Blasphemy and the Ahmadiyya Response – A Brief Case Study

Asif M Basit

The British Raj was not limited to being only a political phenomenon in the Indian subcontinent but a phase that left social, religious, moral and geographical imprints on the collective psyche of the peoples of India. 

For Muslims, India was a land that they had ruled for centuries and this inculcated in them a sense of deprivation of power and autonomy. As for Hindus, India was a sacred land that was at the heart of their faith; Hinduism and India – or Bharat – were inseparable entities. So, both the major stakeholders of the Indian subcontinent – Hindus and Muslims – battled the Raj in their own ways, although trying to collaborate where interests became common. The resistance towards the Raj, which was meant to be a common interest of Hindus and Muslims, remained weak and disorientated for the communal differences that erupted from time to time among themselves. These lines of communal differences were becoming established by the end of the nineteenth century, especially in northern India.

Hindus were in the overall majority in India but were a minority in the Punjab where Muslims formed the vast majority. Then there were Sikhs and Christians also and this made Punjab a melting pot of religions, languages and cultures; the latter two also seen as components of the former. 

While Muslims and Christians actively proselytised their faiths and gained converts, Hindus upheld their non-proselytising characteristic which led to mass conversion of Hindus to the other two faiths. Feeling that Hinduism was – as Ganga Prasad Upadhayaya rightly put it – “a mouse-trap with the door turned inside out”, where one could leave but not enter again, there arose a movement called the Arya Samaj. 

Jawaharlal Nehru described the character of the Arya Samaj movement in the most concise manner in his book The Discovery of India:

“The Arya Samaj was a reaction to the influence of Islam and Christianity, more especially the former. It was a crusading and reforming movement from within, as well as a defensive organisation for protection against external attacks. It introduced proselytisation into Hinduism and thus tended to come into conflict with other proselytising religions. The Arya Samaj, which had been a close approach to Islam, tended to become a defender of everything Hindu, against what it considered as the encroachments of other faiths.”

Too keenly focused on religious symbolism, the Arya Samajists placed at the heart of their faith a comparison between their founder, Swami Dyanand, and the founder of Islam, and between their Veda and the Holy Quran. Their trained missionaries, or updeshaks, developed a fashion of street preaching where they would use flowery language to lure the general public into converting to Arya Samaj. These debates, full of inflammatory statements against Islam, soon made their way into the Arya journalism and the obscenity was carried from the streets to print form which, naturally, was greater in outreach and effect, and also in injuring the sentiments of other faiths, especially those of Muslims. 

Ram Ratan Bhatnagar, in his book The Rise and Growth of Hindi Journalism, notes:

“The bane of this style was that it was too emotional and irrational. It did not decorate itself with literary ornaments. Nor did it care much for accuracy.”

Swami Dayanand, the founder of the Arya Samaj, was deeply influenced by his guru, Swami Virjanand, who believed in cleansing India of all contaminating elements – like any other religion apart from Hinduism – and bringing back her glory of the pre-Krukshetra war recorded in the Mahabharata. This vision entailed an attempt to wipe out all faiths from the face of India, also giving the movement its militant character. Swami Dyanand’s death was followed by schism within the Samaj with the wing led by the likes of Pandit Lekhram who acquired a militant and violent approach particularly towards Islam. This aggressive approach continued to grow out of all limits of reason, sensibility and decency. The obscene and vulgar language against the God and the founder of Islam used in their street lectures and publications ought not to be repeated here, but can be read in the judgments given by courts in lawsuits filed by Muslims against the Aryas. 

As mentioned above, Muslims and Hindus did occasionally form loosely bound coalitions where mutual benefits could be sought. One such venture was the Non-Cooperation Movement of Gandhi and the Khilafat Movement of the Muslims – both led by Gandhi. 

Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIra had warned the Muslims that it was not advisable to go ahead with this alliance as no good results could be achieved through movements that were based on confused ideology. However, the infatuation that existed on both sides blindfolded the Hindus and the Muslims alike, and they decided to carry on rallying in the name of the two aforementioned movements. Later, as both the ventures collapsed and came to a shameful end, the Hindu-Muslim tension rose to new, irreparable levels. 


Article by Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra urging Muslims to voice their sentiments for the Holy Prophetsa of Islam

The underlying factor in this rise of tension was, in the words of Wilfred Cantwell Smith, an “emotional frustration” that had turned the whole situation “morbid”. Shuddhi – the movement for the reconversion of Hindus – turned the situation even more sour. 

