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Maulana Mahmud al-Hasan, the tallest leader of India: Muslim Freedom Fighters Series

By Syed Ubaidur Rahman

Maulana Mahmud al-Hasan, popularly known as Shaikhul Hind is one of the foremost freedom fighter, scholar and educationist of nineteenth and early twentieth century. No one has any iota of doubt that it was he who launched the long struggle to attain freedom for the country, enslaved by the British Raj.

Given his stature, he was called Shaikhul Hind that literally translates as the leader of India. Born in the year 1851 in Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh, he became one of the foremost scholar and theologianin the entire Indian Subcontinent. His father, Maulana Zulfeqar Ali, is said to be a renowned scholar of Arabic and Persian who was respected by a large number of people. Maulana Zulfeqar Ali was employed with the Department of Education in Bareilly.

His tryst with history began at early age. Darul Uloom Deoband that has grown into the preeminent center of Islamic education in the entire world, Mahmud al-Hasan has the distinction of being its first student.

Being the first student of the Darul Ulooom, Deobang got him the privilege of being taught by none other than Maulana Mohammad Qasim Nanotvi, one of the most distinguished scholars of our times. Many historians believe Maulana Nanotvi of being in the same league of scholars as Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, the founder of Aligarh Muslim University.

Shaikhul Hind Maulana Mahmud al-Hasan graduated from Darul Uloom in the year 1873 and then went on to serve the institution as a teacher from 1874. In the year 1890, he was appointed the rector of the Darul Uloom.

Before going to Darul Uloom, he had been provided strong academic foundation. He received a traditional Islamic education with a strong emphasis on the study of Islam, the Persian language and Urdu. Reports suggest that Shaykhul Hind received his education under the able guidance of Hazrat Maulana Mongeri, Maulana Abdul Latif, and later, his uncle, Maulana Mahtab Ali. He was still studying mid-level subjects and studying books like Mukhtasar al-Quduri and Sharh-i-Tahdhib, Maulana Nanotvi opened the gate of Darul Uloom, Deoband to students.
Maulana Zulfeqar Ali, the father of Shaykhul Hind was an old admirer of Maulana Nanotvi, and thus as soon as the announcement for the opening of the school was made, he was sent to the newly established Darul Uloom.

With his academic accomplishments at Darul Uloom, initiallyas a teacher and later as the principal, he won the hearts of many people in the entire Indian Subcontinent. It was pretty soon that the Shaykhul Hind realize that the Muslim community and India need to drive the British Raj out of the nation as soon as possible. When the Ottoman Empire entered World War I against the British Empire, Muslims across the world were concerned of the future of the Sultan of Ottoman Empire, who was the caliph of Islam and spiritual leader of the global Muslim community.

But he didn’t want to be a mute spectator as the British continued to occupy the huge contry called India while continuing to gain further foothold in Muslim hinterland like West Asia and Turkey. Shaykhul Hind organised efforts to start an armed revolution against British rule from both within and outside India. He launched a programme to train volunteers from among his disciples in India and abroad who joined this movement in a large number. The most eminent among them were Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi and Maulana Mohammad Mian Mansoor Ansari. Sending Sindhi to Kabul and Ansari to the North-West Frontier Province to mobilize popular support and recruit volunteers, Mahmud al-Hasan himself travelled to Hijaz to secure Turkish support. Obtaining the Turkish governor Ghalib Pasha’s signature on a declaration of war against the British, Mahmud al-Hasan planned to return to India via Baghdad and Balochistan to start the rebellion. The plan, referred to as the Silk Letter Conspiracy, however, was captured by Punjab CID, and he was arrested in Mecca. He was imprisoned in Malta, for more than three years before his release in 1920.

In order to further the anti-British crusade, Maulana Mahmud al-Hasan set up an organisation called “Thamaratu-tarbiyah” (result of training) in the year 1877. This outfit actually prepared long-term planning to prepare his pupils for the freedom struggle at an opportune time. These people were given advanced armed training by many Army veterans who also happened to be the disciples or the sons of his disciples in Deoband.

Historical accounts suggest that this outfit remain dormant after being active for a couple of years. It was in the year 1909 when this outfit was renamed as Jam’iyatul Ansar or the society of the helpers. Maulana Obaidullah Sindhi
Maulana Obaidullah Sindhi, who had converted to Islam at a very young age was entrusted with its management. A brainstorming session was held at Deoband. Historic accounts suggest that more than 30,000 people from across the Indian Subcontinent attended meeting that was held under the guise of Dastarbandi (graduation) ceremony of Darul Uloom in 1911. Soon after, a three day meeting was also organized from 15 to 17 April 1911 in Moradabad. While speaking on the occasionanother renowned scholar and alim of the time Maulana Ahmad Hasan Amrohwi said in his presidential address that it is a revival of Thamaratu-tarbiyah and that “its aims are the very important aims of the day.”

Many more meetings of the outfit were called over the next two years. The British Raj, annoyed at such activities put pressure on Darul Uloom to stop meddling in political affairs. At one point, the British Raj toyed with the idea of shutting down the Darul Uloom at Deoband.

While the Shaykhul Hind remained steadfast to his goal of ridding Indian with the British misrule, he launched another organization, Nazaratul Ma’arif, in 1913 in Delhi. Historic accounts suggest that the while the new organisation looked like a madrasah but in fact it was a meeting ground for revolutionaries.

While Maulana Mahmud al-Hasan confined himself to nearby areas, he mobilized his disciples, many of whom had advanced military training and sent them to different areas across the country including Karachi, Kabul, Kolkata and many other places. Besides he also dispatched a number of missions to Russia, Turkey, Japan, China, America, France, Afghanistan and Burma. Details of these missions and many activities were lost when records in Deoband were destroyed when it became known that the British government was about to arrest Maulana Mahmood Hasan.

In the year 1915, he took the most daring decision of his life and established a government-in-exile in Kabul. Maulana Sindhi was dispatched along with Maharaja Mahindra Pratap Singh who had to act as president, Maulana Barkatullah Bhopali as prime minister and Maulana Sindhi as one of the ministers. Historic accounts suggest that this government got wholehearted support of German and Turkish governments and the government in exile established a ragtag army too that occasionally attacked British post inside the British India.

When he returned to the country after three year long incarceration he saw that the nation was up in arms against the Raj. The Shaykhul Hind issued a fatwa making it the mandatory for all the Muslims in the entire Indian Subcontinent to not just support but also participate with Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian National Congress. Later, Mahmud Hasan laid the foundation stone of the Jamia Millia Islamia, in Aligarh that was later shifted to Delhi. He also wrote a well known translation of the Quran, the commentary of which was written by one of his students, Shabbir Ahmad Usmani. Mahmud al-Hasan died on 30 November 1920.

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