‘Asghar Ali Will Be Remembered As A Creative Interpreter Of Islam’


In a career spanning over four decades, Asghar Ali was in the forefront of anti-communal movements and upholding the spirit of our secular constitution

MUSHIRUL HASAN

May 15, 2013

Photo Courtesy: www.csss-isla.com

Photo Courtesy: http://www.csss-isla.com

He never wrote his full name. AA Engineer is how he was widely known. I wrote a column on him in the Indian Express and followed it up with another article on his 70th birthday. Now, regrettably, I write his obituary.

Like many in this country and abroad I am deeply grieved by his sudden death. He was a man of extraordinary energy and unshakable conviction. Above all, he was on a mission to reform his own Bohra community, to expose the menace of communalism and to plead for a liberal and modernist version of Islam. What is amazing is that he actually believed that these changes would take place during his lifetime. Sadly, that did not happen.

Asghar Ali Engineer’s chief mission was to make India a safer place to live in for the minorities. For this, he did not adopt the reckless course of many a protagonist of Muslim causes. Instead, he endeavoured to instill confidence in the minorities. At the same time, he argued for reforms and innovations within inherited traditions. He wanted Muslims in particular to move forward and shed their psychological inhibitions. He wanted them to remain true to their faith, because he believed that Islam, contrary to its current demonization, championed social equity, justice and tolerance. He would quote chapter and verse from the Quran to defend his position. Unlike other reformers, he was a well-read person and linguistically equipped to interpret the Quran and the traditions of the Prophet. Therefore, he consistently argued, for example, that gender justice is enshrined in the Quran.

In a career spanning over four decades, Asghar Ali spearheaded many important movements. He was in the forefront of anti-communal movements, upholding the spirit of our secular constitution. Global peace and interfaith dialogue was lately, his principal passion. He tried to work out a synthesis between different religions, traditions and underline their commonalities. In this respect, his dialogues with Christian and Hindu priests are quite important. It marked an advance on a tradition pioneered by social reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and Mahatma Gandhi.

When I first visited Asghar Ali at Irene Cottage in Santa Cruz East, I expected to be greeted in a large palatial house. Instead, I walked through a decrepit staircase which led me into a rather modest two-room apartment. It was barely furnished. There were only books and printed articles strewn all over the place. This is not surprising. He was a dedicated scholar who spent several hours every day writing his own books, articles and reports on communal riots in different parts of the country. Many of these were published in the Economic and Political Weekly. He will be long remembered for his bold and courageous interventions on leading public issues and in the service of communal peace and secularism. His judgement on most matters was objective and reasonable.
Asghar Ali was a reckless individual, with a junoon to transform the world. He travelled ceaselessly and kept odd hours which ultimately took a toll on his health. Whenever I asked him to take it easy, he would brush aside my suggestion. He said that he had miles to go and much more work to do.

His life offers many lessons to be learnt, of paths taken and not taken. But whatever may be the verdict of history, Asghar Ali Engineer will be remembered as a creative interpreter of Islam and as a champion of the liberal and secular values. His life clearly demonstrates that it is possible to be wedded to one’s own tradition and at the same time be a quintessential liberal. There is no conflict of vision in Asghar Ali’s public life or writings.

We will miss this enlightened and dignified man. We will miss a principled and conscientious citizen and dissenter who recognised no caste or community differences. And finally, we will miss a scholar who was relentless in his search for ideas and solutions to contemporary conflicts and divisions.

The author is Professor of History, former Vice-Chancellor, Jamia Millia Islamia and the former Director General, National Archives of India

– See more at: http://tehelka.com/asghar-ali-engineer-will-be-remembered-as-a-creative-interpreter-of-islam/#sthash.QGfpi43O.dpuf

10-year-old’s RTI posers stump PMO, Government


NEW DELHI, May 25, 2012

Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar, The Hindu

Girl questions father of nation status for Gandhi

When some simple questions came to the mind of Aishwarya Parashar, a
Class-VI student of the City Montessori School, Lucknow, she did not
let them languish unasked. She went seeking out answers through the
Right to Information (RTI) Act. Aishwarya’s inquisitiveness and
willingness to pursue the source of information has yielded, till
date, the establishment of a public library on the site of a garbage
dump and the nation being better enlightened about the Father of the
Nation, Mahatma Gandhi.

All of just 10 years, Aishwarya is a confident little girl, who
herself answers a mobile phone and urges those wanting some written
information from her to send her an SMS giving their e-mail ID and
even forwards e-mail and communicates about her work on her own.

“I have so far filed three RTIs with the Prime Minister’s Office,”
she says, adding that “the first one was [a query] about who gave the
order for printing Mahatma Gandhi’s image on currency notes. I was
told in a reply that it was in 1993 following a meeting of the Reserve
Bank of India.”

But it was her subsequent RTI asking the PMO to tell her who conferred
the title of Father of the Nation on Mahatma Gandhi, which confounded
the government. From the PMO, the query went to the Ministry of Home
Affairs and to the National Archives of India, before Aishwarya was
told that “there are no specific documents on the information sought”
by her.

‘Surprising’
“That was really surprising because I never thought it was such a
difficult question since even our history books taught us that Mahatma
Gandhi was the Father of the Nation.”

The first reference to Mahatma Gandhi as Father of the Nation goes
back nearly 70 years when Subhas Chandra Bose referred to Gandhi thus
in a radio address from Singapore in 1944.

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru too had, in his address to the nation
upon Mahatma Gandhi’s death, referred to him as Father of the Nation:
“Friends and comrades, the light has gone out of our lives, and there
is darkness everywhere, and I do not quite know what to tell you or
how to say it. Our beloved leader, Bapu as we called him, the Father
of the Nation, is no more.”

After getting an unsatisfactory answer to her query on this issue in
March this year, Aishwarya on April 24 asked the PMO who had declared
Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary on October 2 as also Republic Day
and Independent Day national holidays. To her surprise, she got a
reply dated May 17 that such orders were never issued.

Favourite query
The question most dear to Aishwarya’s heart was posed by her in 2009.
“That was the time when Lucknow was in the grip of swine flu. There
was a big garbage dump near my school, but I only got to see it one
day when my mother came to pick me up as my cycle-rickshaw had not
come. For the parents there was a separate entrance, and on the way
back home I spotted this dump.”

With the help of her mother, Urvashi Sharma, who is a social worker
and RTI activist, Aishwarya penned an application in her own
handwriting. “I had marked that query on the garbage dump to the Chief
Minister and thereafter the Uttar Pradesh government got the dump
removed, and our school constructed a public library on the site.”

Her father, Sanjay Sharma, is a lecturer.
Ambition


Aishwarya wants to become a doctor. Asked why, she quips: “Whenever I
go to a hospital, I see that the poor patients have to first shell out
money in order to get treated. I will, on becoming a doctor, go to the
slums at least once every week and provide free treatment to such poor
people.”

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