Sunday, December 26, 2010

Violence in Kashmir – Historical Aspects: A Legacy of Shah Waliullah?

Violence in Kashmir – Historical Aspects: A Legacy of Shah Waliullah?
By R. Upadhyay

Paper no. 4072


Kashmir has been in news for all the wrong reasons ever since it became an integral part of India but successive eruption of irrational violence in the state is apparently the outcome of the Islamic political system rooted in Arab tradition and underwritten by its warlords. The reformers from all over the Muslim world carried forward such political system as legacy of Islam from generation to generation when ever they felt any challenge to the Islamic political power. After Sheikh Ahmad Sarhindi (1556-1624), Shah Waliullah Dehlawi (1703-1762) was another Islamic mystic of Naqshbandi Sufi order who launched the movement for Islamic revivalism following the death of Aurangzeb when the glory of Sunni extremism started fading.

Drawing inspiration from the Islamist strategy of Waliullah, the separatists in Kashmir are found following his footsteps and pursuing the eighteenth century ideology of political Islamism. Like Waliullah who considered the rise of Hindus under Muslim rule as threat to Islam, the secessionists of Kashmir too believed that governance of a Muslim majority region under secular and democratic constitution of India was against the Sharia and therefore a threat to Islam. They also believe that political supremacy of ‘Hindu-India’ will culminate into its cultural hegemony over Kashmir.

Since the fall of Muslim rule in the sub-continent, communal politics of Waliullah has been awakening the Muslims of south Asia to re-ignite their wrath against India which was regarded by them as a Hindu state. Suffering from the consequences of this medieval mental burden, the separatists of Kashmir abetted and supported by the forces from across the border and beyond are found preaching anti-Indianism to bring Islamic rule in the state. Emboldened with the 'soft' attitude of the Indian authorities who are avoiding confrontation with them, the forces of bigotry and hatred have raised their ugly head to launch a full scale attack on the very freedom of common citizens in the state.

Ironically, Jamaat-e-Ulema-e-Hind (JUH), the first association of Deobandi Ulema (Islamic clergies) founded in 1919 in British India has started meddling in Kashmir and decided to convene a gathering of all Indian Muslim sects to discuss the present situation in Kashmir on October 4. The Ulema (Plural of Ulama) have described it as “Muslim specific issue”, expressed solidarity with the secessionists and have also invited their leaders in the proposed gathering. Such activism of Ulema suggests that they are revisiting the communal history of eighteenth century Waliullah who was the forerunner of Hindu-Muslim divide in South Asia.

Without realising that the state of Jammu and Kashmir comprising of three regions namely Hindu majority Jammu, Muslim majority Kashmir valley and Buddhist majority Ladakh - is governed by a Muslim Chief Minister with larger majority of his cabinet colleagues being the followers of Islam the JUH has forgotten that the four lakh Pandit refugees from the valley have been the victims of the Islamist violence and are still isolated from their land. Pursuing the path of Waliullah, the JUH is also mobilizing the Muslims of the country irrespective of their sectarian and political divisions and inviting the pro-Pakistani separatists perhaps with the objective to strengthen the Islamist revival movement launched by the eighteenth century clergy.

Born in 1703 at Delhi just four years before the death of Mogul Emperor Aurangzeb who made a complete about turn from the Islamic liberalism of Akbar to Sunni extremism, Shah Waliullah belonged to a family believing in hard-line Islam. He was the grandson of Sheikh Wajihuddin, an important officer in the army of Shajahan who had supported Aurangzeb in the war of succession. He had his academic and spiritual education from his father Shah Abd Al Rahim, a Sufi theologian of great repute who was known for his association with the compilation of the famous Islamic legal text, Fatawa-i-Alamgiri in the name of Aurangzeb.

Rahim was also the founding member and teacher of the Madrasa-i-Rahimiyah in Delhi which produced a galaxy of brilliant Islamic scholars and “forerunner of the famous Darul Ulum Deoband”(Islamic Encyclopaedia Vol. II, Page 254). After his education in Madrasa-i-Rahimiyah, Waliullah went for pilgrimage and higher studies to Mecca and Medina. As a spiritual disciple of his father who “essentially belonged to Naqshbandi” ( The Sufi Saints of Indian Sub-continent by Zahurul Hasan Sharib, 2006, Page242) succeeded him as principal of Madrasa Rahimiyya and carried forward the legacy of Sarhindi with amendment of unity between Shia and Sunni for the tactical reason to counter the rise of Hindus due to prevailing disorder in Muslim society. By the time he returned to Delhi in 1932 after 14 year of his study in Medina, Muslim India was faced with the menacing problems challenging the central authority of Islamic rule which gave rise to apprehension among the followers of Islam that political collapse of Islamic power would be accompanied by religious disintegration.

