Mufti Abdul Qayyum - A tribute
By Naved Masood*
Mufti Abdul Qayyum Sahib (Born 1913) the Mufti-i-Azam or Bare Mufti of Aligarh passed away at his home in Mohalla "Ooper Kot" in the wee hours of 11th September i.e. Idul Fitr. His burial was easily the most crowded that Aligarh city has perhaps ever seen – the general estimate is at 25000. This attests to the affection and reverence in which that `conflict resolver' was held by all sections of the local society – Muslims and Hindu alike. If Aligarh has not witnessed major communal incidents in the last quarter of a century or so, no one can be given greater credit than the late Mufti Sahib.
What prompts me to write this tribute, however, is a fact which was generally ignored in the wide coverage in the vernacular print and electronic media – the fact that Mufti Sahib taught Theology and optional Arabic language in Minto Circle (AMU Boys High School later rechristened ST High School) for almost forty years till his retirement in 1974 or thereabout. I am sure alumni of Minto Circle the world over from the 30s to the 70s of the century that has gone by will join me in paying tribute to a truly remarkable man and a born teacher who wore his scholarship and local stature very lightly. His personality was so very different from the run-of-the-mill self-satisfied, self righteous Maulvi that I realised much later in life that I was judging the sundry Maulanas and Imams by the extraordinarily high stature of "Maulvi Sahib" – so extraordinary was the man that he insisted on being referred to as Maulvi within the premises of the School instead of the more honorific "Mufti Sahib" which in any case was how he was known the other side of the Railway over-bridge aka the Kathh Pula.
His classes were always lively for he encouraged discussion and questions and he presented Sunni Theology not so much as a code of rules and doctrines as a package of moral and ethical propositions – many a leaf could be taken from his pedagogy by the Islamic `televangelists' who supposedly command following among unquestioning believers. I think few, if any, of his pupils would have turned communal fanatics. Another very characteristic feature of his personality was the concerted efforts that he made to make us eschew any feeling of `us' and `they' with Shias or for that matter Hindus.
His Theology Classes were crowded affairs but optional Arabic was a `close club'. In my `batch' there were just six of us and we were taken by the teacher far beyond Al Miratul Arabia – it was he who disabused us of the notion that the people of the "Jahilya" era were Jahils, illiterates. In fact, he was at pains to explain that the Jahilya was the golden era of Arabic poetry and that the versifiers of that era were vilifiers of the holy prophet precisely because they suffered from delusions of grandeur. His punch-line used to be "Behtareen Shaer Zuroori Nahin ke Bhtar Insaan bhee Ho! ".
Much later, while studying Law I had occasion to see fatwas written by him. They bore true stamp of scholarship and I have not seen such pronouncements from the so called "Darul iftaas" of the leading seminaries. His exposition of the Mas'ala was to the point in simple prose and, surprisingly, it gave the reasoning for his opinions with detailed references – I wish the Deoband Muftis have the time and humility to go through his Fatwas – they will have a lot to learn from that unassuming scholar.
Be it recorded that Maulvi Sahib was an alumnus of Madrasa Lutfiya of Aligarh – possibly he was a descendant of the founder. His not being from Deoband or Nadwa was as much responsible for his not being in the league of Ulama as his outspokenness and his propensity to call a spade a spade.
It is a pity that the University makes no efforts to have linkages with the `city'. Post retirement Maulvi Sahib did a lot for the moral improvement of Muslims of Aligarh and to maintain social order in a city that seemed to be eternally on a short fuse. Yet the University community kept itself aloof from the struggles, trials and tribulations of an area facing turmoil for much of 1970s and 80s and did nothing to lend a helping hand to one of its (former) marginalized members who was ever busy dousing flames of hatred and offering conflict resolution across the communal divide. Indeed he was deeply aware of it and in my (last) chance meeting with him in a wedding a few years ago he did mention his disappointment that Sir Syed did not do much to draw attention of the Ashraf elite to the down-trodden majority of the so called Ajnaf and Arzil.
It is in the fitness of things that Maulvi Sahib has been laid to rest next to another stalwart Qazi Ahmedullah the Qazi-i-Shahr – to those who had not witnessed his tours de force i.e. his Nikah Khwani, and those unfortunate Aligs who did not know Qayyum Sahib all one can say;
Afsos Tum ko Meer Se Sohbat Nahin Rahee
*Mr. Naved Masood is an AMU Alum and a senior Civil Servant in Govt. of India and he is based in New Delhi. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org