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Old Saturday, April 12, 2008
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Default Syed Ahmad Shaheed Braelvi (1786-1831)

Personal life

Syed Ahmad was born near Lucknow in the small town of Rai Bareli in1786.His father died whilst he was still young and in 1806 he moved to Dehli and enrolled in the Madrassa Rahimiya. For two years he studied under the son of Shah Wali Ullah learning the Quran and the Hadith.

For two years he studied under the sons of Shah Wali Ullah learning the Quran and the Hadith.
But Syed Ahmad was more a man of action than a scholar and in 1810 joined the forces of Amir Khan a Pathan military leader. It was this time that Syed Ahmad learned to use European weaponry .He showed himself to be so able that he was given command of a group of soldiers. However because of his piety he was also made responsible for leading the troops in prayer.
In 1817 Syed Ahmad returned to Delhi where his work became important in trying to restore Islam to its original purity.


As a man of action Syed Ahmad was an ideal person to act as a leader to work against British power in India and to try to ensure that Muslim were ruled by fellow Muslims. He believed that the freedom of Muslims could only come as a result of armed struggle against the foreign and non-Muslims forces which were oppressing them.

Syed Ahmad believed that there was a need to end the evils that had corrupted Islamic society. Consequently , even when he served as an army officer he surrounded himself with men of great piety who were prepared to reject worldly wealth and work for improving the moral and intellectual lives of Muslims.

The British had ensured that the Mughal emperors had little real power and the Sikhs were dominant in the Punjab Syed Ahmad founded the jihad movement , which called for armed struggle to overthrow non-Muslim oppression and restore Muslim power .He believed that once that once this was done Islam could be rejuvenated to Islamic beliefs which had crept into every day life.


In 1812 Syed Ahmad left India for Hajj , but took the opportunity to hold meetings on his way across India. So he was able to spread his beliefs about jihad. When he returned from Saudi Arabia in 1823 , he was ready to take action

At this time the Punjab was under the control of the Sikh regime of Ranjit Singh , who had also extended his authority into the North West Frontier .The Muslims suffered under Sikh rule because they were un able to carry out many of their religious practices – even the call to prayer was banned in some places .Syed Ahmad though that this was intolerable and decided that the Punjab was the place from which to launch his jihad against non-Muslims rulers.

Syed Ahmad toured the panjab and the North West Frontier to enlist men to fight the Sikhs. He travelled many hundreds of miles to raise a mujahideen force. His travels took him through Rajasthan ,Sindh , Baluchistan and into Afghanistan . However he found that the Afghan troops were suspicious of each other and not always prepared to join him In his jihad.

In 1826 Syed Ahmad established his headquarters near Peshawar .He sent a message to Ranjot Singh telling him that he must allow Muslims freedom of worship or face the mujahideen .Ranjit Singh dismissed the ultimation, so Syed Ahmad was forced to attack .First, at Okara on 21 December 1826, and then shortly afterwards at Hazrothe the Sikhs suffered defeat.

Syed Ahmad’s victories established him as a successful military leader and encouraged other tribes to join the mujahideen. Soon the army numbered over 80,000 strong. A major problem for Syed Ahmed, however, was that his army consisted from many different communities which disagreed over how the campaign was fought. The Sikhs tried to exploit these differences by calling his army un-Islamic. They claimed that by following the teachings of Shah Wall Ullah, Syed Ahmad’s forces were not true Muslims.

This view was not accepted by the Muslim leaders. In 1827 it was unanimously agreed that Syed Ahmad should assume the authority of an Imam. His word on religious matters was considered binding and his increased authority helped to unite the various Muslim groups forming the mujahideen force.

Syed Ahmad was preparing to attack the fort of Attock when he encountered an army of 35,000 Sikhs near Okara. What he did not know was that yar Muhammad Khan, a Pathan chief who had joined his
army, had been bribed by the Sikhs. First one of his servants tried to poison Sved Ahmad,then Yar Muhammad Khan deserted in battle and Sir Ahmad’s forces were defeated. He was forced to move his headquarters to the safety of Panjtrar near Kashmir.

Although Yar Muhammad was later killed in battle against the mujahideen, his brother, Sultan Muhammad Khan also waged war against Syed Ahmad. This constant campaigning against fellow Muslims was not what Sved Ahmad wanted, so he moved his forces to Balakot, hoping to liberate Kashmir and Hazara. Balakot was thought to be safe as it was protected on three sides by mountains. But once again Syed Ahmad was betrayed when local leaders told the Sikhs of a way through the mountains. They made a surprise attack on the forces of Syed Ahrnad. The Battle of Balakot (1831) was a fiercely contested one. Although the mujahiideen had been taken by surprise by a much larger Sikh army they fought bravely but were heavily outnumbered and unable to resist the Sikhs. Six hundred mujahideen soldiers were killed, including Syed Ahmad and his commander, Shah Ismail.


The defeat of the mujahideen in the Battle of Balakot, ‘was a serious setback for the Jihad Movement and it struggled to survive in the following years. The movement continued on in the hills of the North West Frontier until 1863 when the British sent a large army to deal with the mujahideen threat. Even then the movement survived through the determination of its followers. The work of Sved Ahmad had been very important because:
It was the first example in Indian history of a movement formed to free the Muslims from the tyranny of non-Muslim or foreign rulers. It was not a movement in order to place a particular leader in power but, instead, to achieve religious and spiritual freedom.

The Jihad Movement was a uniting force for Muslims, Many of Syed Ahmad’s soldiers had been spiritual leaders or teachers. The fact that they were prepared to die for their cause was an inspiration to all Muslims.

The Jihad Movement is regarded by many historians as the fore-runner of the Pakistan Movement in India. Syed Ahmad’s efforts were an inspiration to all Muslims in defending their religion, their culture and their freedoms. Those Muslims who later campaigned for their own homeland saw Syed Ahmad as an example of a Muslim fighting for the Muslim cause in much the same way, since he too wanted to see a state which was based on the principles of Islam.
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thank you Hurriah for a detailed post on Sayyid Ahmad.

My friend recently did his MPhil in History and his thesis was on Sayyid Ahmed Raibarelvi. He explained in his thesis that Sayyid Ahmed was among the pioneers for social reformation in Colonial era of East India Company's hostility. He launched an "anti-colonial" struggle aginst British East India Company and its allies specially Ranjit Singh, who ruled the Sikh regime at that time.

It contains an indepth literature review that is published on Sayyid Ahmad and provides insights on Sikh & British alliance established at that time and how British pursued their colonial agenda in India.

I hope you and other members will like this study useful. Here are some of the details of the study -

Title: Social Reformation and Anti-Colonial Struggle by Sayyid Ahmad Raibarelvi: Circumstances and Implications

Pages: 120
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