Disappointed with the progressive decline in the glory of the central authority of Islamic rule in Delhi and critical position of Mogul ruler followed by social, political and religious disorder in Muslim society, Waliullah decided to launch a campaign to popularize Islamic values amongst the Muslims and to present Islam in a manner befitting to the political need of the hour. His intellectual movement for uniting the disintegrated Muslim ruling class to save the united Islamic rule in the sub-continent from its critical condition remained a permanent inspiration for the future Ulema in the days of crisis. Identifying the causes for this decline due to ignorance of Muslims about the political mission of Islamic scriptures, he trained a number of students for propagation of pristine Islam in Muslim society. Training his disciples in different branches of Islamic knowledge and recommending Jihad he interpreted Quran to meet his objective for restoration of integrated Islamic power. As a pragmatic thinker and political strategist, he introduced Islamic reforms in social, religious and political affairs and tried to resolve the conflict between orthodox Islam revived by Sarhindi and championed by Aurangzeb and the alleged heterodoxy introduced by Akbar and championed by Dara Shikoh.

Against the extreme Islamism of Aurangzeb which created aversion to Sufism, Waliullah took a tactical stand for bringing the Muslims of all the sects together and tried to retain the virtues of both within the frame of Islamic trilogy namely Quran, Hadith and Shara. During his long stay in Medina he also came in contact with Maulana Wahhab whose influence provided him to abstain from the blind following to Sufism. Aware of the role of Sufism in spread of Islam in South Asia he did not reject it like Wahhab but was highly critical of tomb worship a traditional form of Sufism. Waliullah regarded the land ruled by non-Muslim power as Darul Harb (The land of war) against which Muslims were expected to launch Jihad and to convert it into Darul Islam (The land of Islam). It means the state of Jammu and Kashmir being governed by secular and democratic constitution of India is also Darul Harb from Waliullah’s concept of political Islam.

Being proud of his Arab origin and lineage from second Caliph Umar, Waliullah was obsessed with Arab tradition and customs and maintained his hateful attitude towards Indian customs and traditions. He maintained, “I ought to conform to the habits and customs of the early Arabs and the Prophet himself as much as I can and to abstain from the customs of Turk and habits of Indians” (Religion and Thought of Shah Wali Allah Dihlawi by J.M.S. Baljon, Lieden E.J.Brill, 1986, page 2).

A prolific writer with the credit of writing 51 books in Persian and Arabic as well as translating Quran in Persian and the letters and tracts of Sarhindi from Persian to Arabic, he became a popular revolutionary Islamic thinker among the Muslims of South Asia and was recognized as a great influential clergy in organizing the reform in Muslim society of the sub-continent. In one of his writing Tafhimat Ilahiyya he made a passing reference stating that “one day it may happen that the Hindus will obtain full power over the whole of India”(Ibid. Page 15). His main emphasis was for deep study of the trilogy of Islamic scriptures by the Ulema. Contrary to the anti-Shia stand of Sarhindi, he sought to reconcile Sunni and Shia Muslims for restoration of strong Muslim rule. Increased influence of Shia in Awadh and Bengal was the compelling reason behind the unity move by this hard core Sunni activist.

Waliullah was the first Islamist reformer in Muslim India who believed in united front of Muslims irrespective of their sectarian division for their combined fight against the rise of non-Muslim power which he viewed as danger signal for Islam. Playing a vital role in forging a united front of the then powerful Muslim rulers and Islamist priestly class against the rising Hindu powers of Marathas, Jats and Sikhs which were posing constant threat to Muslim power, he invited Ahmad Shah Abdali, the ruler of Afghanistan to invade India and to save the crumbling Mogul Empire. In his letter to Abdali, he wrote, "... Draw the sword and do not to sheath it till the distinction is established between true faith and infidelity..." . This letter is a most important historical document of 18th century which furthered the widening divide between the two major religious communities in the sub-continent.

