Zafaryab Jilani: The man and his ‘unfinished’ mission

Zafaryab Jilani

By Haider Abbas

The triumvirate always consisted of Mushtaq Ahmed Siddiqui, Zafaryab Jilani and Muhammed Azam Khan, all old Aligarians, who had weathered the Aligarh Muslim University minority-character storm, through protests for around a decade (1968-80), only to be bonded yet again for Babri Masjid, as on February 1, 1986, Babri Masjid, locked since December 22/23, 1949, was opened up, and the same threesome formed Babri Masjid Action Committee, on February 5, 1986, to fight for justice for Babri Masjid, which had gone unwavered in the past 37 years, despite Babri Masjid demolition on December 6, 1992, its judgement from Lucknow bench of Allahahad High Court on September 30, 2010, which gave 2/3 of it to the Hindu side, 1/3 to Muslim side, and later by the Supreme Court on November 9, 2019, which gifted the entire site to the Hindu side! Babri Masjid was situated in Ayodhya, district Faizabad, UP. Faizabad is now named as Ayodhya.

Muhammad Azam Khan, Zafaryab Jilani and Mushtaq Ahmed Siddiqui.

During the past around three decades, I could watch Babri Masjid movement from a very close-eye and wrote around a 100 articles to encapsulate every possible detail. I could visit Ayodhya on demolition anniversaries and also visited the Babri Masjid site, when Archaeological Survey of India excavation was underway in 2003. I could vouch that during all these last decades Zafaryab Jilani served the Babri Masjid mission with his utmost zeal and unmatchable dedication. He would always make me available with notes, documents etc and never betrayed a sign of fatigue. Dozens of times I would meet him past midnight, even as he returned from his journeys, he would sit with his beaming smile, in togetherness with the same alertness and agility, and detail me the developments from inside the Courts.

“His unwavering zest did not let-him-down even when the judgement had gone against Muslims in 2010. There were then hordes of Muslims who viewed that Muslims ought not to appeal in the Supreme Court, but he remained undeterred and like a proverbial one-man-army fought the battle through the SC until November 9, 2019. On that day the five-judges bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, gave the ‘moulding of relief’ to the Hindu side, and despite the fact that Muslims won the case, Muslims lost the land. Zafaryab Jilani’s determination did not flicker as within 30 days, throughout which he remained in New Delhi, he worked relentlessly to file the review-petition, which was dismissed by the five-judges bench on December 12, 2019. He was insistent for the curative-petition for Babri Masjid, but since it is not time-bounded, he left it for the further generations to pursue for. CJI Ranjan Gogoi was later obliged with a Rajya Sabha seat, something which was also once offered to Zafaryab Jilani, by Samajwadi Party Chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, but he did not entertain the idea for of his pre-occupation with the Babri Masjid case. He later served as an Additional Advocate General of UP government 2012-17.

As I reflect on his ‘life and times’ I recollect that the first international call he got, after the demolition of Babri Masjid, from Siddharth Shankar Ray, the then Indian ambassador to US, who had offered to resign from his position, but was advised otherwise. Siddharth Shankar Ray was very instrumental into articulating the cause of Babri Masjid inside the Courts who was later succeeded by Rajeev Dhawan, a living luminary in the field of law in the country. It was never in his life did I ever find Zafaryab Jilani to have engaged into loose-talk about anyone. He enjoyed an outstanding rapport with Prime Ministers of the nation like Rajiv Gandhi, VP Singh, Chandrashekhar, IK Gujaral and never tried to ‘extract’ anything for himself or for his family. There was always a straight-forward big NO, to ‘whom so ever’ who wanted Muslims to surrender Babri Masjid. Sri Sri Ravishankar had been trying for it since more than a decade.

It is another matter that hundreds of Muslims, from both Shia and Sunni sides, since 1986, wanted to shun Babri Masjid, in lieu for their personal benefits, yet he stood to outsiders and withstood it to insiders! He single-handedly had thwarted the BJP move to start the Lord Rama temple construction at the adjacent land around Babri Masjid, when AB Vajpayee was the PM (1998-2004), in the light of Ismail Farooqui V’s Union of India SC judgement of 1994, which had barred even an inch of land to be transferred until the title-suit was to be decided.

Zafaryab Jilani belonged to the generation of Abdul Jaleel Faridi and the eminent lawyer Shafiq-ur-Rehman from Lucknow. The other two of this triumvirate belonged to the same. On May 17, one of them, Zafaryab Jilani, has been lost forever! After a prolonged illness at Nishat Hospital, Lucknow, This ill fated day, had taken to start, when he had fallen down from the stairs of Amir-ud-Daula Islamia Degree College, Lucknow, on May 20, 2021, and shifted to Lucknow’s Medanta Hospital, where ironically

Muhammed Azam Khan was already recuperating from Corona infections, both were ably handled by Akhilesh Yadav, the President of SP. The hospital, did not allow anyone inside, however, this writer visited the site, on every alternate day, during their stay the hospital. Even, after he had returned to his place, during all these days of ailment.

The writer outside Medanta Hospital and at his place, Lucknow

According to conservative estimates, there were around 20,000 people in his burial, Mushtaq Ahmed Siddiqui, despite his old age joined the funeral at Aishbagh graveyard, Lucknow, along with Muhammed Azam Khan, who had travelled from Rampur, despite a stent in his heart and a hernia operation. We sat over, for sometime, after the last rites were performed, and all of us wept inconsolably. These now twosome, find the loss of his life as that of whole Muslims of India, for they together had charted the most disciplined movement against the prevalent communalistic polity of India, since the turn of 1980, when the first large scale Muradabad riots had taken place, followed by Nielle in Assam (1983) and later in the aftermath of the opening of Babri Masjid locks, in Hashimpura, Maliana, Bhagalpur etc. The nationwide riots after the demolition of Babri Masjid and down to the Gujarat riots-2002.. No wonder, history will remember the threesome as stalwarts of the ‘their times’ as they stood to uphold the law of the land! Zafaryab Jilani and his two unflinching associates will always remain in the heart of millions! Wish them all health.

Zafaryab Jilani was legal advisor to the apex Muslim body in the country the All India Muslim Personal Law Board. He was a gold-medalist in LLM from AMU. He is survived by two sons and a daughter.


The writer is a former UP State Information Commissioner and writes on politics.


  1. Whether Sunni or Shia, who won at Karbala?

    In the hearts of ALL Muslims, the grandchildren of beloved RasoolAllah sallalahu alaihi was-salam are & will evoke pangs of heart-felt anguish at their earthly suffering, & joy knowing their celestial palaces!

    Amidst the darkest night, the worldly respite given to the false flame of an accursed abu lahab appears bright, yet the reality of an illuminating glorious Dawn blazes in magnificence. Aye Jilani sahib, thou art truly victorious, in sha Allah.

    A thousand fiery stars must ply their heroic coursing in a play, through the Firmament.

  2. Sir. Adaab. Per chance I read your article.I am DR M Ismail Faruqui. I beg to submit my views via email. Could you kindly oblige me to do so. Respects.


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