Daur-e-hayat ayega qatil teri qaza ke baad…
hai ibteda hamari teri inteha ke baad…
(Life will begin again when the tyrant has been vanquished It will be our beginning when you have reached your limits)
This couplet was written by Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar, my grandfather. Muhammad Ali’s ancestors were from Najibabad, and they came to Delhi in 1857 to protect the last Mughal king, Bahadur Shah Zafar. About 200 of Maulana Mohammad Ali’s relatives were killed in the 1857 War of Independence. Muhammad Ali’s grandfather moved to Rampur state and settled there.
Mohammad Ali was five years old when his father, Abdul Ali Khan, passed away. His mother Abadi Begum, affectionately known as Bi Amma, inspired her sons to take up the mantle of the struggle for freedom from Colonial rule. To this end, she was adamant that her sons were properly educated. She felt they must learn English in order to understand the British mindset and recognise their weaknesses. This culminated in a degree in Law and History from Oxford.
Muhammad Ali was already a craftsman with words growing up amid the poetic culture of Char Bait patronised in Rampur. Char bait originated in the Middle East in the 17th century where a tribal warlord would approach a rival army with a lyrical lalkar (challenge), a quick repartee competition between poets ranging from romance to politics. It came to India in the 1870s via Afghanistan with the Rohillas with its centre in the courts of Rampur.
Groomed in this poetic tradition, and Aligarh University, that hotbed of intellectual debate for young Muslims of India, now armed with an impeccable command over the English language, the lalkar of Muhammad Ali continued with incisive, provocative, powerful speeches and writings in English. H.G. Wells wrote of him: “Muhammad Ali possessed the pen of Macaulay, the tongue of Burke and the heart of Napoleon.”
Muhammad Ali chose the pen over the sword. On his return to India, Muhammad Ali realised he must respond to the injustices being carried out by the British and their deliberate attempts to undermine the ideals and culture of Indian society. Its great artists and writers were scoffed at. There was very little unity left among the Indians.
In 1911, Muhammad Ali Jauhar moved to Calcutta where he started an English newspaper called “The Comrade”. He gave expression to deeply-felt emotions in his perfect English prose, and thus, his newspaper became very popular, except with the British. Subsequently, he was imprisoned for expounding his views and his property in Rampur was confiscated. Once released, he started writing his paper again. This started a cycle of his being arrested and then released, only to be arrested again for resuming his writing.
In Dehli he started an Urdu paper called “The Hamdard”. He wrote about the conditions in India and Middle East following the fall of the Ottoman Empire. He visited Turkey to express solidarity with the Khilafat. He was very concerned about the status of Palestine.
While he was in British custody, two of his daughters, age 20 and 21 fell ill. It was said that the British urged Muhammad Ali to apologise for his views, so that he may be allowed to visit his dying daughters, but he refused. When his old mother heard of this offer she wrote to him, saying that if he were to accept the offer, she still had enough strength in her old hands to choke him to death herself. (“Mairay boorhay hathon mein abhi bhi itni jaan hai kay mein tumhara gala daba doon”) When his daughters died, he was not allowed to attend their funerals.
He wrote a poem to his daughter stating his belief in Allah’s will, telling her that if He wanted to change her fate, she would succeed in getting well, and if not than Allah’s will was his own will and he would accept it. Nevertheless he took these matters in his stride and continued to write. His fame spread far and wide and even the Viceroy read his work.
In fact once the Viceroy received an insulting letter supposedly written by Maulana Mohammad Ali, but due to the poor content, style and quality of prose, the Viceroy was quick to realise it was a forgery saying it could not be the words of Mohammad Ali.
Mohammad Ali was known for his wit. One day he was seen in the visitor’s gallery in the Indian Parliament, and the delegates sitting below invited him to join them, as after all he had come all this way. He replied: “I would rather look down upon you.”
He did not only take on the British government in India but all the western powers over the fate of Palestine, Turkey, and even challenged the Muslim powers eg; Ibn e Saud, the Saudi King over the attempted demolition of the Prophet’s grave.
