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PHILOSOPHY and philosophers have usually been target of jokes. The disrespect for philosophy is not uncommon in our society alone, but the westerners also do not hesitate to poke fun at philosophers. For example, showbiz personality Woody Allen once said: “What if everything is an illusion and nothing exists? In that case, I definitely overpaid on my carpet”.

The famous philosophical proposition by Rene Descartes, “I think, therefore I am”, too, has been a punching bag for writers. Milan Kundera, for instance, once wrote: “‘I think, therefore I am’ is the statement of an intellectual who underrates toothache”.

Bertrand Russell, a celebrated philosopher, wrote in his Portraits from memory and other essays that “as I grew up I became increasingly interested in philosophy, of which they [members of his family] profoundly disapproved. Every time the subject came up they repeated with unfailing regularity ‘What is mind? No matter. What is matter? Never mind’.”

Keeping this in mind, when we think of books on philosophy in Urdu, we are rather pleasantly surprised to find that the number of books in Urdu on philosophy is by no means meagre. Although the books on philosophy in Urdu are not easily available in market these days, there has never been any dearth of such books. We can trace a good number of philosophical works in Urdu that were published decades ago. In the pre-Independence era, a large number of books on philosophy were either written in Urdu or translated into Urdu. The students of philosophy used to get a great help from them. Some of the writers who had translated philosophical works into Urdu include Abdul Majid Daryabadi, Moulvi Ahsaan Ahmed, Dr Abid Hussain, Abdul Bari Nadvi, Syed Abid Ali Abid, Khwaja Ashkaar Hussain, Bashir Ahmed Dar, Hilal Ahmed Zubairi, Hanif Nadvi, Naib Naqvi and many more.

Similarly, there are original works on philosophy written in Urdu and those who penned them include Ghulam Jeelani Barq, Hifz-ur-Rahman Savharvi, Agha Iftikhar Hussain, Khalifa Abdul Hakeem, Ali Abbas Jalalpuri, Dr Raziuddin Siddiqi, Sibt-i-Hasan, Dr Manzoor Ahmed, Sufi Gulzar Ahmed, Qazi Abdul Qadir, Atiya Syed, and many more. Most of their works are out of print now and if they are reprinted, the earlier edition is not mentioned and in some cases even the title of the book is changed, since new editions are usually unauthorised.

One of the writers and intellectuals who relentlessly worked on philosophy and penned some invaluable books in Urdu was Qazi Qaiser-ul-Islam. While some of his works on philosophy describe the basic concepts and theories of philosophy, others narrate its history.

Qazi Qaiser-ul-Islam was born on December 25, 1934, in Khairabad, UP, India. After graduating from Aligarh Muslim University, he migrated to Pakistan in 1953. Here the life was difficult and to make both ends meet, he had to accept a job in the railways as ticket-checker. But an intellectual by nature, Qazi Qaiser-ul-Islam managed to find time to study philosophy and write about it. By chance, he met Mumtaz Hasan, more of an intellectual than a civil servant who always encouraged writers, poets and researchers. At that time, Mumtaz Hasan was the managing director at the National Bank of Pakistan and he asked Mr Qaiser to join.

Mr Qaiser took the plunge. It proved to be a right decision as after joining the bank Mr Qaiser could find ample time to pursue his intellectual interests as well as make progress on the road to material gains. So it was a matter concerning both mind and matter. Making most of the time, he penned some remarkable works in Urdu on philosophy. They are: Falsafe ke bunyaadi masaail, Falsafe ke jadeed nazariyaat, Tareekh-i-falsafa-i-maghrib (in two volumes). In addition, he translated some philosophical works from English into Urdu. Qazi sahib was serialising Urdu translation of Jean-Paul Sartre’s autobiography The Words in Daire, an Urdu monthly published from Karachi, but only 14 episodes could be published till his death and the translation was left unfinished.

His book Falsafiyaana mukalme, a collection of essays on philosophical issues, was published by the Idara-i-yadgar-i-Ghalib posthumously. Now the Idara-i-yadgar-i-Ghalib has come up with yet another of his unpublished works: Jadeed falsafiyaana afkaar. Just published, the book is a collection of essays on theories and philosophies concerning literary criticism. Edited by Mahjabeen Qaiser, Qazi Qaiser-ul-Islam’s wife and his soulmate, the book discusses some modern literary philosophies propounded by such giant theorists as Jacques Derrida, Roland Barthes and Claude Levi-Strauss. One has to admit that while in Urdu we find much material on old philosophies and old theorists, the area concerning modernism, postmodernism, structuralism and post-structuralism is, to a large extent, left unattended. Qazi Qaiser-ul-Islam’s new book will definitely prove helpful in this regard.

Mahjabeen Qaiser in her introduction has informed that Qazi sahib had written a large number of articles on issues in modern philosophy. Many of these articles are buried in old issues of magazines and must be compiled in a book form. Yet another work that needs attention of literary organisations is the unpublished dictionary of philosophic terms. Qazi sahib had compiled an English-Urdu dictionary of philosophy that explained over 2,000 terms. When published, this would be the most comprehensive Urdu dictionary of its kind.

Qazi Qaiser-ul-Islam died in Karachi on October 18, 1998.

Published in Dawn, October 13th, 2014