Prof. Asad Ahmed

Asad Ahmed - Basically a Teacher, Always a Teacher

By Afzal Usmani*

When I attend my first Convention of The Federation of Aligarh Alumni Associations ( ) in July 2004 in New York organized by Aligarh Alumni Association of Tri-State New York, I met a lot of seniors mostly left AMU even before I was born. I was among the youngest in the entire event. I met mostly new people except few whom I knew by name and one of them was Prof. Asad Ahmed. I knew him by name and interacted with him via email when he started his first Summer University activities in 2000. I had volunteered for it to host a workshop on System on Chip (SoC) Design and Verification, from concept to market. All of sudden I had to travel to France for business reason and I informed him about my travel and he had no choice other than cancelling the workshop. After 2000 to 2004, I interacted with Prof. Asad Ahmed on and off regarding Summer University but somehow my schedule never synchronized with him and others to participate in the event at AMU Aligarh. For session 2003, I requested him to allow people from Shibli National PG College of Azamgarh (UP) India and he agreed. After his returned from India, he called me and expressed his disappointment over no show from Shibli National PG College. His approval for the participants from Shibli National PG College and later his communication to me regarding no show from Shibli National PG College assured me his seriousness for the program and his concerned for the community. Between 2005 and 2007 I had many interactions including my meetings with him in FAAA Conventions 2005 in Chicago, 2007 in Cleveland. In 2007 FAAA Convention, my request to him to tone down his criticism for AMU faculties especially to Inter-disciplinary Bio-Tech Unit (IBU) was somehow misinterpreted by him and he almost dissociated himself from me and we never had any further communications. After 2008 I was also forced to dissociate myself from FAAA and never attended any FAAA events which also barred me from having any further meetings with Prof. Asad Ahmed Sahab or other seniors. One of the reason I started thinking to attend FAAA Conventions again was lucrative opportunity to meet so many nice people but never thought I will never see Asad Sahab again. Of course I had no disrespect or ill feeling against him. Last email I wrote to him was in response to his announcement regarding award to Prof Irfan Habib Sahab for excellence in teaching and research. The email is still pending for approval on AMUNetwork and we received the sad news of his untimely demise from another Alig Dr. Ashraf Khan Sahab. We pray to Allah to shower his blessings on him and place him in highest place in Jannah. (Ameen).

Prof. Asad Ahmed was very concerned for the quality of education and research at his Alma Mater AMU Aligarh. He took couple of initiatives to improve the quality of teaching and research at AMU Aligarh His initiatives Summer University Program, Aligarh Institute of Science and Prize for Excellence in Teaching and Research at AMU Aligarh are worth mentioning. Summer University program took a decent shape with many hurdles from locals specially from Inter-disciplinary Bio-Tech Unit (IBU) at AMU Aligarh. For a while he even moved Summer University Program to Jamia Hamdard in Delhi but later on his meeting with AMU Vice-Chancellor Prof. P.K. Abdul Azis convinced him to bring it back to AMU Aligarh. His other initiative "Aligarh Institute of Science" was mostly in his mind and he discussed it FAAA Conventions. In one of his communication he informed us that AMU Vice-Chancellor Prof. P.K. Abdul Azis promised him to provide land for Aligarh Institute of Science. This was the last news on the subject. I hope he had made some plans on papers and discussed with his close friends and like minded people.

Summer University Program:

Here are few words about Summer University program in his own words from Summer University program webpage created by him at his University of Alberta personal webpage.

The Aligarh Summer University program was started in the year 2000 by a small group of alumni to strengthen the existing educational program at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) by providing new knowledge and technology to the students. It was felt that, during the past years, the AMU, like other Indian universities, has been slow to incorporate new ideas, new knowledge in existing areas, and new areas of knowledge in its curriculum. Hence the educational program has tended to become out-of-date and has failed to keep up with recent developments in different areas of knowledge. As a result, many Aligarh graduates are unable to gain admission in, or successfully complete, advanced degree programs in western Universities. This is likely to have an adverse effect on the educational advancement and well-being of our community. It was felt that there is a need for change in their education, their attitudes towards education, and educational facilities. By offering new knowledge and technologies to Aligarh students, we hope to patch this gap to open new opportunities for these young people. An important component of this program is to provide advice to promising students for higher studies abroad and for various national competitions. Thus, we hope to assist them in achieving their chosen goals in their lives.

