Unsung Heroes | History Corner | Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, Ministry of Culture, Government of India

Unsung Heroes Detail

Paying tribute to India’s freedom fighters

Allama Fazl e Haq Khairabadi

South Andaman, Andaman & Nicobar Islands

August 05, 2022

Allama Fazl e Haq Khairabadi (1797-1861), son of Maulana fazl e Imam was born in 1797 in an affluent family in Khairabad (Old Oudh) in Sitapur district of Uttar Pradesh. He was one of the first political prisoners of colonial times, who not only resigned from the post of kutchery chief and is said to have issued a fatwa-e jihad against the British but also drafted the first constitution of Independent India based on the principles of democracy. Besides being a scholar of Islamic studies and theology, he was also a literary personage, especially in Arabic and Persian literature. On account of his deep knowledge and erudition, he was called Allama and later was venerated as a great Sufi.

A Mazaar or say Dargah situated at a sea shore at South Point in South Andaman, is a resting place of Allama Fazl e Haq Khairabadi, the great iconic person of the First War of Independence 1857. The islanders of all religions come here and pray for the spiritual blessings of the sacred souls seeking divine intercession. They offer a sacred feast on fulfilling their mannat (wish).

In 1831, Khairabadi (as he was generally addressed) resigned from the Government job and spent most of his time in the scholarly work amid the intellectuals like Mirza Ghalib, Mufti Sadruddin Azurda, and Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar. Due to Islamic, rational, and poetic excellence, Khairabadi was especially very close to Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar.

Besides being a scholar of Islamic studies and theology, he was also a literary persona, especially in Urdu, Arabic, and Persian literature. A large number of couplets in Arabic are attributed to him. He edited the first Diwan of Mirza Ghalib at his request. He had a phenomenal memory and memorized the Quran in a little over 4 months. He also completed the curriculum in Arabic, Persian and religious studies by the age of thirteen. On account of his deep knowledge and erudition, he was called ‘Allama’ and later was venerated as a great Sufi. He was also bestowed with the title ‘Imam Hikmat’ and ‘Kalaam’ (The imam of logic, philosophy, and literature). He possessed a great presence of mind and was very witty. There are many stories about his repartee with Mirza Ghalib and other contemporary eminent poets, writers, and intellectuals.

Allama Fazl e Haq Khairabadi played the most active role in the Indian mutiny of 1857. He reached Delhi in May 1857. The rebel army overpowered the small British garrison at Delhi on 11 May 1857 and Bahadur Shah, the last Mughal emperor was proclaimed the Emperor, become the center of rebel activities. According to the daily diary of Munshi Jiwan Lal, the British spy in Red Fort, Allama Fazl e Haq Khairabadi also participated in discussions with Bahadur Shah Zafar and rendered advice to him. At that time two different groups of rebellions emerged among the Muslim rebellions. One group was that of the Mujahideen or the religious warriors whose enthusiasm against the British was rooted in religious grounds i.e. in the memories of crusades and the tradition of armed conflict between Christians and Muslims, while the other was that of the Rohilas under the leadership of General Bakht Khan. Allama Fazl e Haq Khairabadi met Bakht Khan and after this meeting, he addressed the gathering of Ulema (Pious scholars) after the Juma prayer and presented a document for signatures. Mufti Sadruddin Azurda, Sadr-us-Sudur of Delhi, Maulvi Abdul Qadir, Qazi Faizulla of Delhi, Maulana Faiz Ahmed of Badiyn, Dr. Maulvi Wazir Khan of Akbarabad, and Syed Mubarakshah of Rampur signed it voluntarily. With the publication of this Fatwa-e-Jehad to wage war against the British Government, general resentment against the British among the people of Delhi substantially increased and an army of ninety-thousand gathered at Delhi. Allama Fazl e Haq Khairabadi was not a Wahabi, but in this struggle against the British, he fully supported and joined the Wahabis. It is also said that he had prepared a temporary constitution for the rebel Government of Delhi and was also a member of the military council, which was practically controlling all the rebel administrations.

