The previous articles to the series “How The Indian Communists Embraced Islamists?” are as follows –

Part 1 – How the Indian Communists embraced Islamists?

Part 2 – How the Indian Communists embraced Islamists? Part 2

Part 3 – How the Indian Communists embraced Islamists? Part 3

Part 4 – How the Indian Communists embraced Islamists? Part 4

Part 5 – How the Indian Communists embraced Islamists? Part 5

Part 6 – How The Indian Communists Embraced Islamists? – Part 6

Part 7 – How The Indian Communists Embraced Islamists? – Part 7

Part 8 – How The Indian Communists Embraced Islamists? – Part 8

Part 9 – How The Indian Communists Embraced Islamists? – Part 9

Part 10 – How The Indian Communists Embraced Islamists? – Part 10

Part 11 – How The Indian Communists Embraced Islamists? – Part 11

Part 12 – How The Indian Communists Embraced Islamists? – Part 12

Part 13 – How The Indian Communists Embraced Islamists? – Part 13

Part 14 – How The Indian Communists Embraced Islamists? – Part 14

Part 15 – How The Indian Communists Embraced Islamists? – Part 15


Islamic Communism

A suggestion was telegraphed to Peshawar on August 6,1920, for a deputation from the frontier districts to be sent immediately to Mecca at government expense. The mission was to see that there was no occupation or desecration of holy places. A further curb on the passage of the muhajirs across the Khyber pass into Afghanistan was proposed.

The daily numbers of muhajirs going up the Khyber should be restricted on hygienic grounds and the surplus detained to give the excitement to abate and convince them of the folly of their actions. To take control of the campaign network communication, it was suggested that postal censorship be introduced between Punjab and the Frontier Province. (1)

But in a more optimistic mood than central government, Grant replied that he did not think the proposed deputation to Mecca ‘would have much effect. Some months must necessarily elapse before deputation would return to India. When it was suggested that some of the muhajirs be detained near Peshawar ‘to allow the excitement to abate and permit propaganda among them, he didn’t think that this would help.

Since the frontier province played a crucial role in British security arrangements for India and the British Empire, any matter affected the army. Therefore, the defence capability of the northwest frontier area of British India was extremely sensitive. Underestimating these repercussions could have had severe consequences for Grant personally and Keen. Grant, therefore, right from the beginning, paid particular attention to the concerns of local soldiers and the army, in general.

Tomb of Zafar Ali Khan

The reasoning of the civil administration in India in dealing with the hijrat movement was summed up in a telegram from the Viceroy to the Secretary of State on August 13:

So far, we have not interfered with the movement because we believe that as in most religious revivals, enthusiasm would only be stimulated by repression and if left alone will exhaust itself.’ (2)  

At the same time, the local government left no doubt that the security aspect remained foremost on its mind:

The collection of these large numbers of emigrants in the North-West Frontier Province and religious excitement engendered thereby cause serious unrest. It may give rise to a disorder that might spread to Northern India. Besides, we cannot ignore the danger arising from the close historical connection between the hijrat and jihad. (3)

When the pressure on Afghan resources became unbearable, the Amir felt compelled to issue regulations for curtailing the movement. It was suspended until further notice. They also spelled out the conditions under which further emigration might take place. This was done in the Firman (order) by the Amir dated August 9, 1920. (4) The Firman became known only after August 14. It may have been backdated to avoid the impression that Afghanistan might have acted under the pressure of circumstances.

The Afghans may have had specific practical calculations on what to do with the arriving migrants. One object may have been to employ them as religiously motivated development aid. Another one may have been to colonize barren land by agricultural settlers, as the idea of setting up self-supporting colonies of agriculturists suggests. A third was a potential military use of the emigrants against British India.

The latter particularly intrigued the Government of India. The Foreign Secretary inquired from Grant on August 10 if the newspaper report was accurate that the Afghan authorities in Jalalabad were trying to form regiments of those arriving there. He asked for bi-weekly estimates of the numbers leaving for Afghanistan. (5)

Other information suggested that Amir’s requirements might be more specific:

‘The Amir wants 900,000 men from India; none are required from Independent Territory as those tribes are to consider that they are already the servants of the Amir and are serving him better by remaining at their homes.’ (6)  

The Firman of August 9 made provisions for the military duty of the muhajirs. Three of their regiments were to be enlisted in the Afghan army. The young emigrating Khanzadas were to be allowed to enter the Military College and, after the completion of their training, would be appointed in the Muhajirin army according to requirements. (7)

Mentioning the idea of a muhajir army immediately conjured up images of a religious war, of jihad. If the Amir had succeeded in forming a muhajir army of 900,000 against British India, it would have constituted a formidable threat.

