The north star

October 25, 2020

Prof Manzoor Ahmed opposed the idea of using education as a tool to indoctrinate the youth

"We want, firstly, honest students; secondly, students interested in their subject(s); and lastly, students who will serve the poor.”

That is how Majid Sheikh, a senior journalist and fellow at Cambridge University, remembers the late Professor Manzoor Ahmed setting out his vision of education. Manzoor recently passed away at the age of 94 in Lahore. Mr Sheikh, whose father the late Hamid Sheikh, was a senior journalist with The Pakistan Times, recalls how the three great friends and intellectuals – Manzoor Ahmed, Eric Cyprian and Amin Mughal – would engage in discussions at his father’s residence.

Manzoor Ahmad was born on October 6, 1926, in Baghdad where his father, Khan Sahib Manzoor Wahid, was posted as a police officer. According to Prof Amin Mughal, Manzoor had told him that his family maid was a Kurdish woman who would sing lullabies to him. Decades later, he used to say that he still remembered her Kurd lullaby voice. The family returned to Delhi in early 1930s and then shifted to Lahore, where he attended Central Model School, Lower Mall. Prof Manzoor did his master’s in psychology cum laude from Forman Christian College, Lahore. He later assisted Dr Israel Latif in the latter’s practice as a psychologist.

Majid Sheikh says he met Prof Manzoor for the first time when this group began visiting his house for general discussions. “We would listen to the fiery discussions with my father (Hamid Sheikh), and among themselves (Manzoor, Cyprian and Mughal). Compared to the other two, Prof Manzoor was soft spoken, but when he spoke everyone listened. The trio represented a variety of views, but they were on the same wavelength.”

Cyprian, Mughal and Manzoor set up Shah Hussain College on Lawrence Road. Soon their students were recognised amongst the finest progressive teachers and journalists of their times. Shah Hussain College also set the pace and tone of the public discourse in Lahore’s civil society.

The college functioned as an independent educational institution for only three years – between 1969 and 1972 – before being nationalised by the Zufikar Ali Bhutto government. These were years of activism. Several intellectual giants in those days were working for the uplift of the lower segments of the society. Manzoor organised and utilised these activists to work for a project and fuel a social movement.

Professor Azizuddin Ahmed, a teacher at the Punjab University with left-leaning views, remembers the days as a time when “Pakistan’s own McCarthyism was carrying out a witch-hunt to ‘weed out’ leftists” from every walk of the society. Since the inception of Pakistan, anyone who opposed pro-American or anti-communist regimes in Pakistan, would be billed as a communist and incarcerated under some law. This way of governance ruled Pakistan until the 1960s.” Once fissures between the Ayub regime and the USA became apparent culminating in a stronger alliance between Pakistan and China, many hoped that there would be some easing for the political left. However, Jamaet-i-Islami’s hold on military policies had grown stronger and their agents were carrying out their own purges.

Mughal recalls that Prof Manzoor and he founded the Professors’ Association at Islamia College, Civil Lines, in the 1960s “for better salaries and rights of the college’s teaching staff.” Some anti-progressive elements would always frame their goals as anti-Islamic. When they called a strike by the teaching staff at Islamia College, Civil Lines, it coincided with the anti-Ayub mass movement. The religious faction and the Ayub regime believed that the two were working together to destabilise the regime.”

Prof Manzoor Ahmed had by now become the head of the Psychology Department at Islamic College Civil Lines; Prof Eric Cyprian was a professor of English Language; and Amin Mughal had joined them as a lecturer in English. While at the college, Manzoor had worked closely with the legendary Dr Saeedullah. In 1968, Manzoor, Cyprian and Mughal were fired by Anjuman-i-Himayat-i-Islam, that owned the college, on charges of being involved in anti-Islam activities. Manzoor was also leading the teachers’ movement as president of the West Pakistan College Teachers’ Association and was instrumental in the democratic movement. The professors suddenly found themselves unemployed, along with several lecturers from other institutions.

Cyprian, Mughal and Manzoor together set up Shah Hussain College on Lawrence Road. Soon their students were recognised amongst the finest progressive teachers and journalists of their times. Shah Hussain College set the pace and tone of public discourse in Lahore’s civil society.

Manzoor used his entrepreneurial skills and personal contacts to raise funds to start a college named after the Punjabi sufi poet revered by some as a saint.

This college was a beacon of hope for progressive teachers and students. Prof Azizuddin Ahmed says, “Manzoor Sahib collected funds, furniture and fans for the small college.” Naeem Ahmed Mirza, who is associated with Aurat Foundation, has written online about the launch of Shah Hussain College and its organic growth from a residential locality to the bigger Lawrence Road location in 1969. Mirza says, “right from the beginning, it was a huge success.”

Prof Manzoor Ahmed was propelled into establishing a new educational institution to meet modern-day challenges. He had a vision of preparing the society to survive a state-touted syllabus in a post-colonial state which served only the interests of a pro-West military regime. Prof Amin Mughal recalls that Manzoor “opposed to the idea of using education as a tool to indoctrinate the youth.” Instead, he tried to “inculcate free and liberal thinking among the youth.”

Mughal continues, “Manzoor introduced computer science and film-making at the intermediate level”. He also created a department for Punjabi language and literature where students were taught the local language at not only an intermediate level but also up to MA level. The faculty included leading Punjabi poets and critics. Najam Hussain Syed, who was in the Accounts Service of Pakistan was a voluntary teacher. The Punjab University later adopted the Punjabi Department of Shah Hussain College’s MA classes and relocated them to Oriental College, recruiting Syed as chairman.

Shah Hussain College was the hub of intellectual, cultural and literary activities. Public intellectual Hamza Alavi used to visit the college to give lectures and lead discussions on international affairs. The alumni of Shah Hussain College include prominent bureaucrats, journalists, politicians and professionals. In 1977 after Gen Ziaul Haq staged a coupe d’état, one of his early orders was for shutting down Shah Hussain College. Sirmed Manzoor, one of the three surviving sons of Prof Manzoor Ahmed, says that “other than its left and secular views, what angered the ultra-right wing autocratic regime of Gen Ziaul Haq the most was the sickle and hammer insignia of Shah Hussain College.

Professor Manzoor Ahmed is survived by three sons, Rashid, Shahid and Sirmed. Sirmed is a journalist in Islamabad; while Rashid lives abroad. Shahid is in the hospitality sector and lives in Lahore.

In retrospect, the way Prof Manzoor Ahmed identified the need to outline the ideas for building a healthy society, in a world so deeply divided along ideological lines, as early as the late ’60s is simply amazing. This worldview would later provide a narrative for respect and protection of human rights across the country regardless of ideology, caste, creed and religion. He was a pioneer and a true trailblazer who will be missed profoundly.

The writer is a journalist from Lahore, currently based in London.

The north star: Prof Manzoor Ahmed opposed the idea of using education as a tool to indoctrinate the youth