Shaheed Ganj Dispute and ‘Amir-i-Mi!Iat

In 1935, Shaheed Ganj Movement was launched in the Punjab. It generated a great enthusiasm among the Punjabi Muslims in particular, and all the Muslims of the subcontinent in general. Before going into details of the movement, it seems pertinent to briefly deal with the history of the issue of Shaheed Ganj Mosque, which was the focal point of the dispute. There was an old mosque in Lahore on the way to the Delhi gate from Lahore Railway Station near the Polytechnic Institute known as Shaheed Ganj The mosque was built by Abdullah Khan, a cook of Dara Shikoh, elder son of Shah Jehan, the Mughal Emperor in 1753 A.D., who rose up to the position of Kotwal (city magistrate) of Lahore for his services.


Near the mosque, there was a place where criminals where given punishments during the tenure of Nawab Moeen-ul-Mulk, a Mughal governor of the Punjab in the I 8 century. In those days, Taro Singh, a Sikh Saint, was slain there. After that incident, Sikhs named that place as ‘Shaheed Ganj’ ‘and built a gurdwara (sikh temple) on that place. Finally, they also occupied the adjoining mosque during the Sikh occupation of Lahore. According to another version, Sikhs used to call their gurdwaraShaheed Ganj’ as Muslims, following the foot steps of the Sikhs named the mosque as ‘Shaheed Ganj Mosque’ instead of n aming it a s ‘Abdullah K han Mosque’, which would h ave b een an appropriate name for it. In short, a mosque and a gurdwara were situated very close to each other and after the Muslims had left the place due to oppression of Sikhs, the latter got hold of the place and consequently occupied the Mosque also.


The Muslims tried to take overt he charge of the m osque through the help of courts but failed. The government wanted to safeguard the religious assets of the Sikhs, so it accorded sanction to the Gurdwara Act in July 1925.24 Legislative legitimacy and its basic rights were accorded to Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC). With the passing of SGPC Act in 1935, SGPC, from its inception, intended to extend its control over all gurdwaras rather than a few that had been taken from or given up by the priests.


After taking over charge of the Shaheed Ganjg mosque and gurdwara in March 1935, the local SGPC of Lahore decided to demolish the mosque ‘to uplift the condition of gurdwara’. The mosque was finally demolished on the midnight of July 8 and 9, 1935. Consequently, Masjid Shaheed Ganj Movement was launched by the Muslims in which Syed Jamaat Ali Shah played a leading role.


He was elected Amir-i-MiiIat (leader of the Muslim Community) in a Conference convened by Maulana Muhammad lshaq of Mansehra at Rawalpindi on August             31- September 1, 193527. About 70 representatives from different parts of the Indian sub-continent attended the conference. It was presided over by Syed Jamaat Ali Shah. The Conference recommended that September 20, 1935 should be observed as a ‘Protest Day’. It was also decided by the Conference that the G overnment s hould be warned that if by the 20 instant nothing was decided in favour of the Muslims, they would be compelled to start civil disobedience. It also appointed an Advisory Committee to carry out propaganda in all villages and cities.


Jamaat Ali in his address advised the Muslims to unite as without unity nothing could be achieved. He said that according to Muslim law, every one should be prepared to die for the cause of Islam and he would be the first to receive bullets i n his chest. H e a dvised them to wait until 20 of September when ‘Shaheed Ganj Day’ would be observed and civil disobedience started.


With Jamaat Ali Shah became its Amir, the Shaheed Ganj Movement got support of the Muslims of the rural areas and got new momentum. The Government felt worried about the situation in case of civil disobedience.


Jamaat Ali Shah had collaboration with a contemporary organization known as Majlis-i-Ittihad-i-MiIat whose principle goal was to agitate for the Shaheed Ganj issue. It was founded on July 30, 1935.31 After the Pindi Conference Majlis-i-Ittihad-i-Millat started its campaign for the Shaheed Ganj day. Speaking at Sialkot on the September 12, 1935 Syed Jamaat Ali Shah urged the Muslims to wear black mourning badges at Friday prayers on the protest day and organize peaceful processions. At the conclusion of his speech, M. Munawar Hussain of Delhi explained the aim and objectives of Jamaat Ali Shah’s policy and stated that he did not desire to regain possession of the Shaheed Ganj Mosque either by aggression or by means of a civil disobedience campaign but that he would endeavor to obtain his objective by lawful means


It clearly shows that Jamaat Ali S hah d id not believe I n the politics of violence, agitation and confrontation. Like Muhammad Ali Jinnah, he too believed in peaceful means and legal recourse for getting things done.


