Khilafat Movement

Khilafat Movement

In India, although mainly a Muslim religious movement, the movement became a part of the wider Indian independence movement. The movement was a topic in Conference of London (February 1920).


The Caliphate is an Islamic system of governance in which the state rules under Islamic law. Caliph literally means "successor" or "representative" and emphasizes religious authority for the head of state. It was adopted as a title by the Ummayad Caliphs and then by the Abbasid Caliphs, as well as by the Fatimid Caliphs of North Africa, the Almohad Caliphs of North Africa and Spain and the Ottoman Dynasty. Most historical Muslim rulers were sultans or amirs, and gave token obedience to a caliph who often had very little real authority. Moreover, the Muslim clergy, the ulema and the various Sufi orders, exercised more religious influence than the Caliph.

Ottoman Caliphate

Ottoman emperor Abdul Hamid II (1876-1909) had launched his Pan-Islamic program in a bid to protect the Ottoman empire from Western attack and dismemberment, and to crush the Westernizing democratic opposition in Turkey. He sent an emissary, Jamaluddin Afghani, to India in the late 19th century. The cause of the Ottoman monarch evoked religious passion and sympathy amongst Indian Muslims. Being a Caliph, the Ottoman emperor was the supreme religious and political leader of all Sunni Muslims across the world (although this authority was titular in practice). A large number of Muslim religious leaders began working to spread awareness and develop Muslim participation on behalf of the Caliphate. Muslim religious leader Maulana Mehmud Hasan attempted to organise a national war of independence against the British with support from the Ottoman Empire.He was over-thrown by a secretive nationalist group called the 'Young Turks.'Abdulhamid was succeeded by his brother Mehmed V(1844-1918)but real power lay with the nationalists.


The Ottoman empire, having sided with the Central Powers during World War I, suffered a major military defeat. The Treaty of Versailles (1919) reduced its territorial extent and diminished its political influence but the victorious European powers promised to protect the Ottoman emperor's status as the Caliph. However, under the Treaty of Sèvres (1920), territories such as Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt severed from the empire. Within Turkey, a pro-Western nationalist movement arose, Turkish national movement. During the Turkish War of Independence (1919-1924) led by one of the Turkish revolutionaries, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, abolished the Treaty of Sèvres with the Treaty of Lausanne (1923). Pursuant to Atatürk's Reforms, the Republic of Turkey abolished the position of Caliphate in 1924 and transferred its powers within Turkey to the Grand National Assembly of Turkey.

Khilafat in South Asia

to form the All India Khilafat Committee. They aimed to build political unity amongst Muslims and use their influence to protect the caliphate. In 1920, they published the Khilafat Manifesto, which called upon the British to protect the caliphate and for Indian Muslims to unite and hold the British accountable for this purpose.

In 1920 an alliance was made between Khilafat leaders and the Indian National Congress, the largest political party in India and of the nationalist movement. Congress leader Mohandas Gandhi and the Khilafat leaders promised to work and fight together for the causes of Khilafat and "Swaraj". Seeking to increase pressure on the British, the Khilafatists became a major part of the Non-cooperation movement — a nationwide campaign of mass, peaceful civil disobedience. The support of the Khilafatists helped Gandhi and the Congress ensure Hindu-Muslim unity during the struggle. Khilafat leaders such as Dr. Ansari, Maulana Azad and Hakim Ajmal Khan also grew personally close to Gandhi. These leaders founded the Jamia Millia Islamia in 1920 to promote independent education and social rejuvenation for Muslims.

The non-cooperation campaign was at first successful. Massive protests, strikes and acts of civil disobedience spread across India. Hindus and Muslims collectively offered resistance, which was largely peaceful. Gandhi, the Ali brothers and others were imprisoned by the British. However, the Congress-Khilafat alliance began whithering soon. The Khilafat campaign had been opposed by other political parties such as the Muslim League and the Hindu Mahasabha. While League politicians such as Muhammad Ali Jinnah dismissed the campaign as "religious frenzy," many Hindu religious and political leaders identified the Khilafat cause as Islamic fundamentalism based on a pan-Islamic agenda.

In 1920, some 18,000 Muslims from Sindh and the Northwest Frontier Province emigrated to Afghanistan on the urging of Muslim religious leaders. They saw India as a "Dar al-Harb", a non-Islamic land inhabited mainly by Hindus and controlled by the British; they sought to temporarily live in a "Dar al-Islam", which signified a Muslim-majority and rule of Islam. However, the Afghan government forcibly deported the refugees back to British India, leaving them weak and vulnerable.


In wake of these disturbances, the Ali brothers began distancing themselves from Gandhi and the Congress. The Ali brothers criticised Gandhi's commitment to non-violence and severed their ties with them after he suspended all civil disobedience after the killing of 22 policemen at Chauri Chaura in 1922. Although holding talks with the British and continuing their activities, the Khilafat struggle weakened as Muslims were divided between working for the Congress, the Khilafat cause and the Muslim League. The final blow came with the victory of Mustafa Kemal's forces, who overthrew the Ottoman rule to establish a pro-Western, secular republic in independent Turkey. The Khilafat leadership fragmented on different political lines. Leaders such as Dr. Ansari, Maulana Azad and Hakim Ajmal Khan remained strong supporters of Gandhi and the Congress. The Ali brothers joined the Muslim League. They would play a major role in the growth of the League's popular appeal and the subsequent Pakistan movement. There was, however, a Caliphate Conference in Jerusalem in 1931 following Turkey's abolision of the Khilafat, to determine what should be done about the caliphate. [Nasr, Vali, "The Shia Revival," Norton, (2006), p.106]


The Khilafat struggle evokes controversy and strong opinions. It is regarded as a political agitation based on a pan-Islamic, fundamentalist platform and being largely indifferent to the cause of Indian independence. Critics of the Khilafat see its alliance with the Congress as a marriage of convenience. Proponents of the Khilafat see it as a major milestone in improving Hindu-Muslim relations, while advocates of Pakistan and Muslim separatism see it as a major step towards establishing the separate Muslim state. The Ali brothers are regarded as founding-fathers of Pakistan, while Azad, Dr. Ansari and Hakim Ajmal Khan are widely celebrated as national heroes in India.

The cause of establishing an Islamic State by reviving the caliphate system has been adopted by organisations such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Jamaat-e-Islami umbrella groups in South Asia, founded in 1941 by Maulana Maududi and most of all Hizb ut Tahrir.

ee also


* [ Institution of Khilafat in Ahmadiyya Muslim Community]
* [ Khilafat Movement]
* [ Banglapedia article]


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