Mewati is a term used for the Meo people after they converted to Islam. The Meos are an ethnic group of the Mewat region from north-western India. Before the effort of Tabligh, the condition of Islam with the Meos have degraded to such an extent that they are only Muslims by name and more Hindu in their customs and practices.
Background and History
The area to the south of Delhi where the Meos have been settled from the olden days is called Mewat. Presently, it includes the Gurgaon district of the Punjab, the native states of Alwar and Bharatpur and the district of Mathura of the United Provinces. Like all other regions, its boundaries, too, have been changing from time to time and the dimensions of the old Mewat must have been different from what they are now.
According to English historians, the Meos do not come from the Aryan stock. They are related to the non-Aryan races of ancient India. Their history thus dates far back than that of the Rajput families of Aryan blood. According to them, the Khanzadas of Mewat, however, belong to the same ethnic group as the Rajputs and in the Persian history books, wherever the word ‘Mewati’ occurs, it denotes the very Khanzadas. We further learn from ‘Ain-i-Akbari’ that the Jatau Rajputs came to be known as Mewatis on embracing Islam.
In the annals of Firoz Shahi dynasty, Mewat is mentioned, for the first time, in the memoirs of Shamsuddin Al-Tirnash. The Mewatis had become very troublesome during the early days of the Muslim Kingdom of Delhi. Aided by the long range of thick forests that extended up to Delhi, they used to raid it frequently and had become such a terror that the gates of the capital were shut at sunset. Still, they managed to enter the town in the night in search of plunder. Ghayasuddin Balban, thereupon, despatched a strong military force against the Mewatis, killing a large number of them. Outposts manned by the Afghan soldiers were set up in Delhi, the surrounding forests were cut down and the land was brought under cultivation. Mewat, thereafter, remained in oblivion for about a hundred years.
After the long lull, the Mewati adventurists, again, became active and started harassing the people of Delhi which forced the authorities to take punitive action against them from time to time. The names of Bahadur Nahir and his successors are, particularly, mentioned in the chronicles in this connection. They succeeded in establishing the Kingdom of Mewat which was, later, reduced to a Jagir by the rulers of Delhi.
The Moral and Religious Condition of Mewat before Tabligh
Owing to the negligence of the Muslim religious teachers, the moral and religious condition of the Mewatis (the name given to the Meos after they embraced Islam) had sunk so low that there was little to distinguish between their beliefs and practices. Even non-Muslim historians have commented at length on their estrangement with Islam, as the following extract from the Alwar Gazetteer of 1878, written by Major Powlett, shows:
“All the Meos are now Muslims, but only in name. Their village deities are the same as those of the Hindu landlords, and they celebrate several Hindu festivals. Holi is a season of special rejoicing amongst the Mewatis and they observe it like their own festivals, such as Muharram, Eid and Shab-i-Barat. The same is the case with Janam Ashtami, Dussehra and Diwali. The Meos engage the services of the Brahmins to fix the dates of marriages. They have Hindu names, with the exception of the word ‘Ram’, and their last name, often, is ‘Singh’, though not as frequently as ‘Khan’. Like Ahirs and Gujars, the Mewatis, too, observe Amawas as a holiday on which they abstain from work. When they build a well, they begin with the construction of a parapet in the name of Beeriyi or Hanuman, but when it comes to pillage, they do not show much reverence to the Hindu temples and other places of religious significance. If, on such an occasion, their attention is drawn to the sanctity of these establishments, they, unhesitatingly, say, ‘You are Does and we are Meos.’ Meos are, largely, ignorant of their faith, i.e. Islam. Very few of them know the Kalima and fewer still observe Salat regularly. With regard to the time and rules of Salat; their ignorance is complete. This is the state of the Meos of Alwar. In the British territory of Gurgaon, the position is a little better because of the Madrassas. In some parts of Alwar, also, where the mosques have been built, religious duties are observed to some extent. A few of them know the Kalima and offer Salat. An attachment for the Madrasas is also found among them. As we have seen earlier, the initial ceremonies of marriage are performed by the Brahmins, but the real ceremony (of Nikah) is performed by the Qazi. Men wear dhoti and loin-cloth, The pyjamas are not worn at all. Their dress, thus, is wholly Hindu-influenced. Even ornaments of gold are worn by men.”
