Sheikh Abdullah’s Blazing Chinar: A Critical Review

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By M J Aslam


Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s (SMA) autobiography in Urdu titled “Atash e Chinar” dictated to his ardent follower M Y Teng before his death and published three years after his death in 1985 has been translated into English by M Amin under the title “Blazing Chinar” and has been published by Gulshan Books Kashmir in 2016. The book needs to be dissected, analyzed and examined in the light of recorded, documented facts and circumstances.
I will begin with my assessment, with a chapter in the book (1). The chapter briefly mentions an interesting criminal case of 1930s that for peculiarity of its facts had attracted attention of the whole of Kashmir. The chapter does not divulge the full facts of the case which are, however, adumbrated here: One, Hanifa Begum’s first husband had died of police firing in September, 1931. She had been, then, married to one Abdul Kabir and subsequently to one Mirza Mehr Ali. Abdul Kabir had filed a criminal complaint under section 494 of the Penal Code (dealing with an offence of marrying an already married woman) against both Hanifa and Mehr Ali. The lower court had convicted Hanifa while acquitted Mehr Ali for want of knowledge. The lower court’s order was assailed by Mehr Ali in appeal before the High Court at Srinagar with Shri Birju Dalal as its Chief Justice. The case was earlier argued in the trial court by Afzal Beigh who had lost it there. It was thought to be a hopeless case on facts. During that period, Jinnah was on a vacation in Srinagar. It was Jinnah’s second visit to Kashmir valley. It was 1936. He was accompanied by his sister, Fatima Jinnah, and they were staying in a houseboat at Shivpora, Srinagar.
As Jinnah was a lawyer of great eminence and the case was very complicated beyond competence of Afzal Beigh to defend in the High Court, he along with SMA approached and requested Jinnah to accept brief of the case for defending it before the Court of Chief Justice. Blazing Chinar states that “after we (Sheikh Abdullah and Beigh) had briefed him on the case, Jinnah demanded a fee of 1000 rupees per attendance at court. Mirza Mehr Ali was not in a position to pay such a huge fee; we tried to persuade him to reduce it. That would go against his professional ethics, said he…….We had to submit to his terms”. On the day of hearing Jinnah argued the case and won it on very first hearing that “demonstrated his legal prowess……Jinnah’s legalistic hair-splitting did it all and he won the case elucidating a very subtle point…..relating to Islamic calendar”. (2). The Court room was flooded with people drawn from almost every section of the society, lawyers, government-employees on leave, shopkeepers having shut their shops, students and duo of Sheikh Abdullah & Beigh. (3).
What was that razor-sharp legal acumen that Jinnah had used that took everyone in the Court room by surprise. In Islam, it may be noted, a widow can remarry only after observing Iddat, which is a period of four months and ten days from the date of death of the husband. The question was whether Hanifa had remarried Abdul Kabir during Iddat. If so, then that marriage was null and void under the Islamic law and her marriage with Mehr Ali was valid. Conversely, marriage with Mehr Ali was invalid and, hence, the complaint under section 494 genuine. Jinnah came to the Court room without books and argued that the Iddat period of four months and ten days under the law was to be counted in months only when death of a husband takes place on first of the lunar month otherwise it had to be counted as 130 days simple. He argued further that , in the case, the Iddat period had to be calculated according to latter rule of 130 days and applying it to the case, marriage of Hanifa with Abdul Kabir (complainant) was during the Iddat period. Hence, it was null and void, while her marriage with Mehr Ali was valid in the Shariat. The whole audience was left agape with joy and and jubilation. Chief Justice asked: “Mr. Jinnah. Is there any authority?” He replied: “My Lord. I am the authority”.( 4)
Now, coming to the allegation launched by SMA that Jinnah had refused to accept the brief unless his exorbitant professional fee from a poor man was agreed to be paid by him (SMA) flies in his face for several sound reasons mentioned next.
Firstly, Muhammad Yousuf Saraf, ex- Chief Justice of Azad Kashmir High Court writes about the said case that Jinnah was on holiday vacation in Kashmir during which he would never accept any case nor argue it. But, Mehr Ali had persuaded him to accept his brief as he was a staunch follower of the Muslim Conference and had contributed to the K-Movement, he explained to Jinnah. On hearing the facts, Jinnah agreed to accept the brief and, at the same time, he declined to accept any fee. Muhammad Yousuf Saraf writes that Mehr Ali personally told him this thing. (5). This book was first published in 1977 in Lahore and was available throughout world. Atash e Chinar was first published in 1985 and its author was duty-bound to rebut narrative of Muhammad Yousuf Saraf, if it was false. Why it is totally silent on this vital information that was already available about the case? The answer seems to be a misrepresentation dictated in great haste before death to M Y Teng about a man (Jinnah) whom he (SMA) hated to his core.
Secondly, biographer of M A Jinnah, namely, Hector Bolitho, after an extensive research, has narrated many episodes that speak loud and clear about the probity of Jinnah as a professional lawyer. He writes: “Once, when a client was referred to him, the solicitor mentioned that the man had limited money with which to fight the case. Nevertheless, Jinnah took it up. He lost but he still had faith in the case and he said that it should be taken to the Appeal Court. The solicitor again mentioned that his client had no money. Jinnah pressed him to defray certain of the appeal expenses out of his own pocket, and promised to fight the case without any fee for himself. This time, he won; but, when the solicitor offered him a fee, Jinnah refused arguing that he had accepted the case on the condition that there was no fee.” Hector Bolitho, author of 60 books, writes further: “There was a client who was so pleased with Jinnah’s services in a case, that he sent him an additional fee. Jinnah returned it, with a note, ‘This is the amount you paid me. This was the fee… Here is the balance.”( 6).
Thirdly, another biographer of MA Jinnah, Stanley Wolpert, in “Jinnah of Pakistan” holds the same views to share about high professional integrity of M A Jinnah who is credited with getting acquittal order of opponent-Congress leader Bal Gangadhar Tilak in a sedition case from Bombay Court in 1916. (7)
Fourthly, Raj Mohan Gandhi has similar narratives of high professional ethics and upright behaviour of Jinnah to tell. (8)
Tailpiece: The discussion leads to conclude that Blazing Chinar above-narrative contains a huge allegation against Jinnah’s professional stature which has been admitted by his political rivals even. It contains half-truths, half-facts. The twisted narrative hastily dictated and poorly penned down would leave some readers, who go by the hearsays, believe in Blazing Chinar’s like-narratives without cross-checking. But men knowing SMA was a political-cum-ideological adversary of M A Jinnah would hold their breath and probe further in his like-narratives in the book to find out truth.

1. SM Abdullah’s Blazing Chinar (2016), chapter 30, titled “Mohammad Ali Jinnah & Myself”, pages 220-231; 2. Ibid, pages 220-221; 3. Muhammad Yousuf Saraf, Kashmiris Fight for Freedom (2009 edition) pages 620-621; 4. Ibid; 5. Ibid, pages 620-621; 6. Hector Bolitho, Jinnah the creator of Pakistan(1954), pages 18-19; 7. Ibid, Page 29; 8. Towards Understanding Muslim Mind (1986) pages 123-186

—To be continued ..

—The author can be reached at: mjaslam09@gmail.com. The views expressed are personal and not of the organisation the author works for.
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