Founded by Sayyid Ahmad (1786-1831) of Rae Bareli, the Wahhabi Movement in India was a vigorous movement for socio-religious reforms in Indo-Islamic society in the nineteenth century with strong political undercurrents. It stood for a strong affirmation of Tauhid (unity of God), the efficacy of ijtihad (the right of further interpretation of the Quran and the Sunnah, or of forming a new opinion by applying analogy) and the rejection of bid'at (innovation). It remained active for half a century.
Sayyid Ahmad's writings show an awareness of the increasing British presence in the country and he regarded British India as a daru7 harb (abode of war). In 1826 he migrated and established an operational base in the independent tribal belt of the North Western Frontier area. After his death in the battle of Balakote, the Movement slackened for some time but his adherents particularly Wilayet Ali and Enayat Ali of Patna revived the work and broad-based its activities.
The climax of the Movement was reached in the Ambeyla War (1863) during which the English army suffered serious losses at the hands of the Wahhabis. This led the Government to take stern measures to suppress the Movement. Investigations were launched, the leaders were arrested and sentenced to long-term imprisonments and their properties confiscated. That broke the back of the Movement but it continued to be a potential source of trouble to the government.
The Movement does not fit in neatly in any one of the groups and categories into which the history of the early resistance to British rule has been divided by some of the writers on the subject. It cut across some of them time-wise and theme-wise. The existing studies on the subject do not offer a comprehensive profile of the Movement and fail to analyse its nature and the reasons for its failure politically.
This well researched study drawing on a vast array of contemporary records, many of them for the first time, seeks to fill this gap and presents an integrated account of the rise and growth of the Movement, its operation over the entire area and period of its existence, its impact and reasons for its failure.
Qeyamuddin Ahmad, joined the Bihar Educational Service in 1952 and was later transfered to Patna University where he taught History from 1964. Among his publications are Corpus of Arabic and Persian Inscriptions of Bihar (1973) and an abridged edition of Edward Sachau's English translation of Alberuni's India with a new introduction (1983). He was Associate Editor of Comprehensive History of Bihar Vol, ll Part I (1983) and Part II (1986) published by the K.P. Jayaswal Research Institute, Patna. He passed away in 1998.
Soon after my appointment as Research Fellow, K.P. Jayaswal 319 Research Institute, Patna, in 1952, I was deputed by the Government of Bihar to assist Dr. K.K. Datta, then Joint Honorary Director of the Institute, in the preparation of the Biography of Kunwar Singh and Amax Singh. During the course of that work I 321 delved into the relevant records of practically all the District and Divisional Record Rooms in Bihar as well as those of Central Records Office, Patna, Calcutta, Allahabad and National Archives, Delhi. The main subject of my enquiry then was the Movment of 1857-59 in Bihar, but many records I came across related also to 323 the Wahabis and their activities during those fateful years. The piecemeal information that I got about the Wahabis aroused my interest in the subject.
The work of reconstructing the full history of the Wahabi Movement was arduous and painstaking. Scattered but important 325 pieces of information had to be collected from different Government archives and neglected collections of private papers, old books and manuscripts had to be searched and studied. Besides, some rare, out of print and proscribed Wahabi pamphlets had to be 're-discovered' before the full picture of the Movement 327 emerged.
Although the word Wahabi is a misnomer, its adoption in the title became unavoidable on account of its wide prevalence. To have described the followers of Sayyid Ahmad Barelvi as Ahl-i-329 Hadis or Puritans or Reformists and used the word Wahabi in brackets all along would have been cumbrous, to say the least. The insistence of the English as also some Indian writers on the use of 331 this appellation seems to be deliberate and actuated by ulterior motives. Some of the early and rather over-zealous acts of the 337 Arabian Wahabis to do away with what they regarded as 'un-Islamic' practices had given them a bad name among the general 349 body of the Muslims in India and elsewhere. In the eyes of the British Government the word Wahabi was synonymous with 'traitor' and 'rebel'. Thus, by describing the followers of Sayyid Ahmad as Wahabis, the contemporary Government officers aimed at killing two birds with one stone–branding them as rebels in the eyes of the higher circles of the government and as `extremists' and 'desecrators of shrines' in the eyes of the general Muslims. The epithet became a term of religio-political abuse. The prevalent title of Wahabis had been retained in the book without, however, subscribing in the least to the unwarranted implications involved in it.
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