The Ahrar were a party of nationalist, Muslims who seceded from the Congress and in a meeting held in Lahore on 4th May 1931 founded the Majlis-i-Ahrar-i-Islam. They first came into prominence during the Kashmir agitation of 1931 when on 30th October in that year Mazhar Ali Azhar led a determined band of one hundred volunteers from Sialkot to march into the Jammu territory. The Kashmir agitation in the Punjab was a spontaneous expression of sympathy with the Kashmiri Muslims who were being subjected to ruthless oppression by the Dogra Darbar. The grievances of Kashmiri Musalmans comprised the appropriation by the State of a number of mosques, graveyards and other places sacred to Muslims, the exclusion of Muslims from public offices, the restrictions imposed on the observance of their religious ceremonies and the absence of a properly constituted legislature in which Muslims could be represented in accordance with their numerical proportion in the State. A campaign in the press against these grievances resulted in a communal riot in Srinagar on 13th July 1931.
Attempts to take charge of the agitation, resulting from this riot were made both by the Majlis-i-Ahrar and by a body styled “The All India Kashmir Committee”, which came into being on July 26, and included in its personnel Doctor Sir Muhammad Iqbal, Nawab Sir Zulfiqar Ali Khan, Khwaja Hasan Nizami, Nawab Ibrahim Ali Khan, Mirza Bashir-ud-Din Mahmud Ahmad, the present head of the Ahmadiya community, and Abdur Rahim Dard, an Ahmadi, as Secretary. The subsequent conflict between the Ahrar and the Ahmadis was largely due to the mutual hostility arising from their having been in opposite camps during the period of the Kashmir agitation. The Ahrar arranged to celebrate the 14th of August as the ‘Kashmir Day’, and on the following day officially announced that they had taken up the agitation on behalf of their co-religionists in Kashmir. As already stated, on October 30, Mazhar Ali Azhar with one hundred followers entered the Jammu territory. This dramatic act at once brought the Ahrar into prominence.
Though they had cut themselves off from the Congress, the Ahrar continued to flirt with that body right up to the Partition. One of the resolutions passed by the Working Committee of the Majlis-i-Ahrar which met at Delhi on 3rd March, 1940, disapproved of the Pakistan plan, and in some subsequent speeches of the Ahrar leaders Pakistan was dubbed as 'Palidistan'. In a press statement issued on 29th November 1940 Maulana Daud Ghaznavi announced the decision of the Ahrar to merge themselves into the Congress. In the resolution passed by the Punjab Provincial Ahrar Conference held at Gujranwala from 17th to 19th March 1943, and in a subsequent resolution passed at Saharanpur in the same year they declared themselves against the proposed Partition which they described as vivisection of the country. In every important speech one leader of theirs or another criticised the Muslim League and its leadership, including the Quaid-i-Azam for whom they had little love and who in those days had come to be regarded as the sole and undisputed leader of the Muslim nation. They took mean advantage of his liberal views and lack of ostentation in religious matters by calling him an infidel. The author-ship of the couplet—
‘Ik kafira ke waste Islam ko chhora
yeh Quad-i-Azam, hai keh hai kafir-i-azam’
is attributed to Maulana Mazhar Ali Azhar, a leading personality in the Ahrar organisation, who had the audacity to assert before us that he still held that view. References were made in the speeches of the Ahrar not only to Quaid-i-Azam’s marriage with a Parsi lady but also to his not having gone on pilgrimage to Mecca. In 1945, they attempted to revive the Sunni-Shia controversy and Mazhar Ali Azhar and his son Mustafa Qaisar left Lahore for Lucknow on 16th November to re-open the Madah-i-Sahaba agitation. In the elections of 1946, three Ahrar candidates stood against the Muslim League candidates but they were all defeated. From the subsequent direct action which the Muslim League started in the Punjab they kept themselves completely aloof.
