The role of Indian rulers in promotion of casteism

By Masood Alam Falahi

[Excerpts from the paper presented by Masood Alam Falahi in Columbia University, New York for “Caste and Contemporary India” conference on 17th Oct. 2009]

Part - 1

Part - 2

Indian Muslim history provides a number of proofs that from Shamsuddin Iltutumish, the casteism existed among Muslims not only till the end of Muslim dynasty in India, but it is alive now also. The Indian Muslim history is full of example referring to many Muslim rulers who promoted casteism. In spite of this fact, there are many Muslim rulers who never valued casteism.

In Muslim Ruler’s period, Muslims were divided in Ashraf, Ajlaf and Arzal. Syed, Shaikh, Mughal, Khan and Malik etc. were considered as ashraf. Julaha, Kunjra etc. were considered as ajlaf and bhangi, doom and Khatik etc were considered as Arzal(Dalit).

Except Ashraf all other groups were neglected by Muslim rulers. The Indian Muslim history is full of these kinds of examples. I will provide only few examples in brief.

Sultan Shamshuddin Iltutmish: He didn’t allow ‘low caste’ Muslims to get the post of Khachgi, Musharrafi, or Mudabberi (high posts) in his period. He inquired the castes of his officials and dismissed 33 ‘low caste’ people from their posts.

Sultan Ghiyasuddin Balban: He was the follower of Sultan Shamshuddin Iltutmish in caste system. He also didn’t allow ‘low caste’ Muslims in his kingdom to get government job. He is known to openly proclaim that his blood used to boil whenever he used to see any ‘low caste’ person.

He also appointed a committee from all over India to enquire about the caste of his officials. A noted historian, Prof. Khaliq Ahmad Nezami (Deptt. Of History, Aligarh Muslim University) writes:

"Sayyid Ashraf Jahangir Samnani(d.1405 A.D.) writes in one of his letters that Balban had made very thorough enquiries about the families of all his officers and government servants. Expert genealogists had assembled in Delhi from all parts of the country to help him in determining the family status of the persons."

Sultan Firuz Shah Tughlaq: Sultan Firuz Shah Tughlaq became king after the death of Sultan Mohammad Tughlaq. He was surrounded by casteist ministers and u’lama and by their support he became king. So naturally he supported caste system and promoted casteist people.
We can imagine the badness of his casteism in his period by the word of Maulana Sayed Ziauddin Barni. He writes: “ All Sayids got new life.”

The governor of Lucknwati ‘ Ilyas’ rebelled against him, captured Lucknwati and collected the army in Akdalah. But Firuz shah didn’t attack on Akdalah because he feared that innocent people, i.e., Ulama, Sufis and sayid will die as a consequence of the war.

In Suri dynasty especially in the period of Sher Shah and Salim Shah casteism became strong. Sayids got more importance than other caste.

Sikandar Lodhi: Sikandar Lodhi (d. 7 Zi Qadah,923 HA / 22 Nov. 1517 AD) was no less of a caste-supporter of his time. His heart was filled heavily with great respect and admiration for Sayeds. One of the incidents mentioned in Waq-e-Aat-e-Mushtaqi A clooection of incidents) can be referred to verify this:

“The Sayid of ‘Koyel’ was suspected in the corruption of government money. Though there were strong evidences against him, when he was brought before Sultan Sikander Lodhi, the king not only pardoned him but also allowed him to take money with him.”

Taimur Lang: When he with his mighty army attacked and took over India, numerous episodes of brutal killings happened throughout India, killing thousands of innocents at his sole direction. Interestingly enough, here too once more, a king with caste driven mentality made an exception in case of Sayeds and religious group. Nonetheless, he was a strong believer of worshipping Sufis and making dua’ (prayer) for Sayids.

The famous historian of Taimuri Family ‘ Mohammad Hashim’ known as Khafi Khan, writes in his book “ Muntakhab-Al-lubab”( A selected collection of events) that Taimur Lang use to give great honuor and respect to Sayids. He was known to proclaim that ‘on the day of judgment when every one will take the sleeve of his recommender, he will take the sleeve of Sayids.

In Suri dynasty, especially in the period of Sher Shah and Salim Shah, casteism grew its roots stronger and wider than ever. Sayids, like always, inherited importance over other castes.

Sultan Jalaluddin Akbar: Akbar is favourite among Indian historians as a great secular emperor. However, his secularism didn’t stop his thoughts to get corrupted by caste based discrimination.

