Pickthall’s Islamic Politics

In: Marmaduke Pickthall: Islam and the Modern World
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India in the early 1920s was in political ferment. It was also a time of fragile political consensus, bringing together Muslims, Hindus and other religious communities. For Muslims, the dominant concern was the future of Ottoman Turkey and the Caliphate. A news report published in the Urdu journal Muslim conveys the atmosphere at Bombay’s Parsi Assembly Hall one evening in April 1922, in the aftermath of the Treaty of Sèvres:

When Pickthall arose to deliver his speech, the hall resounded with shouts of pleasure. He first thanked the audience and then noted that the people of Hindustan must surely be astounded by the conditions imposed on Turkey by the Paris Peace Conference but he was not surprised. [He said] “I knew beforehand that the Paris Peace Conference would not arrive at any sensible decision […] Gallipoli and the north of the Sea of Marmara is being given to Greece even though it has no rights over these […] moreover the Angora Government will not accept these conditions. […] When I was in Paris I met Muslim representatives from all over the world. In my opinion, the Muslims of Hindustan should not have hopes that the demands of the Turkish freedom-seekers on the Khilafat will be the same as those they have presented.

The reality is that Hindustan’s Muslims sided with Britain in the war against the Turks, and I too am in the same boat. I joined the battle on behalf of Britain. In the promises made to us it was clearly expressed that it would not be against the welfare of Islam and the jaziratul Arab. With our help Britain was victorious over the Khalifatul muslimeen. It is now our obligation to restore the jaziratul Arab to the Khalifatul muslimeen. The responsibility is not so much on the Turks as it is on us. That is why Hindustan’s Muslims need to stand more firm on the Khilafat demands than the Turks. We should insist that Britain fulfils all the promises it had made. If we review our efforts of the last two years we must not be disheartened because a lot has been achieved. We should not change our policy – only the rash ones will do so. What we have learnt is Innallaha m‘a as-sabireen.

Now I would like to say a few words in my capacity as editor of The Bombay Chronicle. People are objecting that under my tenure it has become a Khilafat paper. The issue of Khilafat is of great significance for Hindustan. I have met Muslims from many parts of the world […] and all consider the united front shown by the non-Muslims of Hindustan with the Khilafat is praise-worthy. When I was returning to Hindustan I purchased a newspaper at Port Saïd. It had a prominently placed article stating that Gandhi was not just standing for Hindustan but all Asia. If the newspaper [Bombay Chronicle] supports the Khilafat then there is no damage done to Hindustan, but rather it brings benefits. It is because of the Khilafat that the whole of the East, in its quest for freedom, will consider Hindustan its guide.”1

This report by a young Abul A‘la Maududi in his Delhi weekly provides a snapshot of a moment in Pickthall’s life and a period of trepidation and reorientation. The Allied powers had set humiliating terms for Ottoman Turkey at Sèvres, which were accepted by the Sultan-Caliph Vahideddin, but rejected by Mustafa Kemal and his Angora government.2 An article of the Treaty stated that the Ottoman Caliph’s authority in the Hejaz was to be overridden by “His Majesty, the King of Hejaz”, which was contrary to the pledges given by Lloyd George in 1915 and 1918 to Indian Muslims that there would be no interference in the Caliph’s temporal and spiritual authority in the jaziratul Arab.3 Pickthall had by then been in India for two years and grappling with several issues: his decision to put on a British army uniform and the British Government dishonouring its pledges; the delicate Hindu-Muslim alliance that relied so much on Gandhi; a notion of the struggle for freedom in the “whole of the East”, rather than just affecting the Muslim peoples.4

This account explores the chain of events that propelled Pickthall to the stage of the Parsi Assembly Hall and his subsequent political activism. There is a story to be told of ruptures and continuities, with enigmatic moments as well as dramatic ones from around 1919 to 1935 (he passed away in 1936). The first section examines Pickthall’s relocation from London to Bombay. It considers his political journey and the conditions placed on him by the Raj when he wished to take up an offer of an educational post in the State of Hyderabad. The second section examines Pickthall’s ideas on the socio-political message of Islam, shaped by the unique conditions in Hyderabad as well as the writings of the former Ottoman grand vizier, Saïd Halim Pasha. The third section recounts Pickthall’s various adventures with Sir Akbar Hydari, including their role in organising the marriage of the ex-Caliph Abdul Majid ii’s daughter with the Nizam’s son and heir. The account concludes with a reflection on the ebb and flow of political allegiances in the lives of religious men.

From London to Bombay, 1919–1925

Pickthall’s charisma and learning had placed him in the front ranks of the British Muslim community, with a variety of roles and responsibilities, from serving as imam at the London Prayer House to being party to political initiatives and activities. Pickthall’s network of Islamic activists in London included Mushir Kidwai and Hashim Ispahani, who were closely associated with the Bombay Khilafat Committee established in early 1919. He joined them in establishing the Islamic Information Bureau, to advocate Muslim causes and respond to misrepresentations of Islam.5 It was his name at the end of the Bureau’s letters to newspaper editors, for example warning of the consequences of broken pledges – “if that word is broken there will be no more love or loyalty for England in the East”.6 It appears he had a free reign at the Bureau, allowing him to pursue bêtes noires, such as the Armenian lobby in London.7

Pickthall in his speech at the Parsi Assembly Hall also referred to meeting “Muslim representatives from all over the world” in Paris. The circumstances are not known, but he had been among the signatories, together with the Aga Khan and other distinguished personages, of various petitions to the Prime Minister in 1919 on matters relating to Muslim interests at the Paris Peace Conference.8 This may have led to Pickthall being hand-picked by the Aga Khan to accompany the official Indian Muslim delegation – comprising himself, Abdullah Yusuf Ali and Aftab Ahmad Khan – in a secretarial role. Alternatively, his visit may be related to the arrival in London in early 1920 of an Indian Khilafatist delegation led by Dr. Mukhtar Ansari, in an attempt to hold Britain to its war-time pledges.9 The delegation had planned to proceed to Paris, but was unable to do so and returned to India. If not part of the Aga Khan’s entourage, perhaps Pickthall found a way to Paris denied to this delegation and was able to present their case and discuss current events with other Muslims present.

However, it was not a happy period for Pickthall. There was an emotional tone in his letter to close friend Aubrey Herbert written towards the end of 1919, with references to the difficulties he had created by making himself “objectionable all around by insisting on certain little matters which appeal to Englishmen rather than to Orientals”.10 An opportunity soon arose in Bombay, which he described in another letter to Herbert in July 1920:

This is to tell you (what I fear will shock you very much) that I have accepted the editorship of The Bombay Chronicle, an Indian nationalist newspaper. If you want to know the primal reason for my taking such a step, it is simply economic pressure. I cannot afford to live in England, and the offer of a salary of 1400 rupees a month came to me as a positive godsend at the moment of almost of despair […]

It will quite possibly end in my cursing the whole crowd and throwing back their money in their teeth as I have done before. I have not the money sense, any more than the diplomatic. If you can say a word for me anywhere, please do. I am afraid of being boycotted by English people, which means a one sided view and therefore a false judgement […] Forgive me if you can for going so far from the direction you would chose for me, but believe that I still preserve the straight path of Islam and mean to keep it.11

He was clearly frustrated by the Bureau’s inability to remunerate him adequately, and it seems that the dozen or so novels he had published thus far were not bringing in much income. His patience may also have been sorely tested by Kidwai, someone described by Scotland Yard as “sane, but not sensible”.12 Pickthall’s letters to Herbert convey the impression of a temperamental white sahib, touchy about the ways of “Orientals”. He was anticipating problems with Indians in The Bombay Chronicle that might end up with him “cursing the whole crowd and throwing back their money in their teeth”. Pickthall’s financial difficulties are surprising because Saïd The Fisherman was by 1913 in its ninth edition and ought to have been providing royalties.13 He may have had a rosy view of the Bureau’s financial standing when the venture started, even though an appeal for funds was a regular feature in its publications.14 Pickthall’s reference that in leaving England, “he was going far from the direction” that Aubrey Herbert, a Tory Member of Parliament, would have wished for him is also enigmatic. Herbert was a champion of Albanian independence and perhaps looked on Pickthall as an ally on Balkan issues.
Pickthall’s letter to the writer E.M. Forster a year later from Bombay was more composed. He was now wholeheartedly with “the East” and resigned himself to the expatriates’ boycott:

The Bombay Chronicle


August 3rd 1921

[…] There are one or two points in it [Forster’s Salute to the Orient] which rather puzzle me, and I should like to debate them with the author if he is ever in Bombay, and if he is not above association with one whose salute to the East has been complete – i.e. who has become a social outcast from the Anglo-Indian point of view. My wife and I are living at 60 Green’s Mansions, over Green’s Hotel. With kind regards and real thanks for your appreciation which is very cheering in these days,

I remain, Sincerely yours

marmaduke pickthall15
He was both editor and later leader writer at The Bombay Chronicle, which was “among the 8 or 10 [newspapers] with a circulation of 10,000” in the Bombay Presidency, and also among another elite grouping on an All-India level, read and quoted beyond its metropolitan and provincial borders”.16 He was witness to the alliance of the Khilafat movement and the Congress Party within the Non-cooperation movement, and reported in detail the “Congress week” held in Nagpur in January 1921:

I believe in Non-cooperation thoroughly. […] It is liberty. It is national resurrection, postulating only the destruction of such things and influences as are positively noxious to the growth of healthy Asiatic life. It began as an indignant protest against certain wrongs committed by the British Government; but it is already far more than a protest, a negative thing; it is an assertion; a positive thing – an assertion of the existence of an Indian nation independent of British education and patronage.