One of the main activities of the Ahrar was their opposition, in one form or another, of the Ahmadis. It may indeed be said that the Ahrar took their birth in the hatred of the Ahmadis. Only two years after they founded the Majlis-i-Ahrar, they passed a resolution that no Qadiani should be elected to any public body. Qadian, as already stated, was, before the Partition, almost exclusively an Ahmadi town. In 1934, the Ahrar decided to hold a conference in Qadian itself but on the meeting having been banned, they held the conference on 2lst October of that year in the playground of the Dayanand Anglo-Vedic High School in Rajada, a village only a mile away from Qadian, where they attracted an audience of many thousands. In that conference the popular Ahrar speaker Sayyad Ata Ullah Shah Bukhari delivered a 5-hour diatribe against the Ahmadis in the course of which he said “things which could have no other effect but to rouse hatred of the Ahmadis in the minds of the hearers”, the professions of peace in his speech alternating with abuse and wit of a very low order. Bukhari was prosecuted for this speech and convicted at the conclusion of a sensational trial which created more interest and anti-Ahmadiya feelings than the speech itself. Since then every Ahrar speaker of note has been saying one thing or another against the Ahmadis, their leaders and their beliefs.
The Partition of 1947 and the establishment of Pakistan came as a great disappointment to the Ahrar because all power passed to the Congress or the Muslim League, and no scope for activity was left for the Ahrar in India or in Pakistan. The new Muslim State had come to them as a shock, disillusioned them of their ideology and finished them as a political party. For some-time they found themselves in a state of frustration, completely bewildered as to their future. Two of their leaders, Maulvi Abdul Ghani Dar and Maulana Habib-ur-Rahman, decided to stay on in India ; Sheikh Husam-ud-Din, another equally important leader, wavered for some time and eventually decided to come over to Pakistan to take charge of a hotel, known as the Vira Hotel, in Lahore, which a Congressman Parbodh Chander by name had handed over to him. Master Taj-ud-Din Ansari of Ludhiana and Maulvi Muhammad Ali of Jullundur also came over to Pakistan, and while the former settled at Sialkot, the latter went to Multan. Even Sayyed Ata Ullah Shah Bukhari who belongs to Gujrat, shifted to a village in the Muzaffargarh district. Maulana Mazhar Ali Azhar renounced politics. Sahibzada Faiz-ul-Hasan took to a secluded life in his village Alo Mohar in the Sialkot district.
In November 1947, the Ahrar held a meeting of the Working Committee at Khangarh, where Sayyad Ata Ullah Shah Bukhari had settled, to consider what their future programme should be, but could come to no decision. The same was the result of a subsequent meeting held in December 1947, in Lahore where three possible courses, namely, of dissolving the party of giving up politics and confining themselves to religious activities, and of keeping the party alive, were discussed but the only decision taken was that an All-Pakistan Majlis-i-Ahrar should be founded. In the first conference after this, held in May 1948 at Lyallpur, faint references were made to Ahmadis and loyalty to Pakistan was affirmed. More distinct sentiments in favour of Pakistan were expressed in the next meeting in Lahore in June 1948, accompanied by a hint that the Ahrar were not joining the Muslim League because of the un-Islamic beliefs of men like Chaudhri Zafrullah Khan and Mian Iftikhar-ud-Din. Their moat important gathering since the Partition was on the occasion of the Ahrar Defence Conference which was held from 12th to 14th January 1949 at Lahore and at which they announced their decision to cease functioning as a political party and to continue their future activity as a religious group. In political matters, they announced, they would follow the Muslim League.
After this they began holding their conferences under the label of Tabligh Conferences, and a series of such conferences was held at Okara, Lyallpur, Maghiana, Chiniot, Sialkot, Gujranwala, Gujrat, Pind Dadan Khan, Jhelum, Shujabad, Burewala and Multan. The demand for the declaration of Ahmadis as a non-Muslim minority was first made at a conference in Rawalpindi and reiterated at a public meeting held at Pind Dadan Khan on 1st May 1949. After this, criticism of the founder of the Ahmadiya community and Chaudhri Zafrullah Khan became a regular feature of all Ahrar addresses and they began to feel that it was not necessary for them to seek the help of the Muslim League and that they could in future function as a separate party. The Muslim League also adopted a friendly attitude towards them because the Working Committee of the Pakistan Muslim League in its meeting held in Karachi on 27th December 1949 excluded, the Ahrar from the list of nineteen parties which were tabooed for Muslim Leaguers.