He, like his predecessors and other Muslim rulers, is known to give special honors to Syeds. So much was he into casteism that once he refrained from capital punishment for one of his Sayid rebellion ‘ Shah Abu Al- Mua’li’ because of the sole reason of him being a Sayed.

So much was he in praise of caste driven society that he went to the extent of issuing a highly discriminating governmental order stating that:

“The low castes should be stopped in the cities from gaining education. Because (of their education) fasad (corruption) was born.”

His ruling era saw a lot of capable New Muslim Rajput and Indigenous Muslims, only to work at lower positions. Akbar, being a great caste supporter, never allotted any important post to them, quite contrary to the treatment he gave to non-Muslim Rajputs who enjoyed the benefit extended by the mighty emperor to hold important positions. The biased emperor even made one of the Non-Muslim Rajput his army commander.

Sultan Aurangzeb Alamgir: Aurangzeb Alamgir is considered the biggest Islamist by Muslim scholars and people in general. But one can observe the same degree of caste based discrimination during his rule as what was prevalent in times of Akbar. He also continued the biased tradition cum-discrimination policy of appointing Rajputs as his commander, and ensured that no important post was allotted to New Muslim Rajputs and Indigenous Muslims. There was also no change in the condition of poor, low caste and un-educated people during his rule.

The Fatwa Alamgiri / Al-Fatawa Al-Hindiah (The collection of fatawa) was compiled in his period under his own order. It got publicity and became famous primarily due it’s name itself, “Fatwa Alamgiri”. This book also reflects on casteism being practiced during Alamgir’s time, in name of kufu (endogamy). Surprisingly, there was no opposition by this great ruler against the same.

Sultan Bahadur Shah Zafar: The last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar was nothing but a puppet in the hands of British rulers. Though he was surrounded by a lot of problems otherwise, nothing still stopped him from exercising his caste mentality. He was a strong supporter of caste system. When the Ghadar / rebel of 1857 AD started, he ordered Nawab Sayid Hamid Ali Khan on 24th of May 1857 AD to prepare an army of 500 people. The Dehli Urdu Akhbar(Delhi Urdu News Paper) reported it as below:

“It is heard that Nawab Itemadud -Dawlah Sayid Hamid Ali Khan Bahadur went to the court of Sultan (king). The king ordered him to prepare an army consisting 500 people. He also mentioned that there should be only Shaikh, Sayid, and Pathan, the noble and brave caste, rather than any low caste.”

He used to make sure that the noble caste people are appointed as his officials.

Rebel against the kings who were opponent of casteism

The Indian Muslim history provides facts that the majority of rulers and governors in general were the biggest supporter of casteism. If any ruler tries to give the post to any low caste person, then his government was turned down by those casteist people. The daughter of Sultan Shamsuddin Iltutmish the founder of casteism “Sultanah Raziah”(d.25 Rabi’a Al-Awwal 638 HA / 14 Nov. 1240 AD) appointed a slave ‘ Jamalud-din Yaqoot Hamwi’ amirul Umra ( the governor general). But Turk and Afghan leaders consider him as low caste, so they killed him and reveled against Sultanah Raziah. Finally she was killed by her brother Muizud din Bahram Shah.

Sultan Mubarak Shah Khilji (d. 5 Rabi Al-Awwal 721 HA/ 3 June 1321 AD) appointed a slave “Malik Shaheen / Wafa Al-Malik / Wafa Beg” his successor at the time of his journey to Dewgir. He made a new Muslim “Khusroo Khan” ( who belongs to a Dalit caste “ Barwa / Barwari” (i.e. chamar ) of Gujrat) governor of Dewgir. He made Malik Kafoor ( new Muslim who belongs to Dalit caste Barwa) manager of properties of South (Dakan) and he made his brother “ Hisamuddin” governor of Gujrat.

The ministers of Sultan Mubarak Shah Khilji, considered it his nourishing of low castes and conspired to murder him and appoint Malik Asadud Din (cousin of Sultan A’lauddin Khilji). When the king knew about this conspiracy he killed Malik Asadud Din and other ministers.

