Maulana Wahiduddin Khan recalled his ecstasy as a young man on the day India became independent on August 15, 1947
It was in 1995 that I had met Maulana Wahiduddin Khan to do an interview-profile for the Indian Express where I was then working. He had just turned 70. I went to his home in West Nizamuddin, climbed the stairs and entered a bare, clean room on the first floor. A tall, frail man, with a bright face which could only be that of an innocent man walked in and sat on the floor. And he spoke freely, with a lot of enthusiasm and with no rancor. One could not escape the impression that here is a man who had spent all his life pursuing scholarly activities and who was not affected by the wiliness of the world around him. The other surprising thing about him was that he was religious and pious, and unlike the stereotypical image of a man of religion, there was not a trace of harshness in him. There was an overpowering gentleness in his bearing, which leaves a lasting impression on anyone who has met him and talked to him. He was the true picture of a saintly Muslim scholar who belongs to the Islamic tradition of learning of a thousand years and more, in India as well as other parts of the Islamic world of Central Asia, Iran and the Arab world.
I remember distinctly the two things he had narrated then. First, he recalled August 15, 1947. He said that on that day he felt so ecstatic that he went about the town in sheer joy and it felt that his feet were not on the ground. And he fondly remembered Mahatma Gandhi. There was a sense of joy in his face and in his voice as he narrated this. The second thing he narrated was about the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on December 6, 1991. He said he was in a meeting in Bombay on that day and at that moment. Someone had sent him a slip asking his response, and he had written on that slip, “What fell was not the mosque, but the ego of the Muslim” and he believed that it would in no way affect the faith of Muslims in the country. It was the most unpopular stand for a Muslim to take at that moment. But he was not afraid to speak his mind. He was armed with his piety and learning.
As a consequence, many people considered him to be close to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak sangh (RSS) and the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). There was indeed a vilification campaign against him. But he was not affected by it. He was not hurt by the accusations that were hurled against him by some of his fellow-Muslims. He believed that his understanding of the issue and the situation was right because for him following Islam was not a political issue but a religious issue.
There were many others who are of the view that his Islamic scholarship was flawed and so was his understanding of modern science. But the Maulana remains above the fray and he continues to write prolifically about Islam, science and modernity. It is an intellectual passion with him to deal with the challenges that the new developments and discoveries of science pose for his religious faith, and he has no hesitation in arguing that there is contradiction between faith and reason, between Islam and science. And as he tirelessly writes books, pamphlets, articles on this issue, there is not a note of bitterness in the tone of his arguments. Scholars are generally vituperative when they take on their critics, but not so the Maulana.
When asked about his closeness to the RSS and the BJP, he gives the straight and simple answer that when they invite him he does not keep away. The implication is very clear: he has no ideological enemies.
I met him the second time five years later along with my late brother Srinivas Parsa. My brother was interviewing him for the tehelka website. There was not much of a change in the man. He was the same gentle, outgoing and communicative person, who answered every question with patience. He was not offended by critical queries. And he had a sense of humour. He said that poet Mohammed Iqbal was wrong when he described Muslims as tigers. He said the tiger was not a brave animal and that it was a cunning animal.
I met him a third time a few years back when I was working with the dna (Daily News and Analysis) newspaper. The man had grown frail, but he has not his zest for sharing his knowledge and answering questions. Now his daughter was playing the role of secretary, explaining to him about the questions that were asked. He sat on the floor, with his turban, spectacles and thoughtful expression.
He may not bea great Islamic scholar. There may be other people who have greater learning, and even piety. But Maulana Wahiduddin Khan remains the only man who is anxious to share his thoughts with others, his understanding of Islam with others. He is also a man who does not claim knowledge of other religions. He remains an Islamic scholar and he tries to reconcile to the best of ability the tenets of Islam and the ideas of science. He does not speak of politics or about political ideologies. There is a disarming intellectual simplicity about the man.
And each time you meet him, you come away with the feeling that you have met a pious man, whose faith in God is unshakeable, and because of this faith he seems to face the world without any fear or worry. Maulana Wahiduddin Khan is the perfect image of a man of Islam, who combines piety and learning and love for fellow-human beings with humility. This is indeed the true mark of a good man.
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