The passing away of Dr Asghar Ali Engineer (10 March 1939 - 14 May 2013) is a great loss to me personally and a great loss to the Muslim community. We have lost a great Islamic scholar, a man who wrote without fear or favour and a humane person. India has lost a great son. It is the passing away of a legend.
Son of a Bohra priest, Shaikh Qurban Hussain, he was trained in Qur'anic tasfir (commentary), tawil (hidden meaning of Qur'an), fiqh (jurisprudence) and hadith (Prophet's sayings), and learned the Arabic language.
He was a Muslim scholar, and an Indian reformist-writer and activist acknowledged for his work on communal harmony, liberation theology in Islam, the rights of Muslim Women and several important issues. He led the Progressive Dawoodi Bohra movement.
My association with Dr Engineer is since my early college days in the late 1960s. As a young student, his integrity and honesty inspired me as we shared similar views on Islamic laws.
He always endorsed egalitarian laws that would bring equality and justice within the Muslim community. We shared a great rapport on a personal level. We always stood by each other during difficult times when we lost family members.
We collaborated on several fields of work especially those relating to Muslim women and towards codification of Muslim Personal Law in India.
During the process of codification of the Muslim Personal law, he would often express his wish that codified laws that were prevalent in other countries would also be instituted here which would provide justice and relief to Muslim women. Together we led a jehad for the rights of Muslim women.
When I founded the Wisdom Foundation (World Institute of Islamic Studies For Dialogue, Mediation, Gender and Peace) in 2007, he was one of the first persons to be invited on the Advisory Board. The Wisdom Foundation will miss him.
My last meeting was with Dr Engineer when he was at the Raheja hospital a couple of weeks earlier. His daughter-in-law Sandhya was with him. He was not in conscious state. Trying to revive his memory, Sandhya suggested that I hand a copy of the last book Healing Memories: Civilization in Dialogue that contained his article "A Clash of Civilizations or a Clash of Interest?" It was almost like a ceremonial launch when Sandhya clicked a photograph. I will always cherish that moment.
My friend Dr Asghar Ali is no more. But he will live in our heart and mind forever. He will always be remembered as a fearless man; a kind man and great scholar.
Zeenat Shaukat Ali is a noted Islamic scholar and author and conducts an Honors course on Islamic Studies a St Xavier's College. She is the director general of World Institute of Islamic Studies for Dialogue, Organisation of Mediation and Gender Justice (WISDOM Foundation).