During the revolt in Delhi, the King (Bahadur Shah Zafar) and his family had shifted to Humayun’s Tomb at a distance of about three miles from Delhi. Allama Fazl e Haq Khairabadi in his writings without naming Hakim Ahsanulla, the royal physician, and queen Zeenat Mahal (she had limited desires and wanted to see her son crowned) about their conspiracies that were going on in the palace, and the way these two were informing the British about the entire activities of the court. It was on the suggestion of Hakim Ahsanulla that the king left his walled city and went to Humayun’s Tomb. General Bakht Khan wanted the king to come with him and continue the fight but the king refused because Hakim Ahsanulla had given certain assurances to the king, apparently on behalf of the British, which the king believed; and he fell into his trap. King Bahadur Shah was arrested and his three sons and grandsons were killed by General Hudson. Later Bahadur Shah was exiled to Rangoon. The notional Mughal rule was thus put to an end. Saving their artillery, General Bakht Khan escaped to Lucknow. General Bakht Khan, Maulana Faiz Ahmed, Dr. Wazir Khan, and others joined the rebels in Lucknow and Oudh. Allama Fazl e Haq Khairabadi was there as their advisor. After the defeat at Lucknow, they escaped to Shahjahanpur and fought the last battle there in which many of the leaders were killed. On the fifth day, after the siege of Lucknow by the British, Allama Fazl e Haq Khairabadi with his family on foot, crossing the rivers reached his place Khairabad. The next day on 30 January 1859, he was arrested from his house. After the arrest at Khairabad, his case was referred to Lucknow where he was sentenced to life imprisonment in the Andaman Penal Settlement. Interestingly, the British in Lucknow during the trial did not consult Delhi records. He and other convicts were not brought to the Andamans directly. Before reaching Andamans, the old man was taken to various places on mainland and much of the distance he had to cover by walking gripped in thick iron chains entangled through his feet chains. Allama Fazl e Haq Khaiarabadi reached Port Blair by ship ‘Fire Queen’ on 08 October 1859. We can imagine through the later given description of Jafar Thanesari, the gravity of atrocities and all hardships that Allama Fazl e Haq Khairabadi had to bear with unbearable pain in his dreary journey from Khairabad to Andamans. Thanesari and other convicts were brought to Andamans via different places in mainland India by walking demonstrating the lessons to others. Jafar Thanessari mentioned in his Tawarikh-i-Ajeeb (1886) that before he was brought to Andamans on 11 January 1866, he was taken from prison to prison from Ambala (September 1864) to Lahore Central Jail to Multan to Karachi to Bombay; and from Bombay in a ship Jamuna via Lanka to Andamans after a sea voyage of 34 days. Such was the difficult journey the Andaman convicts had to cover in unimaginable pain and distress.

When Allama Fazl e Haq Khairabadi reached Andamans, Mufti Inayat Ahmed of Kakori, the Sadr Amin of Bareily and Kol, Mufti Mazhar Karim of Daryabad, and other Ulemas were already there. The convicts were engaged in forest clearance, swamp filling, and other hard work which many of the rebellions never did earlier in life. They had to live either under a leaking roof or in the open amidst flocks of mosquitoes. Life in Andamans was very hard for this old Sufi. He writes, “After the Nasara (Britishers) arrested me they moved me from one prison to another and from one hard land to another hard land; they gave me pain after pain and made me suffer torture after torture. They removed my shoes and dress and put me in thick and rough clothes. They snatched my soft bed and spread for me a bed or burning sparks were put on it. They did not leave either a bowel, lota, or any other utensil. Out of miserliness they fed me on mash pulse and made me drink warm water. Instead of the water of love of the honest and loving friends, they gave me warm water, and despite my weakened body and old age, I was always facing to face with such mean and shameful behavior”. He further wrote that every small cell (of prisoners) had a reed thatch that was filled with sadness and illness. Their roofs used to leak as his tears. The air was full of petrifaction and was a treasure house of illness. The disease was cheap and medicine was costly. Diseases were countless. Itching and Quba (the illness in which the skin gets cracked and peels off) were rampant. There was no possibility for the wounds to heal or for health to be maintained. None would consol the distressed or express any sympathy for the ill person. His words in grief are translated here - “No calamity in the world could be compared with the misfortune inflicted here. Even ordinary illness here is dangerous. Temperature is the message of death, and inflammation of the brain is the name of a deadly illness. Many diseases are prevailing here that have no name in the books of medicine. When any of the patients die, the dirty sweeper, who is a devil or a fiend, drags the dead body by its one leg and without a bath or shroud, removes all his clothes and buries him under a heap of sand. Neither a grave is dug for him nor is the prayer of the deceased offered”. Allama mentions about himself that his whole body became a sieve from wounds and the wounds increased with pain that liquefied the spirit.

