CIVILIZATIONS thrive on foundations crafted by unassuming individuals devoted to their communities. Often overlooked, these selfless souls, akin to the bricks in a foundation, play a crucial role. Emulating their courage and sincerity is essential for sustaining a just and morally upright society.
Mohammad Alamullah | Clarion India
Twenty-two years ago, on 5 February 2002, Indian Muslims lost a brave and selfless activist, fine writer, author and lawyer, but an enviably humble and reticent man who never wanted to hog the limelight and always shied away from publicity. Sadly, his paramount legacy has started fading from public memory. This writeup is a respectful tribute to Syed Ameenul Hasan Rizvi on his death anniversary.
Seven years ago, when I was sifting through archives and collecting material for my book Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawrat: Ak MukhtasarTareekh (published by Pharos Media & Publications, Delhi), I came across several articles and analytical pieces penned by Rizvi Saheb published in the Radiance Views Weekly and Urdu monthly Afkar-e-Milli.
These eye-opening and informative pieces gave me some idea of Rizvi Saheb’s love for Islam and his uncompromising stand on Islamic principles enshrined in Shariah. He wrote fearlessly, and judiciously. These writings left me with awe and after reading each piece I would ask myself: “Where have these gems disappeared who dedicated their lives to the service of this community, shattered and almost uprooted in post-independent India?”
Although I had heard a lot about Rizvi Sahab through Dr Zafar-ul-Islam Khan (editor Milli Gazette), Syed Nooruzzaman (former senior editor at The Tribune) and London-based journalist Mohammad Ghazali Khan, I came across even rarer treasure of information about him after talking to his sons Syed Athar Rizvi and Syed Amir Rizvi. Most of this article is based on documented information provided by them and some of the old boys of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) who knew Rizvi Saheb very well.
I fail to understand why rare information about such a humble-natured and great man has not been published yet. The documents I have seen include his correspondence, articles and translations. While sifting through these unpublished documents I came across many letters that reveal Rizvi Saheb’s good command not only of Urdu and English but his deep taste for Persian and Arabic languages too.
Rizvi Saheb was born in the small town of Raichur, Karnataka, on 12 February 1925. He was merely 23 years when India achieved independence and, therefore, had witnessed the country putting away foreign slavery as well as the tragedy of the partition. He saw the partly forced and partly self-inflicted uprooting of the community. Although a pragmatist by nature, perhaps this is why at times one feels the reflection of his pain and sharpness in his writings.
He was closely associated with a number of Muslim organisations like the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawrat, All India Council for Muslim Economic Upliftment, Peoples Movement of India, Institute of Objective Studies and Milli Council. Despite not being a member of Jamat-e-Islami, he served the organisation more loyally and with more dedication than a formal member. On one hand, he worked on the writing front and at the same time helped the poor and needy people by providing free legal services and representing them in the high court and Supreme Court pro bono.
Second of the nine siblings, Rizvi Saheb got his early education in Raichur and joined AMU for graduation moving to Osmania University in Hyderabad to complete his LL.B. After obtaining the law degree he joined his elder brother, a lawyer himself, and started practicing in the courts of Raichur and adjoining districts.
In 1965 he came into contact with Syed Abul A’laMaududi and was imprisoned for his association with the famous Islamic thinker. He was again arrested and sent behind bars in 1975 during Indira Gandhi’s emergency, three times under the ignoble Defence of India Rules (DIR). Despite these hardships, he remained steadfast, never showing any trace of losing his courage and forbearance. After emergency was lifted in 1977 and the dark period of persecution ended, in view of his God-gifted talents Rizvi Sahab was entrusted with the responsibility of editing Radiance Views Weekly, published by Ishate-e-Islam Trust, a role which he performed with unmatchable dedication making the weekly a reputable publication. In 1985, due to ideological differences, he parted ways with Radiance and upon the request of late Hakeem Abdul Hameed, the founder of Hamdard, he accepted the position of publication officer at Jamia Hamdard’s Institute of Islamic Studies.
