British writers and historians have portrayed the movement started by Syed Ahmad Barelvi of Rai Bareilly as an Islamic fanatic movement. The movement started by Syed Ahmad Barelvi during the early half of the 18th century took the subcontinent by storm. The British officials called his movement Wahabi and considered it the chief reason behind the First War of Independence in 1857.
Even in the present historiography, this movement is often portrayed as a religious movement and not an anti-colonial movement that aimed at throwing away the British rule from India.
Here I am reproducing a letter written by Syed Ahmed Barelvi to a Maratha leader Raja Hindu Rai asking for his help in throwing away the foreign rule.
Syed Ahmad Barelvi believed that foreign rule was hurting the respect of Indian rulers, including Marathas and his organization had no other motive than kicking out the British out of the country. Once the British had been thrown out, Syed and his disciples would not claim any political position and people like Raja Hindu Rai would rule the country like before.
Syed Ahmad Barelvi wrote;
“It is apparent to you that unfriendly foreigners of a distant land have become master of the country, that traders have assumed the dignity of ‘Sultanate’ and destroyed the rule of great rulers and chieftainship of high placed chiefs by depriving them of their respect and honor.
Since the rulers and statesmen have sought refuge in privacy, a band of poor and helpless persons have girded up their loins. This weak band does not aspire to any worldly gains. They are inspired by the spirit of service to God without the least desire for wealth and power.
The moment India is cleared of the foreigners and the arrow of efforts reaches its target, the offices and rulership shall remain intact for those who want it, and their dignity and power shall be strengthened. This weak band wants only this much from the great rulers and high dignitaries that while they occupy the masnad of rulership, service to Islam with heart and soul should be done.
Although this poor band has not got ample means, yet by the desire of the Lord, it is glad and cheerful and detests the desire for power and pelf, and keeps its hands off from wealth and riches which they do not want to enjoy either now or in the future.
Any one of the rulers of old states that may come forward to help, will only be strengthening the foundation of his own state. The purport of this affectionate letter will truly be explained to you in detail by Haji Bahadur Shah who is an old associate of mine.”
(The author is a well-known historian)