Demise of a political icon

Jamaat-i- Islami’s former ameer laid to rest

Karachi’s Eidgah Ground was brimming with people on June 27. They had assembled to participate in the last rites of Jamaat-i-Islami’s former chief Syed Munawwar Hasan. He had passed away a day earlier at the age of 78 following a protracted illness.

“It is not a loss for the JI alone. He was one of the greatest influences on the contemporary Islamic movements in the world,” said Senator Sirajul Haq, the current JI chief, who led the funeral prayers. “His ‘Leave, America’ slogan had become popular in the region. The party will continue his struggle.”

Born in Delhi in August 1941, Hasan had moved to Pakistan with his family after independence. He went to school and college in Karachi and received a master’s degrees in sociology and Islamic studies from the University of Karachi with distinction.

Hasan started his politics with the National Students’ Federation, a left-leaning group, and was close to late Mairaj Muhammad Khan. However, he later joined the Islami Jamiat-i-Talaba, the JI’s student wing, in 1960. In 1963, he became IJT’s central chief and served in that capacity for three consecutive terms. Hasan joined the Jamaat-i-Islami in 1968 and was elected an MNA from a Karachi constituency in 1997, defeating poet Jamiluddin Aali and polling the highest number of votes in Pakistan.

He served as the party’s Karachi chief and its secretary-general before rising to the top. At one point, Hasan and his wife Ayesha Munawar served as the secretary-general of the party’s men and women wings simultaneously.

In 2009, Hasan was elected JI’s central chief. He was the fourth JI chief and led the party from March 2009 to 2014. This proved a turbulent period for the party due in no short measure to of Hasan’s uncompromising stance on critical issues.

After JI’s defeat in 2013 general elections, Hasan accepted responsibility and offered to resign from his position. However, the party’s central shura (council) rejected his offer.

In November, the JI came under severe pressure following Hasan’s controversial remarks about Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan’s slain commander Hakeemullah Mehsud, who had been killed in a drone attack in North Waziristan. He had called Mehsud a martyr. He also asked rhetorically that if Americans fighting in the Afghan War were not martyrs how could those from among the Pakistan Army fighting the American war be martyrs.

Hasan started his politics with the National Students Federation, a left-leaning student group, and remained close to late Mairaj Muhammad Khan. However, he later joined the Islami Jamiat-i-Talaba, the JI’s student wing.

The statement drew a strong response from the military, which called for an unconditional apology. The JI initially defended its leader, but soon distanced itself from his statement by saying this represented Hasan’s “personal views.” For his part, Hasan refused to withdraw his statement.

In April 2014, Hasan was succeeded by Sirajul Haq after the electoral college picked the latter to head the party for the next five years. “This was the first time in the JI’s history that a sitting ameer failed to clinch a second term in office despite being in the race,” remarked political analyst Tausif Ahmed Khan.

“Hasan, who tried to make the JI an anti-establishment party, was sidelined by the rest of the party because of his views.”

In private conversations, several JI leaders admitted the party could not resist severe criticism from important quarters — political and military. That, they said, was the reason Hasan could not be elected for a second term.

“Hasan was the first JI ameer to toe an anti-establishment line,” said Ikramullah, a young JI activist in Karachi. “He took a courageous stand on enforced disappearances and opposed the military’s interference in political affairs.”

He said many party workers, who respected the late JI chief because of his straightforward views, used to call him Murshid (guide).

Tausif Ahmed Khan says Hasan, unlike most right-wing leaders, was a politician who could engage ideological opponents. “He was a tolerant politician and always working to strengthen the ties with his friends – many of them from left-leaning circles”.

In the last years of his life, Hasan had busied himself in literary and research work. As a director at the Islamic Research Academy in Karachi, he supervised the publication of over 70 books and research papers.

He had developed several age-related diseases, including Parkinson’s. A few weeks ago, he was hospitalised in Karachi after his health deteriorated.

“Hasan’s funeral is the demise of a straight-forward and fearless JI,” says Ikramullah, who was among the mourners at the funeral. Hasan was laid to rest at Sakhi Hasan graveyard in Karachi’s Nazimabad area.

The writer is a journalist and researcher and can be contacted at [email protected], twitter: @zalmayzia

Munawwar Hasan: Demise of a political icon