Rizvi Saheb penned thousands of essays and research papers and published several books including Supreme Court and the Muslim Personal Law, Dialogue Between Hindus and Muslims, Battles by the Prophet in the Light of Qur’anand Three Major Errors in 12 English Translations of the Qur’an. He also started translating into English Syed Abul A’laMaududi’s seminal translation and interpretation of Holy Qur’an—the famous Tafheemul Qur’an—into English and had completed a large part of Surah Baqarah but his ill health did not let him continue and complete this important project he had taken upon himself. Rizvi Saheb has talked about it in his book, “Maulana Maududi Ke Khutoot”. Based on his correspondence with the great Islamic thinker, this book is a masterpiece and proof of Rizvi Saheb’s deep love for Islam and respect for Maulana Maududi.
By profession, Rizvi Saheb was a lawyer and also took to journalism, but did not stop practicing law altogether. For many years he served Jamat-e-Islami Hind as legal advisor and also represented the All India Muslim Personal Law Board in the Shah Bano case explaining fearlessly Islamic point of view before the apex court. He actively participated in the movement for the restoration of the minority character of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and also played a prominent role in the commission constituted to probe the 1989 Bhagalpur anti-Muslim riots. He did not only fight his own lawsuit after the lifting of emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi in 1970 but represented many others detained and implicated in fabricated cases and got them released.
Very few people know that Muslim youths arrested for their association with the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) had no means to hire lawyers and represent them. At this juncture, Rizvi Saheb offered his services pro bono and travelled to Madras at that old age. It was during this journey that he had a massive heart attack and he departed for his heavenly abode on 5 February 2002 and Indian Muslims were deprived of a selfless and dedicated individual.
After his death his children — Syed Amir Rizvi, Syeda Farhat Jahan Rizvi and Syeda Talat Jahan Rizvi — published their memories in a diary entitled: Woh ek dil jo damakrahathakhuloos-o-Iman ki tabishon se (The radiant heart that glittered with the light of sincerity and Iman). In her tribute to Rizvi Saheb, his daughter Farhat Rizvi writes: “All of us had gathered for our evening meal and sat around the Dastarkhwan. Addressing our dad, our grandfather, whom we used to call Mianjan, said: ‘You look very happy today.’ To this, Dad answered: ‘Yes. By the grace of Allah and as a result of your prayers today I got a huge success as I have won three cases.’ Hearing this Mianjan and Dadi [paternal grandmother], both of whom were very pleased, exclaimed: ‘Masha Allah! Masha Allah! ‘Then Mianjan asked him: ‘But how much fee were you paid?’ Dad just smiled and lowered his gaze. Repeating his question Mianjan asked again: ‘You have not told us how much you were paid?’ Dad paused a bit and replied: ‘These were the cases of very poor people. They could not afford to pay any fee. That they have got their properties back is a big thing.’ Hearing his response Mianjan laughed and [jokingly] said: ‘Now you should hang a signboard outside your office with a message: We fight cases free of cost.’ Then Dadi interjected: ‘You talk strange! Good deeds should be encouraged. Now that you are advising him to hang a signboard, add a sentence in it saying: we only accept prayers.’ Hearing this Mianjan was very pleased and added: ‘You have done a very good thing. I am very pleased. Remember, this is how you pay the zakah [charity] on your knowledge and skills.’”
This diary is full of such incidents and one is tempted to copy all of these but space constraints won’t allow this. However, some of his experiences deserve to be quoted and recalled.
When Rizvi Saheb was arrested under DIR his mother wrote him a letter. Here is an excerpt from that letter which is a testimony to the greatness of a great mother. “Listen! And convey this to your mates too on my behalf.” She wrote, “We do not wish your freedom at the cost of shackling your pen and silencing your tongue. Although I am sure none of you will do so [and compromise on your principles], I am fearful lest Satan puts cowardly thoughts in your minds, using your love for those whom you have left behind. Although you are not here, Allah T’ala has arranged sustenance for your households. There may be times when we are helpless, but His power is not helpless. Have faith in Allah and do not seek mercy from anyone.”
What a great mother indeed! Those who have read the life history of Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar must have been reminded of his great mother who told the English police officer that if any of her two sons showed signs of cowardice she would strangulate him with her own hands. Surely great mothers like these give birth to great sons. May Allah SWT reward them hugely.
To quote another incident from this book: “One night Mom saw Dad sitting very concerned and dejected. ‘Is everything fine?’ She asked. Dad replied: ‘I am upset with myself. One week ago I gave a friend, who works for a bank, Rs 1000 to get me new notes of Rs 10. About three or four days ago he came and handed me a bundle of 20 rupee notes. I took it from him without paying attention that these were 20 rupee notes. As I was about to retire for the day, I remembered that these were 20 rupee notes. I wonder what he must be thinking about me. And out of respect, he did not say anything. Until I return him one thousand rupees, I will keep feeling embarrassed.’ With these thoughts, he could not go to sleep. In the morning when my elder brother went to the mosque for Fajr prayer, he sent the money for his friend with a written apology. Anyway, only after sending the money back was he able to have some rest.”
