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Role of Qur’anic Interpretation in the Social Mobilisation during India’s Struggle for Independence

By Grace Mubashir, New Age Islam

13 July 2022

Influence of Qur’an and Its Interpretations Over the Muslims Is Not A Fact Exclusively Belonged To India Contexts, But Is A Globally Perceived Phenomenon Wherever Muslims Encountered the Colonial Forces

Main Points:

1.    Quran has served as an inspiration for the people to embark on the social transformation through massive social mobilization.

2.    All bygone sects in the Islamic history have somehow tactically used the Qur’anic interpretations to justify their movements.

3.    Holy Qur'an is not a dogmatic scripture demanding blind actions from the faithful.

4.    Quranic teachings are misconceived by fringe elements and that wreaks havoc.



The Holy Qur'an is not a dogmatic scripture demanding blind actions from the faithful. Qur'an is a dynamic vision document which calls for constructive work from the believers. The Quranic teachings are misconceived by fringe elements and that wreaks havoc. The message of Quran is clear: stand for justice and humanity. Any attempt to contrive false messages through literal reading of some verses of the text has to be abjure.


Throughout the history, Quran has served as an inspiration for the people to embark on the social transformation through massive social mobilization. All bygone sects in the Islamic history have somehow tactically used the Qur’anic interpretations to justify their movements and appeal to the people for the unwavering support. Arberry traces the revolutionary background of Quran to its unrivalled authority among the laity and the general scholarly stipulation for the firm adherence to the Qur’anic teachings. In the colonial era, freedom fighters of different Muslim nations like Umer Mukhtar and Abdul Qadir Jaza’ri have taken recourse to Qur’anic teachings to drive home the importance of holy war among the masses.

The Indian war for independence in which Muslims ardently participated was not an exception. The war for the independence of India assumed paramount significance among the Muslims as they waged the war for the restoration of the lost glory of Islamic rule. Leaders with different affiliations used the Qur’anic interpretation to draw the people to their movements. Hasrat Mohani and Azad from the Congress, scholars from the Deobandi, Barelvi and Ahle Hadees and even the proponents of the partition advocated their idea through the loose interpretation of the Quran. This paper presents in-depth study about the various discourses of Qur’anic interpretations of Indo-Pak scholars during the war for the independence from various spectrums.

Native people of India opposed tooth and nail the colonial subjugation that wreaked havoc over their economic welfare and posed potential threat to the religious and the cultural practices of local people. Various struggles against the colonial oppression bear witness to the reality of people being united, without least consideration for their religious and ethnic affiliations, against the common grievance of infringing the freedom of the nation. Muslims, as noted by K.N Panikkar, was in the vanguard in the struggles against the colonial powers due to their aversion against the Christian west and the rise of west challenged mercantile supremacy enjoyed by Muslims in Mediterranean Sea.

Muslims of India relentlessly vied to overthrow the colonial administration and, hence, staged bloody rebellions against the rule of colonial forces. Muslims proved to be detrimental force for the rapid expansion of colonialism in India, while other communities came to terms with western masters in due course of time. The zeal to secure religious rights in the country they reside, Muslims, guided by the revolutionary precepts of Qur’an, rose in rebellions and mutinies against the alien oppressors. The timely broad interpretation of Qur’an by the erudite scholars stirred the Muslim community to take resort to violence in their hope to retard the growth of colonial powers. This paper analyses the role of Qur’anic interpretation in the social mobilization of Muslims against the British raj.

Muslim Response towards British

The book written by Thomas .P. Hardy gives in-depth analysis over the chequered relation of Muslims had with British in various course of time. Rather than reaching a sweeping generalization, prudent would be to weigh the various approach of Muslim of community according to the relevant social condition. Ever since colonial powers made inroads into the India, no consensus existed among the scholars and they stood divided on many issues like paying of tax to government, cooperation with the infidels, and establishment of Dar-ul-Islam and so on. So was the case of Muslim stance against British and they adopted political and religious positions expedient to the changing complex social conditions. However, Muslim relation with the British, according to Hardy, could be classified into major four stages.

•        Before the 1857 mutiny, Muslims altogether abhorred the British for disrupting the Islamic rule in various parts of the country.

•        After 1857 educated Muslim intelligentsia coming to terms with British reformative policies like modern scientific education. 

