Crusader against communalism


Published: May 15, 2013 02:31 IST | Updated: May 15, 2013 02:31 IST

ASGHAR ALI ENGINEER 1939 – 2013

Meena Menon

 

The Hindu Asghar Ali Engineer.

Asghar Ali Engineer.

All his life he tirelessly worked for interfaith peace and harmony and religious reform in his own community

As a child in Wardha at the time of Partition, Asghar Ali heard “horrible stories of people being killed and trains full of dead bodies.” Those stories, he wrote in his autobiography, A Living Faith, disturbed him so much that he began thinking very early in his life about why people killed each other in the name of religion.

Then, as a student in 1961, he was deeply affected by the riots in Jabalpur, the worst till then in independent India. For Engineer, those riots were the beginning of his lifelong battle against the pathology of communalism and the engagement with creating interfaith harmony.

Only last December, on the 20th anniversary of 1993 Mumbai riots in Mumbai post the Babri Masjid demolition, he was part of a campaign to mark a bloody phase in the city’s history. At the launch, though unwell, he was spirited about the need to remember those riots: “Not for revenge but to ensure that it does not happen again.”

All his life he spoke for peace and communal harmony, his other passion being the democratisation and accountability of the religious establishment. He was physically attacked six times for his beliefs and his advocacy of religious reform. His family often worried about his safety, said his son Irfan.

Born on March 10, 1939, at Salumbar, a town near Udaipur, Rajasthan, Engineer grew up in an orthodox atmosphere. His father was a priest and was posted to different towns to provide religious guidance to the Bohra communities there. But, as he recalled, he never spoke anything against other religions.

It was at school in Dewas, when he and other Muslim boys were teased as being “pro Pakistani” that he became aware of religious and caste distinctions. Engineer was already writing articles in school, mostly on Islam and the problems of Muslims, something that he continued to do almost until the end.

In February, from his hospital bed, he typed out a keynote address on his laptop for an interfaith meeting in Indonesia. Two years ago, he delivered a speech, again from hospital, over the cell phone for one and a half hours, for a conference. A commitment was a commitment for his father, said Irfan.

A scholar and writer of over 70 books and numerous articles, Engineer, his son said, was a very humble person who could relate even to his critics, arguing differences with patience. Irfan, who has taken up Engineer’s crusade, remembers him to be a kind and understanding father who was also a friend.

Women’s rights

Women’s rights and equality was another of his missions. Engineer fought for understanding the Koran which he believed had given women equal rights. Medieval jurisprudence had cheated women and he wanted those rights restored. To support religious reforms, a conference to launch a democratically-elected Central Board of Dawoodi Bohras was held in February 1977 in Udaipur where he was elected general secretary. He later set up the Institute of Islamic Studies, in Mumbai and the Center for Study of Society and Secularism.

He counted Ghalib among his favourite Urdu poets and confessed to being deeply influenced by the Sunni thinker Iqbal among others. Initially repelled by Marxism because of its atheism, Engineer said he was later “won over” by Marxist doctrines “as I found them close to Islamic values,” and that it was not necessary to be an atheist to be a Marxist. Engineer’s father had decided not to force him to continue the priesthood tradition. The first time he had taken him to Bombay was for the ritual of kissing the feet of the Syedna, which Engineer had found revolting.

Arriving in Bombay again in 1963, he found a job with the city municipal corporation as an engineer but quit in 1983. He started writing against the oppression of the Dawoodi Bohras in Udaipur. For this he faced threats and demands for an apology. His family boycotted him. Some of the attacks on him were serious enough for him to be hospitalised. His Center for Study of Society and Secularism was vandalised.

Along with his intense participation in efforts to get to the bottom of communal riots that affected India’s social fabric, and his interfaith initiatives for harmony, Engineer was a scholar of Islam. In his Muslims in India since 1947: Islamic Perspectives on Inter Faith Relations, Yoginder Sikand says Engineer’s principal concern was to evolve a theology of Islam that seeks to grapple with the modern condition even while being rooted in it. Engineer’s main contribution was in articulating a contextual hermeneutics of the Koran one that he believed could help guide Muslims in dealing with the challenges of contemporary life.

Engineer combined a passion for knowledge and religion with action on the ground, taking along leading writers, journalists and members of progressive movements of the day in his battle for religious reform and what he believed was an “un-Islamic” imposition of the Syedna’s tenets.

Before he succumbed to diabetes-related complications on Tuesday, he had partially recovered from a prolonged illness (of three months), and had returned home from hospital on April 26. His passing comes at a time when many of the issues he fought for and deeply cared about are still far from settled. More than ever, we need the values of tolerance, communal harmony and inter-faith dialogue that Engineer stood for all his life.

meena.menon@thehindu.co.in

 

Obituary – Asghar Ali Engineer (1939-2013)


RIP Asghar Ali (1)

MAY 14, 2013
by , kafila.org

B_-_portrait.Ashgar_Ali_Engineer-Salzb05__c__RLA_Foundation__Ulrike_AltekruseAn obituary by ZAHIR JANMOHAMED: I first met Asghar Ali Engineer in January 2002 in Mumbai. I was a fellow with the America India Foundation and a few weeks later I would be posted to work with an NGO in Ahmedabad.

A few minutes before his presentation, I noticed him standing off to the side in silence, staring at the ground. I walked up and introduced myself. I was young, in my twenties, and I did not know what to say.

As-salaam alaikum,” I said.

“Wa-alaikum salaam,” he replied.