Mohammad Tughlaq was also against caste system and the true Muslim ruler who gave justice to every one. He appointed many indigenous Muslims i.e. ‘low caste’ Muslims in his kingdom. Because of this the ministers, ulama’ ,Sufis, casteist people opposed him and reveled against him all over his dynasty, even they joined hand with non Muslims. According to some historians, in the last his kingdom turned down through his murder. There were ulama’, Sufis, ministers including, Sayid Khaja Nasiruddin Awdhi (Chiragh Dehlawi), Sayid Ziyauddin Barni, Firuz Shah Tuglaq etc. They appointed their casteist person Firuz Shah Tuglaq as king. In his dynasty, the casteism increased.

The role of Indian U’lam/scholars and Islamic organizations/sects in promotion of casteism.

Allah says in the holy Qura’n:
“….Only those fear Allah, from among His servants, who have knowledge….”.

The prophet said:
“Allah will not finish knowledge directly from the people. But he will finish the knowledge by finishing u’lama (scholars). When there is no ‘alim will be remain, people will make illiterate people their leaders. They will ask them the questions and they will reply without knowledge. Then they will be misguided and will misguide the people”.

This is the importance of ‘ulama, but when it comes to caste system, majority of ulam’a prefer to either keep quiet or go totally against the Islamic spirit and its teachings. Maulana Sayid Ziauddin Barni - the court historian of Sultan Mohammad Tughlaq and Sultan Firooz Shah Tughlaq- was himself one of the biggest supporters of casteism.
He used to advise the king a lot of caste based instruction. He writes in Fatawa Jahadari (The rules of the kingship):
“The teachers of every kind are to be sternly ordered not to thrust precious stone down the throats of dogs or put collars of gold round the neck of pigs and bears – that is to mean, the ignoble and the worthless, to shop-keepers and to the low-born, they are to be taught nothing more than the rules about prayer, fasting, religious charity and the Haj pilgrimage along with some chapters of the Qur’an and some doctrines of the faith, without which their religion can not be correct and valid prayers are not possible. But they are to be taught nothing else, lest it will bring honour to their mean souls. They are not to be taught reading and writing, for plenty of disorders arise owing to the skill of low-born in knowledge. The disorder into which all affairs of the religion and the state are thrown is due to the acts and words of the low-born, who have become skilled. For, on account of their skill, they become governors (wali) revenue-collectors (‘amil) auditors (mutasarrif), officers (farman-deh) and rulers (farman-rawa). If teachers are disobedient, and it is discovered at the time of investigation that they have imparted knowledge or taught letters or writings to the low-born, inevitably the punishment for their disobedience will be meted out to them.”

According to Islamic teaching, the good deeds and the bad deeds are gained by human himself, during the course of life. But Barni evolved a theory of his own stating that it is fixed by birth. In support if his thought he writes:

“The merits and demerits of men have been apportioned at the beginning of time and allotted to their souls. The acts and deeds of men are due to Devine Commandment; whenever Almighty God instills goodness or wickedness, virtue or voice in a man, He also endows him with the faculty of giving expression to the goodness or wickedness, virtue or voice….

This aptitude for arts, fine and coarse, is hereditary. It has been inherited by the descendants from their ancestors and in every generation the descendants have, in accordance with their quickness of intelligence and acuteness of mind, added some things that are fine and desirable to the profession of their ancestors, so that every art, craft and profession on the production of which mankind depends, has attained perfection.
And as excellences have been put into those who have adopted the nobler professions, they also are capable of virtues- kindness, generosity, valour, good deeds, good works, truthfulness, keeping of promises, protection of other classes, loyalty, clarity of vision, justice, equity, recognition of rights, gratitude for favours received and fear of God.

They are, consequently, said to be noble, free-born, virtuous, of high genealogy and pure birth. These groups alone are worthy of offices and posts in the government of the king, who owing to his high position as the supreme commander, is distinguished as the leader and chief of men. As a result of their actions the government of the king is strengthened and adorned.

On the other hand the low-born who have been enrolled for practicing the baser arts and minor professions, are capable only of vices-immodesty, falsehood, miserliness, misappropriation, wrongfulness, lies, evil-speaking, ingratitude, dirtiness, injustice, cruelty, non-recognition of rights, shamelessness, impudence, blood-shedding, rascality, jugglery, Godlessness. So they are called low-born, bazaar-people, base, mean, worthless, plebeian, shameless and of dirty birth. Every act which is contaminated with meanness and based on ignominy comes elegantly from them.”

He went to the extent of advising King to not to appoint these ‘low’ people in his kingdom on any post, as their appointments are worthless and against God-will’s and wisdom of God. Finally the king will be punished on the Day of Judgment.

