Quaid for young readers: half-truths

Reviewed by Zuhair Siddiqui

Father of our Nation: Early Life Story, by Hamid Ahmad Khan. Pp. 35. Rs. 5.00. Published by the National Book Foundation for the National Committee for the Quaid-i-Azam’s Centenary Celebrations.

geust-contAPART from being a distinguished scholar and teacher, the late Prof. Hamid Ahmad Khan wielded a facile pen in English as well as Urdu. He was, however, never known for any interest in politics, and when he died a few years ago nobody knew that he had left among his literary remains an unpublished manuscript on the early life of the founder of Pakistan. This is presumably the first part of a full biography for the benefit of the younger generation which he had planned but did not live to complete. Continue reading “Quaid for young readers: half-truths”

Reading habits in children

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE ten-year-old drones on as he pausesat the end of each paragraph glancingfurtively at his teacherfor the eagerly awaited signal to stop.

The four-i ear-old enthusiastically turns the pages of his picture book as be concentrates on whatthe illustrations are trying to convey.

Although the older child is doingwhat would technically be called the act 0f reading recognizing the printed letter and decodingit into pronounceable words it is the four-year-old who isactually doing more readingfor reading is a complete actof communication which correspondsto the act of writing in thesense that it involves responseand feedback from the reader.

Despite the advantages of reinterpretationand retrospectionwhich reading offers, many people are not inclined to take upa book purely for recreation. They would much prefer the TV screen. Surprising thoughit might appear this is the case,to a greater extent, in the developed countries where literacyis universal and where onewould expect to take the readinghabit for granted. Thus it is estimated that in France 53 percent, in Netherlands 40 per centand in Hungary 39 per cent ofthe adults do not read books.But in Bangladesh where literacyis low barelya tenth of the literate people are non-readers, since those whoare literate are highly motivated. Continue reading “Reading habits in children”

Memories of a great scholar

By Zuhair Siddiqi, Viewpoint, September, 1977

geust-contDr. Wahid Mirza died in Lahore on September 5.

MOHAMMAD WAHID MIRZA was already in his late seventies, and slowly wearing away, when the country observed the 700th death anniversary of his beau ideal, Amir Khusrau, earlier this year. For nearly forty years, Dr. Mirza had been a distinguished figure in the world of Oriental learning. But outside the limited circle of Orientalists, he was not much known — thanks largely to his own retiring disposition and his inherent dislike of self-projection. During the last year of his life, however, his valuable work on Amir Khusrau brought him much wider recognition among the lay intelligentsia. In their search for authentic material on the fascinating character and amazing achievements of that great savant, writers and journalists inevitably had to turn to Dr.Wahid Mirza’s classic contribution, and many of them acknowledged him as one of the greatest living authorities on the subject. The National Book Foundation published a new edition of his Life and Works of Amir Khusrau, which has held the field as a practically indispensable work of reference ever since it was first published in 1935. And at the request of the Foundation,he produced within a few days, in spite of his old age and failing health, an English translation of Khusrau’s Khazain-ul-Futuh — a short history of the reign of Alauddin Khilji. As wider recognition, and fresh bouquets of tribute came to Dr. Mirza during the last year of his life one was reminded of the touching lines of Robert Blair : Continue reading “Memories of a great scholar”

The press: Thirty tortured years

 By Zuhair Siddiqui

geust-contTHE history of the first generation of Pakistan is strewn with mutilations of the rights and liberties that give meaning to political independence. Political activity and organisation, trade unionism, public speech, the people’s franchise, the gathering and publication of news, and press comment — all have been subjected during these thirty years to various kinds and degrees of restriction and control. The constraints have at times amounted to total suppression.

The denial of freedom to the Press, in a way, lies at the heart of the wider, perennial problem of authoritarianism and regimentation. The Press is the watchdog of the people’s freedom and, as an Englishman observed two centuries ago, its liberty is the “palladium of the civil, political and religious rights” of the individual.

