The 1920’s in India witnessed the publishing of an inflammatory book vilifying Prophet Muhammad (SAW) thereby adding fuel to the existing Muslim/Hindu tensions. The British Raj ruled India and the creation of Pakistan was still a distant dream in the hearts of the Indian Muslims. The Muslim population was understandably incensed and mass protests were held. Prashaad Prataab had authored Rangeela Rasool (The Colourful Prophet), under the pen name of Pandit Chamupati Lal. The word rangeela means ‘colourful’ but can be understood in this context to mean ‘playboy’. [Nauzbillah]
Rajpal was a Hindu book publisher from Lahore. He took the responsibility of publishing the book in 1923 and pledged not to disclose the author’s real name. Pressure from the Muslim community resulted in the matter being taken to Session court Lahore which found Raj Pal guilty and sentenced him. Subsequently Rajpal appealed against the decision of Session Court in the Lahore High court. The appeal was heard by Judge Daleep Singh who gave leave to appeal on the grounds that on the basis of criticism against the religious leaders, no matter how immoral it is, is not covered by S.153 of the Indian Penal Code. Thus Rajpal could not be sentenced as law did not cover blasphemous criticism against religion. The High Court decision was widely criticised and protests were made against it by Muslims of India. Little did anyone suspect that one young man’s course of action would bring about a significant change in the Law, ensuring that Islam would be covered by blasphemy laws.
Ilm Din was an illiterate teenager from Lahore. His father was a carpenter. One day he was passing near Masjid (mosque) Wazir Khan. There was a huge crowd shouting slogans against Rajpal. The speaker thundered: “Oh Muslims! The devil Rajpal has sought to dishonour our beloved Prophet Muhammed (S.A.W) by his filthy book!”
Ilm Din was deeply affected by this passionate speech and vowed to take action. On 6th September 1929 Ilm Deen set out for the bazaar and purchased a dagger for one rupee. He hid the dagger in his pants and waited opposite Rajpal’s Shop. Rajpal had not arrived yet. His flight had arrived at Lahore airport and he proceeded to phone the police in order to request them to provide him security. Ilm Deen did not know what the publisher looked like. He asked a few passer-by’s as to Rajpal’s whereabouts and said that he needed to discuss something with him. Rajpal entered the shop without detection but soon after a man alerted Ilm Din that Rajpal was inside. The young man entered the shop, lunged forward and attacked him. He stabbed his dagger into the chest of Rajpal with such force that his heart was ripped from his body. Rajpal fell dead on the ground. Ilm Deen made no attempt to escape. Rajpal’s employees grabbed him and shouted for help.
The police arrived at the scene and arrested Ilm Deen. He was kept in Mianwali jail. The case went to court and Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah was his defence lawyer. Jinnah fought Ghazi Ilm Deen’s case on a special request from Allama Iqbal. Jinnah urged Ilm Din to enter a plea of not guilty plea and to say that he had acted due to extreme provocation. The fact that Ilm Din was only 19 years old would have also worked in his favour. Ilm Din refused to offer such a plea and insisted that he was proud of his actions. This case was the only one that Jinnah ever lost. The Session Court awarded Ilm Din the death penalty. Against his wishes, the Muslims lodged an appeal, but it was rejected.
Ilm Din’s execution occurred on 31st October 1929. When asked if he had any last requests, he simply requested that he be allowed to pray two rak’at (units) nafl (voluntary) prayer, thus following the example of Khubaib (RA) who also prayed 2 rak’ats nafl before the pagan Quraish executed him.
As the noose was put around the neck of Ilm Din, he repeated before the huge crowd:
“O people! Bear witness that I killed Rajpal to defend our last Prophet Muhammed S.A.W, and today they are going to hang me. I am sacrificing my life whilst reciting the kalimah (shahadah – testimony of faith).”
The young man was killed and the authorities buried him without any Janazah (funeral) prayer being offered for him. Mass demonstrations broke out and there the tension between the Hindu and Muslim communities was palpable. The inhabitants of Lahore wanted Ilm Din’s body returned in order to give him an Islamic janaza (funeral). Two celebrated activists — Dr. Muhammed Allama Iqbal and Mian Abdul Aziz — campaigned to have the body of Ilm Din returned to Lahore for the Janaza prayer. The British were worried that this would incite unrest. Only after Allama Iqbal gave his assurance to the British that no riots would erupt, was permission given.
When the body of Ilm Din was exhumed from its grave, it was found to be the intact without any change whatsoever. The kaffan (shroud) had not changed its colour. This occurred on 14th November 1929 — a full 15 days after the hanging. After a two-day journey, the body arrived in Lahore. Muslims from the whole city and millions from adjoining areas attended his funeral. Ilmuddin’s father requested Allama Muhammad Iqbal to lead the funeral prayer and this shivered Dr. Allama Iqbal who replied that I am a sinful person not competent to do this job to lead the funeral of such a matchless warrior. 200,000 Muslims attended the funeral prayer which led by the Imam of masjid Wazeer Khan, Imam Muhammed Shamsuddeen. Mawlana Zafar Ali Khan said ahead of the burial: “Alas! If only if I had managed to attain such a blessed status!”
Allama Iqbal carried the funeral bier along its final journey. As Iqbal placed the body of Ilm Din into the grave, he tearfully declared: “This uneducated young man has surpassed us, the educated ones.”
The killing of Ilm Din had far-reaching repercussions. A provision was added to the Penal Code, making insult to the religious beliefs of any class an offense. Allama Iqbal’s proposal of a separate Muslim state in 1930 resulted in the creation of Pakistan in 1947. The Pakistan Penal Code makes it a crime for anyone who “by words or visible representation or by an imputation or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiled the name of the Prophet Muhammad “. In 1982, President Zia ul-Haq introduced Section 295B to the Pakistan Penal Code punishing “defiling the Holy Qur’an” with life imprisonment. In 1986, Section 295C was introduced, mandating the death penalty for “use of derogatory remarks in respect of the Holy Prophet” in keeping Islam’s hudood (prescribed punishments). Ilm Din’s legacy is still visible across Pakistan, where parks, hospitals and roads carry his name.