India has been promised the status of a Dominion in the British Commonwealth. What is the difference between the status of a Dominion, and that which India occupies at present? The government of a Dominion stands for the people of the Dominion, even against the Government of England whereas the Government of India stands for the Government of England even against the people of India. We have two glaring instances in the Khilafat and the Punjab wrongs [a reference to the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, April 1919] which show how far India is at present from Dominion status, and how improbable she could ever obtain such status by cooperating with her present rulers. If those rulers had but stood for India firmly on the question of the Turkish peace terms, threatening Non-cooperation with the Government of India in case the wishes of so many millions of British subjects were disregarded for the sake of foreigners, the position would have been quite different.

[…] Too long have Asiatics looked to Europe as the fount of wisdom. There is evil as well as good in the European education and ideas of life. Asiatics have become inferior to Europeans. Why? Because they have abjectly imitated them, renouncing criticism, because they had not pride as Asiatics. On their own ground of Asia they are not inferior; but they are different. Every thing that is best in the world – religion, romance, chivalry – comes from Asia. Indians, be proud that you are Asiatics; cease to worship blindly every thing good or bad that comes from Europe; accept from Europe only what is good; take up your burden of responsibility as full-grown men forming a full-grown nation; do for yourselves what the British in 150 years have failed to do for you; educate every Indian man and woman in things of use to Indian men and women; raise the poor; organise the resources of the country for the public good; help the nation develop along natural lines, not upon lines imposed by foreign doctrines. Cease to depend on foreigners, and you have got your Swaraj [self-rule].17

His “salute to the East” was accompanied with recognition of the anti-colonialist struggle of subjugated peoples. Pickthall’s editorials were written to inspire an Indian readership as well as provide sharp rejoinders to an indifferent Raj:

Mahatma Gandhi has charged the Government of India with obstinacy in repression and with bad faith in the matter of calling a Peace Conference [for political negotiations]. The Government retort with the declaration that Non-cooperation provoked repression. Granted. But if we are to descend to a child’s dispute of “Who began it first?” let us carry this at least through to its end. What then provoked Non-cooperation? It was certainly not good Government.

Since the Government of India descend to childishly querulous and futile arguments we must deal with them as one deals with a child. This Government is the House that the English built. These are the Actions done in the House the English built. This is the Unrest bred of the Actions done in the House the English built. This is the Obstinacy which replied to the Unrest that was bred of the Actions done in the House the English built. This is the Non-cooperation that answered the Obstinacy that replied to the Unrest that was bred of the Actions done in the House the English built. This is the Repression provoked by the Non-cooperation that answered the Obstinacy that replied to the Unrest that was bred of the Actions done in the House the English built in India.

Has the nursery jingle brought us any nearer to a solution of the problem? On the contrary the vital issues have been obscured […] the Government’s communiqués […] makes only one thing clear and it is that the Government have not the will to peace. […] The Government of India now want more. Presumably they desire the dissolution of the Congress and the Khilafat organisation. Did Mr. Lloyd George insist on the dissolution of Dáil Éireann and the disbandment of the Irish Republican army as a preliminary to a peace conference with Sinn Fein?18

The Congress’s working committee met in Bardoli in February 1922. Pickthall may have been present, and responsible for the interview with Gandhi that was published in the Chronicle, “From our Special Representative”. The reportage and line of questioning was very much in Pickthall’s style, for example raising the Khilafat question:

I interviewed Mahatmaji on Sunday morning. He was quite hale and hearty and was about to begin in his daily round [the item] of spinning. His son Ramdas brought him a spinning wheel and Mahatmaji as he went on turning the wheel replied to my questions with his remarkable calmness. At times his voice was lost in the music of the spindle, I begged him to repeat [an] inaudible portion […]

Q. What do you think of the suggestion made recently in the “Chronicle” that an alliance of understanding [come about] with leaders of suffering subject nations like Egypt and Ireland to fight the imperialism of the Western nation by Non-cooperation propaganda?

A. I should love to see such an alliance but that will come in its own time. It is my humble opinion that we are not getting sufficiently advanced in that direction to form a useful alliance. I do not believe in paper alliances. They will come naturally when we are ready.[…]

Q. Do you believe the Muslims of India will stick to the irreducible minimum of the Congress demands with the same zeal even after the Khilafat question is settled to their satisfaction?

A. I have not a shadow of doubt in my mind about it, if only because what is gained in the matter of the Khilafat can only be retained by a self-governing India untrammelled by a dictation from Downing Street.19

In spite of his discontent with the Islamic activists in London, Pickthall had not severed all contact. He provided the Islamic Information Bureau’s The Muslim Standard (previously Islamic News) with an extensive obituary note on Saïd Halim Pasha in December 1921, which referred to British “brutality” towards interned Ottoman leaders after the Great War, and noted, “Halim was a steadfast adherent of what the Western detractors of the East call ‘Pan-Islamism’, and what we, the Mussulmans, call ‘Islamic solidarity or fraternity’”.20

Pickthall’s address at the Parsi Assembly Hall, quoted at the outset of this chapter, took place a few months later. The warm reception from the cosmopolitan Bombay audience showed that they had taken him to their bosom, and he reciprocated. His politics were now located within various overlapping circles: the Indian Muslim Khilafat movement, the Hindu-Muslim alliance in the Non-cooperation movement, the “Asiatic” anti-colonialist revival and a Muslim internationalism. He was a unifying figure and much in demand at meetings across India.21 Pickthall had celebrity status and did not disappoint, participating in public meetings clad in “the white Gandhi dress, with the Khilafat badge” on his cap.22


Pickthall’s “extremism” did not go unnoticed in London. The well-respected writer on “Eastern” matters, Valentine Chirol, complained in a letter to The Times of London:

I have before me the latest file of the Bombay Chronicle, the leading organ of Indian extremism, Hindu and Muhammedan, and now under the editorship of a fervent convert to Islam, Mr. Marmaduke Pickthall. […] The leading articles are […] vehement denunciations of Lord Curzon and of British policy, and constant glorification of the Turks, and incidentally of the Bolsheviks.23

Pickthall remained defiant. He saw hope in the victory of the forces led by Mustafa Kemal over the Greeks, and though the Ottoman Sultanate had been abolished (but not yet the office of Caliphate), there was “a great opportunity of revival and reform”.24 He allowed his name to be included in a seven-member delegation the Central Khilafat Committee proposed to despatch to Turkey in May 1924 to “meet the President [Mustafa Kemal] and the members of the Grand National Assembly of Angora, the ‘Ulema and other prominent persons in Turkey and to impress on them the desirability both in the interests of Islam and Turkey to reconsider their decision about the Khilafat”.25 This visit did not come about, either because passports were not issued or the Turks’ refusal to receive them.26
The Raj did what it could to silence the paper. Pickthall’s second letter to E.M. Forster, despatched after reading A Passage to India, described the pressures:

At present we are under menace of extinction. Three officials, with the Government of Bombay behind them, are suing us for defamation, claiming defamation amounting to two and half lakhs. We have put up a defence which would have been conclusive in an English court, where the attempt on the part of a newspaper to perform a public service is a “justifying occasion”. But here there is no statute to guard the proper freedom of the Press, and I am told that it is practically impossible for a judgement to be given in our favour. It is a very interesting experience and the “solidarity” of the flustered English is exactly as described in your book. My complements on your success in portraiture. I do not like your Indians half so well.27

The closing sentence is likely a reference to the opposition of some board members of Bombay Chronicle to the excessive coverage of Khilafatist activities and Gandhi’s Non-cooperation movement. Pickthall had referred to this in his speech at the Parsi Assembly Hall. Pickthall and some colleagues were backed by the “cosmopolitan Bombay” wing of Congress, and opposed by the Brahminical, Maharashtra-based wing.28 The latter were particularly angered by the newspaper’s coverage of the disturbances in Malabar that had involved Muslim Moplah tenant-farmers settling scores with the Hindu landlords.29 Pickthall seemed to exonerate the excesses as “passions of a most excitable people…whose religion was above all sacred”. The newspaper argued that the situation was brought under control by Khilafat workers who had “convinced the Moplahs that non-violent non-cooperation would rid the country and all Islamic countries containing holy places of Islam of foreign domination, and would eventually lead to the restoration of the Turkish Khalifa”.30 Matters soon came to a head: “In 1924, a series of legal disputes and substantial financial losses led to the Chronicle’s takeover by a group considered to be more sympathetic to Maharashtra […] Pickthall resigned along with three other Gandhi loyalists on the board”.31
It is a tribute to Pickthall’s charisma and diplomatic skills that notwithstanding an anti-British stand, he still maintained connections with the Governor of Bombay, Sir Leslie Wilson. Pickthall was offered employment in the “native state” of Hyderabad, the Raj’s terminology for those parts of British India ruled by maharajas and nawabs under the terms of treaty agreements. In order to take up the post, clearance was needed from the powerful Political Resident assigned by the Viceroy to provide oversight on the Nizam of Hyderabad. Pickthall called on Sir Leslie to facilitate the process, who obliged by writing to the Resident in September 1924, in a note resonant of the old boy network:

Mr. Marmaduke Pickthall tells me that there is some prospect of his name being brought forward for a post in the Osmania University but is informed that objection from the Resident is anticipated.

