In 1856, a meeting of all the senior Ulemā’ of India was called up in Delhi. This meeting was attended, amongst others, by Ml. Jaffar Thāneserī, Ml. Wilāyat Alī, Hājī Imdādullāh, Ml. Qāsim Nānotwī, Ml. Rashīd Ahmad Gangohī and Hāfidh Dhāmin Shahīd (Rahmatullahi Alayhim). In this meeting, Ml. Qāsim Nānotwī is reported to have said, “Aren’t you aware that the British are sitting right on our heads? They have laid a snare of their rule throughout the country. Be prepared for some rather decisive battles against them. We will either be cut up into pieces or fight against them right up to the end. We will not allow the British to live in this country”.
As a result of this meeting, the battle of Independence in 1857 was fought on two fronts, one in Ambala under the leadership of Ml. Jaffar Thāneserī and the other in Shāmli under Hājī Imdādullāh Makkī. However due to their limited resources and betrayal of a few people, the Ulemā’ failed to win this battle. The spirit of freedom however still remained alive.
At the termination of this battle of 1857, the British viceroy to India requested his own ministers and counsellors of India to submit a report on how they can firmly secure the British government’s hold over India in the post-war period. One of the leading politicians of India, Doctor William Yur submitted a report to the viceroy. He wrote: “Of the entire population of India, the Muslims are the most spirited and vigilant. The battle of independence was fought mainly by the Muslims. As long as the Muslims cherish the spirit of jihād, we will not be able to impose our rule upon them. Hence, first and foremost, the snuffing out of this spirit is imperative. The only way this can be achieved is by weeding out theUlemā’ and by eradicating the Qur’ān.”
Acting on this advice, in 1861 the government launched a campaign against the Qur’ān. 300 000 copies of the Noble Qur’ān were set alight by the government. Thereafter, they made a resolution to eradicate the Ulemā’. An English historian, Mr. Thompson writes in his memoirs: “From 1864 to 1867, the British government firmly resolved to eradicate all theUlemā’ of India. These three years are one of the most heart-wrenching periods of Indian history.
The British hanged 14 000 Ulemā’ to death. From Chandi Chowk of Delhi up to Khaibar, not a single tree was spared the neck of the Ulemā’. The Ulemā’ were wrapped in pig-skin and hurled alive into blazing furnaces. Their bodies were branded with hot copper rods. They used to be made to stand on the backs of elephants and tied to high trees. The elephants would then be driven away and they would be left hanging by their necks. A makeshift gallow was set up in the courtyard of the Shāhī Mosque of Lahore and each day up to eighty Ulemā’ were hanged. The Ulemā’ were at times wrapped up in sacks and dumped into the Rawi river of Lahore after which a hail of bullets would be pumped into each sack.”
Thompson writes further: “As I got into my camp at Delhi, I perceived a stench of putrefied flesh. As I stepped out and went behind my camp, I saw a blazing fire of live coals. I saw a group of forty naked Ulemā’ being led into the fire. As I was witnessing this scene, another group of forty Ulemā’ were brought onto the field. Right before my eyes, their clothes were taken off their bodies. The English commander addressed them thus: ‘O Molvies! Just as these Ulemā’ are being roasted over this fire, you will also be roasted. To save yourselves, just one of you must proclaim that you were not part of the 1857 uprising of freedom. I will release all of you the moment I hear just one of you affirming this.”
Thompson writes: “By the Lord who has created me! Not one of the Ulemā’ said any such thing. All of them were roasted over the fire and another group was also brought and roasted over the blazing fire. Not a single Alim surrendered to the demands of the British.”
By 1867 not a single Islamic institute remained. One would be quite astonished to realize that in 1601 when the British arrived in India for trade, there were a thousand Islamic institutes in Delhi alone. It was around this time when Ml. Qāsim Nānotwī saw Nabī Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam in a dream in which he was instructed to build a madrasah in the village of Deoband. In compliance to the command, Ml. Nānotwī laid the foundation of the madrasah under a pomegranate tree on the 30th May 1866. When Ml. Qāsim Nānotwī informed Hâji Imdâdullâh who had by that time already migrated to Makkah Mukarramah that we have just started a madrasah, Hājī Imdādullāh ˛ remarked in surprise, “What! Have ‘you’ founded the madrasah? No, this is actually the result of countless nights which we had passed crying before Allāh.”
The first ustādh appointed was Ml. Mahmudul Hasan and the first student also possessed the name Mahmudul Hasan, who served the Muslims of India and later Muslims of the world. He was given the title, ‘Shaykhul Hind’, which he thoroughly deserved after his innumerable sacrifices and services to Islam.
It is the promise of Allah to protect His dīn no matter how hard the enemies try to extinguish it. A manifestation of this came in the form of Dārul Ulūm Deoband whose rays extended throughout the world in the defence and spread of our great Din.