Inflammatory literature continued to be published and distributed on a mass-scale. Reaction from Muslims was only but natural and there appeared on the religious scene of Punjab the Muslim response of similar scale and, in some cases, similar nature. The situation aggravated to a point in the 1920s when there appeared three published works by the Arya Samajists that resulted in eruption of conflict, violence and unrest, so much so that the government had to amend their laws to avoid similar situations in future. These three works by the Arya Samajists were: Vichitra Jivan by Pandit Kalicharan Sharma (1923); the book Rangila Rasul by Pandit Chamupati (1924); and, to add fuel to fire, an article titled SairiDauzakh by Devi Sharan Sharma in the monthly Risala-i-Vartman (issue, May 1927).

As soon as the article was published by Risala-i-Vartman, Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih IIra wrote an article urging all Muslims, who claimed to love the Holy Prophetsa of Islam, to come forward and voice their injured feelings so as to be heard by official authorities. The article, titled Rasul-e-Karim ki Mahabbat key Dava Karney Waley Kiya ab bhi Beydar na Hongay? (Will Those Claiming Love for the Holy Prophetsa Still Not Wake Up?) was printed in poster form and exhibited all over India. The outcome of this poster was recorded by All India Reporter (Lahore, 1927) in the following words:

“Towards the end of May or very early in June a poster made its appearance in Amritsar. It is said to have been sent by the mirza of Qadian and, to have drawn attention to certain portions of this article and still further excited the Muslims.” It was acknowledged that “had it not been for the part played by the mirza of Qadian in sending a poster to Amritsar”, the article of Risala-i-Vartman may not have been seen as “highly inflammatory” by the law-enforcement agencies. The pressure from Arya Samaj circles led to the poster by Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIra also to be seen as “highly inflammatory” and being proscribed by the police, but it had served its purpose by awakening the Muslims from a slumber. GH Thursby mentions the huge impact of this poster in his book Hindu-Muslim Relations in British India:

“Several days after its appearance an Urdu poster was distributed in Amritsar which called the attention of Muslims to what were apparently the particularly objectionable portions of the article. The Mirza or leader of the Ahmadiyya Muslim sect at Qadian was the attributed source of the poster, which provoked protest meetings against the article and led to noticeable unrest among many of the Muslims of the city. Therefore, early in June a Muslim Deputy Superintendent of Police brought the article to the attention of the local government. This resulted in proscription of the May issue of the journal [Vartman] under section 99A of the Criminal Procedure Code. Then, on June 6th, prosecution under 153A of the Indian Penal Code was undertaken by the government. Both Gian Chand Pathak, who was the acknowledged editor, printer, and publisher of Vartman journal, and Devi Sharan Sharma, who was the alleged author of Sair-i-Dauzakh were arrested, and the Amritsar District Magistrate began to hear testimony within days of their arrest.”

The poster by Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIra (also published in Al Fazl on 10 June 1927) had highlighted the passages that were extremely derogatory and ridiculed the persona of the Holy Prophetsa of Islam. The poster, in line with the teachings of the Promised Messiahas, did not call for violence but urged Muslims across the country to “not show aggression but, on the precepts of the Companions [of the Holy Prophetsa], uphold the honour of Islam…” Huzoorra urged that one way of doing so was by not strengthening the economy of Hindu businessmen and purchasing goods from Muslim traders instead. He clarified that “this [was] not a boycott, but preference” and no one had the right to raise objections on matters of choice in preference. He further urged that the true teachings of Islam should be propagated on mass-scale so as to demystify the misconceptions created by mischievous Arya writers and publishers. Huzoorra stated that should the Muslims unite to free themselves from the economic slavery of Hindus, the government, seeing that Muslims too could show unity, would start to take their opinion seriously.

However, the passages from the article Sair-i-Dauzakh that were highlighted in the poster by Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIra were taken into account by the court and it was concluded by the judges on the bench that “prosecutable effect had indeed been produced by the words of the article [Sair-i-Dauzakh]”.

Having heard the case thoroughly, Justice Broadway found both the author and the publisher, Devi Sharan Sharma and Gian Chand Pathak respectively, guilty of the charges that had been brought against them. The author was sentenced to a year of rigorous imprisonment and a fine of five hundred rupees in lieu of an additional imprisonment of six months duration, and the publisher was sentenced to six months rigorous imprisonment and a fine of two hundred and fifty rupees in lieu of an additional three months of imprisonment. The case was concluded on 6 August 1927.

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