The Wail Amidst an Imperial Wreckage that Seeded the Tabligh Campaign in Hindustan
The second part of The Dharma Dispatch series on the comprehensive history of the Tablighi Jamaat in India takes us back to the death of Aurangzeb
With the event irreversibly done and dusted and leaving no peephole of hope for restoration, history unfailingly leaves behind a dark smudge, a bloody indelible imprint on even the most glorious geography. We don’t need to travel very far. Detroit, described in my schoolbooks as the world’s automobile capital is now a bankrupt ghost town, a sprawling economic cemetery (The fact that it “officially” exited bankruptcy recently means little). This death happened in less than a century and no war caused its final ruin. The specifics may vary with each geography but the truth of history remains unchanged.
In Will Durant’s vivid phrasing, “History is the planks of a shipwreck. More of the past is lost than saved.” Truer words cannot said about Mewat, now known as the Nuh district, Haryana, which holds the melancholic glory of being one of the most backward places in India. This land of fertile valour, which had produced countless generations of empire-builders, freedom fighters, this site of both the prolonged and earliest resistances against Muslim incursions is now not even a memory. Now, it exports pathetic indigents who abandon homes and travel mostly to Delhi in search of work.
After Balban’s fiendish genocide of these unyielding Mewatis, those that fled were dispersed in various parts of northern India; the rest were forcibly converted to Islam. Despite this epic tragedy, it is a glowing encomium to the tenacity of the Sanatana roots that these (converted) Muslim Meos retained their original Hindu names even as recently as the early 1920s and 30s. This became by itself a cause for incessant lament among the pious Islamic clergy, a lament which was simply the inherited echo of three centuries.
Throughout its 181 years of rule-by-oppression, the Mughal Empire commanded an impressive compass of Bharatavarsha’s geography. The Islamic theological ancillary cum handmaiden that sustained this religious imperialism witnessed its most glorious period in Hindustan. In a constant state of being unhinged, this clergy macabrely showed in practice what it was truly capable of when it had the unstinted backing of political power. Existing Quranic laws on how to “properly treat” the infidels were strictly enforced and overseen (except during Akbar’s regime). Newer laws were invented. Masjids, Madrassas and Sufi Khanqahs erupted across the Mughal dominions like mushrooms that bred at broadband speeds. Innovative tactics to lure and convert the infidels were designed and implemented. The political and psychological constant that impelled all this was a haughty overconfidence that this extensive and mighty Muslim empire would last forever in Hindustan thereby paving the way for completely Islamising it like in Persia and elsewhere.
Suddenly, all of it crumbled to dust in a whoosh with the death of the explicit zealot, Aurangzeb, who was not merely a powerful and pure Muslim emperor but a heartless fanatic who could out-Mullah the most learned and pious Mullah or Imam.
Aurangzeb’s death in 1707 inaugurated what I call the first pause in the history of Islam in India.
That was when the first impotent lament rent the air, the nonstop wailing of Shah Waliullah wafting throughout the scattered shard-heaps of the thorough Mughal wreckage throughout Hindustan. Waves after waves of furious anguish flowed, especially against the Marathas, the Jats and the Sikhs. In that order.
Waliullah reserved special hatred and dread against the Marathas and the Jats. The Marathas had “proudly raised their head and had become highly influential under their powerful chief,” and the “impudent Jat community headed by Surajmal had stormed fortress after fortress, and in Bayana, they had struck terror deep into the hearts of the Ulama and the Sufis who had lived there for 700 years and humiliated and expelled the Muslim power from this ancient seat of Islam.”
However, this Sufi bigot’s words fell on deaf ears because Aurangzeb had effectively, single-handedly destroyed Muslim power in India. Therefore, like every conscientious, hardcore Sufi fully committed to the religious imperialistic core of Islam, he began courting help from abroad.