I am not sure what response I expected but I thought that perhaps because he and I share the same faith that we might have a special bond, that my greeting would spark a conversation. After all, I always thought phrases like these serve less as greeting and more as an announcement, as in, I am part of the same religion as you.

But Asghar saab just held my hand and then put his hand on his heart. “Nice to meet you,” he said, and then stared at the ground again in silence. I thought it was odd, rude even.

As I continued to meet Asghar saab, I realized that he had very little patience for superficial connections. I witnessed this when I saw him greet crowds after his lectures. If you told him you were from the same caste or city he would not be as excited as if you told him that you also believe that we must fight patriarchy with the same vigor that we must fight communalism.

What set him apart was his fearlessness, something he showed from a young age. He was born on March 10, 1939 in Salumbar, Rajasthan to a family of priests in the Bohra community and schooled in the traditional Islamic sciences like Qur’anic study (tafseer). Islamic schooling is often based on the idea that you should teach a child as much as he/she can digest and then later they will develop the intellect to question what they have learned. The idea, as Willim Chittick writes in his book The Sufi Path of Love, is that form precedes meaning. But Asghar saab began to question at a young age, at a time when he was told he should only be memorizing. Later he would become one of the first to question the transparency of the Bohra leadership, something completely unheard of during his time.

He was effective and very hard to argue with (as I learned first hand) because he was grounded in Islamic law. When an Islamic scholar would make an argument that a particular verse in the Qur’an supports denying a woman her rights, Asghar saab would draw on his extensive knowledge of the Qur’an to argue that that very verse means the antithesis.

Each time he spoke out, the more he isolated himself but this never bothered him. Part of what made him so unique was that he never saw himself as part of a community. He believed this was the surest way to stifle your voice. Be independent, he always told me.

After I witnessed the Gujarat riots, we met on a few occasions. But he never liked hearing my stories from Ahmedabad. It was not that he was not interested but he did not want it to rattle his core belief that humans are inclined towards goodness and reason, two things he saw lacking during the 2002 carnage.

We ended up growing apart because he was so ideal about India and religion that that idealism which I always saw as his virtue I began to see as his blind spot. But I always appreciated how he never gave up and more importantly, how he was always re-examining his beliefs.

The last time we corresponded was in 2005. It was a few months after Modi was denied a visa and I was active in Washington DC in raising awareness about Gujarat. But I was burned out and frustrated by my fellow Indian Americans who could not be bothered with what happens in India. What I wanted, I told him, was more support, more people to stand with me.

“You will not find many friends on this path,” he wrote to me.

It is these words and that image of him—standing off to the side, staring at the ground as when I first saw him—that I will always remember about him. Yes he was alone, as many are who push for change, but he was also something very unique and rare. He was his own person.

(Zahir Janmohamed is a writer in Ahmedabad.)

 

#RIP- Renowned Islamic scholar, progressive thinker, author Asghar Ali Engineer no more


RIP Asghar Ali (1)

 

Mumbai, May 14 (IANS) Renowned Islamic scholar, progressive thinker, author and Dawoodi Bohra reformist leader Asghar Ali Engineer passed away here Tuesday after a prolonged illness, family members said. He was 74.

Engineer, a widower, is survived his son Irfaan and daughter Seema Indorewala. He was ailing for several months and breathed his last at his Santacruz East home around 8 a.m. The funeral is likely to be held Wednesday, Irfaan indicated.

Born in Salumbar, Rajasthan, in a Dawoodi Bohra Amil (priest) family March 10, 1939, Engineer acquired his training in Quranic tafsir (commentary), tawil (hidden interpretations of Quran), fiqh (jurisprudence) and hadith (Prophet’s teachings, sayings) during his early days.

His father, Sheikh Qurban Husain, was the Amil who also taught the young Engineer Arabic. Later, Engineer studied all the major religious works and scriptures by eminent scholars.

He graduated as a civil engineer from Indore, Madhya Pradesh, and went on to work for nearly two decades in the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC).

In the early 1970s, he sought voluntary retirement from his BMC service and plunged into the reformist movement in the miniscule Dawood Bohra community, estimated at around 1.20 million worldwide.

In 1972, he assumed a leading role in the movement from Udaipur and also mobilised national and international public opinion through media articles and speeches.

In 1977, he was elected general secretary of Central Board of Dawoodi Bohra Community at its maiden conference in Udaipur and guided the reformist movement.

Later, Engineer devoted his time and energies to work for communal harmony and combat communalist forces in the country.

The recipient of several awards and honours from around the world, Engineer travelled across the globe speaking at international conferences, seminars and universities on Islam, peace, human rights and other issues.

He founded the Institute of Islamic Studies (1980) and the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism (1993), and also authored around 50 books on various topics and believed in treating all religions with equality.

According to reformists, Engineer never believed in blind acceptance of dogmas inherited from the past but strived to rethink issues and reinterpret Islam in keeping with modern times.

Asghar Ali Engineer, leader of the Progressive Dawoodi Borah movement speaks to Madhu Trehan on how priestly families in the community are distorting Islam, challenging fatwas, how Satanic Verses should be challenged but not banned & more.

 

Archives

Kractivism-Gonaimate Videos

Protest to Arrest

Faking Democracy- Free Irom Sharmila Now

Faking Democracy- Repression Anti- Nuke activists

JAPA- MUSICAL ACTIVISM

Kamayaninumerouno – Youtube Channel

UID-UNIQUE ?

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 6,233 other followers

Top Rated

Blog Stats

  • 1,765,932 hits

Archives

November 2019
M T W T F S S
« Jun    
 123
45678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
252627282930  
%d bloggers like this: