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Mufti Abdul Qayyum of Aligarh

Aligarh: Mufti Abdul Qayyum (born 1913), the “Mufti-i-Azam” of Aligarh, passed away at his home in Mohalla “Ooper Kot” here in the wee hours of 11 September, i.e., Idul Fitr. His burial was the most crowded funeral that Aligarh city has perhaps ever seen – which comes to 25000 mourners. This attests to the affection and reverence in which this “conflict resolver” was held by all sections of the local society – Muslims and Hindus alike. If Aligarh has not witnessed any major communal incident in the last quarter of the century or so, no one can be given greater credit than the late Mufti Sahib.

Mufti Sahib taught Theology and optional Arabic language in Minto Circle (AMU Boys High School, later rechristened as ST High School) for almost forty years till his retirement in 1974. His personality was so very different from the run-of-the-mill self-satisfied, self-righteous Maulvis. 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”.

His classes were always lively for he encouraged discussion and questions and he presented Theology not so much as a code of rules and doctrines but as a package of moral and ethical propositions. 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 students eschew any feeling of “us” and “them” with Shias or for that matter with Hindus.

His Theology classes were crowded but optional Arabic remained a close club. In my batch, there were just six of us and we were taken by the teacher far beyond Al-Mir’atul ‘Arabia – it was he who demolished the popular myth that the people of the pre-Islamic “Jahilya” era were “jahils” i.e. illiterates. In fact, he was at pains to explain that the Jahilya was the golden era of Arabic poetry and that the poets of that era were vilifiers of the Holy Prophet precisely because they suffered from deprivation of grandeur. His punch-line used to be “Behtareen shaer zuroori nahin ke bhtar insaan bhee ho! “ (It is not necessary tht the best poet will also be the best human being).

Much later, while studying Law, I had the previlege to study fatwas written by him. They bore the true stamp of scholarship and I have not seen such kind of pronouncements from the so-called Darul iftas of the leading seminaries. His exposition of the mas’ala used to be 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.

Maulvi Sahib was an alumnus of Madrasa Lutfiya of Aligarh – possibly he was a descendant of its founder. His not being one from Deoband or Nadwa was the reason for his distancing from the league of Ulama in addition to his outspokenness and his propensity to call a spade a spade.

It is a pity that the AMU makes no efforts to maintain a link with the city. After his retirement, Maulvi Sahib did a lot for the moral improvement of Muslims of Aligarh and to maintain the social order in a city which seemed to be eternally on a short fuse. Yet the university community kept itself aloof from the city’s struggles, trials and tribulations, did nothing to lend a helping hand to one of its former marginalized members who was ever busy dousing the flames of hatred and doing conflict resolution across the communal divide. Indeed he was deeply aware of it and in my last meeting with him in a wedding ceremony a few years ago, he did mention his disappointment that Sir Syed did not do much to draw the attention of the Ashraf (elite) to the down-trodden majority of the so-called Ajlaf and Arzal.

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 unfortunate Aligs who did not know Qayyum Sahib, all one can say is: Afsos tum ko Meer se sohbat nahin rahee.

Naved Masood is an AMU Alumni and a senior Civil Servant in Govt. of India and he is based in New Delhi. He can be reached at

Video is provided by Yousuf, an AMU Alumni based in Bahrain

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 October 2010 on page no. 16

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