A full account of the genesis and the activities of the Ahrar has been given in an earlier part of this report. The dominating principle by which the Ahrar policy is governed is not to play the second fiddle. It was on this principle that they separated from the Congress, though even after this, they continued flirting with and kotowing before the Congress. There was no love lost between them and the Muslim League; nor was the Muslim League’s Pakistan ever acceptable to them. During the period that the Muslim League under the leadership of the Quaid-i-Azam was striving for Pakistan, the Ahrar were flinging foul abuse on all the leading personalities of the Muslim League and accusing them of leading un-Islamic lives. Islam with them was a weapon which they could drop and pick up at pleasure to discomfit a political adversary. In their dealings with the Congress, religion was a private affair to them and nationalism their ideology. When they were pitted against the League, their sole consideration was Islam of which they held a monopoly from God, and the League was not only indifferent to but an enemy of Islam.
To them Quaid-i-Azam was kafir-i-azam. They alone knew what Islamic way of life was; and everyone in the Muslim League was living a notoriously irreligious life. How they attempted to defeat the Muslim League with Islam as their weapon will be apparent from some utterances of Maulana Mazhar Ali Azhar, the Ahrar leader, to whom is ascribed the couplet in which the Quaid-i-Azam was called kafir-i-azam. This gentleman is a Shia, but madh-i-sahaba with him is dearer than life, and during the days of Shia-Sunni riots in Lucknow both he and his son adopted this slogan which rouses the ire of every Shia and went from Lahore to Lucknow to fan the Shia-Sunni fire. Speaking outside Bhati Gate at a public meeting of the Ahrar, he said that he had, for the preceding two or three months, been asking the Muslim League whether the names of sahaba-i-karam would be revered in Pakistan, but had received no reply. He alleged that in the Congress-governed Provinces where Government was still with the British and the League had no power, the Leaguers were not permitting the sahaba to be named with reverence and asked whether, if power passed to the League; the state of affairs would be the same as in Lucknow and other Provinces where Muslims were in a majority and madh-i-sahaba would be an offence. Proceeding, he inquired if words of praise for Hazrat Abu Bakr, Hazrat Umar and Hazrat Usman could not be uttered in Lucknow and Mahmudabad, what would be the condition in League’s Pakistan and what interest the Musalmans could have in such Pakistan (vide ‘Shahbaz’ of 20th November 1945)?
In its issue of 2nd November 1945, the ‘Nawa-i-Waqt’ published a letter written by this very gentleman to another Ahrar leader. As the genuineness of this letter was questioned, we examined Maulana Mazhar Ali Azhar about it. He says that he does not definitely remember having written it but since this letter was published in one of the prominent papers of Lahore and was not contradicted by him, we have no hesitation in holding that the Maulana did write this letter. It is impossible that the Maulana, a renowned leader as he was in those days, should not have been aware of the publication of this letter, and, if he failed to contradict it, the only inference can be that the ‘Nawa-i-Waqt’ was in possession of the original letter, the authorship of which, in case the matter came to proof, could have conclusively been proved. The subject-matter of this letter is again madh-i-sahaba and we may repeat that the Maulana himself is a Shia. In this letter the Maulana says that the weapon of madh-i-sahaba could effectively be used against the League and that both the League and that both the League and the Government will have to surrender over this issue whatever might, be the result of the elections.
This conduct of the Maulana shows quite clearly how the Ahrar and other parties can conveniently exploit religion for their political ends. In this connection we may also mention a similar effort made by the Muslim League itself in 1946 to have pirs and masha’ikh, who command considerable followings, on its side in the struggle for the establishment of Pakistan.
The Muslim League with a view to enlisting the support of the masses appointed a Masha’ikh Committee, consisting of twelve members, some of whom were religious leaders of unquestionable positions, e. g. the Pir Sahib of Macki Sharif, Pir Jama’at Ali Shah, Khwaja Nizam-ud-Din of Taunsa Sharif; Makhdum Raza Shah of Multan, etc. But the amusing part of it is that even men like Khan Iftikhar Husain Khan of Mamdot, Sirdar Shaukat Hayat Khan, Malik Feroz Khan Noon and Nawab Muhammad Hayat Qureshi, who were not much known for their religiosity, were also included in this Committee and religious designations assigned to them. Khan Iftikhar Husain Khan of Mamdot was described as Pir Mamdot Sharif, Sirdar Shaukat Hayat Khan as Sajjada Nashin of Wah Sharif, Malik Feroz Khan Noon of Darbar Sargodha Sharif and Nawab Muhammad Hayat Qureshi as Sajjada Nashin of Sargodha Sharif and to top all, the Secretary of this Committee, Mr. Ibrahim Ali Chishti, was designated Fazil-i-Hind Sajjada Nashin of Paisa Akhbar Sharif. The only object of the appointment of this Masha’ikh Committee could be to mix up important political leaders of the Province with religious leaders of recognised status and to hold them out as spokesmen of religion so that if occasion arose they could sway the masses more easily. And in the course of this very agitation the issues of the ‘Azad’, an Ahrar paper, for 7th December and 16th November 1952, reported two speeches, one by Hafiz Qamrud Din, Sajjada Nashin, Sial Sharif, and the other by Qazi Ehsan Ahmad Shujabadi, in which in the cause of religion rebellion was stated not only to be justifiable but an act of piety.
