As I walked through the dust and heat, threading my way through the throng of unfamiliar faces, I felt an indescribable kinship, an invisible bond that linked me to the faces I walked among. We were drawn towards the same_ a personage, a symbol, a phenomenon, an institution, an era, a life larger than Life. I was a nobody among the crowd, one among many_ and yet I felt I needed to be there, to draw in the moment, to feel the meaning in the cool shade of the towering white minaret and the gentle wind’s whisper, to see it writ large, to savour blessedness, to understand what it meant to truly live, and to live well. That was one of the many realizations the departure of Dr. Israr Ahmed brought home to me. I looked around at the silent, sombre crowd I felt we were all suddenly bereft, forlorn, derelict. There was the huge, gaping void it would take decades, perhaps centuries to fill.
He was rare_ not just as a scholar, but as a person too_ as a family member tearfully confided in me how he had been the unifying factor, helping resolve differences, sorting things out, solving problems, strengthening ties; how he had been the advisor, guide, patron, father figure, guardian, comforter, confidante.
There were tearful eyes, one of them a friend’s who reminisced of her time at the Quran Academy as a student. She said it had only struck her now that the personal revolution that had given her an entirely new orientation had been just one of the many, many transforming experiences thousands like her had undergone, made possible by the conviction and endeavour of a single ‘possessed’ man_ a man obsessed with a Single Idea. I had never before understood with such crystal clarity the meaning of ‘sadaqa e jarya.’
In one of his interviews, Doctor sahib, in his candid demeanour, had said he didn’t think he had been successful in any significant measure_ except perhaps that his work had helped create religious awareness and inclination among the country’s educated middle class. Understated indeed, considering the enormity and significance of the task. His tireless mission spanned decades, and his tenacity in pursuing the goal he believed in with all his soul was commendable. The depth of his knowledge and insight had been garnered over years of painstaking, unaided personal effort. The maturity of his seasoned vision, the sense of balance and the conviction in the face of formidable odds were a rare combination. His passion for the Cause he held dear and strove tirelessly for was powerful and moving. He dreamt alone, and dared to act it out. He was thoroughly immersed in the Quran, thoroughly in love with it. You couldn’t doubt the love, it was so there. He had its glow on the face, its brilliance in the eyes, its ring in the voice. And it was infectious.
As I stepped into the place where he had lived for years, I was instantly struck by the simplicity, as it was so utterly shorn of any semblance of comfort and luxury. ‘Live in this world as a stranger or a wayfarer.’ The Wayfarer had lived it out, eyes firmly fixed on the Greater Beyond, and moved on. And when I stepped out of the simple place that had been home to him all those years I noticed the offices of the Tanzeem i Islami, the library of the Khuddaam ul Quran, the hordes of people attired in the beauty of the Sunnah _ bearded, wearing prayer caps_ and the edifying structure of the masjid, I knew I was witnessing an edifying legacy. And all of a sudden I could feel the humungous power, the might, the impact of individual initiative and effort. I could suddenly see the miraculous divine power that invests sincere action, blessing it with barakah that outlasts lifetimes, even generations. I could see the unstoppable, spreading luminosity of that lone spark in the blackness. I could see it bursting into flame.
In one of his interviews he had explained how as a child he had been struck with the powerful meaning of the verse by Iqbal: ‘Woh zamaney mein muazzaz they musalman ho kar, Aur tum khuwar huwe tarik e Quran ho kar.’ He said the verse had possessed him, and then there was no turning back. He had been Handpicked, marked out, chosen. The Moving Finger was at work. His last Friday lecture barely days before his passing away, was about the meaning of Shukr_ gratitude to God_ for being chosen to discover and share and disseminate; for the man that he was, and for the legacy he left. In this last lecture, he mentioned at length the blessings awaiting believers in Al Firdous, and that only on receiving that true and lasting reward would the actual and full meaning of ‘Alhamdulillah’ be experienced in its totality. ‘Jab hum Jannat mein jayein gay,’ he had said, ‘to sub se pehlay zaban se yehi niklay ga: ‘Alhamdulillah.’
Alhamdulillah for your being there. Alhamdulillah for passing it on.
In class when I shared the news with students I could not at first explain to myself the calm that suddenly overwhelmed me_ perhaps out of a sense of comfort in the hope that he would be in that Happier Place. A student wrote of him, “I would go to Jannat al Firdous and meet him there inshallah. I would shake hands with him_ I always wanted to do that but he has died, you know, so I can’t. But in Jannah I shall shake his hands and he will smile and say, ‘My son, I am so proud of you.’”
The Dream lives on, beckoning us.