When the Mughal Empire was at its zenith; nobles, poets, artists, and architects from all over the Muslim world arrived in India in the hope of royal patronage at the Mughal court; and they were certainly not disappointed.
They settled in the subcontinent and in recognition of their services, they were granted privileges, jagirs, powerful positions and titles. There are no historic records that show any evidence of the migration of Mughal aristocracy to other Muslim states for economic opportunities. As long as the Mughal power was stable, they had no feelings of insecurity.
The situation, however, changed after the death of Aurangzeb in 1707; as the process of decentralisation began and regional powers challenged the authority of the Mughal emperor. At this juncture, the Mughal nobility reacted by migrating to Awadh and Hyderabad in search of new patrons. Those who chose to stay back at the royal court fell into a rather critical social and economic situation.
While Delhi, Agra and other northern cities were ransacked by the Jats, the Marhathas and the Ruhellas; the Mughal court was unable to deal with these challenges. This was when Shah Waliullah appealed to Ahmad Shah Abdali to attack the subcontinent and rescue the Mughals from their enemies.
Although Abdali defeated the Marhathas in 1761, he further weakened the Mughal emperor and the nobility by plundering their wealth. The idea of reviving power and stability using foreign help failed; so no lesson can be learned from this dismal episode.
When the East India Company gained political power in the subcontinent and gradually seized most of the states, the rulers who wanted to retain their independence felt threatened. After losing all hope of any support coming from the Mughal state; Tipu Sultan of Mysore (d.1799) wrote a letter to the Ottoman caliph for help. Instead of extending help, the caliph betrayed Tipu Sultan by handing over the letter to the British government.
In 1857, after the revolt against the British rule, the caliph exhorted the Muslims of the subcontinent to support the British rule instead of fighting against them.
The leaders of the Muslim community in the subcontinent were not aware of the dismal and degenerated status of the caliph and the decline of the Ottoman Empire. Neither were they aware of the decadent situation of Afghanistan, Iran and other Muslim countries which were in no position to help them. Oblivious, the Muslims of the subcontinent launched a movement in favour of the caliph who was eventually defeated in World War 1. Ironically, the new political power under Mustafa Kamal threatened to abolish the institution which had lost both its utility and significance.
The Khilafat movement in the subcontinent was merely the outcome of the sense of insecurity and instability of the Muslims of the subcontinent who wanted to save and retain a religious symbol which they believed would provide them with a sense of identity. Interestingly, the British government was in favour of empowering the caliph to use him to obtain a favourable treaty. Therefore, the British government supported the Khilafat movement in the subcontinent.
When in 1924 the Khilafat was abolished by the new Turkish government, the whole movement collapsed. The Muslims of the subcontinent realised they had wasted their energy and resources for a lost cause and had only increased the influence of the ulema in politics.
The outcome of the Khilafat movement was a fatwa issued by Maulana Azad and Maulana Abdul Bari of Farangi Mahal; advising the Muslims that, as the subcontinent had become Dar-ul-Harb or the Abode of War, it was a religious duty of the Muslims to migrate from the subcontinent. Many Muslim families sold their properties and migrated to Afghanistan where they were not welcomed. After much insult and humiliation, they returned to the subcontinent to find that they had lost more than they had thought.
The question arising here is that why did the Muslims of the subcontinent look outside for help instead of relying on their own resources? Perhaps, the reason for this outlook was their peculiar historical understanding. Since they begin their history from 711AD, when Muhammad Bin Qasim conquered Sindh, they disconnect their relations with the Indian past and link their historical narrative with an Islamic past. The result of this historical consciousness is that they tend to look outside the subcontinent for their identity and involve themselves in all issues prevailing in the Muslim world.
This trend is followed to the present day. Religious extremists are imported and accepted; the result of which is sectarianism which has destroyed religious tolerance. The concept of Wahabism imported through foreign funding has created so many conflicts in our society, that it now threatens our stability as a country.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, May 18th, 2014