain issued orders to act on Moore’s recommendations. More than four hundred thousand copies of the Holy Quran were burned over a three-year period from 1861 to 1864. The second step in this diabolical plan was to kill the passion of Jihad amongst the Muslims, and for this the British recruited various false scholars and hypocrites who issued fake and unlawful rulings that Jihad against the British was prohibited (haraam). This served to confuse and divide the Muslims and played right into the foreigners’ plans.
Trials and Tribulations of the Scholars
The culmination of this effort to completely subjugate the Muslims was to kill their scholars, which the British carried out mercilessly in the years 1864 to 1867. [Acting as upholders of the law], the British rulers in India staged mock trials in which scholars were falsely accused of killing Englishmen, and handed down death sentences within an hour of the trial. Fourteen thousand scholars were martyred in this three-year period. This inquisition was so widespread that the British historian Thompson writes that the noble bodies of the Muslim scholars were hanging from every tree on the road between Lahore and Peshawar.
Thompson further writes in his autobiography that he was visiting Delhi when he stopped at one of the tents along the way set up as rest stops for travelers. He noticed a foul stench coming from behind his tent, so he stepped out to investigate. He describes a scene in which forty scholars were stripped and thrown onto beds of coals, being taunted by British soldiers to admit their part in the War of 1857. The flesh and fat was melting and oozing out of their charred bodies and actually extinguishing the ambers. Thompson says that the bodies of these forty scholars stiffened and turned cold in front of him, only to be replaced by forty more who were thrust onto the burning coals.
Still other scholars were imprisoned and tortured in jail, not allowed food or rest in order to break them mentally. Maulana Jafar Than-Siri (ra) writes in his biography that he was in the Khot Laqpat jail when the order came to transport them to Multan. They were put into large cages that had metallic spikes fixed into them to maximize suffering, and in this way they reached Multan in three months. They would be denied food for days at a time to intensify their anguish, and be forced to relieve themselves in their cages. The spikes would stab and wound them at every turn, and thus also rob them of any sleep. Needless to say many died on the way because of these horrific conditions.
The surviving few who reached the Multan jail were further subjected to more torture, until it was ordered that all the scholars remaining in Multan be hanged. Hearing this, the scholars were very pleased and relieved, for they would be free of this life and attain martyrdom. Therefore, regardless of their past suffering, their faces were illuminated on the day their death sentences were to be carried out, something which surprised their captors. When asked why they appeared so peaceful and content on such a day that they were to be hanged, one of them said that they would at last be free and Allah (SWT) would give them the status of martyrdom. The British warden hence conferred with his officers and decided that the scholars should not be given the satisfaction of death, so they were instead sentenced to a further fourteen year sentence during which the British would intensify their torture.
Tears of Innocence
Maulana Than-Siri (ra) further says that his wife and child were brought before him as he and the rest of the scholars were being led away. Seeing him in shackles they both began crying, while his eight year old son said, “When are you coming back to us O Father, and why have these people tied you up like this?” To this Maulana Than-Siri (ra) had no reply, but said to his wife and child, “Be strong, and perhaps I will see you again in this life. If I do not then we will surely meet at the stream of Kauthar [a river in Jannah].”
Extracted from The Scholars of Deoband
Courtesy of Tasawwuf.org