The new rules were deliberately strict not to encourage emigration any further. The muhajirs were supposed to become Afghan citizens and could not proceed to other countries without Afghan consent. Since all the land available around Jabal us-Siraj, which had been fixed as the reception centre by the previous proclamation, was already used up entirely for distribution among the muhajirs, future arrivals would be redirected to Katghan in Afghan Turkestan, where a second muhajir colony was to be founded. The chain of command was clarified. All muhajir petitions to the Amir were to be directed through two Committees, one in Kabul arid the other in the colony, the office-holders appointed by the same Firman. No direct access to Anatolia for lending support to the cause of the Turkish Khalifa was allowed. Instead, the formation of an enquiry party from the muhajirs was proposed to inquire about the route and the place of their service before permission would be granted to them. (8)

Intending muhajirs would come to Peshawar City and register their names with the hijrat committee to send their names to the Afghan Agent and apply for a pass. The muhajirs were required to pay a deposit of Rs. 50, which was collected by the Afghan representative in Peshawar. Those who could not afford to pay were often helped by the more wealthy muhajirs. (9) The hijrat and Khilafat committees supply the muhajirs with board and lodging. Two hundred volunteers assisted in arrangements and keeping order.

According to Grant’s description of the weekly ritual, the muhajirs were then proceeding on foot or by bullock cart to Jamrud, where they stayed on Thursday nights before continuing their journey on Fridays. The weekly passage across the Khaiber, which had already become a clearly established routine by the end of July, was fixed for Fridays, the weekly Islamic holiday. It was a festival of what the hijrat in Islamic mythology, and increasingly in the reality of this movement, was meant to be coloured flags, the banners of the muhajirs were paraded, and chanting could be heard everywhere.

The centre of activity in Peshawar was the Salt Market, a prominent business centre, where many serais provided spacious accommodation for the intending emigrants.

There were only n isolated incidents of violence. One was the shoot-out at the train station of Kacha Garhi on July 8, a small railway station between Peshawar and Jamrud. It was a crowded special train from Larkana in Sindh. Two British soldiers, Private Chilcott and Lieutenant Hewett, entered the Islamia College Station train. In contrast, the train headed for its last stop before the Afghan border at Jamrud. When they checked the parade, their intervention resulted in a deadly fracas with profound political implications. In the emotionally charged atmosphere, the event became a catalyst in the expansion of the hijrat.

Referring to the papers of the martial court proceedings against Private Chilcott, which are preserved in the India Office, (10) the most likely one appears to be the following:

The two soldiers, apparently filled with emotions of anxiety and anger over the hijrat exodus, were travelling on the train to reach their service destination. While inspecting the parade, they entered the women’s compartment, the zenana, which was kept apart and closed according to conservative Islamic tradition. From there they were evicted by a muhajir, one Habib Allah from the village of Tangik in the Tehsil of Charsadda. He insisted that they should not trouble the women since the tickets were with the men. He also considered this intrusion provocative and felt compelled to uphold the Islamic spirit of the mission of hijrat be was on. In the ensuing scuffle, which ended on the train’s rear platform, the muhajir was riddled with bullets by soldiers from the station coming to the aid of Chilcott. At the same time, Habib Allah died in the arms of his minor daughter. Chilcott later tried to claim that he had been checking train tickets and found Habib Allah resisting his inspection and not possessing a key. The Martial Court session revealed that he had no business to do so, and his testimony on the events was contradictory and apparently false. Nevertheless, he was acquitted of the charge of attempted murder. (11)

The incident prompted an outcry among the Muslims of India. In an unprecedented public funeral, in which 90,000 people were reported to have participated, the muhajir was laid to rest in the family graveyard of Mian Mohammad Haji Jan Muhammad Chotani, the President of the Hijrat Committee of Peshawar, who was also the President of the Central Khilafat Committee. (12) Jan Muhammad (1873-1932) was a wealthy Mumbai timber merchant who had business even in Kozhikode and Kochi. His involvement in the Mappila rebellion needs further research since the rebellion’s centre was Nilambur, a teak plantation still exists. He was supplying teak sleepers to the railways.

