“Each moment is Qayamat” he said prophetically. On a cloudy afternoon on a deserted market street, we share a large black umbrella waiting for the drizzle to subside, continuing a discussion on The Day of Judgment. “Having completed an action, the very next is the moment of judgment when you have to ‘stand-up’ to face its consequences, that is Qayamat!“. “But do you think the world will really end one day?” I asked with my 20 year-old’s enthusiasm. “I don’t think it ever will. It is constantly evolving and shall go on and on”. Indeed, the words of Dr Asghar Ali Engineer, one of India’s most renowned Islamic scholars would shock the conventional thinker. But these moments of wisdom are deeply etched in the minds of many, even as the lofty septuagenarian’s world ended this morning, leaving behind a legacy of poignant memories.
Born 73 years ago in Salumbar, Rajasthan in a priestly Bohra family, Dr Engineer has been acclaimed as one of the most radically pluralistic scholars of an otherwise misunderstood, often misinterpreted religion. His bold and refreshing outlook drew many admirers as he would recite Qur’anic verses in Arabic, passionately explaining their pluralistic roots. An ardent upholder of the unity of all faiths, he even gifted me a copy of Prince Dara Shikoh’s legendary work ‘Majma ul Bahrain’ (mingling of two oceans) that speaks of the inherent similarities between Hinduism and Islam. His famous article on the commonalities between the Vedic ‘Gayatri Mantra’ and the ‘Surah Al Fatiha’, opening verse of the Qur’an, is path breaking.
An advocate of Sufi ideals of universal brotherhood and love, he believed that the sole purpose of religion was to transform man into a better, more loving human being. “I am not concerned with theological doctrines but rather with embodying core values like compassion, love and human dignity.” he believed.
His interpretations emerged from a highly evolved, deeper spiritual understanding of faith and worship. “No matter whether you pray in a temple or a mosque, it’s the conviction, sincerity and the indescribable spiritual bliss of praying from deep within that matters” he always said.
With the news of his passing-away, I fondly remember his last words to me when asked what he truly believed in, quoting a famous Sufi verse ‘Al hubbu deeni wa imaani’, “My imaan ( faith) is love, my God is love and the entire creation is love!”
Krishna Raj was a student and associate of Dr Asghar Ali Engineer