Addressing the plenary session of the "First Round Table
Conference" in London in 1930, Maulana Muhammad Ali said `I want to go back to
my country as a freeman. If you cannot accept it, you will have to give me a
piece of land for my grave'. His prophetic words proved to be true, and he died
in London a few weeks later.
Maulana Muhammad Ali, the renowned Indian Muslim leader,
was a prince among the patriots. Possessing a dynamic personality, he towered
high above his contemporary Indian politicians and instilled courage and
confidence in the hearts of the ignorant masses which awakened them from their
deep slumber. His fearless leadership and selfless devotion to his mission were
greatly instrumental in dispelling the inferiority complex, which, the alien
rulers had enshrined in the hearts of the teeming millions inhabiting this vast
sub-continent and enabled them to brave the onslaughts of the foreign rule with
courage and conviction. The policy of co-operation with the British Government,
followed by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and his associates, at last gave place to the
revolutionary politics of Maulana Muhammad Ali and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad in
which the attention of the Indian Muslims was diverted towards the revival of
the Pan-Islamic Movement and the restoration of the Khilafat.
Born in an aristocratic family of Rampur State (UP) in
1878, Muhammad Ali was destined to play a glorious role in the Indian politics.
His father, Abdul Ali Khan, died when he was two years old, leaving behind three
sons, Zulfiqar, Shaukat and Muhammad. His mother, Abadi Bano, being an
enlightened lady sent her sons to Bareilly and afterwards to Aligarh to receive
the best education available in the country. At the "Aligarh University", where
Shaukat Ali was the idol of cricket fans, Muhammad Ali became the favourite of
the literary circles. During his stay at the university, he took active interest
in its extra-curricular activities and earned a high reputation as a student,
poet, orator and writer. In 1896, at the age of 18, he topped the list of
successful BA students from the Allahbad University, which conducted the degree
examinations for the whole of the United Provinces. Muhammad Ali exposed the
high-handedness of the European staff, who dominated the Aligarh University of
those days. According to Sajjad Haider Yaldaram, who was his associate, the
European Principal heaved a sigh of relief when Muhammad Ali left the university
for UK because he was very outspoken in his criticism of the European staff. His
free expression of views in the college debates on various national and
international issues, caused great embarrassment to the European professors. In
England, he remained for four years at the Lincoln College and obtained his BA (Hons.)
in Modern History. He had the distinction of being the first president of the
"Indian Majlis" in the Cambridge University. He, however, was fortunate in not
being selected for Indian Civil Service, which in those days was reserved for a
privileged few, otherwise India would have been deprived of the most colourful
and dynamic personality of her modern history.
On his return from UK, Muhammad Ali was appointed as Chief
Education Officer of the Rampur state. But, due to the educational reforms which
he wanted to enforce in the state, he had differences with the higher
He resigned from his job and joined the Baroda Civil
Service. He served the Baroda State for seven years and his reforms in the state
are still remembered with gratitude. During his stay in Baroda, he frequently
contributed articles to the "Times of India", and his article "Thoughts on the
Present Discontent", was highly appreciated. His high intellect and his restless
soul could not cope with the restrictions of the Civil Service. He was meant for
something higher. Nature had endowed him with extraordinary abilities of head
and heart which should have been devoted to better and higher purposes. The
extreme poverty and sufferings to which the Indian masses were reduced under the
alien yoke, only added fuel to his fiery temperament. He left the job and
hurried to Calcutta to start his weekly "Comrade" on January 1st, 1911. An
interesting story is related in this connection, which throws light on his
determination to fight for the cause of the people through the press. He was
offered the Chief Ministership of an Indian state but he did not open the letter
of appointment until the first issue of his paper was out. Maulana Muhammad Ali
was an ideal journalist, and the high standard of professional integrity set by
him will serve as a beacon light for the coming generations. His paper formed
the vanguard of the struggle against exploitation and oppression of the alien
government. He was the first to raise his voice against the despotic press laws.
