The Two Circles of Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar: Islam and India

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The Two Circles of Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar:

Islam and India

By Kashif-ul-Huda

In 2007, I was trying to think of a good name for a news website that I wanted to setup to focus on news and issues of Indian Muslims. I was looking for a personality, an incident, or an idea that will best represent Indian Muslims. I came across this quote from Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar, “I belong to two circles of equal size, but which are not concentric. One is India, and the other is the Muslim world.” I knew my search for a name was over and I called my website Today, I want to explore both circles of Maulana Jauhar and his understanding of what it means to belong to these two circles.

To understand Maulana Jauhar, it will be helpful if we learn a bit about his personal life. He was born in Rampur in 1878 into a family of five brothers and a sister. He was the youngest. His father passed away when he was just two and so he was raised in a single parent household by his mother who is famously known as “Bi Amman.” He was educated in Aligarh Muslim University and thanks to the support of his brother Shaukat Ali, he went on to enroll in Oxford. He tried to get into Indian Civil Services (ICS) but failed. He returned to India and for a short time worked in Rampur and Baroda but this is not where his heart was and we find him in Calcutta in 1911. Here he starts his English weekly “The Comrade.” Two years later his publication moved to Delhi, the new capital of British India. There along with “The Comrade” he also started the Urdu daily “Hamdard.”

Discussing his reasons for entering journalism, he wrote in Hamdard in 1927 that “By journalism my aim is not journalism, rather to serve the country and the community. (mulk va millat).” [Hamdard, 23 Jan 1927] And we see this theme of community and country in his writings and speeches from 1911 till his death in 1931, of course there were some development and changes in his outlook but his two circles of India and Islam remained as strong as ever. At this time I would like to clarify that I am setting “Islam” as his second circle though he mentioned the “Muslim world” in his original quote.

His statement about belonging to two circles was part of one of his last speeches, as he died just a few days after that. This declaration which beautifully sums up his philosophy and still resonates with Indian Muslims of today, can be found in his writing and speeches since the beginning.

His first political act was to help in the foundation of All-India Muslim League in 1906 in Dhaka. Written in the latter part of 1906, two letters to Nawab Mushin-ul-Mulk provide a glimpse into his thinking at that time. In the first letter referring to the list of dignitaries who used to visit Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), he wrote, “this helps neither the college nor the community or you. Muslims will get some small and big employment and you will be awarded a useless and disrespectful award...” This clearly shows that though at that time, a loyal citizen of the British India, he does not care too much about being close to the government. He doesn't rank success in terms of employment for Muslims even if they are in higher positions. Nowhere in the letter does he mention freedom or independence so we don't know if he was even thinking about it along those lines. This letter shows that from the very beginning he was concerned about Muslims and that explains his involvement with the Muslim League.

In the second letter to Nawab Muhsin-ul-Mulk as a follow up to the first one, he wrote, “If we want to establish a national (qaumi) college then we have to set up another college where there will be no help taken from the government or from any British. If this is not possible, then we have to say goodbye to our national college …” An important thing to notice here is that he wanted to set up a national college, he used the term “qaumi” and not “milli.” Secondly, he wanted to be out of the control of the government.

Five years later he jumped into the field of journalism by launching an English weekly, “The Comrade.” In 1913, he moved to Delhi and along with “Comrade” started an Urdu daily “Hamdard.” In 1927 he recalled his reasons for starting “Comrade” and “Hamdard”, he wrote, “I started “Comrade” thinking it will be a way to serve the country and the community (mulk va millat) and for the same reason “Hamdard” is still being published...” [Hamdard, 23 Jan 1927]

The next big incident of his political career was when he was arrested for writing the article “The Choice of the Turks” published in The Comrade in 1914. Till this time he considered himself a loyal British citizen and a modern educated Muslim. He utilized his time under detention in Chhindwara by studying about Islam and though always a champion of “milli” causes we see him develop into a leader of the Muslims with his thinking and reasoning now grounded more in Islamic terminologies and reasons.

In 1926, he wrote, “Since I have understood religion it is my complete life.” [Hamdard, 3 Dec 1926]. in 1930 during his famous speech at the Round Table Conference, he further elaborates his religiousness, “religion to my mind, means the interpretation of life. I have a culture, a polity, an outlook on life, a complete synthesis which is Islam. Where God commands, I am a Muslim first, a Muslim second, and a Muslim last, and nothing but a Muslim.... My first duty is to my Maker, not to His Majesty the King, nor to my companion Dr. Moonje... He must be a Hindu first and I must be a Muslim first so far as that duty is concerned. But where India is concerned, where India's freedom is concerned, where the welfare of India is concerned, I am an Indian first, an Indian second, an Indian last, and nothing but an Indian.” He doesn't see being Muslim in anyway prevents him from being an Indian and that's why he always mentions community along with the country. (milli va qaumi or mulki va millat).

