The Khilafat Movement was an Emotional Movement.

The Khilafat Movement was an emotional movement.

CSS 2015 Solved Pakistan Affairs Past Papers | The Khilafat Movement was an emotional movement”.

The following question of CSS Pakistan Affairs 2015 is solved by Taimur Khan under the supervision of Miss Nirmal Hasni on the guided pattern of Sir Syed Kazim Ali, which he taught to his students, scoring the highest marks in compulsory subjects for years. This solved past paper question is uploaded to help aspirants 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.


1- Introduction

2- The situation leading to the Khilafat movement

3- Analysis of the Khilafat movement

4- How was the move an emotional one?

  • ✓Supporting the false idea of the universal Caliphate
  • ✓Ignoring the institution of Ijtihad
  • ✓Employing emotional symbolism
  • ✓Using religious rhetoric for political motive

5- Conclusion

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Answer to the Question


Muslims in the Subcontinent have never taken for granted their Islamic character. Whether it was the Millennium movement of Sheikh Ahmed Sirhindhi against the adulterated Islamic theology, the Jihad movement by Syed Ahmed Barelvi against the Sikhs’ brutal rule, or, more importantly, the Pakistan Movement against the majoritarian Hindus, the Muslim community in India through its untiring leadership in the previous centuries has fought rationally in times of spiritual, political, and social crises. One such crisis that most Muslims saw was the British intent to abolish the Ottoman Caliphate. This political and spiritual institution was highly esteemed by the Muslims of India, especially the religious figures. However, unlike the abovementioned movements, the struggle for preserving the Khalifat proved highly dynamic, leaving the Muslim community in the lurch.

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To begin with, Khilafatists’ emotional attachment to the Islamic universal Caliphate has no basis in Muslim history. In addition, such was the enthusiasm in the movement that it ignored the institution of Ijtihad or independent reasoning. Moreover, the religious rhetoric, the biggest weapon in the movement, brought irreparable damage to the Muslims in the form of the Hijrat movement. Lastly, the religious symbolism in the movement, as emotional as populist, amalgamated religion and politics, leading to a marked level of political religiosity among the religious communities in India.

What was the Khilafat Movement?

The Khilafat Movement was a religious-cum-political protest against the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire in the Subcontinent in the early twentieth century. Founded in 1299, the Empire, owing to its spiritual and political significance, was highly revered by the Muslim communities the world over. The Empire stretched from Southeast Europe, Western Asia, and Northern Africa between the 14th and early 20th centuries. Therefore, in order to spearhead the demands of the movement—namely that the Turkish Empire should not be dismembered, the institution of the Caliphate must be retained, and the Holy place should remain in the custody of the Turkish Government, All India Khilafat Committee was formed at Bombay in July 1919 with the participation of Congress leaders such as Gandhi and Nehru. The committee held some conferences that outlined the line of actions to be taken against the British government in India. These strategies that were in unison with the Indian nationalism of self-rule include the refusal to participate in the victory celebration of WWI and the boycott of British goods. Furthermore, the movement, which was the first of its ilk involving the common man, had the importance of a Caliph in Muslim thought. Gail Minault aptly summarizes the significance of it. He writes:

”In theory, the caliph was both the spiritual and temporal leader of the Sunni Muslim, ensuring the defence and expansion of the rule of divine justice on earth, and thus furthering God’s purpose, helping to assure eternal salvation for all Muslims.”

The then situation

The great game in Asia and North Africa and religious and political dynamics in British India led to the formation of the Khilafat movement. To begin with, the occupation of the Empire’s territory by the Allied countries comprising France, Great Britain, Russia, Italy, and Japan deeply frustrated the Muslims in the Subcontinent. Worst of all, the dismemberment of the Empire’s territory and its division among the war victors through the Treaty of Sevres, which imposed the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire and gave Greece a powerful position in Anatolia, added fuel to the fire. In addition, the brutal policies adopted by the British in the early twentieth century also fueled general antagonism against imperialist Britain, culminating in the movement. These policies were the Rowlett Act, the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre, martial law in Punjab, the neglect of the Khilafat Committee’s aspirations, high prices of commodities, drought and epidemics that, ultimately, led to the noncooperation movement on 1 August 1920, under the leadership and direction of Gandhi. Ayesha Jalal, in Self and Sovereignty: Individual and Community in South Asian Islam, opined:  “People like Ali Brothers, various ulemas, etc. dominate the movement for the preservation of the Ottoman Caliphate on one hand while furthering the nationalist cause of Gandhi and others on the other by their active participation and support of noncooperation movement.’’ In brief, one can see an amalgamation of the activities in Indian Nationalism and Pan-Islamism of the Khilafat movement.

The emotional fervour in the movement

Due to emotionalism, the movement exhibited an effusive interpretation of history, showed the backwardness of Muslim thought, and demonstrated the impracticable idea of preserving the moribund Khilafat that further added to the problems faced by the Muslim community in the Subcontinent. 

1- Emotionalism in the movement was against the fact of history: the idea of the universal Caliphate.

The idea behind the preservation of Ottoman Khilafat as a universal Caliphate was against the verdict of history. To elaborate, in a civilization sense, there, as per the Khilafatist’s notion of a universal Caliphate, should be a Khalifa, who belongs to the Quraysh tribe, that would defend the land of Islam and look after the affairs of Muslims, both temporal and spiritual. In fact, this primitive idea of universal or civilizational Khalifa stretched back in South Asia to the pre-Mughal rule. The rulers in the Delhi Sultanate, according to Aziz Ahmed, would draw legitimacy from the Abbasids. However, the Mughals, as written in Akbarnama, would themselves call Khalifas, and so did the Timurids, hence negating the idea of a universal Caliphate. In addition, it was the Ottomans themselves who divested themselves of universal caliphs as early as the eighteenth century. Furthermore, there were times in Muslim history when more than one Caliphate existed. Therefore, the idea of a universal caliphate had no basis in Muslim history, and the movement’s vehement support was nothing but emotionalism.