Nearly a hundred and fifty years later, the truth of this pithy observation was elucidated by the great socialist political thinker, Harold Laski. He regarded an assertive critical spirit among the citizens as vital to the preservation of their rights, and the freedom of the Press as vital to the whole concept of responsible democratic government: Continue reading “The press: Thirty tortured years”

Women’s view of politics: how free—or crucial—is their vote?

By Zubeida Mustafa

DURING the last few years women in Pakistan have emerged as one of the major foci of party campaigns. Although they comprise nearly half the population and have been enfranchised since the inception of Pakistan itself, women have never found themselves as much the target of election campaigns as they find themselves today.

Women’s Wings of political parties have been organised and “women only” public meetings are being held.This sudden upsurge of interest in mobilising support of the female population can be attributed to the growth of political consciousness among the women living in the urban areas. The major events which appear to have contributed to the rise of social and political awareness, although not necessarily interest and involvement  among the women are the International Women’s Year in 1975 and a number of moves by the Government of Pakistan which were directed towards improving the social and economic status of women as a class. The publicity the IWY and the other measures received, more than their actual achievements, could be considered responsible for infusing an awareness in women of their social and political environment.In order to assess the level of political consciousness in women from all walks of life. DAWN conducted a survey amongst a across-section of women in Karachi. Continue reading “Women’s view of politics: how free—or crucial—is their vote?”

Obaidullah Sindhi: A fascinating figure

Reviewed by Zuhair Siddiqi

MAULANA OBAIDULLAH SINDHI, HALAAT-1-ZINDGI, Taaleemat, aur siyasi afkaar by Mohammad Sarwar. Fifth edition, Published by Sind Saagar Academy, Lahore. pp. 440; price Rs. 16.00.

geust-contMaulana Obaidullah Sindhi is one of the many fascinating, but now nearly forgotten, figures in the recent cultural and political history of Muslim India. For nearly a third of his life he remained in exile, and when he returned home early in 1939, the political atmosphere was not at all congenial for a man of ideas. No Muslim intellectual who did not carry a Muslim League flag could then expect a patient hearing in his own community. On the other hand, the Maulana’s aversion to Gandhian obscurantism ruled out an active association with the Congress in spite of his general sympathy with its objectives. He continued to preach his religious and political ideas independently, and died in 1944.

Although he was a Punjabi by birth and lived in Sind for many long years, we have read scarcely anything about him in Pakistan except in the writings of his ardent devotee,

Mr. Mohammad Sarwar. The work under review, which appeared in 1943, was first published in Pakistan in 1967. Together with a complement volume entitled Ifadat-o-Malfoozat, it forms a comprehensive study of the life, thought and works of that remarkable man.

Born posthumously in a Sikh family in a Sialkot village, Obaidullah fell under the spell of Islam while still a boy, abandoned his home and family, and embraced the faith of his choice at the hands of a Muslim divine in Sind. At the age of twenty-five, he went for higher religious education to the famous school at Deoband, where he was taught by Maulana Mahmud-ul-Hasan and mastered the traditional Islamic disciplines. After graduation, he returned to Sind, taught for several years, and also established a madrassah where he used to bear the students’ expenses and maintain the teachers. After a few years he went back to Deoband, at the instance of Maulana Mahmud-ul-Hasan, and undertook to organise the old students of the Dar-ul-Uloom. But his mind was too independent to accept the rigid conformism of the Deoband school and he fell out with a section of its ulema, who denounced him as a heretic. He later moved to Delhi and devoted himself to the propagation of his own views on the reconstruction of Muslim society. He took his stand firmly on the Quran and attacked the conventional beliefs and doctrines that he found repugnant to the spirit and essence of the Book.