I think it is only fair however to Mr. Pickthall to write you a note about him, and I do so very largely influenced by the fact that the late Colonel Aubrey Herbert MP, who was one of my closest friends, was also a strong personal friend of Mr. Pickthall’s. I believe they were at school and college together.

Pickthall is a gentleman, but almost vehement on Muslim questions being a convert himself. He has dined with me at my house in Bombay with his wife, and personally, I like him. Whilst editor of the Bombay Chronicle on more than one occasion I pointed out the dangers of the line of policy the paper was taking especially during the mill strike of January and February last. I sent for him when he immediately accepted what I said and changed the whole tone.

Pickthall in the Osmania University can, of course, have nothing to do with politics nor do I think, for one moment, he desires to have anything more to do with them in India. If therefore an application comes before you from him to enter the Nizam’s service, I feel sure you will bear this note in mind.32

Soon after this interview, Pickthall’s essay on Hyderabad was published in The Islamic Review, with references to “the British tendency to grab on any legal pretext”, and its use of “guile” in depriving the Nizam of the revenues of the rich province of Berar.33 The Governor perhaps painted Pickthall more politically pliable than he really was.
Pickthall was next called for an interview with the Political Resident:

I showed him [Pickthall] the form of Declaration which is required from European applicants for permission to serve the Nizam, and he said that he would have no hesitation signing it. He informed me that his introduction to Hyderabad was through Mr. Hydari, the Nizam’s Finance Minister, and Mr. Pickthall’s statement bears out what Mr. Hydari has already told me, namely, that before the question of offering him an appointment was considered, he was required by the state authorities to give an undertaking that if he came to Hyderabad he would entirely abstain from politics. […] I see no reason to doubt his intentions to adhere to the declaration which he will have to make. But in view of what has gone before, it is perhaps safer to restrict the period for which consent to his employment is given […]34

Hyderabad was the largest of the princely states and possessed its own currency, the kildar. In Pickthall’s time, the ruler or Nizam of Hyderabad, Mir Osman Ali Khan (born 1886), was the seventh in the Asafiya dynasty. With this “no objection” from the Resident, the way was cleared for him to take up an educational post in Hyderabad, at a starting monthly salary of 1,000 kildars.35 It was also the start of a long working relationship with the politically astute Akbar Nazarali Hydari, a prominent member of the Bombay Muslim elite. The “declaration” which Pickthall was required to sign explicitly banned political activity. Pickthall’s next ten years were significant as an educationalist, man of letters and Quranic scholar.36 However, did he really become a political quietist as demanded by the Declaration, after a life time of activism?

The Nizam and his ministers were adept at charting a political course with care and skill, seeking as much autonomy as possible while avoiding restrictions and interventions by the Political Resident. For example, while Khilafatist activity was banned in the early 1920s, Osman Ali Khan later provided a pension to the exiled Caliph Abdul Majid ii. He was famous for generous donations for the upkeep of the haramain in the Hejaz and when the Syrian population was suffering from French military attacks in 1925, he donated £2,000.37 The Raj’s approach too was subtle, conferring him the title of “His Royal Highness” while also noting his inclination “to support the Islamic power in and outside India”.38

Akbar Hydari, responsible for Pickthall’s employment in Hyderabad, was regarded by the Raj with a mixture of admiration and hostility: he was a “capable Muhammedan gentleman” but “had failed to oppose the Nizam’s malpractices and had provided funds against the Government of India’s intervention policy”.39 Among the funds allocated by Hydari were for the Osmania University, unique as a centre for higher education adopting the Urdu medium of instruction. Its very name linked Hyderabad’s Muslim rule with the Ottomans – Osmanli being a synonym for Ottoman. In one Political Resident’s assessment, Hydari was “a cultivated gentleman […] receptive, clear headed, broad-minded and far-sighted, except where religious questions are involved, than any Indian I have had to deal with”.40 Hydari’s university project was an irritant for the Resident: “He [Hydari] is so obsessed with his ridiculous Osmania University, which he treats as an instrument of Moslem propaganda, that he can’t understand that his shocking waste of educational funds is one of the greatest causes of Hindu resentment”.41 Apart from his responsibilities as a school principal, Pickthall also contributed to the work of the Darul Ta’leef wa Tarjumah (Centre for Translation and Publication), associated with the university.42 A report from the Political Resident grouped Hydari and Pickthall together:

He [the Nizam] was attempting through propaganda to obtain the support of the Muslims of British India, the Indian Princes and also certain persons in England against the Government of India’s intervention policy. The Nizam’s propaganda agents were (1) the notorious Abdullah Khan of Khasmandi […] (2) Syed Sirdar Ali Khan […] (3) Mr. Hydari, the Finance Member and (4) Mr. Marmaduke Pickthall, a convert to Muhammadanism, who was strongly partisan of the Nizam and who was then employed in the Hyderabad Educational Service.43

Pickthall had entered a complicated political milieu, which required him to navigate his way as skilfully as veteran political figures like Hydari and the Nizam.

Among Hydari’s projects was the launching of the journal Islamic Culture, The Hyderabad Quarterly Review, and Pickthall was called on to serve as editor, without, it seems, any reduction in his other responsibilities. The first issue in January 1927 would have been assuring reading for the Political Resident: “The Review was to be purely literary and scientific, eschewing current political and sectarian controversy”.44 When the time came for the Nizam’s office to request a renewal of Pickthall’s employment in 1927, there was no objection from the Political Resident.45 Further extensions were provided in 1929 and 1931. It seems that the authorities had their eyes on short-term political threats, rather than the longer-term challenges, and viewed the intellectual currents within the Muslim world as mere “fatuous propaganda”.46

Pickthall’s lecture series in Madras in 1925 on the theme of religion and culture was published in 1927 as The Cultural Side of Islam – a harmless enough title. However, the contents and message were in keeping with the traditions of revival and reform – tajdid and islah – ever present in Muslim discourse, from maghreb to mashriq.47 In the 1920s and 30s, these included efforts such as Shaikh Ben Badis’s journals Al-Muntaqid (The Critic) and As-Shihab (The Shooting Star), Shakib Arslan’s Our Decline: Its Causes and Remedies, Iqbal’s Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, Muhammad Asad’s Islam at the Crossroads and Maulana Abu Muhammad Musleh’s Tehrik-e ‘Alamgir-e Qur’an (the universal movement for the Quran) – the last of these based in Hyderabad.48 They owed much to the groundwork of an earlier generation of scholar-activists, notably the turn-of-the-century Syrian ‘alim, Abd al-Rahman Al-Kawakibi and the pan-Islamic hero, Afghani.49 Pickthall himself was inspired by Saïd Halim Pasha, who “set forth what the modern State should be according to the Shari‘ah”.50 Pickthall captured the mood of revivalism and reassertion:

Islam offers a complete political and social system as an alternative to socialism, fascism, syndicalism, bolshevism and all other “isms” offered as alternative, to a system which is manifestly threatened with extinction. The system of Islam has the great advantage over all these nostrums, that it has been practised with success – the greater the success the more complete the practice. Every Muslim believes that it must eventually be adopted in its essentials by all nations whether as Muslims or non-Muslims in the technical sense, because its laws are the natural (or divine) laws which govern human progress, and men without the revelation of them, must find their way to them in course of time and painfully, after trying every other way and meeting failure. The system of Islam promises peace and stability where now we see the strife of classes and of nations, and nothing steadfast.51

The conception of Islam as a “system” anticipated the formulation adopted by the Islamic reformist movements two decades or so later.