The Holy Qur’an says:
“Indeed the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.”

In commentary of it, Barni says defending himself:

“It ought to be known that in the impure and impure-born and the low and low-born, there can be no piety. If they see piety in baseborn bazaar-man, then indeed the blood (‘arq) of his ancestors must have constituted some noble blood.”

This is the basic verse for equality in Islam. But shamelessly it was misinterpreted in the interest of the governing classes.

It is above mentioned that Sultan Mohammad Tughlaq appointed ‘low’ caste men in his kingdom. Barni has abused him and his officials for it. He used to call his officials as ‘mean, buster boy etc. He also joined hands with enemies of Mohammad Tughlaq to replace him by Firooz Shah Tughlaq.
In the last years of his life, Barni realized that whatever he has done for the sake of money and post was indeed wrong and so he is getting punishment for it. He wrote:

“We (ulama) - who studied and had I’lm (knowledge) which is the base of honour, became hypocrites for the sake of wealth. We are among friends of the king. But we misguided him, advising him wrong about illegal punishment. In fear of soul and wealth which will be dead and finished, we were afraid of it and avoided to advice right path to the king. In the lust of wealth we were with the king in illegal and un-Islamic punishment. We were helping him in violation of Islamic teachings by preaching incorrect hadiths. I don’t know the condition of others if they have suffered like me or not. The result of whatever I did and said is making me experience insults and sufferings in this old age. I am needy of every door and I am without honour. If this is my punishment in this world, then I am afraid of what will happen at the Day of Judgment and which kind of punishment I will be put to suffer.”

Sultan Firooz Shah Tughlaq appointed Sayid Husain Jalaluddin Bukhari (Jahaniyan-e-Jahan Gasht (d. 1st Zil Hijjah 785 HA/ 25 Jan.1384AD) Shaikul Islam of his kingdom. He is famous still now as a great sufi and religious person. He was another big caste supporter and firmly believed in untouchability. He used to preach that providing knowledge beyond that of the Quran and the rules of prayers and fasting to the so-called razil castes is like scattering pearls before swine and dogs! He reportedly insisted that other Muslims should not eat with barbers, washers of corpses, dyers, tanners, cobblers, bow-makers, arrow-makers and washermen, besides consumers of alcohol and usurers, adducing the fake traditions (hadiths) falsely attributed to the Prophet Muhammad to back this argument.

The famous court ‘aalim (scholar) of Akbar period, Abul Fazl was also one of the firm believers in caste system. When he used to discuss juridical matter with others and the opponent used to present evidence from other jurist (faqih), and if jurist happened to belong to any ‘low’ caste, then Abul fazl used to reply him:

“I will not accept the sayings of that sweet man, shoes maker, leather seller”.

The famous historian Mohammad Qasim Farishta Hindu Shah was another man with power supporting caste system. He also used to insult and call names to ‘low’ caste Muslims as Sayid Ziyauddin Barni used to do. He abused Mohammad Tughlaq Shah and his ministers who belonged to low castes.

The great Indian scholar Shah Waliullah Dehlawi who is accepted by all Indian Muslim sects and cults supported caste system in the name of ‘kufu’ (endogamy). He misinterpreted a strong hadith which is about equality in Islam. He also used a weak hadith to prove his stand.

After declination of Mughal dynasty, there are many Muslim intellectuals and ‘ulama (scholars) who are famous for their efforts done for Muslim community. But the same time majority of them believed in caste system. Their aim was only to develop so called upper caste Muslims. Here we can discuss some of them in brief.

Sir Sayid Ahmad Khan: Sir Sayyed Ahmad Khan,(1817-1898AD) the founder of the Aligarh movement/ Muhammadan Anglo-Indian Oriental College / Aligarh Muslim University, hailed as the Father of Muslim India. But his biased mentality never allowed him to think about whole of Indian Muslims. His aim was to develop ruling classes i.e. upper castes, nawabs etc. He always used to abuse ‘low’ caste Muslims, calling them bad-zaat (low caste)’
He is known for saying that ‘low’ caste Muslims were not suitable for the country and the British government. But upper caste Muslims were suitable for both. The upper castes Muslims were propagating the justice of British government among the Indian people.

