SHARIF Al Mujahid, the legendary Pakistan movement historian, died this day last year. For me it was a personal loss, for I had remained his student for nearly 60 years. Long after I was out of the Karachi University’s Department of Journalism, we remained in the teacher-student relationship till his death.
While his academic milestones would require a rather lengthy narrative, I would like to talk about some of his rare qualities. He had what we used to call an index card memory; decades later, as we moved into the digital age, we began speaking of his computer memory. Once I asked him whether he had met a certain scholar, and he replied that he had met him at a function at my office on a given date several years ago. While I did not remember that date, it was etched into what we should now call his cyber memory.
As for the voluminous Jinnah-Gandhi correspondence, ask him when Gandhi wrote a letter to ‘brother Jinnah’ in Gujrati, and promptly would come the reply: July 17, 1944. This astonishing memory helped him in what he considered to be his life mission – to write and write and write about Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s achievements in securing Pakistan in a situation where the odds were overwhelmingly against him. For this he was recognised the world over by scholars. No wonder he was Pakistan’s most quoted author.
As a student at the Madras University, he was brilliant, and this won him a Fulbright-Hays scholarship, which enabled him to have degrees from McGill, Stanford and Syracuse universities. He also taught South Asian history and politics at a number of American universities, including the State University of New York. Besides his six books, he co-authored nine, and contributed 85 articles to six encyclopaedias. His books were translated into Urdu, Arabic, French and Portuguese, and he was offered visiting professorship at more than half-a-dozen universities, but he refused because of commitments at home.
He wrote for Dawn for over 70 years, contributing to the paper while he was still in India. In fact, it was inconceivable that a Dawn supplement on March 23, Aug 14, Sept 11 or Dec 25 would be without an article by him.
He was addicted to reading and writing, and often, when he fell ill, he would still be at the Quaid-i-Azam Academy (QAA), which he founded, saying: “If I have to lie in bed, I might as well do so at the academy amidst books.”
I often grossly exploited his knowledge and kindness by giving him a phone call, instead of checking with books on a given issue, and I would get the answer promptly.
He never grumbled against real or imagined enemies, and I never found him speaking ill of anyone, a rare quality among us. I never found him frustrated, angry, jealous or depressed. By all standards he was professorial in conduct. At the QAA he worked for years without an annual increment because the bureaucrats had all but forgotten him when he was transferred from KU to QAA to take up the challenge of running the academy.
He had been keeping bad health in the last decade of his life and could not come to the launch of my book at the Karachi Press Club, but sent a message which his daughter, Noorin, read out.
The last time I met him was at a Jinnah Academy function. He was wheelchair-bound, was dressed well and maintained his sangfroid.
The Wikipedia entry on him is sketchy. I request the QAA to pay attention to the need for enlarging its contents. The obituary published in Dawn (Jan 28, 2021), is full of facts and shall help reinforce the Wikipedia entry.
Muhammad Ali Siddiqi
Published in Dawn, January 27th, 2022