Maulana Hifzur Rahman Seoharwi (1900-1962): Life & Achievements

Dr Muhammadullah Khalili Qasmi

Maulana Hifzur Rahman Seoharwi was a great scholar, prominent warrior of the War of Independence, eminent nationalist leader, Member of the Constituent Assembly, parliamentarian, eloquent speaker and versatile author. He also served as General Secretary of Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind for two decades.

Birth and Education

He was born in Seohara, Dist. Bijnor (British India) in 1900 in a landlord family. His father Shamsuddin had served as assistant engineer in the states of Bhopal and Bikaner. Among his siblings, he was alone who was imparted religious education and called Maulana.

He was first educated at home. Later, he was enrolled in Madrasa Faiz-e-Aam at Seohara and then went to Madrasa Shahi in Moradabad. After acquiring education at these madrasas, Maulana Hifzur Rahman Seoharwi moved to Darul Uloom Deoband in 1922 for higher education and completed his studies (Dawrah Hadith) in 1924. His teachers at Deoband include: the great Hadith scholar Allama Anwar Shah Kashmiri (1875-1933), Allama Shabbir Ahmad Uthmani (1887-1949), Maulana Asghar Hussain Deobandi (1877-1945) etc.

After graduation, he was deputed by Darul Uloom Deoband to teach in a madrasa in Parnambat (Tamil Nadu) where he rendered teaching and preaching services for one year. Then, in 1926, he was appointed by Darul Uloom Deoband as teacher, but soon he moved to Dabhel (Gujarat) with his beloved teacher Allama Anwar Shah Kashmiri who resigned from Principle (Sadr al-Mudarrisin) post in Darul Uloom Deoband and shifted to Madrasa Talimuddin in Dabhel. Maulana Seoharwi served there as teacher for five years.[1]

In 1933, Maulana Seoharwi served at Anjuman Tabligh-e-Islam in Calcutta under the supervision of the legendary Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. In Calcutta, he gave lectures on the Holy Quran for five years. This gained him popularity and good name in Calcutta and people flocked to him. During his stay Calcutta, he had contacts with Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose as well.[2]

Fight for Freedom

Maulana Seoharwi demonstrated heroic struggle against the British colonization of India. First, during his studies, he was influenced by the Khilafat Movement, so along with Hafiz Mohammad Ibrahim[3] he organized a public meeting and invited leaders like Maulana Hussain Ahmad Madani. So, he along with some of his colleagues was arrested in 1922 and was kept in Bijnor prison and then moved to Bareilly, and spent some months in jail.

When the struggle for freedom intensified and Mahatma Gandhi started Dandi March against the British salt monopoly, he was a teacher of a Madrasa in Dabhel (Gujarat), so he met Gandhiji in Dhrashta and offered himself for the freedom struggle. During the meeting, Gandhiji asked him whether there is any Hadith of the Prophet (peace be upon him) wherein it is said that salt, water and grass are for public and thus no tax can be levied on these things, so he wrote the hadith in a piece of paper and handed it to Gandhiji.[4] He was arrested and thereafter he forsook the teaching job and dedicated himself for the Freedom Movement.

Maulana Seoharwi was closely associated with Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, a leading organization of Muslim scholars established in 1919, and thus played a key role in passing the resolution to join freedom fight by allying with the Indian National Congress. The Jamiat meeting in may 1930 in Amroha was attended by stalwarts like Muhammad Ali Jauhar and Maulana Shaukat Ali who were against the idea of allying with the Congress, but Maulana Hifzur Rahman very eloquently and impressively advocated the idea in order to intensify the attack against the foreign rule. His opinion, thus, prevailed and a resolution was passed in this effect with the support of other members.[5] This was a landmark decision taken by the Jamiat and this alliance between the two nationalist movements continued till the independence and consolidated the freedom movement.  

These days Jamiat Ulama also, just like Indian National Congress, introduced Council of War system and appointed Dictators to administer the movement against the British Government and whenever a dictator was arrested he appointed one of his colleagues to the post. Maulana Seoharwi was the right hand to Maulana Abul Mahasin Sajjad who was key player behind the Council of War plan.[6]

The Quit India Movement of 1942 was milestone in the struggle for the freedom. The top leaders of Jamiat Ulama including Maulana Seoharwi issued statement on 5 Aug 1942 that the English must quit India.[7] Later on 8 Aug, the Indian National Congress passed the resolution in which the English were demanded to ‘Quit India’. Subsequently, the Congress leaders and the Jamiat leaders were arrested. Maulana Seoharwi was representing the Congress from Moradabad, so as per the warrant he was arrested and imprisoned in Moradabad and later moved to Bareilly Central Jail. He stood steadfast and unshakable despite his health issues and the death of his family members. He spent two years in the prison.[8]