He tried to convey this message by his book “ Asbab baghawat-e-Hind”(The causes of Indian Revolt) to the British officers that in the 1857 AD revolt, no upper caste Muslim participated in it, only ‘low’ caste Muslims took part in it. In his word:

“Julahon ka tar to toot gaya tha jo bad zaat sab se zeyadah is hangamah mein garm josh the”

“The power of weavers was broken completely, who (low caste) were involved the most in this revolt.”

He appealed to the so-called ashraf not to oppose the British government, suggesting that thereby they would be able to win the favour of the colonial authorities.

He opposed the entry of so-called razil in legislatures and government employment. He argued that examinations for the higher government services (civil services) should not be held in India because that might lead to people from so-called razil castes entering government services and thereby ruling over the so-called ashraf.

He also opposed the high education for ‘low’ caste Muslims. He opened Aligarh Muslim University, just for upper caste Muslims and Hindus. He used to say that Aligarh College is not for weavers. So much he emphasized on casteism that there was mentioned in the character certificate of Aligarh Muslim Unversity till 1947 AD, that:

“The holder of this certificate belongs to the ‘sharif khandan’ (upper caste) of his district.”

In 20th of April 1894, Sir Sayid delivered a speech about the education of women in Jalandhar, Punjab. In this speech he spoke only about the education of upper caste girls.
In an address at the foundation laying ceremony of ‘Madrasa Anjuman-e-Islamia’ in Bareli where children from the so-called ‘low-caste’ communities used to study, he said that he finds no use in teaching English to them. In his words:

“It is better and in the interests of the community that they are engaged in the old form of study… It appears appropriate if you teach them some writing and math. They should also be taught small tracts on everyday affairs and through which they know basic beliefs and practices of the Islamic faith.”

Even by one of his writing, one can conclude that he did not accept ‘low’ caste Muslims as Muslims itself.

There were three categories in Aligarh College according to economic status and every category had separate mess menu named as “the best”, “the better” and “the low”. The category system created the greatest caste / class feelings among the young students. Once, a warden punished a second class hostel student and asked him to eat food with third category, but he refused to obey. Such was the affect on young minds.

The cooks and servants though used to pray with the students in the mosque, but after prayer they were not allowed to get close to the students. As a student of Aligarh Muslim University, I saw some reflection of these un-Islamic things breathing still there.

Sir Sayid because of his casteist nature, he didn’t even avoid criticism on Hazrat Abu Baker and Hazrat Usman (May Allah pleased with them) the first and third caliphs, who got knowledge in their lives through the prophet that they will go to the paradise.

People like Sir Sayed Ahmad Khan

Maulana Abdul Karim was appointed in British period to investigate the problems of Bengali Muslim’s education. He recommended that the ‘low’ classes should be given education only till primary level.

A famous scholar Sayid Amir ‘Ali opposed the equal education for upper caste and low caste Muslims. He suggested the separate education for low caste Muslims. He told that Madrasa and Maktab (elementary school) should be their centers.

The famous scholar Maulana Khaja Sayid Husain Nezami the editor of Monthly “tableegh-e-Niswan” (Women’s preaching) also opposed the English education to low caste students.

The author of the famous book “Siratunnabi” (The biography of prophet Mohammad peace be upon him) Maulana Shibli N’omani – whose ancestor converted from Hindu Rajput into Islam- also had casteist mindset. Mr. S.M. Ikram writes that he humiliated his own step mother calling her names like “ chhawni / arbabe chhawni” (It is a camp like army camp where Nawab used to live out side the house) because she was from low caste. Maulana Sayid Sulaiman Nadwi also mentioned the same thing, but he also says that in the last Maulana Shibli asked for forgiveness from her mother and she forgave him.

Contemporary ‘Ulama: Now I will analyze the works of numerous contemporary Indian ‘ulama, who are held by their followers as great intellectuals, people like Maulvi Ahmad Raza Khan Barelvi and Maulvi Ashraf Ali Thanvi, Maulvi Sayid Abul A’ala Maudoodi, Maulvi Sayid Abul Hasan Ali Hasani Husaini Nadwi etc. I am shocked to discover that most of them actually championed the notion of caste superiority based on birth and gave fatwas about this that went totally against the Quran. This they did by recourse to the notion of what in Arabic is called kafaa, using which they set down rules about possible marriage relations between groups whom they ranked hierarchically. Thus, they argued that Muslims of Arab origin (Sayyeds and Shaikhs) are superior to non-Arab or Ajami Muslims, and so while a man who claims Arab origin can marry an Ajami woman, the reverse is not possible. Likewise, they argued, a Pathan Muslim man can marry a Julaha (Ansari) Mansuri (Dhunia,) Rayin (Kunjra) or Quraishi (Qasai) woman, but an Ansari, Rayin, Mansuri and Quraishi man can not marry a Pathan woman since they considered these castes to be inferior to Pathans. Many of these ulama also believed that it is best to marry within one’s own caste.

