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The author of many highly acclaimed books, Prof Fateh Mohammad Malik is indeed one of Pakistan's most prominent critics and writers. Having already served the nation for about 45 years as a teacher and a writer, he continues to make his valuable contribution as before in both his capacities.

Alternately pushed by religious and secular groups into each other's camp, he sums up his position saying “I'm a progressive — a true Muslim can't be otherwise.”

A patriot to the core, Prof Malik seems to have been influenced by Iqbal the most. Of his more than two dozen books, at least six are on Iqbal and his poetry. His English book titled 'Iqbal's reconstruction of Muslim political thought' is considered so important that it was published by the University of Leicester, England.

Besides, he has contributed many essays to prestigious journals and delivered lectures at national and international seminars on Iqbal. He is preparing to publish a collection of his English essays on Iqbal in the next five to six months.

But sooner to be published is his book on N.M. Rashid who, along with Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi occupies a top slot in the list of his post-independence favourite poets. Among the classical poets, he loves Mir and Ghalib. He has studied Maulana Rumi more deeply than other Persian greats such as Saadi Shirazi, Hafiz and Omar Khayyam because Iqbal described Rumi to be his spiritual guide.

Although he was brought up in a religious environment, Fateh, like most other college students, was attracted to the Progressive Writers' Movement. Despite his long stay in the west, he retained his anti-imperialism outlook developed during his days of leftist activism.

In an interview with Dawn, when asked how he feels about the current situation prevailing in the country, he says “I'm much more distressed by the intellectual decline of the nation. We have very good universities in Islamabad, such as the Quaid-i-Azam University, Allama Iqbal Open University and the International Islamic University, with which I'm associated. But none of them has a department of philosophy.”

Furthermore, he says “We are churning out technologists, good or bad that's debatable. But we are not inculcating in our youths the faculty to think. We are not impressing upon them the importance of intellect. We need to arrest this dangerous intellectual decline.

“This trend is reflected even in politics, where we no longer have statesmen like Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Liaquat Ali Khan.”

Continuing, he says “The situation in the country is really bad. But I am not disappointed because the people are awake and continue to express themselves boldly.”

Having served the National Language Authority as its chairman for about eight years, Prof Fateh Mohammad Malik has joined the International Islamic University, Islamabad, as its dean of the faculty of languages, literature and humanities, the subjects he has pursued all his life.

As the head of the NLA, he helped promote local languages and cultures. The last major work under his stewardship was the five-volume book on the origin of Urdu. In those volumes he allowed key proponents to present their arguments to justify the claim that Urdu originated in their region. In the preface to this interesting debate, Prof Malik says he is pleased to note that every region of Pakistan - from Sindh and Balochistan to Khyber and Gilgit and beyond - loves to own Urdu.

Going by both his teaching and administrative assignments, Prof Malik's career may be a matter of envy for any scholar in Pakistan. Born in a small village of Attock district in 1936, he spent 10 years of his teaching career abroad, serving at such renowned universities as Columbia University of New York, Heidelberg University and Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany, and Saint Petersburg University of Russia.

Prof Malik says his years abroad were quite productive. “Loneliness is a cruel phenomenon, but I harnessed it to boost my creativity and wrote abroad what I probably couldn't have written here.”

He began writing with the college magazine, which got an encouraging response. “But when in third year, I began regularly contributing to prestigious magazines such as Humayun and Mehr-i-Neemroz, the later edited by Dr Abul Khair Kashfi.” However, he began writing criticism seriously in 1961.

He says in criticism he drew his inspiration from Mohammed Hassan Askari and to some extent from Saleem Ahmed, “but being impressed by someone doesn't mean that you totally agree to what they write. But I still consider myself a student of criticism rather than its scholar.”

Fateh Malik received his early education at a Talagang government school, did his graduation from the government college of Attock and his master's from the Gordon College in Rawalpindi.

His books on literary criticism include Saadat Hassan Manto ek nai taabeer, Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi shair aur afsana nigar, and Faiz shairi aur siyasat. Pakistan is his most favourite subject and his books in this category include Fitnaie-Inkaar-i-Pakistan, Khitaah-i-Khak ya Arz-i-Paak, and Ghulamon ki Ghulami.

His services have rightfully earned him various prestigious awards, including the Sitara-i-Imtiaz. A few MPhil and PhD theses have also been written on him and his works.