The Haji of Turangzai

Known as a social reformer, educationist, a seasoned politician, freedom fighter, Haji Sahib Turangzai is still remembered in his native area

Born in Turangzai village of Charsadda in 1858, Fazle Wahed later became popular as Haji Sahib Turangzai.

His father’s name was Fazle Ahad. He had supported Syed Ahmad Barelvi in Balakot in 1831. Baba Wali Kandahari was also one of his ancestors.

After early Islamic schooling under Maulana Syed Abu Bakr and Maulvi Hamdiudin in his native area, Turangzai was sent to Tehkal Payan, a small town on the outskirts of Peshawar, where he studied for six years in a madrassah.

After completing his education, he returned home and became a farmer to earn his livelihood. Owing to his inclination towards Sufism, Turangzai approached Maulvi Najam-ud-Din, known as Mullah Hodda (a popular spiritual leader and staunch foe of the British imperialism) for guidance.

In the mid 1880s, Haji Sahib Turangzai went to Darul-uloom Deoband where he was introduced to Maulana Mahmud-ul-Hassan, a dynamic teacher at the Darul Uloom and become a loyal follower of his doctrine of resistance.

Turangzai performed Hajj in 1877 along with a group of Islamic scholars, led by Maulana Rashid Ahmed Gangohi. Maulana Ashaiq Elahi Meerti later wrote that it was a mammoth caravan of Indian pilgrims that consisted of pious and celebrated clerics.

During his stay in Makkah, Turangzai called on Haji Imdadullah Muhajir Makki and pledged allegiance to him. After his return home, people started calling him Haji Sahib.

He was a social reformer, educationist, a seasoned politician, a freedom fighter and a sufi.

The British invasion of Chitral in 1895 proved a turning point in his life. He decided to fight the invaders in Buner and the nearby tribal areas. However, the uprising was quickly quelled.

In 1908, he performed Haj for a second time. On his return, he campaigned for reforms in order to uproot traditional evils and baseless myths from the Pashtun society. He focused on restoring the rights of women and minorities, settling tribal disputes through the traditional jirga and fighting highway robbers. In this connection, he travelled to both rural and urban areas cross Pakhtunkhwa.

To educate his people, Haji Sahib initiated an educational programme by building of a number of Azad Madrassas or private schools in Peshawar, Charsadda, Swabi and Mardan, especially in rural areas. He realised that he would be unable to raise awareness among the people against the British rule unless they were educated. In these madrassahs, the students were taught the basics of Islam, mathematics, geography, history, Pashto, Persian, Arabic and English language. Ghadar, located between Charsadda, Swabi and Mardan, was said to be the main headquarters of his academic network. This school system progressed and gained popularity between 1910 and 1915.

The British did not like the academic system. Haji Sahib and his associates were accused of trying to run a parallel government. Ultimately, Haji Turangzai was arrested on charge of conspiring against the government. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (Bacha Khan) was one of most active supporters of Haji Sahib. His supporters also included Maulvi Shakirullah Otmanzai, Taj Mohammad of Mardan, Qari Samiul Haq, Maulvi Abdul Aziz Otmanzai, Sayyed Zaman Shah of Lahore and Qari Abdul-Mastan of Akbarpura.

When Islamia College was set up in Peshawar in March 1913, Sahibzada Abdul Qayyum Khan (1863-1937) requested Haji Sahib to lay the foundation stone for the college.

When Haji Sahib returned to the tribal areas, the British authorities closed down the Azad Madrassahs.

When World War I started, Haji Sahib was ready to lead the people in support of the Ottoman Caliphate. Turkey’s Sheikh-ul-Islam declared a holy war against the British though a fatwa, which was welcomed by many in the subcontinent. Led mostly by Deoband clerics, many Muslims started a resistance movement against the British. It would later be called the Reshmi Romal movement and Tehreek-i-Hizbullah. At a secret meeting held in Fatehpuri mosque in Delhi, leaders of movement formed two chapters of the Hizbullah, one charged with physical struggle with the purpose of bringing Turkish forces into the tribal areas to attack the British forces and the second to preach to the masses. Haji Sahib Turangzai was tasked with leading the resistance.

The British authorities soon started arresting political leaders who incited people against the government.

The British placed his (Turangzai’s) name on the most wanted list and issued warrants for his arrest. However, he had already left Buner along with Fazle Mohammad Makhfi, Maulvi Abdul Aziz and Maulvi Fazle Rabbi.

By 1916, the tribesmen of Bajaur and Mohmand Agencies had started attacking the British. The British then launched a campaign and occupied Buner. Haji Sahib migrated to Swat and later to Mohmand where he stayed in Sur Kamar that was later renamed Ghaziabad. In 1919, his fighters raided the British in Shabqadr and Dukka. The fighting continued even after the end of World War I.

In 1930, Haji Sahib fought a major battle with the British in Maikhi Oghli. His fighters suffered heavy losses after the British used airplanes to bomb their positions.

In 1933, a peace agreement was signed between Haji Sahib and the British government. However, the truce was broken after the British assaulted the resistance stronghold.

The British police initially issued a directory to trace down at least 200 leaders of the Reshmi Romal movement. The entry for Haji Turangzai read: “His real name is Fazle Wahid. However, he is known as Haji Sahib Turangzai, son of Fazle Ahad of Turangzai town, Charsadda. He (Turangzai) is very influential among the followers of the late Mulla Hoday and a majority of Peshawar’s towns. Turangzai is bigoted and has intense anti-government feelings. At the request of Sheikh Mahmud-ul-Hassan, he went to tribal areas where he is called on Saif-ur-Rehman. He organised people from Mohmand and Buner areas to carry out the Shabaadr attack. He has close ties to Kabul’s miscreants. Turangzai has support of Deoband party via M Humdullah of Paniput and Maulvi Ahmed of Lahore’s sufi mosque.”

The authorities were unable to arrest him. Haji Sahib fell seriously ill in 1936 and died on December 14, 1937. According to his last will, he was buried on the premises of Ghazi Mosque.

The writer is a lecturer at Degree College, Zhob, and a columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]

The Haji of Turangzai