At another place, Major Powlett writes:
“The Meos are half-Hindu by their habits. Mosques are rarely to be seen in their villages. There are only eight mosques in the fifty villages of the Tehsil of Tijarah. Leaving aside the temples, the places of worship of the Meos are very similar to those of their Hindu neighbours. These are known, for instance, as Paanch Peera, Bhaisa and Chahand. Chahand or Khera Deo is consecrated to the service of Maha Devi where animals are offered as a sacrifice. In Shab-i-Barat, the banner of Syed Salar Masud Ghazi is worshipped ill all Meo villages.”.
Similarly, in the Gazetteer of Gurgaon (1910), it is stated that “the Meos, still, are a very loose and careless type of Muslims. They share most of the customs of the neighbouring community, especially those which possess an element of fun and merriment. Their basic rule seems to be to observe the religious celebrations of both the communities and disregard the religious duties of either. Lately, some religious teachers have appeared in Mewat and a few Meos have started to fast in Ramadhan and to build mosques in their villages and observe Salat. Their women, too, have taken to wearing Pyjamas instead of the Hindu Ghagras. All those are the signs of religious awakening.”
The Gazetteer of Bharatpur, again, says:
“The customs of Meos are a mixture of Hindu and Muslim customs. They observe circumcision, perform Nikah and bury their dead. They make a pilgrimage to the tomb of Syed Salar Masud Ghazi at Bahraich and attach great importance to the vow taken under his banner. They consider it a religious duty to fulfil it. They also visit other shrines of India but do not perform Haj. Among the Hindu festivals, they celebrate are Holi and Diwali. They do not marry in the family or in their own branch or sub-division of the clan. Girls do not have a share in ancestral property and they give mixed Hindu and Muslim names to their children. They are, wholly, illiterate and have a fair number of bards and minstrels among them whom they pay liberally. Many quatrains on the themes of agriculture and rural life are popular which they love to recite. Their speech is rough and coarse, and their manner of dressing both men and women is the same. Intoxicants are widely in use. They are extremely weak in faith and highly superstitious. They believe in omens and auguries. Both male and female dresses are heavily Hindu-influenced. In the olden days, infanticide was prevalent, but now it has been given up. Highway robbery and pillage had been their traditional profession but they have been reformed lately. They, however, are still notorious for cattle-lifting.”
The Meos are distinguished for some excellent moral qualities. Their vices and weaknesses are in the nature of the evil ways and practices that become part of the moral and social pattern of brave and adventurous races. This is a result of the lack of education, isolation from the civilised world and indifferences towards religion. Such qualities were rampant even among the Arabs during the Age of Ignorance (Jahiliyyah). Natural talents and capabilities had taken a wrong turn owing to the perversity of the environment. Chivalry had degenerated into banditry, manliness had found expression in mutual warfare and bloodshed. The sense of pride and self-respect had adopted the path of pomp and flourish on petty occasions in the family or clan. In brief, God-given gifts of mind and character were being put to an unworthy use. Otherwise, there was no dearth of virtue and merit among the Meos.
Rugged simplicity, hardihood and firmness of purpose were the chief characteristics of the Mewatis in which they were far superior to the urban Muslim population. It was on account of these qualities that in spite of having drifted so far away from Islam, the flood tide of Apostasy could not submerge the territory of Mewat even in the darkest period of its history. For centuries the Meos had been living within the shell of their ignorance, keeping by themselves and isolated from the outside world. A parallel can scarcely be found in the Indian history of a community so large and living in such close proximity to the central seat of power and yet remaining so obscure and isolated. An advantage of it, however, was that the energies of the Mewatis, on the whole, remained conserved, the soil remained virgin while the deplorable habits and customs and superstitious beliefs and practices were, so to speak, like the weeds and scrubs growing on uncultivated land. The Meos, in the 20th Century, were very much like the Arabs in the Age of Jahiliyyah (Ignorance).