Khilafat Movement

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The Khilafat movement (1919–1924) was an agitation on the part of some Indian Muslims, allied with the Indian nationalist movement, during the years following World War I. Its purpose was to pressure the British government to preserve the authority of the Ottoman sultan as caliph of Islam. Integral to this was the Muslims' desire to influence the treaty-making process following the war in such a way as to restore the 1914 boundaries of the Ottoman empire. The British government treated the Indian Khilafat delegation of 1920, headed by Muhammad ˓Ali, as quixotic pan-Islamists, and did not change its policy toward Turkey. The Indian Muslims' attempt to influence the treaty provisions failed, as the European powers went ahead with territorial adjustments, including the institution of mandates over formerly Ottoman Arab territories.

The significance of the Khilafat movement, however, lies less in its supposed pan-Islamism than in its impact upon the Indian nationalist movement. The leaders of the Khilafat movement forged the first political alliance among Western-educated Indian Muslims and ulema over the religious symbol of the khilafat (caliphate). This leadership included the ˓Ali brothers—Muhammad ˓Ali and Shaukat ˓Ali—newspaper editors from Delhi, their spiritual guide Maulana Abdul Bari of Lucknow, the Calcutta journalist and Islamic scholar Maulana Abu˒l Kalam Azad, and Maulana Mahmud al-Hasan, head of the Deoband madrasa. These publicist-politicians and ulema viewed European attacks upon the authority of the caliph as an attack upon Islam, and thus as a threat to the religious freedom of Muslims under British rule.

The Khilafat issue crystallized anti-British sentiments among Indian Muslims that had been increasing since the British declaration of war against the Ottomans in 1914. The Khilafat leaders, most of whom had been imprisoned during the war, were already politically active in the nationalist movement. Upon their release in 1919, the issue of the khilafat provided a means to achieve pan-Indian Muslim political solidarity in the anti-British cause and a source of communication between the leaders and their potential mass following. The Khilafat movement also benefited from Hindu-Muslim cooperation in the nationalist cause that had grown during the war, beginning with the Lucknow Pact of 1916 between the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League, and culminating in the protest against the Rowlatt anti-sedition bills in 1919. The Congress, now led by Mahatma Gandhi, called for nonviolent noncooperation against the British. Gandhi espoused the Khilafat cause, as he saw in it the opportunity to rally Muslim support for the Congress. The ˓Ali brothers and their allies, in turn, provided the noncooperation movement with some of its most enthusiastic troops.

The combined Khilafat-noncooperation movement was the first all-India agitation against British rule. It saw an unprecedented degree of Hindu-Muslim cooperation and it established Gandhi and his technique of nonviolent protest (satyagraha) at the center of the Indian nationalist movement. Mass mobilization using religious symbols was remarkably successful, and the British Indian government was shaken. In late 1921 the government moved to suppress the movement. The Ali brothers were arrested for incitement to violence, tried, and imprisoned. Gandhi suspended the noncooperation movement in early 1922, following a riot in the village of Chauri Chaura that resulted in the deaths of the local police. He was arrested, tried, and imprisoned soon thereafter. The Turks dealt the final blow by abolishing the Ottoman sultanate in 1922 and the caliphate in 1924.

See alsoSouth Asia, Islam in .


Bamford, P. C. Histories of the Non-Cooperation and Khilafat Movements (1925). Reprint. Delhi: Deep Publications, 1974.

Hasan, Mushirul. Nationalism and Communal Politics in India. New Delhi: Manohar Publications, 1991.

Minault, Gail. The Khilafat Movement: Religious Symbolism and Political Mobilization in India. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982.

Qureshi, M. Naeem. Pan-Islam in British Indian Politics: A Study of the Khilafat Movement. Leiden: Brill, 1999.

Gail Minault