HistoryPakistan Studies

Reasons for the start and failure of Khilafat Movement

This article discusses the reasons for the start of the Khilafat Movement 1919-24 and its failure. 

What was the Khilafat Movement, 1919-24?

Khilafat Movement, 1919-1924 was a movement of Indian Muslims for the territorial integrity of Ottoman Empire. In addition, they demanded the British to abstain from meddling with the position of Sultan as Khalifa of Muslims worldwide.

After the conclusion of the Treaty of Sevres, Indian Muslims had feared the British would attempt to break Turkey into peace in revenge. Consequently, the Ali brothers – Chaudhry Rehmat and Chaudhry Muhammad Ali the movement to save Turkey. Other prominent Muslims who played an important part in Khilafat Movement included Hakim Ajmal Khan, Congress leader Abul Kalam Azad, etc.

The Movement included:

  • Resignation from government jobs
  • boycott of schools
  • boycott of elections
  • return of official awards and titles
  • boycott of British goods
  • boycott of courts

What were the reasons for the start of the Khilafat Movement?

Following were the reasons for the start of the Khilafat Movement, 1919-24

1. Fear of desecration of Holy Places

Turkey had sided with Germany in World World I against Allied powers. The allied forces managed to completely defeat Germany-led central powers in 1918.  They occupied Istanbul and all parts of Turkey such as today’s Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Iraq, etc.

These places have Islamic Holy places and their occupation by non-Muslim forces created a restlessness in Muslims all over the world including in India.  They feared that the non-Muslim Allied Forces might commit disrespect of holy places such as Masjid e Aqsa, Khana e Kaba, etc. 

Thus, the deep-rooted fear stemming from the occupation of holy places by allied forces acted as one of the reasons for the start of the Khilafat Movement.

2. British Intent to abolish Khilafat

The sultan of the Ottoman Empire also carried the title and acted as the Khalifa. Muslims all over the world regarded him as the symbol of Ummah.  He enjoyed reverence and deep religious respect among Muslims worldwide and Indian Muslims were not an exception to this. They could not tolerate any threat to the position of Sultan as the leader or Muslims.

Earlier when the war broke out, the Indian Muslims as part of British Indian troops did not want to fight the Ottomans in the War. They agreed to fight on the side of Allied forces only when the British pledged to respect the rights of Khalifa after the war.

Later on when they subdued the central forces, the British in utter disregard of their pledge, expressed their intention to abolish Khilafat. This enraged the Muslims as they felt betrayed. They could not see Khilafat fall which they considered a setback to Muslims Umma in the whole world. 

So when the British expressed their intention to abolish the Khilafat, the Indian Muslims revolted against it and started Khilafat Movement. They thought they would pressurize the British to keep their promises made during the war to respect the territorial integrity of Turkey.

3. The territorial integrity of Turkey

British also promised to keep the territorial integrity of the Ottoman Empire intact and avoid its disintegration. But, from the statements of British Officials and from the treatment of Germany and Poland in the hands of allies, the dismemberment of Turkey seemed evident. 

The disintegration of the Ottoman empire would mean the abolishment of Khilafat too. In face of these events, the Indian Muslims felt as if they could prevent the dismemberment of Turkey by pressuring the British in India. 

What was the role of the Indian National Congress and Gandhi in Khilafat Movement? 

The Indian National Congress and Mahatma Gandhi supported Khilafat Movement. Congress leaders such as Gandhi, Abul Kalam Azad, and others attended meetings of the Khilafat Committee. They visited different parts of India along with the Ali brothers and addressed mass gatherings. 

As Gandhi enjoyed a great influence over the masses, he successfully convinced people to join the movement. Moreover, he assumed an important position in the Khilafat Movement. His participation in the movement brought Muslims and Hindus brought together. Along with the territorial integrity of Turkey, Indian independence was demanded.  

With congress joining the movement, the protests and agitation spread throughout India. For the first time after 1857, widespread agitation was witnessed creating real troubles for British rule in India.

What were the reasons for the failure of the Khilafat Movement?

Khilafat Movement ended in 1924 without achieving any of its aims. The reasons for the failure of the Khilafat Movement are as follows:

1. Gandhi’s decision to call off non-cooperation Movement

Gandhi believed in non-violence. The Chaura-Chauri incident provoked Gandhi to revise his policy of non-cooperation and support of the Khilafat Movement. He advocated non-violence but the protestors burned twenty policemen alive.

Thus appalled at the extremist acts, Gandhi called off the non-cooperation movement. He saw that things could get more violent if the movement continued.  With this call, the Hindus abstained from supporting Muslims.

With the calling off of the non-cooperation movement came the arrests of the Ali brothers. These successive events weakened the movement.

2. Abolishment of the position of Khalifa by the Turkish ruler

In the wake of defeat, a new energetic leader, Kamal Ata Turk, emerged in Turkey. He abolished the position of Khalifa in 1924 and laid the basis of a modern secular Turkey. As a result, the Khilafat Movement in India also died forever. 


Thus, it can be concluded in the end that the khilafat Movement was a sincere effort by Indian Muslims to save the Khilafat in Turkey. Unfortunately, the movement faced failure because the Turks themselves abolished the opposition of Khalifa forever. 

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