Shah Waliullah’s desperate letter to the Afghan barbarian, Ahmad Shah Abdali reckons as one of the earliest records of what is familiar to us today as the Muslim victimhood narrative, and he was one of the most decorated Dara Hua Musalmans in the annals of Muslim history of India. His letter is both a confession and an extraordinary monument to the indomitable, resolute Hindu fightback, a recurring phenomenon that flowed like the muscular flood of the Brahmaputra till the dam of secularism was erected to check it. Waliullah unambiguously declares, “if the power of the infidels remains in the present position, Muslims will renounce Islam.” Following the treacherous tradition of his Sufi predecessors of yore, Waliullah also enticed Abdali with the lure of the abundant loot awaiting him in Hindustan and promised the Afghan that “your deeds will earn great merit in the House of Allah and your name is already included in the list of mujãhidîn fi Sabîlallah (warriors in the service of Allah)… Allah forbid, if the infidels continue as at present, and Muslims get (further) weakened, the very name of Islam will get wiped out.” [Formatting changed]
On a parallel track, Waliullah also seeded something that would repeatedly morph and replicate itself over the next three centuries with its kernel intact. Among other things, it directly led to the Partition of India. The seed proved to be a great source of great inspiration and has endured till date: notable future bigots who copiously drank from the cup of Waliullah’s unvarnished fanaticism include Allama Iqbal, Syed Ahmed Khan and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad who wrote a glowing foreword to a biography of Waliullah.
In his own lifetime, Shah Waliullah didn’t see the fruits of the fundamentalist tree he had germinated. Plus, Ahmad Shah Abdali’s destructive Jihad in Hindustan had no long term impact despite the rout of the Marathas. The British by then had emerged as the most decisive force and quickly eclipsed even the Marathas.
This was the grim picture that Waliullah’s equally bigoted son and successor, Abdul Aziz beheld in the late 18th and early 19th century. Now, the British and not the idolaters were the real enemy. But the strewn vestiges of Muslim power had no real military to speak of, much less a centralized leadership. All that existed were a few Nawabs and Nizams, who were a little more than glorified zamindars.
Accordingly, Abdul Aziz issued a fatwa against the British, declaring all of Hindustan as Dar-ul-harb, a warzone, as long as they were here. Muslims could either migrate to the safety of “pure” Muslim lands or stay back here and launch a ceaseless Jihad till the British were driven out. Except that the fatwa could not be carried out because of the same reason: lack of Muslim leadership and military power. The other practical alternative was to fight this Jihad on the ground with extensive manpower on demand, on the streets.
But this posed a bigger problem: the majority of Indian Muslims—forcibly converted Hindus—still stubbornly adhered to their ancestral customs and traditions and festivals. They wore the Tilak, didn’t eat beef, didn’t dress like the “pure” Muslims, sported the Chhoti, and still carried last names like Singh. From Lahore to Gulbarga, throughout the drawn-out history of medieval Muslim India, this was the common theme: of Indian Muslims being treated almost on par with Kaffirs. They were variously known as “neo or new Muslims” and were subjected to frequent massacres and oppression by Muslim sultans. There were also instances of these neo Muslims reverting to their original Dharma.
Therefore, Abdul Aziz’s urgent problem now was to find a method to rapidly and comprehensively radicalize and brainwash this large mass of semi-Hindus, to thoroughly cut off all future generations from having any memory of their ancestors and their Dharma.
The method he found was to establish a Tabligh, the first of its kind as we understand it today. And the most prominent disciple he recruited in order to strengthen and spread the Tabligh message was the fanatical former militiaman turned cleric, Syed Ahmad Barelvi. Abdul Aziz sponsored Barelvi on a trip to Mecca and other “pure” Muslim lands in order to undergo higher education, which meant learning from Islamic masters and scholars and clerics on the various methods that would help “purify” Islam which had grown so lax and polluted in Hindustan.
With this, the fledgling Tablighi campaign acquired baby wings.
To be continued
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