Allama Mashriqi was a legendary freedom fighter who had millions of followers and launched one of the largest private armies in South Asia, mobilizing the masses in the sub-continent to obtain freedom from the British. Mashriqi’s journey from academic brilliance to the forefront of South Asian politics is compelling and worthy of a feature film or documentary. Indeed, this subject is of historic importance and would generate strong interest among the more than one billion people living in Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan (and beyond).
Nobel Prize nominee Allama Inayatullah Khan Mashriqi was one of the great minds of the 19th and 20th centuries – he was a world-famous mathematician, scholar, reformer, politician, and freedom fighter. Mashriqi was the founder of the revolutionary Khaksar Movement (Tehrik), Al-Islah weekly, and the Islam League. Mashriqi first made history at a young age through his academic achievements at the University of Punjab and record-breaking performance at the world-famous University of Cambridge (U.K.). A few years later, his book Tazkirah, a scientific commentary on the Holy Quran, which is believed to be the first book by a Muslim to be nominated (by Indian and European scholars) for the Nobel Prize (in Literature). His academic accomplishments led to his induction as a Fellow at some of the most prestigious scholarly societies in Europe.
Mashriqi’s early academic and scholarly achievements marked only the beginning of a much broader and influential political career, one that would ultimately result in the liberation of India from the British. Mashriqi’s emergence as a revolutionary leader and politician gained momentum in the 1920s. In May of 1926, he delivered an influential speech at the International Caliphate Conference in Cairo. During his speech, Mashriqi called into question the election of Egyptian King Fuad (who had the blessing of the British) as Caliphate. In doing so, Mashriqi thwarted the British attempt to appoint a proxy leader who could implement their agenda in the Muslim world. Mashriqi subsequently traveled to Europe upon the invitation of prominent European scholars and scientists. When Mashriqi arrived in Germany, German President Hindenburg’s niece, Helene Nostitz von Hindenburg, received him. While in Europe, scholars, scientists, and other leaders, including Albert Einstein and Adolf Hitler met him. During his wide-ranging discussions, Mashriqi imparted his ideas on global affairs, science, militarism, religion, etc.
A few years after his return from Europe, Mashriqi launched the Khaksar Tehrik (in 1930). The Tehrik was a private army designed to mobilize the masses for freedom and to liberate India from British rule. The Movement was highly disciplined and based on the principles of brotherhood, justice, and equality; its members, the Khaksars, included people from across religions, including Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, and Christians. Instead of rifles, the Khaksars carried spades, which symbolized the dignity of labor, humility and the leveling of society. The Khaksars relentlessly promoted their philosophy and message through camps, marches in the streets, flyers, posters, volunteer work, etc. In 1934, the Khaksar Tehrik’s official newspaper, Al-Islah weekly, was launched, which further accelerated the spread of the Tehrik and the onset of the end of British rule (see the peer-reviewed article published in the USA entitled Khaksar Movement Weekly “Al-Islah's” Role Toward Freedom).
Mashriqi and the Khaksar Tehrik’s philosophy resonated strongly with the masses and the Tehrik quickly grew to nearly every corner of the sub-continent (now comprised of Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan). By 1940, the Tehrik had millions of followers and branches in many countries – from Bahrain to South Africa to Egypt. Remarkably, Mashriqi had accomplished this feat without any state-sponsorship, donations or membership fees. The Khaksar Tehrik had captured the imagination of the people of the sub-continent and inspired them to rise up against the British Raj.
Mashriqi thus emerged as the most powerful leader in the sub-continent and the first to directly challenge British rule (for more details, see the author’s published works). Historical documents demonstrate that the British feared Mashriqi’s power and influence and attempted to crush him and his movement by any means necessary. On March 19, 1940, police open fired on the Khaksars and the Government banned the Khaksar Tehrik. On the same day, Mashriqi, his sons, and a large number of Khaksars were also arrested. One of Mashriqi’s young sons eventually died from injuries inflicted upon him by police. The Government continued arresting thousands of Khaksars in an attempt to crush the threat to British rule. On June 07, 1942, Ahmad Dastagir wrote in the daily Dawn (Delhi):
“How the Khaksars were killed in the streets of Lahore, the Allama arrested, his and other leaders’ properties confiscated, Allama’s invalid pension withheld, thousands of Khaksars persecuted, Allama’s elder son imprisoned, the younger one murdered in cold blood…is too tragic a tale to be told.”
Ironically, the British cruelty against the Khaksars only strengthened the public’s resolve against the British Raj. Despite the atrocities committed against them, the Khaksars were relentless in their push for freedom It became clear to the British that Mashriqi and the Khaksars would not relent in their fight for independence, and that the British would have no choice but to leave India. The Indian subcontinent thus achieved its independence from the British in 1947.
Following independence, Mashriqi continued to play an active role fighting for the poor masses and against Government corruption, injustices, and bad policies. When Mashriqi died in 1963, news of his death headlined major newspapers and there was an overwhelming outpouring of grief and condolences from followers and supporters in Pakistan, Bangladesh and abroad. To mourn his death, shops and trading markets remained closed and special bulletins, rallies, and funeral prayers (Ghaibana Namaz-e-Janaza) were offered in many cities of Pakistan (and abroad). His funeral procession in Lahore (where he was buried with full military style honors) was one of the largest in South Asian history.
Indeed, Allama Mashriqi led a remarkable life. His journey – from Nobel Prize nominee to founder of India’s largest private army to liberating the country from foreign rule and offering prescient warnings about the dangers of partition – provides a riveting narrative for a documentary or feature film.
(Nasim Yousaf is a researcher and historian based in the USA. He is a grandson of Allama Mashriqi and has published 15 books, many articles, and 19 digital files of rare and historical documents. More information on Allama Mashriqi (as well as Mr. Yousaf) is available on social media platforms)