The Summer University Program is run on a voluntary basis and all instructors (that include both alumni and friends of Aligarh) have supported their participation themselves. As the facilities for accommodation and teaching at AMU improve, we may invite other established professors from North American universities to participate in this program. Instructors are expected to offer up-to-date instruction in relevant areas of knowledge adhering to western standards of academic ethics, respect for students, and manner of presentation.

Although the program is oriented mainly towards students at the AMU and the Women's College, students from other universities may be accepted under special circumstances. All students are expected to possess a working knowledge of the subject and an honest desire to acquire new knowledge to succeed in their chosen careers. This is the principal objective of our program.

Many eminent people participated in this great initiative including Prof. Irfan Habib (AMU Aligarh), Dr. Shahid Jamee (New Delhi)l, Dr. Tariq Haqqi (Ohio USA), Dr. Tariq Rizvi (Ohio USA), Dr. Ashraf Khan (Boston, USA), Dr. Rasheed Ahmad (Atlanta USA), Dr. Shaheer Khan (San Francisco USA), (Late) Dr. Pervez Ahmad (Canada) and many others including Dr. Asad Ahmed himself.

Prize for Excellence in Teaching and Research at AMU Aligarh:

Very recently Prof. Asad Ahmed launched "Prize for Excellence in Teaching and Research at AMU" and the only motive was to promote excellence and teaching at AMU. The first year 2014, the committee selected Professor Irfan M. Habib, D.Phil (Oxford), Padma Bhushan for this honor.

Here is his brief life sketch summarized by his brother Khursheed Ahmed.

Prof. Asad Ahmed was born in Saharanpur, India on November 8, 1939. He received his early education at Aligarh Muslim University, where he earned a Gold Medal as the top student and finished his PhD in Botany. Soon after, he was awarded the Fulbright Fellowship (1960 to 1964) in USA and pursued his graduate studies in Molecular Genetics at Yale University and earned a second PhD with the highest honours. After a short stay at Dalhousie University in Halifax he moved to University of Alberta, Edmonton in 1966, where remained a Professor of Genetics with a productive research career until he retired in 1994. During his academic career he published numerous academic papers specializing in Molecular Genetics and Recombinant DNA technology. Prof. Ahmed was an admirer of nature and spent much of the time with his wife at their country home in Sherwood Park outside of Edmonton. He loved to read and had large collection of books on world history and culture. During the last 15 years of his life, he played a key role in organizing Summer University in research methods at his first Alma Mater in Aligarh, India, with the support of several other professors with similar passions. A large number of young students and academics benefited from short courses to pursue excellence in research in various disciplines. Professor Asad Ahmed passed away peacefully in Edmonton Alberta (Canada) on Saturday, March 30, 2014. He is survived by his wife Samin. He had a short struggle with advanced pancreatic cancer but died peacefully with Samin and his brother Khursheed Ahmed (from Hamilton ON) on his side. He is survived by 4 brothers and 6 sisters as well as a large number of loving nieces and nephews all over the world and a great many friends and well-wishers.

Personal anecdote from senior Alig Mr. Naved Masood, who is based in New Delhi.

The news of Prof Asad Ahmad's passing away came as a complete shock for though for the last several months we were not in touch, such 'net silence' on his part was not unprecedented. It comes out though that this time round it was his serious illness that led to his silence. His death gives me much thought to reminisce and introspect.

Despite the significant age difference we had, over the years, developed a degree of familiarity which at least in part was due to my being the son of one of his teachers whom he evidently held in high esteem - something that by no means was a matter of routine for him! I remember meeting him for the first time in or around 1965 when he had already completed his second PhD and had come to meet his parents and brothers and sisters in Aligarh. After initial diffidence he gave us (me, his youngest brother late Saeed aka Shabbu and Saeed's several friends) certain impromptu lessons in Biology outside his father's residence in Mariss Road. That was quintessential Asad Sahib - basically a teacher, always a teacher.

I particularly remember a chance encounter with him several years later (and several meetings in the interregnum on his fitful visits to Aligarh from Canada) on the path leading from the Swimming Pool (then known as Meston Swimming Bath) and the Gymnasium when he explained to me at length why the Fruit Fly (Drosophila melanogaster) was such a suitable species to study for an understanding of Genetics but why after exhausting all research possibilities with the fly, Neurospora (a fungus) yielded yet more insights in transmission of traits over generation. To the contemporary student of Genetics this may sound rather basic but back then in 1971-72 Aligarh it was cutting-edge Biology. I wonder if it is still possible for a teenager to receive such impromptu lessons in cutting edge science near the Hockey field.

