Deathbed and Death-row, the untold story of Taseer

By: | Muhammad Ali Azlan |

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It’s always been tumultuous times in the mercurial land of Pakistan and we are fortunately or unfortunately (God will decide) again on the precipice of a paradigm shift in the Islamic Republic.

Aasia Bibi, 53, who has been death row for eight years, was acquitted by the country’s top court on Wednesday morning.

Bibi’s case had become emblematic of fair trial concerns in cases Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws, and on Wednesday judges found there had been “glaring and stark” contradictions in the prosecution’s case against her.

The announcement of the verdict prompted thousands to protest across the country, rallied by the far-right Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) political party and religious organisation.

The TLP, headed by Khadim Hussain Rizvi, has campaigned on the issue of blasphemy for years, and has been calling for Bibi to be executed since its inception.

On Wednesday, TLP leader Afzal Qadri called for the three Supreme Court judges who heard Bibi’s appeal at the Supreme Court to be killed.

“[The judges] who have ordered the release of the accused Aasia are all liable to be killed under religious edict,” said Qadri at a protest in the eastern city of Lahore.

Let’s start from the beginning. One of the most famous and talked about cases in the history of the sub-continent (Indo-Pak) was that of Ilm-ud-Din, a martyr to some and a religious extremist to others.

Quaid e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Allama Iqbal and M.D Taseer advocated for and to an extent supported the actions of Ilm Deen at the time.

Ilm Deen known as Ilm-ud-din was an Indian carpenter who assassinated a book publisher named Mahashe Rajpal who authored a derogatory book in the name of the final prophet of Islam, Muhammad (SAWW).

The trial lawyer for Ilm-ud-din was Farrukh Hussain. Ilm-ud-din admitted openly that he was guilty and was of view that he murdered in full conscience. Two witnesses from the prosecution side also claimed that he was guilty. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, then a prominent Indian lawyer, and later the founder of Pakistan, was then sought to appear in the appeal at the Lahore High Court. Jinnah appealed on the grounds of extenuating circumstances, saying that Ilm-ud-din was a man of 19 or 20 who was affected by feelings of veneration for the founder of his faith. He asked for the death sentence to be commuted to transportation for life. This contention was rejected. Ilm-ud-din was convicted and given the death penalty according to the Indian Penal Code, and subsequently executed.

Around 600,000 people attended his funeral. Allama Iqbal was also in attendance in the front lines.

A rare grainy picture of Janaza of Ghazi Ilmdin, published in Roozgaar e Fakeer, Jild Number 2. Iqbal can be seen seated in the front row.

No protests were reported in the country and the law of the land took it’s due course.

That was a story of India, Pakistan was established as an Islamic state later, my views on the matters of blasphemy and Islamic jurisprudence do no matter. My topic of discussion today is M.D Taseer.

Who was M.D Taseer or originally known as Deen Muhammad Taseer.

M.D. Taseer was born in Ajnala, Amritsar district, Punjab, on 28 February 1902 to a family of Kashmiri ancestry. His father, a peasant named Mian Atta ud Din, died when he was a small child, and he was brought up by his maternal uncle Mian Nizam ud Din in Lahore. He was a friend of Allama Iqbal since his childhood.

In 1933 Taseer started a literary journal called Karwan. After his M. A., while employed as an assistant professor in the University of Punjab, Lahore, he went to University of Cambridge for a PhD in English literature, with Iqbal’s letter of recommendation. He reached London in 1933 and began his M. Litt. at Pembroke College, Cambridge. His research supervisor Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch the University Senate to allow him to work on his PhD without obtaining an M. Litt first. His PhD thesis was titled “India and the Near East in English literature from the earliest times to 1924”. Taseer is said to be the first person from the Indian subcontinent to have obtained a PhD in English Literature in England.

On his return from Cambridge at the end of 1935, Taseer joined the Muslim Anglo-Oriental (MAO) College in Amritsar as its principal. Along with Faiz Ahmad Faiz he was one of the founders of the Progressive Writers’ Movement.

 

In 1941, Taseer was appointed the principal of Sri Pratap College in Srinagar. In 1942 he became the founding principal of the new Amar Singh College, which was an offshoot of the Sri Pratap College. In 1943, he was given in the Government of India, helping in the war effort. He worked in Simla and Delhi.

After the Partition of India, he moved to Pakistan, worked as the principal of the Islamia College in Lahore.

In the first week of October 1947, the Government of Pakistan reportedly sent him, along with Faiz Ahmad Faiz, to persuade Sheikh Abdullah, the leader of the Jammu & Kashmir National Conference, to join Pakistan. Abdullah, who had just been released from prison by the Maharaja’s government, was unwilling. He felt that if Kashmir joined Pakistan, “the same thing will happen to [them] as happened to Kapurthala” (presumably meaning that religious minorities would be killed and driven away). He wanted to keep his options open.

In 1937 Taseer fell in love with a British tourist named Christobel George, who had also been a student at Cambridge. They were married in 1938, with Allama Iqbal himself drafting the marriage-deed (nikahnama) for the couple, including the right of divorce for Christobel George, and Christobel converting to Islam and adopting the name of Balqees Taseer (also spelled Bilquis Taseer). Christobel’s sister Alys Faiz married Faiz Ahmad Faiz

M.D. Taseer was the father of the 26th Governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer who was slain in the backdrop of the Asia Bibi blasphemy trial.

It is reported that Ilm Deen’s deathbed upon which his coffin was placed before the final rights and prayers offered by the mammoth crowd gathered to show their reverence was provided by Muhammad Deen Taseer.

M.D Taseer died of a heart attack on 30 November or 1 December 1950, at age 47.

The writer tweets @Muhammad Ali Azlan

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