Faqir of Ipi
Mirza Ali Khan (Urdu/Pashto: مرزا علی خان; born 1897, died 1960), known as the Faqir of Ipi, was a Pashtun from today’s North-Waziristan Pakistan, Federally Administrated Tribal Areas. His followers addressed him as ‘Haji Sahib’ (or Respected Pilgrim). The village of Ipi is located near Mirali Camp in North Waziristan Agency, Waziristan, from where the Faqir of Ipi started his guerrilla warfare against the British Empire throughout the 1930s and 1940s until the British departure in 1947.
At one point nearly 40,000 British and Indian troops were reported to be in the field trying to capture him. His own force of armed tribesmen, probably not exceeding one thousand men, armed with rifles and a few machine-guns, and occasionally one or two pieces of antiquated cannon were fielded against this much larger British army equipped with modern artillery, tanks and aircraft. The Faqir of Ipi was always short of ammunition, had no radio communication, and relied upon a traditional network of informants and messengers for his intelligence while the British had much more sophisticated communications and intelligence capabilities developed in World War II. When he died in 1960, The Times of 20 April described him as “a doughty and honourable opponent… a man of principle and saintliness… a redoubtable organizer of tribal warfare….” But only with a tinge of irony could the obituary claim that “many retired Army officers and political agents… will hear the news with the tribute of wistful regret”.
Mirza Ali Khan was born in 1897 in Shankai Kairta, which is located near Khajuri Post in North Waziristan Agency. His family was from the Bangal Khel clan of the Haibati Madda Khel section of the Tori Khel Wazirs, which belongs to the greater Utmanzai branch concentrated in North Waziristan. His father was a religious man, named Arsala Khan. Mirza first went to religious schools on the British side of the border, and eventually, to a place near Jalalabad, where he became a Murid (pupil) of the Naqib of Chaharbagh, at the time the most famous and influential religious leader in Afghanistan. In 1923 Mirza Ali Khan performed the Hajj in Mecca and thereafter settled down in the village of Ipi, situated near the British military road connecting Bannu and Razmak. He was known as a peaceful, religious preacher. There he gradually acquired the reputation of saintliness among the clan of Daurs, but not attracting as yet the attention of the authorities as a potential agitator.
(Mr. Jahangir Khan Sikandri, while presenting the story of the Islam Bibi here, has categorically objected that the picture given on this page in the Encycleopedea is not that of the Faqir of Ipi but of Shami Pir who appeared in Kanigram as a pir and was actually plotted by Hitler to rethrone Amir Aman Ullah Khan who was then in exile in Italy. Shami Pir was exiled by the British forcibly from Waziristan and sent back to Iraq.)
Raising the flag of rebellion
In the beginning of 1936, one Hindu girl namely Ram Kour (also known as Ram Kouri) of Village Jhandu Khel Bannu, fell in love with one Amir Noor Ali Shah (also known as Amir Noor), a Sayyed from the same village. The affections between them were so deep that on the night of 4 th/ 5 th March 1936, Ram Kour eloped with Amir Noor Ali Shah to village Puk Ismail Khel, Surrani, and took shelter at the house of Noor Ali Shah’s maternal uncle. On the same day, i.e. on 5 th March 1936, Ram Kour went to the village mosque of Puk Ismail Khel and embraced Islam at the hands of Moulvi Sakhi Din Shah. Their Nikah immediately followed it. Two persons namely Nimble and Mir Ali Khan lambardar of the village were witnesses to the Nikah ceremony. They both remained there at the house of Amir Noor Ali Shah’s maternal uncle for a few days. In the meantime, Mansa Devi, the mother of Ram Kour, registered an FIR at Domel Police Station alleging Amir Noor Ali Shah etc. for abducting the girl. The SHO of the police station did not take abrupt action as he had confirmed through his own sources that the girl had eloped with Amir Noor Ali Shah at her own free will.
