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Home Critical Analysis/Archives Report on Punjab Disturbances of 1953
Report of The Court of Inquiry

THE AHRAR

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.

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