In my previous articles on these pages I referred to several movements of resistance against the British Empire in India. These movements were generally initiated by local emperors, peasants, employees, religious leaders, and ordinary citizens in different parts of India.
One important centre of resistance was the frontier areas, where a number of resistance movements were initiated by different spiritual leaders who motivated their followers to challenge the British imperialism.
The early resistance movement that turned into a fierce fighting in the cities of Peshawar, Hazara and Balakot was led by Syed Ahmed Shaeed. It is important to note that Syed Ahmed was not a resident of tribal areas but belonged to Rae Brailey (Ovadh). He was born in 1786 and received his education from Shah Abdul Qadir who was younger brother of Shah Abdul Aziz and son of Shah Waliullah, one of the most influential figures of India in the 19th century. Syed Ahmed, at the age of 22 took bayt (oath of allegiance) at the hand of Shah Abdul Aziz.
In 1810 he got employment in the army of Nawab Amir Khan of Tonk and remained there until 1816 when he left the job and came back to Shah Abdul Aziz. Realising his elevated spiritual status two eminent religious scholars, Shah Ismail Saheed and Abdul Hayi took bayt at the hand of Syed Ahmed Shaheed. In 1822 he decided to perform pilgrimage with a large group of his followers.
Returning to India after pilgrimage Syed Ahmed mobilised the masses and armed encounters began in 1826. After a prolonged struggle Syed Ahmed’s army achieved first victory when Peshawar, which was ruled by the Sikhs, fell to mujahideen in 1830. As a gesture of good will Sultan Muhmmad Khan, who was supported by the Sikhs, was allowed to continue as ruler. Maulvi Zafar Ali was appointed as qazi to make decisions according to Islamic laws.
Soon after the departure of Syed Ahmed from Peshawar, the ruler of Peshawar and Syed Ahmed’s appointed confidants got killed and Peshawar was slipped away from the hands of mujahideen. Syed Ahmed’s next destination was Balakot where a fierce battle was fought with Sikhs and Syed Ahmed Shaheed breathed his last on May 5, 1831. Syed Ahmed’s death, however, did not stop the resistance movement as his followers continued the struggle.
In Frontier another prominent name was that of Akhund Abdul Ghafoor (1793-1878) who fought against the Sikh regime. The spotlight, however, came on his follower, Mullah Najmuddin of Hadda, popularly known as Hadda Mulla who offered a stiff resistance to the British encroachment attempts in Chitral who were making inroads through establishing railway lines and setting up their strongholds in the area.
Hadda Mullah, with the help of his charismatic personality, motivated the people of Buner and Mohmand and fought fearlessly against the British forces in 1897-98. Hadda Mullah’s success could be attributed to his spiritual influence and his ability to arouse feelings of nationalism among his followers.
Another prominent figure that challenged the British imperialism and engaged the British forces in tactical war for a long period of time was Haji Sahib Torangzai. Haji Sahib, whose real name was Fazal Wahid, was born in 1858 in Torangzai, situated in district of Charsadda. After receiving his religious education he visited Darul Uloom Deoband in India, where he came in contact with Shaikhul Hind Maulana Mehmood-ul-Hassan and developed a great liking for him.
During his pilgrimage with Mehmoodul Hasan he met Haji Imdadullah and took bayt at his hand. It was on the advice of his murshid, Haji Imdadullah, that he returned to his area with a mission of reforms. On his return he had another bayt at the hand of Hdda Mulla who was known for his spirituality and anti-British stance. This oath of allegiance was in fact his promise perpetuate the movement already stepped up by Hadda Mulla. He took an active part in the attacks on Malakand and Chadara.
In 1902 Hadda Mullah died and was succeeded by Maulvi Alam Gul. Haji Sahib Torangzai was declared his Khalifa and was given the title of Ameerul Mujahideen. Haji sahib managed to mobilise the masses, and stepped up resistance movement against the British. The British government put his name on the list of wanted people and ordered his arrest in 1915.
Haji Torangzai, with his followers, escaped to the tribal area of Mohmand which later proved an ideal hideout for him for orchestrating his tactical moves including the attack on the Shabqadar fort. His last important encounter with the British forces took place in 1935 where heavy losses were inflicted on the British forces and the British were forced to come to the negotiation table. After a prolonged resistance of two decades, Haji Sahib passed away in 1937. His death was the end of a chapter but another chapter was going to open soon.
This was of the Faqir of Ipi, whose real name was Mirza Ali Khan. The Faqir of Ipi was born in 1897 in North Waziristan. He was a follower of the Naqib of Chaharbagh, a renowned Afghani scholar. After performing pilgrimage in 1923, the Faqir of Ipi started his saintly life in North Waziristan. Soon after, however, he resorted to guerrilla war against the British rule.
With his meagre resources, the Faqir of Ipi successfully engaged the British forces for almost ten years until the time the British left the Subcontinent in 1947. In almost all of these resistance movements the sentiments for religion and nationalism were turned into the driving force by religious leaders for the consumption of their followers who were tied to them by the oath of allegiance and thus followed their instructions with zeal and commitment.
The writer is an educationist.