The following article, “The Influence of Sheikh Sirhindi Reform Movement” is written by Amna Sehrish, a student of Sir Syed Kazim Ali. Moreover, the article is written on the same pattern, taught by Sir to his students, scoring the highest marks in compulsory subjects for years. Sir Kazim has uploaded his students’ solved past paper questions so other thousands of aspirants can understand how to crack a topic or question, how to write relevantly, what coherence is, and how to include and connect ideas, opinions, and suggestions to score the maximum.
Sheikh Ahmad’s reformist movement left indelible impacts on the Muslims of India; by initiating the revivalism of Islam, countering anti-Islamic trends, and developing the two-nation theory, he altered the course of the subcontinent’s history for centuries to come.
2- A brief overview of the socio-political conditions of the-then Indian society
- ✓Adulterated Sufism
- ✓Rise of the Bhakti movement
- ✓Undue influence of Jurisprudence
- ✓Imposition of Din-e-Ilahi and Sulh-i-Kul
- ✓Pluralism and religious degeneration
3- Impacts of Sheikh Ahmad Sirhindi’s Reformist movement
- ✓Religious impacts
- Eradication of the anti-Islamic trends
- Introduction of Wahdat al Shahood
- ✓Socio-cultural impacts
- Widespread restoration of Islam
- Revivalism of unadulterated Islamic practices
- ✓Political impacts
- Birth of Two-Nation Theory
- Influence on Jahangir and the later Mughals
4- Critical Analysis
Answer to the Question
Sheikh Ahmad Sirhindi, the reformer of the second millennium, is considered the pioneer of the Islamic Renaissance in the subcontinent. His unswerving efforts towards the revivalism of Islam emerged as a beacon of light in the dark and injected a new life into the dormant Muslim society of India. By effectively countering anti-Islamic campaigns like the Bhakti movement, reinterpreting the concept of Wahdat-ul-Wujood, and opposing Akbar’s ‘Din-e-Ilahi’ and ‘Sulh-i-Kul,’ Shiekh Sirhindi drew a stark distinction between true Islamic beliefs and its adulterated versions that were normalized during his time. Moreover, he also criticized the inclination towards Jurisprudence and supported Shariah as the primary source of legal instruction; consequently, Islamic principles were restored in the societal spheres. In addition, his ideologies of separatism introduced the theory of Two Nations, which provided a bedrock for future leaders to fight for the Pakistan cause. Thus, it is just to say that Sheikh Ahmad’s contributions not only changed the socio-political conditions of the Indian Muslims but became the mainspring of the Pakistan movement in the later stages. This answer offers a detailed account of how Sheikh Sirhindi’s reformist movement impacted the history of Muslim India and altered its course for generations to come.
A Brief Overview of the Socio-political Conditions of the Indian Society
The Muslim society in India was plagued with unIslamic trends when Sheikh Ahmad started his reformist movement. Muslims had deviated from the right track by practising corrupted Sufism and following ill practices like karamat and bidet. Moreover, Hindu nationalist campaigns like the ‘Bhakti movement’ had too, led the masses astray. Along with this, Muslim scholars and jurists, under the influence of jurisprudence, had denied the authenticity of Shariah and ceased to refer to the Quran and Hadith in legal dealings. Furthermore, Akbar’s anti-Islamic outlook had aggravated the rise of social evils; his liberal and integrative policies of ‘Din-e-Ilahi’ and ‘Sulh-i-Kul’ fostered pluralism and hybridity of religions, which negatively affected Islam’s identity and gave rise to widespread religious degeneration. In this chaotic situation, Ahmad Sirhindi emerged as a messiah for the errant Muslim community of India and redirected them to the path of righteousness. Allama Iqbal, in his poem ‘Punjab ke Peerzadon se’, describes him as the guardian of the Islamic Ummah by saying:
“Woh Hind Mein Sarmaya-e-Millat Ka Negheban
Allah Ne Barwaqt Kiya Jis Ko Khabardar”
Impacts of Sheikh Ahmad Sirhindi’s Reformist Movement
- ✓Eradication of Anti-Islamic trends
Sheikh Ahmad opposed the philosophies of the Bhakti movement, Din-I-Ilahi, and Sulh-I-Kulh, which supported religious amalgamation to achieve salvation. Instead, he advocated the Quranic notion of ‘For you is your religion and for me is mine’.He supported Islam as the preeminent religion with distinctive traits of its own, whose specific identity would be damaged by its fusion with any other faith. In addition, he also exposed karamat and bidet as corrupted practices aimed at leading Muslims to shirk under the guile of religious devotion. He emphasized that false mysticism and innovation in religion tarnish its true essence by saying, “A nation that invents innovation in religion is deprived of the analogy of sunnah.”Thus, Sheikh Sirhindi’s teachings significantly eradicated the prevalent anti-Islamic trends in his age.