Several of the articles written after his death by his well-wishers are testimonies of his self-respect and selflessness. Writing about his father in Saudi Gazette, his son Athar Rizvi says that once he wrote a critical article on Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad, President of India, for RSS’ weekly organ Organiser. The article was widely read and appreciated. However, he refused to accept any remuneration saying that he could not accept anything from an organisation opposed to his ideology and thinking.
According to his younger son Amir Rizvi in the last decade of the 1990s, Janata Dal Prime Minister Devi Goda, through his minister C.M. Ibrahim, and several AMU alumni, offered Rizvi Saheb Rajya Sabha membership. But Rizvi Saheb refused saying that having to tow the party line on the floor of parliament and not being able to express his views freely was not acceptable to him.
I must also cite an incident relating to Rizvi Saheb’s courage and boldness, as narrated to me by M Ghazali Khan. Says he: “During the vice chancellorship of late Sayyid Hamid Saheb, the students’ union launched an agitation against Prof. Irfan Habib for his controversial and defamatory comments on AMU and its students in a local Hindi newspaper. This movement dragged on. During the agitation some untoward and undesirable incidents also took place. On the other hand, despite his love, dedication and zeal to serve the community and work for its welfare, Hamid Saheb behaved and acted like a district magistrate trying to control a riot-torn city. He acted in a fashion typical of Indian bureaucracy and did not hesitate in repeatedly calling the police on the campus, so much so that despite the fresh tragedy of the Moradabad anti-Muslim riots, in which the notoriously Islamophobic Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) had massacred hundreds of Muslims returning after Eid prayers in 1980, he called it on the campus and gave it a free hand. True to its notoriety, as a brute anti-Muslim force, one of its officers opened fire and killed a student, Aftab, from Meerut, the only son of his elderly parents and only brother of four sisters, who had nothing to do with the agitation and just happened at the wrong place at a wrong time. As someone who held the welfare of his community and his alma mater close to his heart, Rizvi Saheb was one of those Aligs who always instantly reached Aligarh whenever any untoward incident took place. Hearing about the shooting and the death of Aftab, he rushed to Aligarh and went straight to the Vice Chancellor’s lodge where Hamid Saheb was holding a meeting with some senior members of the community of his liking. Outside the lodge, there was a heavy police presence. Rizvi Saheb showed them his journalist pass and barged into the meeting room. Perhaps Hamid Saheb and Rizvi Saheb were contemporaries and had known each other since their student days. Seeing Rizvi Saheb, Hamid Saheb stood up and came forward to shake hands with him. But, despite his known soft and courteous nature and cool temperament, Rizvi Saheb pulled his hands back and said: ‘You have the blood of an innocent boy on your hands. I cannot shake hands with you. I have come just to request you to have some mercy on this institution and the millat and resign immediately.”
Another AMU alumnus and Kashmiri academic Dr Sheikh Showkat Hussain
testifies the incident saying: “This happened the same day when Aftab was martyred. A notice was also circulated that Hamid Saheb was resigning. But it was followed by another note saying that upon Indira Gandhi’s and Maulana Ali Mian’s insistence his resignation had been withdrawn.”
That was one of the most testing times faced by AMU and it is better not to go into its details here.
Usually, those in public life get addicted to publicity and self-projection but Rizvi Saheb had treated himself with some special vaccine against this disease. He hated publicity and hardly talked about himself and his work. So much so that it is difficult to find a photograph of the man who was actively involved in public service.
I have refrained from including several incidents of his life. It is really hard to include all the details in a few pages of a man who served the community selflessly and impressed thousands of his readers.
I also avail this opportunity to request Rizvi Saheb’s survivors, especially his sons, who are well educated and well-resourced to make public all of Rizvi Saheb’s work and publish a book on his life and contributions. I am saddened to learn that much of his written work has got damaged. Whatever has survived it is better to publish and save it for future generations.
The author is a research scholar in Dr. K.R. Narayanan Center for Dalit and Minority Studies at Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi.