‘Jihad’ and the Uprising of 1857

Ms. Heena

Assault of Delhi and capture of the Cashmere Gate, 14 September 1857
The Revolt
of 1857 is an exhausted subject. A number of works has been done covering a
large number of issues, while a number of aspects are yet to be explored. One
such issue is the role of religion or the call for waging ‘Jihad
(religious war). The issue seems to have gained much popularity after the
publication of hugely influential work by W. Dalrymple, where he tried to carry
the discourse of religion to the farthest limits; linking Al-Qa’ida and
the rise of religious extremism in the modern times.[1] In the
present essay I have tried to correct this notion of Dalrymple by arguing that
it was not the religion but religions (both Hindus and Muslims united) which
was the slogan of fighting men. And therefore, a kind of proto-nationalism was
the much dominant idea.

The role of
religion in the uprising of 1857 was important ever since K. M. Ashraf wrote
his seminal piece on the role of the
wahabis during the Uprising of 1857
and argued that
wahabi ideologues as well as their ranks and files were
actively participated in waging the war.
[2] Similarly,
numerous proclamations issued by the some rebel leaders are deeply coached in
the terminology of rebel discourse.
[3] Even in the
writings of British administrators and loyalists, this issue seems to have been
a dominant feature of the historiography of 1857.
Dalrymple the revolt was a clash of civilization and the contemporary ideologues
such as the editor of  famous Dehli
Urdu Akhbar
were working to
inflate the cry of jihad. The editor was not just a journalist but, was
also a theologian belonging to the Shia’ sect of Islam. Though, theory
of Jihad is at some variance with the Sunni theory of Jihad,
yet he seems to be in support of the religious nature of the war, being waged
during this Uprising. He offers justification for such a view going beyond the
tenets of theology he follows.

Thus, it is interesting to look this question in some of editorials and the local articles, he published and included in the various issues during the period of the four months. He saw religion as the binding factors and thus, urged both Hindus and Muslims to protect their religions. ‘Condemning a Wahabi type argument’[4] he gives a call to both Hindus and Muslims to stand against the foreign rule and religion. He says that the English being Christians and so believing in the Trinity of God are held to be polytheistic and infidels, while the Hindus being believers in ‘Adi Purush’ share the basis belief in one God with Muslims and so are close to them. In view of this close proximity in belief, both Hindus and Muslims are called upon to unite and fight and destroy the Christian English.[5] A large number of evidences of communal harmony and of anti-British feeling in the country are available. Russell asserts that they (Indians) were deeply engaged with their religion. What they were engaged in was “a war of religion, of race, of revenge, of hope, of some national promptings to shake off the yoke of a stranger and to re-establish the full power of native chiefs and the full sway of native religions.”[6]

This love
for religion was used to justify
the revolt and to attract more and more people into it.[7] Thus, Maulavi Baqar[8] traces
instances from the history of Islam and Hinduism to instigate the idea of Jihad
among people and talks about the divine wrath upon the people who don’t go
for it. The editor even traced the historic Jange-e khandaq and Jang-e
the wars fought during the
times of Prophet, where only 3000 Muslims with few arrows and stones had
faced 12000 armed men and yet could manage to win with the grace of God.[9] It says,
now too English are suffering troubles at the hands of unseen power because of
their enmity towards Islam and their support for efforts to destroy the Islamic
He urged
people to think that how come a strong, literate, intelligent, wealthy and
organized empire could collapse and to look back at their traditions, at their
religious texts to understand that in this country how Sultans rose to power
and later got destroyed as well. Muslim should see the examples of Fir’aun,
Quam-e-Aad, Ummat-e-Hazrat Saliha who all got destroyed on account of
going against the Almighty; the editor forced us to remember that from the oven
of poor woman came up the water tide which destroyed the whole lives; Fira’un
despite having huge wealth was sunken into the river Nile; Qaum-e Aad
where people were of huge heights & had bungalows touching the sky were rooted
from the ground by a single wave of wind; the community of Hazrat Saliha was
ruined simply by a ferocious voice; Namrud along with his army was destroyed by
the attack of mosquitoes; Halaku Changez Khan destroyed the Abbasid dynasty.
Hindus too, should remember that Rawan, who was the king of Sighaldvip had once
defeated the Ram, the heir of Solar dynasty but with the help from God, Ram
deleted his name from the pages of world. Similary, the examples of Prashuram,
and all kshatriya families who destroyed the evil forces of the time are traced
by the editor. The only thing to be trusted upon is God and His Majesty
(Bahadur Shah Zafar).[11]
Thus, the
paper is urging people not to leave the city for the fear of English but
instilling in them the feeling of patriotism [12] against
the threat of destruction of their religions. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan too
acknowledges that interference with the religious matters was one of the most
important reasons for the hostility of Indian people against British Empire. [13]
There were various intellectuals and Ulema who were trying hard to
organize people; thus at various places gatherings and sermons were being
delivered. An aged man congratulated the people for the progress of Islam and
requesting them to maintain their faith in God and understand the significance
of lessons to be learnt from such a calamity as has fallen upon the English (‘ibrat)
[14];   a Maulavi who was guiding and instructing the
Jagirdars, Rajas and Rais to avoid dealings and company with English people,
for they had given no power to them and even tried to destroy their “Din and
Mazhab”. This whole cycle of instruction was working very effectively, turning
people anti British.
Mahdi Husain
too mentions a number of volunteers, patriots or revolutionary philosophers who
moved about different places and were suspected by the British as seditionists
such as Maulavi Fazl Haq (d. 1862). He cited Charles Ball who mentions one
Maulavi Ahmad Ali of Patna and Rango Bapuji, an agent of Nana Saheb as well as
Maulavi Sikandar Ali Shah, who are said to have arrived with some armed
followers at Lucknow and preached war against the infidels. Maulavi Sikandar
Ali Shah also distributed printed copies of proclamation and ‘called upon the
faithful as well as upon the Hindus to arise or to be forever fallen.’[16]
Understanding it differently Dalrymple argues that the central role in the
revolt and the primary issues of conflict were based in faith. He describes the
rebellion of 1857 as a ‘clash of rival fundamentalism’, between the arrogant, aggressive
Evangelical Christians and the bigoted, intolerant Wahabis.[17]The
religious nature of Uprising was becoming apparent in the sense that British
men and women who had converted to Islam were invariably spared, yet all Indian
coverts to Christianity were sought out and hunted down-such as Chaman Lal,
Father Jennings and two assistants.[18]
correct in quoting the importance of religion but Dalrymple has ignored that
Baqar was mobilizing both Hindus and Muslims alike. Farhat Hasan rightly says
that it is indeed true that rebels described themselves as Ghazis and Jihadis
but the meaning of word at that time was different i.e. it simply meant a fight
against injustice and a struggle for the restoration of shared moral world.[19] And
therefore while the call was mixed with religion, but not a single specific
religion was called upon to arise. Obviously religion then formed the road to
union against the firangi/foreigners, and surely it served as the feeder of
author is Research Scholar at the Department of History, University of Delhi.