In the last few years we had fairly regularly corresponded and had exchanges of views - and differences of opinions - on several topics. I realized that he had an impressive collection of poetry and music and pointed out to him that he shared many personality traits with the maverick "Yagana Changezi". While he did not appreciate the poet's claims of superiority over Ghalib (his favourite), he appreciated that he (i.e. Asad Sahib) shared the twin distinctions of being derided by his contemporaries who realized his superiority and were jealous on that score and his own lack of tact in dealing with people he considered to be not 'good enough' academically.

He was deeply mindful of the fact that some small glitch in his visa to the US in 1961 prevented him from continuing there post PhD and led to his move to Canada - I think this rankled with him throughout his life. He blamed a particular Aligarh academic for incorrect advice without full knowledge and find some solace when I pointed out that the gentleman in question himself did not deal with his professional life very smartly. The fact, however, remains that he felt that despite significant achievements in original research he could have scaled much higher had he played his professional cards well.

Something has already been written about the 'Summer University' project and I am sure much more will follow from those closely associated with it. It will suffice to mention here that if it has not made greater impact, there is a strong case for the faculty to do some introspection if their attitudes and responses to the initiative were based on objective considerations and best interests of the students. In any case, many will agree that Asad Sahib's initiative did some good in an unintended way; it led many west based alumni to resolve to do something to better the prospects of students in their alma mater particularly in the field of advanced research.

Within a span of less than a year the two brightest products of Botany Department are gone rather suddenly. Apart from Asad Sahib I refer to Prof Obed Siddiqui. The moot point is whether the distinguished faculty members appreciate the fact that the best came out in the 1950s which is now more than half a century ago. If they appreciate it, may be something good will come out in the foreseeable future.

Alumni doing their bit for their alma mater is not so uncommon. What is not so common is for some alumni to be so 'fixated' on the institution from where they sprung into the larger world. Aligarh Muslim University is exceptionally fortunate that it had committed, indeed obsessed, die-hard lovers like Asad Ahmad. The generation of such selfless altruistically inclined individuals (referred in Persian poetry as aashiqeen-i- pak teenat) is on the verge of extinction. Will the University authorities do something to make things more friendly for that declining breed for the good of the students?


Prof. Asad Ahmed's death was a big loss to AMU fraternity and Muslim community. Oldest Urdu Journal Maarif - Published by Darul Musannefin Shibli Academy published his obituary in its tradition Shazraat (Editorial) written by Editor of Maarif, Prof. Ishtiyaq Ahmad Zilli who is himself an AMU alum and served as faculty member in Dept. of History of AMU Aligarh till 2004.

at FAAA Convention 2001 in Washington DC

at FAAA Convention 2001 in Washington DC talking with Mr. Hasan Kamal

People in Pic: Zille Khan, Dilnawaz Siddiqi, Wasi Siddiqi, A.Abdullah, Ahmad Raza, Aftab Ansari

at FAAA Convention 2001 in Washington DC with Wasi Siddiqi

at FAAA Convention 2001 in Washington DC

L-R: Zille Khan, Wasi Siddiqi, Amtul Suhail, Asad Ahmed,Hasan Kamal, Suhail Farrukh, Rasheed Ahmad

at FAAA Convention 2002 in San Francisco California

at FAAA Convention 2004 in New York

at FAAA Convention 2004 in New York with Prof. Asadur Rahman

at FAAA Convention 2004 in New York with Riyazuddin, Ashfaq Quraishi, (Late) Abdul Bari and Ishrat Aziz

at FAAA Convention 2004 in New York with Dr. Rasheed Ahmad

at FAAA Convention 2004 in New York with Shakeel Ahmad and (Late) Muzaffar Habib

at FAAA Convention 2004 in New York with Ishrat Aziz and Umar Farooq

at FAAA Convention 2004 in New York

Most odd person in the group is me( Afzal Usmani)

at FAAA Convention 2004 in New York

at FAAA Convention 2005 in Chicago

at FAAA Convention 2005 in Chicago

at FAAA Convention 2005 in Chicago

at FAAA Convention 2007 in Cleveland OH

at FAAA Convention 2007 in Cleveland OH

at FAAA Convention 2007 in Cleveland OH

at FAAA Convention 2007 in Cleveland OH