During the 1920’s the Muslims from the Punjab province and the Hindu Arya Samaj were engaged in confrontational politics, when a pamphlet was published allegedly by a Muslim depicting Hindu goddess Sita as a prostitute.
It is said that in retaliation, Krishn Prashad Pratab, a follower of Swami Dayanand of Arya Samaj, under the pen name of Pandit Champupati Lal wrote a pamphlet by the title “Rangeela Rasool”. It was published in 1923 by a Lahore-based publisher, Rajpal. The document focused on the marriage of the Prophet Muhammad with Hazrat Ayesha, much younger than him in age, the ills of polygamy and the problems faced in marriages when the partners are of disparate age. The publication also included some selected “ahadis” (Sayings of Prophet Muhammad).
The Muslims, highly incensed by the contents of the pamphlet, took the matter to a trial court which convicted Rajpal. Later on, the Sessions Court upheld the judgment in appeal. However, Rajpal went to the High Court which acquitted him on the grounds that the matter was not covered under section 153 of the Indian Penal code. The decision of the High Court was deeply agitated by the Muslims.
Ilam Din, 19, was an unlettered son of a carpenter, who along with a friend was passing by Lahore’s Masjid Wazir Khan when they heard a highly inflammatory sermon by a mullah thundering and urging the people gathered there to take action against the “infidels” insulting the prophet of Islam. It is said that the orator was Syed Ataullah Shah Bukhari.
On April 6, 1929, Ilam Din purchased a dagger for one rupee, went to Rajpal’s shop located in Urdu Bazaar Lahore and stabbed him to death. He made no attempt to escape, was immediately arrested and was shifted to Mianwali jail.
Ilam Din had murdered a person who had not authored the document. Ilam Din and Rajpal both may not have even read the pamphlet. Yet the extremely powerful oratory of the mullah instigated a 19-year-old boy to commit the most heinous of crimes against someone whom he had never even seen before.
Ilam Din pleaded not guilty through his trial lawyer Farrukh Hussain and claimed that he was not only innocent but was also framed. However, the court ruled against him and sentenced him to death. An appeal was then filed in the Lahore High Court and Mohammad Ali Jinnah was the lawyer in appeal. However, the case was lost. Later on, Ilam Din filed a mercy petition with King George the Fifth which was also rejected. On 31st October 1929 Ilam Din was hanged.
Ilam Din was buried in Mianwali, while the Muslim community wanted his body to be brought to Lahore for burial. The English feared that it might incite unrest and may lead to Hindu-Muslim riots. It was only after assurances given by Allama Mohammad Iqbal and Mian Abdul Aziz that the body was exhumed from the grave after 15 days and brought to Lahore for burial. Allama Mohammad Iqbal refused to lead the funeral prayers by stating that he was a sinful person and was not competent to lead the funeral prayers of a “matchless warrior of Islam”. However, he carried the funeral bier and declared that an “illiterate surpassed the educated” ones like him. Maulana Zafar Ali khan, the journalist cum poet, regretted that he could not achieve that “blessed status”.
The conduct of Muslim leaders in case of Ilam Din was less than desirable. Sir Mohammad Iqbal, later to be the national poet, and Maulana Zafar Ali Khan not only eulogized him but also glorified him as a hero.
The rightists’ claim that Jinnah fought the case free of charge is not correct. He did charge a fee, however, the actual amount is not known. Apologists assert that he was merely a lawyer whose job was to render the best possible defense to his client on payment of a certain amount. The fact remains that he was not just a lawyer.
In the 1920’s Jinnah was a prominent leader and a public figure. It is also true that Jinnah’s legal practice was primarily based in Bombay, whereas in this case he came all the way to Lahore, while being fully aware of the communal character of the case.
The historical fact remains that by then Jinnah had not only parted ways with the Congress, he had also come up with his ‘14 Points’ on March 28th , 1929.While realizing that it was a golden opportunity to capitalize on the popularity of Ilam Din among the Muslims of India, he decided to take up his case.
In all fairness, Jinnah should have avoided accepting the case even at the appellate level. This would have been the conduct of any statesman or visionary. Notwithstanding its deleterious effects on Hindu-Muslim relations it also lent support to the view that Jinnah was for an extra-judicial act committed against a “blasphemer”.
In other words, Jinnah was implicitly supporting an act which today is being defended by retired Chief Justice Khawaja Mohammad Sharif and retired Justice Mian Nazir Akhtar of the Lahore High Court; appellate defense lawyers in the Mumtaz Qadri case.
True leaders may not have bread to offer but vision which has far reaching consequences for the nation and the course of events for many years to come.
To gain cheap popularity our so-called leaders exploited the whole Ilam Din issue but forgot that support for a murderer in the name of religion, regardless of the motive behind the act would render him a hero and would continue to haunt the Muslims and non-Muslims alike for all times to come.
To date hundreds have been killed extra-judicially. And not only several Christians, Hindus and Ahmadis (declared non-Muslims by the state) are rotting in jails throughout Pakistan, a sizeable number of Muslims accused of blasphemy are also behind the bars. Many of them had property disputes; a few had personal enmity while some challenged the powerful. They are all facing charges which have made them extremely vulnerable even within the confines of the prison.
It was October 1929 when short-sighted Muslim leadership was making thoughtless proclamations while the masses were staging rallies in support of Ilam Din. Decades later we witness widespread support for Mumtaz Qadri on the same grounds. Mullahs have held protest rallies demanding his release; right wing columnists wrote columns in his support while our “educated” lawyers’ fraternity attempted to ransack the office of the judge who sentenced Mumtaz Qadri.
Conduct of national leaders at one point in time is imitated by the masses and becomes an integral part of the national psyche. It continues to impact attitude formation and group behavior for a long time.
Justice delayed is justice denied. In British India Ilam Din who murdered Rajpal on April 6,1929 was hanged on October 31,1929; in less than seven months’ time. In the “Islamic” Republic, Mumtaz Qadri killed Salman Taseer on January 6, 2011 and there appear no prospects of justice be done even in the distant future.
Will Mumtaz Qadri’s sentence ever be carried out? Perhaps never!