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Sunday, June 4, 2023

The ghost of Rangeela Rasool

On October 18, 2019, Kamlesh Tiwari, a Hindu, was brutally murdered by two alleged assailants in his home office in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh (UP). According to the post-mortem report published in several media outlets, Tiwari was stabbed 15 times, mostly in his upper body. There were also two deep cut marks on his neck, an indication that the perpetrators attempted to slit his neck. In addition, he was also shot by a bullet. According to media reports, one of the assailants was allegedly upset with Tiwari because he had announced plans to make a movie called ‘Rangeela Rasool’ (The Colorful Prophet).

Prior to this, Kamlesh Tiwari had also said to have made ‘derogatory’ comments about Prophet Muhammad in December of 2015. He was promptly put behind bars by the state government where he spent several months. He was charged with several counts of Indian Penal Code sections. There were large scale protests against him, one of the largest one in Kaliachak in West Bengal about 980 kilometers east of Lucknow. Several thousand protesters filled the streets of Kaliachak and demanded Tiwari’s lynching, death by hanging. The mob turned violent. Several security personnel were injured and the mob damaged dozens of public and private properties.

Many consider such protests and uproars by Muslims a relatively recent phenomenon. According to Husain Haqqani of the Hudson Institute in New York, Muslims historically responded to such insults “by pointing out the flaws in other religions and outlining their own perfect faith.” He further writes: “Muslim emperors ruled over large non-Muslim populations while Muslim preachers and Sufi mystics worked to proselytize and win converts to Islam. But there is no record in those days of mob violence against foreign envoys or traders in retaliation for blasphemy against Muhammad or Islam allegedly committed by Islam’s enemies in distant lands.”

According to Haqqani, the seeds of this phenomenon were sown during the Western Colonial rule. “Secular leaders focused on opposing foreign domination, and Islamists emerged to claim that Islam is not merely a religion but also a political ideology…To this day, Islamists are often the ones who draw attention to otherwise obscure attacks on Islam and then use those attacks to muster popular support.”

Notwithstanding Haqqani’s claim, protests, outrage, and killings over ‘insults’ to Islam and Prophet Muhammad, however, seem to have a history, albeit a shorter one. Prior to Kamlesh Tiwari, for example, it was the Charlie Hebdo killings that rocked the world. The French satirical weekly newspaper had published ‘objectionable’ cartoons. The mayhem at the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo cost 12 lives.

Similarly, Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard and India-born British novelist Salman Rushdie invited the ire of the Muslim world with their works. Both received death threats and lived in hiding and under security protection for years. There were violent protests all around the world against their work.

Going back even further, it was Ilm Deen a little known 19-year old boy from Lahore. Bharat was still under British rule. It was much before the Islamic Republic of Pakistan was carved out after dismembering Bharat based on the Muslim demand for a separate state. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, the intellectual fountainhead of Muslim nationalism in the Indian subcontinent, had declared in his March 15, 1888 Meerut speech that Hindus and Muslims could not remain equal in power. It was necessary “that one of them should conquer the other and thrust it down,” he roared to a cheering crowd. “To hope that both could remain equal is to desire the impossible and inconceivable,” he declared.

Ilm Deen, the son of a carpenter, had heard about a Hindu publisher, Mahashay Rajpal, who had published a ‘blasphemous’ book on Prophet Muhammad called ‘Rangeela Rasool’. The book was written by another Hindu named Pandit Chamupati Lal. Ilm Deen was passing by a mosque where a huge crowd had gathered. They were shouting slogans against the Hindu publisher of the book. The speaker in the Maszid roared: “Oh Muslims! The devil Rajpal has sought to dishonor our beloved Prophet Muhammad by his book.”

Ilm Deen was so incensed by this episode that on April 6, 1929, he purchased a dagger from the local bazar. Then he went straight to Rajpal’s shop and stabbed the dagger into Rajpal’s chest. Rajpal fell on the ground and died.

Ilm Deen was tried in the court and none other than Muhammad Ali Jinnah fought his case in the court. This was the only case, it is said that the founder of Pakistan would ever lose in his illustrious career. Ilm Deen was tried under British rule and was condemned to death by hanging by the British court. His funeral was attended by several thousand mourners. Allama Iqbal, an intellectual and poet extraordinaire, was one of them.

Iqbal not only attended Ilm Deen’s funeral, he also gave his graveside eulogy. It is reported that Iqbal himself placed Ilm Deen’s body in the grave. With tears in his eyes, he reportedly said: “this young man left us, the educated men, behind” Ilm Deen was venerated with parks, streets, hospitals, and even a government guest-house named after him. He was given the titles of ghazi (“warrior of the faith”), and shaheed (a Muslim martyr) and a mausoleum was erected in his honor. The portrait of Jinnah, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, still adorns the walls of the Aligarh Muslim University in Bharat. Allama Iqbal, the poet of tarana-e-milli – a tribute to Muslim umma (nation), is still revered in Bharat.

(This article was published on The Times of India blog on October 25, 2019 and has been reproduced here with minor edits to conform to HinduPost style-guide.)

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