- ✓Introduction of Wahdat-ul-Shahood
Many Sufi saints of Akbar’s era adopted a liberal stance to propagate Islam. One such effort came to the limelight under the banner of ‘Wahdat-ul-Wujood,’ a Sufi ideology proposed by Ibn-Arabi. Being an offshoot of the Bhakti movement, it, too, promoted the concept of unity of creation and the creator. It asserted that everything in the universe is a mirror of God; therefore, to worship His creation is equal to worshipping the Almighty. Sheikh Ahmad refuted this belief and deemed it contrary to the principles of Islam. To counter its effects, he introduced the concept of ‘Wahdat-ul-Shahood’ and declared that God and man are two separate entities, and man has always been subservient to God. Consequently, many people converted their beliefs, and the Naqshbandi Sufi order flourished in the subcontinent and all over Asia.
- ✓Widespread Restoration of Islam
The impacts of Sheikh Sirhindi’s religious teachings were also evident in the social sphere. His disciples went far and wide to preach the actual teachings of Islam, emphasizing Quranic principles, Ittibat-e-Sunnah, Hadith, and Shariah. Moreover, he also began a correspondence with religious authorities and influential court personalities to strengthen his voice. Through his letters, commonly known as ‘Maktoobat-e-Imam Rabbani,’ he drew many leading nobles of Akbar’s era into his mentorship like Abdur Rahim Khan-e-Khana, Khan-i-Azam, Mirza Aziz, and Mufti Sardar-e-Jahan. As a consequence, Islam not only started to revive in society, but many scholars and jurists who had, under the influence of Jurisprudence, stopped referencing Shariah, Quran and Hadith in the legal instructions revamped their methodologies in line with Islamic principles.
- ✓Revivalism of Islamic practices
With the dissipation of non-Islamic movements, Islamic beliefs and practices saw a resurgence, and Muslims, once again, began to conduct their lives according to Islamic values. First, Namaz, Roza, and Zakat made their way back into the mundane lives of people. Second, the restrictions on Islamic names and cow slaughtering were also lifted. Moreover, new mosques were built, and the trashed ones were reconstructed. The practice of inter-religious marriages, the fundamental cause behind religious unanimity, was also prohibited. Lastly, several madrasas and educational institutions were established to encourage Islamic learning in the subcontinent. In a nutshell, Sheikh Sirhindi’s reformist movement significantly improved the socio-cultural conditions of the then-Indian Muslims.
- ✓Birth of the Two-Nation Theory
Although Sheikh Ahmad never participated in politics, his ideas of separatism and religious individuality had political undertones because they gave birth to the ‘Two-nation theory.’ According to him, Muslims and Hindus are separate nations, having different religions, cultures, languages, and social ideologies; the unification of their identities would result in total disarray for both factions. This philosophy provided the guiding principle for many future reformers like Shah Waliullah, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, Allama Iqbal, etc. and later became the mainstay of the Pakistan movement. It is mirrored in Quaid-i-Azam’s statement: “Hindus and Muslims, though living in the same town and villages, had never been blended into one nation. It is a dream they can ever evolve into a common nationality.”
- ✓Influence on Jahangir and the Later Mughals
During his tenure at the royal court, Sheikh Ahmed influenced Jahangir to redirect his father’s policies and adopt an Islamic outlook towards politics. Consequently, the emperor re-imposed jizya, a tax on non-Muslims living under the rule of Muslims, which was abolished during Akbar’s reign. Similarly, many Hindus were removed from high-ranking positions in the royal court and were replaced by Muslims. Furthermore, Sheikh Sirhindi’s influence on the Mughals did not end with Jahangir; his teachings continued to inspire the later Mughals even after his demise. For example, Aurangzeb became a staunch follower of the Naqshbandi Sufi order and sought to establish Islamic rule as instructed by Ahmad Sirhindi. His taxation policies, administrative reforms, and Fatwa-e-Alamgiri are a testament to this.
In the final analysis, Sheikh Ahmad Sirhindi emerged as a God-sent boon for the ignorant Muslim community of the subcontinent. Despite countless obstacles, he remained faithful to his cause and fought unflinchingly to restore Islamic thought and culture in society. It was the result of his steadfast courage and determination that Islam regained its lost glory and revived itself as the only supreme religion in India. Therefore, his movement is rightly regarded as the ‘call back to Muhammad (PBUH)’ by Allama Iqbal. Had it not been for Sirhindi’s efforts, Islam would have been extinct from the subcontinent within three hundred years.
To summarise the talk, Sheikh Ahmad Sirhindi’s contributions to the revivalism of Islam remain unparalleled in the history of the subcontinent. He stood against the ill practices of his age and drew a stark distinction between Islam, its corrupted versions, and other religions. Sheikh Ahmad channelled Muslims towards the path of the Quran, Sunnah, and Shariah and extricated them from the abyss of ignorance, significantly improving their socio-political conditions. Moreover, his two-nation theory provided a backbone for the future reformist movements that culminated in the creation of Pakistan. In short, Sheikh Ahmad fulfilled Khwaja Baki Billah’s prediction of being the “light that would illuminate the (Islamic) world.”
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