Because of his concerted attempts to solve the problem of the Palestinian people he was held in high esteem by them. The Grand Mufti Amin ul Hussaini once came to Karachi in the early nineteen sixties. He was staying at the Intercontinental hotel where my sisters and I went to visit him. When the tea was brought, Mufti Azam got up to pour it for us. His hands were shaking because of his advanced years, and I insisted that he let me pour the tea myself. To this he replied: “It is my pleasure to serve you; you do not know what blood flows through your veins.”
Ultimately Mohammad Ali’s frequent jail sentences, his diabetes and lack of proper nutrition while jailed, made him very sick. No treatment was efficacious. Despite his failing health he wanted to attend the first Round Table Conference held in London in 1930, despite the misgivings of other Indian leaders. “It is for the sake of peace, friendship, and freedom that we have come here, and I hope we shall go back with all that; if we do not, we go back into the ranks of fighters where we were ten years before.”
He delivered his last speech demanding that the British give India its freedom. Sensing his end was near he said he said “today the one purpose for which I came is this–that I want to go back to my country if I can go back with the substance of freedom in my hand. Otherwise I will not go back to a slave country. I would even prefer to die in a foreign country, so long as it is a free country; and if you do not give us freedom in India you will have to give me a grave here.”
He died of a stroke on the January 4, 1931, while still in London. He made true his vow “We must have in us the will to die for the birth of India as a free and united nation.”
The Mufti Amin ul Husseini of Palestine gave him the honour of a final resting place in Jerusalem near Masjid e Aqsa. This is a privilege I will never forget. The funeral procession through Arab lands was lined with delegations holding placards acknowledging Muhammad Ali Hindi as he was known to them.
His death left a great emptiness in the hearts of his family and all those who realized his true worth. My grandfather did not die in vain. He had started a movement that inspired all Muslims to fight for freedom and Pakistan came into being.
He understood well the relationship of State and religion: “Where God commands I am a Muslim first, a Muslim second, and a Muslim last, and nothing but a Muslim… But where India is concerned, where India’s freedom is concerned, I am an Indian first, an Indian second, an Indian last, and nothing but an Indian.”
He could state:
“We are not nationalists but supranationalists, and I as a Muslim say that “God made man and the Devil made the nation.” Nationalism divides; our religion binds. No religious wars, no crusades, have seen such holocausts and have been so cruel as your last war, and that was a war of your nationalism, and not my Jehad.”
Yet he also understood this is not a matter of exclusivity:
“But where our country is concerned, where the question of taxation is concerned, where our crops are concerned, where the weather is concerned, where all associations in those thousands of matters of ordinary life are concerned, which are for the welfare of India, how can I say “I am a Muslim and he is a Hindu”? Make no mistake about the quarrels between Hindu and Muslim; they are founded only on the fear of domination.” Its 84 years since Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar, my grandfather died in London fighting for the independence of India from the British Colonial rule. I too am 84 this year and would have been in my mother’s womb as she accompanied him to the 1930 Round Table Conference in London.
Most of what I heard about my grandfather was from my mother, Gulnar, his youngest daughter and my Nani Bi, Amjadi Begum, his extraordinary wife, who bore his many internments, the loss of her daughters and lack of finances with fortitude. When he was in jail, she continued his mission alongside Bi Amma, ignoring the criticism of conservative Muslim elements. She was the only woman in the Working Committee of the Muslim League established by Jinnah.
Long after his death, his legacy continues to inspire us all. Most of all his refusal to fight violence with violence, but with unshaking faith in the power of principles even evoking those in his enemy.
“You have not the morale (or immorale) to dare to kill 320,000,000 people… I do not for a moment imagine that you could find in all England a hundred men so hard-hearted and callous as to fire for long on unarmed and non¬violent people ready to die for the freedom of their country. No; I do not think so badly of English soldiers.”