So far as the Ahrar are concerned, they consistently exploited religion for their political ends. They left the Congress on grounds of religion, and they opposed the Muslim League and Pakistan on that ground. In a statement, issued from Amritsar on 19th September 1945, Maulana Mazhar Ali Azhar said that the Muslim League’s slogan of Pakistan was a stunt and that he neither recognised Mr. Jinnah as Quaid-i-Azam nor the League as the representative of Musalmans, because Mr. Jinnah’s life was un-Islamic. He appealed to the people that they should not be misled by the slogans for Pakistan and that in the coming elections they should cast their votes for those who were serving the public. The ‘Milap’ of Lahore in its issue of 27th December 1945, published a speech by the Ahrar leader, Amir-i-Shari’at Sayyad Ata Ullah Shah Bukhari, which he made at the Ahrar Conference at Alipore. In this speech the Amir-i-Shari’at announced with the beat of dram that the leaders of the Muslim League were a class of be-amal (irreligious) people who were not only unaware of their aqibat (life after death) but were also spoiling the aqibat of others and that the State which they were attempting to create was not Pakistan but khakistan. The same venerable leader in a speech at Pasrur said that no mother had yet given birth to a child who could even make the ‘P’ of Pakistan (vide Istiqlal Number of the ‘Daily Jadid Nizam’ of 1950). In his speeches Chaudhri Afzal Haq, the Ahrar leader, made many sarcastic and disparaging references to Muslim League’s conception of Pakistan, which are reported at pages 41, 82-83 and 99 of ‘Khutbat-i-Ahrar’. Maulvi Muhammad Ali Jullundri admitted in a speech made at Lahore on 15th February 1953, that the Ahrar had been opposed to Partition and that the reasons for that view of theirs would become apparent to the people within a short time. Both before and after the Partition, he also used the word ‘palidistan’ for Pakistan, and Capt. Abdul Haye’s evidence before us proves that even during the disturbances in one of the speeches made at Lahore by the Ahrar leader, Amir-i-Shari’at Sayyad Ata Ullah Shah Bukhari, Pakistan was described as a prostitute which the Ahrar had accepted perforce.
On Partition the Ahrar came to Pakistan as a defeated and frustrated party. Some of the Ahrar leaders stayed behind and according to a report published in the ‘Zamindar’ of 16th January 1948, the All India Majlis-i-Ahrar passed a resolution dissolving their organisation and accepting that in India no political organisation other than the Congress was called for. The resolution advised the Musalmans to join the Congress and to acknowledge the leadership of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. They decided to confine their future activities to khidmat-i-khalq (service of humanity) and for the protection of their religious rights the Musalmans were advised to join the Jami’at-ul-Ulama organisation. I
n Pakistan they kept quiet for some time, trying to discover some new ideology for themselves. They repeatedly said that they had not given up politics and that they intended to assume the role of opposition in Pakistan (vide the ‘Azad’ for 26th December 1950, and 27th May 1952, and the ‘Ta’meer-i-Nau’ of 5th December 1949), We have already pointed out how after a period of inactivity they began to awake as a political party but finding that there was no scope for their old ideology in Pakistan and that the Muslim League would not permit them to come into prominence, they surrendered their politics in favour of the Muslim League and declared that in future they would devote themselves to tabligh (religious propaganda). What the precise scope of their activities in the field of tabligh was going to be was not announced by them, but it has been admitted before us that the conversion of non-Muslims other than Ahmadis was not included in their campaign which was to be exclusively directed against the Ahmadis. Their enmity of the Ahmadis extended over almost a quarter of a century, and though it will be incorrect to say that before the Partition they were not very much concerned, about the Ahmadis, their beliefs and their activities, it can be said with absolute certainty that now the Ahrar brought the anti-Ahmadiya controversy out of their old armoury purely as a political weapon and what subsequently happened is an eloquent testimony to their shrewdness and judgment as a political party. They thought that if they could arouse public feeling and the masses against the Ahmadis, nobody would dare oppose them and that the more the opposition to this activity of theirs, the more popular they would become. Subsequent events showed that they were right in this assumption. They, therefore, concentrated against the Ahmadis and whether the occasion was a tabligh or a difa’ or an istihkam conference, or yaum-i-tashakkur or yaum-i-mutalibat, the description of the conference or the day being merely a camouflage, or only a cattle fair, their main, nay the only, topic was Ahmadis and Ahmadiyyat.
