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. It  offered the most serious and well-planned challenge to British supremacy in India from 1830’s to 1860’s.
  • Syed Ahmad of Rae Bareli, the leader of this movement in India was influenced by the teaching of Abdul Wahab of Arbia, but even more by the preaching of the Delhi saint Shah Waliullah.
  • 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 (i) the right leader, (ii) a proper organisation and (iii) a safe territory from where he wanted to launch his Jihad.
  • 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.
  • Since Dar-ul-Harb was to be converted into Dar-ul-Islam & Jihad was declared against the Sikh kingdom of the Punjab ruled by kingdom of Ranjit Singh. 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.
  • 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.

Supression 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.
  • 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.

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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