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Hindustani Fanatics / Hindostan Wahabees

"The only difference between the Taliban and Sayyid Ahmad's 'Hindustan Fanatics' and Khalid's armies and Al Qaida is weaponry. The AK-47 has replaced the matchlock and the bomb has replaced the sword." The Original Afghan Mujahidin

Muslim radicalism within British-India was generally known at the time as the "Hindustani Fanatics" [aka Hindostanee Fanatics / Hindostani Fanatics / Hindustanee Fanatics ]. The Hindustani Fanatics were not Hindus, as the word might suggest, but Muslims from Hindustan, the lands east of the Indus River.

The Hindostan Wahabees were at war with the British Government from 1829 to 1870. Wahabism made its appearance in India in early 19th century as a religious reform movement in Islam in order to purge the pristine faith of the "religious corruptions" which had crept into Muslim society. In India it had a special appeal, as many of the converts from Hinduism had brought over into their new faith ideas and practices which were contrary to the spirit of Islam. Wahabism fiercely advocated a return to the "simplicity of faith (and society) of the Prophet's Arabia" and rejected "all accretions to and declensions from the pure Islam".

The movement soon transformed itself into a religio-political creed, attractive to the generation of Muslims dismayed at the end of the Islamic Mughal empire. They declared that British rule made the subcontinent Dar-ul-Harb, an area not under Islamic control. This implied that non-Muslim rule should be resisted and fought. Fired with the new missionary zeal, the Wahabi leaders toured the length and breadth of the country to stir up the Muslim masses and to appoint provincial and district agents in different parts of the country. The Hindustani fanatics had been a constant source of trouble and a thorn in the side of the British Government since tho annexation of the Punjab. Over and over again these fanatics received punishment from British arms and yet, as lately as the Black Mountain expedition of 1888, they were still to the fore, although with nothing like the power they once had, a factor for mischief in any complications which may arise with the independent tribes on the Peshawar and Hazara frontier.

Syed Ahmad of Rai Bareilly [aka Saiad Ahmad Shah of Bareilly / Saiyed Ahmad / Saiyid Ahmed of Rae Bareli / Sayyid Ahmad Barelvi / Syed Ahmed Barelvi - 1786-1831], the founder of the Indian Wahabis, (also known as Mohomedia tariqa) started a crusade in eastern Bengal against the domination of foreigners, determined to restore Muslim power in India. Pir Shariatulla of village Bahadurpur in district Faridpur also started the Farazia Movement, against the immediate oppressors, the zamindars, mahajans and planters who were backed by the East India Company. A similar movement was also led by Mir Nisarali of Chandpur (Barassat). These three contemporaries met in Mecca while they were on Haj.

About the year 1823, one of those famous saintly adventurers made his appearance on the Yusafzai frontier, who have at all times managed to beguile the credulous and simple Pathan race for their own ends, and have been the means of creating discord, upheaving society, and fomenting rebellions, which have been checked and crushed with the utmost difficulty. This man was Saiad Ahmad Shah of Bareilly. At one period of his life he was the companion-in-arms of the celebrated Amir Khan Pindari, who was himself a Pathan, born in the valley of Butier. Saiad Ahmad studied Arabic at Delhi, and then proceeded to Mecca by way of Calcutta. It was during this journey that his doctrines obtained the ascendancy over the minds of the Muhammadans of Bengal, which has ever since led them to supply this colony with fresh recruits. His doctrines were essentially those of the Wuhabi sect inculcating the original tenets of Islam, and repudiating commentaries on the Koran, the adoration of relics, etc.. It was in 1824 that the adventurer arrived by way of Kandahar and Kabul amongst the Yusafzai tribes of the Peshawar border, with about forty Hindustani followers.

It was just the time to raise the spirits of the Yusafzais and other Pathaus (which had been lowered by the crushing defeat they and the Peshawar Sirdars had received from Ranjit Singh at the battle of Naoshera), by religious exhortations. Saiad Ahmad gave out that he was a man of superior sanctity, and divinely commissioned to wage a war of extermination, with the aid of all true believers, again-t the infidel ; amongst a race so simple and superstitious, the mission of all enthusiasts like Saiad Ahmad is eminently successful. Animated by a spirit of fanaticism, and with the desire of freeing themselves from their Sikh oppressors, a mimerons, although ill-disciplined, army was soon at his disposal. His own Hindustani followers had been increased by recruits till they numbered 900 men. In addition to this, the Peshawar Sirdars, feeling the influence of the movement, and hoping to break the Sikh rule, joined in the crusade. The Muhammadans were routed with great slaughter by the Sikh soldiery.

