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
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 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
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
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
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 yoursmarmaduke pickthall15
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:
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
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:
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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,
The conception of Islam as a “system” anticipated the formulation adopted by the Islamic reformist movements two decades or so later.
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
Pickthall and Saïd Halim Pasha
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
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
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 1908–1913 period.58 After the Great War,
[…] 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
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:
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 acknowledged his intellectual debt to Halim Pasha in the Madras lectures – though with no hint to their troubled past:
[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
[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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?
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
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 secretariesMr. k.m. pannikerMr. m. pickthallMr. n.s. sabha rao77
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 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.
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
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.
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:
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
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:
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
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
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
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:
[…] 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
[…] 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
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.
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
Perhaps this was the project that Pickthall and Aubrey Herbert had been discussing in 1920, but was curtailed by the move to India.
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
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 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
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
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.
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.
“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