Shaheed Ganj Day was observed on September 20, 1935. Complete strike was observed by the Muslims of Lahore. Over one lakh people gathered for Friday prayers at the Badshahi Mosque. /Attertlie prayers, outsiae MocrH Gate Jamaat Ali Shah presided over a meeting of about 60,000 people. In his address he announced that after visiting Ajmer and exchanging views with important Muslim leaders he would call on the Advisory Committee to draft a programme of action for the future.


On September 27, 1935 a delegation of Muslim members of the central legislature met and presented a memorandum to Viceroy* and discusse& with him for an amicable settlement of the Shaheed Ganj dispute. They demanded the release of all prisoners, the grant of suitable relief to the families of the persons killed and seriously wounded; the maintenance of the status quo at the site of the mosque, Government to introduce legislation or accord in respect of a mosque of the property of a Waqf, can never be claimed in future and cancellation of the orders of forfeiture of the securities of the Ahsan, Zamindar and Siyasat newspapers for articles and notes published in connection with Shaheed Ganj affairs.


Pir Syed Jamaat Ali Shah was represented by Mr. K.L. Gauba. The other members of the delegation were Maulana Shaukat Ali, Syed Murtaza, Dr. Ziauddin Ahmed, Ghulam Bhik Nairang and Syed Abdul Hafiz. As this meeting brought no change in the situation, the Majlis-i-Ittihadi-i-Millat decided to observe the second Shaheed Ganj Day on November Malik Inayat Ullah, president of Central Majlis-i-Ittihad-i-Millat, issued a statement to the press to the elect that in accordance with tile instructions of Pir Syed Jamaat Ali Shah, the following program should be observed throughout India on November 8 for the observance of Shaheed Ganj Day:

1) Friday prayers should be offered in Jamia Mosques only.

2) Peaceful processions and meetings should be organized.

3) Strong demand should be made for the release of Shaheed Ganj Mosque detenus; financial aid to the survivors of the Shaheed Ganj martyrs, and for the return of securities to the newspapers.

4) Every Muhammadan should wear a green armlet bearing the words ‘Fidai-i-lslam’.

5) Muhammadans in the Punjab should arm themselves without further delay.

6) No slogans except Allah-hu-Akbar’, Masjid Shaheed Ganj Zindabad’, ShaheedGanj Masjid Shaheed Ganj Zindabad’ and ‘Islam Zindabad’ should be shouted.

7) All demonstrations should be carried out in a peaceful manner.

8) In the course of meetings or processions no attack should b e d irected against the religious susceptibilities of others.


The second ‘Shaheed Ganj day’ was observed as scheduled on November 8, 1935. At Lahore about 40,000 Muslims were present in the Shahi Mosque when Jamaat Ali Shah, Maulana Shaukat Ali, Syed Ghulam Bhik Nairang, Dr. Saifuddin Kitchlew and many other Muslim leaders both from Punjab and other provinces joined in the prayers. Later on a public meeting was held outside Delhi Gate under the presidentship of Syed Jamaat Ali Shah. Other prominent leaders present there included Maulana Shaukat Ali, Syed Ghulam Bhik Nairang, Mr. K.L. Gauba, Dr. Muhammad Alam, M. Mazhar Din, Maulana Hamid Raza Khan, and Inayat Shah. 40 Resolutions concerning disapproval of the attitude of the Punjab Government, condemning the inflammatory articles published in the Hindu press and showing full confidence in the Amir-i-Millat were passed.


To chalk out the future programme, a private meeting of the Advisory Committee of MajIis-i-Ittihad-i-Mi!1at was held in the Barkat Ali Muhammadan Hall on the evening of November 10, under the presidentship of Jamaat Ali Shah. The question of inauguration of a civil disobedience campaign was discussed but taking a final decision on the future program of action was postponed until January 9.


Over the issue of civil disobedience a split occurred in the ranks of Majlis-i-Ittihad-i-Millat, extremists were led by Aminuddin Sahrai and Haji Ghulam Jilani. They demanded an immediate start of civil disobedience movement, but Jamaat Ali was against it. He was in favour of the legal solution of the problem because he thought that civil disobedience movement would result in the loss of innocent lives, as already many innocent Muslims had been killed.

It amply shows t hat Syed Jamaat Ali preferred constitutional and legal course of action to agitational politics. To him, the lives of the Muslims were precious, and at no cost he wanted their blood to spill in vain. Therefore, he avoided to make any overt and direct confrontation with the authorities, and insisted on making a positive engagement with the government for solving the issue of Shaheed Ganj Mosque and other related questions.


Jamaat Ali Shah arranged an All-India Ittihad-i-Millat Conference at Amritsar from January 17-19, 1936. Its purpose was to secure the restoration of Shaheed Ganj Mosque and the tomb of Kaku Shah, the present attitude of the Government,Sikh atrocities, measures to assist the relations of those who have been killed or injured in the Shaheed Ganj agitation, the action taken against the Muslim Press, measures to secure the release of those who have been interned and imprisoned as a result of the agitation; and the future program of Majlis-i- Ittihad-i-Millat.


