In 1923 a Hindu publisher from Lahore, named Rajpal, published a book written by an anonymous author, on Prophet Muhammad, called “Rangeela Rasul,” which literally means “colorful prophet” vilifying the Holy Prophet in clear words and depicting him as a playboy (Nauzubillah). This caused the greatest level of outrage and unrest amongst the already destitute Muslim Community of India. A series of nation wide protests began against the book, and the muslims demanded that Rajpal be severely punished for hurting the religious sentiments of the largest minority in the country. However, as no law existed against religious criticism of any kind, the Lahore High Court was unable to convict him, and he was therefore released. Muslims continued to protest against the man, and thought it quite outrageous that a man who had carried out such blasphemy be allowed to roam about freely. Their sense of insecurity increased two fold, and as each muslim felt the brunt of the insult – emotions ran high.
Such were the sentiments of Ghazi Ilm ud Din, a 19 year old young man from Lahore, who vowed to kill Rajpal for this blasphemy against his beloved Prophet. On 6th sept 1929, he bought a dagger and attacked Rajpal in his shop, killing him on the spot. Ilm ud Din was arrested immediately after the murder and was sent to Mianwali jail. His trial took place in Lahore High Court, in which he was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to death.
This greatly grieved Allama Iqbal, and upon his special request Quaid e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah took up the case as Ilm ud Din’s defense lawyer, filing an appeal in the High Court against the death sentence. During the court hearing the Quaid’s contention was that the defendent was “only 19 or 20 years of age and that his act was prompted by feelings of veneration for the founder of his religion and anger at one who had scurrilously attacked him.”
The court rejected the appeal and maintained the death sentence. Ilm ud Din was executed on 31st October 1929, and was buried without a proper funeral. This caused outrage amongst the muslim community and mass demonstrations broke out throughout the country. Allama Iqbal, along with other scholars, led the campaign to recover Ilm ud Din’s body, so it could be given a proper Islamic burial. The government feared revolt, but after reassurances given by Iqbal, the authorities exhumed the martyr’s body and handed it over to the muslims. Approximately 200, 000 people attended Ilm ud Din’s funeral. He was lowered in his grave by leaders like Allama Iqbal and Maulana Zafar Ali khan, and at that moment Iqbal exclaimed tearfully, “This uneducated young man has surpassed us, the educated ones.”
Following the recent hanging of Mumtaz Qadri, a lot of people have been comparing and likening his case to that of Ghazi Ilm ud Din Shaheed. They are overwhelmed by their sentiments and, due to their high spirits and passion, fail to discern and appreciate the differences which completely set the two incidents apart from each other.
Mumtaz Qadri killed a man who “allegedly” committed blasphemy against the Holy Prophet, Peace and Blessings be upon him. The man was Salman Taseer, the governor of the largest province of Pakistan, and Mumtaz Qadri was his bodyguard, sworn to protect his life.
The reason why Salman Taseer was accused of blasphemy was that he gave his protection to a Christian woman, Asia bibi who was accused and convicted of blasphemy under the Blasphemy law. Asiyah had denied that she had committed blasphemy, and had asked to be pardoned from the death sentence. According to Salman Taseer, the reason he sympathised with Asia Bibi was that the blasphemy law, in the way it is “implemented” in Pakistan, has many flaws, and makes it very easy for the powerful people in the country to target the weak through this very law. Any unbiased person with a sane, rational and sympathetic mind would agree with this. In our society, within the existing (read flawed) social justice framework, such laws can easily be used by the rich, powerful and influential people of the country to target and victimize any weak or innocent person. According to Asiyah Bibi, this is what actually happened in her case. Her family and her neighbour’s family had an old property related dispute, and her neighbour made this accusation against her to get her revenge.
