Nasratul Abrar: A fatwa by Ulema in favour of Hindu-Muslim unity

Story by  Saquib Salim | Posted by  Aasha Khosa | Date 02-03-2023
Unity of faiths: A Representational image
Unity of faiths: A Representational image


Saquib Salim

The formation of the Indian National Congress in 1885 was aimed at regrouping the Indians under one banner after the failure of the First War of Independence in 1857. Indian nationalists saw a ray of hope in Congress while British loyalists felt threatened. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, one of the most ardent advocates of British rule, opened a frontier against Congress. He expressed his views coated with the religious language of Islam, at Meerut in 1888.

Sir Syed claimed that Hindus and Muslims were two different qaums (nations/societies) with separate interests. He claimed that Christians were natural allies of Muslims while Hindus were enemies. He told a gathering of more than 800 Muslims, “we ought to unite with that nation with whom we can unite. No Mahomedan can say that the English are not ‘People of the Book’. No Mahomedan can deny this: that God has said that no people of other religions can be friends of Mahomedans except the Christians.” He went on to suggest that Muslims should develop business relations with the British and not the Hindus.

Sir Syed asked Muslims to boycott Congress because of its Hindu members.

Ulema, Islamic Scholars, were at the forefront of anti-British war of Independence in 1857. They collaborated with Hindu Rajas, zamindars, and chieftains to free India. This collaboration was in sync with the brand of Islam they used to teach.

A screenshot of the Book Nasratul Abrar.

Three Ulema from Ludhiana: Maulana Muhammad Ludhianvi, Maulana Abdullah Ludhianvi, and Maulana Abdul Aziz Ludhianvi issued a fatwa against Sir Syed’s call to boycott Hindus and Congress. Inspired by Sir Syed, a Muslim resident of Bombay (now Mumbai) Ali Muhammad asked if it was permissible to engage in trade and other activities with Hindus. He also asked if Muslims should join the association founded by Sir Syed instead of the ‘Hindu’ Congress.

Maulana Abdul Aziz replied to this query while delivering a sermon that was documented in the form of a fatwa by his brother Maulana Muhammad Ludhianvi. It must be noted that both of them had fought against the British in 1857.

The fatwa categorically said, “in worldly affairs, it’s completely alright to have relations with Christians, Jews, and Hindus”. Islamic scriptures were quoted to prove that the Prophet Muhammad and his companions maintained business relations with Jews. The fatwa addressed Sir Syed’s claim that the Quran directs Muslims not to befriend non-Muslims.

Maulana said, “the meaning of this particular sentence of the Quran should be understood in a sense that friendship with non-Muslims which hurts Islam and Muslims is illegitimate”. It was told that only those Hindus who were trying to kill or harm Muslims, could be boycotted otherwise Muslims should maintain relations with Hindus.

The fatwa told Muslims that it was fine to join Congress and that the call of Sir Syed to boycott it was baseless. Rather, Maulana asked people not to join Sir Syed's association. It went on to say that Muslims should not deal with Sir Syed and his followers in worldly affairs. They should not have a business or marital ties with his followers because they were not true to Islam. The boycott call made by Sir Syed against Congress, Maulana said, applied to him and his associates.

Ulema of Ludhiana then wrote letters to hundreds of Ulema in India and abroad to get reiteration over this fatwa. A few of the most respected Islamic scholars of the time gave their assent to the fatwa. These included Maulana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi, Maulana Ahmad Raza Khan Barelvi, Maulana Mahmud Hasan Deobandi, attendants of Rauza al-Nabi Salallahu Alaihai Wasallam (sacred chamber of the Prophet, Madina) and Rauza Abdul Qadir Jilani (Baghdad), etc.

Rashid Ahmad Gangohi fought in 1857 and was one of the founders of Darul Uloom, Deoband. He said that it was completely permissible for Muslims to maintain friendly relations with Hindus. In his view even if Sir Syed genuinely wanted good for the Muslim community he should not be supported and must be boycotted.

Ahmad Raza Khan Barelvi went on to say, “they (Hindus) cannot be called kafir-i-harbi”. He wrote that Hindus and Muslims enjoy similar rights under Islamic rule. Barelvi believed that Muslims should maintain relations with Hindus "which are beneficial for the whole nation”.

All these endorsements to the original fatwa were fatwas in their own right and Maulana Muhammad Ludhianvi and Maulana Abdul Aziz Ludhianvi compiled them in a book named Nasratul Abrar. Though Ulema ruled in favour of Congress and against Sir Syed’s Association yet they didn’t join Congress. It was due to their belief in full freedom which was not the stand of Congress. The party demanded full freedom almost four decades later.

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The book is a reflection on Islamic scholarship which denounces the usage of Islamic vocabulary for political usage, as Sir Syed was trying to achieve. It further proves that Islamic teachings are in agreement with Hindu-Muslim unity and a united nation. The fatwa also points out that the invocation of certain politicians that Muslims should have their political outfits has no Islamic basis otherwise hundreds of Ulema wouldn’t have endorsed a ‘Hindu’ leadership of Congress for Muslims.