The actual name of the Wahabi Movement was Tarikh-i-Mumammadia or the Path shown by Prophet Muhammad. In the 18th century, Abdul Wahab (1703-87) started a reformist movement within Islam in Arabia and aimed at purging the faith of prevalent superstitions on the line prescribed by the Prophet. This new faith was called Wahabism and the sect Wahabi.
Wahabi means renaissance. In India, this movement took off in the early 19th century. With similar reformist objectives in mind, Waliullah (1703-87), the famous Muslim saint of Delhi and his son, Aziz, started this movement. So it originated as a religious movement, with the aim of purifying Islam.
Though Shah Waliullah started it, the actual founder of the Wahabi movement in India was Syed Ahmed (1786-1831) of Raibareilly in Uttar Pradesh. He came in touch with Aziz and 1820-21 onwards started preaching the ideals of Islamic reforms.
Syed Ahmed went on a pilgrimage to Mecca and became familiar with the Wahabi ideals there. Back home in 1822, he launched a reformist movement along Wahabi lines. Modern historians claim that he had no contact with Indian Wahabism and he evolved the main principles of the movement himself. In 1822, on his return from Mecca, he stayed at Patna.
His faith drew many Muslim disciples and his religious movement soon assumed political proportions. Syed Ahmed called British-occupied India Dar-ul-Harb and called upon his followers to launch a crusade against the British. He identified the British as the foremost enemy of India’s freedom and went about garnering Indian and foreign support to oust them. He tried to train an army in European war techniques. He set up a centre at Sitana in the north-west frontiers and consolidated his powers with Afghan support. Essentially anti-British, the movement eventually got embroiled in wars against the Sikhs of Punjab and Syed Ahmed lost his life at the Battle of Balakot against the Sikhs in 1831.
The extent of the movement:
The Wahabi Movement assumed widespread proportions in the North-West Frontier Province, the Punjab, Bengal, Bihar, Meerat and Hyderabad. After occupying the Punjab (1849), the British engaged in a long-drawn struggle with the Wahabis. Wahabis from many parts of India gathered at Multan with a lot of funds and arms. The British, from 1850 to 1857, tried to capture Sitana 16 times and deployed 35,000 troops along north-western borders but failed each time. The Wahabis finally gave up in 1863 and many rebels were brutally killed, though the British had to struggle till 1885 to completely rout the Wahabis.
The nature of the movement:
Historians differ regarding the nature of the wahabi movement. Dr. Quemuddin Ahmed points out that it was a movement launched by both Hindus and Muslims and were non-communal in nature. It was a part of India’s freedom movement and the rebels aimed at ousting the British from India.
Titu Mir’s Revolt:
In Bengal, the Wahabi Movement found its leader in Mir Nishar Ali or Titu mir (1782-1831). Born in Haidarpur, Baduria, of 24 Parganas, he met Syed Ahmed during Haj pilgrimage at the age of 39 and embraced the Wahabi faith. He was a deft organizer and founded a big association of oppressed Muslims.
Titu Mir started an intense movement in the 24 Parganas, Nadia, Jessore, Rajsahi, Dhaka and Malda. He declared end of British rule in extensive parts of Barasat and Basirhat and proclaimed himself as `Badshah’. He built a bamboo fortress at Narkelberia village, 10 km from Baduria, and set up his headquarters there. He started raising taxes from zamindars of Taki and Gobardanga; this is known in history as the Barasat Uprising. The ocal zamindars, indigo planters and the Company resented such measures and Lord William Bentinck sent troops against him. His bamboo fortress was destroyed. Titu Mir and some of his followers fought bravely and died as heroes in the battlefield (19 November 1831). The captured soldiers were hanged and many were imprisoned for long.
By Amit Agarwal