•        Liberal and orthodox Muslim scholars join hands with congress against British policies towards Ottoman Khilafat, in the wake of latter’s defeat in world war first. 

•        Growing rapport of Muslim community towards British policies and the evolution of two state theories.

Qur’an and the Social Mobilization Process

Post-colonial historians of Muslim world have strikingly characterized the adherents of Islam as agents of change in the localities they dwell, either through intellectual debates or through physical violence. The pattern of Muslim anti-colonial resistance from Africa to Middle East asserts the revolutionary nature of Islamic faith when their religious existence is seemed endangered by the Christians and Jews, historical arch-rivals of Islam. The religious susceptibility of Muslims is a hot subject among the academicians as they explore the staunch loyalty of Muslims of towards their religious cause and often attribute the zeal to court martyrdom to the tremendous rewards promised if one sacrificed his life for the sake of god.

Various elements drew the Muslim folks to take arms against the rivals and eventually shed the life in the cause of Allah the Almighty. In the book Against Lord And State which gives an extensive study over the uprisings of Malabar Muslims against the British forces, author K.N Panikkar traces the rebellious fervour of Muslims into various factors; immunity enjoyed by holy Qur’an and the prophetic Sunna, reverence to the Sufi saints and the martyrs, unflinching loyalty towards the scholars and the abundance of literary works in the form of ballads, speeches and folklores were the major sources that ignited the Muslims against British. The ill-equipped companions of prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) who accompanied him to the gruesome battlefield of Badr, the maiden war in the history of Islam, were stirred by the dictates of Qur’an to take on the formidable prowess of Makkan aristocracy. According to the Thomas Arnold, the verses in the Qur’an that signify moral battle between Muslims and infidels are of importance in the history of Islamic conquests and the fact that Muslims voluntarily joined the forces fighting the unbelievers substantiates the augment of the historian.

Throughout the centuries, Qur’an enjoyed and will enjoy the status of a sole religious book poised to create troubles for the unjust colonial rulers, a fact relayed by various British government appointed committees to look into the causes of Muslims rebellions. Hence, after the breakout of first war of independence in 1857 British government ordered the seizure of the holy texts in the fear of rebellion blowing out of the conditions as these texts, according to British correspondence, spewed venomous hatred against the administration and the feudal institution that props up the injustice. The influence of Qur’an and its interpretations over the Muslims is not a fact exclusively belonged to India contexts, but is a globally perceived phenomenon wherever Muslims encountered the colonial forces.

Many historians have discussed the paramount significance of Qur’an behind the social mobilization of Muslim communities. All the discussions could be summarized as follows:

1.       The supremacy enjoyed by the Qur’an among the masses as the lone fool proof dive revelation of god that exists to date without even minor abrogation

2.       The wide currency of Qur’an among the people in written form because according to a layman religious education meant to acquire the ability to recite Qur’an, except for the other mandatory knowledge.

3.       The inherent revolutionary teachings of Qur’an and the scholars’ perception of Qur’an as a catalyst of positive change

4.       Sacredness of Qur’an among all factions: although a great deal of divisions and disputes could be found among the people of various factions, the Qur’an in its scriptural form is identical to all, unlike any other sources of legislation in Islam.

The positions that the Ulama took on the various issues took the form of juristic opinions or fatwas, mostly issued in response to questions raised by Muslims wanting to follow the religiously correct course of action, or were embedded in shuruh of the Qur’an and Hadith. Muhammad Qasim Zaman describes commentaries as follows: “The discursive form of the commentary was, in fact, one of the principle means (the other was the fatwa) through which the law was not only elaborated but also expanded and modified to meet the exigencies of changing times. Commentaries allowed scholars to preserve the identity and authority of their school of law, their legal tradition, while simultaneously providing them with the means to make sometimes important adjustments in that tradition.

Faraizi Movement of Bengal

The Faraizi movement fanned out through Bengal and Orissa is considered forerunner to the well-knit mass religious rebellions of nineteenth and twentieth century. India succumbed to anarchy towards the close of eighteenth century. Taking advantage of the chaos and the vacuum caused by the fall of central authority the British vied to carve out a place for themselves, which they retained for more than a century. Superior techniques and adept diplomacy further gave British an upper hand and in league with the indigenous states and rebellious princes, they came into prominence and emerged victorious. Meanwhile, the delicate relation of British government with the various ethnic and religious communities got deteriorated and the later decades witnessed grave battle between the oppressive administration and the people.

