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KHILAFAT MOVEMENT. An agitation on the part of some Indian Muslims, allied with the Indian nationalist movement, during the years 1919 to 1924, the Khilafat Movement’s purpose was to influence the British government to preserve the spiritual and temporal authority of the Ottoman sultan as caliph of Islam. Integral with this was the Muslims’ desire to influence the treaty-making process following World War I in such a way as to restore the prewar boundaries of the Ottoman empire. The British government treated the Indian Khilafat delegation of 1920, headed by Muhammad ‘Ali, as quixotic Pan-Islamisms, and did not change its policy toward Turkey. The Indian Muslims’ attempt to influence the provisions of the Treaty of Sevres failed; the European powers went ahead with their territorial adjustments, including the institution of mandates over formerly Ottoman Arab territories.



The significance of the Khilafat movement, however, lies less in its supposed Pan-Islamism and its attempt to influence British imperial policy in the Middle East than in its impact on the Indian nationalist movement. The leaders of the Khilafat movement forged the first political alliance among Western-educated Indian Muslims and ‘ulama’ over the issue of the khildfah (caliphate). This leadership included the brothers Muhammad ‘Ali and Shaukat ‘Ali, who were products of Aligarh College; their spiritual guide Mawlana `Abdulbari of Firangi Mahal in Lucknow; the Calcutta journalist and Islamic scholar Abfi al-Kalam Azad; and the leading Deobandi `slim (scholar) Mawlana Mahmudulhasan. These publicist-politicians and ‘ulama’ viewed the European attack on the authority of the caliph as an attack on Islam, and thus as a threat to the religious freedom of Muslims under British rule. [See also the biography of Azad.]

The Khilafat issue crystallized anti-British sentiments among Indian Muslims that had been increasing since the Tripolitan and Balkan wars of 1911-1912, followed in 1914 by the British declaration of war against the Ottomans. Further, the violence that had followed the British demolition of a portion of a mosque in the Indian city of Kanpur in 1913, and the subsequent agitation that resulted in its restoration, had demonstrated the effectiveness of religious issues in political mobilization. The Khilafat leaders, most of whom had been imprisoned during the war, were already nationalists. Upon their release in 1919, the religious issue of the Khilafat provided a means to achieve Pan-Indian Muslim political solidarity in the anti-British cause, as well as a vehicle of communication between the leaders and their potential mass following.

The Khilafat movement also benefited from HinduMuslim cooperation in the nationalist cause that had grown during the war, beginning with the Lucknow Pact of 1916, when the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League agreed on proposals for postwar governmental reforms, and culminating in the protest against the Rowlatt anti-sedition bills in 1919. The Congress, now led by Mohandas K. Gandhi, had called for peaceful demonstrations against the Rowlatt bills, but violence broke out in several places. In the Punjab on 13 April 1919, soldiers fired on a peaceful meeting in Amritsar, killing 379 and injuring many more. The Amritsar massacre, together with the Khilafat issue, provided the stimulus for the Muslim-Congress alliance in the Noncooperation movement Of 1919-1922. Gandhi espoused the Khilafat cause, seeing in it an opportunity to rally Muslim support for the Congress. The `All brothers and their allies in turn provided the Non cooperation movement with some of its most enthusiastic troops.

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The combined Khilafat-Noncooperation movement was the first India-wide agitation against British rule. It saw an unprecedented degree of Hindu-Muslim cooperation, and it established Gandhi and his technique of nonviolent protest (satyagraha) at the center of the Indian nationalist movement. Students boycotted schools, lawyers boycotted the courts, voters boycotted elections, and Indians began to spin, weave, and wear homespun cloth as a protest against British economic domination. Mass mobilization using religious symbols was remarkably successful, and the British Indian government was shaken.

In late 1921 the government moved to suppress the movement. The `Ali brothers were arrested for incitement to violence, tried in Karachi, and imprisoned. The Noncooperation movement was suspended by Gandhi early in 1922 following a riot in the village of Chauri Chaura in which the local police force was incinerated inside their station by a mob. Gandhi was arrested, tried, and imprisoned soon thereafter. The Turks dealt the final blow by abolishing the Ottoman sultanate in 1922 and the caliphate in 1924.

The aftermath of the Khilafat movement saw a rising incidence of interreligious violence. The Mappila rebellion of 1921, in which the Muslim peasantry of Malabar rose against their Hindu landlords, increased HinduMuslim suspicions, even though the Khilafat leadership denounced the Mapillas for resorting to violence. During the period 1922-1924, Hindu-Muslim relations further deteriorated, with riots often fomented by communal organizations. Among these organizations were the Hindu Mahasabha, an exclusively Hindu political party, and Shuddhl and Sangathan, groups dedicated to “purification” and “solidarity” among Hindus. Tanzim and Tabligh, groups devoted to solidarity among Muslims and the propagation of the faith, responded aggressively. Thus the Khilafat movement, launched amid Hindu-Muslim amity and cooperation, ironically resulted in an aggravation of communal differences. Muslims, aroused to anti-British political activity by the use of religious symbols, found that religious issues separated them from their fellow Indians. The Indian National Congress under Gandhi’s leadership found that many of their national symbols were alienating to Muslims. It was a dilemma that ultimately had no solution.


Bamford, P. C. Histories of the Non-Cooperation and Khilafat Movements (1925). Reprint, Delhi, 1974. Government intelligence report issued shortly after the collapse of the movement.

Brown, Judith M. Gandhi’s Rise to Power: Indian Politics, 1919-1922. Cambridge, 1972. Perceptive study of Gandhi’s early career in India.

Hardy, Peter. The Muslims of British India. Cambridge, 1972. The best short intellectual history of Muslims in nineteenth- and twentieth-century India.

Hasan, Mushir ul-, ed. Communal and Pan-Islamic Trends in Colonial India. Rev. ed. New Delhi, 1985. Useful collection of articles. Hasan, Mushir ul-. Nationalism and Communal Politics in India. Rev. ed. New Delhi, 1991. Balanced study of the relationship between Muslims and the Congress in the period 1916-1929.

Minault, Gail. The Khilafat Movement: Religious Symbolism and Political Mobilization in India. New York, 1982. Standard work on the Khilafat movement.

Nanda, B. R. Gandhi, Pan-Islamism, Imperialism, and Nationalism in India. Delhi, 1989. Study of the Khilafat movement from the Congress point of view.

Robinson, Francis. Separatism among Indian Muslims: The Politics of the United Provinces’ Muslims, 1860-1923. Cambridge, 1974. Important study of the early development of Muslim politics in India through the Khilafat movement, with emphasis on British sources and viewpoints.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/khilafat-movement/

  • writerPosted On: July 25, 2014
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