The year was 2005. Being an enthusiastic participant, I was quite thrilled to represent GC University, Lahore. But the most substantive gain for me was my introduction to Prof Sharif ul Mujahid, who was a keynote speaker.
It is as if it were only yesterday, Prof Jaffar Ahmad, the former director of Pakistan Studies Centre, University of Karachi, hosted the Annual History Conference. The year was 2005. Being an enthusiastic participant, I was quite thrilled to represent GC University, Lahore. But the most substantive gain for me was my introduction to Prof Sharif ul Mujahid, who was a keynote speaker.
His keynote address was an exemplification of his wide-ranging erudition and theoretical depth. Until that moment, I had known him only as a contributor to Dawn, who invariably wrote on the themes of Pakistan Movement. Our mutual familiarity got firmly established when he presided over the panel in which I was one of the presenters. He listened to and appreciated my paper which was entitled, Hindu as the ‘Other’ in Pakistani History Textbooks.
The central argument of my presentation pertained to the primacy of the Hindu-Muslim binary as the central postulate of Pakistani nationalism as projected through our historiography. My contention was that such a framework narrows down the remit of Pakistani nationalism and that such formulation of nationalism is likely to injure the sensitivity of the minorities of which Hindus constituted a significant part in Sindh and Balochistan.
My assertion was that Pakistani nationalism should not be ‘reactive’; it must be ‘proactive’ whereby its overall remit takes into its fold many dimensions like sensibility emanating from ancient civilisations, then local cultures with their multiple sub-cultural strands. Hence, its configuration must be multi-polar and not monocausal.
In order to ensure that multi-polar epistemic trend we must widen our scope of history. I argued history should be made inter-disciplinary, instead of limiting it to the mere narration of political events in sequential order. To my astonishment, Prof Mujahid not only agreed with what I averred but also appreciated the presentation. He even went ahead and stated that once Pakistan had been achieved the Two Nation Theory had become superfluous. All those living in Pakistan, irrespective of their religious belief, were Pakistani citizens.
Another point that Prof Mujahid made to the consternation of several people in attendance was his defining Pakistani state as not an ideological state but a state with an ideology. In that formulation, ideology was rendered subsidiary to the state of Pakistan, which seemed a striking departure from the national narrative, spawning from the days of General Zia’s rule.
Another dimension of his personality that set him apart was his firm belief in the efficacy of institutions. He founded the Department of Journalism at the University of Karachi.
His thoughts irked some historians. My colleague, late Prof Sher Muhammad Grewal being one of them. His interaction with Prof Mujahid stuck to my memory forever. Prof Grewal complained that on the persuasion that he had drawn from the works of such stalwarts like Sharif ul Mujahid, he and several of his friends had come to adhere to concepts like Two Nation Theory, which helped them to see Hindus as the ‘other’. Now that all of them believed in these concepts and notions as if they were articles of their faith, Prof Mujahid was being a revisionist if not outright heretic.
Grewal concluded his longish statement by saying that come what may, the fundamentals must not be allowed to change. Despite the exasperating speech from Grewal, Prof Mujahid kept his cool. Not a trace of irritation could be detected from his demeanor while responding to that more of an inquisition than a question. ‘Grewal sahib, I too have a right to growup; time does not stand still and with the changing time, everything, be it history, political exigencies and their interpretations changes. All is liable to change and transform, or else nothing can stop them to become redundant.’ That response was so impressive that it became a firm foundation of our lasting friendship.
Thereafter, I made it certain I read all Prof Mujahid wrote: the Dawn, the newspaper that in itself had been a subject of his undiluted admiration, Quaid-i-Azam Jinnah: Studies in Interpretation, Founder of Pakistan: Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, 1876-1948 and Anthology on Quaid-i-Azam that he co-edited with Liaquat Marchant. For my own research purpose, I found various articles that he contributed from time to time to international or national journals, particularly illuminating.
His study of 1970 elections was done ardently with exceptional meticulousness. As a writer, he worked hard on his columns but took full care that those can be read by the lay reader. But when it came to academic writings, he had an uncanny knack of investing in his narrations a profound touch of theory.
I have seen very few people good at both forms of writings. Like every successful person he never shirked from hard work even when he was in his ’80s. Throughout his academic career, he had subjected himself to a rigorous disciplinary regime, therefore, he had little patience for lax or non-serious people.
Another dimension of his personality that set him apart was his firm belief in the efficacy of institutions. He founded the Department of Journalism at the University of Karachi and, more importantly, he founded Quaid-i-Azam Academy at Karachi. It was subsequently relocated to Islamabad.
During the subsequent five years, the bond of our friendship cemented even though I rarely travelled to Karachi. Despite advancing age, Prof Mujahid made an effort to reach out to me at regular intervals. He read all I could write and came up with constructive criticism, thus it was a great learning experience for me. The usual rendezvous was the Institute for historical and Cultural Studies, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, particularly when Prof Riaz Ahmad was its director.
Prof Mujahid’s penchant for Quaid-i-Azam’s life and political struggle ran into his blood. He knew so much and stored big corpus of information about the political events and all the details of 1930s and 1940s, which added to his uniqueness as a scholar. Nature had endowed him with photographic memory, which was an added advantage to him, particularly when he delivered a speech or a lecture. All said and done, Prof Sharif ul Mujahid was the scholar of Quaid-i-Azam par excellence and his departure to his heavenly abode is losing a multi-faceted person who was a teacher, writer, academic and an inspiration for the youth.