The efforts of Waliullah which brought Ahmad Shah Abdali and Najib-ud-Daula, a noted Rohilla tribal chief of Rohilkhand together resulted in the defeat of Marathas in the third battle of Panipat in 1761 and were “the first step towards creation of Pakistan” ( While the ideology based on the concept of hate, bigotry and intolerance which was initiated by Sheikh Ahmad Sarhindi led to the decline of Muslim power in the sub-continent after the death of Aurangzeb, Waliullah carried forward his legacy by forming united front of different sects of Muslims and the Islamic rulers against the rise of Marathas, Jats and Shikhs and added extra fuel to the fire of Hindu-Muslim divide.

Waliullah who launched the Muslim renaissance movement and tried to bridge the gulf between Sufis and Ulema germinated the seed of Muslim separatism sown by Sarhindi which was not only put into practice by the clergies of Deoband movement particularly by the Sufi Ulema like Maulana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi but also inspired Sir Sayed Ahmad Khan who launched Aligarh Movement. Noted journalist M. J. Akbar during a lecture on Muslim and modernity in Aligarh Muslim University (April 20, 2010) said “Pakistan emerged as the twentieth century’s answer to a nineteenth century defeat”. But Waliullah who was instrumental in inviting Ahmad Shah Abdali for invading India which resulted in the victory of the latter in the third battle of Panipat a century earlier in 1761 is regarded as a forerunner of Pakistan Movement. His strong criticism that contact between Muslims and Hindus polluted the Islamic society with un-Islamic customs like tomb worship and extravagance in marriage and other ceremonies had widespread influence over the future Ulema after the end of Mogul Empire. It was the movement of Muslim separatism which truncated the sub-continent on the basis of religion with the birth of Pakistan.

In order to spread the teachings of Islam, Waiullah translated the Quran from Arabic to Persian which was then the official language of Muslim India. Later on his sons translated it into Urdu. The Islamic state of Pakistan too followed Waliullah’s ideology and adopted anti-India policy ever since its birth. Inspired with the thesis of Waliullah, Pakistan always viewed India with Islamist eyes as a Hindu state and therefore treated it as a threat to Islam. “Waliullah’s religious beliefs developed a school of Islamic thought that is relatively unique and is found primarily in today’s Pakistan” (Moslem Nationalism in India and Pakistan by Hafeez Malik, Washington DC Public Affairs Press, 1963, page 71-72).

Despite the failure of his political thought and strategy in saving the Islamic rule in the sub-continent, Waliullah remained a great source of inspiration to future Islamists for their struggle to achieve Islamic political rights. His idea behind forging united Muslim front against non-Muslims to whom he believed as a threatening storm to Muslim India worked as religio-political regeneration of Muslims. Shah Abdul Aziz the son of Waliullah carried forward the legacy of his father and kept the Islamic revivalist movement alive and issued a fatwa for Jihad against the non-Muslim rulers. Inspired with the echo of the third battle of Panipat Syed Ahmad of Bareli, a disciple of Shah Abdul Aziz responded to this fatwa and launched Jihad against the Sikh ruler Ranjit Singh in Punjab but was killed in the battle of Balkot in 1831. As a result of this Jihad which reflected the true character of the political thought of Waliullah and his son, India has been facing violent communal disorder even today. In fact deep influence of the Jihadi spirit of Islam formulated by Waliullah and Sunni extremism of his contemporary Maulana Wahhab left an indelible impact on the psyche of Indian Muslim society.

The history of Islamic civilization in South Asia demonstrated time and again that the culturally arrogant descendants of Arabian Indian priestly class particularly Sarhindi and Waliullah never allowed the development of Islam within the cultural frame of the conquered- territories. They rather abetted the rulers against the conquered subjects without understanding the civilisational sentiments of the latter. Extreme Islamic reformism, intellectualism and activism, the three major under currents which constituted together the mainstream of Islamist revivalist movement therefore, made a perpetual and a critical gap of mistrust between the two religious communities. Even any attempt for reconciliation with non-Muslims was viewed by Islamist clergies as an insult to Islam which they believed as a symbol of Arab imperialism in Muslim India where the Hindus were supposed to be treated as conquered race. Inspired with Waliullah, the on going Islamist violence in Kashmir and its support by a top association of Indian Ulema therefore, has not only posed a challenge to the secular and democratic character of India but has also demonstrated that Arabian Indians primarily responsible for communal divide between Hindus and Muslims are still relevant.

(The author can be reached at e-mail

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