Jan Muhammad Chotani,1921

Another conflict revolved around Pir Mahboob Shah, who was one of the influential Pirs in Sindh. A Pir was the hereditary spiritual leader of a local community in Sufi Islam. He was revered like a saint and usually lived at a shrine he maintained and where he used to receive donations which often reached quite substantial sums. This made him one of the most influential personalities in local politics. Pir Mahboob was arrested on August 1, for a speech he delivered on June 19. In that speech, he was reported to have urged his fellow Muslims to make war on the British government and sacrifice their lives – which probably was the bureaucratic way of describing bis call for jihad.

Turning the hijrat into jihad – in the context of both the hijrat and the Khilafat movement, this was the most dangerous nexus the British could think of. They, therefore, decided to deal with the case harshly. Yet again, religion intervened in politics. The Pir made things even more difficult for the authorities when he went on hunger strike. After threatening him with a sentence of two years of rigorous imprisonment, he was finally released on signing a declaration of his guilt.

The third instance of tension related to the attempts of a local journalist, editor of the widely circulated newspaper ‘Zamindar,’ and Muslim politician, Zafar Ali Khan (1873-1956), to add to bis popularity meddling in the hijrat*. On August 5, he telegraphed to the Chief Commissioner of the Frontier Province. He declared that he was proceeding to Peshawar to ‘tackle (the) hijrat problem and obtain authentic data regarding (the) Kacha Garhi incident’. (13)  When Grant refused him permission to go, he protested the decision before the Viceroy, `who, however, saw ‘no reason to interfere with the Chief Commissioner’s discretion in this matter. (14)  The prohibition order then became a cause for mobilization. A stream of ’emphatic’ protest resolutions against the order started coming in ‘praying’ for its cancellation. (15)

The prohibition order did not prevent Zafar Ali Khan from joining religious rhetoric. The intelligence Bureau through one of its agents reported his speech of August 14, when the movement reached its climax:

It was time for the advent of the Mahdi … He referred to the dropping of bombs in Mecca and the outraging of virgin Turkish girls; the Turkish treaty was a scrap of paper; they should now perform hijrat if they failed in non-co-operation they were all kafirs themselves. He said further that the face of an Indian soldier killed at Baghdad had been turned into a pig, and they should never join the army. (16)  

Events reached a turning point when the numbers of intending emigrants swelled to the extent that they threatened to clog up the whole Peshawar district with unforeseeable consequences for public order and stability, which were particularly cherished by the British Indian government. After more than thirty thousand muhajirs had gone to Afghanistan, and another forty thousand emigrants were standing in readiness, the migration had indeed turned into a natural phenomenon with little means to influence or direct the incessant stream of emigrants. On August 10, the Political Agent of the Khyber border district, the responsible British official, approached his counterpart on the Afghan side, the Sarhaddar of Dakka, suggesting to ease the previous restrictions on the muhajirs traffic across the Khyber. He proposed that caravans of a limited number of muhajirs should pass through (the) Khyber into Afghanistan every day of (the) week instead of only one day. (17)

     Zafar Ali Khan

This would have significantly reduced the stress on the border crossing point, but it would also have exposed the Afghan side to ever more significant waves of emigrants. This prospect must have sent shock waves down the necks of Afghan officials who were already considerably rattled by the demands made by the continuous arrival of thousands of emigrants on the meagre resources of the border region. After consultation with his superiors, including the Amir himself, the Afghan official replied that there was already significant congestion on the road and accommodations for the muhajirs were incomplete. He enclosed a copy of a new Firman, a royal order, and new rules for intending emigrants. He asked as a favour that further immigration through the Khaiber may be stopped for the present. (18)