He had joined the fourth estate for pleading the cause of the downtrodden
humanity inhabiting this sub-continent. His "Comrade" had set an example of
independent journalism and was a class by itself. It played a vital role in
moulding the political outlook of modern India. Due to its frank views and
flawless English, "Comrade" was very popular in official circles too. An
ex-British finance member of the government of India took its bound copies with
him to England. Writing in the first editorial of "Comrade" on January 1st,
1911, he gave out the policy of his paper: `We are the partisans of none,
comrades of all. We deeply feel the many hazards of increasing controversy
between races and races; creeds and creeds, and earnestly desire a better
understanding between the contending elements of the body politic of India'. As
time passed, the national and international developments obliged him to be more
anti-imperialist in his outlook and more outspoken in his criticism against the
British government. In 1914, when Turkey was involved in the Great War, Maulana
Muhammad Ali after a continuous sitting of 36 hours wrote his memorable
editorial, "The Choice of the Turks" a befitting reply to the insulting article
of the London Times under the same caption. The Indian Government forfeited its
security. He was marked as a dangerous man by the authorities and his paper
forfeited its security many times.
The "Comrade" was transferred to Delhi in 1912, when the
Indian Capital was shifted from Calcutta to Delhi in 1911. It played a great
part along with "Al-Hilal" of Maulana Azad and "Zamindar" of Maulana Zafar Ali
Khan in the awakening of the Muslim masses and in forming their political
outlook. Muhammad Ali started "Hamdard", an Urdu Daily, from Delhi in 1913. He
wrote his autobiography "My Life a Fragment" the only work he has left behind
for future generations. Writing in his autobiography he mentions the reasons
which impelled him to take up the career of journalism `The reasons which so
irresistibly impelled me to take up journalism was, that the affairs of my
community at the juncture made it the only avenue through which I could prove of
any appreciable use---I felt, I should now assist my community in taking a
proper share in the political affairs of the country.'
Maulana Muhammad Ali played a vital part in preparing the
Muslims in particular and Indians in general for the final struggle of freedom.
Thus, to a great extent, he was responsible for shaping their political destiny.
Under his dynamic leadership, Muslims grew into a virile and self assertive
nation. His heart which surged with the love of his countrymen awakened their
self-respect. Being an ardent anti-imperialist, he virtually dominated the
national stage for the first quarter of the present century. Along with
Mohsin-ul-Mulk and Waqar-ul-Mulk, he was present in Dacca when the Muslim League
was founded in 1906. On their suggestion, he wrote in his immaculate style an
account of this historic session in the form of a pamphlet called, "The Green
Book". He may be counted as one of the founders of All-India Muslim League along
with Mohsin-ul-Mulk, Waqar-ul-Mulk, Nawab Samiullah of Dacca and Agha Khan.
The Balkan War was declared in 1912. The machinations of
the European powers against Turkey brought him in the arena of active politics.
He appealed for funds in aid of Turkish victims. A medical mission was
despatched to Turkey under the leadership of Dr M.A. Ansari, which included
Messrs A. R. Siddiqi and Shoaib Qureshi as well. This was the first embassy of
practical goodwill sent by Muslim India to a foreign country. The mission
performed valuable service, which is still acknowledged by the Turks with
gratitude. The agitation launched by him for the assistance of the Turks,
revived the Pan-Islamic Movement in India. He wrote in "Comrade": `Pan-Islamism
when we consider its etymology is a meaningless issue of passion and prejudice.
If it means anything, it refers to a community of sentiment and aspiration among
the Mussalmans of the world, as brought into existence by their religion. In
that case Islam, bears exactly the same connotation, being the name of a set of
beliefs and ideals common to the entire Muslim races. Interpretting the world in
this sense no Muslim need be ashamed of its application. The sympathies of a
Muslim are co-extensive with his religion, a race and a country has never
captured him to the extent of the utter immersion in a narrow patriotism of the
ideals which the acceptance of Islam had made obligatory. Territorial patriotism
is not at all compatible with the spiritual catholicity of a religion that has
declared in a set of common ideals the brotherhood of man'.