In all of Taseer’s interviews and speeches that he made during this time we cannot find a single word that he uttered against the Holy Prophet; whatever he said was against the “Blasphemy Law,” the man-made law as it exists in Pakistan today. There is a clear difference between saying something disrespectful against the Holy Prophet (SAW) and merely speaking or expressing your reservations against he blasphemy law, esp. as it is implemented in Pakistan – which is not blasphemy. Moreover, even if, for the sake of the argument, Salman Taseer did commit blasphemy, we live in a state which has a law against blasphemy. Mumtaz Qadri, and others who thought Taseer committed blasphemy, should have filed a case against Taseer, instead of taking the law into his own hands and killing Taseer.
By breaking the law and killing an individual, Mumtaz Qadri was actually responsible for creating “fitna” in an Islamic state. His verdict was based on his own judgement, under which he violated the law of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. And I am greatly surprised and dismayed at the people who supported and are still in favour of his actions. So according to these people, it is okay to violate and break the law in a civilized society, turning it into a jungle where no law exists.
In the case of Ghazi Ilm ud Din, no such law against blasphemy or hurting other people’s religious sentiments existed. The muslims did file a case against Rajpal, but Lahore High court acquitted him of the allegation saying the law did not cover blasphemous criticism against religion. The muslims continued to protest for years, while the published book continued to circulate freely.
Ghazi Ilm ud Din Shaheed’s action had historical implications, especially for the Muslim community of India, whereby a provision 295A was added to the Indian Penal Code, making insult to any person’s religious beliefs a punishable offence. This incident also played a role in Allama Iqbal’s famous Allahabad address in 1930, whereby he expressed the wish to see a seperate homeland formed for the Muslims of India.
To clearly differentiate between the two incidents, we must appreciate the difference in time, place, and the social/political situation of the Muslims. In the 1920’s the Muslims of the Indo-Pak subcontinent were living with a heightened sense of insecurity, which increased with every passing day. They were constantly on guard, to protect their faith most feroiously and jealously, against any threat, both from the British and the Hindus. They cannot be blamed for this, as Iqbal says in his essay Islam and Ahmadism:
“Where the members of a group feel, either instinctively or on the basis of rational argument, that the corporate life of the social organism to which they belong is in danger, their defensive attitude must be appraised in reference mainly to a biological criterion. Every thought or deed in this connection must be judged by the life-value that it may possess.”
In The Story of Philosophy, Will Durant speaks of the Jewish exocommunication of the great philosopher Spinoza in the following words, which accurately describes the condition and state of the Muslim Community of India:
“If they had had their own state, their own civil law, their own establishments of secular force and power, to compel internal cohesion and external respect, they might have been more tolerant; but their religiaon was to them their patriotism as well as their faith; … ”
While comparing the two cases we must bear in mind the difference between then and now. We now have a state of our own, and our faith does not face any direct or immediate threat from another community or foreign masters, let alone a poor Christian farmer woman who in all probability did not even commit blasphemy, and was merely accused of it by her neighbours. We are free to practice our faith, we have our laws to protect our faith! I, therefore, believe that Mumtaz Qadri was not all justified to kill Salman Taseer, in fact, he committed blasphemy by killing in the name of the Prophet of Mercy. By killing Taseer, Mumtaz Qadri was not only responsible for creating “fitna” in an Islamic state, but he further violated his sworn duty by killing the man he was supposed to protect. His case bears no likeness to that of Ghazi Ilm ud Din Shaheed, may God exalt his soul.
The ideological foundation of Pakistan, undoubtedly, is Ishq e Rasool, the love of our Beloved Prophet, which is the binding force that holds our nation together. And I firmly believe that in a country with 95% muslim majority, with our deep rooted, inherent love and respect for our Beloved Muhammad (SAW), an actual, genuine case of blasphemy would be rare. Furthermore, would not killing an innocent in his name be a bigger Blasphemy in the very eyes of him who was sent as a “Mercy upon Mankind?”. In a state founded on Ishq e Rasool, we must protect the weak and especially the minorities against any misinterpretations of the Sharia Laws, and be ready to accept and revise our laws if they have any such flaws or weaknesses. I believe in this lies the true application of the Iqbalian verses:
قوت عشق سے ہر پست کوبالا کر دے
دہر میں اسم محمد سے اجالا کر دے