The Chief Commissioner then warned the Khilafat Committee about the new rules which the Afghans had issued. He asked them to stop the Iarge caravan proceeding to the Khyber on August 12. (19)  But it was too late. The massive party of over 7,000 muhajirs which was by far the Iargest in the whole course of the movement, left Peshawar for Jamrud on August 12 before the letter of the Sarhaddar of Dakka arrived. After receiving the fateful message, volunteers were dispatched by the Khilafat Committee to Jamrud to inform them of the changes and make them return. The muhajirs, however, were not to be shaken in their resolve. They refused to accept orders and showed great truculence towards (the) emissaries, saying that (the) Khilafat Committee had obviously been bribed. (20)

There was no choice but to continue their journey to their next stop at Landi Kotal. Meanwhile, Haji Jan Muhammad Chotani, President of the Central Khilafat Committee, went to the border and discussed matters with the Afghan official how best to prevent them from passing the border. But to no avail. Further discussion at Landi Kotal threatened to turn violent. The emissaries were called kafirs, infidels.

In the morning of the following day, August 14, at 7 o’clock, the party’s vanguard reached the border and faced 50 barrels pointed at them by border guards and the Sarhaddar. The masses were on the verge of breaking the barrier when the Afghans, after consultation with General Nadir Khan, the head of the Afghan army, consented to let them pass through provided they could pay their own expenses. (21)

For the British authorities, the divide in the movement appeared not a moment too soon. On August 19, Grant reported that the next party of 4,000 intending emigrants who had assembled for the weekly passage 0n Friday could almost quietly be dispersed and sent back to their homes. But 50 emigrants from Sindh alleged that they were fleeing from oppression in Sindh where they said they were debarred from public prayers and suffered through the stoppage of canal water. Grant suggested that the Local Government of Bombay contradict these allegations officially since this may be helpful to dispel the doubts in the minds of the unbending Sindhis who remained at Peshawar. (22) To break the hijrat myth in Sindh seemed particularly important since it was from there that religious fervour had started, there that the superstitious Pirs still had a stronghold over a largely ignorant disciple populace.

Other 2000 late-comers were halted at Bannu, where they pressed for a passage via Tochi. Their designs were successfully frustrated, ‘though (a) small deputation from Bannu may proceed to Khost to enquire whether muhajirs may emigrate that way’. (23)  With the time gap in communication, tension had not yet fully abated so that on August 21, the General Staff made another inquiry requesting Grant to reassure their Commanders, particularly overseas, where Pakhtuns were stationed. (24) But now Grant was in a position to assuage their fears completely and informed them that the movement had collapsed, that no more emigrants were leaving and that they started returning daily by the hundreds. (25)

The message of August 19, for the first time, contained information about the impending return of thousands of emigrants. (26) On August 19, the first party of 500 returning emigrants crossed the border, with another one of the same size following on the 20th. The tide had now turned the other way. (27)

Afghan state money was insufficient to provide for the expenses incurred by the Afghan authorities. Repeated subscriptions were raised for the muhajirs, which caused increasing resentment. (28) The Amir had to contribute from his own purse to supplement the means of support. He allocated additional money (29) and land for distribution (30) which apparently was still insufficient.

There were other adversities in store. Muhajirin, who arrived without families in May, was detained at Jalalabad pending inquiries into their business and status. (31)  The Afghans were afraid that the British might send spies into Afghanistan under the cloak of the muhajir campaign. When six of the early muhajirs returned to Peshawar at the beginning of July, they complained they were arrested on suspicion of being spies and ill-treated. (32) In Afghanistan, the muhajir mail was subjected to close censorship. (33)  Also, the Afghans did not want them to come and go as they pleased. Once the muhajirs had arrived in one of the Afghan reception centres, they could only return after being cleared by the Afghan authorities. Those returning on their own were detained. This was later explained regarding the implications of issuing passes to the muhajirs for their travel to Afghanistan. Those passes were in the form of the identity sheet, which every Afghan must possess. On accepting these passes, the muhajirs effectively became Afghan citizens relinquishing their British Indian nationality, meaning citizenship. Hence no muhajirs were allowed to leave Afghanistan without a valid passport. (34)