Amidst all his sufferings in his painful life in the Andaman Penal Settlement, Allama Fazl e Haq Khairabadi wrote two classic books containing pros text and Odes in Arabic in the prison barracks titled ‘Al-Surat-ul-Hindiya’ and ‘Al-fitnat-ul-Hindia’. The contents of these books, which he wrote on tattered pieces of clothes and torn pieces of papers with soft coal, sent to his son through a released convict, are classic sources of information regarding the Indian revolts and the conditions of prisoners in the Andaman Islands. These books are the best writings on the topic of Indian uprising by any Indian Islamic scholar. These books, particularly, deal with the socio-political conditions of that time and the cruelties committed by the British on the Indian population. The collection of his works in Arabic was first translated into Urdu entitled ‘Baghi Hindustan’ (Rebellious India) and it was published in 1947 because before Independence all works of Maulana Khairabadi were proscribed.

Maulana Khairabadi also criticized those sepoys who had left the battlefield and returned to their homes for lack of salary and proper wages. He was equally against both the Hindus and Muslims who were supporting the British forces at the time of crisis.

From ‘Al-Surat-ul-Hindiya’ written by Allama Fazl e Haq Khairabadi, we come to know about an interesting incident. Captain John Colpoys Haughton, the then Superintendent of the settlement once handed over a Persian manuscript to a convict Maulvi with his request to make some corrections. The Maulvi found it difficult to make corrections as Haughton desired and he handed over the manuscript to another convict Allama Fazl e Haq Khairabadi who agreed to do his favor and he made necessary corrections with more inputs from him. When Haughton received the manuscript from Maulvi, he was delighted and curious to know how it was possible. He found a lot of references added in the work. On his enquiry from Maulvi, he came to know about the prisoner Allama Fazl e Haq Khairabadi. He immediately went to the barracks to meet him in his barrack. He saw an old man arriving with a heavy basket on his head. Looking at the old man and his condition, Haughton’s eyes were full of tears. He begged pardon of him and immediately took him under his supervision.

His illustrious son Shams-ul-Haq, in mainland India eventually became successful in his long efforts to obtain the ‘Release Order’ of his father. The happy son moved to Andaman to get his father released from the prison, but when he arrived at Port Blair on 13 February 1861, he saw a funeral procession on his way. On his enquiry he found that it was the last journey of his father who died yesterday (12 February 1861). The man of vision and wisdom had freed himself not only from the prison, but from the paining earthly bondages.

On account of his deep knowledge and erudition, he was called ‘Allama’ and later he was venerated as a great sufi. In the first edition of Athar-as-Sanadeed, the suitable words of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan in honor of Allama Fazl e Haq Khairabadi, are placed below.

Embodiment of perfection in rhetoric and astuteness; consummate in external and internal accomplishments; foundation of the basis of bounties; spring of the garden of expertise; unique in correct opinions, sitting on the throne of far reaching contemplations, possessor of the people of Mohammad, inheritor of eternal blessings, sovereign of religious discourses, supreme in the status of administration, reflection of the tidy inner mirror of the marvelous and silky honesty, most learned of his times and spreading his eloquence, king of the times and Labid of the age, destroyer of wrongs and supporter of right, Allama Fazl e Haq Khairabadi.

He is an excellent son of the revered Maulana Fazl-i-Imam (May God forgive him and Bless him) and has studied both Aqliya and Naqliya subjects in the service of his blessed father. The tongue of pen looking at his expertise wrote Pride of the family and when deep thinking discovered his works found him to be Pride of the World.

In all branches of knowledge and skill, he is one in the whole world and logic and wisdom seem to have been founded on his high intellect. The Ulema of the times and the learned of the world have no strength to arrange a religious discourse with the group of these experts. It has been repeatedly observed that those who considered him unique in the world when listening to him forgot their expertise and considered it a distinction to call themselves his student. With all these attainments he has raised such a high-flying flag in the literature that for eloquence his texts are the highest attainment and for rhetoric, his high mind is the proof of the attainment of the pinnacle…

His words are decent, his diamond-surpassing expressions have a fine texture and his connotations are vivid, his sense of honor has the water of a diamond, before the line of his writing Cyprus tree digs his feet in the mud, and before his vibrant writing mud hides behind the curtain.”

This was written and published during the British Raj by Sir Syed. It may be noted that when Sir Syed prepared the second edition of Athar-as-Sanadeed and got it published after the suppression of the rebellion. He removed the name of Allama Fazl e Haq Khairabadi, and many of the other reputed persons from among the Ulema, poets, writers, etc., from the list of prominent personalities as by then many of them, had either been sentenced to life imprisonment in the Andaman Penal Settlement or had been hanged.

Every year on 12 February, the Andaman and Nicobar Waqf Board in memory of the great scholar and freedom fighter organizes various socio-cultural programs in the city and conveys the message to the islanders to follow his path of selfless life and disseminate his messages for the welfare of people and harmonious relationships in the islands.