(Following is a reproduction of a chapter from ‘Inside Bihar’ written by P.C Roy Choudhury, editor of Bihar District Gazetteers, in 1962)
Maulvi Ahmedullah of Sadikpur, Patna City was appointed a Deputy Collector and Income tax Assessor under Government Order No. 2577 of 21st September, 1860. Before that he had been appointed by Government order No. 301 dated the 6th June, 1853, a member of the Patna Committee of Public Instruction. While he was in Government employment as a member of the Patna Committee of Public Instruction along with a few other relatives he was arrested by the then Commissioner, William Taylor during the Sepoy Mutiny. William Taylor the Commissioner of Patna had secret information and was morally convinced that the small but strong sect of the Wahabis in Patna City had a lot to do with the Sepoy Mutiny. He had put the arrested Wahabis in a bungalow under his personal surveillance and he ruthlessly executed in a public manner a few of the supposed conspirators at the public place now known as Bankipore Maidan. Taylor was later persuaded to release the other Wahabi suspects including Maulvi Ahmedullah. Taylor had to pay dearly for the firm steps he took to stem the tide of the Sepoy Mutiny, one of which was his action against the Wahabis. Later Taylor was removed from the Commissionership and ultimately he resigned and practised as a lawyer in Patna.
When Maulvi Ahmedullah was appointed a Deputy Collector in 1860 it was obviously not known that Ahmedullah was already in a big conspiracy of the Wahabis to throw out the British from India. One centre of the operation of the Wahabis was in Mulkah-Sittana and the other centre was in Patna under the operational guidance of Maulvi Ahmedullah, Deputy Collector and Income tax Assessor. Sitting in his house at Sadikpur Ahmedullah with a number of aliases guided the operations of the Wahabis in their move against the British and his field of operations went beyond the limits of India’s frontiers. At his house weekly meetings used to be held usually after evening prayers. The members of the Committee were besides Maulvi Ahmedullah, his brother Maulvi Yahiya Ali, Chief priest and correspondent, Abdul Bahim, a relative and assistant to Yahiya Ali, Abdul Gufoor, a confidential servant of Maulvi Ahmedullah, treasurer. There was another very important member of the Committee Elahi Baksh who acted as the banker. The house of Ahmedullah was referred to as a chota godown in the correspondence. A regular system of code words was used in all Wahabi correspondence and everyone of the conspirators had an alias. The battle was referred to as Mokadama (a suit or case in court). Gold mohurs were called red rubies. The remittance of money was mentioned as the price of the books. The money transactions were very large as Elahi Buksh’s books alone show Rs. 26,000 in drafts in one year sent through him independent of other remittances in gold mohurs, which were sent by a private messenger or hossid.
Maulvi Ahmedullah had his secret agents in all the important places of Bengal and Bihar. One Haji Badruddin, a hide merchant of Dacca was the most active agent and all the collection from the east used to come through him and was forwarded by him to Patna through one Phagu Lai on whom drafts were drawn. In Calcutta there was one Abdul Jubber of Mahalla of Mooreegunj who used to go out on preaching missions. Maqshud Ali, another agent was a Muktear in the High Court and also had a house in Patna. Ahmedullah had his agent in important districts like Pubna, Rajsahi, Twenty- four Parganas, Jessore, Faridpur, Murshidabad, Malda, Rungpur, Monghyr, Tirhut (Muzaffarpur), Bihar, Arrah, Buxar, Banaras, Allahabad, Kanpur and Meerut etc. Patna was the storm-centre but the men who fomented the conspiracy acted in great secrecy. Ahmedullah had specially appointed kossids or messengers to carry information and money to and from Mulkah-Sittana. Among the kossids the more important were Samsuddin of Deoband in Saharanpur district, Abdul Rehman of Kaithal, Nizamuddin of Thaneswar, Hidaetullah, a Kashmiri resident of Jammu and others. Besides the members of the Central Committee already mentioned in Patna there was one Illahi Buksh, a Muktear who took an active part in Wahabi movement. Maulvi Umair and Abdul Rahim the two merchants were employed to dispose of the Jihad War fund or Zakat. Sayed Ali, a partner of Monohar Das, a Banker was useful in remitting money to Sittana. There was another Elahi Buksh who later on was convicted and sentenced to transportation for being1 in the conspiracy. He turned out to be an important witness against Maulvi Ahmedullah. One Nandlal a resident of Fatuha and thikadar of villages was a clever forge and was employed wherever his talents were required.