Maulana Ahmad Raza Khan Barelwi : He (d.4 Oct.1921 AD) is the founder of Barelwi sect. He was so respectful towards the Syeds that he wrote that even if a charge of theft and fornication is proven against a Syed, the Qazi shouldn’t have the Niyyah (intention) of applying the ‘Hadd’(Islamic punishment).

We can never find any evidence from Quran and prophet tradition for his claim. Against his argument, there is a well known prophet tradition, in which he said about the punishment of stealing.

“By Whom (Allah) in His hand is my life. Even if (daughter of Mohammad) Fatimia did it (theft), I will cut her hand also.”

Hazrat Fatima Rz. is the one from whom the Sayid caste traces its chain. But Allah’s prophet practiced what he said above, then how can it is possible that the Qazi shouldn’t have the Niyyah of applying the ‘Hadd’ on Sayid.
He claimed that even though Mughal and Pathan are Ashraaf they are not the Kufu (equal/endogamy) of Syeds. He went on to write:

“The original good (communities) have good qualities (and manners) and it is the opposite among the razeel (low caste). It was due to this that rulers of the past did not allow the Razeel to get higher education. Now see how the barbers and manhars have spread the various forms of fitna by acquiring education…”

According to him Sayid, Shaikh, Mughal and Pathan are upper caste and others are razeel castes. He also says that only Quraishi (who belongs to Quraish tribe of Makkah) should be a Caliph.
He writes that even if low caste men i.e. people of Weaver, Shoe maker, Leather maker, Tailor castes etc, are ‘alim (scholar), still they are no kufu of Sayid women.

He also argues that if low caste man marries with upper caste woman, that nikah will not be valid and there is no need to break this nikah. It will be invalid automatically. He argues that if the father or grandfather of a minor and immature girl married his daughter with a new Muslim (‘low’ caste), for the first time it is permissible. If he will marry his another daughter with any ‘low’ cast, then this nikah will also be invalid.

There are many ‘ulama even some low caste ‘ulama in Barelwi sect who support caste hierarchy and caste based discrimination. For example Maulan Sayid Hasmat Ali, Maulana Mohammad Amjad ‘Ali Maulana Mufti Ahmad Yar Khan Na’yeimi , Maulana Mufti Jalaluddin Ahmad Amjadi , Maulana Arshadul Qadri, etc.

The second largest group of Indian Muslims “Deobandi” sect is also not clean from the caste system. Like Aligarh Muslim University, Darul ‘Uloom Deoband was established for the welfare of upper caste Muslims specially sayids and Shaikhs. This is mentioned in the writings of Maulana Qasim Nanawtwi(d.15 April 1880).

Mrs. Barbara Daly Metcalf writes quoting the statement of Maulana Qasim Nanawtwi from “ Rooda darul ‘Uloom Deoband (Reports of Darul ‘Uloom Deoband)’ p.11:

“God entrusted religious learning to these four Qaum..... [ashraf qaum] must acquire learning not merely for glory but for their livelihood as well."

She writes about the aim of Deoband Madrasa:

"The ideologies of the Deobandis were particularly congruent to the interests of the ashraf."

In the beginning, low caste students were not allowed to take admission in Darul ‘Uloom Deoband’. We can still find the column of caste in Darul ‘Uloom Deoband’ admission form.

The first Mufti of in Darul ‘Uloom Deoband’ Mufti ‘Azizur Rahman Usmani (d.1347 HA /1928-29AD) has given many fatwas based on caste. He says that if Sayid mature girl marries herself with ‘low’ caste boy without her parent’s permission, that nikah will be invalid. But if the low caste girl marries with upper caste man without permission of her parent, then that nikah will be valid.

A low caste girl and an upper caste (Sayed) boy were once engaged in adultery. But, according to Mufti ‘Usamani, the boy was better than the girl because he belonged to upper caste.

The current Mufti of Darul ‘Uloom Deoband’ Mufti Zafiruddin Miftahi supported him in these above fatwas, and wrote on his lines.