Opposition to Two Nation Theory & Partition of India

Maulana Seoharwi from first day of his political career was in favour of composite nationalism and unity of India. This was the reason he advocated the alliance of Jamiat Ulama with the Congress and fought the war of freedom shoulder to shoulder with the non-Muslim nationalist leaders. In 1935, when the Government of India Act was passed by the British Government that granted a large measure of autonomy to the provincial assemblies and Central Assembly. Thus, the elections were held on communal lines and the Muslim League emerged as a strong player in the politics of India. This led to a national debate whether the Hindus and Muslims can live mutually and peacefully in free India or they are two different nations and both can no longer live together. Thus the ‘Two Nation Theory’ came into being. The All-India Muslim League, under Muhammad Ali Jinnah, resolved that Muslims and Hindus are two different nations and cannot live together and thus in 1940 they demanded creation of a Muslim state with the name of Pakistan.

Jamiat Ulama, specially its stalwart leaders like Maulana Hussain Ahmad Madani and Maulana Hifzur Rahman Seoharwi opposed the theory introduced by the Muslim League. Thus, the Muslim nationalists had to fight on two fronts i.e. against the British rulers and against those who supported division of India. They faced stiff opposition, demonization and character assassination from their opponents, but they insisted that as it is necessary that the English leave India, in the same way a free Indian needs to be united and not divided on religious lines.

Maulana Seoharwi, through his writings and speeches, revealed the shallowness of the Muslim League claim for an Islamic state and established that Muslims can live together with Hindus within a secular and inclusive constitution in which both are given freedom of religion and other rights. Some of his writings were collected in the form of a book entitled ‘Muttahida Qaumiyat aur Islam’ (Composite Nationalism and Islam) in which he clarified that there is a difference between the European ideology of nationalism and the composite nationalism of India, where under a common government the religious, cultural, social and all kinds of Identities of both communities will be safe.[9]

In his other book ‘Tahreek Pakistan par ak Nazar‘ (A look at Pakistan Movement), he by examining the various aspects of this movement, has made it clear that it is unreal and extremely harmful demand from all viewpoints of politics, economy, domestic and foreign policy and even from the religious aspects. He proved that such a scheme would divide Indian Muslims into two parts, one an ineffective minority and the other an ineffective majority (since the Muslim League’s proposed Pakistani territory had about forty percent Hindu population). He also predicted that the country that will be built on these foundations will become a plaything in the hands of big powers politically and economically.[10]

Owing to the importance of this issue, Maulana Seoharwi invited the Muslim League several times to talks to formulate a common and mutual stand. But in response to his invitation, Mr. Muhammad Ali Jinnah gave diplomatic reply and by accepting the importance of unity and consensus, invited Jamiat leaders to join the Muslim League without any further delay. Thus, the Muslim League dismissed all reconciliation efforts of united ideology for the betterment of the country and the Muslim community.[11]

The idea of Pakistan proposed by the Muslim League talked only about the states having majority Muslim population, but it was mum about the fate of the 300 million Muslims living in other states which have less Muslim population.

However, amid intense communal fury and pressure, the Government announced the Partition of British India scheme on 3rd June 1947, which was known as the Mountbatten Plan. The legislature representatives of the Muslim League approved the plan immediately and Indian National Congress met at the Constitution Club in New Delhi on 9th June 1947 to approve the plan. Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant presented the motion in the meeting and Maulana Azad also gave a speech in his support and citing the circumstances he advised to approve the partition plan. But even at that time Maulana Seoharwi (who among the leaders of the Jamiat was the only member of the All India Congress Committee) opposed the partition of India with all his might and said:

“Due to the pressure and the confusion under which it is now being suggested to approve the partition plan, I would say with all due respect to our leaders that the result of the partition of India would be far more dangerous and if the partition plan is approved from the stage of the Congress, then it will mean that today we are going to negate our entire history and surrender to the two-nation theory.[12]

Maulana Seoharwi, at this critical juncture, performed the duty that he considered not only his obligation as a true Indian but also it was the demand of truth and righteousness. He fulfilled this duty with full courage and honesty. Due to these efforts of Maulana Seoharwi, the members of the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind are satisfied that they have been spared the responsibility of the disastrous and bloody partition of India.

Saviour of Muslims After Partition

After the independence of India in 1947, riots broke out in all parts of the country. When the flames of this fire blazed in full force even in Delhi, he faced this most difficult situation of that time with extraordinary courage and fortitude. He did a great job for restoring law and order by talking to the leaders and urging the authorities, and removed the fear and panic from the hearts of the frightened people. Due to his tireless efforts and fearless moves, the Muslims felt safe and relieved.

