This man from Lahore refused a knighthood, was recommended for a Nobel Prize but lost out because Urdu was not then a recognised language, was a college principal at the age of 27, and managed the ‘impossible’ feat of four tripos degrees in five years at Cambridge University.
Nearly ten years ago I wrote a piece in these columns on Allama Inayatullah Khan Mashriqi, but that piece was in reference to the six-seater Daimler Pullman car that Hitler had presented him, for the dictator admired the writings of “truly a great man and mind”. That special-edition six-seater till recently lay crumbling at his Ichhra house. Where it now is I have no idea. What I do know is that a German car museum had once offered a million Euros for it. My plea then was for the University of Engineering to buy the car, restore it and keep it in its science museum.
Last week while researching colonial period Indian politics I came across rare archives in which Cambridge scholars termed him “the greatest brain of British India.” As I dwelt deeper I came across an observation by Albert Einstein who remembered ‘his friend’ as being a “genius of untold possibilities”. There is a popular tale – call it university folklore - of him solving a complex mathematical problem on the back of a cigarette pack that had wracked the brains of Einstein. But then he is the man Pakistan chose to ignore.
The book that almost won him a Nobel Prize was a commentary on the Quran titled ‘Tazkara’. It was a monumental work that took the West by storm and presented his religion as a liberal enlightened one. He followed this by another equally amazing book titled ‘Isharat’ and from this he recommended that Muslims should concentrate on ‘amal’ – practice – and in that the symbolic spade – ‘bailcha’ – was used as a weapon just like the Holy Prophet (Peace be Upon Him) did when building the first mosque at Madina. From this came up his political movement called the Khaksar Tehrik, or the Movement of the Humble.
But what made me write this column was an observation he made about the people of his land, and which given the current turmoil is so relevant. His theory on politics in the sub-continent was that the “cultural ethos and history of India is such, that the people behave exactly in direct proportion to the behaviour of their leaders. To imagine that the people do not know what their leaders are up to is a gross fallacy. They get to know every detail.” (Obituary, ‘The Times of London’, 29 August 1963).
Mashriqi had analysed the Congress as promoting “milk and water” nationalism, and his view was that behind this veneer was “a Hindu nationalism of a sinister sort that will one day raise its head”. He went on to write: “The very foundations of Congress are wrong and will one day end up harming Muslims”.
The massacre of Pathans in the Kissa Khani Bazaar, Peshawar, on April 23, 1930, saw him criticising the handling of the situation, which a senior ‘government official’ was not expected to do. He replied with firmness that the colonial rulers should first read the manuals they seek to apply on him. He went on to present the truth of this mishandling by writing in British papers. These columns shocked the British public. When Punjabi leaders criticised him for his views, he wrote: “The British government has hired my knowledge for the salary they pay me; they have not hired my heart or conscience.” It was in this context that he refused a knighthood and resigned from his job.
In 1930 Mashriqi founded his Khaksar Tehrik, forever abandoning the luxurious life he was used to. There was no status quo in the party. He explained this radical move as a way of trying to overcome the difficulties Indians faced in winning freedom as equals. Much later he was to comment, when asked about this principle of equality on the founding of Pakistan led by a party of feudals, he said: “Pakistan will face immense racial and provincial prejudices because of the supremacy of feudalism and class-based bureaucracy.” He went on to write: “The end result of this equation of prejudices is total and complete disintegration. If they are removed, the end result will be prosperity of untold proportions. The choice is stark.”
The mathematician that he was wrote in 1953: “East Pakistan, by my calculations, will declare its independence in approximately 1970, they will have no other way.” He also warned not to take the Kashmir issue to the UN, because we would never be able to liberate it from India. He said: “Accept this fact now and you will be better off. It must remain a Pakistani province, and we must struggle to regain portions of our lost province, or one day we will accept the partition of Kashmir like we accepted the partition of the Punjab.”
The man that Mashriqi was has seen a deliberate suppression of his ‘Tazkara’, a book that almost won him the Nobel Prize. In its place the feudal bureaucracy promoted works that promoted the rise of the ‘mullah’. Mashriqi was to write: “If we are to follow the Quran in spirit, surely there is no place for a ‘mullah’, or for that matter even his paymaster the feudal”. Surely we have paid a very heavy price for ignoring him.
Published in Dawn, August 17th, 2014