From Dr Hamid Hussain
20 December 2019
I wrote a piece about recent changes in Kashmir. While working on the background, I stumbled on an interesting chapter of Kashmir & Pakistan history that I have never seen in any mainstream publication. I decided to dig a more deeper to understand it better. Following is the outcome of that exercise. I thought it was important for those interested in the history of the region. Enjoy.
Ahmadis and Kashmir
“Independence of Kashmir can only be achieved by Kashmiris. Outsiders can only help in two ways; with financial support and by advocating their cause. Kashmiris should forget that outsiders will fight their war. Such outside help will not be useful; in fact, it will have opposite effect on the struggle for independence. If control of the struggle is in the hands of outsiders, it is possible that they will sell Kashmiris for their own interests. It is in the interest of Kashmiris that they should get advice as well as financial help from outsiders but never ask them to come and fight their war in Kashmir. In this case they will lose control. Long term sacrifice and not temporary emotional outburst will serve their cause and long term sacrifice can only be done by Kashmiris”. Head of Jama’at Ahmadiyya, Mirza Bashir Uddin Mahmud, 27 September 1931
Jama’at Ahmadiyya is a sect founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908). In early twentieth century, it was a small community with disciples mainly from Punjab; the birthplace of the founder. There was much hostility against the group in view of doctrinal differences especially when Mirza claimed to be Messiah and prophet. Agitation of orthodox clerics over decades finally culminated in an unprecedented act where Pakistan’s parliament declared the sect non-Muslim in 1974. This started a wave of persecution forcing many Ahmadis to leave the country and find refuge all over the world. General hostility including outright abuse against the group is at such an abnormal state that it is impossible to have any kind of meaningful discourse about the role of Ahmadis in Kashmir as well as independence movement of Pakistan. This part of the history disappeared from almost all historical works in Pakistan.
Kashmir was a Muslim majority princely state ruled by a Hindu Dogra ruler. Kashmiri Muslims were economically poor and politically powerless. Muslims of neighboring Punjab, many with Kashmiri heritage were concerned about the plight of Kashmiri Muslims. In 1911, they established All India Kashmiri Muslim Conference (AIKMC) in Lahore. This organization remained only on paper with no connection with Kashmiri Muslims and no program. In the summer of 1931, simmering discontent in Kashmir resulted in riots. On 25 July 1931, leading Muslims mainly from Punjab gathered at Simla and established All India Kashmir Committee (AIKC). The list of attendees of this meeting included literary and intellectual powerhouse Sir Muhammad Iqbal, head of Ahmadiyya community Mirza Bashir Uddin Mahmud Ahmad, leading Punjabi politician Sir Mian Fazal Hussain, Nawab of Maler Kotla Sir Muhammad Zulfiqar Ali Khan, Nawab of Kanj Pura Ibrahim Ali Khan, leading cleric of Delhi’s Barelvi community Khawaja Hassan Nizami and a former teacher of the leading orthodox Sunni seminary Darul-Uloom Deoband Maulvi Mirak Shah. Fazal Hussain wanted Iqbal to head the organization but on recommendation of Iqbal, Mirza Mahmud was unanimously chosen as president of AIKC. Muslims of different walks of life were members of AIKC including politicians affiliated with different parties, lawyers, educationalists, landed aristocracy, clerics from different schools of thoughts, journalists and businessmen. At no other time, such a consensus developed among diverse Muslim population of India.
Mirza Mahmud embarked on a wide ranging strategic journey to address Kashmir issue. He was far ahead of his times and not only grasped essential problem but also devised and implemented a well thought out long term strategic plan to achieve the goals of AIKC. The first step was to put Kashmiris on the forefront of this struggle. An organization named Reading Room Party was established in Kashmir with branches in major cities. Young Kashmiris gathered at the meetings, discussed ideas and were involved for the first time in organized political activity. Mahmud interviewed over a dozen Kashmiris for leadership role and finally decided on a young Kashmiri Shaikh Abdullah. He was given 238 Rupees monthly stipend so that he could work fulltime for Kashmir cause.
