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Islamic revivalism – the Wahabi Movement

Islamic revivalism – the Wahabi Movement

  • The Wahabi movement was a revivalist movement which tried to purify Islam by eliminating all the un-Islamic practices which had crept into Muslim society through the ages. [Period of Movement 1820s to 1870s]
  • It  offered the most serious and well-planned challenge to British supremacy in India from 1830’s to 1860’s.

Saiyid Ahmad of Rai Bareilly (1786-1831)

  • Saiyid Ahmad of Rai Bareilly was founder of Wahabi Movement in India.
  • He was influenced by the teaching of Abdul Wahab of Arabia (1703-87), but even more by the preaching of the Delhi saint Shah Waliullah (1702-62) and his son Abdul Aziz.
    • Shah Walliullah’s contribution to the Muslim reform movement was twofold.
      • He urged the desirability of creating a harmony among the four schools of Muslim jurisprudence which had divided the Indian Muslims. He sought to integrate the best elements of the four schools.
      • He emphasised the role of individual conscience in religion.
        • He held that in cases where the Quran and the Hadis could be liable to conflicting interpretations, the individual could make a decision on the basis of his own judgement and conscience.
  • Shah Abdul Aziz and Syed Ahmed Barelvi popularized the teachings of Walliullah but also gave them a political colour.
    • They aimed at creating a homeland for the Muslims.
    • The beginning was made by a Fatwa (ruling) given by Abdul Aziz declaring India to be Dar-ul-harb (land of the kafírs) and the need to make it dar-ul-Islam.
  • Saiyid Ahmad first preached his doctrines in Rohilkhand.
    • In 1822, Saiyid Ahmad chose Patna as centre of his activities.
    • He appointed four Khalifas, spiritual agents for propagation of his ideas.
    • Syed Ahmed condemned all accretions to and innovations in Islam and advocated a return to the pure Islam and society of Arabia of the Prophet’s times.
    • For the achievement of the desired objectives, Syed Ahmad looked for
      • the right leader,
      • a proper organisation and
      • a safe territory from where he wanted to launch his Jihad.
    • He declared the country as Dar-ul-harb gave idea of Jehad.
    • Aimed at – restoring Muslim power in India by ousting Sikhs in Punjab and British in Bengal.
    • He gave the movement military Character and transformed into religio-political movement.
    • Presented doctrine of Hijrat.
    • Moved to N-W-F province – captured Peshawar – issued coin in his name.
  • Syed Ahmad had a country­wide organisation with an elaborate secret code for its working.
    • It was strong at Sithana in the North-Westem tribal belt and at Patna though it had its missions in Hyderabad, Madras, Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Bombay.
    • Wahabism spread very rapidly in Bihar, Bengal, UP and North-Western India.
  • Peshawar was captured in 1830, but lost to the Sikhs the following year with Syed Ahmad losing his life in action in the Battle of Balakot against the Sikhs (1831).
  • After Saiyad Ahmad’s death, Patna became the centre of this movement. His followers were known as Maulvis.
  • The campaign was initially directed against the Sikhs of the Punjab.
    • Jihad was declared against the Sikh kingdom of the Punjab ruled by kingdom of Ranjit Singh.
    • He waged Jehad against Sikhs in 1826.
    • He issued a pamphlet Targhiz-ul-Jihad against sikhs.
    • After the overthrow of the Sikh ruler and incorporation of the Punjab into the East India Company’s dominion in 1849 the sole target of the Wahabi’s attack became the English dominion in India.

Suppression of the Wahabi Movement

  • During the Revolt of 1857 the Wahabi’s played a notable role in spreading anti- British sentiments.
    • The British rulers of India viewed the potential danger of the Wahabi’s base of operations from Sithana in the background of a possible war between Great Britain getting involved in a war with Afghanistan or Russia.
    • In the 1860’s the Government launched a multi-pronged attack by organising a series of military operations on the Wahabi base of operations in Sithana while in India a number of court cases for sedition were registered against Wahabi’s.
    • General Bakht Khan the leader of mutiniers at Delhi during revolt of 1857 was also a Wahabi.
  • The movement was Crushed by the superior military force of the British in 1870s.
    • The period between 1863-65, witnessed a series of trials by which all the principal leaders of the Wahabi movement were arrested.
    • The Ambala trial of 1864 and Patna trial of 1865 were closely interlinked.
  • The movement lost its vitality though the Wahabi fanatics continued to help the frontier hill tribes in their encounters with the English in the 1880’s and 1890’s.

Movement of Titu Mir (Mir Nassir Ali): Tariqah-i-Muhammadiya (Wahabi Movement):

  • During 1820s and ’30s, in Bengal a religious movement called Tariqah-i-Muhammadiya was developing under the leadership of Titu Mir (aka Syed Mir Nisar Ali).
    • It was independent offshoot of Wahabis.
  • Starting his career as a hired muscleman for the local zarnindars, he later went to Mecca, and was initiated by Sayyid Ahmad Barelwi.
  • Titu Mir preached Wahabi doctrine at Barasat in 1827.
  • He came back to preach Islam in a 250-square-mile area in the northern part of the district of 24 Parganas.
  • His followers came mainly from the poor Muslim peasants and weavers, who were organised into a community with distinctive dress and beard as markers of identity.
    • Advocated a change in the mode of dress lo distinguish Muslims from Hindus.
    • Movement was against the customs and beliefs borrowed from popular Hinduism.
  • As this self-assertion of the peasantry challenged the established relations of power, the local zamindars tried to curb them in various ways, by imposing, for example, a tax on beard.
  • It came in conflict with Hindu landlonds and British indigo planters and eventually with British administration.
  • Proclaimed end of British Raj -stormed Nadia, Faridpur, 24 pargana.
    • His lieutenant Ghulam Masum played important role.
  • Tiru Mir and his followers defied the existing authority-as represented by the local zamindars, the indigo planters and the state— established their own regime, started collecting taxes and struck terror in the region.
  • The government ultimately had to mobilise the army and artillery and on 16 November 1831 blew off Titu’s bamboo fortress to crush his movement.
    • Tiu was killed in British action.

Some other important Wahabi leaders were Vilayat Ali, Inayat Ali, Shah Md. Hussain, Farhat Hussain

Analysis of the Wahabi Movement

  • The Wahabi movement was a movement of the Muslims, by the Muslims and for the Muslims and aimed at the establishment of Dar-ul-Islam in India.
  • At no stage did it assume the character of a nationalist movement.
  • Rather it left behind a legacy of isolationist and separatist tendencies among the Indian Muslims.

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