He always thought by serving his community he is serving his country. He saw no contradiction there. It is also true that he saw himself as part of a bigger Muslim ummah. He was not ashamed of declaring that he believes in the superiority of Islam over other religions. So in 1923 he says, “by belief and conviction I am a Muslim and consider Islam the best of all the religions. Islam's superiority is a part of my belief and thus I consider a worst sort of Muslim better than Gandhiji.” Then he adds, “I am neither convinced of Gandhiji's spiritualism nor of his kashf-o-karamat (revelation and miracle) nor do I include him in the ranks of 'auliya'. His faith is different and my faith is different... I have accepted him my political leader only and nothing else.”

And he accepted Gandhiji as his leader and made him the leader of India. Gandhiji's all-India tour after his return from South Africa was financed by the Khilafat Committee. His first national movement the “non-cooperation movement” originated in Jamiat-ulema hind and Khilafat Committee before it was finally accepted by the Congress. Naturally, Maulana was not happy when this movement was called off by Gandhiji.

But support to Gandhiji was not simply tactical, he truly believed that India needed to be free and this he thought was his religious duty as well as political. Writing in 1921 in Comrade he declares, “ I am a Muslim first and every thing else afterwards; just as I believe that Mahatma Gandhi is Hindu first and everything else afterwards. All that Islam demands from me is that I should not live in a land where I could not follow the dictates of my religion with impunity, and it is just because Swaraj (self-rule) will give me that and the present British autocracy does not that I yearn for Swaraj and regards its attainment as a religious duty.”

He was a firm believer in the message of Islam and a leader of the khilafat movement yet he believed that democracy is something that is what we should be working towards. He rebuked Saud family for establishing a kingdom in Arabia. He wrote, “Hedjaz, the Center of Muslim world cannot be governed by kings and sultans but should be under a Democratic Republican Government absolutely free from non-Muslim control.”

Though in favour of democracy, he was worried that the majority rule may mean that India will become an effective “Hindu rule” to the determinant of Muslim interest. That's why even after becoming Congress President in 1923, he defended his earlier support for separate electorate. He saw that in India, religious identity is a dominant identity and thought this will turn the electoral battle into a communal war. In his presidential address to the Congress he said, “I wanted Muslims to understand that communal conflict is inevitable during the struggle for immediate needs but it is important that in keeping the future of India in our sight, community and national interests need to be supreme and we have to be united leaving behind our conflicts.”

In one article in 1927, he asked all Indian communities to come together to form unified nationalism (mushtarka qaumiyat) so that India can gain independence from the control of others (ghair).

He always asked for the freedom of India but he was terrified by the prospect of a majority communalism. 1930 a Khilafat Committee statement read “real communalism masquerades as “nationalism” and safeguards against communalism itself are called “communalism.”

The same statement later announces that “the Khilafat Organization is for independence not for slavery; and just as it has refused to let the Muslim community remain a dependency of the British, it now refuses to make it a dependency of any other community or party. It is hungry for freedom and would not accept a mere change of masters. Let the Musalmans keep both their eyes open, and watch the situations. They can throw in their lot only with those who would recognise freedom as the birthright of India, and would at the same time recognise the birthright of the Indian Musalmans to be free and equal partners in the administration of India.”

So he is unequivocally calling for Indian Muslims to be partners in the new administration to ensure that they simply don't have a change in rulers while their condition remain the same. He however put the responsibility also on the shoulders of his community.

“With the proof of being a living community the Musalmans can compel recognition of their communal identity and respect for their legitimate rights. Without this they can be nothing but camp followers whether of an alien government or of the other Indian communities. It is they themselves that must decide, and that too by actions and not by words, whether they love freedom or slavery.”

Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar thus appears to be a mujahid of Islam, a fighter for India's freedom, a champion of democracy, even when we don't consider that he left his mark in journalism, Urdu poetry, and the fact that he was an excellent speaker. Even after 79 years since his death, his memory, however faded, continues to live on in both India and Pakistan. There is still a University under construction in Rampur named after him and as I mentioned before, a modern website had to find its name in one of his quotes.

I thank the organizers for giving me this opportunity and Afzal Usmani sahib who urgently sent me the books that I needed for this research.

Author is the editor of news website and can be contacted by email at

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