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Smokers’ Corner: Man of action

Smokers’ Corner: Man of action

On July 26, 1943, a young man managed to sneak into the Bombay residence of the future founder of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah. He was carrying a knife in his front pocket. He calmly asked to see Mr Jinnah because he was an admirer of his.

Jinnah was reading a newspaper in his bedroom when he was told (by a house help) about the young man’s visit. Jinnah put down the newspaper and went out to meet him, cigar in hand.

Watching Jinnah come out, the young man began to rapidly approach him. He also started to curse and abuse Jinnah, as he whipped out the concealed knife and swiftly fell upon him.

According to the July 27, 1943 edition of Bombay daily, The Tribune, the house helpers nearby managed to overpower the man and take the knife away from him. The newspaper went on to report that Jinnah got cut a bit on the chin and across his right hand with which he had tried to stop the man from stabbing him in the stomach.

The young man was Rafiq Sabir, a member of the radical Khaksar party. Even though the party, led by Inayatullah Khan Mashriqi, insisted that Sabir was not a member of the Khaksar, the All-India Muslim League (AIML) rejected the clarification.

Sabir’s connections to the Khaksar were never convincingly proven; but a large number of people believed AIML’s claims. The main reason for this was the reputation that the chief of the Khaksar party, Mashriqi, had gained over the years.

In a 1941 essay, conservative Islamic scholar and founder of Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), Abul Ala Maududi had described Mashriqi as ‘an anarchist’. Maududi had even gone to the extent of describing Mashriqi’s thoughts ‘like that of a car being driven by a drunk’.

Yet, at one point, the Khaksar was passionately being followed by thousands of young Indian Muslims, who hailed Mashriqi as a ‘genius’. By 1940, the Khaksar had become a major thorn in the side of the British colonial government, which threw him in jail.

As a child, Mashriqi was considered a prodigy who excelled in mathematics. He was just 19 when he received a Master’s degree from the Punjab University. He then won a scholarship to Cambridge University in the UK.

On his return to India, he was immediately appointed as the principal of Peshawar’s Islamia College. He was just 25 at the time. A few years later he became a civil servant, one of the youngest Muslims to be accepted in the colonial bureaucracy.

In 1924, Mashriqi authored his first major book, Tazkira. The book is a detailed commentary on the Quran in the light of science; and in which Mashriqi tried to prove that Islam was a ‘modern and scientific faith’. The book was nominated for a Nobel Prize, but it failed to win it when Mashriqi refused to translate it into English or in any other European language.

By now Mashriqi had become vehemently anti-British and began to dabble in Indian nationalism. But he was disappointed by Mahatma Gandhi’s passive approach. Mashriqi suggested that the Indian National Congress (INC) and Muslim outfits in India must use more aggressive methods to dislodge the British.

In an article, he denounced Gandhi as an ‘effeminate leader’, and insisted that only through conflict and violence could the Hindus and Muslims remove the British from India.

It was for this purpose he formed the Khaksar in 1930. The party was shaped on semi-fascist lines, in which the members were given special khaki-coloured uniforms and spades. Regular marches were held in which Khaksar members paraded through streets with their spades and indulged in voluntary social work.

Mashriqi was an enthusiastic student of the concept of conflict. He closely studied the writings of revolutionary German ideologue, Karl Marx, and controversial German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche. He was also impressed by the rise of fascism in Italy. Soon, Mashriqi became notorious for actively seeking out violence and conflict.

Though influenced by fascism and Marxism (rather, Stalinism), Mashriqi eventually immersed himself in the study of sacred Islamic texts. He concluded that divisions in Islam and the conflict between various faiths were the work of self-serving preachers and politicians, and that all religions carried a singular message: civilised unity of mankind.

Another conclusion of his was that the message was best served by Islam and for this the Khaksar would attempt to create (through a violent revolution) an ‘Islamic government on earth’.

Unlike Islamic outfits such as the JI, the Majlis-i-Ahrar and Jamiat Ulema -i-Islam Hind (JUIH), the Khaksar supported Jinnah’s AIML when it called for the creation of a separate Muslim-majority state in the region. However, by the early 1940s, Mashriqi had had a falling out with Jinnah.

Jinnah, who was also being opposed by fundamentalist Muslim organisations such as JI, the Ahrar, and a large faction of the JUIH, described Mashriqi as ‘dogmatic’.

Mashriqi was also criticised by the JI and the Ahrar. Both accused him of confusing Islam with communism, and for ignoring the promotion of Islamic rituals.

The Khaksar was banned in 1940 after the party got into a violent confrontation with the Punjab government. Mashriqi was jailed. As a response, he offered the British 50,000 Khaksar volunteers to fight for them in the Second World War. The British declined.

Mashriqi again made peace with Jinnah. After the creation of Pakistan in 1947, Khaksar members helped the Pakistan government in transporting refugees from Indian Punjab to the newly created country.

Mashriqi disbanded the Khaksar in 1949 and formed the Islam League (IL) in Pakistan. With IL he changed tackand became a vehement opponent of communism. He welcomed Pakistan’s 1954 military pact with the US (against the Soviet Union).

But his conflict with the JI and the Ahrar continued, and the IL refused to take part in the anti-Ahmadiyya movement by the two in 1953.

In 1955, he offered to merge his party with the Muslim League. The merger could not take place and Mashriqi once again turned against the League. He accused it of not supporting Egypt’s Arab nationalist government in its 1956 war against Israel and Britain.

In 1958 Mashriqi was in trouble again. Along with another IL leader, Ata Muhammad, Mashriqi was arrested for assassinating the chief minister of West Pakistan, Dr Khan Sahib. Mashriqi was released by a court, but his party was banned. Ata Muhammad, however, remained in jail and was hanged in 1961.

After his release, Mashriqi welcomed the 1958 martial law of Field Marshal Ayub Khan. He was left alone by the Ayub regime as long as he stayed away from doing politics. Mashriqi agreed.

In August 1963, he quietly passed away, aged 75. Thousands of people turned up to attend his funeral in Lahore.

In a twist of irony, though Mashriqi’s party remained banned during the Ayub regime, the field marshal issued a glorious tribute to him on the day of his funeral.

Many believe that among the heroes of the Pakistan Movement, Mashriqi was an ‘anti-hero.’ A man unafraid (or unable) to hide his vulnerabilities and passions.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, March 20th, 2016

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