Citation for Khilāfat Movement

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Minault, Gail . "Khilāfat Movement." In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Oxford Islamic Studies Online. Nov 29, 2021. <>.


Minault, Gail . "Khilāfat Movement." In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Oxford Islamic Studies Online, (accessed Nov 29, 2021).

Khilāfat Movement

An agitation on the part of some Indian Muslims, allied with the Indian nationalist movement, during the years 1919 to 1924, the Khilāfat movement 's purpose was to influence the British government to preserve the spiritual and temporal authority of the Ottoman sultan as caliph of Islam. Integral with this was the Muslims ’ desire to influence the treaty-making process following World War I in such a way as to restore the prewar boundaries of the Ottoman empire. The British government treated the Indian Khilāfat delegation of 1920, headed by Muḥammad ʿAlī, as quixotic pan-Islamists, and did not change its policy toward Turkey. The Indian Muslims ’ attempt to influence the provisions of the Treaty of Sèvres failed; the European powers went ahead with their territorial adjustments, including the institution of mandates over formerly Ottoman Arab territories.

The significance of the Khilāfat movement, however, lies less in its supposed pan-Islamism and its attempt to influence British imperial policy in the Middle East than in its impact on the Indian nationalist movement. The leaders of the Khilāfat movement forged the first political alliance among Western-educated Indian Muslims and ʿulamāʿ over the issue of the khilāfah (caliphate). This leadership included the brothers Muḥammad ʿAlī and Shaukat ʿAlī, who were products of Aligarh College; their Sunnī spiritual guide Mawlānā ʿAbdulbari of Firangi Mahal in Lucknow; the Calcutta journalist and Islamic scholar Abū al-Kalām Āzād; and the leading Deobandī ʿālim (scholar) Mawlānā Maḥmūdulḥasan. These publicist-politicians and ʿulamāʿ viewed the European attack on the authority of the caliph as an attack on Islam, and thus as a threat to the religious freedom of Muslims under British rule.

 The Khilāfat issue crystallized anti-British sentiments among Indian Muslims that had been increasing since the Tripolitan and Balkan wars of 1911–1912, followed in 1914 by the British declaration of war against the Ottomans. Further, the violence that had followed the British demolition of a portion of a mosque in the Indian city of Kanpur in 1913, and the subsequent agitation that resulted in its restoration, had demonstrated the effectiveness of religious issues in political mobilization. The Khilāfat leaders, most of whom had been imprisoned during the war, were already nationalists. Upon their release in 1919, the religious issue of the Khilāfat provided a means to achieve pan-Indian Muslim political solidarity in the anti-British cause, as well as a vehicle of communication between the leaders and their potential mass following.

 The Khilāfat movement also benefited from Hindu-Muslim cooperation in the nationalist cause that had grown during the war, beginning with the Lucknow Pact of 1916, when the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League agreed on proposals for postwar governmental reforms, and culminating in the protest against the Rowlatt anti-sedition bills in 1919. The Congress, now led by Mohandas K. Gandhi, had called for peaceful demonstrations against the Rowlatt bills, but violence broke out in several places. In the Punjab on April 13, 1919, soldiers fired on a peaceful meeting in Amritsar, killing 379 and injuring many more. The Amritsar massacre, together with the Khilāfat issue, provided the stimulus for the Muslim-Congress alliance in the Noncooperation movement of 1919–1922. Gandhi espoused the Khilāfat cause, seeing in it an opportunity to rally Muslim support for the Congress. The ʿAlī brothers and their allies in turn provided the Noncooperation movement with some of its most enthusiastic troops.

 The combined Khilāfat-Noncooperation movement was the first India-wide agitation against British rule. It saw an unprecedented degree of Hindu-Muslim cooperation, and it established Gandhi and his technique of nonviolent protest (satyāgraha) at the center of the Indian nationalist movement. Students boycotted schools, lawyers boycotted the courts, voters boycotted elections, and Indians began to spin, weave, and wear homespun cloth as a protest against British economic domination. Mass mobilization using religious symbols was remarkably successful, and the British Indian government was shaken.

 In late 1921 the government moved to suppress the movement. The ʿAlī brothers were arrested for incitement to violence, tried in Karachi, and imprisoned. The Noncooperation movement was suspended by Gandhi early in 1922 following a riot in the village of Chauri Chaura in Uttar Pradesh in which the local police force was incinerated inside their station by a mob. Gandhi was arrested, tried, and imprisoned soon thereafter. The Turks dealt the final blow by abolishing the Ottoman sultanate in 1922 and the caliphate in 1924.

 The aftermath of the Khilāfat movement saw a rising incidence of interreligious violence. The Mappila rebellion of 1921, in which the Muslim peasantry of Malabar rose against their Hindu landlords, increased Hindu-Muslim suspicions, even though the Khilāfat leadership denounced the Mappilas for resorting to violence. During the period 1922–1924, Hindu-Muslim relations further deteriorated, with riots often fomented by communal organizations. Among these organizations were the Hindu Mahāsabha, an exclusively Hindu political party, and Shuddhī and Sangathan, groups dedicated to “purification” and “solidarity” among Hindus. Tanẓīm and Tablīgh, groups devoted to solidarity among Muslims and the propagation of the faith, responded aggressively. Thus the Khilāfat movement, launched amid Hindu-Muslim amity and cooperation, ironically resulted in an aggravation of communal differences. Muslims, aroused to anti-British political activity by the use of religious symbols, found that religious issues separated them from their fellow Indians. The Indian National Congress under Gandhi 's leadership found that many of their national symbols were alienating to Muslims. It was a dilemma that ultimately had no solution.

See also ĀZāD, ABū AL-KALāM.


  • Bamford, P. C.Histories of the Non-Cooperation and Khilafat Movements (1925). Reprint, Delhi, 1974. Government intelligence report issued shortly after the collapse of the movement.
  • Brown, Judith M.Gandhi 's Rise to Power: Indian Politics, 1919–1922. Cambridge, 1972. Perceptive study of Gandhi 's early career in India.
  • Hardy, Peter. The Muslims of British India. Cambridge, 1972. The best short intellectual history of Muslims in nineteenth- and twentieth-century India.
  • Hasan, Mushir ul-, ed.Communal and Pan-Islamic Trends in Colonial India. Rev. ed. New Delhi, 1985. Useful collection of articles.
  • Hasan, Mushir ul-. Nationalism and Communal Politics in India. Rev. ed.New Delhi, 1991. Balanced study of the relationship between Muslims and the Congress in the period 1916–1929.
  • Hasan, Mushirul, and Margrit Pernau, eds.Regionalizing Pan-Islamism: Documents on the Khilafat Movement. New Delhi, 2005.
  • Minault, Gail. The Khilafat Movement: Religious Symbolism and Political Mobilization in India. New ed.New York, 1999. Standard work on the Khilāfat movement.
  • Nanda, B. R.Gandhi, Pan-Islamism, Imperialism, and Nationalism in India. Delhi, 1989. Study of the Khilāfat movement from the Congress point of view.
  • Qureshi, M. Naeem. Pan-Islam in British Indian politics: A Study of the Khilafat Movement, 1918–1924. Leiden, 1999.
  • Robinson, Francis. Separatism among Indian Muslims: The Politics of the United Provinces ’ Muslims, 1860–1923. Cambridge, 1974. Important study of the early development of Muslim politics in India through the Khilāfat movement, with emphasis on British sources and viewpoints.

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