The brutal firing of Machhli Bazaar, Kanpore, in 1913,
sent a wave of resentment throughout the length and breadth of the
sub-continent. It was too painful an incident for the sensitive Muhammad Ali. It
shook his heart and made him an active agitator from an armchair politician. He
led a deputation to England accompanied by Syed Wazir Hasan, secretary of the
Muslim League. He canvassed there day and night, lecturing, writing in papers
and interviewing the high British authorities for securing an honourable
settlement of the Kanpore episode, but all in vain. He came back to India to
find that a Great War was declared in Europe in 1914, a few months after his
return. Turkey was an ally of Germany and Muhammad Ali wanted that the British
government should take into consideration the feelings of Muslim India.
His bold and inspiring criticism of the imperialist
powers, could not be tolerated by the British government during the war and he
was interned for a period of about five years, ranging from November 23rd, 1915
to 1919. When he was released in 1919, the international scene was totally
changed. The Great War had come to an end. The Turks were badly pressed in the
"Treaty of Versailles" and their very existence was at stake. Turkey was in
danger of total extinction and Lloyd George was contemplating to obliterate her
from the map of Europe. Political storms were raging on the Indian horizon too.
The Indian political atmosphere was tense and explosive. Martial Law had been
proclaimed in the Punjab following the great tragedy of Jallianwala Bagh in
1919. These political developments only served as an incentive for the fiery
Muhammad Ali. It was the most tumultous period of his life. He rushed to
Amritsar where all Indian political parties were holding their sessions. He
started the "Khilafat Movement" and joined hands with the Congress in 1919. His
association with the Congress changed its entire complexion. This stormy patriot
of Indian politics transformed the Indian National Congress from a
constitutional body into a revolutionary mass organization. His appeal with the
Turkish aid fund met with a wonderful response. The Muslim ladies parted with
their valuables for helping their Turkish brethren. The Maulana led a deputation
to Europe to muster public support for the dwindling Khilafat, but returned
disappointed. His joining hands with Mr Gandhi to force the British to change
their attitude towards the Turks resuted in the ideal Hindu-Muslim unity during
1920-22. The massacre of Jallianwala Bagh and non-restoration of Khilafat led to
the adoption of Non-Co-operation Resolution at the Nagpur Congress in 1921.
Muhammad Ali is mainly credited with winning over the influential C.R. Dass
Group in the Congress to support the move, thus paving the way for the adoption
of the Resolution, which implied surrender of titles, resignation from
government services and boycott of educational institutions and courts. He was
so sincere in the application of the revolution that when Dr. Ziauddin refused
to close the Aligarh Muslim University, he founded "Jamia Millia", a parallel
institution at Aligarh with the help of Dr M.A.Ansari, Hakim Ajmal Khan and Dr
Zakir Husain. The Institution was opened by Maulana Mahmood Hasan of Deoband.
The teachers and the taught passed a truly Islamic life in this institution,
being the very embodiment of simple living and high thinking.
He made extensive tours of the subcontinent during the
period extending from October 1920 up to his arrest for the Karachi trial on
September 1st, 1921. This period was spent virtually in the Railway compartment.
He roused the Indian masses from their torpor and infused in them a new
political consciousness. He never aspired for any position or privilege for
himself. The Indian political consciousness was the result of his 8 years'
untiring efforts---a remarkably short period for such a gigantic work. India was
echoing with this song:
"Boleen Amman Muhammad Ali Kee
Jaan Baita Khilafat Pai Daido"
(So spoke the mother of Muhammad Ali: My son, lay down
your life for the sake of Khilafat).
