Maryam Sakeenah pays a humble tribute to Dr. Israr Ahmed.
As I walked through the dust and heat, threading my way through the throng of unfamiliar faces, I felt an indescribable kinship, an invisible bond that linked me to the faces I walked among. We were drawn towards the same – a personage, a symbol, a phenomenon, an institution, an era and a life larger than life. I was a nobody among the crowd, one among many – and yet I felt I needed to be there, to draw in the moment, to feel the meaning in the cool shade of the towering white minaret and the gentle wind’s whisper, to see it writ large, to savour blessedness and to understand what it meant to truly live, and to live well. That was one of the many realizations the departure of Dr. Israr Ahmed brought home to me. As I looked around at the silent, sombre crowd I felt we were all suddenly bereft, forlorn and derelict. There was a huge, gaping void that would take decades, perhaps centuries to fill.
He was rare – not just as a scholar, but as a person too. A family member tearfully confided in me how he had been the unifying factor, helping resolve differences, sorting things out, solving problems and strengthening ties; how he had been the advisor, guide, patron, father figure, guardian, comforter and confidante.
There were tearful eyes; one of them a friend’s, who reminisced of her time at the Quran Academy as a student. She said it had only struck her now that the personal revolution that had given her an entirely new orientation had been just one of the many, many transforming experiences thousands like her had undergone, made possible by the conviction and endeavour of a single ‘possessed’ man – a man obsessed with a Single Idea. I had never before understood with such crystal clarity the meaning of ‘Sadaqah-e-Jariya.’
In one of his interviews, Dr. Israr Ahmed, in his candid demeanour, had said he didn’t think he had been successful in any significant measure, except perhaps that his work had helped create religious awareness and inclination among the country’s educated middle class.
Understated indeed, considering the enormity and significance of the task. His tireless mission spanned decades, and his tenacity in pursuing the goal he believed in with all his soul was commendable. The depth of his knowledge and insight had been garnered over years of painstaking, unaided personal effort. The maturity of his seasoned vision, the sense of balance and the conviction in the face of formidable odds were a rare combination. His passion for the cause he held dear and strove tirelessly for was powerful and moving. He dreamt alone, and dared to act it out. He was thoroughly immersed in the Quran, thoroughly in love with it. You couldn’t doubt the love, it was so there. He had its glow on his face, its brilliance in his eyes, and its ring in his voice.
As I stepped into the place where he had lived for years, I was instantly struck by the simplicity, as it was so utterly shorn of any semblance of comfort and luxury. ‘Live in this world as a stranger or a wayfarer.’ The Wayfarer had lived it out, eyes firmly fixed on the greater beyond, and moved on.
His last Friday lecture, barely days before his passing away, was about the meaning of Shukr – gratitude to Allah I – for being chosen to discover and share and disseminate; for the man that he was, and for the legacy he left. In this last lecture, he mentioned at length the blessings awaiting the believers in Al-Firdous. Only on receiving that true and lasting reward would the actual meaning of ‘Alhumdulillah’ be experienced in its totality.
Alhumdulillah for your being there. Alhumdulillah for passing it on.
In class, when I shared the news with the students, I could not at first explain to myself the calm that suddenly overwhelmed me, perhaps out of a sense of comfort in the hope that he would be in that Happier Place. A student wrote of him, “I would go to Jannah and meet him there Insha’Allah. I would shake hands with him. I always wanted to do that but he has died, you know, so I can’t. But in Jannah, I shall shake his hands and he will smile and say, ‘My son, I am so proud of you.'”
The Dream lives on, beckoning us.