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Vice President of India lauches book in New Delhi

Asghar Ali Engineer writes autobiography

Dr. Asghar Ali Engineers autobiography A Living Faith: My Quest for Peace, Harmony and Social Change was launched in New Delhi on 20th July 2011 by Vice President of India Shri Hamid Ansari. Shri Hamid Ansari praised Dr. Engineers courage and his struggle against priesthood in his own community.

Vice President of India Shri Hamid Ansari and Asghar Ali Engineer
Vice President of India Shri Hamid Ansari and Asghar Ali Engineer.

He likened him to Spinoza (the 16th century rationalist philosopher from Holland) and described him as modern day Spinoza. Spinoza, Hamid Ansari Saheb said, was also excommunicated because he fought against orthodoxy in his own religion and Dr. Engineer also has been excommunicated by priesthood of his own community. He said autobiographies are of two types, one in which the author projects his larger than life image and praises his achievements very high. The other type depicts mental and spiritual development. Dr. Engineers autobiography is of the second type. It is written in simple language and is quite interesting to read. “I recommend each one of you must read it,” he said.

Dr. Engineer spoke briefly about his beliefs, about his struggle and about his experiences. He said the essence of religion is in values and not in rituals, anyone can perform rituals and project herself/himself as religious. But to practice values one has to make sacrifices, has to be truthful, has to be honest, has to be just and compassionate. He said there are five fundamental values in Quran i.e. Truth (Haq), Justice (Adl), doing good to others (Ihsan), compassion (Rahmah) and wisdom (Hikmah). These are Allahs names also. Other religions also share these values. Dr. Engineer also said that it is my firm belief that power should be separated from religion and power corrupts religion, the two should never come together.

After the release of the book by Vice President there was a panel discussion by four eminent personalities of Delhi. Panel discussion was chaired by Prof. Akhtarul Wasey (Director, Zakir Hussain Institute of Islamic Studies - Jamia Millia Islamia). He said it is a great honour for all of us that Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer is with us today.

“Dr. Engineer is a prestigious man and this evening is great for all of us due to his presence. I have known Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer for quite sometime. He is great Islamic scholar and his understanding and interpretation of Islam has influenced many Muslims and non-Muslims. We have four very eminent panelists to discuss Dr. Asghar Ali Engineers autobiography and these panelists are Justice Rajinder Sachar (Retired Chief Justice of Delhi High court and of Sachar Commission fame), Dr.Sayeeda Hameed (Member, Planning Commission of India), Prof. Mushirul Hasan (Director General of Archives and former Vice Chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia - Central University) and well-known social activist and Arya Samaj leader Swami Agnivesh.”

On inaugurating the panel discussion Dr. Syeda Hameed said, “I have known Asgharbhai for many years. I have learnt much from his knowledge of Quranic rights of Muslim women. I have written a book on Maulana Azad and studied his writings closely.  I find close parallel between the Maulana and Asgharbhai. Both have written profusely on Islam and both have struggled for higher causes. Both are committed to women’s rights.” She also recited a verse from Iqbal which depict Dr. Engineer as leader of future vision.

Next Prof. Mushirul Hasan spoke and said, “I am great admirer of Asghar and the causes he has fought for and I have written this in my forward to his autobiography. I will not always agree with him but I have no doubt about sincere commitment with which he has fought for communal harmony in the country and social reforms in his own community and all these without expectation of any reward. His struggle has inspired many not only in India but also in the world.

“He has widely travelled for lectures, seminars, conferences. There is hardly any country which he has not visited. I wrote an article on him and the causes he fights for, on his 60th birth day in Indian Express. As a historian I know many social reformers who had some or the other fault but I do not find any fault in Asgharbhais’ life. His life is an open book.”

Justice Sachar in his remarks said that Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer has always stood by human rights of the oppressed. “He always stood for truth in the face of power which needs extraordinary courage. He is one of the founders of PUCL (Peoples Union of Civil Liberty) and he became Vice President of PUCL in its Jaipur session in the early Nineties which he also inaugurated. His struggle for reform in his own community is very significant for modern secular India. When reformists were persecuted and excommunicated The Citizen for Democracy, then headed by Jaiprakash Narayan, appointed an inquiry commission which came to be known as the Nathwani Commission which also had to face lot of odds in functioning and investigating the violation of human rights of reformist Bohras. Asghar Ali Engineer was in the forefront of that struggle too. We salute his courage and strong urge for social change.”

Next Swami Agnivesh spoke and said. “normally I cannot read a book beyond 15 to 20 pages, but Asghar Ali Engineers autobiography, written in simple and fluent English runs like a story and I read almost the whole book before coming here. Engineer Saheb is well-known for his scholarship and for his struggle not only in India but throughout the world. I have had the pleasure of knowing him for a long time and we have travelled to many countries for seminars and conferences.

“Once we were in the Philippines in a Pacific island and while returning he fell sick in the boat. I brought him back to Manila where he recovered. From his biography I discovered I am younger to him by 6 months, so he is like elder brother to me, and we have been together in many struggles. He invited me to Udaipur for protest march against the Bohra High Priest and I invited him to join us when we marched for communal harmony from Delhi to Meerut. So we have struggled together for common causes and we will continue to do so.”

Asghar Ali Engineer concluded the panel discussion by speaking about certain incidents in his life which are included in this autobiography. He said,  “many people ask me why doI continue to struggle when you do not seem to be succeeding. My reply is, what is the criterion of success? If the criterion is achieving the goal it is beginning of failure. Real measure of success is continuing one’s struggle in the face of great odds and failures. It requires courage of conviction and strong inner urge to bring about social change.”

With these words discussion concluded and audience gave a standing ovation to Dr. Engineer. Among audience were distinguished intellectuals, writers, bureaucrats and activists numbering around a hundred. There were also 28 American professors from across America who had invited Dr. Engineer for lectures on Indian Islam.