Ghazi Born Again: Unpacking Public Support For Killers Of 'Blasphemers'

Ghazi Born Again: Unpacking Public Support For Killers Of 'Blasphemers'
A ghazi is born again, a suspected blasphemer is sent to his grave again, and one more name is added into the list of people who were extra-judicially killed on blasphemy charges in the country. No Muslim country in the world can compare itself with Pakistan in showing love to the Prophet of Islam (PBUH) in a manner that’s full of blood. How can a religion claiming to be a religion of peace motivate its followers to indulge into an act that is described as extrajudicial killing by the state law but regarded as a most revered deed by the perpetrator and his followers? It’s basically linked with a historical event when this terminology was used.

In the wake of political struggle that had engulfed the Indian society back in the first quarter of the twentieth century, the first incident of extrajudicial killing of an alleged Hindu blasphemer took place in Lahore in 1929 and the Muslim perpetrator soon became a hero of the Muslims in undivided India. In the circumstances when the fear of Hindu majority’s upcoming role as the ruler of the country was assuming an undeniable reality, this incident provided an additional rallying point for the Muslims of India to prove their separate identity.

It was the time when the movement for a separate homeland for the Muslims of India was at its peak and all efforts were made to prove that the Muslims of India have nothing common with the Hindus of India. When the alleged Hindu blasphemer was assassinated by a young Muslim, most of the leadership of the All India Muslim League stood behind him, who was later remembered as Ghazi Ilm-ud-din Shaheed.

Religion and politics became one and the same thing and there was a good reason for that. A political fight for a separate Muslim homeland was being fought from a dominant religious point of view and everything that went into support of this ideology was considered to be the part of the Muslim’s political struggle as well. However, this fervor and reverence to this extrajudicial act lost its importance once the court rejected all pleas and mercy petitions of the perpetrator.

On 31 October 1929, Ghazi Ilm-ud-din was executed and later buried with a great show of veneration and esteem. The number of people who attended his funeral, according to an estimate, was around 600,000. A tomb was built in his honour as well. He was the first man awarded a title of Ghazi for committing extrajudicial killing of an alleged blasphemer in India.

Six years after the execution of Ghazi Ilm-ud-Din, another alleged Hindu blasphemer, Natthu Raam, was extra-judicially killed in September 1934 in a courtroom in Karachi by a man named Abdul Qayyum.

Once again, this incident motivated the Muslim community to support a person who had taken revenge from an alleged blasphemer. A Muslim delegation sought Dr. Allama Iqbal’s support in favour of Abdul Qayyum.  After listening to the pleas of the delegation, Allama Iqbal asked, "Has Abdul Qayyum become weak and infirm?" The members of delegation replied, "No, he did not change his statement or showed fear. Ghazi Abdul Qayyum openly says he has bought Shahadat". Hearing this Allama Iqbal said, “When he is saying he has bought Shahadat (martyr) then how can I come in the way of his reward. Do you want me to flatter the viceroy for a Muslim who if remains alive is a Ghazi (conqueror), and if dies, is a Shaheed (martyr)?”

The title of Ghazi, as is evident from the above report, was used by Allama Iqbal for a person who had extra-judicially killed a blasphemer. Yet, Ghazi Abdul Qayyum couldn’t become as popular as did Ghazi Ilm-ud-din Shaheed. However, it became a tradition to call a person Ghazi who extra-judicially kill a suspected blasphemer despite the fact that no law exists in the country that supports this tradition and treats this act of killing as legal. So, why do the ulema, a segment of judiciary and security personnel continue to consider such an act suitable for an honorable title of ‘Ghazi’ and what does the word Ghazi literally mean? A Google search offers the following definitions of Ghazi:

Ghazi (Arabic: غازي‎, ġāzī) is an Arabic word, the active participle of the verb ġazā, meaning 'to carry out a military expedition or raid'; the same verb can also mean 'to strive for' and Ghazi can thus share a similar meaning to Mujahid or "one who struggles".  It’s often used as an honorific title for a Muslim fighter who fight against non-Muslims. A title given in Turkey to a victorious sultan, general, etc.

These definitions put all those Ghazis who extra-judicially killed suspected blasphemers in questionable position as none of them ever fought with the victims since they were always unarmed when they were killed on blasphemy charges. They never challenged the perpetrators for a fight either.

From its inception to this date, Pakistan has recorded at least 84 cases of extrajudicial killings on blasphemy charges and some of those murders were committed by mobs (Table 01).


Year Christians Muslims Ahmadi Hindu Budhist Ismaili Total
1929   1 1
1935 1 1
1948 1 1
1950 2 2
1992 4 4
1993 1 1
1994 1 1
1995 1 2 2 5
1996 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
1997 1 1
1998 1 1
1999 2 2
2000 1 1
2001 1 1
2002 3 3
2003 2 2 4
2004 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
2005 2 2
2006 2 2
2007 1 1
2008 1 1 1 3
2009 8 2 10
2010 2 2
2011 3 5 2 1 11
2012 1 2 1 4
2013 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
2014 2 3 5 10
2015 1 1 2
2016 1 1
2017 3 3
2018 0 2 1 3
2019 1 1
Jul-20 1 1
Total 26 40 14 3 1 1 85
Percentage 30.59 47.06 16.47 3.53 1.18 1.18


If the tradition of Ghazi Ilm-ud-din had been followed very religiously, more than a thousand persons were rewarded with the title of Ghazi by now and the same number of tombs would have also been built for them as well. But this tradition lost its esteem soon after the first incident and for a long time all such deeds were committed in a very hideous and secretive manner as a number of perpetrators remain unknown.

To be continued

The author is a freelance journalist and researcher. He is affiliated with the Center for Research and Security Studies as Senior Research Fellow. Earlier, he worked for a multi-national company GE Aviation, USA in Karachi for nearly three decades.