Sunday, September 11, 2011

Mahatma Gandhi--Khilafat Movement--Gandhi was criticised for associating with Khilafat, which many saw as a fundamentalist pan-Islamic movement by Mohammad Ali Jinnah; called his support "an endorsement of religious zealotry". Jinnah could not fathom how a nationalist movement could reconcile with a movement that aimed at preserving the Caliphate- historic building - Khilafat House Mumbai

From inquilaab to kitaab

In a courtyard in the leafy Love Lane in Byculla, a group of burqa-clad girls crowds the lone drinking water tap. As the afternoon sun blazes overhead, the place is quiet, its serenity broken only by the girls' giggles and the twitter of birds in the trees.

In the courtyard stands a historic building, the crucible of the Mahatma Gandhi-supported pre-independence Khilafat movement. Today a shadow of its former self, Khilafat House struggles to retain its relevance in an age when nobody raises slogans of 'Islam khatre mein hai' (Islam is in danger) and 'Gora murdabad' (Down with the whites). The only flags that aflutter here now are the crescent-embossed green flags during the annual Eid-e-Milad procession marking the Prophet's birthday.

What was once Ground Zero for a massive anti-British, pro-Caliphate movement now silently trains dozens of young Muslims, mostly girls, to become teachers and computer operators. Nobody aspires to be a leader today-all follow a herd towards the goal of being able to earn their bread by teaching. But before the boredom settled here decades ago, Khilafat House had incubated an inquilab, a revolution.

Those days were truly stormy, as the sepia-toned photographs adorning Khilafat House's walls show. On March 20, 1919, a group of Muslim leaders launched the Central Khilafat Committee and made Khilafat House its headquarters.



Khilafat was a movement against the possible abolition of the Islamic Caliphate (Khilafat in Urdu) in Turkey and an imminent British takeover of the sacred Islamic places of Mecca and Medina. The leading lights of the movement were the Ali Brothers, Shaukat and Muhammad. Originally from Rampur in UP, they distinguished themselves as nationalist leaders and firebrand speakers and writers.

Gandhi was criticised for associating with Khilafat, which many saw as a fundamentalist pan-Islamic movement-

Mohammad Ali Jinnah called his support "an endorsement of

 religious zealotry". Jinnah could not fathom how a nationalist 

movement could reconcile with a movement that aimed at 

 the Caliphate, a religious institution. But the movement eventually failed, as Kemal Ata Turk abolished the Caliphate in 1924. 

Apart from being the Ground Zero for a movement, Khilafat House even ran under its aegis a nationalist Urdu daily called Khilafat. Post-partition, the daily came under the supervision of Maulana Zahid Shaukat Ali, son of Shaukat Ali. Zahid, apart from editing the paper, would also hold mushairas and mehfils at Khilafat House. Till Zahid's death in 1970, it remained a magnet for Mumbai's Muslim intelligentsia, progressive poets and writers. 

Senior scriptwriter Javed Siddiqui, a nephew of the Ali Brothers, in his forthcoming Urdu memoir, has penned a fascinating chapter on Zahid Shaukat Ali and Khilafat House. Siddiqui who joined Khilafat in 1959, recalls Zahid's weakness for ghazals and his famed hospitality-food would come free from the nearby Haji hotel, which Zahid would share with his friends. Bringing out an Urdu daily, recalls Siddiqui, had its own moments of fun. "A Muslim NGO once placed an ad in Khilafat about an upcoming community event," he says. "The ad was about separate seating arrangements for zanana (ladies) and mardana (men). Those were pre-computer days, and the khatib (calligrapher) inadvertently twisted the word zanana. The published ad read: 'At the venue, a separate arrangement has been made for zana (adultery).' It left the organisers red-faced and Zahid livid. "The poor khatib faced the fury of Zahid sahib's choicest abuses," laughs Siddiqui. 

After Zahid's death in 1970 the paper closed, and Islamic scholar-politician Rafiq Zakaria stepped in. Zakaria, who remained the Khilafat Committee's chairman till his death in 2005, realised that mushairas and mehfils alone would not keep Khilafat House alive. "Dr Zakaria envisioned that the only way Khilafat House could remain connected with the community's affairs was through education," says Sarfraz Arzoo, a trustee. 

Through the Khilafat Committee, Zakaria launched B.Ed and M.Ed classes. The cute old bungalow was demolished to make way for a behemoth which Siddiqui, in his memoir, calls the "badsurat imaarat (ugly building). The demolition, maintains Arzoo, was necessary to accommodate the growing number of students, who, incidentally, seem to be highly motivated future teachers. Shabana Bano, a B.Ed student, wants to return to her ancestral village in Gorakhpur (UP) where Muslim parents are reluctant to educate their daughters. Sheikh Sabiha from Mumbai's Kurla fought her conservative father's reluctance to educate her beyond graduation. "Khilafat House's history gives me courage to fight," she says earnestly. 

Education gives Khilafat House a reason to survive. However, it's the massive annual Eid-e-Milad procession that keeps the building alive in Mumbai's memory. From Mahatma Gandhi to Rajiv Gandhi, various leaders perched atop decorated trucks have led Khilafat House's Eid-e-Milad processions over the decades. 

Which is, perhaps, fitting. Religion was, after all, the reason why Khilafat House was founded in the first place.