A resolution was adopted at the Khilafat Conference held
at Karachi in 1921 according to which it was considered an irreligious act for
the Muslims to enroll in the British army. This resulted in the Karachi trial
which commenced in October, 1921 in which Maulana Muhammad Ali, Shaukat Ali,
Husain Ahmad Madni, and three others were awarded two years' rigorous
imprisonment. His imprisonment evoked a country-wide protest. The resolution for
which he was prosecuted was adopted and published throughout India. The
statement given by Muhammad Ali before the court brings out his truly Islamic
spirit. He acknowledges the supremacy of the Divine Law over the man-made
legislations. The boldness and daring exhibited by him before the court was
amazing. He was still in prison when Mustafa Kamal abolished the Khilafat, and
hence the movement in India for its revival also crumbled down.
Muhammad Ali, when released from jail in 1923, was elected
president of the Indian National Congress amd he delivered his memorable
presidential address in the momentous session at Cocanada in 1923. Pandit Nehru
was his secretary and he has devoted one full chapter in his autobiography
"Nehru". Both in thought and diction, this address is matchless in the long
history of A.I.C.C.
In 1923-24, Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya who was behind the
bars was suddenly released following a secret meeting with the Viceroy. He along
with Swami Sardhanand, started the Shuddi-Sanghatan Movement which led to
communal riots throughout India. It destroyed the strong edifice of Hindu-Muslim
unity built by the gigantic efforts of the Ali brothers. Mr Gandhi, too, was
carried away by the communal cries of Malviya and his henchmen. Muhammad Ali
struggled hard to stop and arrest the disruptive tendencies. He was, however,
immensely shocked at the transformation of Gandhi.
The Maulana possessed a restless soul, an undaunted
courage and an indomitable will. He had the courage to practise what he
preached. Being a valiant fighter of the hundreds of political battles, he
magnificently withstood all the trials and temptations that beset his path. He
was a true Muslim who had implicit faith in his mission and had always lived up
to his convictions. In 1926, he attended the world Muslim Conference (Mu'tamar
Alam-i-Islam) called by Sultan Ibni Saud at Makkah, in which he boldly laid down
his views, when other delegates hesitated to speak the bitter truth before the
Maulana Muhammad Ali organized several Hindu-Muslim unity
conferences, but without success. He was instrumental alongwith Quaid-i-Azam
Muhammad Jinnah, in formulating the "Delhi Proposals" which demanded among other
things, the separation of Sind from Bombay Province and the reforms in N.W.F.P.
But, the publication of Nehru Report in 1928, sealed the fate of Hindu-Muslim
unity forever, and exposed the Congress as well as the Hindu Nationalists in all
their nakedness. It proved to be a bitter pill which neither the Quaid-i-Azam
nor Maulana Muhammad Ali could swallow. They tried to modify the report at the
Calcutta All Parties Conference held in December 1928, but failed due to want of
Hindu support. Later, Quaid-i-Azam and Maulana Muhammad Ali participated in an
All Parties Conference held under the presidentship of Agha Khan in Delhi.
Maulana Muhammad Ali, at last had to change his course after sixteen years of
ceaseless efforts for the cause of Indian freedom. He had given his best for the
sake of Hindu-Muslim unity, but to no purpose. He was not destined to live long.
His health shattered, his heart broke and he was only a shadow of his former
He started on the final phase of his life journey. Against
all medical advice, he decided to participate in the Round Table Conference in
London and was carried on a stretcher. Addressing the plenary session of the
first R.T.C., he delivered his memorable speech quoted at the top which thrilled
his countrymen. He breathed his last on Janruary 4, 1931, and was buried near
the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and thus joined the few immortals. His death cast a
gloom all over the East and he was mourned by friends and foe alike. He was paid
eloquent tributes by the great men of the world. Dr Iqbal, the poet of the East,
"Soo-i-gardun raft za aan rahi kih paighambar guzasht"
(He proceeded to the heaven by the same route which was
taken by the Prophet of Islam.)
H.G. Wells, the celebrated English novelist proclaimed:
`Muhammad Ali possessed the pen of Macaulay, the tongue of Burke and the heart
Such was Maulana Muhammad Ali, a dynamic leader, a born
poet, an eloquent orator, a forceful writer and above all a true Muslim.