Pickthall and Saïd Halim Pasha

Pickthall had arrived in Istanbul in 1913 with excellent letters of introduction that gave him access to high-ranking officials, including Saïd Halim Pasha.52 Their first encounter was not particularly auspicious, judging from the gossipy letter Pickthall wrote to Muriel, his wife:

The day before yesterday, in the morning, I was in Stamboul at the Sublime Porte, and had my audience of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Prince Saïd Halim, who is like the German painted Noah’s Ark people to look at – very blue eyes, very brown cheeks, very white collar, very black frock-coat, very red fez which looks like a part of his head, and a cigarette in an amber holder stuck permanently in one cheek. Very neat, correct and automatic in his movements – just like a toy. He was very amiable and Rifaat tells me that he had described me as a charmant homme. That seems to be his phrase for everybody. They say he is a very honest and decent man, but not very brilliant.53

Halim Pasha was also a man of letters, and the last of these remarks suggest that Pickthall may not yet have come across some of his recent writings such as Mukallidliklerimiz (Our Imitations), and Meşrutiyet (Constitutional Rule).54 The foreign minister, together with Enver Pasha and Talaat Pasha, formed the ruling triumvirate of the İttehat ve Terakki Cemiyeti (Committee of Union and Progress, cup) that had just returned to power. It was a time of tensions between the Pan-Islamists within the cup and supporters of “Turkism”: “as long as Saïd Halim remained in power he was an obstacle to the secularizing reforms that the Turkist wing of the cup was pushing for”.55 Moreover, Enver Pasha had a pro-German stance, while Halim Pasha was exploring alliances with England and France – perhaps a reason for seeing his visitor. Pickthall was caught up in the political medley and far from being the politically disinterested observer:

[…] it was the present writer who had strongly supported in 1913 the better suitability of the Prince [Halim Pasha] to the office of the Grand Vezirate against the candidature of the ambitious Talaat Pasha, whose case was pushed forward constantly by the Committee [of Union and Progress] which had then usurped the name of, what was originally, the national Party of the Unity and Progress. I fell out with Prince Saïd Halim shortly before the outbreak of the world war when I saw him allowing himself to fall gradually under the influence of the Committee in spite of the warnings of his old friends. I had, since then, not been on speaking terms with him.56

Perhaps with Halim Pasha in mind, Pickthall also noted that, “as a matter of fact, I think the Committee hopeless, but some of the members worthy of a better cause”.57 The tensions and debates of the time were to be vividly conveyed in The Early Hours, set in the 19081913 period.58 After the Great War, Halim Pasha was interned in harsh conditions in Malta and then allowed to live in Rome, where he was killed by Armenian assassins in 1921. Though he died before the Turkish Assembly’s decisions to sweep away the old order, he was seeking a way out for a reconfigured Islamic polity after the recent debacles:

No doubt considerable and urgent changes will have to be brought about in the legislation of the Empire, if it is to survive in the struggle for existence. But these changes should not consist of a renunciation of the main concepts of Islamism, but their adaptation to the modern conditions of life […] The despotic regimes which in truth succeeded the era of freedom of discourse practiced under the reign of the first four Caliphs […] were a violation of the letter and the spirit of Islam.59

Pickthall also expressed similar hopes in an article in Islamic Review published in November 1923 – the period after the abolishment of the office of Ottoman sultan, but not yet the caliphate:

[But] now, thank Allah, we have been given a great opportunity of revival and reform. The Khilafat of Islam is now no longer identified with a military despotism, nor with the political ambitions of a certain country. It is for us, the Muslims of the world, to make it once more what it ought to be, the standard of Islam […] showing mankind the only way of human progress.60

Pickthall acknowledged his intellectual debt to Halim Pasha in the Madras lectures – though with no hint to their troubled past:

[He was] a man acquainted with the thought of England, France and Germany, as well as with the teaching of the Qur’an and the Holy Prophet, and the commentaries of the learned on that teaching. He was thus well qualified to advise the Muslim world as to its future policy, and his advice was not Auropalaşmaq (Europeanise) but Islamlaşmaq (Islamise).61

Islamlaşmaq was also the title of one of Halim Pasha’s essays – which Pickthall variously described as “remarkable”,62 and an epoch-making work”.63 Pickthall cited it extensively, particularly in the eighth lecture, “The City of Islam”:

The principle points of Prince Saïd Halim’s presentment of the modern Islamic State may be thus summarised. The distinction between secular and religious in matters of administration, education, policy and general dealing has no right whatever to exist in the Islamic State. Where Allah is King the secular becomes religious. All that would remain would be persons specially learned in matters of religion, the reverence paid to whom would be entirely owing to their knowledge as displayed in actual work, from among their number the members of the Legislative body would be elected by the people’s representatives. In short, the first thing to be done is to get rid altogether of that “pseudo-priesthood” to which Saïd Halim refers as the Chief Misleader of the Muslim World.64

Pickthall shared Saïd Halim’s distaste for a “narrow and hidebound” category of ‘ulema, “who sought knowledge only in a limited area, the area of Islam as they conceived it – not the world-wide, liberating and light giving religion of the Qur’an and the Prophet”.65
Halim Pasha’s writings emphasised man’s need for divine guidance because rational endeavour was limited. Without divine guidance,

man would never have known the natural, moral and social laws, on which human happiness depends […] The cardinal point is that authority, the basis of order and stability in society, can only proceed from an incontestable and uncontested source.66

Pickthall endorsed this socio-political function of religion, but provided a sense of the sacred absent in Saïd Halim’s writings. For example, in his reflection on the responsibilities of the head of state, Pickthall observed,

In relation to the people he is an absolute monarch, but in relation to the Shari‘ah he is on a level with his poorest subject, he is merely a Muslim among Muslims, looking forward to the Day of Judgement when he will have to render an account of all his works.67

The lecture “The City of Islam” listed twenty examples of the “basic principles of the Shari‘ah” that would form a basis for the framing of new laws, encompassing civil and gender rights, public morality, military aspects and foreign affairs. For those living in the charmed world of Hyderabad, a kingdom the size of France, with its own currency and railway system, and a Muslim ruler doing much for religious causes, the project of a society founded on Islamic principles perhaps seemed within grasp. The Nizam himself would describe his dominion as “the largest Islamic state”.68

Pickthall was directly responsible for bringing Halim Pasha to an Urdu-reading public. The essay in the opening issue of Islamic Culture in January 1927, “The Reform of Muslim Society, by the late Prince Saïd Halim Pasha”, was translated by the Darul Ta’leef wa Tarjuma and published in 1928 as “Khudah ki badshahat” – the Kingdom of God, with a foreword by Pickthall.69 The translation to Urdu was undertaken by Syed Hashmi Fareedabadi, Pickthall’s “close personal friend”.70 Iqbal – who was invited to deliver the Madras lectures after Pickthall – referred to Saïd Halim Pasha in his famous epic poem in Persian, Javid Nama published in 1932, though whether this was a result of Pickthall’s earlier lecture is not known.

The press reportage and word-of-mouth communications of the time may well have inspired other Muslim activists of the period to retain the vision of an Islamic polity and Islamic state. For example, also associated with Darul Ta’leef was Maulana Abu Muhammad Musleh, founder of the journal Tarjuman al-Qur’an, launched in Hyderabad in 1932. The Tarjuman included a section entitled Hukumat-e Ilahi (Governance by Divine Laws), which followed the line of Pickthall and Halim Pasha on the sovereignty of the Shariah: “Religion is just another term for governance by Divine laws (hukumat-e ilahi). Shari‘at means a corpus of laws that are a necessary requisite for such governance”.71 This editorial line was pursued by Abul A‘la Maududi when he took over as owner-editor of the journal from Maulana Musleh a year later.72

Pickthall had also been occupied on his translation of the Quran, which by 1928 was a third complete. He applied for two years leave from Hyderabad’s Department of Education and was given the sabbatical at full pay.73 When the translation was published it did not shy away from recognising aspects of an Islamic polity: it included several references to the responsibilities of the “State”, as well as the Prophet’s role serving as “head of state”, giving “guidance to a growing social and political community”, and “laying down a constitution”.74 The work was well-received in Hyderabad, with Tarjuman al-Qur’an publishing a complementary review by Pickthall’s friend Hashmi Fareedabadi.75

Reviving the Khilafat?