The Conference was attended by 100 delegates from various districts of the Punjab, the NWFP and the United Provinces and presided over by Jamaat Ali Shah. The question of civil disobedience program was hotly debated Maula Bakhsh, Maulvi Abdul Qadus, Abdul M arghub and Syed Akbar supported the civil disobedience program but the majority of those present opposed it, where upon Maula Bakhsh walked out of the meeting in protest and the question was dropped. The extremists tried to disrupt the meeting but failed.


The Conference passed the following resolutions: expressing complete confidence in the person of the Amir-i-MiIIat; demanding from the Punjab Government the immediate and u nconditional release of all those interned i n connection with the Shaheed Ganj agitation, the restoration of securities taken from Muslim newspapers and the cancellation of orders placing persons under security in connection with the Shaheed Ganj agitation; suggesting that all Muslims should help the families oft hose who had been killed i n connection with the Shaheed Ganj agitation by all possible means and asking the Majlis-i Ittihad-i-Millat to take practical steps to see that this was done; requesting the government to arrange for an Auqaf Act for the protection and management of Islamic Holy places to prevent a recurrence of incidents similar to those which had taken place at the Shaheed Ganj Mosque and the tomb of Kaku Shah; requesting Muslim leaders, ulema and the editors of newspapers to make efforts to unite the Muslims of the Punjab and appointing a sub-committee with K.L. Gauba as Secretary to achieve this end; requesting the Amir-i-Millat who was proceeding on a Hajj pilgrimage to delegate his powers in connection with the Shaheed Ganj agitation to the Central Majlis-i-Ittihad-i-Millat, which would work under the patronage and guidance of the Amir-i-Millat.


While winding up the Conference, Pir Jamaat Ali Shah exhorted the Muslims of India to render all possible assistance to the Central Majlis-Ittihad-i-Millat and to discharge a national duty by collecting funds and enlisting volunteers so that the Central Majlis -i- Ittihad-i- Millat might become a strong and organized body.


Nevertheless, the Masjid Shaheed Ganj Movement failed to achieve its aims. David Gilmartin has alleged that Jamaat Ali Shah’s leadership proved to be a failure for the Shaheed Ganj Movement. In fact, this was not the case. Both extrogenous and endogenous factors were responsible for the failure of the Movement. As for the extrogenous causes, the British Government of Punjab remained adamant in its stance not to resolve the issue at any condition because Government could not afford, after Kashmir Agitation (1931), another country-wide movement. So to weaken the Shaheed Ganj Movement, the Government forfeited the securities of the Muslim newspapers such as Ahsan, Zarnindar and Siyast. Moreover, the Government restricted Muslims not to carry swords in six districts of the Punjab by imposing the sections 13 and 15 of the Arms Act, while in these six districts Sikhs were exempted from any restriction of carrying Kirpans (daggars) and swords. Sikhs who were direct party to Shaheed Gangj dispute “made all negotiations impossible by, in fact, refusing to negotiate” with the Muslims or the Government.


Internally, the Shaheed Ganj Mosque Movement too suffered from organizational problems and internal schisms. After the departure of Syed Jamaat Ali Shah to Makkah, the leadership of the movement came into the hands of the extremist faction. The extremists wanted to have confrontation with the government, but their efforts could bear no fruit. Syed Jamaat Ali Shah’s departure proved a set back for the movement, as the leadership gap or vacuum which was created, could not be adequately filled by those who succeeded him as leaders of the movement. In addition, another important factor which contributed to the failure of the movement was non-cooperation from the Ahrars, who came into prominence in 1931 in connection with the agitation of the Kashmiri Muslims against the Hindu ruler of the State. Though Syed Jamaat Ali Shah supported Ahrar in their struggle but Ahrar did not cooperate in the Shaheed Ganj Movement. They kept themselves aloof from it by saying that it was a conspiracy against them. The Ahrar who considered themselves the champions of the rights of the Muslims and interests ‘became silent spectators while whole Lahore was burning over the issue of Shaheed Ganj’.


Syed Jamaat Ali Shah despite his old age and deteriorating health, worked for the success of the Movement. On the contrary, leaders and parties which considered themselves as the representatives of the Muslims i.e. Ahrar, Khaksar, Unionist, Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Hind and nationalist ulema like Abul Kalam Azad kept themselves aloof from one of the most burning issues of the Muslims of India in 1930s, and did nothing substantial for the solution of the Shaheed Ganj Dispute. On the other hand, the Hindus, the Congressite nationalist leaders, who were not direct party to the dispute, were in full support of Sikhs by condemning Jamaat ALI Shah and Shaheed Ganj Movement.