Sharif Al Mujahid: Authority on Pakistan movement

Updated January 28, 2020

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PROF Sharif Al Mujahid.—White Star
PROF Sharif Al Mujahid.—White Star

SHARIF AL MUJAHID, who died at his home in Karachi on Monday morning after a long illness, was one of South Asia’s most prolific writers on the history of the freedom movement, the most-quoted Pakistani scholar abroad, and undeniably an authority on Mohammad Ali Jinnah. He was 93.

I had known him for over six decades as a teacher, mentor, friend and adviser on matters not necessarily journalistic. His passion for writing came to an end when he said at a book launch in 2018: “I am done for.” That signalled his inability to write any more.

Mujahid founded the Karachi University’s journalism department in 1956, which I joined in 1957, thus beginning a relationship that invariably had been to my advantage.

When he established the Quaid-i-Azam Academy in 1976, and moved from the university campus to the time-worn barracks of Pakistan Secretariat where it was housed, the authorities forgot all about him, for he remained in the same grade and thus got the same pay and allowances for nearly a decade.

His dedication to Jinnah and thus to his job was exemplary. When he fell ill, he would be at his job, day and night, because he told me if one had to lie in bed as a sick man one might as well do so among books and research material.

He was a prolific writer, his career as a historian of the freedom movement spanning more than seven decades in many continents. His publications include six major works, eight edited works, nine minor or co-authored works, and 22 works (original and translated) in Urdu, Arabic, French, Portuguese and other languages.

His monumental book, Quaid-i-Azam Jinnah: Studies in Interpretation, was adjudged the best work on Jinnah during the 1940-82 period and was awarded the President’s Award on Best Books on the Quaid-i-Azam; it is the only work to qualify for the award since it was set up in 1981.

He had rough moments with the establishment, for when Studies hit the market during Ziaul Haq’s regime, there were demands that it be banned. Reason: the book didn’t follow the beaten track on Jinnah.

The other books which he wrote or to which he contributed include Quaid-i-Azam and His Times, Quotes of the Quaid, In Quest of Jinnah, The Jinnah Anthology, A Compendium of Muslim League Documents, Indian Secularism: A Case Study of the Muslim Minority, Ideologi­cal Foundations of Pakistan, Ideological Orienta­tion of Pakistan, and Ideology of Pakistan. He also contributed chapters, among others, to Betty Burch and Allen Cole, Asian Political Systems; John Lent, Broadcas­ting in Asia and the Pacific, and Newspapers in Asia: Contemporary Trends and Problems; D. A. Low, The Indian National Congress: Centenary Hindsights; and Press Systems in SAARC. The list of his research papers is endless.

He also published 45 chapters in edited works, 45 papers and some 44 review articles in journals, and contributed some eighty-five articles/chapters in six encyclopaedias and yearbooks, including Collier’s Encyclopedia, Encyclopedia of Asian History, Encyclo­pedia of Education, and the Far East and Australasia. In 1964, he was Visiting Professor at Bradley University (Peoria, IL), and at the State University of New York at Buffalo, where he taught South Asian history and politics.

He also taught summer courses at Buffalo, and at the University Colleges at Oswego Cortland, Genesee, and other institutions in New York state.

The variety of visiting professorships he was offered, some of which he did not utilise, gives an idea of his standing in world academia. The offers came from St. Antony’s College, Oxford, the Centre for South Asian Studied, Jawa­harlal University, New Delhi, and the International Islamic University, Malay­sia, where he established the Department of Communi­cation and was its Founding Head for three years.

With Dawn his association spanned six decades, for there was hardly a national day supplement that didn’t have his article, and if a write-up were needed in emergency there was an easy way out, “Ask Mujahid saab”.

He had a computer-like memory, and Dawn staff members found it convenient to ring him up even at midnight rather than consult reference books. Mujahid, a recipient of Sitara-i-Imtiaz, was educated at Madras, Stanford, McGill and Syracuse universities. He had a brilliant academic career, which won several prestigious awards, including Fulbright-Hays scholarship at Stanford, Research Fellow at McGill, an Asia Foundation Grantee at Syracuse, and a British Council fellow in the United Kingdom.

Mujahid also served on the editorial boards of several prestigious journals, including The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences, Intellectual Discourse of the International Islamic University of Malaysia, and as co-editor of UNESCO’s “History of the Scientific and Cultural History of Mankind”, re-titled as History of Humanity.

Born in 1926, he died of painless old age at his North Nazimabad home.

Mujahid leaves behind his wife and four daughters.

His funeral was held after Asr prayers at Masjid-i-Ibrahim, University of Karachi. He was laid to rest in the varsity graveyard.

The writer is Dawn Readers’ Editor and author

Published in Dawn, January 28th, 2020