Advocate of modernism

During the Great War, he was caught in the current of the prevailing pro-Turkish sentiment in Muslim India, and at the instance of Maulana Mahmud-ul-Hasan, went to Kabul to persuade the Afghan ruler to attack the British. He failed, but stayed on in Kabul during the rest of the war years. After the end of the war he became the president of the first branch of the Indian National Congress in Kabul. In 1922, he left Afghanistan for the Soviet Union, where he lived for nearly a year. In the following year he moved to Turkey to witness her rebirth and transformation under Mustafa Kemal. A few years later he went to the Hejaz, where he devoted himself to study and teaching for over a decade.

It was during this long stay in Arabia that Obaidullah embarked upon an exhaustive study of the works of the eminent Muslim thinker and divine of the eighteenth century, Shah Waliullah. He became an ardent follower, and the thoughts and teachings of the Shah dominated his ideas and activities during the rest of his life.

The Maulana did not know any Western language, but he had an open mind and a keen observation, and during his long stay abroad he responded favourably to the currents of radical and revolutionary ideas then sweeping the world around him. He became a strong advocate of socio-economic reform and modernisation in the Muslim world, and pleaded for an ungrudging acceptance of nationalism as a determining factor in its future political organisation.

Federal nationalism

The author has explained Obaidullah Sindhi’s religious and political ideas clearly and concisely, and devoted a whole chapter to the political movement associated with Shah Waliullah. The work is, however, dominated by a reverential spirit which seems to rule out a critical approach. Maulana Obaidullah was as much a hero to Mr. Sarwar as Shah Waliullah was to the Maulana, and neither of them has subjected his hero’s ideas to a really critical examination. The doctrine of wahdat-ul-wujud, as interpreted by the Shah in the eighteenth century, is no doubt noble and sublime; but its utility as a basis for national integration in India was doubtful even at that time, and it had clearly become irrelevant when Maulana Obaidullah sought to preach it two hundred years later.

In spite of his nationalist leanings, Maulana Obaidullah, did not stand for a total national integration in India and envisaged for the Muslims a measure of autonomy far beyond that permissible in a normal federation. This is explained, at least partly, by his aversion to the infiltration of Hindu spiritualism , into Congress politics; in any event, it is significant that the “political manifesto” issued by him as far back as 1924, from Istanbul, envisaged a three-tier system very similar to that proposed under the Cabinet Mission scheme in 1946. Even otherwise, Mr. Sarwar has made it clear that the Maulana’s vision of a free India was not that of an integrated national State; he rather believed in a multinational State based on autonomous linguistic units. It is not clear, however, how he proposed to reconcile the linguistic principle with the claims of Muslim separatism.

Perhaps, the most remarkable aspect of the Maulana’s thought and politics is his ungrudging acceptance of the economic and social consequences of the industrial revolution and his passion for an equitable economic order free from the exploitation of man by man. He urged the Muslims to realize that the industrial revolution and the sweeping social and economic changes that had overtaken the West had not only transformed the methods of production but shaken the very basis of the social and juristic systems under the old order. He wanted the world of Islam to open its eyes and respond to the winds of change rather than continue to coddle itself in revivalist dreams incapable of being realized.

Source: Viewpoint  February 25, 1977

 

 

 

What kind of state did the Quaid envisage?

By Zuhair Siddiqi

geust-cont“MR. JINNAH is direct and blunt”, wrote R. G. Casey, the war-time Governor of Bengal, “and no one has any doubt what he means when he speaks”.This is a tribute which even the severest critic of the Quaid-i-Azam would not question; but in the State that he founded, and among his professed devotees, there has never been a dearth of people who would not hesitate to distort even the clearest of his pronouncements to suit their own ends and purposes. Take, for instance, his historic presidential address to the Constituent Assembly on the eve of the birth of Pakistan, which Mr. Bhutto rightly described some time ago as “one of the texts of our nationhood”. That speech, which includes the most emphatic enunciation conceivable of the ideal of a secular, single-nation State, has been a headache for obscurantists all these years. They have tried to explain away, distort, and even press, its sharpest and most significant parts. Continue reading “What kind of state did the Quaid envisage?”