Independence Day: Remembering the Role of Muslims in Indian Freedom Movement
By: M Ahmad
The freedom attained on 15th August 1947 was the result of a long struggle which involved contributions and sacrifices of men and women of all classes and communities of India. The history of Indian national movement would be incomplete without the mention of the role of Indian Muslims in it which is, of course, very well documented.
The role, significance and uprising against the British began in the middle of 18th century with the Battle of Palashi (Plassey), June 23, 1757. It was Nawab Siraj-ud-Daulah who first awakened Indian rulers and gave a call to oppose the British. He, however, lost the battle and was executed at a very young age of 24. The first freedom struggle against the British in eighteenth century India was led by the Mysorean ruler, Hyder Ali and his son, Tipu Sultan during the 1780s and 1790s. Tipu Sultan was killed by Lord Wellesley during the fourth Anglo-Mysore war in 1799.
Muhammad Ashfaq Ullah Khan of Shahjehanpur who conspired and looted the British treasury at Kakori (Lucknow) to cripple the administration and who, when asked for his last will, before execution, desired: “No desire is left except one that someone may put a little soil of my motherland in my winding sheet.”
Known as ‘Frontier Gandhi’, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan was one of the major figures in the freedom struggle for gaining independence and became a follower of Mahatma Gandhi earning himself the title of ‘Frontier Gandhi.’ Ghaffar Khan met Gandhi and joined politics in 1919 during the agitation over the Rowlatt Acts, which allowed the internment of political dissidents without trial. In the following year he joined the Khilafat movement
Abdul Gaffar Khan & Mahatma Gandhi Maulana Azad with Mahatma Gandhi
Similarly, Barkatullah and Syed Rehmat Shah of Ghadar Party sacrificed their lives for Indian freedom. Umar Subhani, an industrialist and a millionaire of Bombay who, then, presented a blank cheque to Gandhiji for Congress expenses and who ultimately sacrificed his life for the cause of Independence. Maulana Hasrat Mohani, with his poetry, infused zeal of freedom in young hearts.
The last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, was the first to strongly fight for Indian freedom which led to the 1857 independence struggle. Muslims used Masjids for the freedom struggle. When an Imam was addressing about Indian freedom in a Holy Masjid in Uttar Pradesh, British Army shot all the Muslims in that Masjid.
One of the greatest freedom fighters of India, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, is our first name of Muslim Freedom Fighters. His service to the nation didn’t just stop after India became independent, he continued serving India till his last breath. He first took part in India’s Independence aged just 16.
Bakht Khan from Bijnor district of Uttar Pradesh, was a major part of the rebellion of 1857. An experienced army-man, Bakht Khan served as a Subedar in the Army of East India Company. Bakht Khan took command of the rebel forces. His strong and powerful rebellion activities prompted the British rulers to launch a man hunt. In May of 1859, he was shot dead by Britishers.
Mohammad Abdur Rahiman of Kerala practised Salt Satyagraha and was sentenced for rigorous imprisonment for 7 months. He mobilised the Muslim masses against the two nation theory of Muslim league Party. Soon after addressing a public meeting at Kodiyathur on 23 November 1945, he breathed his last.
Inspired by Bhagat Singh and Chandrashekhar Azad, Abbas Ali joined the Indian freedom movement in his teenage after completing his education. He joined the Indian National Army (INA) or the ‘Azad Hind Fauj’ and was subsequently court-martialled and sentenced to death.
Syed Mohammad Sharfuddin Quadri joined India’s freedom struggle during the Salt Satyagraha movement in 1930. He ably supported Mahatma Gandhi in every struggle and was imprisoned in the same cell as Mahatma Gandhi.
When thousands of freedom fighters were getting jailed everyday, Asaf Ali stepped up and fought their legal battles to bail them out. He was even jailed alongside Jawaharlal Nehru. He participated in the ‘Quit India Movement’ and did everything he could for helping India achieve independence. On 1 April 1953, Asaf Ali died in Bern (Switzerland) while serving as India’s representative. A postal stamp was issued in his honour in 1989.
Born in Patna district of Bihar on 22 December 1886, Maulana Mazharul Haque was known for his his social works during the famine of 1897. He played a major role in making the Non-Cooperation and Khilafat Movements and the Champaran Satyagraha a success. He died in January 1930 before which he donated every single bit of his property for encouraging education. In his honour, in April 1988, the Maulana Mazharul Haque Arabic and Persian University was founded at Patna. Dr. Saifuddin Kichloo, hailed as the ‘Hero of Jallianwala Bagh conducted a public meeting at historical Jallianwala Bagh on 30 March, 1919, protesting against the Rowlatt Act during the Indian National Movement. There he delivered a lecture slamming the British imperialist rulers. British government invited Dr. Kichloo for discussions, but took them into custody and sent them to exile.
Maghfoor Ahmad Ajazi was an Indian political activist from Bihar. He left his studies at B.N. College Patna to follow Mahatma Gandhi and joined the non-co-operation movement in 1921. There after he actively participated in the freedom movement, including the boycott and burning of English dresses and articles, breaking of salt law, individual satyagraha, opposition to the Simon Commission and Bharat Chhoro stirs. Yusuf Meher Ali was an Indian freedom fighter and socialist leader. He was the founder of the National Militia, Bombay Youth League and the Congress Socialist Party and played a role in several peasant and trade union movements.
He coined the term “Simon Go Back “and “quit India”and was part of the Quit India Movement along with Mahatma Gandhi for India’s last nationwide campaign for independence from the British Empire. He was a participant of underground movement and was in forefront of Quit India Movement. Abid Hasan Safrani, the man from Hyderabad who was Netaji’s trusted aide, an INA Major, and later, one of independent India’s earliest diplomats. He coined the term “Jai Hind”
The Non-cooperation Movement and the Swadeshi Movement saw overwhelming Muslim participation. Janab Sabusiddiq who was the sugar-king of that time gave up his business as a form of boycott. The Khoja and Memon communities owned the biggest business houses of that time and they parted with their treasured industries to support the boycott!
Muslim freedom fighters were active in the field of journalism as well. Maulana Azad used his pen against the British despite being prevented by the colonial powers a number of times. In fact, the first journalist to be martyred publically in the cause of India’s Freedom Struggle was also a Muslim – Maulana Baqar
The history of the Indian national movement would be incomplete without mentioning the heartily services of Muslim women. It is estimated that about 225 Muslim women gave their lives in the revolt. The contribution of Muslim revolutionaries can be witnessed from the first half of 19th century. The number of Muslims executed in Delhi during 1857-58 was 27,000. During this revolt, Asghari Begum (mother of Qazi Abdur Rahim, the revolutionary of Thana Bhawan, Muzaffarnagar) fought against the British and was burnt alive when defeated.
It was estimated that about 225 Muslim women gave their lives in the revolt. Begum Hazrat Mahal, revolutionary Queen of Awadh, was the unsung heroine of the first war of Independence, who shot the British ruler, Sir Henry Lawrence and defeated the British army in a decisive Battle at Chinhat on 30thJune, 1857. Bi-Amma out of the hundreds of women who fought the battle of freedom along with their men folk against the British Raj. Abadi Begum (mother of Maulana Muhammad Ali), Amjadi Begum (wife of Maulana Muhammad Ali), Amina Tyabji (wife of Abbas Tyabji), Begum Sakina Luqmani (wife of Dr Luqmani and daughter of Badruddin Tyabji), Nishat-un-Nisa (Begum Hasrat Mohani), Saadat Bano Kitchlew (wife of Dr Saifuddin Kichlew), Zulekha Begum (wife of Maulana Azad), Mehr Taj (daughter of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan), Zubaida Begum Daoodi (wife of Shafi Daoodi, the reputed nationalist of Bihar) and many others.
Aruna Asaf Ali popularly known as the ‘Grand Old Lady’ of the Independence Movement. She is known for hoisting the Indian flag at the Gowalia Tank Maidan in Mumbai during the Quit India Movement. In 1932, she had gone on a hunger strike in Tihar Jail against the mistreatment of the political prisoners, which led to an improvement in their living conditions.
There are many more of such brave souls who fought for their nation all along with the people of other religions of the Country.
“Jai Hind” , “Quit India”, “Simon Go Back”, “Inquilab Zindabad”,”Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna, Ab Hamare Dil Mein Hai”, “Saare Jahan Se Achha Hindustan Hamara” the famous patriotic slogans commonly used during the Indian freedom struggle were coined by Muslim freedom fighters.
(The writer is Principal (I/C) Abhedananda Home-Higher Secondary Institution for Specially-abled Children, Solina, Rambagh, Srinagar
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