Inside Kashmir, handbills were printed and secretly distributed to the population. Propagation of Kashmir cause in India as well as advocacy in England was done by publication of reports on situation in Kashmir. Regular reports started to appear in major Muslim vernacular and English newspapers. Inside Kashmir, Shaikh Abdullah founded a newsletter named Islah. In 1932, Mahmud played a major role in establishment of All Kashmir Muslim Conference (AKMC) for organized political activity inside Kashmir.
Religious leadership of Muslims of different theological schools of thought invariably addressed political issues faced by Indian Muslims. Mirza Mahmud was the religious and administrative head of his community and major focus was well being of the community and missionary activities. Like many other Muslim groups, Ahmadi leadership defended general Muslim causes but avoided direct involvement in party politics. It was also a general practice that community’s leader will not head any other organization.
In 1930s, there was a very small Ahmadi community in Kashmir. Most were concentrated in Kulgam, Baramulla, Mirpur and Poonch. In 1920s, Hindu revivalist party Arya Samaj started campaign of reverting Muslims to Hinduism in Kashmir. Ahmadi missionaries came to Kashmir to fight this campaign and general population had a positive impression of the community.
Mirza Mahmud used his position as head of his community to channel all resources of Ahmadi community towards Kashmir cause. He asked every follower to contribute towards Kashmir Relief Fund. Ahmadi lawyers came to Kashmir to work on behalf of hundreds of incarcerated Kashmiris. Medical facilities were provided to injured in clashes with police.
Out of sixty four members of AIKC, only six were Ahmadis. However, the most committed members were Ahmadis and more importantly, as President of AIKC, Mirza Mahmud was at the forefront. Anti-Ahmadi question became an issue at AIKC. Some orthodox Muslim clerics had a negative view about Jama’at Ahmadiyya. Core issue of contention was claim of prophethood by the founder. Finality of prophethood of Muhammad was considered basic tenant of faith and based on this many orthodox clerics had declared Ahmadis outside of pale of Islam. Majlis Ahrar ul Islam (MAI) was at the forefront of this anti-Ahmadiyya movement in Punjab.
Mirza Mahmud wrote letters to MAI leaders Mazhar Ali Azhar and Chaudhry Afzal Haq to join this struggle, but they declined. Then he wrote letters to Iqbal, Maulana Ghulam Rasul Mahar and Maulvi Ismail Ghaznavi to work with MAI leaders and convince them to join AIKC and if their reluctance was due to Mahmud’s presence as President, he was willing to resign. In fact, he said in that case, they can consider his letter as resignation. Inside Kashmir, Mahmud worked with Muslim religious leadership of Srinagar. Two main clerics were Mir Waiz Ahmadullah Hamdani head of Barelvi Khanqa-e-Muallah and Mir Waiz Yusuf Shah head of Deobandi Jamia mosque of Srinagar. Later, Mirwaiz Yusuf Shah aligned with Ahrar. He accused Abdullah of being Ahmadi resulting in clashes in the mosque.
Opponents of Ahmadis alleged that Mirza Mahmud was trying to use AIKC platform as a vehicle for Ahmadi missionary activity in Kashmir. This was first propagated by a Hindu newspaper ‘Milaap’ of Lahore supportive of Dogra government of Kashmir. Mahmud denied it and issued public statements to Ahmadi workers in Kashmir to refrain from any missionary activity. However, many prominent Ahmadi missionaries were also active in AIKC. Secretary of AIKC Abdul Rahim Dard was former missionary in England and in-charge of administration Maulana Jalaluddin Shams was former missionary to Syria & Palestine. Another missionary Syed Zainul Abideen Waliullah Shah worked at foreign relations department. However, there is no evidence from Ahmadi or non-Ahmadi sources that suggest that any large scale organized missionary activity was done on part of Ahmadi volunteers. The tangible proof is that there was no significant increase in Ahmadi population of Kashmir during this time period. Church Mission Society (CMS), by helping Indian communities through education and healthcare, hoped that natives will see Christianity in positive light and may convert. In this context, it is not unreasonable to assume that Mirza Mahmud as head of a missionary community, hoped that by helping struggling Kashmiri Muslims, a positive attitude may win some converts for Jama’at Ahmadiyya. It is also possible that Mirza Mahmud saw his involvement in Kashmir in political context. If he could lead diverse segments of Muslim community in resolving the crisis of oppressed Kashmiris, then he could very well be given a bigger role in Muslim political struggle in India. Many Muslim organizations and personalities may have viewed the rise of Mirza Mahmud as a challenge to their own leadership.
Main opposition to Jama’at Ahmadiyya was from MAI and limited mostly to Punjab. The reason was that most Ahmadis were Punjabis. Ahrar’s opposition was not only on theological grounds but also related to political competition and leadership of Muslims of Punjab. Sir Sikandar Hayat Khan invited Mirza Mahmud and Ahrar leader Chaudhry Afzal Haq to his house to reconcile them. Afzal Haq provided the reasons for his opposition stating that ‘Ahmadis had opposed me in every election, and we have decided that we will eliminate Jama’at Ahmadiyya.’
In less than two years, AIKC under Mirza Mahmud had achieved unprecedented success. Many non-Ahmadis feared that anti-Ahmadiyya campaign at this stage would have negative impact on Kashmir struggle. Twenty two leading Muslims of Punjab appealed to avoid such divisive actions at this stage.
In May 1933, Ahmadi issue came to the forefront and thirteen members of AIKC sent a letter to Mirza Mahmud asking for an urgent meeting for electing new office bearers. Three days later, Mahmud summoned an emergency meeting in Lahore where he announced his resignation at the start of the meeting. Iqbal was nominated interim president and Malik Barkat Ali as secretary. Six weeks later, Iqbal resigned from his post, but his statement was full of contradictions. He stated that “there is no difference among committee’s members about general policy. Differences are on issues that are irrelevant. However, I think that committee will not be able to work with full concentration therefore I suggest that committee should be disbanded”. He also stated that Ahmadi members of the committee will follow Jama’at’s leader and no one else. In the end, he suggested that “Kashmiri Muslims need help therefore if Muslims of India want to help Kashmiris, they should establish a new Kashmir committee in a public meeting”. These comments from a towering personality like Iqbal surprised many. Many prominent Muslim leaders disagreed with Iqbal on this point. This is evident by the fact that after the split, some including prominent religious personalities like Khawaja Hassan Nizami, Maulvi Mirak Shah, Maulana Hasrat Mohani, Maulana Abu Zafar and Maulana Aqil ur Rahman Nadvi joined the new organization that had blessing of Mirza Mahmud rather than join hands with Iqbal. Mirza Mahmud along with many other prominent Ahmadis were also members of this new organization. These religious personalities had no special affinity for Jama’at Ahmadiyya and many opposed its doctrine on theological grounds, however, they felt that a common platform was needed to help Kashmiri Muslims.
Iqbal’s own views about Ahmadiyya evolved over time. He had family connection with Ahmadiyya and had sympathetic view about the movement. He had personal relations with many leading Ahmadis and prayed with them. Even if he had theological concerns, at least until 1931, he was comfortable to nominate head of Jama’at Ahmadiyya as President of AIKC. In a letter written by Iqbal to private secretary of Mirza Mahmud in September 1930 about ten months before formation of AIKC provides the reasons why Iqbal later recommended Mirza Mahmud to head the committee. He wrote that ‘your organization is most disciplined and with many committed and active members, therefore you can be very useful in serving Muslim causes”.
By 1933, his views had changed and now he was not able to continue that relationship even for a larger political cause. In this he was probably influenced by some Ahrar leaders. Ahrar leader Ataullah Shah Bukhari’s recitation of Quran was mesmerizing. He was also a great orator and he could have a hypnotic hold on a crowd of thousands for hours. Iqbal and Bukhari had mutual affinity for each other. Iqbal’s views probably changed with this interaction and he now came out against Ahmadiyya. By 1935, he asked British government to declare the community out of the fold of Islam. Jama’at Ahmadiyya had split in Qadiani and Lahori factions after the death of first successor in 1914. The Lahori faction did not consider Mirza Ghulam Ahmad a prophet but simply a reformer and Iqbal had continued his relations with members of Lahori faction.
