In Molvi Iftikhar Hussain Ansari’s demise Kashmir has lost a social sage, a political pundit and religious rector
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HASEEB A DRABU
A progressive cleric. An enlightened theologian. An erudite scholar. A brilliant orator. A successful businessman. A committed politician. A courageous rebel. A mass leader. All this and much more. The many people and personalities that Iftikhar Hussain Ansari was, is no more.
His demise didn’t come as a shock or a surprise; one has been having a foreboding with trepidation. The news brought disconsolateness; a heart ache. He was respected and revered and much too loved to become a mere memory just yet.
The most painful part was to see, in the last month or so, how the man who lived and loved life had lost the zest for life. It is as hard to reconcile as it is important to retain as a learning of life.
Not surprisingly, when he went on a ziarat to Najaf a few months ago, he for the first time bade “Alwida” there. Violating a tradition, he had never done so in the past, as he used to say he would return back to the ziarat so why bid goodbye! This time he obviously knew.
In death as in life, no epitaph is required to distinguish him. He was distinction personified. A remarkably handsome man – he always reminded me of Hollywood legend Anthony Quinn– who had aged with grace. His graciousness added a gravitas to his overall demeanor which would make you feel secure in his company and within his sight.
As if this wasn’t good enough to mesmerize, his great sartorial elegance – be it a bespoken sherwani or the traditional shia clerics turban and robes attire – was a sight to behold.
The style went beyond what he wore. His refined taste was evident is his home. Everything there whispered old money: chesterfields blending with exquisitely crafted crewel dressed walnut wood chairs.
It was great to sink into one of his antique arm chairs and indulge in some of the finest tea; he even served Cornish tea and that too in Wedge woods. The British influence was diluted only by Iranian delicacies that were served with it which made it quite eclectic. What made the session electrifying was of course the charming anecdotal conversation of the man himself.
The intimate conversationalist that he was in private, would transform into a master orator in public. His eloquence and oration has enthralled generation of Kashmiris.
The speeches that he made embodied a heady mix of superior intellect, sublime oratory, unfaltering memory, and diversified and vast knowledge of Tafseer, Hadith, Usool, Fiqh, literature, philosophy and social history. He was Kashmir’s Allamah Rasheed Turabi. He had a remarkable accomplishment of having Ijazath of riwayah and narration from almost all of his contemporary mashayekh mainly from Iran.
It took only a couple of meetings to realise his stunning range of scholarship. I know of no one else in the clan of clerics of Kashmir who could discuss the writings of a contemporary scholar like Syed Hosain Nasr with the same ease and authority as the classic treatises of Al Kindi.
Though it now seems like I knew him for ages, I actually got to know him only about a decade back. In fact the first time we spoke was when in 2004 he called me in anger about the proposal of building a new governance city at Parihaspora where he had substantial landed interests.
I met him later that evening which started my association with him and before one realized it grew into an valued relationship; for me he was a sage; a wise man with a wealth of experience; for him I was this young fellow who he thought knew something about “finance”. For me, he was a well-wisher. For him, I was an admirer.
After a conversation on governance in 2009, he gave me the idiomatic translation of Hazrat Ali’s famous letter of instructions addressed to the then Governor of Egypt, Malik Ashtar. This letter from Hazrat Ali is a guiding light in just and fair governance and has been regarded by eminent Muslim scholars like Ibn-i-Abil Hidaid (655 A.H), Ibn-iAbduh, and Allama Mustafa Bek Najib as a basic guide in Islamic administration.
While he is greatly and justifiably remembered for his Muharram majlis, his contribution goes much beyond the art of oratory of a zakir. To me his biggest contribution was to make the institution of the majlis a forum for providing emotional relief to the people in their personal hardships. The manner he evoked the memories of the Karbala during his majlis provided catharsis for his followers.
The family’s sorrow, especially at a time when Kashmir was going through unprecedented social trauma, was put in a broader context and given a perspective. This perspective rendered the suffering of the devotees of the prophet’s family totally insignificant compared to that of the martyrs of karbala.
Such personalized renditions in which the victims and sufferers relate to themselves gave them hope and support. Thus the manner in which he constructed the narratives of Karbala was different.
Also, even as his zikr was peppered with persian couplets, he gave the Kashmiri marsiya majlis a different identity from the Persian and urdu ones.
Apart from these religious discourses, his congregational speeches in the rural areas were a learning experience. He would speak in Kashmiri and use the local idiom to educate them on matters of religion as well as social issues. He would leave them spell bound.
He was by a long way the most internationally connected scholar/politician of Kashmir. In the eighties, he would regularly visit Abu al Qasim al Khoei who was one of the most influential Islamic scholars and the spiritual leader of much of the shia world at that time. Indeed, he had personal and family relations with Ayatollah Khomeni. Within the valley he had his own charmed circle of friends cutting across political line and religious divide. His 9th Muharram majlis were as exclusive as it was frugal.
He apparently inherited the trait of generosity from his father, Molvi Mohammed Jawad who would host most of the intellectuals and writers of his time in his house at Khana khahi sokhta.
I once asked Molvi sahib him to get me the exact quote of Hazrat Ali which loosely translated was “Those who you do good unto will undoubtedly do harm unto you; notwithstanding this you must do good”. He authenticated it as a Hazrat Ali “qaul” and I thought that was it. Not quite. A month later, I get a packet nicely wrapped parcel. Inside was the same quote beautifully calligraphed in wood and a nicely framed! It adorns my study and will keep reminding me of him.
Notwithstanding these endearing memories, two regrets will remain; one that I could attend his funeral and be a part of the lakhs of his followers and second, our planned to visit Najaf together was not to be.
Be that as it may, the fact is that he lived a life full on in every which way. His family should have no regrets on that account. May he rest in peace.