By KJ Ahmad
Addressing the plenary session of the First Round Table Conference in London in 1930, Maulana Muhammad Ali said, “I want to go back to my country as a freeman. If you cannot accept it, then you will have to give me a piece of land for my grave”. His prophetic words proved to be true, and he died in London a few weeks later.
Maulana Muhammad Ali,. the renowned Indian Muslim leader, was a prince among the patriots. Possessing a dynamic personality, he towered high above his contemporary Indian politicians and instilled courage and confidence in the hearts of the ignorant masses which awakened them from their deep slumber. His fearless leadership and selfless devotion to his mission were greatly instrumental in dispelling the inferiority complex, which, the alien rulers had enshrined in the hearts of the teeming millions inhabiting this vast subcontinent and enabled them to brave the onslaughts of the foreign rule with courage and conviction. The policy of co-operation with the British Government, followed by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and his associates, at last gave place to the revolutionary politics of Maulana Muhammad Ali and Abul Kalaam Azad in which the attention of the Indian Muslimswas diverted towards the rival of the Pan-Islamic Movement and the restoration of the Khilafat.
Born in an aristocratic family of Rampur State (U.P.) in 1878, Muhammad Ali was destined to play a glorious role in the Indian politics. His father, Abdul Ali Khan, died when he was 2 years old, leaving behind three sons, Zulfiqar, Shaukat and Muhammad. His mother, Abadi Bano being an enlightened lady, sent his sons to Bareilly and afterwards to Aligarh to receive the best education available in the country. At Aligarh University, where Shaukat Ali was the idol of cricket fans, Muhammad Ali became the favourite of the literary circles. During his stay at the University, he took active interest in its extra-curricular activities and earned a high reputation as a student, poet, orator and writer. In 1896, at the age of 18, he topped the list of successful B.A. students from the Allahabad University, which conducted the degree examinations for the whole of the United Provinces. Muhammad Ali exposed the high-handedness of the European staff, who dominated the Aligarh University of those days. According to Sajjad Haider Yaldaram, who was his associate, the European Principal heaved a sigh of relief when Muhammad Ali left the University for U.K., as he was very outspoken in his criticism of the European staff. His free expression of views in the college debates on various national and international issues, caused great embarrassment to the European professors. In England, he remained for 4 years at the lincoln College and obtained his B.A. (Hons.) in Modem History. He had the distinction of being the first President of the Indian MajIis in the Cambridge University. He, however, was fortunate in not being selected for Indian CivilService,which in those days was reserved for a privileged few, otherwise India would have been deprived of the most colourful and dynamic personality of her modem history.
On his return from U.K., Muhammad Ali wasappointed asChiefEducation Officer of the Rampur State. But, due to the educational reforms which he wanted to enforce in the State, he had differences with the higher authorities.
He resigned his job and joined the Baroda Civil Service. He served the Baroda State for 7 years and his reforms in the State are still remembered with gratitude. During his stay in Baroda, he frequently contributed articles to the Times ofIndia, and his article “Thoughts on the Present Discontent”, was highly appreciated. His high intellect and his restless soul could not cope with the restrictions of the Civil Service. He was meant for something higher. Nature had endowed him with extraordinary abilities of head and heart which should have been devoted to better and higher purposes. The extreme poverty and sufferings to which the Indian masses were reduced under the alien yoke, only added fuel to his fiery temperament. He left the job and hurried to Calcutta to start his Weekly Comrade on January 1, 1911. An interesting story is related in this connection, which throws light on his determination to fight for the cause of the people through the Press. He was offered the Chief Ministership of an Indian State but he did not open the letter of appointment until the first issue of his paper was out. Maulana Muhammad Ali was an ideal journalist, and the high standard of professional integrity set by him will serve as a beacon light for the coming generations. His paper formed the’ vanguard of the struggle against exploitation and oppression of the alien Government. He was the first to raise his voice against the despotic Press laws. He had joined the fourth estate for pleading the cause of the downtrodden humanity inhabiting this subcontinent. His Comrade had set an example of independent journalism and was a class by itself. It played a vital role in moulding the political outlook of Modem India. Due to its frank viewsand flawlessEnglish, Comrade was very popular in official circles too. An ex-British Finance Member of the Government of India took its bound copies with him to England. Writing in the first editorial of Comrade on January 1, 1911, he gave out the policy of his paper: “We are all partisans of none, comrades of all. We deeply feel the many hazards of increasing controversy between races and races; creeds and creeds, and earnestly desire a better understanding between the contending elements of the body politic of India”. M the time passed, the national and international developments obliged him to be more anti-imperialist in his outlook and more outspoken in his criticism against the British Government. In 1914 when Turkey was involved in the Great War, Maulana Muhammad Ali after a continuous sitting of 36 hours wrote his memorable editorial, ‘The Choice ofthe Turks’ a befitting reply to the insulting article of the London Times under the same caption. The Indian Government forfeited its security. He was marked as a dangerous man by the authorities and his paper forfeited its security several times.