The famous Deobandi ‘alim Maulana Asharf Ali Thanwi (d.4 July 1943 AD) shared the same mindset. He declared Sayid, Shaikh Mughal and Pathan noble caste, and weaver, oil presser razeel (low) caste. One of his murids ( followers) started to note down his sayings. He started using respectable word for him like using Urdu word “farmaya” (said) while quoting him. Thanwi became angry and ordered him to announce in the mosque after Maghrib prayer:

“O brothers! Because I belong to that caste (Weaver), so because of cowardness, I thought myself to be above my teacher’s favours.”

He mocked weavers at many place, like once he said:

“The weaver prayed three days only and considered himself a sacred person.”

In his views and in many leading Deobandi ‘ulama’s views, new Muslims were not equal to old Muslims (upper castes).

He also supported the most controversial book “Nihayatul Irab fi Ghayatib Nasab” by Mufti Mohammad Shafi Usmani. In which Mufti Usmani (d.6 October 1976AD) abused low castes. There are a lot of Deobandi ‘ulama supporting casteism in the name of kufu /endogamy etc. like Maulana Qari Mohammad Tayyib the first president of All India Muslim Personal law Board (d.17 July 1983 AD) the former manager of Darul ‘Uloom Deoband.

Mufti Muhammad Shafi, (d.6 October 1976AD) of Deobandi school who later on became the Grand Mufti of Pakistan, has written a book entitled “Nihayat al Arab fi Ghayat al Nasb” in which he has made several statements which emphasizing the glory and magnificence of Ashraaf and ruled that customary concept of Kufu / endogamy doesn’t violate any of the Islamic principles. Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi , Maulana Sayid Husain Ahamd Madani,(d.Dec. 1957AD) and Maulana Qari Muhammad Tayyab Qasmi have approved Mufti Shafi’s stand on casteism and dismissed the critics as those were influenced by the West’s God-less ideologies. It is to be noted that there was a disturbance in Deoband when this book was released and Mufti Shafi took refuge at Darul Uloom to escape the hostile crowd.

The famous Tablighi Jam’at Deobandi ‘alim, Maulan Mohammad Zakaria (d.1982AD), has also supported Mufti Usmani. He wrote a lengthy book in support of Mufti Usmani. Even he has written some caste based things in Fadhayel-e-A’amal(Advantage of good deeds), a famous book of Tablighi jama’at.

Maulana Maudoodi, (1979AD) the founder of jama’at-e-Islami is also happened to be the supporter of caste system.
The present Jamat-e-islami president Maulana Sayid Jalaluddin Ansar ‘Umri is also a castiest. He advocated in Radiance Views Weekly the mouth piece of Jama’ate-Islami India that some caste is low and some is high.
The mouth pieces of Jama’ate-Islami i.e. news papers and magazines “Dawat”, “Radiance” are publishing caste based matrimonial in its regular issues.

Jama’at-e-Ahl-e-Hadees is a sect in India which claimes to be the most radical about Qur’an and prophet tradition. But its ‘Ulama have also given fatawas in favour of caste system.

The famous Ahle hadees ‘alim Shaikul kul Fil Kul Maulana Sayid Nazeer Husain Dehlawi (1805-1902AD) invalids a nikah between ‘low’ caste boy and an ‘upper’ caste girl. The second famous Ahle Hadees ‘alim Maulana Sayid Nawab Siddique Hasan Khan Bhopali made joke of weavers.

The high officials of umbrella organizations “The All-India Muslim Personal Law Board” which claims to speak on behalf of all Muslim sects, castes and creeds in India, is also involved in promoting caste system among Muslims. It also upholds the Hanafi position on kafaa determined by birth. In May 2001, it issued a Compendium of what it called Islamic laws (Majmooa’-e-Qawaneen-e-Islami) mainly related to personal law issues. The Compendium specifically refers to kafaa, and insists that birth, and, therefore, family status, which also includes caste in the Indian context, is a basic ingredient of it. It says that a non-Muslim convert to Islam is of the same kafaa as an original Muslim, but in the footnote it says that this applies to Arabs only. Presumably, therefore, according to this bizarre interpretation, an Indian male non-Muslim convert cannot marry a woman from an original Muslim (Sayed and Shaikh) family. Interestingly, the Board suggested that the Indian courts should accept this Compendium to govern Muslim personal law-related issues. Given the Compendium’s sanction of birth-based kafaa this suggestion is quite unacceptable. It would mean giving legal sanction to caste inequality. It promotes casteism on the name of ‘kufu’.