By 1930s, allegation of being an Ahmadi had become a slur in Punjab. Non-Ahmadi Punjabi Muslims with family members who had become Ahmadis or had personal social relations with Ahmadis had to openly declare that they were not Ahmadis. Even Shaikh Abdullah had to declare several times that he had not become Ahmadi although he publicly thanked Ahmadis for their support. The issue had reached a point where it now had direct impact on the effectiveness of political struggle for the freedom of Kashmiris.
Anti-Ahmadi factor fractured Kashmiri leadership inside Kashmir and splintered Punjabi support outside Kashmir. In Kashmir, the religious leadership got divided. Mirwaiz Yusuf Shah joined Majlis Ahrar faction and opposed Ahmadis. On the other hand, Hamdan faction continued to cooperate with Ahmadis working for Kashmir struggle. Shaikh Abdullah’s meeting with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru changed the dynamics. In view of collapse of powerful support structure of Kashmir struggle, Shaikh Abdullah looked for alternatives. Increased support of Indian National Congress (INC) and linkage of Kashmir with Indian freedom struggle diluted religious factor. Abdullah changed the name of the party to National Conference (NC). He fully aligned with INC and in turn Nehru gave him full support by linking struggle of Kashmiris with Indian freedom movement. Shaikh Abdullah’s confidant Ghulam Abbas parted ways and revived old Muslim Conference (MC). The groups opposing Ahmadis as well as Shaikh Abdullah joined MC. On national scene things were moving fast towards partition and with INC support of NC, Muslim league aligned itself with MC.
Mirza Mahmud continued in his own efforts to help Kashmiris, but they were not as effective as before where whole Muslim leadership was united on this cause. In the aftermath of partition, when first India-Pakistan war started in Kashmir in 1947-48, Pakistani Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan asked for Mirza Mahmud’s help in view of his previous involvement in Kashmir. A small volunteer Ahmadi force named Furqan Force was organized and placed under the control of nascent Pakistan army.
Adil Hussain Khan in his Ph. D dissertation is correct in his assessment that prior to the leadership of Mirza Mahmud, “the committee was an unorganized group of influential and wealthy Muslims, predominantly from Punjab, who were understandably upset about the conditions of their co-religionists in Kashmir: However, “their shared sentiment did not translate into political power on the other side of the border in Kashmir”. In less than two years, AIKC under Mirza Mahmud achieved remarkable success in awakening Kashmiris, establishing a grass root infrastructure, robust public awareness campaign outside Kashmir and utilization of political and government connections of influential Ahmadis to advance Kashmir cause. This was possible due to full attention of Mirza Mahmud and channeling of all resources of Ahmadi community on Kashmir front.
After establishment of Pakistan, anti-Ahmadiyya movement gained momentum with final excommunication declared not by a religious authority but parliament. In this environment, an important chapter of Kashmir struggle was completely erased from nation’s history. This long forgotten chapter also raises an important question that when a group is faced with a critical social and political question, should theological difference be put aside for a while until immediate crisis facing the collective community is resolved? On the other hand, if theological question is seen as existential in nature, then it will trump everything else.
“From the deepest desires; often come the deadliest hate”. Socrates
Acknowledgement: Author thanks Ahmadi scholar & author Mr. Muhammad Ajmal Shahid for his input to clarify Ahmadi perspective about the subject. He was also a volunteer who served in Kashmir in 1948 with Furqan Force.
- Taareekhe Ahmadiyyat (History of Ahmadiyyat) Volume: – 5 (Urdu) by Dost Mohammad Shahid. Edition: 2007. Nazarat Nashro Ishaat Qadian, Gurdaspur (Punjab) India
- Adil Hussain Khan. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad and the Construction of the Ahmadiyya Identity. Ph. D dissertation. Department of the Study of Religions. School of Oriental and African Studies. University of London.
- Adil Hussain Khan. The Kashmir Crisis as a political platform for jama’at-i-Ahmadiyya’s entrance into South Asian politics. Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 46, No. 5, September 2012, pp.1398-1428
- Muhammad Ajmal Shahid. Allama Iqbal aur Ahrar (Urdu). (Unites States, 2019)
15 December 2019