Haji Abdul Wahab Sahab’s Dangerous 1947 Journey

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The first Tablighi journey from Delhi to Lahore right after the India-Pakistan partition was marked by divine signs, profoundly impacting the survivors. An eyewitness of the dangerous journey documented it in a detailed letter to Maulana Yusuf shortly after reaching Lahore. This historically significant letter, retrieved from deep archives, is a powerful lesson for us. It illustrates that even amid intense challenges, trusting unwaveringly in Allah’s power and adhering to His commands ensures His direct assistance. For those devoted to Allah, His assistance becomes a clear validation of their faith.

These were murderous times. People, especially Muslims, were advised to stay within their comfort zones or seek refuge in camps to avoid violence. However, a group, deeply connected to Allah and unwavering in their faith, questioned why they should fear creation when everything is under Allah’s control. They believed in trusting Allah completely, even openly travelling from Delhi to Lahore. We obtained a letter from August 17, 1947, recounting this journey from a collection held by a senior aide of the 2nd Hadrat-ji, and have translated it from Urdu for our readers.

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Lahore, August 24, 1947

To our most respected leader Maulana Yusuf Kandhlawi, 

Assalamualaykum WRWB

Putting our trust in Allah

On the way to Lahore, our group of six learned about the life-threatening nature of the journey via Bhatinda. We consulted with our Ameer after bidding farewell to you. Expressing our concerns and subtly suggesting a reconsideration of the route, our Ameer responded solemnly, quoting from the Quran: “When you have decided something (after consultation ), put your complete trust in Allah alone.” The Ameer added: “We must not be swayed by difficulties of the situation, the conditions and environment, what we hear and see. These are all Makhlooq (Creations of Allah). The whole truth is that our best course in a situation like this is to surrender ourselves totally to the Hands of Allah. What better times can there be for us to surrender to Allah than now that we are out on His Path helping His exalted religion!”[1]

Following the Ameer’s decision, we entrusted ourselves to Allah SWT, performed ablutions, prayed, and engaged in collective readings of Fadhail Amaal. Initially, we were accompanied by a few fellow travellers in our train compartment. Once we started doing Ta’alim, everyone else left, leaving the seven of us including an adolescent nephew of one of us, and a porter who was to depart at Bhatinda.

At the Junaid Station

At the station of Junaid, we saw groups upon groups of non-Muslim rioters on the station platform, armed with spears, daggers and knives, whispering to each other as they lustily eyed us. The train’s driver was apparently at the beck and call of this murderous mob. The mob was bending the driver to its will, stopping and starting it as it pleased. Railway employees were mere appendages to this mob. When the train reached the Maur station, we saw a twosome. A blood-drenched corpse covered in a sheet of cloth and the corpse of a Muslim boy of some fifteen years under the open sky, apparently cut up with swords lying on the railway sleepers.  At this station, too, the rioters regularly kept whispering in each other’s ears as they glanced at us: ghastly malevolence exuded from the smiles they were flashing in our general direction.

A pre-Help from Allah

Before our journey took a dire turn, two noteworthy incidents occurred in our compartment. Firstly, a half-deranged Hindu holy man, distinguished by a ‘tiki’ on his head and a white thread across his chest, boarded at an intermediate station. We befriended him by offering food. Secondly, at a previous station, unrelated assailants, after killing a Muslim, tossed the body into our compartment. In these tumultuous times, these situations took on a darkly humorous tone: a genuine Hindu godman and two caricatures of Hindus, Rahmat Ali and his nephew, sat alongside each other.

Meanwhile, the lifeless body of a Muslim lay on the floor, visible from outside. In a twist of fate, Allah SWT offered a lifeline from the Unseen for our group of six. A living Hindu holy man placed amid the compartment appeasing non-Muslim rioters, and a deceased Muslim Shaheed’s body giving impression there was nothing more of value in our compartment.

Shocking scenes at the Giana Station

When the train reached the station of Giana, which comes before Bhatinda, the ranks of the rioters had swelled to about a thousand people. This enormous crowd brought the train to a standstill. First, they huddled on the platform, doing their grisly and horrific planning. Then they divided themselves into four groups.  One group, armed with spears, swords and machetes, was deployed in front of the train’s compartments. A second armed group was sent up inside the compartments, to be broken up into two sub-groups. The task for one of these two sub-groups was to snatch valuables such as gold, cash and human chattel, such as women and girls, taking all of them away, forcibly if necessary. The task of the second sub-group was to drag Muslim men and boys down the aisles and then hand them off to the first group of assassins waiting in front of the compartment.  Within minutes, these assassins were on their victims, felling and cutting them into pieces with demonic, devilish, efficiency.  A third group, armed solely with pistols, was deployed on the far side of the compartments. Should any Muslim somehow jump overboard on the far side of the compartments,  and try to flee, these sharpshooters would shoot them.  A fourth group were heaving earth with shovels, and other earth-moving equipment and accessories. Some of these diggers were skilled at running earth-moving equipment. This fourth group had been digging shallow graves and trenches.   These people had the task of putting the dead or dying Muslim men, teens and boys, into those shallow holes and trenches, taking care that severed limbs were accounted for. The goal was to cover up the atrocities in a thorough manner.

