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Sir- Many thanks for writing a befitting obituary as an editorial note on the front page of your esteemed newspaper (13-19 May) on the sad demise of a very eminent and distinguished Pakistani scholar and writer, Eqbal Ahmad. In the same issue, Edward Said's article in memory of his friend and colleague aptly describes him by saying, "Somehow, he unostentatiously preserved his native Muslim tradition without succumbing either to the frozen exclusivism or the jealousy that has often gone with it."
Through this letter, I only wish to elaborate on this "native Muslim tradition", which distinguishes not only Eqbal Ahmad but also every Pakistani in the contemporary world. The modernist Muslim tradition of Asia, which Eqbal strove to preserve and promote, has been nurtured in the past one and a half centuries by eminent Muslim thinkers and statesmen like Syed Ahmad Khan, Allama Mohamed Iqbal, and the Quaid-e-Azam Mohamed Ali Jinnah.
Eqbal was one of the most eloquent exponents and promoters of the modernist tradition of South Asian Muslims. His ideals of liberty, fraternity, tolerance, enlightenment, and anti-imperialism were deeply influenced, particularly in his formative years, when he was studying in Lahore, by this tradition. The modernist Muslim tradition, which culminated in the emergence of Pakistan as a separate homeland for South Asian Muslims in 1947, was an attempt to preserve Islamic identity and faith without being rendered irrelevant in modern times. In his continuous struggle against the forces of authoritarianism and religious fanaticism, Eqbal always sought inspiration and support in the words and deeds of the founding fathers.
As a tireless campaigner (some called him a crusader) he constantly struggled against militarism, obscurantism, authoritarianism, and religious fanaticism that tried to distort, even subvert, the modernist Muslim tradition. His uncompromising commitment to democracy, pluralism, religious tolerance and anti-imperialism often put him in the anti-establishment camp. He always remained on the left. When those whose cause he had passionately advocated "won" and became part of the establishment, Eqbal remained steadfast to his ideals, and took them to task for their "deviant" behaviour.
He was often misunderstood by his compatriots. As a passionate believer in his cause, and like Allama Iqbal who saw commitment and struggle as their own rewards, he could never persuade himself to side with the establishment. Many tried to ignore him but no one could render him irrelevant, least of all his detractors, whom he often embarrassed by holding the mirror of the "native tradition" up to their faces. He won respect from all without trying to please everyone.
An important aspect of Eqbal's "native Muslim tradition" was his commitment to education. To institutionalise his ideals, to preserve the legacy of the founding fathers, and to promote the modernist Islamic tradition of South Asian Muslims, he embarked upon the ambitious project of founding Khalduniyeh University (named after the great Muslim sociologist/historian Ibn Khaldun) in Pakistan. He had mobilised enough funds for the project, and successfully persuaded the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to allot four hundred feddans of land for it. The free grant of land did not stop him from criticising the government whenever he thought it was in the wrong. In the death of Eqbal Ahmad mankind has lost a great humanist, and Pakistan has lost another embodiment of the ideals of Muslim modernism.
Embassy of Pakistan
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