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Maulānā Raḥmat Allāh Kairānawī and Muslim-Christian Controversy in India in the Mid-19th Century

  • A. A. Powell

During the 1850's a prolonged encounter took place in the city of Agra between a Muslim ‘ālim, Maulānā Raḥmat Alläh Kairānawī, and a German evangelical missionary, the Reverend K. G. Pfander. The early Mughal emperors had developed Agra as the capital of their expanding empire, and even after the transfer of the court in 1648 to nearby Delhi, the city had retained some importance as a centre of Muslim culture and learning. But the period of the decline of the Mughal fortunes in the 18th century culminated in the capture of Agra in 1803 by the forces of the East India Company, and the next half-century saw the transformation of the city into a key administrative centre in the expansion of British control over north India. In 1836 Agra was made the headquarters of a new unit of administration—the North-Western Provinces. Hence the phase of active religious encounter which began shortly after that date should be examined in terms of the impact which British rule, Western culture, and the Christian religion had effected on the people of the province since its annexation. Indeed in the eyes of missionary as well as ‘ālim, the generating force behind the new confrontation was a fear that the beginning of Christian preaching activity in Agra was a threat to the hold of Islam on the uneducated Muslims of the city and the surrounding region.

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1 Ahmad, Aziz, Islamic modernism in India and Pakistan 1857–1964, London, 1967, 19.

2 The term coined by William Muir for his first article on relations between the missionaries and the ‘ulamā’, published in the Calcutta Review, IV, 1845, and later republished in The Mohammedan controversy and other Indian articles, Edinburgh, 1897.

3 Eppler, C. F., D. Karl Gottlieb Pfander, ein Zeuge der Wahrheit unter den Bekennern des Islam, Basel, 1888, 15.

4 Warren, M., Social history and Christian mission, London, 1967, 39.

5 “Buch für die Wochenzettel des Missions-Institutes, 26 Januar 1822–10 Juli 1824”, Basel Mission Archive.

6 Important among the books published in the 183O's were SirLyell's, CharlesThe principles of geology (18301833) challenging the catastrophic theory of creation; D. F. Strauss's Das Leben Jesu (1836), which viewed the Gospels as the embodiment of mythical rather than historical truth; and F. C. Baur's publications from Tübingen which developed the dialectical analysis of the New Testament.

7 K. G. Pfander, “Wage der Wahrheit”, MS No. Ha 42, Basel Mission Archive, first published in Persian as the Mizān al-ḥaqq, Shusha, 1835.

8 ‘Usmānī, Muḥammad Taqī, Bā'ibil se Qur'ān tak, Karachi, 1968, 179184. For biographical details about Maulānā Raḥmat Allāh see also Ṣabrī, Imdad, Āsār-i Raḥmat, Delhi, 1967, and Salīm, Muḥammad, Ek mujāhid me‘mār, Mecca, 1952.

9 Parliamentary Papers, House of Commons, Public Bills, 1833, Vol. II.

10 Pratt, J. H., The Missionary register, 04 1841, 213.

11 The first publication of Pfander's books in Urdu coincided with the first large-scale publication and dissemination of an Urdu translation of the complete Bible.

12 K. G. Pfander to H. Venn, 4 January 1856, Pfander Correspondence, CMS Archives.

13 Muir, W., “The Mohammedan controversy”, Calcutta Review, IV, 1845, republished in The Mohammedan controversy, 35.

14 Khair Khwāh-i Hind, I–VII (0108 1845).

15 Ḥasan, Āl-i, Kitāb-i istifsār, Lucknow, 1845; Hādī, Sayyid Muḥammad, Kashf al-astār, Lucknow, 1845.

16 W. Muir, op. cit., 89; Agra Government Gazette, VII, No. 7, 17 February 1846, and No. 18, 5 May 1846. See also Ṣabrī, Imdād, Farangīyon kā Jāl, Delhi, 1949, 239242.

17 Pfander, K. G., Ḥall al-ishkāl, Agra, 1847.

18 Raḥmat Allāh Kairānawī, I hār al-ḥaqq, Urdu translation edited by Muḥammad Taqī ‘Umānā, Karachi, 1968, I, 221.

19 ibid., 223.