Amir Abdullah Shah, the elder brother of Amir Noor Ali Shah started negotiations with the mother and uncle of the girl and dissuaded them from pursuing the case in the court of law. Both the parties reached an understanding that if the girl was returned to her mother, the case would be withdrawn. Subsequently, an agreement was signed between Amir Abdullah Shah and Mansa Devi and it was mutually agreed upon that Amir Abdullah Shah would return the girl to her mother, on 23 March 1936 . Accordingly, when Amir Abdullah Shah asked the willingness of Ram Kour (then known with Islamic name of Marjana alias Islam Bibi), the girl flatly refused to go to her parents and told Amir Abdullah Shah:
“I would prefer to die if I am not with my husband; I, under no circumstances will go back to my parents or reconvert to Hinduism”.
Amir Noor Ali Shah also stood by her and Amir Abdullah Shah had no option other than to support Amir Noor Ali Shah and Islam Bibi and face the consequences. Accordingly, he did not return the girl to her mother and persuaded Amir Noor Ali Shah to take Islam Bibi to South Waziristan and cross the border to Afghanistan where he would be safe from the clutches of the British law.
Amir Noor Ali Shah and Islam Bibi decided to leave for Tank, on 24 March 1936 . Mst. Jamala, the stepmother of Noor Ali Shah, along with her minor son Qamar Ali Shah (aged 3½ years), also got ready to go with them. In the meantime, on 24th morning, the mother of Islam Bibi made a report at City Police Station Bannu for the recovery of her girl. Amir Noor Ali Shah, Ram Kour alias Islam Bibi, Mst. Jamala with her minor son Qamar Ali Shah and their relative namely Haleem Khan, got into a car (which was hired by them up to Tank) at a place 1½ miles away from Bannu City on Bannu-D.I.Khan Road. When the car reached Ghoriwala Police Station, it was stopped and searched by a police party. They and all other occupants in the car were arrested and brought to City Police Station Bannu. The same evening Noor Ali Shah, Islam Bibi etc. were sent to jail.
The conversion of Ram Kour to Islam and getting married to a Muslim was proclaimed throughout Bannu. Hindu communities favoured Mansa Devi whereas Muslim community stood by the side of Islam Bibi. The Hindu community was led by Rai Bahadur Kanwar Bhan Bagai, Kanwar Rai and the Hindu lawyers, whereas, Muslim community was led by Faqir Abul Hassan, Nawab Zafar Khan Marwat and Muslim lawyers. Communal riots between Hindu and Muslim were expected to rise. Hence, FC and army troops were made alert in Bannu. The Hindu community extended all possible support to the Hindu Lawyers, i.e. Chaman Lal, Melawa Ram, Hukam Chand and Ladha Ram. Whereas, the Muslim community supported Mohammad Jan Khan (Bar-at-law), Mohammad Nawaz Khan Kundi Advocate, Habibullah Khan Meena Khel Advocate, Maqsood Jan Khan Mira Khel Advocate, Sardar Luthfullah Khan Pleader and Eid Akber Shah Advocate, in pursuing the case in the court. 7 April 1936 was fixed as the date of hearing in the court of I.D.Scott, Assistant Commissioner Bannu.
On 6 April 1936, a large crowd of about 2,000 Muslims gathered outside the bungalow of Captain E. H. Cobb, Deputy Commissioner Bannu, raising slogans of ‘Allah-o-Akber’ ‘Islam Zinda Bad’. They demanded the return of Islam Bibi to the Muslim community. Till sunset, they took siege of his bungalow but dispersed with a unanimous decision that on the following day, the bungalow of DC would be encircled again. On the same day, an application was submitted to DC Bannu by some Muslim notables of Bannu through the Defence Council composed of lawyers, namely Luthfullah Khan, Maqsood Jan Khan, Habibullah Khan and Mohammad Jan Khan, stating that Ram Kour had converted to Islam hence she should be given in the custody of some responsible Muslim notable. They further demanded that the case of Islam Bibi should be transferred from the court of Mr I.D. Scott and Captain E. H. Cobb, the Deputy Commissioner, should himself carry out the trial as the District Magistrate.
On 7 April 1936, just an hour before the beginning of trial, another application was submitted to DC Bannu by five Muslim religious leaders of Bannu, namely General Sir Guli Khan of Qamar Killa, Moulvi Mohammad Aslam of Village Shahbaz Azmat Khel, Qari Abdul Ghaffar, Moulvi Mohammad Ayub of Village Bazar Ahmed Khan and Mullah Mir Kazim of Village Jhandu Khel. In this second application, they had requested that Islam Bibi should be kept in the custody of any Muslim notable since she had been placed in the custody of Dr. Benjamin (a Christian lady). On the same day, I.D Scott, Assistant Commissioner Bannu, instituted the court and proceedings in the case (case No.1/2 of 1936) started. When the court was in progress, a letter was received by DC Bannu, from the Faqir of Shewa, North Waziristan, apprising him of the dangerous consequences that might arise if the case would not be decided according to Shariyah. A large crowd of Muslims was also trying to reach the District Courts Bannu on the day of hearing but the Frontier Constabulary closed all the roads leading to the court premises. None, except the Muslims and Hindu lawyers, the District Court servants, the prosecution and the defence witnesses in the case, were allowed to enter the court premises. Islam Bibi was brought to the court in a van, in the custody of a large police party. No serious incident occurred. However, the District Administration felt very tense atmosphere in the District. The same day, Home Member Sir George Cunningham and Khan Bahadur Rana Tala Mohammad Khan Commandant FC, reached Bannu and in the afternoon called for the Muslim notables of Bannu so as to dissuade them from interference in the case. Meanwhile, Deputy Commissioner Bannu handed over the control of the city to the Army. A squadron of light tanks took position on all the vital points inside Bannu City . A show of force of army units was also carried on main roads of Bannu city, followed by imposition of Section 144 in District Bannu for an indefinite period.
The Deputy Commissioner Bannu issued instructions to the Assistant Commissioner Bannu to carry out day to day proceeding of the case and then submit the complete proceedings to him before 20 April 1936 . He also looked into the application that was submitted to him by the Muslim notables and informed both the communities that after the completion of the proceedings, he would himself issue the judgement in the case. Accordingly, Mr. I.D. Scott completed the proceedings by 15 April 1936 . Captain E. H. Cobb went through all the proceeding and then at the request of the Muslim community decided to re-examine Islam Bibi since her statement carried weight on the case.
Deputy Commissioner Bannu, Captain E. H. Cobb, after analysing the tensed atmosphere in Bannu, issued court orders that during the trial, Islam Bibi should be retained in jail, in the public interest. On 29 April 1936, he himself went to Bannu Jail to record her statement in the presence of some Muslim and Hindu notables of District Bannu. In her statement, Islam Bibi told the court that she had embraced Islam at her own and would not go back to her mother. She wished to return to Amir Noor Ali Shah. The statement was read over to her in vernacular that she signed as correct. Deputy Commissioner, after recording of her statement, issued an order that since she did not wish to go back to her mother hence she should be sent to the house of Khan Bahadur Ghulam Haider Khan, Member legislative Council and Honourary ADM, a trustworthy and most respectable person of Village Bazar Ahmed Khan. At a later stage of the trial, the proceedings were carried out in the bungalow of Deputy Commissioner Bannu. On the day of decision by the court, Islam Bibi was brought to the court by Taj Ali Khan s/o Khan Bahadur Ghulam Haider Khan in his car.
The court gave decision in words to the following effect.
“It has been conclusively proved by the Prosecution witnesses that Mst. Ram Kour alias Islam Bibi was a minor girl of 15 years 4 months and 8 days on March 5 th, the date on which she was kidnapped from the lawful custody of her mother without her permission, as she will attain the age of 16 years on October 27 th, 1936, having been born on October 27 th, 1920. There is only the evidence of the minor girl that she went of her own free will being in love with Amir Noor Ali Shah accused. The question of the minor’s attitude however is immaterial to the charge under Section 363 I.P.Code if the minor is kidnapped without the consent of her lawful guardian. I find him guilty of the charge and I convict him accordingly under section 363 I.P.C and sentence him to undergo rigorous imprisonment for a period of 2 years. – Captain E. H. Cobb Dated 25-4-1936
After the announcement of the judgement of the court, Islam Bibi was escorted to the house of Khan Bahadur Ghulam Haider Khan for safe custody till further orders, whereas Amir Noor Ali Shah, Makhar and Amir Abdullah Shah were transported to Haripur Jail, Hazara.
Late on, when all petitions at the Court of Civil Judge Bannu(Gul Mohammad Khan,District Judge) as well as subsequently at the court of Judicial Commissioner Peshawar were dismissed in favour of Mansa Devi, Captain E. H. Cobb, alongsith Superintendent of Police Bannu and 200 policemen, went to Village Bazar Ahmed Khan on the night of 20 th / 21 st August 1936, and laid a siege to it from all sides. No one was allowed to leave the village. Commander Bannu Brigade was also made alert to deal with any unforeseen situation arising during the takeover of the girl from the house of Khan Bahadur Ghulam Haider Khan. At 10:00 p.m. Deputy Commissioner Captain E. H. Cobb and Superintendent of Police Bannu knocked at the house of Khan Bahadur Ghulam Haider Khan, who along with his son Taj Ali Khan, came out of the house and were taken aback seeing such a big police force with the Deputy Commissioner who told him that the girl should be handed over to the Superintendent of Police Bannu on the spot without any confrontation by him or his men otherwise the entire village would face dire consequences. The girl was handed over to the police party after half an hour without resistance. Soon after Islam Bibi was recovered from the house of K.B Ghulam Haidar Khan, she was handed over to her mother (Mst. Mansa Devi) and uncle (Harnam Das) at the bungalow of Deputy Commissioner Bannu. Rai Bahadur Kanwar Bhan Bagai, a leading Hindu and famous transporter of Bannu, took Islam Bibi, her mother and uncle to Hoshiarpur in his personal car on the same night.
Mr. Taj Ali Khan did not leave the matter and went to Hoshiarpur to contact Islam Bibi when a commission was detailed by the Civil Court Bannu to take statement of the girl since it was stated before the court by the Hindu notables that Islam Bibi had re-converted to Hinduism and did not want to be returned to Amir Noor Ali Shah. However, the girl who was produced before the commission at Hoshiarpur was not Islam Bibi and some other girl who pretended to be Islam Bibi had appeared before the Commission. This was seriously objected by Mr. Taj Ali Khan and Mst. Jamala who told the commission that the girl was someone else and not Islam Bibi. However, they returned to Bannu unsuccessful. They told the Bannuchi notables at Bannu that Islam Bibi did try to contact Malik Taj Ali Khan but the Hindu community didnot let her do that.
In August 1937, some of the Hindu notables were heard saying that Ram Kour alias Islam Bibi could not sustain further physical tortures at the hands of the Hindus; and when all efforts to re-convert her to Hinduism had failed, she was poisoned to death by the Hindus at Hoshiarpur. The Hindus cremated her dead body. Her love story has become a part of the folk songs of Bannu and she would be remembered by the Bannucis for her valour and love for the religion of Islam as well as her faithfulness towards her husband. These events followed the rise of the Faqir of Ipi against the British Raj.
In 1945, Amir Noor Ali Shah left Bannu, to search for Islam Bibi; hoping that she might be alive. He did not return. His whereabouts are not known. It is believed that had been in tomb of Khwaja Gharib Nawaz (in India) as Mujawar. He never contacted his brothers or relatives. He would be over 90 years of age if still alive.
Battle against the Bannu Brigade in Khaisora
The verdict ‘enraged’ the Muslims – especially the Daur tribesmen, Faqir Ipi’s kinsmen, the Daur Maliks and mullahs left the Tochi far the Khaisora Valley to the south to rouse the Torikhel Waziris. The enraged tribesmen mustered two large lashkars 10,000 strong and battled the Bannu Brigade, with heavy casualties on both sides. Widespread lawlessness erupted as tribesmen blocked roads, overran outposts and ambushed convoys. The British retaliated by sending two columns converging in the Khaisora river valley. They suppressed the agitation by imposing fines and by destroying the houses of the ringleaders, including that of the Faqir of Ipi. However, the pyrrhic nature of the victory and the subsequent withdrawal of the troops was credited by the Wazirs to be a manifestation of the Faqir’s miraculous powers. He succeeded in inducing a semblance of tribal unity, as the British noticed with dismay, among various sections of Tori Khel Wazirs, the Mahsuds and the Bhittannis. He cemented his position as religious leader by declaring a Jihad against the British. This move also helped rally support from Afghan tribesman across the border.Khan Gul Mohammad Khan
Soon after the Khaisora campaign a general uprising broke out throughout Waziristan campaign, realising the futility of confronting the British Army directly especially with their advantage of air power, tribesmen switched to guerrilla warfare. Squadrons of the two air forces (RAF and RIAF) tried many tactics including scorched earth retaliation involving the burning of standing crops with jerry can petrol bombs and the killing of cattle with strafing attacks. This situation continued till Indian independence and the creation of Pakistan in 1947.
The creation of Pakistan in 1947 significantly dulled the Faqir’s insurgency. As the government was Muslim led, the religious grounds for the insurgency had been lost. This did not stop the Faqir from causing problems for the Pakistani government until his death. On 4 November 1954 his Commander-in-Chief, Mehar Dil, surrendered himself personally to the Deputy Commissioner Bannu, and this, in effect, brought the Waziristan insurrection to an end.
The Faqir of Ipi died at night on April 16, 1960. A long term sufferer of asthma during his last days, he became so sick that it was not possible for him to walk for a few steps. People from far away often used to come and see him and ask for his blessing. His funeral prayers or Namaz-I-Janaza was held at Gurwaikht led by Maulavi Pir Rehman. Thousands of people came for his Namaz-I-Janaza. He was buried at Gurwaikht.
- Dr. Shah, Syed Wiqar Ali German Activities in the North-West Frontier Province War Years 1914-1945. Quaid-e-Azam University. Available online at . Last accessed on 22/03/06
- Government of Pakistan: The Frontier Corps (NWFP) Pakistan and its headquarters. Available online at  Last accessed on 22/03/06
- Siddiqui A. R. Faqir of Ipi’s Cross Border Nexus. Available online . Last accessed on 22/03/06.
- Hauner, Milan (Jan., 1981) One Man against the Empire: The Faqir of Ipi and the British in Central Asia on the Eve of and during the Second World War. Available online at . Last accessed on 22/03/06.
- Shah, Idries, Destination Mecca, Chapter XXIII Contains interview with and the only photograph ever taken of Fakir of Ipi (London 1957). Possibly confirms the Fakir’s dervish or Sufi status.
- Batl-i-Hurriyet: Fakir of Ipi—Iman-Parwar Jihad By Dr Fazal-ur-Rehman Kitab Saraay, First Floor, Alhamd Market,Ghazni Street, Urdu Bazar, Lahore
1. ^ The Tragic Case of Islam Bibi – March 1936, has been submitted by Jahangir Khan Sikandri, a famous writer from Bannu and author of the book THE TIGER OF WAZIRISTAN. The story is more authentic since the author has given correct references of the case proceedings which are still on record at Bannu Mehfooz Khana.
2. ^ The above story, including the proceedings of the court, has been given in detail by Jahangir Khan Sikandri on 28 pages in his book.