Ghulam Aziz, the secretary of the Central Hijrat Committee, was explicit after his return from Kabul. He urged his countrymen to undertake hijrat only when they were capable of defraying the expenses of the way, providing themselves with transport, and able to make their own living in a foreign land. (35) The Ittihad-i-Mashraqi urged upon all Khilafat committees that it was their duty to prevent ‘further arrivals of those who are either useless to the State or who repent of hijrat before they have well crossed the Frontier’, failing which ‘there will be a grave danger of a rupture of friendly relations now existing between Afghans and Indians. (36)

As long as the emigration served the intentions of the Afghans, the Afghan authorities tried to keep a check on the incidents of raiding and harassing the emigrants. But as soon as the Afghan side lost interest in them and was looking for how to get rid of them, the check disappeared, and many immigrants fell victim to harsh tribal treatment. Everywhere they were oppressed by Amir’s officials, who kicked and beat them and demanded a tax of five rupees per head, which they took from them by force. They also commandeered their carts. The muhajirs were reported to be so bitter against those who induced them to emigrate that they were swearing to shoot the Mullahs when they reached their homes. (37) Many returning muhajirs perished through exhaustion or disease. The road from the Frontier to Kabul was dotted with muhajir graves. According to eye-witnesses, the Khyber Pass was littered with corpses. (38)

Some of the muhajirs were found by M N Roy in the Afghan part of Turkestan, and the Indian Communist Party was launched.

References –

1. Doc 19, p. 8.

2. Doc 37a, p. 20.

3. Doc 37a, p. 20.

4. Doc 48-2, pp. 26-27.

5. Doc 28, p. 15.

6. Doc 21, p. 13.

7. Doc 48-2, p. 27.

8. Doc 48-22, pp. 6-7

9. Doc 21, p. 13.

10. P&J file 5411/20 Kacha Garhi incident.

11. I.A.R. 1921, Vol. I, pp. 52-53

12. Baha, The Hijrat Movement, p. 233

13. Doe 22, pp. 13-14.

14. Doc 24, p. 14

15. Docs 27, p. 15; 36, p. 18

16. Punjab History of Non-co-operation, quoted in: D.I.B., p. 161. In: Iqbal, The Life and Times of Mohamed Ali, p. 249, 331.

17. Doc 34, p. 18.

18. Doe 34, p. 18.

19. Doe 34, p. 18

20. Briggs, The Indian Hijrat of 1920, p. 16

21. Doc 40, p. 21.

22. Doc 40, p. 21.

23. Doe 53, p. 29.

24. Doc 56, pp. 30-31.

25. Doc 58, p. 31.

26. Doc 53, p. 30.

27. Baha, The Hijrat Movement, p. 238-240

28. FID 31, July 29, 1920, para 914

29. The Amir gave Rs. 30,000 from his purse in addition to the sum that has been allotted from the State Treasury for the muhajirs.(Ittihad-i-Mashraqi, No. 31, June 12, 1920. In: FID 26, 24 June 1920, enclosure 2).

30. Fifteen thousand jaribs of crown land worth Rs. 7,500,000 in the south of Kabul. (FID 33, August 12, 1920, para 995.)

31. FID 23, June 3, 1920, para 653

32. FID 28, July 8, 1920, para 828

33. FID 29, July 15, 1920, para 875.

34. FID 33, August 12, 1920, para 1002

35. FID 29, July 15, 1920, para 847.

36. FID 30, July 20, 1920, para 884.

37. The Daily Telegraph, August 26, 1920.

38. Qureshi, The ‘Ulamä’ of British India p. 58.


*Zafar Ali Khan (1874– 1956), also known as Maulana Zafar Ali Khan, was a Pakistani writer, poet, translator and journalist, generally considered the father of Urdu journalism. He was born into a Punjabi Janjua family in Sialkot, British India. After passing intermediate from Aligarh College. Next, he worked in the postal department of Jammu and Kashmir, the same place where his father worked, but resigned over a row with his seniors. He rejoined Aligarh College and gained a B.A. degree. Khan was appointed secretary to a Muslim political leader Mohsin-ul-Mulk in Bombay. Then he worked for some time as a translator in Hyderabad, rising to Secretary, Home Department. He returned from Hyderabad and launched the Zamindar newspaper from Lahore, founded by his father, Maulvi Sirajuddin Ahmad. He was involved in the Ahmadiyya movement.

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