On his return from the sabbatical in 1930, Pickthall resumed his educational and editorial duties. Later in the year he was called on to serve as secretary to Hyderabad’s delegation to the discussions on constitutional reforms convened in London. The delegation left Bombay in September, led by Sir Akbar Hydari (knighted in 1928).76 The Nizam charged his representatives with a delicate balancing act: to ensure Hyderabad’s internal autonomy was preserved in any new constitutional arrangement without jeopardising the proposed federal structure of an independent India. Pickthall was to be very discreet of his role at this “First Round Table Conference”, though he must have been privy to the confidential discussions:

In the case of advisors, the limitations of space make it necessary to restrict the number of secretaries present at the meetings of the Conference and its Committees, in this case to three. It is understood that the following have been deputed as secretaries

Mr. k.m. pannikerMr. m. pickthallMr. n.s. sabha rao77
Pickthall appears to have irked the Conference organisers, because the official records refer to him in surprisingly intemperate terms, “the reports of the doings of the Hyderabad Delegation by their Secretary, that fatuous creature Marmaduke Pickthall, were so bad that one couldn’t follow their work at all […]”.78

During his stay in London, Pickthall characteristically resumed contact with the Muslim community and also provided advice on the mosque projects. He was keen to ensure that the funds for a mosque in the East End were retained separately from the “Nizam’s Mosque Fund”, so that there would be “a memorial to the late Mr. Sayyid Ameer Ali”.79

The Nizam and Sir Akbar Hydari had other plans for Pickthall on his return. These required sanction from the Political Resident, who in turn referred the matter to Delhi in July, 1931:

Pickthall’s term of appointment as Principal, Government High School, Hyderabad, will expire on the 6 January, 1932, and the Nizam’s Government have written to ask for permission for the extension of his services for a further period of three years at the end of which the matter could be further considered. It may be mentioned that the Nizam’s Government propose to establish a Publicity Bureau in the Hyderabad State and that an article has appeared in the Mushir-i-Deccan of Hyderabad of the 14 June 1931, that Pickthall is to be appointed Publicity Officer in addition to his own duties as Principal of the Chadarghat High School.80

The response was positive. Preparations were also afoot for Pickthall to accompany the Nizam’s sons on a tour of Europe, including performing the Hajj on the return journey.81 Their journey may have been timed to coincide with the second of the Round Table Conferences, scheduled to start in London in September 1931. Pickthall was no longer the Hyderabad delegation’s secretary – those who considered him the “fatuous creature” may have had a word in high places.

However, an amazing episode befitting an adventure novel now intervened. The former Ottoman Caliph-Sultan, living in exile in southern France, had been receiving a pension from the Nizam. It seems that at the suggestion of Maulana Shaukat Ali, the former Khilafatist leader and brother of Mohamed Ali Jauhar, the possibility arose of the marriage of Abdul Majid’s daughter, Princess Durru Shehvar, with the Nizam’s elder son and heir, Azam Jah. Akbar Hydari and Pickthall were soon to be despatched on an even more delicate mission than the earlier First Round Table Conference.

It is a moot point whether the idea to link Hyderabad’s Asifiya dynasty with the royal Ottoman family was Shaukat Ali’s or the Nizam’s himself. It may have emerged in the course of one of their meetings, as Shaukat Ali recalled in a newspaper article,

In the course of the conversation when I referred to the Turkish Princess, the Khalifa’s daughter; the Nizam himself asked me how I liked the idea of his son marrying the Khalif’s daughter: this enquiry was as I had contemplated. I assured the Nizam that the proposal was an excellent one. I left him at midday. The Nizam […] directed me to try my best to bring about this relationship and afterwards wrote to me. He also issued similar instructions to Mr. Marmaduke Pickthall and Sir Akbar Hydari.82

Sir Terence Keyes, the Political Resident, seemed to have some inkling on what was afoot, but his note to Delhi reflects the way the Raj saw the basest intentions in others:

An extraordinary development has taken place. Shaukat Ali, who I thought had merely come here to cadge money and try to commit the Nizam politically, really came as a marriage broker on behalf of the ex-Sultan of Turkey […] Prince Ahmed Tevhid, the Sultan’s nephew, who was here the other day and is probably coming back again, has not yet seen His Exalted Highness [the Nizam].[…] Would you kindly let me know if there is any objection to His Exalted Highness entering into more direct negotiations with the ex-Caliph. He pays him a pension of course. He confided in Hydari before he sailed, and I think that Shaukat Ali is on the same ship.83

Pickthall would have accompanied Hydari and Shaukat Ali, making it his second trip within a year. Though the Political Resident was well informed, apparently the word had not been passed on to the Foreign Office in London. It was caught unawares, only realising what was happening after a call in early October from the Turkish ambassador, Ahmed Ferit Bey:

His Excellency said that Shaukat Ali, who he described as an adventurer and of Syrian origin, was seeking to invoke a pan-Moslem conference in Palestine. Part of the programme of this conference would be to choose a Caliph. Shaukat Ali, the Ambassador said, had had many conversations at Nice with the former Caliph, Abdul Majid, who now resides there, and it was Shaukat Ali’s design to link up the Indian Moslem princes and Abdul Majid.84

At the same time, the Political Resident was advising Delhi as follows, “the Government of India should not put any obstacle in the way of the marriage is the opinion very strongly held by me as by this the whole Moslem world would be antagonised”.85 Meanwhile, Hydari and Pickthall were having meetings with Abdul Majid ii’s representatives in London. Both the ex-Caliph and the Nizam seemed to be entering a business transaction rather than cementing a matrimonial alliance, with cables exchanged to and fro between Hydari and the Nizam on the terms of the dowry, the value of the trousseau, allowances, clauses in case of a divorce and rights of succession.86 The latter at the time was reputed to be amongst the richest in the world. The Nizam even broke off the negotiations with the ex-Caliph, whom he referred to as the Khalifa, over the financial terms, but then offered a way out through Akbar Hydari and Pickthall’s intervention:

[…] it is absolutely necessary for you [Hydari] to go yourself to Nice in company of Pickthall and to find out what is the Khalifa’s explanation on this subject as his envoys refused to take to him my decision on the matter […] You should ask the Khalifa to give me this assurance in writing and signed by him in the shape of a letter addressed to me.87

Hydari and Pickthall duly arrived in Nice (staying at the Hotel Ngresco), and their diplomatic skills breached the rift. The ex-Caliph wrote back – signing himself as Khalifa – to the Nizam in conciliatory terms: “after the communication made to me by Sir Akbar Hydari and Mr. Pickthall. I am happy to address myself direct to my brother”.88 This was followed by a more detailed letter that Pickthall may well have drafted, cognisant of his patron’s temperament:

[…] Feeling sure that Your Exalted Highness, who has such high ideals and qualities, will consider my daughter as his own daughter and will do everything that is necessary for the honour and prestige of both parties, I think it is unnecessary to discuss such [financial] matters. As Sir Akbar Hydari and Mr. Pickthall suggested to me, I write direct to Your Exalted Highness […] Your Exalted Highness being the model of fatherly affection will understand the feelings of a father. I hereforth confide my daughter first to the safekeeping of Almighty God and afterwards to Your fatherly protection. And I leave it to Your Exalted Highness, My august brother, to arrange everything in accordance with the dignity of our two houses.89

The Nizam’s heir apparent Azam Jah had arrived in Nice, accompanied with his younger brother, Muazzam Jah. Fortunately Azam Jah and the princess took a liking for each other. At the same time, Muazzam was considered a suitable husband for Abdul Majid ii’s niece. The double marriage took place on 12 November 1931 in Nice, with the ex-Caliph himself performing the Nika. The signatories to the wedding contract included members of the Ottoman royal family as well as Hydari, Pickthall and Trench, and the British Consul in Nice, Wiseman Keogh. Also present at the ceremony were Lady Hydari and Muriel Pickthall.90 The Nizam raised the pension he was conferring on the ex-Caliph forthwith. In a photograph taken on the wedding day Pickthall can be seen standing by Sir Akbar Hydari, who donned the traditional Bohra turban for the occasion (Figure 5.1).

The Foreign Office was sanguine about the developments, unlike the Government of India. For the former, there was as much need to be alarmed as the French government might be “if a Parma prince marries a princess of the House of Orleans”.91 For Delhi, and Sir Terence Keyes in Hyderabad, it was a problem, and those responsible were pin-pointed:

I believe that Pickthall and Shaukat Ali were actually working for the Nizam to become Khalifa of Islam, on the ex-Khalifa’s death; and hoped to make it certain by the Turkish marriages. I also believe that, though he [the Nizam] may have toyed with the idea for a time, he has dropped it. There has been a very considerable number of articles not only in the vernacular Press throughout India, but in English papers also referring to the prospect of the Khalifate being revived in the person of Hyderabad or his eldest son. […] Ridiculous as it may seem, this foolish intrigue has caused some uneasiness in Turkey, though it can have but a passing interest. In India, however, the consequences of a more open revival of the scheme would be much more serious.92

Pickthall’s duties were not over after the wedding. He was given the task of dissuading the ex-Caliph from accompanying the royal party back to Hyderabad, because this had been vetoed by the Political Resident.93 He also had to organise their travel arrangements from Marseilles to Bombay, and was “commanded” to accompany them.94 The intention to break the journey in the Hejaz for a pilgrimage was no longer possible because of an outbreak of cholera in the region.
How far did Pickthall subscribe to Shaukat Ali’s ambitions for a revival of the caliphate via the Asifiya House? Further archival research is awaited, and while it is true that he “became a courtier”,95 there is perhaps more to his Hyderabad legacy than that. He was to continue working in Hyderabad a further four years, happy in his contributions to the State’s educational work and also editing Islamic Culture. He applied for retirement in 1934, which was granted via a firman from the Nizam. Pickthall left Hyderabad in January 1935, and the State allocated a monthly state pension of 500 kildars.96 He continued for a while his association with Islamic Culture and the State. His article on Hyderabad in the widely-read Geographical Magazine included tributes to Akbar Hydari and the Nizam, but also forebodings of the future: “It would be indeed a calamity if the Nizam’s prestige, which means so much to India in the way of culture and stability, were to be thrown into the political hotchpot”.97 Retirement did not mean an end to his concern for the umma. For example, in June 1935, a year before his demise, Pickthall wrote to his friend Sir Nizamat Jung in Hyderabad:

The only great Islamic project which I have in view – it cannot really be called a project, rather a desire – is to do something towards welding together, consolidating and strengthening in zeal the large Muslim population left in Hungary, Poland and Yugoslavia. Budapest should be the focus, and the point of wedge into Europe.98

Perhaps this was the project that Pickthall and Aubrey Herbert had been discussing in 1920, but was curtailed by the move to India.

