Welcome to F.I.E.L.D.- the First Ismaili Electronic Library and Database.


Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

"When the first World War ended in November, 1918 the fate of the defeated Ottoman Empire in Turkey was no longer in doubt. The other fallen empires, Austria-Hungary had been dismembered, and the Ottoman Turks could not hope to escape the consequences of allying themselves with Germany. For Indian Muslims this raised grave issues of the political power of Islam. They had provided a large number of recruits in the war and had contributed materially towards the defeat of Turkey. Their sympathies were with the Turks, for the Turkish Sultan was looked upon as the Khalifa, the leader of the Islamic community. In 1915, secret treaties were concluded between Britain, France, Russia and Italy under which the signatories agreed, in the event of their victory, to partition the Ottoman Empire into four sphere of influence, apart from the direct annexation of some Turkish territories by each of the Entente powers (A History of the Peace Conference of Paris, 1924, 4:1-22). Their object was stated to be "setting free of the populations subject to the bloody tyranny of the Turks; and the turning out of Europe of the Ottoman Empire as decidedly foreign to Western civilization"(Documents on British Foreign Policy, 1919-1939, 1952, 4:301-3).

The Muslims in India had little or no idea of the extent of decay within the Turkish Sultanate. The tragedy of their position was that they turned to it at a time when the Turkish Empire could no longer be preserved and when the ideal they sought – the political unity of the Islamic community was rejected by almost all Muslims outside India. The Arabs had no desire to be ruled by Turkey and felt no allegiance to the Sultan of Turkey as their Khalifa. Within the Turkey itself a distinct Turkish nationalism had developed with the aim of building a new Turkish nation and with no interest in the trappings of an Islamic Empire. The Indian Muslims held the British Government responsible for the dismemberment of the Turkish Empire. Their feelings were well expressed by Muhammad Ali and Shaukat Ali in a memorandum they addressed to the Viceroy on 24th April, 1919, from Chinwada, where they were detained. The failure of the British Government to respond, even to a limited extent, to demands touching the fate of the Turkish Empire resulted in the emergence of the Khilafat Movement. When the Conference of the Muslim leaders held at Lucknow on 21st September, 1919, called upon the people to observe 17th October as Khilafat Day, a day of fasting and prayer, Gandhi advised Hindus to join with Muslims in observing it so as to give proof of their solidarity with them. The Day was widely observed and may be said to mark the beginning of the Khilafat Movement and of the short-lived period of political collaboration between Hindus and Muslims in India. Gandhi had conducted himself so masterfully and with such manifest sincerity over the Khilafat issue that as soon as the agitation began to take organized form he emerged as its leader. It was Muslim point of view an advantageous to have a Hindu leader, especially one of Gandhi’s stature who was so firmly committed to Hindu-Muslim unity that he adopted the Muslim grievance over Turkey and the Khilafat as his own and who at the same time could ensure the support of the Hindu community for the cause. The esteem in which the Muslim leaders held Gandhi can be seen from the fact that he was made President of the first All-India Khilafat Conference held in Delhi on 23rd-24th November, 1919. Other Hindu leaders supported the Khilafat cause for somewhat different reasons. For the Hindu public neither religious nor political aspects of the Khilafat held any interest, but the significance of the alliance of the Khilafat movement with the Congress was generally recognized. In less than six months after its origin in October, 1919, the Khilafat movement developed into a mass movement of Indian Muslims, fully supported by the Indian National Congress. The Muslim League, which until this time had represented the Muslim middle class, was pushed aside. The leadership of the League was divided on the methods of agitation to be adopted to bring pressure on the British Government on behalf of Turkey.

The Muslim leaders were divided on the non-cooperation programme. Maulana Abdul Bari opposed it on the ground that Gandhi’s scheme would take years of work, while the Turkish and the Khilafat problems required immediate action in the form of jihad and hijrat. Thus the Muslim leaders still hesitating about the course of action to be followed. Finally, the non-cooperation movement was to begin officially on 1st August, 1920. The Non-cooperation Committee of the Central Khilafat Committee advised the people to observe full strike on that day.

Following the suspension of non-cooperation and civil disobedience and the imprisonment of Gandhi, what was left of the tenuous alliance between Hindus and Muslims, collapsed. The balance of the year 1922 was spent in petty bickering, in which Hindu and Muslim sniped at each other for lack of devotion to the national cause. In November, 1922 the Turkish Grand National Assembly in Ankara struck the first blow at the Khilafat by abolishing the Ottoman sultanate, deposing Sultan Wahiduddin Muhammad VI, and declaring Abdul Mejid Effendi the new caliph. In late October, 1923 the Grand National Assembly declared Turkey a republic, with Mustafa Kemal as President and Ismet Pasha as Prime Minister.

In 1923, Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah also took a leading part in the Khilafat Movement with the Indian Muslims, and raised his voice through articles in newspapers and letters to British authorities. This was indeed a critical time that his loyalty to the West and his unbounded love for Islam directly clashed, but the Imam decidedly championed the cause of Islam. He wrote a historic letter in association with Right Hon’ble Syed Ameer Ali (1849-1928), a member of the Privy Council of England, addressed to Ismet Pasha, the Prime Minister of Turkey on November 24, 1923, insisting not to liquidate the symbol of Islamic unity, and pleading that the matter of Turkey be given considerable hearing at the conference table. This letter was published in London Times on December 14, 1923. Aziz Ahmed writes in Islamic Modernism in India and Pakistan (London, 1967, p. 138) that, "The letter influenced and possibly precipitated the decision of the Turkish National Assembly taken on March 3, 1924 to abolish the caliphate and to exile Abd al-Majid. This marked the end of a centuries-old institution and of an era in the history of Islam."

Back to top