Beliefs & Practices, Dawah & Tabligh, History & Biography / Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

So far, I have told you about the reformatory and revivalist movements of India. Now I propose to speak about the great reformer of Arabia, Shaikh Abdul Wahhab (115-1262), who was a contemporary of Shah Walilullah.16 His movement was singularly successful owing to a variety of causes, political and historical as has seldom been achieved by others. His movement gave birth to a school of thought which influenced a whole generation and the state of Arabia in particular as also that of other countries too. At the same time Yemen enjoyed the influence of Allama Muhammad Ali ibn Ali al-Shaukani (1172-1250 A.H.); in Asir there was Ahmad ibn Abdullah ibn Idris Hasani, the founder of the Idrisiyah order; and Syed Muhammad ibn. Ali al Sinnausi (1206-1276) who was born in Libya. All of them took up the task of reformation and the propagation of Islamic teachings, and in so doing infused a spirit of Jihad among their people. European Orientalists normally dub all these reformers as the followers of Shaikh Abdul Wahhab. Their attempts, however, are unsuccessful, as they cannot produce any evidence in support of such contention. In actual fact Western scholars cannot appreciate the fact that the study of the Qur’an and the a hadith, coupled with sincerity of purpose, can produce reformers in every age reformers who are always willing to fight the forces of vice and waywardness.

This will continue to be the case in all times. Now, to return to my theme, Syed Jamal Uddin Afghani (d. 1314/1897) came on the scene shortly thereafter to raise his voice for the unity of the Islamic world with such vigour and force that it caused a flutter in the hills and deserts of Egypt, Syria and Turkey. His worthy disciple, Mufti Muhammad Abduh of Egypt (d. 1323/1905) also played a memorable role in the intellectual awakening of the rising generation of Muslims in his time.

The fourteenth century of Hijrah, viewed from the standpoint of Muslims, in a century of both success and defeat, mistakes committed and efforts to make amends, the naiveness of the Muslim peoples in being duped by the West as well as the emerging political consciousness and freedom won by a number of Muslim countries. It is also a century which had seen several powerful Islamic movements; the variety and contradictions evinced by the events and happenings of this century are not to be found in previous centuries.

When this century opened its eyes it saw the glory of the Ottoman Empire, an empire which provided the protection of the Caliphate to the Islamic world, with Sultan Abdul Hamid Khan II (1291-1327 A.H.)19 as the reigning monarch. He was severely criticised and be smirched by Western writers in the first half of the twentieth century, yet facts recently brought to light in several research articles published in Arabic and Turkish journals go to show that in spite of his weaknesses (perhaps due to his being at hereditary monarch or resulting from the internal and external conspiracies against him), he was a courageous man and a zealous Muslim. During his rule European powers were unable to succeed in fragmenting the Turkish Empire or to carve out a national home for the Jews in Palestine. He disdainfully rejected the offers of the Jewish deputation, saying: “Baitul-Muqaddas is much too precious; I am not prepared to give even a lump of Palestine’s dust. In short, the Sultan inspired new zeal, gave a new life to the Caliphate and created the urge for unity in the Islamic World.

The Ottoman Empire was the custodian of the holy places and was further honoured with the mantle of the Islamic Caliphate. With all its internal weaknesses and external conspiracies to dismember its possessions, it was a citadel of power and protection to the Arab world. Had it been there, the lands of the Arabs would not have been apportioned like evacuee property. At the beginning of this century by Ottoman Empire extended from Yemen and Asir in the east to Albania in the west and included Tripoli, Tunisia and Fazzan in Africa. Its southern limits encompassed Aswan, Egypt and Barqa, while all the lands of Bulgaria, Balqan, Trabzun and Idrianople in the north were within its limits. The Ottoman Empire held a major portion of Asia Minor and Syria including present day Palestine, Lebanon and Transjordan, the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq and Cyprus. This sick man of Europe then represented something of a terror to the West. Alas, the Muslims could not appreciate this blessing of God given to them in the shape of a vast Empire. The dethronement of Sultan Abdul Hamid Khan, in 1901, was by no means a tragic event of such proportions that Islamic history should have changed its course as a result. His deposition might have been brought about by conspiracies against him, but Sultan Rishad, Sultan Wahid Uddin Khan and Sultan Abdul Majid Khan each ascended the throne after Sultan Abdul Hamid Khan’s demise. But a greater calamity was yet to follow these happenings one which brought adversity, shame and humiliation to the entire Islamic world and resulted in the loss of Jerusalem. It was this unfortunate event which, according to Maulana Shibli, gave the enemies of Islam the opportunity to cast their covetous eyes even on the holy Mosques of Mecca and Madina. It was this happening which turned the Arab lands of Egypt, Syria, Iraq and the northern portion of Africa into protectorates of Western powers— perhaps the Arabs are still serving the term of punishment for this— and it consisted in the actions taken by the Arabs during the First World War. Duped by the Christian minorities of their own lands who raised the cry of Arab nationalism, the Arabs were taken in by false promises made by the Allied Powers. They took up arms against the Turks on 10th June, 1916, with the net result that Syria and Palestine were lost by the Turks in 1917. Egypt the became a dependency of the British, who also occupied Jerusalem on the 9th December, 1917. On the 1st October, 1918, Sharif Husain’s son, Amir Faisal, and General Alenby entered Damascus triumphantly, but the French General Guru kicked the grave of Sultan Salah Uddin, saying: “Salah Uddin, we are here now, we have conquered Syria. How long would you sleep?” by October 1918, all the Arab lands of Hijaz, Syria, Lebnon and Iraq had passed from Turkish hands to the Allies.

The entire world of Islam felt disturbed by this state of affairs but the Indian Muslims were even more agitated. They also gave expression to their discontent in a powerful manner: this was the time when the great Khilafat movement launched under the leadership of Maulana Abdul Basri, Shaikh-ul-Hind Maulana Mohammad Hasan, Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad, Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar, Maulana Shaukat Ali and Maulana Zafar Ali Khan shook the whole of India. The subconscious impulses of Indian Muslims, coupled with their lofty idealism, charged them with such intense emotion that it burst out like a volcano against Western domination. it awakened the spirit of India and created a hatred for everything Western. Mahatma Gandhi actively cooperated with this movement and toured the country with the Khilafat leaders to revive the moral and self-confidence of Indian Muslims.

However, the declaration terminating the Caliphate made by Mustafa Kamal on the 3rd March, 1924 came as a bolt from the blue so far as Indian Muslims were concerned. Iqbal said on that occasion:

Simpleton Turk tore apart the Khilafat mantle;

How naive is Muslim and see the enemies wangle!

The times I am referring to were as depressing and gloomy as the first half of the seventh century when the savage Tartars destroyed Muslim kingdoms and their centres of culture and civilisation. But this was only an onslaught of a barbarous people, a debacle which had ensued because of the inability of ease-loving Muslims to withstand their charge. The Tartars had nothing to offer by way of intellectual thought or culture. By contrast, the offensive launched by Western powers during the first half of the fourteenth century of Hijrah or the twentieth of the Christian era was entirely different. The enemy was now armed with a one philosophy of life, had a new system of education, brought with it a new set of values based on rejection of God and was the propagator of a new religion, namely materialism.

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