Saiad Ahmad after this defeat, which occurred in the spring of 1827, escaped with a few followers, via Lundkhwar, to Swat. Thence he proceeded to Buner, and ultimately, at the invitation of some of the Khans, returned to Yusafzai. In 1829, having defeated the Barakzais at Hoti, he occupied Peshawar. But his successful career was now brought to a close. His exactions had become oppressive to the Pathaus and au attempt on his part to put a stop to their taking money on the betrothal of their daughters was still more distasteful. There was a general insurrection against him, and many of his followers, including the deputy left at Peshawar, were massacred.

After the death of Syed Ahmed in May 1831, they kept on working alternatively in faraway places like Sitana in the west and Frontier Rajmahal, Malda , West Bengal and Chittagong in east Bengal and carried on their revolutionary activities to end British domination in India. The death of Saiyed Ahmad was a great blow to the movement, but the four Patna Khalifas or spiritual vice-regents, appointed by him, namely, Vilayat Ali and his brother Inayet Ali, Shah Muhammad Hussain, and Farhat Hussain, not only kept it alive but also made it even more vigorous in a few year's time. On the lines of the Central Committee at Patna, everyone of the "friendly" districts had committees to discuss matters concerning the jihad and permanent preachers. Their zeal was intensified form time to time by the visits of itinerant missionaries.

The Wahabis renewed their hostile activities against the Sikhs during the troubled period following Maharaja Ranjit Singh's death. They only temporarily surrendered to the British at Haripur in 1847 after the establishment of the British Residency in the Punjab. In 1847, the Wahabis started full preparation for an absolute war against the British rule in India from their base camp in Sitana. Wilayet Ali became the undisputed leader. In September, 1849, Vilayet Ali marched towards Sittana, preaching jihad in every large town he visited on the way. By stages he reached Khanna, from where he was escorted by his brother, Inayer Ali, to Sittana. This time or during some previous frontier expedition, Vilayet Ali is said to have stayed on his way from Patna at Ludhiana for about a month. Vilayet Ali died in 1852, after which Inayet Ali became the undisputed leader.

The village of Sittana then belonged to one Saiad Akbar Shah, had served as treasurer and counsellor to Saiad Ahmad, and on this account he willingly allowed the Hindustanis to gather round him. Two powers reigned in Swat - the Akhund / Akond, or priest, and the Badshah, or king, whom the Akhund had set up for carrying on the temporal government. After the British annexation of the Peshawar valley, Abdul Ohafur, the well-known Akhund of Swat, prevailed on the people of Swat to receive Saiad Akbar as their king and he was accordingly proclaimed King of Swat.

Lord Elgin's Government, in September, 1853, directed tho Punjab authorities "effectually to rid our frontiers of the chronic cause of disturbance, tho Hindostanee fanatics," and even went so far as to order that they should be rooted out from "the compact area limited by the Barendo to the north, tho Indus to the cast, and our Yusufzai frontier to the south and southeast." But the Umbeyla force was broken up and was, of course, succeeded by an army twice tho size five years afterward. The Wahabees owed the only check they received to the rival spiritual pretensions of the Akhoond of Swat, who hated them only in less degree than he detested the infidels.

The Mutiny of 1857 soon showed that the holy war against the Sikhs, the Chinese, and the Nazarenos, which Syud Ahmed proclaimed at Peshawur in 1824, was a reality. The Wahabi movement was much better planned, organised and controlled than the great uprising of 1857. Though, due to a variety of reasons, the Wahabis did not play conspicuous role in 1857, some of the prominent rebels were the Wahabis. The only portion of the Peshawar district in which advantage of the Sepoy Mutiny was taken by the people to disturb the country was on the Yusafzai frontier, and this was principally due to the presence of the Hindustani fanatics, who were supported by contributions of men and money, from traitorous princes and private individuals in Hindustan.

