LAHORE: The mausoleum of a Lahore teenager who murdered a local publisher over blasphemy and the recusal of judge Iqbal Hamid-ur-Rehman from hearing the final appeal of Asia Bibi in the Supreme Court exposed the faultlines of faith in Pakistan.
A Christian and mother of five, Bibi has been facing death sentence since 2010 for allegedly insulting
the Prophet. It all began in September 1929, in pre-Partition Lahore, when an illiterate 19-year-old Muslim boy Ilm-ud-din stabbed a Hindu publisher Mahashe Rajpal for publishing a book Rangeela Rasul, which he felt hurt the religious sentiments of Muslims.
The case was the first-ever blasphemy-related incident in the subcontinent. Din’s defence lawyer was Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Ilm-ud-din was hanged in Mianwali Jail in October 1929. Today in Lahore’s Miani Sahib graveyard, Ilm-ud-din has a mausoleum. He is revered as a ‘Ghazi’ and a ‘Shaheed’. His urs is held annually on October 30 and thousands of devotees come to pay their respects to a man they consider the greatest ‘Lover of the Prophet’. While putting his body in the grave, the national poet of Pakistan, Allama Iqbal, who authored the poem, Saare Jahan Se Achha Hindustan Hamara, said emotionally, “This uneducated young man has surpassed us, the educated ones.”
“Not many people have the guts to do what Ilm-ud- Din did for all of us. At such a young age to have that kind of strong faith and do a selfless deed, I would say indeed he was the chosen one,” says 24-year-old Shahab Rehman while placing flowers on the tomb of Ilm-ud-din, the first Pakistani to be hanged for blasphemy in the subcontinent.
“People in Pakistan believe that the biggest thing Quaid-e-Azam did was to make Pakistan, I disagree, fighting this young boy’s case was his greatest contribution,” he says.
Bustling with activity, the well-decorated tomb is visited not only by devout Muslims but also by people seeking help and guidance on real life issues. “I started coming to Pir Sahib’s (Ilm-ud-Din) shrine 15 years ago when my husband was diagnosed with tuberculosis,” says 47-year-old Nadia Parveen. Parveen’s husband is now buried in the same graveyard.
Says 21-year-old Nazia Mohammad, “I don’t know about his (Ilm-ud-Din) historical relevance but I know he was a great saint. After I got married the doctors told me that I will not be able to bear children. After I started praying at the mausoleum I had my first child, and that too, a boy.”
Mohammad Hussain, a helper at the tomb, says: “At the annual urs, you can see big cars, politicians, labourers, women with children or even the poorest come to pay their respect to Ilm-ud-Din. No one has achieved such respect in the history of Pakistan. Even Mumtaz Qadri was trying to imitate Din when he murdered Salman Taseer (former Punjab governor).”
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government led by Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf has now included a compulsory chapter on ‘Ghazi Ilm-ud-Din’ in its curriculum which celebrates a murderer who killed a Hindu blasphemer. Judge Iqbal Hamid-ur-Rehman recused himself since he presided over the trial of Qadri, who shot Taseer for supporting Bibi. Qadri’s funeral was attended by 1,00,000 people in Islamabad, while in 1929 around 6,00,000 had gathered to pay tributes to Ilm-ud-Din.