From Junaid to Giana, we hid under the seats

Mass killings soon began in earnest, with the train at a standstill. From one end of the train to the other, from one compartment to the next, Muslim men and women were being dragged out and then disposed of, depending on gender. Men and boys were quartered and entombed, as speedily as practicable. Lives or the will to live were snuffed out in minutes, in the manner elaborately planned earlier. Women and girls were doomed to live in sexual slavery. The fourth group was charged with disposing of the bodies of the dead and dying in the holes and trenches, in a ghoulish coverup of the crime. Muslims who tried to escape the mayhem by jumping overboard on the far sides of the compartments were met by rattling gunfire. When we saw this terrifying spectacle explode upon us, we broke into supplicating to Allah Ta’ala most fervently. Silently, five of us slunk under the seats towards the far side of the compartment. Rahmat Ali, one of the six of us in the Jamaat and who had not as yet grown either beard or moustache, was the only one who remained visible, as was his fourteen-year-old relative who was headed to Bahawalpur.

When our compartment faced the grim scrutiny of the assailants, they would shout in Punjabi from the ground, asking who was inside. In a bizarre turn of events, Rahmat Ali, maintaining a serious demeanour, would reply in Punjabi, claiming there were no Muslims in the compartment, and others had already been through. He would invite them to check for themselves, mentioning that they were entrusted with a corpse to dispose of during the journey. Strangely, this brief response satisfied the attackers. They would climb aboard, find the compartment devoid of Muslims, backtrack, and swiftly move on to attack the neighbouring compartment. This gruesome process continued as the assailants moved from one end of the train to the other, systematically targeting compartments in a bloodthirsty spree.

From Giana to the border we hid inside the toilet

We hoped the terrifying ordeal would end once we passed the station of Giana. However, the same horrific pattern continued at the next station, and it repeated again and again. The difference between witnessing such an experience firsthand and hearing about it is immense, like the gap between heaven and earth. The scenes were so horrifying that it seemed impossible to authentically convey the devastation to our senses and the state of our minds. Their genocidal techniques followed a gruesome playbook consistently from start to finish. In the 36 miles from Giana to the Firozpur border, the train was stopped 13 times, with different groups of killers systematically engaging in maiming and murdering, turning it into a horrifying human blood sport. What remained consistent was that the rotating bands of assassins had somehow convinced themselves that there were no Muslims in our compartment. Five of us – Syed Rasool Shah, Abdul Wahab Sahab, Siddique Sahab, Ikram Sahab, and Mahmood Sahab – cautiously entered the toilet inside the compartment one after the other, where we stayed concealed for four and a half hours. The killers visited the compartment approximately thirteen times, but Allah’s special mercy and blessings saved us from imminent danger.

We reached our destination, but…

We finally made it. However, the blood-curdling screams of innocent children, the wailing of the women, and the terrifying shrieks of men being slaughtered are among such horrifying legacies of a killing field that their searing imprints could never be erased from the deepest sanctums of our consciousness up to the end of our lives. Muslims martyred that day on that train would number a minimum of 200, perhaps more, including the elderly, women and children. Not a single corpse of those killed was left on the train. Eight corpses were found on the train of those people who had earlier been brutalised on the Indian side of the border and succumbed to their injuries between Ferozepur and Lahore. One party (of retreating people) had between 20 and 30 Muslims: one man from it had participated in our supplication at the very beginning of the journey. After our Dua was over, he went back to his party.

We pledge our remaining life for Tabligh

Allah had given us a first-hand, indelibly-seared, look-up into the bounteous gifts that He allots to those who hew to His commands and go out in the path of Allah, helping His deen.  We were handed a ring-side seat, watching, up to the hilt, such bounties. Each one of us had been saying at the time: “O Allah, should we receive complete release from the hands of these oppressors, we would consecrate the rest of our lives to Tabligh. Safe and peaceful, we have reached our final destinations.  That is why we are sending you this message of the safe culmination of the hugely transformative journey. We have completely engaged in our divinely-mandated work as soon as we reach our final destinations. InshaAllah we shall remain engrossed in the effort of Tabligh for the rest of our lives. We envision the great felicity and triumph in our own lives that Allah promises by adopting the effort of Tabligh. We request you to make special supplications for us all.

[1] This must have been a moment of the greatest truth in the collective life of all human beings in the entire 20th century.  This is a personal point of view of this author. 

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