The Comrade was transferred to Delhi in 1912, when the Indian Capital was shifted from Calcutta to Delhi in 1911. It played a great part along with A l-Hilal of Azad and Zamindar of Lahore in the awakening of the Muslim masses and in forming their political outlook. Muhammad Ali started Hamdard, an Urdu Daily, from Delhi in 1913. He wrote his autobiography ‘My Life a Fragment’ the only work he has left behind for the future generations. Writing in his autobiography he mentions the reasons which impelled him to take up the career of journalism, “The reasons which so irresistibly impelled me to take up journalism was, that the affairs of my community at the juncture made it the only avenue, through which I could prove of any appreciable use-l felt, I should now assist my community in taking proper share in the political affairs of the country”.
Maulana Muhammad Ali played a vital part in preparing the Muslims in particular and Indians in general for the final struggle of freedom. Thus to a great extent he was responsible for shaping their political destiny. Under his dynamic leadership, Muslims grew into a virile and self-assertive nation. His heart which surged with the love of his countrymen awakened their self-respect. Being an ardent anti-imperialist, he virtually dominated the national stage for the first quarter of the present century. Along with Mohsinul Mulk and Wiqarul-Mulk, he was present in Dacca when the Muslim League was founded in 1906. On their suggestion, he wrote in his immaculate style an account of this historic session in the form of a pamphlet called, “Green Book ” He may be counted as one of the founders of All-India Muslim League along with Mohsmul Mulk, Wiqarul Mulk, Nawab Samiullah of Dacca and Agha Khan.
The Balkan War was declared in 1912. The machinations of the European powers against Turkey brought him in the arena of active politics. He appealed for funds in aid of Turkish victims. A medical mission was despatched to Turkey under the leadership of Dr. M. A. Ansari, which included Messrs A. R. Siddiqi and Shoaib Qureshi as well. This was the first embassy of practical goodwill sent by Muslim India to a foreign country. The mission performed valuable service, which is still acknowledged by the Turks with gratitude. The agitation launched by him for the assistance of Turks, revived the Pan-Islamic Movement in India. He wrote in Comrade: “Pan-Islamism when we consider its etymology is a meaningless issue of passion and prejudice. If it means anything, it refers to a community of sentiment and aspiration among the Mus~~I”1ans of the world, as brought into existence by their religion. In that case Islam bears exactly the same connotation, being the name cf a set of beliefs and ideals common to the entire Muslim races. Interpreting the world in this sense no Muslim need be ashamed of its application. The sympathies of a Muslim are co-extensive with his religion, a race and a country has never captured him to the extent of the utter immersion in a narrow patriotism of the ideals which the acceptance of Islam had made obligatory. Territorial patriotism is not at all compatible with the spiritual catholicity of a religion that has declared in a set of common ideals the brotherhood of man”.
