[gha] Memorium on Asghar Ali Engineer

  • From: "transcendentlaw@xxxxxxx" <transcendentlaw@xxxxxxx>
  • To: sheilamusaji@xxxxxxx
  • Date: Sat, 18 May 2013 19:31:37 -0400 (EDT)

    This memoriam for Ali Engineer is good for publication to join the others 
in our ezine.  I differ with his vocabulary, such as lauding distributive 
justice without mentioning the harmony of contributive justice as in Norm 
Kurland's just third way, www.cesj.org, just as I differ with his disparaging 
use of the term communal when religious tribalism would be more appropriate.  
His emphasis on justice is what makes Ali Engineer stand out among most others 
as a prophetic person.
                                                Salam, Bob
India Resists                                           


Who is Afraid of Gandhi?
 BJP Govt tampered with Gandhiji's writings.
Several years have passed since the UPA's promise of a reprint.

Legacy of Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer
May 18, 2013 12:41 pm1 comment

Irfan Engineer
A storm has destroyed everything in my life. I am not even beginning to come to 
terms with the loss in my life. Death, like storm, is God’s hand and you are so 
helpless. Never knew that death would snatch my very loving father Dr. Asghar 
Ali Engineer from us. I was not prepared yet for this colossal loss! But let me 
remember what he has bequeathed to me. My sister Seema rightly told a reporter 
that our father wanted us to inherit his legacy equally – legacy of his 
teachings. In the lull after the storm I am trying to reflect on his legacy to 
gather some pieces of my inheritance.
What is the legacy that I have inherited from my father?
1) The discipline and the punishing schedule that he followed.
He never budged from his daily routine which included morning walks to maintain 
his health; working from morning 8:00 am till 10 pm in the night with a small 
nap in the afternoon until he was hospitalized on 13th February 2013; divided 
his day into four segments – administrative work, responding to e-mails, 
reading and writing, and followed the time schedule meticulously. Office staff 
was not allowed to violate. Visitors from outside city would be entertained 
even in violation of the time distribution, but visitors from within city were 
requested to seek appointment, but even then he would be considerate if they 
came from far. Even on Sundays and holidays, the schedule would hold for him 
and even if he had to sit in the office alone. Sunday evenings sometimes was a 
time for a little stroll or a drive. Frequent travels deprived us, his family 
members, from his company. However, he did not distinguish between the groups 
that invited him. His commitment once given, he would honour it, even if later 
some more important invitations arrived on his table. Even his ill health would 
not force him to change his mind. He has conducted his peace and conflict 
resolution workshops when sick. This discipline and long day enabled him to 
contribute so much to the world but perhaps contributed towards shortening his 
life. How organized and disciplined can we be?
2) Nothing except the values of justice, equality, love, dignity, and diversity 
were sacred for him. No rituals and no traditions and no cultures. Cultures 
were only media through which humans made a sense of the world. All cultures, 
all faiths were to be respected. Except the values, everything else should be 
subjected rational scrutiny and reformed, reinterpreted, re-understood and 
refashioned to serve the sacred values. His lifelong search for truth knew no 
limitations and was checked by no sacred symbols, rituals, traditions, language 
or culture. Truth could be achieved only through relentless and fearless 
pursuit. No cost was high enough to attend truth. Truth required only an honest 
inner search dictated by conscience. He paid a price for his search of truth – 
transferred often and promotions delayed when in service of Bombay Municipal 
Corporation as a civil engineer for his honesty and for leading Engineer’s 
Association, took voluntary retirement to work full time for the cause, 
suffering great loss of income, socially boycotted by Syedna’s establishment 
which meant being cut off from his mother, brother, sister and other near and 
dear ones, his house and office was attacked and completely destroyed by 
Syedna’s fanatical followers in February 2000, was physically attacked 6 times 
by Syedna’s fanatical followers with sharp weapons in order to kill him, often 
abused and threatened, but nothing deterred him from his search for truth and 
no sacrifice was too high a price to be paid for his principles. He was like a 
rock so far as his principles were concerned. How honest and relentless can we 
be in our search for truth?