The Ebb and Flow of Allegiances

The term “loyal enemy” is one that is often applied to Pickthall. It was the title selected by Anne Fremantle for her biography, drawing on Aubrey Herbert’s description of Pickthall as “England’s most loyal enemy”.99 Aubrey Herbert was a close friend of Pickthall’s and his assessment would not have been made lightly. Many have followed Anne Fremantle’s footsteps and invoked these form of words. Sarah Pickthall, for example, provides moving evocations of her great-uncle’s life in her website www.loyalenemy.co.uk.100 Similarly, Jamie Gilham’s study on British converts to Islam, which includes a fulsome account of Pickthall’s political activities, is entitled “Loyal Enemies”.101 He notes the observation of a Scotland Yard intelligence chief, “Pickthall may be regarded as somewhat of a crank, but in all probability, at heart he is a loyal British subject”.102 Another distinguished Pickthall biographer, Peter Clark, refers to Pickthall’s sympathy with the “benevolent despotism” of British rule in Egypt in the 1906–7 period.103

Pickthall’s early record does suggest an ambiguity that was shared with Muslim contemporaries. His decision to put on a British army uniform in 1918 is an example – he could have claimed exemption as a conscientious objector, but did not. Other prominent Muslims active in the Woking Mosque and London Prayer House took similar steps to Pickthall’s. For example, Abdullah Yusuf Ali, obtaining early retirement from the Indian Civil Service, joined the West Kent Fusiliers in 1914 and was a willing volunteer in the British propaganda effort during the rest of the Great War; similarly Khalid Sheldrake, vice-president of the Central Islamic Society was a sergeant in the Royal Defence Corps.104 The circumstances and pressures of that period are difficult to envisage today, but what remains odd is Pickthall’s justification. He claimed that he put on the uniform in 1918 because of faith in the pledges made by the British government relating to Ottoman territories.105 This was disingenuous, because by 1918 it was clear that the British, in providing military backing to the Arab Revolt from 1917, had broken their pledge of non-interference in the Caliph’s authority in the jaziratul Arab.106 The inner voice and good judgement can ebb and flow depending on circumstances and one’s own volition. There is a natural inclination for past deeds to be remembered in a sympathetic light. This is akin to Yusuf Ali’s claim in 1925 to have played a part in the “inception of the Khilafat movement”, for which there is no evidence.107

The term “loyal enemy” may apply to Pickthall during the Great War and immediately afterwards, but his actions subsequently point to a rupture. His journey from England to India was more than a geographical one. It was also accompanied by an unequivocal allegiance to the interests of the “South” rather than the “North”, be it Muslims, Indians, Asia, the East. He certainly did not feel himself bound by the declaration the Raj required to sign in 1925 to abstain from “politics” in Hyderabad. If Britain had not stood by its pledges to Indian Muslims, why should he? Aubrey Herbert died in 1923, so in making his oft-quoted description he would not have known of Pickthall’s political course in the years that followed.

Whether in preceding decades or the last twenty or so years of his life, Pickthall’s inner voice was a deeply religious and humane one. Even prior to embracing Islam, he had fasted on the day of his marriage in respect of the sacred sacrament. Among the oft-repeated phrases in khutbas and lectures to Muslim audiences was “Die before you die”, indicating submission to God and the need to distance from worldly pomp and show. Speaking of the Prophet, he said “I have come to love him as one loves a friend”.108 As a teenager travelling in the Levant, he wished “to understand how the poor Syrian viewed the world”. He retained this concern for the less fortunate: in 1932, when approached in Hyderabad for help in raising funds for a mosque in London, he noted how the “poor people of the country are as much forgotten as the poor Muslims in the East End of London”.109 With his acquaintanceship of the likes of E.M. Forster and reputation as a novelist, he could easily have slipped into the agnostic Bloomsbury set, but his religious values and social conscience led him to a different path. Would a person with such noble instincts be Janus-like with respect to political allegiances?

The distinct nature of Pickthall’s trajectory from the 1920s onwards is apparent if compared to Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s life and experiences. Abdullah Yusuf Ali also left England for India in 1920. He too had a tinge of regret about the Great War, which was “supposed to have killed Imperialism, Militarism and Racial Domination”, but held store that “the British Democracy and the British people” would do “justice to India”.110 Pickthall called on Indians not to follow “foreign doctrines”; Yusuf Ali “knew no institutions more responsive to local needs than British institutions”.111 Where Pickthall looked to Halim Pasha for inspiration, Yusuf Ali, in his essay “The Religious Polity of Islam” referred to the Egyptian shaikh Ali Abdul Raziq’s Al-Islam-wa-usul-ul-hukum, “in which he argues strongly in favour of the separation of Church and State in Islam”.112 While Pickthall was becoming a strong advocate of an Islamic polity based on the Shariah, Yusuf Ali continued to support Britain’s proposals for Indian constitutional reform and speaking up in support of actions that would “help promote British and Indian unity”.113 The tragedy for Yusuf Ali was that in spite of being loyal, he was betrayed by the Empire he loved. In the first of his spells at Islamia College, the Raj placed an English undercover intelligence officer on his staff, who assumed the identity of an Oxford graduate specialising in English literature. The principal “was so enraptured by the charm and confidence of his protégé that he never thought to seek official corroboration of his Oxford qualification”.114 Yusuf Ali was in anguish on discovering of the Peel Commission’s plans to partition Palestine and create a Jewish state in the more fertile areas – in his view a breach of the terms of the British mandate.115 Pickthall was perhaps more astute in abandoning any expectation of honourable conduct by the British government by the 1920s.

However, political allegiances are not a measure of personal piety, a sense of the sacred or even social conscience. Both men were dedicated to making the Quran accessible to an English-reading public. Similarly both were dedicated to the cause of educational upliftment of Muslims, with Pickthall serving as headmaster at the Chadarghat High School from 1925–1928, and Yusuf Ali as principal of Islamia College in Lahore from 1925–1927 and also 1935–1937. Yet, there are interconnections between a religious perspective and political outlook.

Towards the end of his novel The Early Hours Pickthall presents a dialogue between the brave and stoical Ottoman soldier Camruddin, a supporter of the cup, and his wife Gul-raaneh, who disapproves of such politics:

“What is the goal of life, in your opinion?” asked Gul-raaneh scornfully; but she sat down before him.

“It is surely not communion with a fellow-creature [Camdruddin replies]. That search must end in disappointment always. The soul of every living man and woman is solitary from the cradle to the grave unless it finds, by service, that communion with Allah for which, in truth, it was created. When that is found it is at one with all the other servants of Allah, but not before”.