During these turbulent time, when Delhi and adjacent areas of Mewat and Punjab were badly affected by riots and violence, Gandhiji returned from Nawakhali and Calcutta to Delhi in September 1947 and stayed at Birla House. Maulana Seoharwi approached him to apprise him of the ground situation and thus he won the confidence of Gandhiji on account of to his truthfulness and impartiality. He along with Maulana Ahmad Sayeed Dehlawi used to visit Gandhiji daily and brief him about the ongoing conditions. In order to establish and rehabilitate the battered Mewatis, he convened a conference in Ghasera in which Gandhiji participated and said: “Mewatis are backbone of India and its thick blood. I will never tolerate that the thick blood of our nation is taken out of it.”[13]

At a time when bloodshed and violence was rampant in Delhi, the Hindu friends of Maulana Seoharwi insisted him to move to a safe place, but he boldly rejected the idea saying, “There is nothing more shameful and cowardly for us than to live in shelter in our own homeland; though it is troubled time but we have to face it courageously.”[14]

In these discouraging circumstances, Maulana Seoharwi along with Maulana Abul Kalam Azad organized a special conference of prominent Muslim leaders of India in Delhi on November 13, 1947 and then held a general Public Meeting in Lucknow in December, in which Maulana Seoharwi delivered stirring speech. He urged Muslims to have courage and face the situation with determination. This conference played a significant role to consolidate the Muslims in the country. Moreover, Maulana Seoharwi through his speeches and writings tried to instil courage in the Muslims. Through the members of Jamiat Ulama he carried this this message to every corner of the country. In the same way, in view of the unending series of anti-Muslim riots in the country, he organized Indian Muslim Convention in Delhi in 1962.[15]

It is a fact that, in the post-Independent India, Maulana Seoharwi played a crucial role in charting a road map for the Muslims. Owing to these heroic services and sacrifices Maulana Seoharwi was awarded the title of ‘Mujahid-e-Millat‘ (warrior for the cause of community) by the people.

Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind

Maulana Seoharwi was associated with Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind from the beginning and served several yeas as member of its working committee. Finally, he was elected as General Secretary of Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind in March 1942 and thereafter he dedicated his entire life for the noble cause of the country and the community. Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind was the centre of all his activities and he spent every nerve to fulfil the responsibilities delegated to him. He was one of the key persons behind all great contributions that were offered the Jamiat.

He was a member of All India Congress from 1936 and was elected for the Constituent Assembly. He played active role in formulating the Constitution of India and advocating a rightful place for the minorities, making the country a secular one and thus rendering a dignified status to the Muslim community in the country. The proceedings of the Constituent Assembly that are available online[16] are clear proof for the great services he rendered. He was elected as Member of Parliament in three consecutive elections i.e. 1952, 1957 and 1962 from Amroha Lok Sabha Constituency.

He was a member of many religious and literary seminaries and institutes, specially a member of the Majlis-e-Shura (Executive Body) of Darul Uloom Deoband and member of the Executive Council and Court of the Muslim University of Aligarh.

Contribution to Islamic Literature

Apart from being a national leader, freedom fighter and public speaker, Maulana Seoharwi had been a well-versed writer, researcher and great author. He left behind a rich collection of well-researched books on various Islamic topics along with other write-ups which are scattered in monthlies and magazines. Hereunder, we shall have an bird’s eye view on his contribution to Urdu and Islamic literature:

Qisas al-Quran: i.e. ‘Stories of the Quran’ in 4 volumes and 1280 pages (Edition of Darul Isha’at Karachi), in which he collected the details of stories mentioned in the Quran. This is not simply a story book, rather a well-researched and monumental work in Urdu on the subject of Quranic stories. In this book, he discussed many historical details of the communities, tribes, prophets, personalities, places, the thoughts and ideologies that can suffice for you in return of several other books. This work of Maulana Seoharwi had been translated into English by Shakir Rizwani and Khalid Mahmood and which was published in 2006 in two volumes by Idara Islamiat Lahore, covering 1360 pages[17].

Islam ka Iqtisadi Nizam: i.e. ‘Economic System of Islam’ in 735 pages (Edition of Shaikhul Hind Academy Karachi), is masterpiece of him and is one the best books written on the topic and rare one in Urdu language. He divided this book into 14 in which it has been interpreted that among all the economic systems of the world, the economic system of Islam is one which has created a moderate path by establishing a balance between labour and capital.