3) If one realized any dimension of truth, it should be shared with people and 
without fear of consequences and in language that people understand. He often 
told me that the difference between a prophet and philosopher was that prophet 
communicated his message in language that people could easily understand 
whereas often philosophers spoke in language comprehensible only to a 
privileged few. The latter made careers, the former brought about social change 
and left a lasting impact and legacy. As an activist scholar, Engineer always 
talked in simple understandable language through his writings and oratories. He 
consciously chose that! He had begun writing in academic language initially, 
but soon checked himself, for he wanted to work for social change! How 
passionate can we be in our quest for social change? Will we walk the talk?
4) Dr. Engineer often said that search for freedom required enabling 
environment. It required freedom and democracy and free dialogue. Three Ds, he 
would say – Democracy, Dialogue and Diversity. All were necessary for honest 
understanding and knowing each other and more facets of truth in all its 
complexity. One had to be a patient listener and open minded before we strive 
for truth. The differences between two individuals and two or more groups can 
be made a bridge to reach out each other and to enrich our understanding 
through dialogue with those with whom one had differences.
Diversity was important as different cultures represent different systems of 
meaning and visions of good life. Since each realizes a limited range of human 
capacities and emotions and grasps only a part of the totality of human 
existence, it needs other cultures to help it understand itself better, expand 
its intellectual and moral horizon, stretch its imagination, save it from 
narcissism to guard it against the obvious temptation to absolutize itself, and 
so on. This does not mean that one cannot lead a good life within one’s own 
culture, but rather that, other things being equal, one’s way of life is likely 
to be richer if one also enjoys access to others, and that a culturally 
self-contained life is virtually impossible for most human beings in the 
modern, mobile and interdependent world. No culture is wholly worthless, that 
it deserves at least some respect because of what it means to its members and 
the creative energy it displays, that no culture is perfect and has a right to 
impose itself on others, and that cultures are best changed from within.
5) For a person who has realized truth, it was absolutely necessary to be 
humble. More than anything, Dr. Engineer was a very very humble human being. 
While returning home from office (when he could walk home), often he would be 
stopped on road by a stranger and the insignificant stranger would discuss or 
ask his doubts and even argue with Engineer on various issues. He would 
passionately argue with the stranger his opinions for, sometimes, hours. My 
legs would ache standing with him but until the stranger was fully satisfied or 
decided to quit, Dr. Engineer would passionately keep discussing with him. 
Later when I would inquire why he invested so much time, he would reply, 
everyone was important. He was highly approachable and anybody could contact 
him anytime of the day and night with their queries. He would reply to abusive 
e-mails, and he could patiently reason with every opponent. His humility 
influenced even the most indoctrinated cadre who passionately opposed his 
views. His patience in arguing with them and making them see reason was 
remarkable. No case was beyond redemption for him. Each human being could be 
made to see reason and convert her to be a justice and peace worker. Humility 
was very natural for him and was the other side of coin of truth, but it was 
also his tool to win over worst opponent! He has conducted his peace workshops 
in challenging conditions that the organizers can afford. Sometimes in 
conditions that would appall any decent person. People were important to him 
and not luxuries and comfortable situations. He would easily trust people and 
particularly those who were needy. Compassion for those needy, suffering and 
victims of injustice was an important value for him which he followed lifelong. 
He was softer than molten wax as far as marginalized, oppressed and persons 
needing justice, or suffering or otherwise needy people were concerned.
6) Peace with justice was another value to which Dr. Engineer was absolutely 
committed to. There could be no peace without justice and justice meant not 
only restorative justice where violators of one’s rights were brought to 
justice and punished and the victims had the right to reparations. Justice for 
him also meant distributive justice where class based inequalities were not to 
