Who Are/Were the Ahrar?


The Friday Sermon that laid the foundation of Tahrik-e-Jadid

Some Muslim political activists in the All India National Congress, who had broken away from the congress due to differences on various issues, came together and formed the Majlis-i-Ahrar-i-Islam in the last part of the 1920s and the early 1930s. 

The frustrated activists of the Khilafat Movement also found a platform to resume their political activism but, this time, in a different guise; what guise? No one, including the Ahrar and the Khilafatists, seemed to know. There was no clear agenda defined. The anti-Congress approach didn’t seem to provide a strong enough platform, neither did merely being a Muslim movement work quite well. 

As soon as the anti-Ahmadiyya propaganda emerged as one of their strongest sentiments, they started to gain popularity amongst Muslim circles. The propaganda was soon to turn into street protests, rallies and open-air conferences, where hate-inciting speeches and slogans were the only agenda items.

Dr Sadia Saeed, from the University of San Fransisco, notes:

“Virtually from the beginning of their formation in 1931, the Ahrars had launched a public anti-Ahmadi campaign, demanding in 1934 that the community be declared outside the pale of Islam and that no Ahmadi be appointed to a public office, the latter being a direct reference to Zafarullah Khan, a prominent Ahmadi personality whole was later appointed the first Foreign Minister of Pakistan. In this, the Ahrar party was ideologically close to the Punjab wing of the Muslim League, which too had declared the Ahmadiyya community non-Muslim and barred them from membership, even though the central wing of the League remained evasive on the issue. During the anti-colonial movement, the Ahrar Party eventually aligned itself with the Indian National Congress and openly opposed the movement for the creation of an independent Pakistan.” (Sadia Saeed, Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism, Vol. 7, no. 3, Yale University)

With the formation of the All India Kashmir Committee on 25 July 1931, Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmadra was unanimously nominated its president by the notable likes of Dr Muhammad Iqbal, Nawab Zulfiqar Ali Khan, Mohsin Shah and Khwaja Hassan Nizami. The fact that Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmadra was able to mobilise the Muslims on an All India scale was seen as a grave threat by the Ahrars who had been desperately carving for themselves some means to gain control of the Indian-Muslim politics.

Let’s see how Tahir Kamran tells the story from here on:

“Subsequently Qadian, the Ahmadi headquarters, became the prime focus of the Ahrar’s assault. The Ahrar leadership had already instituted the Dawat-o-Irshad on 4 March 1933 with the purpose of raising funds as well as a volunteer corps of 100,000 men to combat the growing influence of the Ahmadiya. While this grandiose scheme never came to fruition, the Ahrar persisted in their anti-Ahmadiya activities…

“On 22 October 1934 the Ahrar paraded on the streets of Lahore, chanting anti-Ahmadi slogans and appealing to Muslims to boycott the Ahmadi community. Following successful conferences in Batala and Gurdaspur, the Ahrar held a tabligh conference on the outskirts of Qadian at Ragada in the playground of the Dayanand Anglo-Vedic High School, in September 1934. The Ahrars not only emphasized the importance of the finality of the prophethood, but also the difficulties faced by Sunni Muslims living in Qadian. Lengthy and eloquent addresses were delivered, including a five-hour tour de force by the Ahrar leader, Ata Ullah Shah Bukhari. He, however, overstepped the mark in expressing his hatred of the Ahmadis, and his subsequent arrest and conviction generated a wave of popular sympathy for the Ahmadiya community. In 1935, the populist appeal of the Ahrar waned as fast as it hadwaxed…” (Tahir Kamran, The Pre-History of Religious Exclusionism in Contemporary Pakistan: Khatam-e-Nubuwwat 1889–1953. Cambridge University Press)

An unplanned roadmap, confused ideology and, above all, the sentiment of jealousy against the Ahmadis soon saw the Anjuman-i-Ahrar-i-Islam racing downhill. Lack of funds had always been a problem for the Ahrar, but lack of support added insult to injury.

Prof Dr Muhammad Khurshid of and Prof Dr Muhammad Akbar Malik, both from the Department of Pakistan Studies at Islamia University Bahawalpur have concisely described the disgrace faced by the Ahrar soon after the anti-Ahmadiyya agitation of 1934:

“The Ahrar often acted imprudently. They picketed the cloth shops of the Muslim shopkeepers and dealers of fireworks in a period of economic distress. Their leaders did not care for the public sentiments in certain locations and created resentment against themselves by speaking unnecessarily against popular religious and spiritual personalities, highly venerated by the local people. In fact the Majlis Ahrar had always been facing paucity of funds. Financial difficulties had been the greatest hurdle in the way of the Ahrar. At one stage it was decided by the Majlis to appoint peddlers to hawk around to collect contributions from the public in Lahore. Toward the end of 1932, the Ahrar organ Hurriyat had to discontinue its publication due to non-availability of funds. Next year again the Majlis was reported to be in deplorable financial position which continued to be so till the Quetta earthquake, when the Ahrar leaders appealed to the public to give contributions to the Ahrar for relief work instead of contributing to the Government. How people gradually became reluctant to give contributions to the Ahrar? It is well demonstrated by the fact that on the occasion of Eid at Lahore, the Ahrar could collect only an amount of Rs. 41 from a gathering of more than 40,000 Muslims. In 1942 the Working Committee of All India Majlis-i-Ahrar had to postpone the annual session indefinitely due to shortage of funds apart from other considerations. One possible reason for failure of the Ahrar in collection of contributions from the public was the frequent charges of embezzlement of funds.”

“… On at least three occasions, apprehensions were raised regarding the funds etc. In Sialkot, the Secretary of the Majlis filed a suit against the treasurer accusing him of embezzlement. In July, Zain-ul-Abdin Shah, the president of Multan branch resigned and refused to render an account of the funds at his disposal. There were instances of stealing the property of the organization by responsible workers of the Majlis. The Manager of Hurriyat, Hussain Mir, was dismissed on the charges of stealing 250 reams of newsprint. Sometimes, the Ahrar workers were found guilty of stealing petty office goods and misappropriating cash from the office of the organization. Janbaz Mirza, General Secretary Majlis-i-Ahrar Amritsar, was accused by his Ahrar friends, of stealing Rs. 300 from the Ahrar office and he resigned form secretary-ship. There was a split again among the Lahore and Sialkot Ahrar in March 1933, and the Ahrar Leaders were accused of misappropriating funds and not accounting for expenditure. Next year the Jullundur Muslims accused Ahrar leaders of accepting bribe from Kapurthala state authorities and of embezzlement of funds collected for propaganda purposes.” (M Khurshid and M A Malik, The Political Activities of Majlis-i-Ahrar: A Critical Study, in Pakistan Annual Research Journal, 2015)

This was the “sad end” of the Majlis-i-Ahrar-i-Islam, the same Majlis that had once claimed to turn Qadian into ruins and wipe the name of Ahmadiyyat from the face of the earth. On the other hand, Tahrik-e-Jadid, the scheme launched by Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIra in response to the Ahrari onslaught on Qadian and the Ahmadiyya Jamaat, continued to flourish. Tahrik-e-Jadid has been able to build thousands of mosques around the world, to translate the Holy Quran in hundreds of languages, to defend the teachings of Islam amidst harsh attacks by anti-Islam movements and to take the message of Islam to almost all parts of the world. Who is a Muslim and who is not? We let our readers decide. Who got wiped off the face of the earth? Again, we let our readers decide. Who has served the cause of Islam and who has spent their generations in determining who falls outside the pale of Islam? Common sense prevails. 

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