Invoking Islamic Rights In British India: Mawlana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanawi’s Huquq al-Islam


Article by


Ali Altaf Mian

Duke University

Durham, North Carolina




Nancy Nyquist Potter

University of Louisville

Louisville, Kentucky


The year 1857 is of immense significance in Indian history, specifically in the history of South Asian Islam. This year marked the end of six centuries of North India’s Muslim sovereignty and the official beginnings of British colonization of the Indian Subcontinent. The loss of Muslim rule heightened Indian Muslims’ concerns for preserving their religion and culture. Moreover, the failure of the Mutiny of 1857 forced them to turn to other options for safeguarding their spiritual and religious tradition(s). Traditional theologians and modern reformers alike turned to educational institutions. Schools founded in the late nineteenth-century include Sayyid Ahmad Khan’s Mohammadan-Anglo College, Muhammad Mongiri’s Nadwat al-Ulama, and Muhammad Qasim Nanotwi’s Dar al-Ulum Deoband. The two latter institutions in particular attempted to foster traditional religious imaginaries.


These institutions produced traditional theologians (‘ulama), some of whom were quite vociferous in emphasizing continuity and devaluing change. Perhaps the most prolific of these ‘ulama was the mystic-theologian Mawlana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanawi (1863–1943), a graduate of Dar al-‘Ulum Deoband. In this article, we analyze how Thanawi invoked morality and ethics to design an Islamic system of rights (huquq) and moral boundaries (hudud).


Thanawi imagined a particular form of religious subjectivity and sociality centered on the shariat. His thoughts on ethics and morality form an integral part of this form of subjectivity and sociality. He argued that ‘upright” moral behavior and fulfilling the rights of the Creator (huquq al-Khaliq), the rights of creation (huquq al-khalq), and rights of the individual (huquq al-nafs) were major constituents of a Muslim’s personal and social identities. If a Muslim embodied this system of rights, Thanawi argued, he or she would preserve Muslim social decorum in colonial India. Thanawi’s system of rights is therefore deeply intertwined with social manners. After setting out his general views on rights and social manners, we specifically analyze passages from his Huquq al-Islam to illustrate how traditional Muslim theologians (‘ulama) articulated detailed moral guidelines.


At the same time, we unearth the assumptions undergirding Huquq al-Islam that are worrisome insofar as they reinstate asymmetrical power structures, especially when it comes to gender, the colonial state apparatus, and class. A translation of Huquq al-Islam is provided as an Appendix to this article; we suggest readers consider the text before reading our analyses.



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Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanawi

  • September 19, 2013
  • Basooir
  • Lesson / Penyelidikan

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