be tolerated. In order to work for peace, he studied communal conflicts in 
depth and understood the roots of the conflict were in economic, social and 
political inequalities. He wrote extensively on major communal conflicts and 
explained that though religion was used as a tool to promote conflicts, 
religion was not the root cause of the conflicts. The real nature of conflict 
was competition between elite to control socio-economic institutions, including 
the state and establish one’s hegemony over the other. Religion was used as a 
tool to mobilize large number of gullible people. Communal conflicts would not 
be possible without wide spread prejudices against the minorities. Prejudices 
against the minorities were the foundation on which the infrastructure of 
communal conflicts was built. Dr. Engineer painfully gathered facts and data to 
counter the prejudices against minorities convincingly. Many people have 
approached this author to recall how the workshop and sound arguments and facts 
placed by Dr. Engineer changed their attitudes towards minorities. One Haryana 
police officer by the name Sharma met me while Dr. Engineer was in ICU to tell 
me how attending Dr. Engineer’s workshop was life changing moment for him. He 
never hated minorities from that day onwards and, more important, would never 
believe in stupid propaganda like Aurangzeb would eat only after gathering 20 
manns of sacred threads of Brahmin.
7) One truth that he arrived through his search was the need to liberate 
religions from the clutches of the priestly establishments and restoring agency 
to a common believer would rejuvenate the religion, but more importantly, 
reveal the hidden meanings that we had failed to understand hitherto. Religion 
would become true moral power in the hands of the oppressed to fight injustice 
and change the oppressive status-quo. To him religion was not religion if it 
didn’t inspire to question status-quo, question the dominant understanding, and 
taught the followers to be rebels. He challenged the understanding of the left 
ideologists for whom religion was opium of masses. Even to Marx, religion was 
not frozen into single role of opium. Marx propounded that religion was also 
sigh of the oppressed and heart of the heartless world.
8) Gender justice and equality in general and for Muslim women in particular 
was a great passion for him. He pressed his entire knowledge of Islam and 
understanding of Quran, Islamic history, study of Islamic jurisprudence to 
service for the cause of Muslim women. Quran, according to him talked only of 
rights of women and not of men in Surah An-Nisa and reference to men was always 
with respect to their duties and not rights. That was to set the social 
imbalance right where women only had duties and no rights. He argued that 
during medieval period, as Muslim rulers conquered territories and spread, and 
became an empire, patriarchal culture snatched the rights given to women by 
Quran. Muslim Ulema seldom could counter his Quranic arguments and would 
respond with and defence of patriarchal cultural values on the basis of morals. 
He instructed me to give his daughter and my sister her share in his property 
after him. He of course struggled for equality of all and was part of struggle 
for implementation of Mandal Commission Report much before we all knew about it.
9) Mission of Asghar Ali Engineer was to liberate religion from religious 
establishments, make it a tool to question established interpretations of 
religious scriptures and make it a inspiration to search for truth and change 
the oppressive social reality; to embrace diversity and learn to co-exist 
through dialogue of cultures and equality, particularly gender equality and 
rights of Muslim women and by bringing scholarly works to bear to achieve these 
objectives was the mission of Asghar Ali Engineer. He expanded the horizons of 
knowledge and values and opened up many avenues for us to achieve the goal of 
equality, justice, peace, dignity for all and diversity. Asghar Ali Engineer 
was an institution in himself. Are we ready to carry forward his mission with 
the discipline and dedication that he had? We will strive!! May his soul rest 
in peace

-----Original Message-----
From: Imtiyaz Yusuf <notification+zrdo1ollzld1@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
To: Islamic Studies in Southeast Asia <408849852470412@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Sent: Sun, May 19, 2013 3:55 am
Subject: [Islamic Studies in Southeast Asia] 

Imtiyaz Yusuf posted in Islamic Studies in Southeast Asia

Imtiyaz Yusuf
 5:55pm May 18 


Legacy of Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer


Irfan Engineer | A storm has destroyed everything in my life. I am not even 
beginning to come to ter...

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