Book review: ‘Ulema’s Role in India’s Freedom Movements’ fights Sangh narrative

Ulema's Role in India's Freedom Movements: With focus on the Silk Letter Movement (RESHMI RUMAL TEHRIK)

Book: Ulema’s Role in India’s Freedom Movements,Author: Syed Ubaidur Rahman,Reviewed By H Anjum. Price: Rs 595,Global Media Publications. Address D-204, 4th Floor, Abul Fazl Enclave, Jamia Nagar,New Delhi-110025.Email:, Tel: 9818327757

Indian Muslims are feeling under siege across the country. Their identity, their religion, their religious beliefs and even their life is under threat. They are being willfully lynched by Sangh sponsored lynch mobs, who in many states are being supported by the BJP ruled state governments.

Besides, the community is being demonized in such a way, and in such a systematic way that people have started seeing the community from this angle alone. The increasing Islamophobia is impacting the common people, rather very fast, who, in the absence of a counter narrative, tend to believe everything that is being dished out on the daily or rather hourly basis.

The saffron ideologues are ceaselessly working on the academic demise of Muslim history. With Modi assuming the country’s top executive office, India has undergone a rapid transformation from a secular and a democratic state to a saffronised state. There is no room for others, but the people of their own ideology in their schemes of things.

In such a scenario, Syed Ubaidur Rahman’s just published book, ‘Ulema’s Role in India’s Freedom Movements: With focus on the Silk Letter Movement (RESHMI RUMAL TEHRIK)’ comes as a breath of fresh air. When the Sangh Parivar is trying to re-write history, with its own narrative in focus, that ultimately means erasing the powerful role that the Muslims played in the freedom of the country, this book tries to bring back the community in focus.

It is an academic study of major movements for the freedom of the country. The book studies in details the Mutiny of 1857, Faraizi Movement of West Bengal, Jihad movement of Sayyid Ahmad Barilvi and the freedom movement planned, led and financed by the Ulama of Deoband in the second decade of the twentieth century.

The author, 44-year old Syed Ubaidur Rahman, who is known for his fearless writings on Indian Muslims and their issues and who has taken on the right wingers of both Hindus and Muslims, has fulfilled a very important need with this book. While talking about the need to write this book, Syed says, “History needs to be preserved. It is the responsibility of the people, communities and the nations to preserve their histories and present right perspectives to what happened in the past. Indian Muslims have not done precious little when it comes to presenting their perspective in right context. On the contrary, the Sangh Parivar, bent upon distorting the history of the last few centuries, has made strides in this field. Despite the fact they were never part of the freedom movement, they have claimed an important role for them, and have tried to co-opt major historic figures as part of their narrative. This began with Patel. Now they are trying to claim Gandhi and Ambedkar as their own, despite both being fiercely opposed to their ideology of hate. On the contrary, the Muslims have ignored this part completely. Hope this book serves its purpose and creates awareness among masses about what Muslim scholars and ulama did for the nation in the freedom struggle”.

This book deals with different phases of freedom struggle with special focus on Silken Letter Conspiracy, better known as the Reshmi Rumal Tehrik. Not much has been written on Reshmi Rumal Tehrik or the people behind it and thus it remains shrouded in mystery. The book also discusses at length the Mutiny of 1857 and 1858, Faraizi Movement that was anti-colonial movement launched and sustained by Islamic scholars, besides Tehrik-e-Jihad of Sayyid Ahmad Barelvi in North Western Frontiers and Kashmir.

Muslim ulema’s role was not limited to merely giving advice to the rulers and then become mute spectators of what was taking place. On the contrary, when they realized that there was no one coming forward to lead the masses, they took up leadership role, and fought off the invaders. From Bengal to Balakot and from Delhi to Lucknow, Muslim ulema played prominent roles in all the uprisings against the British (mis)rule. Be it Faraizi Movement, first war of independence of 1857 or the Reshmi Rumal Tehrik, they were instrumental and took leadership role.

During the Mutiny of 1857, ulema were at the forefront and paid heavy price for their leadership role. Maulavi Ahmadullah Shah was one of the most prominent leaders of the entire freedom movement, who led on many war fronts and collaborated with all other renowned freedom fighters. Despite being among the most prominent leaders of the 1857 Mutiny, Maulavi Ahmadullah Shah remains a rather unknown figure in the country.

Ulema who are now being systematically demonized were in the forefront throughout the freedom movement. This is true especially of Deobandi ulama, who were behind Reshmi Rumal Tehrik, the movement that had the potential to change the course of history in the entire South Asia. This movement that was led by Shaikhul Hind Mahmud Hasan and his disciple Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi has not been properly documented. The same is true about the 1857 Mutiny.

When I talked to Syed trying to know as to what prompted him to write the book, he says that the community urgently needs to document its history and how it has made great sacrifices for the country and its people. The deomonized ulama not just guided the freedom movements and led the nationalist elements from the front but also gave Himalayan sacrifices for the purpose. In the 1857 Mutiny, thousands and thousands of ulema sacrificed their lives. Every major city has signs of the remarkable sacrifices that the ulema gave for the nation and for freeing the country from the clutches of oppressive British East India Company. If one wants to see and feel it, he should visit Khooni Darwaza in Delhi, Kotwali area of Bareilly, Lucknow, Faizabad, Kanpur, Allahabad, Agra and other flashpoints across North India. He goes on to add that their sacrifices were similarly monumental during the final phase of freedom struggle when they vehemently opposed the two nation theory of Muslim League and the Hindu Mahasabha.


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