By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan
Once, during my childhood, a public rally was held in the field of the Madrasa tul-Islah, not far from my home in Azamgarh. Thousands of Muslims from the surrounding areas attended it. The chief speaker at the rally was Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar (d. 1931). He addressed the gathering in his usual fiery style. In those days, there were no loudspeakers, but the Maulana used to roar so loudly that thousands of people could hear him without the need for any loudspeaker. When his speech was over, an elderly Muslim man stood up from the crowd and walked towards the stage. He patted the Maulana on his back and said, ‘Mohammad Ali! You have done what no one else has done!’
In the course of the Khilafat Movement, the fiery speeches of the Ali brothers—Maulanas Mohammad Ali and Shaukat Ali—had the stirred up the whole country, so much so that on one occasion, the latter had said, ‘Gandhi is in my pocket’. At that time, these brothers commanded enormous support among the Indian Muslims.
At around this time, a major controversy erupted over a mosque in Macchli Bazar in Kanpur. The British authorities demolished the mosque’s bathroom in order to expand a road. Muslim leaders created such an enormous hue and cry about it that Muslims rose up in revolt. A large number of Muslims were killed in the police firing that followed.
When all this was happening, Maulana Mohammad Ali boarded a train and arrived in Kanpur. A large crowd of Muslims waited at the station to welcome him. It is said that at that time, the British Governor of the then United Provinces, of which Kanpur was a part, was in Kanpur. He was eating his meal when he heard that Maulana Mohammad Ali had arrived in the town. The news so shocked him that the spoon dropped out of his hand and fell on the floor! That, it is claimed, was how powerful the Maulana was.
But the question is: What did the Maulana’s ‘thunderous’ leadership give to the Indian Muslims? A proper leadership is one that helps a community to build a positive future for itself. Someone who stirs up the emotions of a people and sets them on a tumultuous course of meaningless agitation can hardly be said to be a true leader. But, as far as I know, Maulana Mohammad Ali left nothing at all behind him that proved to be useful, in a positive sense, for the Muslims. On the contrary, in his fiery emotionalism he said things that continue to be major problems that Muslims have to contend with.
In the course of the Khilafat Movement, Mahatma Gandhi had joined hands with Maulana Mohammad Ali. At that time, the Maulana organized a big gathering of Muslims at the Jamia Masjid in Delhi. He took Mahatma Gandhi along for this convention. Mahatma Gandhi stood at the pulpit and delivered a speech. This really enraged the Muslims. Some people began abusing and defaming the Maulana for this. This was a very sensitive moment. In order to defend himself, the Maulana declared, ‘As far as politics are concerned, I regard Mahatma Gandhi as my leader. But as far as religion is concerned, I regard even an irreligious, evil-doing Muslim as better than Mahatma Gandhi.’
If an ‘ordinary’ person says something like this, people may not bother about it much. But when a well-known leader says this, it becomes news. And this is what happened in this case. Maulana Mohammad Ali’s statement was widely talked about among Hindus.
I believe that the Maulana’s response was not proper. He had unnecessarily made the issue very complicated. He could have said that, ‘If I have brought Mahatma Gandhi into the mosque, I have not done anything un-Islamic. At the time of the Prophet Muhammad himself, non-Muslims used to enter the mosque, and there were also occasions when they delivered lectures inside the mosque and no one said that this was wrong.’
In contrast to this, see how Mahatma Gandhi responded. After this incident, the annual meeting of the Congress Party was held at Calcutta. Both Mahatma Gandhi and Maulana Mohammad Ali were present on the occasion. When the programme was about to start, something really sensational happened. Mahadev Desai suddenly came on stage and loudly announced that he would not allow the meeting to go ahead because, he said, Maulana Mohammad Ali had insulted Mahatma Gandhi. Only if the Maulana asked for forgiveness would the meeting start.
A hushed silence fell over the gathering. Everyone turned to Maulana Mohammad Ali. But the Maulana was not willing to stand up and ask for forgiveness in public. He was probably scared that if he did so, when he came out of the meeting-place he would be accosted by irate Muslims and that it would be extremely difficult to calm them down.
So, for some time, the silence continued unbroken. Then, suddenly, something really strange happened. Mahatma Gandhi, who was present on the other side of the stage, got up and walked to where Maulana Mohammad Ali was. He placed his hand around the Maulana’s neck and light-heartedly said, ‘If the husband and wife are willing, then what the Qazi can do!’
The crowd burst out laughing, and so a matter that had seemed enormously serious was finished in a trice, and then the meeting began!
(This is a translation of excerpts from Maulana Wahiduddin Khan's Urdu book Hind-Pak Diary)