The brutal firing of Machhli Bazaa., Cawnpore, in 1913, sent a wave of resentment throughout the length and breadth of the subcontinent. It was too painful an incident for the sensitive Muhammad Ali. It shook his heart and made him an active agitator from an armchair politician. He led a deputation to EnglandaccompaniedbySyedWazirHasan,Secretary oftheMuslimLeague. He canvassed there day and night, lecturing, writing in papers and interviewing the high British authorities, for securing an honourable settlement of the Cawnpore episode, but all in vain. He came back to India to find that Great Warwas declared in Europe in 1914, a few months after his return. Turkey was an ally of Germany and Muhammad Ali wanted that the British Government should take into consideration the feelings of Muslim India.
His bold and inspiring criticism of the imperialist powers, could not be tolerated by the British Government during the war and he was interned for a period of about 5 years, rangingfrom November 23,1915 to 1919. Whenhe was releasedin 1919,the internationalscenewastotallychanged.TheGreatWarhad come to an end. The Turks were badly pressed in the Treaty of Versailles and their very existence was at stake. Turkey was in danger of total extinction and Uyod George was contemplating to obliterate her from the map of Europe. Political storms were raging on the Indian horizon too. The Indian political atmosphere was tense and explosive. Martial Law had been proclaimed in the Punjab following the great tragedy of Jallianwala Bagh in 1919. These political developments only served as an incentive for thefiery Muhammad Ali. It was the most tumultuous period of his life. He rushed to Arnritsar where all Indian political parties were holding their sessions. He started the Khilafat Movement and joined hands with the Congress in 1919. His association with the Congress changed its entire complexion. This stormy patriot of Indian politics transformed the Indian National Congress from a constitutional body into a revolutionary mass organisation. His appeal for Turkish aid fund met with a wonderful response. The Muslimladies parted with their valuablesfor helping their Turkish brethren. The Maulana led a deputation to Europe to muster public support for the dwindling Khilafat, but returned disappointed. His joining hands with Mr. Gandhi to force the British to change their attitude towards the Turks resulted in the ideal Hindu-Muslim Unity during 1920-22. The massacre of Jallianwala Bagh and non-restoration of Khilafat led to the adoption of Non-Co-operation Resolution at the Nagpur Congress in 1921. Muhammad Ali is mainly credited with winning over the influential C. R. Dass Group in the Congress to support the move, thus paving the way for the adoption of the Resolution, which implied surrender of titles, resignation from government services and boycott of educational institutions and courts. He was so sincere in the application of the Resolution that whenDr.ZiauddinrefusedtoclosetheAligarhMuslimUniversity, he founded Jamia Millia, a parallel institution at Aligarh with the help of Dr.
M. A. Ansari, Hakim Ajmal Khan and Dr. Zakir Husain. The Institution was opened by Maulana Mahmood Hasan of Deoband. The teachers and the taught passed a truly Islamic life in this institution, being the very embodiment of simple livingand high thinking.
He made extensive tours of the subcontinent during the period extending from October, 1920 up to his arrest for Karachi trial on September 1, 1921. This period was spent virtually in the Railway compartment. He roused the Indian masses from their torpor and infused in them a new political consciousness. He never aspired for any position or privilege for himself. The Indian political consciousness was the result of his 8 years’ untiring efforts-a remarkably short period for such a gigantic work. India was echoing with this song:”
Bolin Amman Muhammad Ali Ki
Jan Beta Khilafat Pai Dedo”
(So spoke the mother of Muhammad Ali. My son, lay down your life for the sake of Khilafat).
