British Supremacy in India and the Attitude of the Ulama

This article examines the attitudes of various Muslim Ulema in India towards the British rule. The Muslims in India lost the supremacy to the British in 1858. This meant the destruction of many centuries-long administrative, religious and cultural privileges. The Muslim scholars, who now became also the political leaders of the community, felt the need to voice the religious objection to the British rule. Shah Abdulaziz protested at the interference to the religious affairs of the Muslims by implicitly declaring India under the foreign rule as dar al-harb. This line was later adopted by more radical reform movements like Jihad and Faraiziyya. After the terrible mutiny of 1857, Muslims suffered heavily for they were held responsible. Thereafter they were treated with suspicion by the British. The Muslims in despair turned towards the Meccan Ulema for religious guidance. The Fatava that came from Mecca declared India as dar al-Islam. This was also reiterated by a group of Ulama in Northern India and Bengal arguing that the Muslims under the British rule were free to practice their religion. However, this ruling was questioned not by other Muslims but by a British official, W.W. Hunter. Hunter stated that according to the strict stipulations of Islamic law India should be declared as dar al-harb and Muslims were bound by their religion to resist against the British rule. This statement caused resentment among some Muslim scholars. People like Syed Ahmad Khan accused Hunter of drawing wrong conclusion. According to them the only way for Indian Muslims to preserve their culture and religious identity among the Hindu majority was coming to terms with the British rule and erase their suspicion. Azmi ÖZCAN
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