Following the Fraizi Movement, another reformist movement appeared in northern India to revive the original religious teachings of Islam in order to purify it from un-Islamic practices , which it was believed, had infiltrated into it. The leader of this movement was Syed Ahmad Shaheed (d.1832.) and it was known as Tehreek-i-Mohammadi or the Jihad Movement.
After observing the social, political and economic backwardness of the Muslim community, the ulema of the subcontinent concluded that the basic cause of their decline and degeneration was a profusion of religious teachings. The process of decay could only be controlled through the revival and implementation of original Islamic teachings.
According to the ulema, there were two factors polluting Islam. One was the un-Islamic Indian culture and customs and the other being religious innovations distorting the purity of religion.
These included the ceremonies related to marriages, celebrations on the occasion of festivals and rituals for seeking cure of diseases by using amulets.
Ismail Shaheed, a disciple of Syed Ahmad Shaheed, considered irreligious, the use of garlands on the occasion of marriage and covering the bridegroom’s face with strings of flowers called sehra. He also condemned the handshake, shaving beards, embracing each other on Eid and illumination to celebrate the festival of Shab-i-Barat. He criticised taaziya processions and Qadam-i-Rasool or foot print of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), slaughtering a goat when a baby boy was born, dancing, wearing ostentatious clothes, organised mourning during the month of Muharram, and to greet by saying Adab instead of Salaam, etc.
Other condemnable rituals he believed were rampant due to the lack of education. In Taqwiyatul Iman, he discussed in detail and considered un-Islamic the rituals where the help of dead people was sought to fulfill material desires, to believe that some days and months were good or evil, to visit shrines to pay offerings, to write death date and verses of the Holy Quran on graves, to maintain shrines, to worship a deity in order to prevent small pox, to pray to Sufi saints for fulfillment of wishes and desires.
The religious reform movement aimed to change the society through sermons and warnings but no attempt was made to analyse the roots of these rituals and practices prevalent in the society. It was simply believed the movement would reform the Muslim community. No one attempted to critically examine the causes of political decline and economic problems, nor did they study how the East India Company established its power.
After realising that it was not possible to establish a pure and pristine Islamic society in north India because of the British government, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region was chosen to carry out this experimentation, based on the assumption that being devout Muslims, the Pakhtuns would support the reformist movement. Generously funded by the north Indian Muslims, the holy warriors reached the tribal territories uninvited, established an Islamic state and the Syed declared himself the caliph. Their own version of sharia was implemented which soon created problems. Religious punishment, levying religious taxes and forced marriages with Pakhtun women led to a rebellion against the holy warriors. Finally, the movement came to an end when the Sikh army defeated them at Balakot in 1832.
Traditional historians accused the Pakhtun tribes of betraying the religious cause and glorified the role of the movement.
On the contrary, religious leaders who arrived in the Pakhtun territories without consultation with them and without any knowledge of the local language and tribal customs were at fault. Their main motive to fight against the Sikh government also failed as there was no response from the Muslims of Punjab against the Sikhs. It is suspected that the British government intentionally allowed them to go outside of their territories and expend their energy fighting against the Pakhtun tribes and the Sikhs.
Mere implementation of religious laws does not solve economic, political, and social issues, neither is crime eliminated by strict punishment. Transforming a society needs economic development and participation of people from below. It is a time for us to learn a lesson from past experiences that religions extremism and intolerance cannot solve our problems because it excludes the majority of people from its domain.