20 Kairānawī, Raḥmat Allāh, Auẓaḥ al-aḥādīs fi ibṭāl al-Taslis, Delhi, 1875.

21 Kairānawī, Rahmat Allāh, I‘jāz-i ‘Iswī, Agra, 1854.

22 It has been defined more recently as “the corruption of a document, whereby the original sense is altered”. The various ways this result can be obtained include, “by direct alteration of the written text, by arbitrary alterations in reading aloud the text which is itself correct, by omitting parts of it or by interpolations or by a wrong exposition of the true sense”, Shorter Encyclopaedia of Islam, ed. Gibb, H. A. R. and Kramers, J. H., Leiden, 1961, 560.

23 Home, T. H., An introduction to the critical study and knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, 3rd ed., London, 1822.

24 Strauss, D. F., The life of Jesus, 4 vol., Birmingham, 18421844, a translation from the German, Das Leben Jesu, which had been published in 1836.

25 Pfander to CMS, Church Missionary Intelligencer, V, 1854, 254.

26 “Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away”, Luke 21: 23 (King James's version).

27 Ḥarām is defined in the Shorter Encyclopaedia of Islam, 133, as anything “forbidden by the Sacred Law”. An example of Wazīr Khān's application of the term ḥarām to the contents of the Bible was his argument that according to the Torah many things were ḥarām, but by the time of the apostles only meats offered to idols, blood, things strangled, and fornication were considered ḥarām; St. Paul, on the other hand, said nothing could of itself be ḥarām, whereas contemporary Christians consider only fornication to be ḥarām. In the opinion of the Muslim doctor these changes in the application of the term meant that abrogation must have taken place.

28 Muḥammad Taqī ‘Umānī, op. cit., 186–9.

29 op. cit., 191.

31 “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one”, First Epistle General of John, 5: 7. 19th-century and modern commentators agree that this verse is an interpolation which is not to be found in any manuscript earlier than the 4th century A.D. It has been omitted from the revised versions of the Bible but is included in the A. V. from which were made the translations into Persian and Urdu which were circulating in India in the 19th century.

32 Muḥammad Taqī ‘Umāni, op. cit., 192.

33 Pfander to CMS, Church Missionary Intelligencer, V, 1854, 258.

34 Pfander, K. G., Ikhtitām dīnī mubāḥasa kā, Agra, 1855.

35 Akbarābādī, Sayyid ‘Abd-Allāh (ed.), Mubāḥasa-i maẕhabi, Agra, 1854. The same account of the debate was also included in a volume which was published the same year by Wazīr al-Dīn, and which also included some other articles pertaining to the debate. The title of this work was al-Baḥ al-sharif fi a bāt al-naskh wa-'l-taḥrīf.

36 Miyān, Muḥammad, ‘Ulamā’-i Hind kā shāndār māẓi, 19571960, IV, 196–9.

37 Allāh, M. Zakā, Tārikh-i ‘urūj-i ‘ahd-i salṯanat-i Inglīziya-i Hind, Delhi, 1904, III, 675.

38 Miyān, op cit, 291.

39 ibid., 299.

40 R. M. Edwards, Officiating Magistrate, Muzaffarnagar, to F. Williams, Commissioner, Meerut Division, 11 October 1857, Freedom struggle in Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow, 1969, V, 135–43. British reports of events in the district recognized the existence of Muslim disaffection but attributed the immediate cause of the local outbreak to the execution of ‘Abd al-Raḥīm Khān at nearby Saharanpur, whereupon his relatives, ‘Ināyat ‘Alī and Qāẓī Maḥbüb ‘Alī, took up the leadership of the Thana Bhawan Muslims. The British reports of the incident make no mention of any of the ‘ulamā’ who figure so prominently in Muslim accounts of events in these districts.

41 Miyān, op. cit., 337–41.

42 Muḥammad Taqī ‘Umānī, op. cit., 201.

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Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society
  • ISSN: 1356-1863
  • EISSN: 1474-0591
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