Akhlaq-o-Falsafa-e-Akhlaq: i.e. ‘Ethics and its Philosophy’ in 543 pages (Edition of Nadwatul Mosannifin Delhi, 1964), is also a great work on the subject. In this book he, in the light of modern and ancient theories, has discussed thoroughly the philosophy of ethics, types of ethics and all aspects of the principles of ethics, and interpreted the ethics of Islam in such a way that the superiority of Islamic ethics is established.

There are some other works of him on various subjects. Moreover, he wrote extensively in monthly Burhan, the mouthpiece of Nadwat al-Musannifin Delhi. His Book Reviews and Obituaries if collected can end up in several volumes.

One of his great academic contributions is to establish Nadwat al-Musannifin in Delhi in 1938 along with his friend, Mufti Atiqur Rahman Usmani and others. This became a famous academy which was later considered the greatest academy and publication house managed by the scholars of Deoband.

Most of these works have been rendered in the early years of his career, but later when he actively participated in the national movement of freedom and was appointed General Secretary of Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, all such academic contributions came to a halt. In view his versatile works and on account of his valuable academic contributions it is duly said that had Maulana Seoharwi engaged himself in academic activities he would have been one of the intensive and celebrated authors of the Indian subcontinent.

Death and Farewell Tributes

Maulana Seoharwi was very skinny and frail in posture. The dedicated services and untiring efforts made his health even worse. In early 1962, the doctors diagnosed him with cancer. He was taken to Bombay for treatment but could not recover. Eventually, the last attempt at treatment was to take him to the United States, from where he returned after two and a half month. But the appointed time had come. He breathed his last on 2 August 1962 and was laid to rest in the famous cemetery of ‘Mahdiyan’ in New Delhi. His funeral prayer was attended by a crowd of two hundred thousand people.

After his death, the top Indian leaders paid their heartfelt tributes at his demise. The First President of India Dr Rajendra Prasad said: “Maulana Hifzur Rahman was a great leader of Jamiat and a dazzling example of our nationalism. He was one of my beloved friends with whom I had chance to work.”[18]

Dr Zahir Hussain, in his tributary message, said: “Maulana’s political life started from 1919. He participated in the movements of Khilafat and Swaraj and associated his life with the message of united nationalism and freedom and this commitment remained strong till the end. He never bothered for reward and praise, he did what he did as a duty. He was like a connecting link between different communities of India. He was a great torchbearer of national unity and integrity. He was fully convinced that until the people of the country develop emotional harmony and sympathy, the blessings of freedom cannot be achieved and the principles of freedom and brotherhood cannot become ingrained, on which the magnificent edifice of the Indian Constitution was built.”[19] The Indian Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru said: “I am deeply saddened by Maulana’s death. How long have I known Maulana, I can’t say, I have known him for more than 20 years or maybe for thirty-five or forty years, I don’t remember at all. We were both initially members of UP Congress Committee. We used to meet often and used to discuss all the issues. We started to understand each other well by meeting and talking on important occasions. He was very valued and I have love for him in my heart, he was a brave soldier, a brave leader, what he said carried weight, his words were worthy of listening carefully, it is a matter of great sorrow and grief that such a man has passed away.”[20]

[1] History of Darul Uloom Deoband, II, Sayyid Mahboob Rizwi, Deoband 1981, p. 107-8

[2] Maulana Hifzur Rahman Seoharwi: Aik Siyasi Mutala’a, compiled by Dr. Abu Salman Shahjahanpuri, Fareed Book Depot Delhi, 2011, p 241

[3] A Congress leader and a close relative of Maulana Seoharwi, who later became a Cabinet Minister.

[4] Ibid, p 239-40

[5] Ibid, p 244

[6] Ibid, p 141

[7] Jamiat Ulama Number, Al-Jamiat Weekly Delhi, Oct 1995, pp 386-87

[8] Aik Siyasi Mutala’a, pp 154-162

[9] Muttahida Qaumiyat aur Islam, Maulana Hifzur Rahman Seoharwi, Deoband, 1946, pp. 7-6

[10] See: Tehreek Pakistan par ak Nazar, Maulana Hifzur Rahman Seoharwi, Delhi, 1946

[11] Aik Siyasi Mutala’a, pp 476-90

[12] Ibib, pp 174-75, 245; Jamiat Ulama Number, Al-Jamiat Weekly Oct 1995, New Delhi, p 77 (Article by Maulana Muhammad Miyan)

[13] Aik Siyasi Mutala’a, pp 182-187

[14] ibid, p 180

[15] Ibid, pp 176-210, 248-255

[16] (accessed on 21/12/2022)

[17] (accessed on 21/12/2022)

[18] Mujahid-e-Millat Number, Daily Al-Jamiat Delhi, 1962, p 17

[19] Ibid, p 15

[20] Ibid, p 18

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