In October 1863, a strong British force under the command of Brigadier-General Sir N.B. Chamberlain [later Field Marshal Sir Neville Bowles Chamberlain] was sent up through Ambela Pass to punish the Wahabis and to recover Sittana [General Neville Chamberlain was no direct or apparent relation to Neville Chamberlain (1869-1940), the British prime minister between 1937 and 1940 who is closely associated with the policy of appeasement towards Nazi Germany] At Ambela Pass, Brigadier-General Sir N.B. Chamberlain was confronted with 15,000 Wahabi soldiers who had assembled to resent the threatened invasion of their strongholds. The British troops were hemmed in by the enemies for three weeks. The Wahabi crusaders offered tough resistance to the British army and checked their advance to Chumla valley. All the efforts of Chamberlain to dislodge the Wahabi troops from their position failed. The latter even captured a picket and drove the British troops back inflicting a loss of 114 men, besides officers killed and wounded. Encouraged by these victories, they captured another British picket which could only be recaptured after a severe battle in which Chamberlain was wounded.

The Akhund of Swat had joined with large contingents of men from Swat, Dir and Bajaur, and it was computed that the total number of men in arms against the British was about 15,000. Old animosities were for the time in abeyance, aud, under the influence of fanaticism, tribes usuallv hostile to each other hail joined, or were hastening to join, the Akliuiid's standard, and to fight for the sake of their common faith. The Hindustani fanatics had been wrought up to a pitch of fanaticism, and were all prepared to lay down their lives. It is, indeed, only men animated by this spirit who can be found willing to leave their homes in India, and to take np their residence in these rugged mountains. Widely separated in language, manners, and interests from the people amongst whom they dwelt, receiving only a hare subsistence from the Maulvi, who entertained them, and paying exorbitantly for all the supplice they consumed, their life was passed in a manner by no means congenial to natives of Hindustan.

The British commander finding himself confronted by a combination of all the neighboring clans was obliged to take up a defensive position where he was fiercely assailed and the force was for a short time in considerable jeopardy. The predicament was serious for a reverse might have been followed by a general rising of the tribes to break in over the frontier into British territory. Chamberlain, finding the situation beyond his control, sent down a telegram asking for as many troops as could be spared. The Punjab had to be denuded of troops in order to extricate the British forces in the North West frontier from disaster. General Garvock, at the head of 9000 troops pushed forward and defeated the Wahabis near Laloo and again at the foot of the Bonair hills and brought the rebels to terms. The tribal coalition was dissolved through diplomatic tactics. On 22nd December, the Wahabi stronghold at Mulka was burned and the expedition retired having lost over one-tenth of its total number. Thus ended one of the most hazardous and difficult of the frays and petty wars provoked by the Wahabis on the North-West Frontier.

In the mutiny campaigns and sieges in the expedition of Sir Sydney Cotton, in the disastrous war of Umbevla, many a brave English officer and many a faithful Sepoy mercenary fell a victim to their intrigues and even their matchlocks. Again and again the Punjab Government, and still more emphatically the Government of India, declared that the Wahabees were so dangerous to the peace of the empire, that they must be rooted out. It was small satisfaction to kill half of their nine hundred fighting-men in the pass of Umboyla when British casualties amounted to eight hundred and fifty of the bravest, and the rest escaped once more to recruit their ranks.

The British measures, however, failed to end the activities of the Wahabis. They were defeated but they did not surrender and continued their exertion unabated. The Wahabis again received active support of the tribals and attacked a British outpost in the Agar valley. The British had to keep employed a large number of troops to check the invasions of the rebels and to keep them away from the borders. The Punjab Government recorded with regret that the campaign, had come to a close without our having been able either to drive out the Hindustani fanatics or to induce them to surrender and to return to their homes in Hindustan.

The British planned to strike at the root of the movement which was being continuously fed by men and money collected through Wahabi agents from all corners of India. The British took up brutal measures and the period between 1863-65, witnessed a series of trials by which all the principal leaders of the Wahabi movement were arrested. The Ambala trial of 1864 and Patna trial of 1865 were closely interlinked. Yahaya Ali along with Mohammed Jafar and Mohammed Shaft was sentenced to death in the Ambala trial and the others were sentenced to expatriation for life. The death sentences were later converted to transportation for life. Yahaya Ali was sent to the Andamans to undergo his sentence for life imprisonment. Ahmadullah was convicted in the Patna trial (1865) along with Fayzeli, Yahaya Ali and Farhat Ali. The death sentence of Ahmadullah awarded on 27th February 1865 was later on converted to deportation for life by the high court and he was also sent to the Andamans in June 1865. Amiruddin was convicted to life imprisonment in the Malda trial (1870) and was transported to the Andamans and his property was confiscated. The most respected leader of the Wahabi Movement, Ibrahim Mandal of Islampur, was convicted in Raj Mahal trial (1870) for organising movement at Raj Shahi and was sentenced to transportation for life and was send off to the Andamans. All these convicts underwent the indescribable miseries in the islands.