[1] See W.
Dalrymple, ‘Religious Rhetoric in the Delhi Uprising of 1857’, in Sabyasachi
Bhattacharya, op.cit ; Farhat Hasan, op.cit; Mahdi Hasan, op.cit.
[2] K. M. Ashraf, ‘Muslim
Revivalists and the Revolt of 1857’, in P. C. Joshi, ed. ‘Rebellion 1857’, NBT,
[3] See ‘Risala e Fateh Islam’ in S.Z. H.Jafri,
‘Voices of the Vanquished: The Indigenous Discourse in the ‘Rebels Worlds’ of
1857’, in ‘Delhi in 1857: Studies, Images and Documents’, Indian History
Congress Souvenir  2010
, pp. 68-83
[4] Irfan Habib argues that Baqar has condemned a wahabi
type argument-Hindus to be shunned as ‘infidels’; Jihad not possible
without legitimate imam or leader, ‘The Coming of 1857’, Irfan Habib in
Shireen Moosvi
ed., Facets of the Great Revolt, 1857’, 2008, Tulika
[5]S. Moosvi,
‘Rebel Press, Delhi 1857’, in  ‘Facets of the Great Revolt’, 1857′ 2008,
Tulika Books 
[6] ‘My Diary in India’, W.H. Russell, Vol. I, p.164
[7] Mahmood Farooqui, ‘Besieged:
Voices from Delhi 1857
’, 2010, Viking, p.341
[8] Dalrymple says that Baqar in his descriptions remained as
much the preacher as the curious journalist and war correspondent.
[9] Dehli Urdu Akhbᾱr, dated 12th July 1857, No. 28, Vol. 19
[10] Ibid, dated 31st May 1857, No.22, Vol. 19
[11] Ibid, dated 14th
June 1857, No. 24, Vol. 19
[12] Dehli Urdu Akhbᾱr, dated 14th June, No.24, Vol. 19
[13] Syed Ahamd
Khan, ‘Asbab e Baghwat e Hind’; However, at the same time he clarifies that ‘jihad’ against
the British authorities was not a planned move.
[14] Dehli Urdu Akhbᾱr, dated 31st May 1857, No. 22; dated 21st
June 1857, No.25, Vol. 19
[15] Ibid
[16] Mahdi Husain, ‘Bahadur Shah II and the War of 1857 in Dehli with its Unforgettable scenes’,
1986, M.N.Publishers, pp 22-23
[17] Farhat Hasan cited him in his ‘Religion in History of 1857’ in  ‘Facets of the Great Revolt’, 1857′ 2008,
Tulika Books 
[18] Dalrymple, op. cit 
[19] Farhat Hasan, ‘Religion in History of 1857’ in  ‘Facets of the Great Revolt’, 1857′ 2008,
Tulika Books