Reform Movements Among Muslims

There was a sense of loss of power among educated and elite Muslims of India. This happened mainly because of (i) transfer of power from Mughals to British, and (ii) replacement of Persian by English as the language of employment and advancement in the new bureaucracy.

The movement of the Farazis which arose among the peasants of early 19th century Bengal advocated return to pure Islam. They followed the teachings of Shah Walliullah of Delhi (1703-63) who had, a century earlier, talked about regaining purity of Islam and objected to infiltration of non-Islamic customs among Muslims.

Founding leader of the Farazis, Shariat Ullah (1781-1839) preached religious purification and advocated return to the faraiz, i.e. obligatory duties of Islam, namely-kalimah (profession of faith), salat (or namaz), sawn (or rozah), zakat (or alms to poor) and Hajj. He also preached tawhid or monotheism.

Another movement which arose among Muslims of Bengal was the Tariqah-i-Muhammadiyah under the leadership of Titu Mir who was initiated by Sayyid Ahmad Barelwi. This movement also talked about return to past purity. Another movement which was more concerned about the decline in power of the ulema class (Muslim priestly class) arose at Deoband in the United Provinces.

Delhi School of Islamic Thought was derived from the Delhi College (currently Zakir Husain College) which had begun imparting a parallel education - Islamic as well as English. Beginning 1830s, the college helped to foster a modern consciousness in the Muslim community. However, the revolt of 1857 and consequent crackdown by the British forces ended this intellectual excitement. However, the urge for modernization could easily be felt among a section of Muslims.

The new leadership was provided by Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817-98) who rightly thought that modern education was the most important path for improvement in the condition of Indian Muslims. He called for the study of European science and technology. In 1866, he formed the British Indian Association.

He stayed in England for more than a year during 1869-70. On his return, he asked his Muslim brethren to adopt some positive features of the English society like its discipline, order, efficiency and high levels of education. He pointed out that there was no fundamental contradiction between Quran and Natural Science and the new circumstances demanded dissemination of English language within an Islamic context.

He founded the Mohammedan Anglo Oriental College at Aligarh in 1875 which went on to become the most important seminary for modern higher education among Muslims.At the elementary level, students followed the standard government curriculum in a carefully constructed Islamic environment. In 1878, the college classes were also started and non-Muslims were also enrolled.

In 1886, Sayyid Ahmad Khan founded the Mohammadan Anglo Oriental Educational Conference. The Muslim graduates of Aligarh who numbered 220 during 1882-1902, provided lot of excitement to the Muslim intellectual world and in due course of time provided an able and modern leadership to the community.