There appears to have been a general move at the instance of Ahmedullah throughout the districts of Bengal (which comprised Bihar, Orissa and Assam) for the realisation of zakat, a contribution for the war-fund. Through the agency on the political side as well as through the preachers the Muslims were constantly reminded that they have to raise a Jehad, a holy war of Muslims against the kafirs or infidels. In their correspondence Christian and British troops were called the heirs of Bookallah (Jesus Christ). One of the leading principles of Wahabis was the expectation of an Imam (guide or prophet) who will lead all true believers to victory over infidels. These two tenets made the Wahabis fanatic and men and money were constantly and ruthlessly raised in expectation of the Imam and the duty of Jihad. Maulvi Ahmedullah was the pivot of these activities and fully utilised his opportunity as a Government servant to further the Wahabi conspiracy. Great care was taken by Ahmedullah to prevent the possibility of suspicion as to the share he had in Elahi Buksh’s business. When he became a Deputy Collector and Incometax Assessor he transferred his share to the name of the office treasurer, Abdul Guffoor. All fetters from Bengal appear to have been received through a bookseller in Patna and all letters received from friends on the frontiers were received through Elahi Buksh. On the arrest of Elahi Buksh at Amballah the last meeting of the Committee was called by Ahmedullah at his Sadikpur house and it was decided to destroy the whole of the correspondence and they were all destroyed. But the papers that had been seized in connection with the trial of the Wahabis at Ambala give out a lot of secrets of the Wahhabi movement guided by Ahmedullah.
For a proper appreciation of the Wahhabi movement it is necessary to indicate briefly what Wahhabism is. The sect of the Wahabis takes its name from Abdul Wahab a sceder from the orthodox Mohammedan faith who acknowledged Mohamed as a great and good man but denied his divine character. Abdul Wahab was born at El-Hautia a village five or six days journey south of Derayah the capital of the province of Nejd. He preached that Mohammad the prophet was a mortal and he preached for all the nations of the world and not for only— the Arabs. He reduced Mohammedanism to a pure Deism and made several prohibitions concerning social and religious habits such as use of opium, wine, tobacco and the use of the rosaries for prayers and would not allow the defecation of any saints or graves of the saints. This reformed creed made great progress among the nomadic Arabs or Bedouins. The creed received great encouragement under Saud the grandson of Mohammad Ibu Saud who conquered Mecca. It is not necessary to follow the growth of Wahhabism and how it affected Turkey and Egypt at one time. The death of Saud was the forerunner of the ruin of the Wahabis. But even when the power of the Wahhabism was not exterminated, Wahhabism had a great follower in Syud Ahmed who was a native of Ray Bareilly and began his life as sowar under Amir Khan Pindarry. Ahmed received his religious training under one Shah Abdul Aziz of Delhi. Syud Ahmed quickly attracted a large number of followers and became a religious teacher. His influence in Bengal was great and the doctrines that he preached were almost identical with those of the Arabian Wahabis. Ahmed came to Patna and made many converts and appointed his agents. The chief agent appointed in Patna was Shah Mohammad Hussain in whose house he stayed and Mohammad Hussain had been given a sanad empowering him to appoint his successors. This sanad was later traced to be in possession of Yahiya Ali who was convicted in the Amballah case and was the brother of Maulvi Ahmedullah. Syud Ahmed also visited Calcutta, Bombay, Bareilly and after he had acquired a large number of followers he travelled in 1824 through Kandahar and Kabul preaching among the Yusufzai tribes on the Peshawar borders. He also inflamed Barakazi sardars and proclaimed religious war against the Sikhs whose power in Punjab at this time had been very great. Their fight with the Sikhs made only temporary and occasional success. Ahmed was defeated and fled into Surat. He afterwards acquired great influence among the Pathans through Futtah Khan of Panchdar. A general insurrection Jater occured when the Pathans rebelled against him and Syud Ahmed was forced to fly to Hazara where he was joined by the remnants of his followers. In 1830 they were again defeated by the Sikhs under Sher Singh and Syud Ahmed was slain. Those of his followers who had escaped found their way to Sittana, a village belonging to Syud Akbar Shah who had been a friend of Syud Ahmed. After Syud Ahmed’s death some of his followers came back to Bengal and gave out that he had disappeared by a miracle but is still alive and would come forward as the Iman at some future time. This rumour reached Patna and some of the Patna Wahabis namely Moulvi Villait Ali and Inait Ali started for tracing out Syud Ahmed who was considered by that time