The Faraizi movement was founded by Pir Shriatullah (1781-1840) of Faridpur who preached a revolutionary religious dogma against the British in 1804. The Faraizi Movement of Bengal was the first organized Islamic movement in British India.3 It would seem that initially this movement was a purely religious reform movement. As far the teachings of Haji Shariatullaah and his disciples are concerned, they did not deviate from the accepted beliefs of Islam and that could not be even imagined that they established a new creed by any stretch of imagination. They vociferously advocated the purging of unIslamic practices that were inducted into the code of religious worship due to the internalization of indigenous customs.

But, the Faraizis could not remain indifferent to the economic exploitation and miserable plight of the people among whom they were working and whom they sought to reform. As a result, they found themselves entangled in combating the economic exploitation of the helpless peasantry by the Zamindars and indigo-planters and this imparted to their movement an-anti-British character and ultimately it become one of the distinctive features of the movement.

 Those spearheaded the movement had outstanding mastery over Islamic disciplines and hence they wielded unrivalled esteem the rank and file. They tactically invoked the Qur’anic interpretation to mobilize the people into rebellion against British and in the unmatched authority of divine book they perceived the potential to consolidate the fragmented umma on a common course. People were instilled with the craze to fight against the tyrannical administration and unequivocally stated their political pursuits were apparently the replacement of British hegemony by the establishment of an Islamic state rooted in the revelations of Holy Qur’an. The revolutionary interpretation of Qur’an was conveyed through the rabble-rousing speeches that were delivered by eminent Faraizi leaders. Thanks to the tradition of oral transmission, the compilations of these interpretations are non-existent to the date, save some historical documents of British official correspondence.

That the Faraizis were patriots and made matchless sacrifices for their motherland is undisputed. Inspired by the Qur’anic clarion calls thousands of oppressed peasants rose like a man against feudal lords and British planters and for many successive years jeopardized the very existence of British establishment in north-eastern parts of India. They were passive freedom fighters. After initial emphatic success, British harshly repelled the fighters, leaving a massive trail of destruction behind. British army, benevolently aided by feudal lords, conducted serial military raids in Faraizi dens which eventually expedited the premature death of the movement.

Muslim Participation in Anti-British Politics

After the failure of Khilafat movement, the imperial slavery continued to haunt the Muslims. In their attempt to eliminate the colonialism Muslims stood divided mainly in two poles: one communal alliance under the Muslim League and another socialist movement under congress and Gandhi. Followers of Aligarh movement and the Samastha Kerala Jamliathul Ulama, a vibrant clerical body established to defend the onslaughts against Islam, constitute the exception. Muslim leaders from various strata aligned with different movements for India attain her freedom. Muslims wholeheartedly participated in Quit India Movement, Civil Disobedience Movements, Salt Satyagraha and many more, earnestly burying the hatchet with the Hindu society. The rise of educated Muslim middle class helped the reviving of the lost grandeur of Islamic education and began the interpretation of Islam and Qur’an afresh.

Ulema and leaders owing allegiance to both parties used the Qur’anic injunctions and teachings to garner the support of the masses. League leaders’ unleashed fierce verbal attack against the congress and supporters of nationalistic course by allegedly invoking the Qur’anic concept of Vala’ Wal Bara’. The verses that bar the faithful from forming the alliance with the pagans were cited to justify League’s anti-Congress stance and coming to terms with the Book of People rather than submitting to the hegemony of idol worshippers. Jinnah Sahib, a lawyer by profession and the staunchest believer in the efficacy of Islamic state in the postcolonial era, perceived Qur’an as the postulate of Muslim League and the arbitrary supreme manual of move; thus the movement exuded the character of pan-Islamic credentials. That the Qur’anic verses were misconstrued by partisan leaders to advance their communal ideology and the politics of hatred is a contested issue and, however, Muslims of the subcontinent were made and will be made to bear the brunt of vilification campaign that spoilt the delicate religious harmony.

