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Educationist, social reformer, laureate, writer and former-vice chancellor of the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), Saiyid Hamid breathed his last on 29th of December 2014 at the age of 94, after a prolonged illness. Hamid Saheb, as he was referred to by most of the people known and associated with him, was the Chancellor of Hamdard University (Delhi) and the custodian of various institutions affiliated with Hamdard Educational Society as well as a patron of dozens of socio-economic and educational institutions and movements across the country. Apart from his efforts for community (Muslim) development, he was also very active in various initiatives for communal harmony and peace. Unlike most of the self-styled ‘Muslim-leaders and intellectuals’, he was never interested in being in the limelight, at least since the day I have known him. He was much beyond that as he was more of a doer than a preacher, doing things silently —slowly but steadily.

Hamid Saheb

As far as my memory goes, I first met him on 14th November 2002 at Hamdard Public School (New Delhi), during an All India Inter-School Debate Competition. He was the chief guest and I was a participant representing my school as a student of XIIth standard. Though I did not win any prize during the competition, I was happy about the fact that I could meet and shake hands with a person of his stature. I wanted to meet him ever since I had read some of his writings. Also, exactly two months prior to the said competition, I had heard him while he was presiding over the Third Hakeem Abdul Hameed Memorial Lecture (14th September 2002), delivered by an eminent scholar Rafiq Zakaria, on the topic of “Whither Indian Muslims?”

During a workshop two or three years later, I vividly remember listening to him on the subject of “How to uplift the Community”. He was simple but sharp and to the point—without any laffazi. He gave us a five point ‘formula’ to work on and these were: Imaan (Faith), Akhlaq (Ethics), Taaleem (Education), Sehat (Health) and Ittehad (Unity). To him, these were the prerequisites for development and advancement of any group or community. He used these terms in the broadest possible manner and tried explaining to those present on how these concepts could help us to achieve the desired goal. For him, Imaan was not just about having faith in Allah, but also in oneself and others. He talked about mutual trust while talking about Imaan. Similarly, while talking about ethics he emphasized on living a principled life. While clarifying all of this, he underlined that in the course of working for the Community, one should be extra-cautious about the fact that one should not adopt a ‘communal or sectarian’ approach in order to achieve the goals. To him, means were as important as the end.  Today, when I look back at these keywords, they seem all the more relevant in the current scenario.

I am not a great fan of chaste Urdu, or for that matter, any language in its purest and highest form. It often smells of elitism, and is spoken and used in order to show one’s cultural and linguistic superiority.  However, I must confess that I’ve always loved Hamid Saheb’s farsi zada (heavily persianised) Urdu. This could be because I never saw a sense of superiority in his way of talking. It came naturally to him. In fact, it would not be an exaggeration if I were to say that he was only ‘capable’ of speaking and writing the language that he spoke and wrote, which was very courteous and devoid of any superiority.  I can say this also because he was very humble and courteous in his interactions with people in his personal life. Let me give an example from one of my personal interactions with him.

In October 2009, I went to meet him regarding a condolence meeting of human rights activist Prof. Iqbal Ansari. As soon as I entered his cabin, he stood up to shake hands with me and had a conversation with me for almost half an hour. This impressed me on two counts. First, what was the need for a senior person (remember, he was 89 and visibly ill at that point) like Hamid Saheb to stand up for a novice like me? He could have easily asked his PA to handover the condolence letter to me stating that he was ill and hence could not meet me. But no. He made it a point to meet me personally and ask me about my work and also encourage me to carry it forward. This was indeed nothing but his courtesy and humbleness. Secondly, it impressed me because unlike most of the retired bureaucrats, especially Muslim bureaucrats, he was not full of himself. Certainly, he was more interested in other’s work than an ‘I, me and myself’.

One of his paramount and lesser known initiatives was training of Madarsa teachers in subjects like Basic Sciences, Mathematics and English. Every summer he would gather Madrasa teachers from different parts of the country and train them in these subjects. He would invite the best possible resource persons for their training. In this work, he would partner with anti-Communal activist and IIT Professor, Dr. V K Tripathi and his colleagues. Over the years, Madarsa teachers have greatly benefited from these training workshops. According to a news report, Maulana Abul Jabbar, who attended one of these trainings said, “Some of my students were not very comfortable with decimals. From Tripathiji, I have learnt how these things can be taught in a simple manner and I taught these to my students.”

Another important and very successful initiative started by him was opening of a residential coaching institute (Hamdard Study Circle) for UPSC aspirants. He started (March 1992) this when no one within the community was talking about it.  According to the Study circle’s record, since its inception, it has enabled 240 candidates to join the Civil Services. However, over the years he realized that only concentrating on UPSC was not going to help. Hence, in 1999, he started the Hamdard Coaching Centre for Medical & Engineering aspirants. What is even more important in this endeavor is that he never tried to open branches of these institutions, despite lots of pressure and demand from people across the country. Instead Hamid Saheb and his team preferred facilitating establishment and functioning of similar institutions across the country. This was a very important decision taken by him and by doing so he was able to train regional educational leaders. Today, if you see a number of similar institutions across the country, in some way or the other, Hamid Saheb has been the source of inspiration behind it.

Hamid saheb is no more with us. But to me it seems that he is right there amidst us, calling for thought and action by reciting the following verses of Allama Iqbal:

Yaqeen mohkam, amal peham, mohabbat faateh-e-alam,
Jihad-e-zindagani mein hain yeh mardon ki shamsheerain

(Firmness of belief, eternal action, love that conquers the world/ In the struggle of life – these are the swords of men)

RIP Hamid saheb, you will keep inspiring us!