Like millions of other Indian Muslims who knew, admired and loved Shahabuddin Saheb, I am deeply saddened at his death. His death is a great Milli loss especially at a time when the Muslim community in India is at a crossroad and yearning for a leader who could bring it to the cohesion that is the need of the time.

Mourning this great loss my memories of and about  Shahabuddin Saheb span more than two decades and are varied in many ways that I cherish greatly.

The first ever article penned by Shahabuddin Saheb that I had read was in New Delhi published as a rejoinder with K. R Malkani, editor of RSS’s mouthpiece Organiser. Malkani’s piece was entitled, ‘Hindus and Muslims: A Question of Different Wave Lengths’ and Shahabuddin Saheb’s response was headlined as ‘Come out of your shell Mr. Malkani’. After this I became a great fan of his writings and never missed any article written by him and when he launched his Muslim India I became its regular reader.

In those days when it was so rare to see a small letter by a Muslim in an English language daily or periodical let alone an article portraying the true picture on the ground. News about Muslims in English publications was rare and few of the Muslims who wrote in English were extremely apologetic. No Muslim politician could dare raise his voice from the platform of a secular party against the injustices being meted out on Muslims and government’s discriminatory policies against them. This was the period when by playing film Barsat ki Raat’s song, Mujhe to mil gaya bahana tere deed ka’ at the end of Ramzan and by showing on Door Darshan the scene of Eid congregation at Delhi’s Jama Masjid Delhi or one or two Muslim families from old Delhi eating Eid Sawaian all the demands and conditions of secularism were deemed complete. In such an environment  Shahabuddin Saheb’s articles and his fearless speeches in parliament and public platform changed the culture and gave the community, specially the youths, a new hope.

My first meeting with him was very brief, in 1981, when we wanted to invite him as the chief guest in our annual hostel dinner in Nasrullah Hostel, VM Hall, in AMU. He had come to attend the meeting of AMU Court. I sent in a handwritten slip to him with the peon just few minutes before the meeting was due to start and within no time he came out to see us. I requested him to be our chief guest at the annual hostel function to which he readily agreed and said, ‘Mujhe ek chitthi dal dena meN foran jawab doonga.’

The next time I met him was a year later at his residence in Delhi. I had reached a bit earlier before the appointment  time and he was not at home. Perhaps it was his daughter who opened the door and asked me to wait in the drawing room. Only five minutes later Shahabuddin Saheb arrived himself driving his old Fiat. This was a brief meeting.

The third time I met him was in London when I interviewed him for Impact International, perhaps in 1989, at the residence of his brother-in-law (behnoi), late Dr Majeed Saheb, a known orthopedist.

After the interview, I travelled with him from North London to Central London where a press conference had been arranged for him. During the journey, I noticed him close his eyes and whispering Kalima. I have a feeling that this was his habit and routine to remember Almighty like this in his free moments but I doubt anyone except his family members would have ever seen him in this mood.

His writings and speeches speak for his courage and commitment to milli causes but the speech delivered by him in the Parliament in the wake of the infamous Moradabad Riot 1980 and the article in Sunday, then edited by M.J. Akbar, are in particular glaring examples of his fearlessness and love for the millat.

It is said that hard times are the real tests of someone’s real metal. What could be a tough time for him than the death in mysterious circumstances of his only son, a scientist, in US? But even after this tragedy he continued his milli activities as before.

Having served as a diplomat and as a politician he had seen the real faces of all those wearing secular masks. An interview with Urdu Sahara tells it all how he felt and how he wanted the Indian Muslims to adopt and evolve a new election strategy.

I recall how many in the community accused him of collecting crores of rupees for Muslim India. In the 80s some even spread the rumor that he was a RSS agent serving their agenda and that out of their love for him some RSS activists had even hung his photographs in their houses. Incidentally the story was written as a satire in a gossip column by a young Muslim journalist in the Telegraph. The column didn’t have a byline. The journalist in question himself confided to me that he was the source of the story. But since it served the agenda of some who saw Shahabuddin Saheb as a threat to their interests circulated the nonsense as a Gospel Truth. A friend who is no more told me even a far more bizarre and ridiculous story mentioning his source someone high in the Congress with dodgy record. May Allah bless him he later refused to believe the absurdity that I do not want even to mention here.

It is worth narrating an interesting a story  that I have quoted in an article on Shahabuddin Saheb before and shared with me by  Dr Hilal Ahmed, Assistant Professor  Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) when he was doing his PhD at the School of School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London. He had written a well-researched paper, based on Shahabuddin saheb’s editorials published in Muslim India. When he showed it to his supervisor, a leading expert on Indian politics the gentleman remarked that so far his impression of Shahabuddin Saheb was based on media reports and that was the first time he had actually read his writings. ‘From this he comes out to be a brilliant political thinker’, the expert told my friend. This paper ‘An Introduction to the Political ideas of Syed Shahabuddin’ has been included in a book ‘Syed Shahabuddin Outstanding Voice of Muslim India’, compiled by Mushtaque Madni.

The fact is that had Shahabuddin Saheb compromised on his stand and principles he would have spent the last few years of his life in luxury and great comfort. But this is what Dr Javed Jamil Saheb quotes him as saying, “Do you think Dr Jamil, I have big money. In my house, meat is cooked only twice a week, not because we don’t relish it but because we can’t afford it. And you see the fiat outside my office. I am not in a position to send it to the garage.’

I close this obituary with the quotes of Salman Khurshid Saheb made during a book launch in 2003, ‘Some narrow-minded people say he raised the issue of Babri Masjid and Personal Law for petty politics. This is wrong. The fact is that we could not take full benefit of him as much as we should have.’ He said, ‘You speak strongly and clearly. If someone who did not know that you were a diplomat, would never sense it from your personality. You have ruled over the hearts of many men and women. We got in you a leader, an icon, a role model.’

May Allah SWT forgive the shortcomings of this brave soldier of millat and shower His mercy on him. Ameen!

[Written by  M Ghazali Khan and originally published by The MilliGazette Online]