2- The movement ignored the institution of Ijtihad.

In contrast, instead of supporting republicanism through Ijtihad, the khilafatists’ aspirations to preserve the Ottoman Empire were tantamount to promoting a monarchical system and Arab imperialism. Although a majority of Indian Muslims saw a likely setback in the dissolution of the Khilafat, some thinkers believed in the contrary. One such thinker was Allama Muhammad Iqbal, who viewed supporting the Ottoman Empire as tantamount to nothing but the fermentation of the Muslim thought. In Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, Iqbal lamented the role of the caliphate system on Muslim political thought and declared it an instrument of Arab Imperialism. Regarding the clergy’s negation of Ijtihad, Iqbal commented:  “The religious doctors of Islam in Egypt and India, as far as I know, have not yet expressed themselves on this point. Personally, I find the Turkish view [the abolition of Caliphate] is perfectly sound.” To him, the institution of Ijtihad, as practised by the Young Turks, who were instrumental in abolishing the Caliphate in Turkey, to formulate a republican form of government was but a rational choice of the Muslims. Regarding republicanism, he wrote, “The republican form of government is not only thoroughly consistent with the spirit of Islam, but has also become a necessity in view of the new forces that were set free in the world of Islam.” In addition, Iqbal concluded from the notion of Ibn Khaldun, who remarked that since the power of the Quraysh had vanished, the only alternative was to accept the country’s most powerful man as the country’s imam or caliph. Therefore, Iqbal’s perspective on the Khilafat issue was based on the realities of the time, not effusive and archaic notions of the then clergy.     

3- The overzealousness in the movement brought unbearable hardship among Muslims.

The noncooperation against the British government, reflecting sheer emotionalism, backfired against the Muslims. In reality, the Khilfatists were so zealous about noncooperation that they resorted to armed struggle and migration from India. For instance, in a letter to Lord Chelmsford written in April 1919, the Ali brothers penned, “When a land is not safe for Islam, a Muslim has only two alternatives, Jehad or Hijrat’’. Even though the idea of waging Jehad never materialized during the course of the movement, it spearheaded Hijrat(migration) to neighbouring Afghanistan, owing to a fatwa issued by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Maulana Abdul Bari declaring India as “Dar-ul-Harab” (Home of War). The Hijrat movement, a byproduct of the Khilafat movement, attracted tens of thousands of Muslims, adding to their miseries. To illustrate, while migrating to India, many sold their houses for throughway prices to Hindus, caught the disease, and suffered injury and death due to bad weather. Although the migration was initially invited and supported by the ruler of Afghanistan, Amanullah, by welcoming the migrants, no sooner did the number of refugees swell than he refused to accept them, making the movement go astray. In India Wins Freedom, Maulana Azad himself, an ardent figure in the movement, argued that the movement could not achieve its goals due to mobocracy, as well as discouragement of the migration process by the Afghan king. In a nutshell, the mob mentality was the natural outcome of emotional symbolism inherent in the movement, such as ‘Khilafat’, ‘Suraaj’, ‘Amritsar’, ‘Satanic’, ‘Oppression’ and ‘jihad’.

4- The religious fanaticism reflected in the movement fostered extremism and violence.

Consequently, the excessive use of emotional symbolism fused religion and politics, leading to a perpetual spat of violence in the Subcontinent. The movement for the first time in the modern political arena introduced the clergy to the political affairs of the Muslims, leading to a number of religious outfits, such as Jamiat-e-Ulama-e-Hind in 1919, Jamia Millia Islamia in 1920, Tablighi  Jumaat in 1926, which resulted in the very formation of some Hindu revivalist movements, like Shuddhi and Sanghathan Movement in 1923, and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in 1925. As a result, the use of the religious rhetoric present in the Khilafat movement, to a large extent, contributed to Hindu-Muslim riots in several localities of India, such as Kohat, Calcutta, and Kanpur. To specify, in the Nasik District of Bombay in 1921, riots erupted between the people of the noncooperation movement of Gandhi and the moderators who opposed the former’s decision to boycott the visit of the Prince of Wales in November 1921. The violence even made Gandhi accept that it was not time to agitate on that occasion, and so did Ani Besent, who was also against the idea of noncooperation. In addition, Jinnah was not only against amalgamating religion with politics on the eve of the Khilafat movement but also anticipated that it would create hatred among the followers of different religions (The Sole Spokesman, Jinnah, the Muslim League and the Demand for Pakistan by Ayesha Jalal). It was due to his refusal to be part of the Khilafat movement that made him resign from Congress in the December 1920 Nagpur session. In brief, the violence and extremist tendencies that the movement had introduced amply exemplify the emotional factor involved in the agitation.


To sum up, the Khilafat movement was as emotional as it was perceived to be by both Iqbal and Jinnah. The universality of the caliph, after the demise of the four guided caliphs, in Muslim history was not a rule but an exception and, thus, a part of the emotional baggage that the Khlifatists carried throughout the course of the agitation. The ardent supporters of the Khilafat movement were against the spirit of the times, and short of a rational approach. The noncooperation strategy against the British government and the outcome of emotional appeal to the masses brought tremendous hardship to the Muslim communities in India. The religious rhetoric in the movement drastically changed the political life in the Subcontinent by infusing religious sentiment into body politic. Notwithstanding its indelible repercussions on the Muslims of the Subcontinent due to its emotive factor, the ultimate failure of the movement made the people realize the political acumen of Jinnah, who spearheaded a national movement for the preservation of Muslim nationalism in the Subcontinent through his constitutionalist line of actions.

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