Hyderabad’s role in India’s freedom struggle — “Great Wahhabi Conspiracy”

Background to the Wahhabi Conspiracy

Sultan Ghalib al-Qu’aiti

Hyderabad: Of course, what had continued to aggravate the security situation, particularly with regard to the Company’s authority, was the swiftly rising dissent against it all over India.

This feeling was fanned further throughout the land by a variety of religious preachers and political propagandists using the common man’s religious sentiments to arouse hatred against alien rule. The effects of this exercise had greatly been helped by the rapidly increasing arrogance and insensitive disdain towards indigenous tradition on the part of the Company’s representatives, which had become the norm.

On the other hand, the arousal of these feelings was to come to be treated as a boon by those rulers and in particular their descendants who had lost their sovereignty to the Company due to its machinations, and keen to retrieve their lost status were to support them. The greatest movement against British presence and domination in India at this stage was “the Wahhabi Movement” with a strong message calling for social reform amongst Muslim ranks and the arrest of political decay.

Its leading pioneer in India was the already referred to Saiyyid Ahmad of Bareilly (b.29th November1786/around 6th Safar 1201H – martyred 1831/1246H). Though this movement had its roots and inspiration in Islamic reform, yet, the political steps it called for had held immense appeal all over India at the time, for these had sought freedom from alien domination. Hence, many non-Muslim elements too were to sympathise with its programme and agenda and collaborate with it.

Saiyyid Ahmad, before attaining martyrdom in May 1831 (Zi’l-Hijjah 1246H) in a battle with the Sikhs at Balakote during which he had thrice put to flight a much larger force according to the account of Paget and Mason (in “The Frontier and Overseas Expeditions from India”), had also been in correspondence with Sikandar Jah alongside other rulers according to a number of sources. For example, the famous Maratha Chief Daulat Rao Sindhia, ill at the time, and his brother-in-law and Chief Minister Hindu Rao had come under the influence of the Saiyyid to such an extent, that they were to invite him to stay in Gwalior and to promise to assemble for him all the arms and ammunition necessary for his movement’s activities.

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Of Saiyyid Ahmad’s appeal to the sentiments of the populace, it is said that when he addressed multitudes, “on such occasions, as many as 10,000 persons offered themselves for ‘bi‘at’ (allegiance) … in a single day”. It was also said that: “More than three million persons got themselves initiated … during his missionary tours”, and that “another 100,000 men and women were enlisted by him during his Hajj pilgrimage”.

 After him, his followers had feverishly continued to inspire Indians at all levels to agitate against alien rule throughout the land. His basic view concerning armed Jehad was that “while a country may exist (intact) alongside nonbelieving faiths, but not aside tyranny” – a reference to the alien Company’s rule. This was the prime reason he had decided to declare parts of India “Dar-ul-Harb” or the “Abode of War” against tyranny. Also, though he was to die fighting the Sikhs, he had once forwarded a letter to Ranjit Singh inviting him “to join us in fighting the British”.

 An excerpt from this letter which casts light on the real spirit of his movement during his life and after him reassuringly reads thus: “We are neither after your sovereignty and wealth, nor do we desire to harm your person and honour or to fight with (meaning against) you. We solely wish that you side with us and become a comrade in arms. After conducting our just, sacred war against the enemies, we will present the sovereignty and territory to you. If you do not accept this invitation, then there will be no option available save to take up arms (against you). Ranjit Singh, a seasoned soldier and politician, wary of the Company’s military might, was of course to treat this approach with caution, as he had done earlier ones from Jaswant Rao Holkar and Amir Khan. (89)

Mubariz-ud-Daulah son of Nawab Mir Akbar Ali Khan Bahadur, Sikander Jah, Asaf Jah III (11 November 1768 – 21 May 1829)

That aside, following his martyrdom, the mantle of leadership of this Movement was bestowed by general consensus upon Sikandar Jah’s third son Mir Gauhar ‘Ali Khan better known in history by his title of Mubariz-ud-Daulah as the most suitable candidate for it. This was along with a number of titles bestowed popularly on him by the adherents of this Movement, with that of “Ra’is-ul-Muslimeen” (“Leader of the Muslims”) having been specifically proposed first, as Bhatkali and others confirm, by the Pathan Nawab of Tonk, Wazir Muhammad Khan “Wazir-ud-Daulah” (r.1834/1250H–1864/1281H), a very active adherent and supporter of the Movement like his valiant high-spirited and independent-minded father Amir Muhammad Khan “Amir-ud-Daulah” (better known generally as “Amir Khan” – b. 1768/1182H, r.1806/1221H– 1834/1250H) before him.

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However, a seal of Mubariz-ud-Daulah was to bear the following legend: “Na’ib-e- Saiyyid Ahmad Shaheed” (“The Deputy of Saiyyid Ahmad the Martyr commonly known as Mubariz-ud-Daulah”). Some also dotingly styled him “ ‘Omar bin ‘Abdul-‘Aziz-e-Sani” (“the Second ‘Omar bin ‘Abdul-‘Aziz”) after the great and pious eighth century (second Hijri century) Omaiyyad Caliph of that name. Another seal of his was engraved with the inscription reading: “Hami-e-Deen-e-Mubeen” (“Protector of the Revealed Faith”). (90)

Leading scholars who followed Mubariz-ud-Daulah

There can be no doubt that Mubariz-ud-Daulah was to draw to his side and come to be visited by scores of scholars from all over India by espousing what was seen as a religious and national obligation of the prime-most order. Of these, the most influential, as enumerated in some detail by Bhatkali were the Maulawis Muhammad Saleem,‘Abdul-Hadi (Lal Muhammad, aka Lal Khan), Qazi Muhammad Asaf, Saiyyid Muhammad ‘Abbas, Pir Muhammad, ‘Abdur- Razzaq, Saiyyid Qasim (Hakeem), Hassan Muhammad, Munshi Fakhruddin, Shuja‘uddin, Muhammad Maghribi, Muhammad Waliuddin, Muhammad Karamat ‘Ali, Muhammad ‘Imaduddin (a son of Muhammad Asaf), Muhammad Fareeduddin, Muhammad Ja‘far, Saiyyid ‘Abdul-Wahid, Hafiz ‘Abdus-Sami‘, Hafiz Hassan Khan Rampuri, Saiyyid Jalaluddin, Muhammad Sharafuddin, Ilahi Bakhsh and Muhammad Faizullah, many of whom were to share their leader’s fate in the end if not worse.

The extract “The Wahhabi Conspiracy” is from the book The Era of the Early Nizams (The Paigah – its Origins, the Marathas Mysore, the French and the British till 1803/1218H) by Sultan Ghalib al-Qu’aiti.

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