to be the Imam and prophet. Fictitious stories of miracle were spread and the two Patna pilgrims returned preaching Jehad through the chief cities and towns of Upper India. They had been once arrested on the frontier for having attempted to create a disturbance among the Khagan tribes. They were sent back under custody to their homes and in Patna a security was taken from them that they should not leave Patna. But sometime after Enayet Ali was caught in Rajshahi and in 1850 he was turned out of the district and sent back to Patna. Enayet Ali was again bound over by the Magistrate of Patna and his surety was Moulvi Awleeah Ali a Wahhabi of Sadikpur, father of Iradut Hussain. From the proceedings of the Punjab Board of Administration dated 12th May 1851 both Enayet and Willayut Ali were found to be on the frontier fomenting trouble. In 1852 the British Government were convinced that there was an attempt on the part of the Wahhabi fanatics to tamper with the 4th Regiment of Native Infantry at Rawalpindi. This conspiracy had originated in Patna and many of the Sadikpur Muslims were found at Sittana in Swat. By this time men with arms and from Patna were constantly going in small batches to the frontier for joining the Jihad.
In early 1852 on the representation of the Punjab Government the Magistrate of Patna searched the house of Hossein Ali Khan. Somehow the news that the search will be made reached before and the correspondence in the house were all destroyed. The Magistrate of Patna in his letter to Government mentioned that Jehad was being preached from the house of Vilait Ali and that the Wahabis were in league with the police. Lord Dalhousie the Governor General recorded a minute on the 28th August 1852 that in view of the fact that treasonable correspondence was being carried on between Patna and the frontier was known to the Government and that the Patna conspirators should be closely watched. But it appears that the watch was extremely weak probably due to the league of the police with the local Wahabis in Patna.
There was a prosecution in 1858 at Rawalpindi where one Mohammad Yuliy was convicted for trying to tamper with the 4th Native Infantry Regiment of Rawalpindi. In this case also the names of Ahmedullah and other residents of Patna were mentioned as forwarding supplies to the fanatics in the frontiers. On the 7th September 1852 the fanatics attacked the camp of the guide Corps at Iopee but were repulsed. It has been mentioned “this hostile band of Hindustani and Bengallee fanatics which has cost the British Government so much trouble, treasure, and blood appears from all the information on record to have bad its root in Patna where these frontier disturbances had been fomented and supplies of men and money regularly transmitted to the Hills by the family of the Maulvis in Sadikpur whose influence and agencies had extended over the greater part of Lower Bengal, Bihar, North Western Provinces and the Punjab.”
During the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 the Wahabis were again in the limelight in Patna but the firm action of Commissioner Taylor nipped the trouble in bud. Moreover the Wahabis of Patna had already been invited to go to the hills and make an attack on the British frontier and for this reason they remained underground in the Sepoy Mutiny days.
After the Mutiny the Wahabis in Patna redoubled their activities and thousands of villagers from different parts of Bengal started coming to Sadikpur. From there they were despatched in small batches to Mulkah-Sittana hills through Amballah where they were led to believe that Imam Syud Ahmed would appear and lead them to victory. In 1863 four Bengali Muslims were arrested in Karnal on their way to Ambala. One Guzan Khan an’Esufzye in military service was approached by four Bengali Muslims to join them as there was going to be a fight. Guzan Khan arrested them but the Magistrate released the men. Two months after a disturbance broke out on the frontier as suggested by the Bengalis. On this Guzan Khan ascertained through his son who was sent to Mulka Sittana that the fanatics on the hills were assisted with men and arms by Mohammad Jaffar of Thaneswar. On this information Mohammad Jaffir’s house was searched and a lot of correspondence was discovered. Jaffir had absconded but was later arrested at Aligarh in company of some Wahabis of Patna. These men gave out that they were the servants of Elahi Buksh and a telegram was sent to Patna Magistrate to arrest Elahi Buksh. Among the correspondence seized in Jaffir’s house a letter was found advising Mohammad Shufee that the rosaries composed of large and small red beads, 300 and crystal beds 600 had been despatched from Patna. At the same time one Hossein of Thaneswar was arrested coming in an ekka towards Ambala and had in his possession two jackets in which gold mohurs were sewn tallying in number with the number of beds noted in the letter found in Jaffar’s house. All this led to a regular enquiry and Mr. T. E. Ravenshaw, Magistrate of Patna was asked to pursue the matter.