If they had carried on this religious controversy, as other religious controversies are carried on, they would not perhaps have attracted much support. But they were clever enough to recognise that the feelings of a Musalman are nowhere more easily and bitterly aroused and his indignation awakened than over a real or fancied insult to the Holy Prophet. They, therefore, began to give out that their activities were meant to preserve the nubuwwat (prophethood) of the Holy Prophet and to repel attacks on his namus (honour) which had been made by Ahmadis in propagating the belief that the Holy Prophet was not the last of the prophets and that another prophet had appeared who claimed not only to be equal but superior to the Holy Prophet. The trick succeeded and they began to attract large audiences to their meetings, and since some of the Ahrar speakers are experts in the choice of words and expressions and the use of similes and metaphors and can intersperse their speeches with flashes of humour and wit of however low an order, they soon began to be popular. Government became alarmed at this and in the very first note that Mr. Daultana, the Chief Minister, recorded about their activities, he rightly judged that they were ‘trying to capture a political living space’ for themselves. The same was the opinion of Maulana Abul Hasanat, who eventually became the first dictator of the direct action, when in one of his statements published in the ‘Maghribi Pakistan’ of 11th July 1952, he said that the khatm-i-nubuwwat movement had been started by the Ahrar with a political motive and in which he expressed his determination not to let any political party exploit religion.
Similar was the comment on their activities by the ‘Maghribi Pakistan’ in its issue of 2nd and 4th July. And nobody understood the Ahrar motives better than Mr. Qurban Ali Khan, Inspector-General of Police, who attempted throughout to emphasise the point that the Ahrar had purposely chosen an issue on which nobody would have the courage to oppose them, that on this issue they could easily defeat the Muslim League itself, that the implications of the issue were of far-reaching importance to the future and stability of the country, that though the Government had a difficult problem to face, someone somewhere had to take a decision and that it was on an occasion like this that the leadership of a country was put to real test.
We have already mentioned how the Ahrar managed to do away with the Muslim League opposition by announcing that they had given up their own politics. For some time after this the Government, by reason of the Ahrar’s alliance with the Muslim League, remained indifferent to, and even overlooked their activities. But after they had succeeded in rallying round almost all religious organisations on the khatm-i-nubuwwat issue, they came out in the open and began to defy orders under section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which the District Magistrates, under a policy communicated to them by the Government, had promulgated. At first these orders were directed against public meetings held or organised by the Ahrar but when the Ahrar began to hold their meetings in mosques, they were made applicable to such meetings also. This raised a storm of indignation because the Ahrar could make the plausible allegation that Government had started interfering with gatherings in mosques and, therefore, with religion. This argument succeeded quite easily and was as effective as the earlier argument that the Ahrar were fighting in defence of the nubuwwat and therefore honour of the Holy Prophet. Thus contraventions of orders under section 144 became more frequent and more popular, and when some of the Ahrar offenders were prosecuted for such breaches, they at once found themselves raised to the status of martyrs. A lot of propaganda was thrust down the public throat that Government was not only imposing restrictions on the use of mosques as places of worship and performance of religious obligations but that it was also relentlessly prosecuting people whose only fault was that they said their prayers or preached religion in the mosques. The arguments was invincible and beyond issuing a vague and brief statement that Government did not mean to interfere with anyone’s religion, it did nothing to stop this pernicious propaganda.