“So you are a Sufi, are you?” said Gul-raaneh, interested.116

Camruddin did not reply. If this was Pickthall’s voice as well, then the silence is not surprising: for him and like-minded Muslim reformer-revivalists, religiosity is not just about personal salvation but service to the collective, including its socio-political dimension.
Figure 5.1
Figure 5.1

Group photo of the wedding of ex-Caliph Abdul Majid ii’s daughter Princess Durru Shehvar, with the Nizam’s elder son and heir, Azam Jah. Pickthall is seen standing by Sir Akbar Hydari (wearing traditional Bohra Muslim headgear) November 1931

1Mister Pickthall ki ma‘arkat-e aalara taqrir” (Mr. Pickthall’s momentous speech), Muslim, 8 April 1922, 5; translation from the Urdu by the author. The meeting was organised by the Bombay Parsi Association on 4 April and presided by S.R. Bumanji. The editor of Muslim throughout the weekly’s life from 1921 to 1923 was Abul A‘la Maududi (born 1903). Archival copies are held at the Library, Islamic Foundation, Markfield, Leicestershire. The Quranic verse invoked by Pickthall is “Verily God is with the steadfast”.
2Khursheed Kamal Aziz, “Treaty (Sèvres) of Peace with Turkey, 10 August 1920”, in The Indian Khilafat Movement, 1915–1933, A Documentary Record (Karachi: Pak Publishers, 1972), 149–64.
3Gail Minault, The Khilafat Movement, Religious Symbolism and Political Mobilisation in India (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), 52.
4Pickthall’s regret for putting on a British army uniform was first expressed in his article “Endurance and Sacrifice”, The Islamic Review, viii, 1 (January 1920), 17–18.
5Jamie Gilham, Loyal Enemies, British Converts to Islam, 1850–1950 (London: Hurst, 2014), 225. Pickthall has also been described as the Bureau’s “Honorary Secretary” – see The National Archives (tna), FO371/5202 (1920).
6For example, “England’s Honour and the Muslims”, Daily Mail, 9 September 1919.
7Letter to the Armenian Bureau of London, dated 16 October 1919, in response to its claim that “under the Qur’an strictly interpreted, every Christian is an outlaw and can be killed on sight”. Armenian Review, 37, 3–147 (Autumn 1984), 67–70.
8Aziz, The Indian Khilafat Movement, 268, 54–8.
9For Pickthall’s support of the Indian Khilafat delegation to London see Gilham, Loyal Enemies, 228–29. The delegation was closely monitored by Scotland Yard, who noted two meetings with Pickthall, on 29 February and 23 April 1920 – see India Office Records (ior), L/P&S/18, B361.
10Anne Fremantle, Loyal Enemy (London: Hutchinson, 1938), 306–307.
11Fremantle, Loyal Enemy, 314. Aubrey Herbert MP (1880–1923) lobbied for Albania to be accepted in the League of Nations in 1920. There were moves to crown him King of Albania.
12ior, L/J & P (S)/416, 1916.
13Peter Clark, Marmaduke Pickthall: British Muslim (London: Quartet, 1986), 78.
14For example, see Islamic News, April 7 1921: “Nothing can be done without funds. The honour of Islam must be defended”. It is likely that similarly worded appeals were published during Pickthall’s tenure as editor a year earlier. The author is grateful to F. Dawji for archival copies of the bulletin.
15King’s College Archives, EMF/18/430.
16Milton Israel, Communications and power: propaganda and the press in the Indian nationalist struggle (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press 1994), 216. Milton states that The Bombay Chronicle was founded in 1907. However the masthead of an archival copy seen by the author indicates “Founded by Sir Pherozshah Mehta in 1913”, (X, 32, 7 February 1922). This masthead also states: “Edited by B.G. Horniman, 1913–19”, and “Conducted [sic] by Marmaduke Pickthall and Syed Abdullah Brelvi”. The author is grateful to Professor Ebrahim Moosa for this archival copy.
17Non-Cooperation in Congress Week, with a Foreword by Marmaduke Pickthall (Bombay: The National Literature Publishing Company 1921). Pickthall states that the quotation is “from an article which appeared in ‘The Chronicle of 8 January’”.
18The Bombay Chronicle, 7 February 1922.
19Ibid.; the text states, “the imperialism of the Western nation” – “nation” in the singular.
20The Muslim Standard, 22 December 1921.
21For example in July 1922 Pickthall presided over the Sind Khilafat Conference, remarking, “I know there are some people who think it wrong for Muslims to accept the leadership of a Hindu. But I think that a Hindu saint who lives upon a higher plane is a better guide for Muslims than a Muslim sinner who lives upon a lower plane, for upon the higher plane there is but one law for Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Jews or any man and that law is the divine law revealed in the Qur’an-e Sharif” – see Afzal Iqbal’s The life and times of Mohamed Ali (Lahore: Institute of Islamic Culture, 1973), 290–91.
22Fremantle, Loyal Enemy, 366.
23The Times, 27 January 1923, letter entitled “The Turks and Lausanne”.
24“The True Khilafat”, The Islamic Review, xi, 11 (November 1923), 391.
25Muhammad, Adi Shan, Unpublished letters of the Ali Brothers (Delhi: Idarah-i Adabiyat, 1979), 244–245; see letter from Maulana Shaukat Ali, dated 2 May 1924, to the Deputy Secretary, Home Department, Government of India, applying for passports for the members of the delegation. In addition to Pickthall, these were: Dr. Mukhtar Ahmed Ansari, Hakim Mohammed Ajmal Khan, Maulvi Mufti Kifayatullah, Maulana Sulaiman Nadvi, Mr. Tassaduq Ahad Khan Sherwani and Chaudhri Khaliquzzaman.
26Minault, The Khilafat Movement, 204.
27Kings College Archives, EMF/18/430. Pickthall’s letter to Forster is dated 18th July 1924.
28Israel, Communications and power, 230.
29Minault, The Khilafat Movement, 147. Minault describes the unrest: “besides estates and plantations, a number of Hindu temples were put to the torch, and the ranks of believers were swelled by means of the sword […] the government added to its share in the loss of life when, on November 21, 1921, a group of one hundred convicted Mapilla prisoners were herded into a box car for transport to jail. When the train reached its destination, fifty-six had died of asphyxiation and eight more later succumbed”.
30Israel, Communications and power, 231.
31Ibid., 231.
32ior, R/1/4/1027, 1926. Wilson’s recipient was Sir Lennox Russell, Political Resident at Hyderabad. The letter is dated 19 September 1924.
33“Islamic Tolerance in India”, The Islamic Review, xii, 12, (December 1924), 433.
34ior, R/1/4/1027, 1926. The Political Resident to S.B.A. Patterson, Political Secretary to the Government of India, Foreign and Political Department, Delhi. The letter is dated 25 March 1925.
35Ashraf, Sayyid Daud, Behruni Arbab-i-Kamal Aur Hyderabad (Men of achievement from abroad and Hyderabad) (Hyderabad: Shugoofa Publications, 2005), 273–74.
36Clark, Marmaduke Pickthall, 5968.
37For the Nizam’s donations for the repair of the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, see ior, L/P&S/10/1141, p. 656, note dated 30 May 1927; for details of donations to Syria and Damascus in 1925 see ior, R/1/4/2173 (2), Telegram R. No. 1971, 7 December 1931.
38ior, R/1/1/2425, File No. 373-P (Secret), 1933, 28.
39ior, R/1/5/66, Hyderabad Political Notebook 1919–1945; the quotation is from the Political Resident, Sir William Barton, to the Government of India (Delhi).
40ior, File No. 169-P./Sec of 1931. Foreign and Political Department Notes. Serial Nos. 1–7, 12.
41Ibid., 5.
42Shafqat Husain Razawi, “Darul Ta’leef wa Tarjumah, Jamia University Hyderabad, India”, Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society, xliv (October 1996), 355. Pickthall was a co-translator of Jean Overet’s Histoire de l’Empire ottoman.
43ior, R/1/5/66, Hyderabad Political Notebook 1919–1945, 15.
44Islamic Culture, Hyderabad, January 1927.
45It appears that in 1927 the extension was for another three or four years, as the next renewal came up in 1931 – see ior, R/1/1/2143, 1931.
46“Fatuous” was the term ascribed to Pickthall in an India Office minute – see n. 78.
47For an elaboration on tajdid and islah, see the entry “Revival and Reform” by Ebrahim Moosa and Sherali Tareen in The Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought, (Princeton University Press, 2012). The themes in the Madras lectures were frequently elaborations of Pickthall’s talks published in the The Islamic Review, Woking, 1917–1919.
48For a further elaboration of these connections see the author’s forthcoming Facets of Faith – Bennabi and Abul A‘la Maududi, Early Life and Selected Writings, Islamic Book Trust, Kuala Lumpur.
49Al-Kawakibi (died 1902) was author of Umm al-Qura, a treatise that provided an analytical framework for examining the conditions in the Muslim world – for details see J.G. Rahme, “Abdal Rahman Al-Kawakibi’s reformist ideology, Arab pan-Islamism and the internal other”, in the Journal of Islamic Studies, 10, 2 (1999): 159–177. See also Muhammad Rashid Nadvi, “Abd al-Rahman Al-Kawakibi aur in ka tashna ta ‛beer khwab”, Ma‛arif, no. 188, 448–59.
50Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall, The Cultural Side of Islam. First published in 1927. The citations here and subsequently are from the reprint published in 2007 by the Idara Isha’at-e Dinaiyat, Delhi. The quotation is from the first in the series of lectures, “Islamic Culture”, LXVIII.
51Pickthall, Cultural Side of Islam, 1516.
52Muhammad Haneef Shahid, Writings of Muhammad Marmaduke William Pickthall (Lahore: Ashraf, 2003), ix. This is a compilation of various essays from The Islamic Review Islamic Culture and other sources.
53Ibid., 281.
54Mukallidliklerimiz and Meşrutiyet were published in 1910 and 1911 respectively; see Syed Tanvir Wasti, “Saïd Halim Pasha – Philosopher Prince”, Middle Eastern Studies, 44, 1, (January 2008): 85–104.
55Ahmet Seyhun, “Saïd Halim Pasha: an Ottoman statesman and Islamist thinker (1865–1921). Ph.D diss., McGill University, 2002.
56The Muslim Standard, 22 December 1921.
57Shahid, Writings of Muhammad Marmaduke William Pickthall, 293.
58The novel was written in 1921 and published in 1922. For details, see the foreword by Abdal Hakim Murad to The Early Hours, A novel by Marmaduke Pickthall (Cambridge: The Muslim Academic Trust, 2010). A passage notes, “There were some men, by nature purely imitative – the same who at first had wished to imitate the manners of the Franks too closely – who now, perceiving that unbridled nationalism was beloved of Europe, turned from the Muslim aim at universal brotherhood and remembered that they, too, possessed a nationality” (248).
59L’Empire Ottoman et la Guerre Mondiale (Istanbul: Isis Press, 2000), 101. Translated from the French by the author. This essay by Halim Pasha was written shortly prior to his death.
60Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall, “The True Khilafat”, The Islamic Review, xi, 11 (November 1923), 391.
61Pickthall, Cultural Side of Islam, 130.
62Ibid., 37.
63Islamic Culture,i (January 1927), 111. Islamlaşmaq was translated from the French to Turkish by Mehmet Akif for the journal Sebilürreşad in 1918–1919.
64Pickthall, Cultural Side of Islam, 141. The eighth lecture’s title mirrors St Augustine’s “The City of God”.
65Pickthall, Cultural Side of Islam, 33. The Hyderabadi ‘alim Maulana Zauq Ali Shah criticised Pickthall in Tarjuman al-Qur’an (Feb. 1933) for his claim in the Madras lectures that the Qur’an does not make obedience to the Prophet essential for salvation. Pickthall responded the next month in Urdu with supporting verses from the Qur’an concluding: “kindly do not diminish the Qur’an’s grandeur by associating it with sectarian narrow-mindedness”.
66“The Reform of Muslim Society by The Late Prince Saïd Halim Pasha”, Islamic Culture, i (January 1927), 114–15.
67Pickthall, Cultural Side of Islam, 133.
68ior, R/1/1/2781; Political Resident to the Political Secretary, Government of India, 19 December 1935.
69Islamic Culture, ii (January 1928), 159–60. This was originally “Les Institutions politiques dans la société musulman” – see Wasti, “Saïd Halim Pasha – Philosopher Prince”, 97. It is likely that the translation from French to English was by Pickthall. The Islamic Culture’s review commended the publication, “every educated Muslim ought to have a copy of it”.
70Archives of the East London Mosque Trust (elmt), CR/0002; see letter from Pickthall to A.S.M. Anik, 17 February 1931.
71Tarjuman al-Qur ’an, October-November 1932, 41.
72Abul A‘la Maududi became owner-publisher of Tarjuman al-Qur’an in 1933. In addition to the quotation from the Muslim at the start of this chapter, Maududi cited Pickthall’s account of killings of Muslim civilians in Thrace in Al-Jihad fi al-Islam, (first published in 1930); see edition published by Markazi Maktabah-e Islami, Delhi, 1979, 571.
73Ashraf, Behruni Arbab-i-Kamal Aur Hyderabad, 273–78.
74See the Introduction, The Meaning of the Glorious Koran; also the introductory note to Surah Tahrim and footnotes to verses 8:41 and 59:7.
75Tarjuman al-Qur’an, March-April 1933. The reviewer noted that “the efforts of Pickthall Sahib are the best possible available at the present time”.
76ior, R/1/5/66, Hyderabad Political Notebook, 1919–1945; Sir Akbar Hydari was deemed “Official Delegate”, with three advisors: Sir Richard Chevenix Trench and Nawab (later Sir) Mehdi Yar Jung and Sir Amin Jung.
77ior, L/P&S/13/602, 340.
78ior, File No. 169-P/Sec of 1931. Foreign and Political Department Notes. Serial Nos. 1–7, 1.
79ELMT/CR/0002; Pickthall’s letter to Mr. S.M. Anik, 17 February 1931. Pickthall also mentions that he was sent off at Victoria Station by Khalid Sheldrake, prominent in British Muslim activities.
80ior, R/1/1/2143, 1931. Letter from the Resident to Sir Charles Watson, 2 July 1931.
81Ibid., letter from Political Resident to the Political Secretary, Government of India, 15 August 1931.
82ior, R/2/73/101, 1931; “Translation of Moulana Showketh Ali’s letter from England published in the Rahber-i-Deccan of the 22 November 1931”.
83Ibid., letter from Sir Terence Keyes, Political Resident, to Sir Charles Watson, Political Secretary, Government of India, Delhi, dated 20 August, 1931.
84ior, R/1/1/2173 (2), 1931; letter from G.W. Rendel of the Foreign Office to the Under-Secretary of State, India Office. The Turkish ambassador was ill-informed because Shaukat Ali was not of Syrian-origin, but from Rampur in India. Perhaps he was thinking of Shakib Arslan!
85ior, R/2/73/101; Sir Terence Keyes to Sir Charles Watson, 3 October 1931.
86Ibid., Sir Akbar Hydari’s cable to the Nizam, 13 October 1931. The clause on the rights of succession stated that it would be “in all circumstances on male issue of the marriage”.
87Ibid., The Nizam’s cable to Sir Akbar Hydari, 17 October 1931.
88Ibid., Caliph Abdul Majid to His Exalted Highness the Nizam, dated 23 October 1931.
89Ibid., The ex-Caliph Abdul Majid ii’s cable to the Nizam, 27 October 1931.
90The Times (London), 13 November 1931. Muriel’s presence suggests that she, like her husband, had a sociable and gregarious side.
91ior, R/1/1/2173 (2), 1931; remark by George Rendel.
92ior, Hyderabad Political Notebook, Volume ii, (1919–1945); p125. Cited as “Important parts of a letter No. 788-R [C], dated the 19 May 1933”, from the Resident, Sir Terence Keyes, to the Political Department. The reference is to H.A.R. Gibb’s book published in 1932.
93ior, R/2/73/101; Political Resident to the Nizam, letter dated 5 December 1931.
94ior, R/2/73/101; Hydari’s cable to the Nizam, 28 October 1931.
95Clark, Marmaduke Pickthall, 60.
96Ashraf, Behruni Arbab-i-Kamal Aur Hyderabad, 280. A facsimile of the Nizam’s firman is provided on p. 282.
97Marmaduke Pickthall, “Hyderabad, the Heart of India”, Geographical Magazine, no. 6, 1936, 420.
98Zahir Ahmed, “Life’s Yesterdays, Glimpses of Sir Nizamat Jung and his Times” (Bombay: Thaker & Co, 1945), 36.
99Fremantle, Loyal Enemy, 7.
100The strap line of Sarah Pickthall’s site is “Loyal Enemy, Inspired by the life of Marmaduke Pickthall”.
101Gilham, Loyal Enemies.
102Ibid., 228.
103Clark, Marmaduke Pickthall, 16.
104For Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s war record see M.A. Sherif’s Searching for Solace, A Biography of Abdullah Yusuf Ali (Kuala Lumpur: Islamic Book Trust, 1994); for Khalid Sheldrake’s role, see tna, fo 371/3060/16759, letter dated 26 August 1917.
105“Endurance and Sacrifice”, The Islamic Review,viii, 1 (January 1920), 16; see also the extract from Pickthall’s speech at the Parsi Assembly Hall in 1922 at the outset of this chapter.
106The British press began reporting a British military presence in and around the Hejaz from 1916 – see Daily Mail, 23 June 1916 and Times, 9 January 1917, 9 October 1917.
107In his presidential address at the All-India Tanzim Conference, Aligarh in December 1925, Yusuf Ali noted, “As you know, I took my part in the inception of the Khilafat movement and its exposition in high places” (Amritsar: The Tanzim Committee 1925).
108The Islamic Review, 5, 2–3 (March 1917), 53–9.
109ELMT/CR/0002; Pickthall’s letter to Mr. Anik is dated 3 March 1932.
110Sherif, Searching for Solace, 56 and 62.
111Ibid., 87, n. 26.
112Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Religious Polity of Islam, (Hyderabad: Islamic Cultural Office, 1933), Progressive Islam Pamphlets, No. 8.
113Sherif, Searching for Solace, 85, n. 12.
114Tim Crook, Tim, The Secret Lives of a Secret Agent – the Mysterious Life and Times of Alexander Wilson (London: Kultura Press, 2010).
115Sherif, Searching for Solace, 122.
116Pickthall, The Early Hours, 205. The Author would like to thank: The British Library Board, for access to India Office Records; archivists at the East London Mosque Trust and King’s College, Cambridge, for help in locating Pickthall’s letters.

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