A contemporary Indian Deobandi, Maulvi Qari Habeeb Ahmed, claims in his booklet “Islam Aur Taraqqi” (Islam and Progress) that God has made some castes as superior or sharif and others as inferior or razil, and he claimed that there is Divine wisdom in this that must not be questioned. His fanciful argument is that if God had made the ‘low’castes superior they would be filled with false pride and would forget him. And if God had made the so-called ‘ashraf’ ‘low’ they would suffer from an inferiority complex and jealousy, which would undermine their faith in Him. The fourth President of the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board and Vice Chancellor of the Nadwatul Ulama, Lucknow, Maulvi Sayyed Mohammad Rabe Hasani Nadvi, permitted the author to publish this booklet after reading it.

Similarly, in his “Maasharti Masail Din-e-Fitrat ki Raushni Main” (Problems of life in the light of natural religion [Islam]) another contemporary Deobandi writer, Maulvi Muhammad Burhanuddin Sambhali, who teaches at the Nadwatul Ulama, Lucknow quotes from a medieval Hanafi text, the “Radd ul-Mukhtar” to declare that it is not advisable (makruh) that people who engage in ‘lowly’(razil) occupations, such as tanners and fishermen, as well as people afflicted by leprosy, should enter mosques. He claims this is the shariah position, arguing that if such people enter mosques it would cause hardship to others.
There is no any evidence in in Qur’an and prophet’s traditions in support of this claim. But there are many prophets’ traditions against this claim.

This book received a foreword by the second president of the All- India Muslim Personal Law Board and former Vice Chancellor of Nadwat ul-Ulama, Maulvi Sayyed Abul Hasan Ali Hasani Nadvi (d.31 Dec.1999AD), after listening to the book from the author.

In 1999 Maulvi Qazi Mujahid ul-Islam Qasmi,(d.4 April 2002AD) one of the best-known Deobandi scholars, the third president of All-India Muslim Personal Law Board and head of the Islamic Fiqh Academy, organized an international conference on ijtihad in Patna. One of the issues discussed at the conference was ijtihad on the question of kafaa/endogamy, but finally it was decided under Qasmis' leadership that the Hanafi position on the issue, except the question of kafaa between new Muslims and old Muslims, was correct and needs no reform.

Unlike these casteist ‘ulama, there are many ‘ulama in evey period who opposed caste system which includes Sultan Mohammad Tughlaq, Qazi Sanaullah Pani Pati Hanafi, Shah Abdul Aziz Mohaddith Dehlawi, Maulana Shari’atullah, Maulana Shahw Isma’il Shaheed, Maulna Sayid Ahmad Shaheed, Maulana Sayid Sulaiman Nadvi, Maulana Habibur Rahman Azmi, Maulna Sanullah Amrit Sari, Maulana Shabbir Ahmad ‘Uthmani, Maulana Hafiz Sayid Mohammad ‘Ali Husaini,Dr. Sayed Abid Husain, Dr. Fazlur Rahman Faridi, etc.

(Masood Alam Falahi is a research scholar in University of Delhi and could be contacted at


  1. Dear sir,Masood Alam Falahi.
    Some one told me about your article on IDMV.
    I read your article (both parts). It is well reserached paper. If it will be pulish in booklet shape, then people will gain more benifit from this article.
    In fisrt part you have given reference, but in second part, threr is no reference.Why? I think by mistake its reference didn't come. please give its refernce also.
    Ishteyaq Ahmad

  2. Dear Mr. Ishteyaq,

    Thanks for your comments and appreciation. We will update this article with their references very soon.


  3. As salaamu alaikum brother in faith, its rather unfortunate that such a website even exists!! Our deen has never taught discrimination among brothers based on any factor what so ever..please refrain from spreading wrong mesg. Drawing instances from Mughal rulers would do no good, as they never set a good example as followers of Islam!! Simply put, there is nothing called "Dalit" in Islam (whether in India or elsewhere). Oh brother in faith, please correct yourself & refrain from this blasphemy of the perfect religion, given to us by Allah, Subhana Wata A'la...

  4. It’s really a nice and helpful piece of information. I’m glad that you shared this helpful info with us. Please keep us informed like this. Thanks for sharing.


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