When the Ahrar made the pretence of a compromise with the Government and gave an undertaking, which nobody among the Ahrar except those who had given it knew, not to murder, rob or dishonour the Ahmadis, Government readily accepted the assurance. The Ahrar offenders who had been convicted were, therefore, released and pending cases against them as well as all orders under section 144 withdrawn. True to their tradition, the Ahrar resumed their activities, this time more vigorously and relentlessly because there were no section 144 orders to disobey, no prosecutions and no district authorities to call them to account.
Negotiations with Khwaja Nazim-ud-Din started and here again, as in the Karachi Convention of January and in the Majlis-i-Amal appointed by it, the Ahrar dominated. All recruitment of volunteers and the collection of funds was done by the Ahrar, though in the name of Tahaffuz-i-khatm-i-nubuwwat movement. Maulana Akhtar Ali Khan’s efforts himself to collect money not having met with much response. Thus the whole paraphernalia for the civil revolt was set up by the Ahrar.
The Ahrar also dominated the deliberations of the All Muslim Parties Convention in Lahore, which was manoeuvred by themselves. They had more than their share in the Majlis-i-Amal and some of the members of that Majlis who were nominated by other organisations were really Ahrar. And lastly the Ahrar contributed the largest number to arrests and jails. Thus they were directly responsible for the disturbances.
The conduct of the Ahrar calls for the strongest comment and is especially reprehensible—we can use no milder word—for the reason that they debased a religious cause by pressing it into service for a temporal purpose and exploited religious susceptibilities and sentiments of the people for their personal ends. That the Ahrar were sincere in what they did can only be believed by themselves because their past history is so glaringly inconsistent that only a fool could be misled by their professions of religiousness. Khwaja Nazim-ud-Din described them as enemies of Pakistan, and this compliment they richly deserved for their past activities. That they turned out to be enemies of the new State when it came into being has been proved by their subsequent conduct. How could a party which was opposed to Pakistan, to the Muslim League and all its leaders and which was a mere handmaid of the Congress, give up all its past ideology and on the establishment of Pakistan which came into being despite its efforts, completely change its views, as it were, overnight, and pose as the sole monopolist of Islam in a State which it had done its best to prevent from coming into existence ? Did the Ahrar discover their ideal only after the Partition ? Where was their cry of an Islamic State for Pakistan when they were engaged in a grim struggle against parties and people who were claiming only a homeland for the Muslims ? And are they not, if recent press reports are true, even now in the good books of the Congress and pitted against the only Muslim party in India ? Have not their Indian comrades, who still call themselves Ahrar, been commissioned by the Congress to reconcile the Kashmiries to Bakhshi regime in Kashmir ? If all this is true, then only simple-minded folks in Pakistan could be befooled by their expressions of religious fervour. Here are the views of their own President for their conversion to the ideology which they wish to enforce in Pakistan :—
“Q.—Do you know anything about Iqbal and Nehru controversy ?
Q.—Please state the subject which was in controversy between them ?
A.—Nehru emphasised watan, but Allama Iqbal emphasised religion.
Q.—Then there was a clear conflict between the ideology of the Ahrar and that of Allama Iqbal ?
Q.—Why did the Ahrar then change their ideology ?
A.—So long as we were with the Congress we were a political party, but when Pakistan was about to come into existence we converted ourselves into a religious party.
Q.—When the Ahrar were siding with the Congress, did they believe, as a part of their religion that they could be good subjects in an undivided country ?
Q.—Do you still have that religious view ?
Q.—Were the Ahrar a party of nationalist Muslims ?
Q.—Did they have the same ideology as the Congress ?
Q.—Was the Jami’at-ul-Ulama-i-Hind also a body of nationalist Muslims ?
Q.—Could, in your opinion, a Musalman lead the life of a Musalman in the future constitution as envisaged by the Ahrar and the Congress ?
Q.—Do you still have the same opinion ?
Q.—Was watan the predominant factor in the Congress and Ahrar ideology ?
Q.—Did you share this view with the Congress ?
Q.—Can you have the same ideology for the subjects of Pakistan as you had when you were associated with the Congress ?
Comment on this is superfluous except that in Pakistan even a party with the Ahrar’s past can over throw the Government if it has the common sense of raising a plausible religious issue.