Syud Ahmed bequeathed his spiritual office to Sheik Mohammed Hoossein of Patna, and so made the very heart of the most peaceful province of the empire the focus of revolt. The power descended to his son-in-law Yahiya Ali, who, with the members of his family, Ahmedoolla and Fyaz Ali, are now felons at Port Blair. Abdoolla, their connection, led the crescentaders on the frontier, and others recruited for him in Bengal, as if Sir Sydney Cotton, General Chamberlain, and General Wildeliad never led armies into their haunte, as if the state trials at Umballa in 1864 and at Patna in 1865 had never taken place.

India, during the year 1868, enjoyed an almost uninterrupted peace. Slight disturbances in the northwestern provinces were promptly and easily suppressed. The greatest danger to the continuance of peace is apprehended from the fanatical Mohammedan sect of the Wahabees. The influence of the Wahabees was rapidly growing in the Mohammedan world, and alarming not only the English authorities in India, but the Governments of Turkey nnd Egypt.

The Mussulman conspiracy had ramifications spread all over Bengal north and cast of tho Ganges, if not farther. Tho Mussulmans of India were filled with a longing and a faith, more or less vague according to the sect which they favor, that their Imam is to appear in tho West to give them tho government of Asia. At least from Patna to Dacca there was hardly a mosque in which the Johad. the crescentade, is not preached ; and every good Mussulman was urged either himself to become a Moojahideen or crescentader, or to contributo of his substance for tho holy cause. All classes were appealed to, and with general success. The landholder, the shopkeeper, the artisan, the peasant, the poor laborer were fed, not so much by the regular preachers in the mosques as by the itinerant Wahabees, with visions of tho immediate coming of the deliverer who is to appear in glory on the mountain-tops of the northwest, on that Mahabun where tho Aryans first rested on their march, and lead all those who aro so blessed as to be there waiting his coming, to victory over the infidel here and sensuous delights hereafter.

With such dreams many classes of Mussulmans in Behar and Northern and Eastern Bengal were filled. For years they had been contributing their means for this purpose. A regular rate of taxation was laid down by the leaders, and cheerfully accepted by tho people. The poorest set aside one handful of rice for the holy war when they proceed to cook their daily meal, and every week tho grain is taken to the mosque where it is sold from time to time to recruit the Jehadees' treasury on their frontier. The more respectable classes contribute their two seers of wheat, at fixed times, or pay the equivalent in money at the market rate of the day. Tho rich landholder and trader pays his 2 percent, on the strict principle of an income tax.

The most dangerous feature in tho whole organization is one which, appearing for the first time, appeals to the simplest peasants, however little of fanatics they may be. It is the promise earnestly preached, and the belief now general, that tho great deliverer will, after breaking the infidel yoke, free every Mussulman from the land tax, and exact it only from the Hindoos. The Commissioners of Bhaugulporc, Rajehaye, and Dacca, have reported to the Bengal Government tho existence and spread of the Wahabee organization all over tho Mussulmans of their Divisions, and in tho Dacca districts there are three Mussulmans for every Hindoo.

The British set over twenty expeditions before they were able to crush the movement. The Government of India took vigorous measures to apprehend the seditious preachers and all tactics were employed to get some sort of evidence. In 1870, a large number of Wahabi workers were tried at Maida, Rajmahal and Patna on the charge of sedition and sentenced to transportation for life and forfeiture of their property.

In 1872, the Viceroy, Lord Mayo was fatally stabbed by Wahabi convict, Sher Ali at Port Blair. As a result of vigorous measures taken by the British, the Wahabi element was gradually broken. By 1883 the Wahabi Movement had been thoroughly suppressed. It no more represented a political threat to the Government of India, and after 1884, little was heard of it. A consequence thereof, the militant Wahabi movement in the tribal also fizzled out as it was deprived of those sources which had kept it alive.

The ruler of Swat, in accordance with his understanding with British, expelled the Hindustani fanatics from his territories.

A similar movement known as the Faraizi Movement started in Bengal by Haji Shhariatullah of Faridpur made incumbent on its followers to carry on struggle against the political and economic exploitation of the foreigners. His son Dadu Miyan (1819-1860) asserted that the earth belonged to God and no one has the right to occupy it. The movement lost much of its vigour after the death of Dadu Miyan in 1860.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:28:01 ZULU