On the other hand, Muslim leaders who supported the nationalist movement and Congress were articulate in their position and eschewed the communal politics outright by copiously referring to the Qur’an and prophetic approach to non-Muslims. They found the resemblances of their pathetic political degeneration in the Makkan life the prophet (P.B.U.H) when he was dwarfed by mighty adversaries. As a matter of political expediency, these scholars made a strong pitch for the united movement with non-Muslims and reckoned with the leadership of Gandhi. Scholars of Deobandi school of thought, Abul Kalam Azad, Khan Abdul Gaffer Khan and M.A. Ansari were the prominent Muslim scholars in the nationalistic alliance and passionately collaborated with and even staged a number of demonstrations for the freedom of nation. When compared to the mass appeal of Muslim League had among Muslim denominations, the congress lagged very behind in securing the backing of non-educated Muslims. These scholars also drew inspiration from the pluralistic concepts of Qur’an, a fact substantiated by the harmonious life prophet (P.B.U.H).

Khan Abdul Gaffer Khan, a formidable Pashtoon leader and the revivalist of Pashtoon nationalism, adored the Gandhian way of passive resistance very much and became the ardent proponent of non-violence, a political philosophy he extracted from the interpretation of Qur’an. 16While the British colonial authorities decried Abdul Ghaffar Khan as another trouble- making Indian nationalist dreaming of freedom, Mahatma Gandhi found in him a paragon of non-violence and one who drew his ahimsa (non-violence) from the Holy Qur’an.17 He formed a voluntary organization named Khudai Khidmatgar to address the needs of the destitute and people in rebellion-ravaged areas as part of his nationalistic pursuits. Their motto was that the service of humanity was the best worship of God. They succeeded in creating at the local level a culture of Khidmat-o-Qurbani (service and sacrifice) through two Qur’anic means: Sabr-o-Salah (patience and prayers). The Khudai Khidmatgars summarized their mission in the Qur’anic injunction of stopping evil and spreading virtue.

Born in Makka, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad is considered a unique modern Muslim scholar of India having mastery over the traditional and the progressive Islam which helped him carve out a distinct niche in the history of Islamic progressivism. He served the Indian National Congress as president in two terms and the independent India as the first educational minister, a post he held till his death in 1956. His political acumen won the Muslims hearts in joining hands with the Congress to a great extent. Hardly he had supported the communal politics of Muslim League nor demanded a separate state exclusively for Muslims; instead theoretically and logically he countered the hollow arguments raised by spokesmen of dual nation theory. Azad wrote a voluminous Qur’anic interpretation in Urdu language named Tarjuman-e-Qur’an, in which he tried to explain Islam according to the modern sciences and the pluralistic political concepts of Qur’an.

What is remarkable about Azad’s political practice is that it is grounded in his interpretation of the Qur’an and the Sharia. The Qur’an according to him revealed a universal religion—din—which is shared by all those who believe in God. Din consisted in “devotion to God and balanced, righteous action”. The Qur’an, in his interpretation, did not ask the followers of other religions to accept Islam as an altogether new religion. “On the contrary, it asks them to return to the true form of their own religion”. That is to say, Azad saw Islam as recognizing the de jure legitimacy of all institutional religions. Since a spiritual bond unites all believers regardless of their institutional differences, the practice of Muslims regarding themselves as members of a metaphysically closed religion has only historical, but no doctrinal, foundation. Azad went further. There should therefore be no doctrinal or juristic objection against Muslims forming an Ummah Al-Wahidah, or unitary body, with the Hindus. He claimed that his interpretation was based on the practice of the Prophet (P.B.U.H)—the settlement that he had reached with the non-Muslim tribes of Medina.

Azad sought the basis of his political alliance with Indian National Congress, on the basis of the following Qur’anic verses and the Meesaq-e- Madinah: “Serve Allah, my people for you have no god but Him”. 21The Meesaq-e- Madinah contains the following clause, i.e., the Jews of Bani Awf will be a part of the Muslim Ummah. The Prophet said, due to an agreement between the Jews and the Muslims, they will be considered as one Ummah and therefore, there will be no discrimination between them. According to Maulana Mawdudi, it was a time bound agreement for the sake of a military alliance. Therefore, it will be improper to refer to it as composite culture as it is used in the present day political terminology.

It is thus clear that the Holy Qur'an is not a dogmatic scripture demanding blind actions from the faithful. Qur'an is a dynamic vision document which calls for constructive work from the believers. The Quranic teachings are misconceived by fringe elements and that wreaks havoc. The message of Quran is clear: stand for justice and humanity. Any attempt to contrive false messages through literal reading of some verses of the text has to be abjured.


A regular columnist for, Grace Mubashir is a journalism student at IIMC, Delhi


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