A resolution was adopted at the Khilafat Conference held at Karachi in 1921, according to which, it was considered an irreligious act for the Muslims to enroll in the British army. This resulted in the Karachi trial which commenced in October, 1921 in which Maulanas Muhammad Ali, Shaukat Ali, Husain Ahmad Madni, and three others were awarded two years’ rigorous imprisonment. His imprisonment evoked a country-wide protest. The Resolution for which he was prosecuted was adopted and published throughout India. The statement given by Muhammad Ali before the court brings out his truly Islamic spirit. He acknowledges the supremacy of the Divine Law over the man-made legislations. The boldness and daring exhibited by him before the court was amazing. He was still in prison when Mustafa Kamal abolished the Khilafat, hence the movement in India for its revival also crumbled down.
Muhammad Ali, when released from jail in 1923, was elected President of the Indian National Congress and he delivered his memorable Presidential address in the momentous session at Cocanada in 1923. Pandit Nehru was his Secretaryand hehasdevotedonefullchapteronthissessioninhisautobiography “Nehru”. Both in thought and diction, this Address is matchless in the long history of A.I.C.C.
In 1923-24, Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya who was behind the bars was suddenly released following a secret meeting with the Viceroy. He, along with Swami Shardhanand, started the Shuddhi-Sanghatan Movement which led to communal riots throughout India. It destroyed the strong edifice of HinduMuslim unity built by the gigantic efforts of the Ali brothers. Mr. Gandhi, too, was carried away by the communal cries of Malviya and his henchmen. Muhammad Ali struggled hard to stop the riot and arrest the disruptive tendencies. He was, however, immensely shocked at the transformation of Gandhi.
The Maulana possessed a restless soul, an undaunted courage and an indomitable will. He had the courage to practise what he preached. Being a valiant fighter of the hundreds of political battles, he magnificently withstood all the trials and temptations that beset his path. He was a true Muslim who had implicit faith in his mission and had always lived up to his convictions. In 1926, he attended the World Muslim Conference (Motamar Alam-i-Islam) called by Sultan ibn Saud at Makkah, in which he boldly laid down his views, when other delegates hesitated to speak the bitter truth before the despotic monarch.
Maulana Muhammad Ali organised several Hindu-Muslim unity conferences, but without success. He was instrumental along with Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, in formulating the Delhi Proposals which demanded among other things, the separation of Sind from Bombay Province and the Reforms in N.-W.F.P. But, the publication of Nehru Report in 1928, sealed the fate of Hindu-Muslim unity for ever, and exposed the Congress as well as the Hindu Nationalists in all their nakedness. It proved to be a bitter pill which neither the Quaid-i-Azamnor Maulana Muhammad Ali could swallow. They tried to modify the Report at the Calcutta All Parties Conference held in December 1928, but failed due to want of Hindu support. Later, Quaid-i-Azam and Maulana Muhammad Ali participated in an All Parties Conference held under the Presidentship of Agha Khan in Delhi. Maulana Muhammad Ali, at last had to change his course after 16 years’ ceaseless efforts for the cause of Indian freedom. He had given his best for the sake of Hindu-Muslim unity, but to no purpose. He was not destined to live long. His health was shattered, his heart broken and he was only a shadow of his former self.
He started on the flnal phase of his life journey. Against all medical advice, he decided to participate in the Round Table Conference in London and was carried on a stretcher. Addressing the plenary session of the first R.T.C., he delivered his memorable speech quoted at the top which thrilled his countrymen. He breathed his last on January 4, 1931, and was buried near the sacred Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and thus joined the few immortals. His death cast a gloom all over the East and he was mourned by friends and foes alike. He was paid eloquent tributes by the great men of the world. Dr. Iqbal, the poet of the East, said:
“Soo-e-gardun raft zan rahe ki paighambar guzasht”,
(He proceeded to the Heaven by the same route which was taken by the Prophet of Islam).
H. G. Wells, the celebrated English novelist proclaimed: “Muhammad Ali possessed the pen of Macaulay, the tongue of Burke and the heart of Napolean”.
Such was Maulana Muhammad Ali, a person gifted with extraordinary qualities-a dynamic leader, a born poet, an eloquent orator, a forceful writer and above all a true Muslim.