Ravenshaw’s final report after the conviction of Ahmedullah is an important document and is dated 9th May, 1865. He followed up the clues ascertained from the Ambala trial which had resulted in the conviction and transportation for life for Mohammad Shufi and ten others among whom were Yahiya Ali, his brother, Abdul Rahim, his nephew, Elahi Buksh, banker and Abdul Guffoor. a confidential servant and a treasurer. Mr. Ravenshaw searched Phagulal’s house and found several entries of drafts in his books from Dacca and other places. Elahi Buksh who had been convicted in the Amballa case was brought to Patna and a lengthy statement was obtained from him. The statement of Elahi Buksh was a complete vindication of the theory that the pivot of the movement was Moulvi Ahmedullah. Elahi Buksh was brought to Patna from Ambala jail and remained concealed in a bungalow in the compound of Mr. Ravenshaw Ahmedullah of course had been arrested immediately on the starting of the enquiry.
After Ravenshaw worked hard for months Ahmedullah was put to his trial on various charges of treason and was convicted by the Judge and the sentence of death was recorded against him. The Committing Magistrate was Mr. Monro who had relieved Ravenshaw as the Magistrate of Patna and the Judge was Mr. Anislie. Ahmedullah was defended by W. Makenzie. The case came up to the High Court for confirmation and the sentence of death passed by the Judge was commuted to transportation for life. The judgement of the High court was delivered on the 13th April 1856 by Justices C. B. Travor and G. Loch.
There were four charges against Ahmedullah namely that he had attempted to wage war against the queen, that he had abetted waging of war against the queen, that he had collected and abetted collection of men with the intention of waging war against the queen. The Sessions Judge had found him guilty. After discussing the evidence at some length the learned High Court Judges came to the conclusion :—
“We think that the fact of the existence of a conspiracy in Patna for waging war against the British is proved ; that in furtherance of that conspiracy a Jihad against the Government was preached and that men and money were forwarded across the frontier. We have evidence that some of the men thus sent j(joined the rank of the combatants at Sittana and fought against the British Government. We have evidence also that money in gold mohurs and hoondees for the support of these rebels was remitted to Mohammad Jaffir at Thaneswar and Mohammad Shufi at Ambala. We find that the prisoner was a constant attendant at the preaching in the house of Abdul Rahim at Patna proclaiming a Jehad. We find that he was cognizant of and consenting to the conspiracy and to the acts done in furtherance thereof and though it may not be possible to point to any one act in particular as proved to have been done by him directly in furtherance of the objects of that conspiracy yet the conspiracy being proved and his connection with it the acts of each of his co-conspirators done in pursuance of the common object are his acts and therefore to be held as evidence against him. We think that the evidence before us is sufficient to support the conviction of the prisoner under section 121 of the Penal Code upon the second count of the charge. But as we do not find from that evidence that the prisoner took a more active part in this conspiracy than others who have been convicted and sentenced, we decline to confirm the sentence of death passed by the Sessions Judge but direct that the prisoner Ahmedullah be transported for life and forfeit all his property to the Government.”
So ended the famous trial and the writer is not aware of any other trial in which a Magistrate in India had been found guilty and convicted for treason. Mr. Ravenshaw pursued the case with meticulous care. Ravenshaw appeared before the Magistrate and the Judge. Although in the High Court he could not argue the case himself he entrusted it to another Advocate and instructed him. Ravenshaw’s final report indicated that although the backbone of the Wahabi movement was broken by the conviction of Ahmedullah there were other Maulavis who were preaching treason at various places and going underground frequently. He also referred to the activities of the Ferisie sect in Lower Bengal whose doctrines were much ellied to the Wahabi creed.
It may be mentioned here that the properties of Ahmedullah at Mahhalla Sadikpur in Patna city were confiscated and made over to the Patna Municipality.
It is probably not known to many that the present Patna City Municipality office is situated on the land on which his house stood, the house that served as the place for the meeting and the clearing ground for men and money for the Wahhabi movement.