The true story of how a sitting Pakistan Army brigadier set out on the path to become a muballegh

Maulana Yusuf Sahab’s life between 1944, when he was elected as the world amir of tabligh, and 1965, when he passed away in Lahore, had always been a blur of travels, travails and long, passionate talks delivered before crowds, large and small.  While he was always keyed into his calling thoroughly regardless of the geography or the language at hand, he was especially animated to be where the action is, which tended to the Urdu-speaking locales in Northern India and Pakistan, especially the latter. That is why he was called into tours of duty, through thick and thin, across the cities and plains of Pakistan.  Travel to Pakistan had been so high on Hadrat-ji’s priorities from the very beginning that even during 1947—the year witnessing cataclysmic loss of especially Muslim lives in the Indian Punjab—he handily accepted an invitation from Pakistani aides and helmed a concourse in Karachi in December of 1947. A number of the early-attracted activists had migrated from India to Karachi, then the federal capital of Pakistan, and Maulana Yusuf used the Karachi concourse to regroup his former Indian aides and soulmates. Between 1947 and 1954, the year when the present story took place, he had travelled to Pakistan a total of eleven times. Shafi Quraishi Jhanjhanawi, a former cricket-loving successful businessman hailing from the same kasba of Jhanjhana as for Maulana Ilyas’s father, Maulana Ismail, but based in Bombay (aka Mumbai), who had joined the Tabligh effort while at Mumbai, had migrated from there  to Pakistan after the Partition and had settled in Rawalpindi, a garrison town.  He had been nominated as the first amir of Tabligh for Pakistan.  The setting of the first of the two stories is bookended by Pakistan’s first national ijtema at Raiwind, and his last major speech delivered at Lahore.

The most important element common to both these true stories is the maxim that when a caller unto Allah fulfils the pre-requisites of what Allah Ta’ala sees as befitting a true exemplar by embodying the qualities of Hadrat Muhammad (PBUH), the greatest caller unto Allah, then he becomes a ‘mouthpiece’ of Allah.  At which point, Allah sends unseen reinforcements, with supernatural transformation occurring.  In the first story, the speech by Hadrat-ji 2nd is the talisman that magically capture the soul of Haq Nawaz Sahab.  In the second story, it was the bayan made by Hadrat Maulana Muhammad Umar Palanpuri Sahab that magically hurled the Egyptian scholar Shaikh Abdullah Mun’im in the 1977 ijtema at Amman, Jordan. 

The second element common to both stories is the second maxim that Allah makes it a point to ensure that wheels of impersonal history are set into motion to record in cold, indeliable, print the details of such milestone excellence in its time-defying annals.  As Allah has said in His Book:   

وَ  رَفَعْنَا  لَكَ  ذِكْرَاكَ

(Surah-94: 4)      

Which translates into: “(O Muhammad), We shall elevate your (ever-inspiring) memories (for the posterity).” Likewise, there will be in the fullness of time, worthy successors of the Holy Prophet who will have embodied a fulsome obedience to him in the arena of calling unto Allah. This promise of Allah will also, arguably, apply to all subsequent callers unto Allah who are truly subordinated to the Holy Prophet.  Allah says in Surah Yusuf:

قُلْ  هَذِهِ  سَبِيْلِىْ اَدْعُوْ اِلَى اللهِ قف  عَاى بَصِىْرَةٍ  اَنَا  وَ مَنِ اتَّبَعَنِىْ وَ سُبْحَانَ اللهِ وَ مَا اَنَا مِنَ الْمُشْرِكِيْنَ.

(Surah-12: 108)

Translation: “Say, this is my Ordained Path—calling all people to Allah, forearmed with foresight (of one’s action’s true consequences).  This is my own Ordained Path, as well as the Path for my true successors.  Allah is above all blemishes, and I am not among the idolaters.” While there would be no Prophet after Hadrat Muhammad (PBUH), the mandate to emulate him as truly as humanly possible has been enshrined in this verse as potentially open to his followers.  Thus, just as the Holy Prophet’s memories will be immortalized, so also, with all relevant differences, the memories of some of his worthiest successors will also by archived by the history.  This lowly author of these lines, Naeem Chowdhury, has been privileged, without deserving it one least bit, by Allah as history’s material witness to both choicest developments captured by these twin-stories.

The juxtaposition, for narrative purposes, of illustrious names such as Maulana Muhammad Yusuf, Maulana Muhammad Umar Palanpuri, even General Haq Nawaz Khan, on the one hand, and plebian names such Naeem Chowdhury in close proximity to each other brings to my mind the following verse of the Qu’ran:

   سَيَقُوْلُوْنَ   ثَلثَةٌ  رَّابِعُهُم  كَلْبُهُمْ  وَ يَقُوْلُوْنَ  خَمْسَةٌ سَادِسُهُمْ    كَلْبُهُمْ    رَجْمَاً  بِلْغَيْبِ  وَ يَقُوْلُوْنَ   سَبْعَةٌ وَّثَمِنُهُمْ  كَلْبُهُمْ ط قُلْ رَبِّىْ اَعْلَمُ

بِعِدَّتِهِمْ  مَّا يَعْلَمُهُمْ  اِلَّا قَلِيْلٌ قف فَلَا تُمَارِ  فِيْهُمْ اِلَّا مَرَاءً ظَاهِرًا وَّ لَا تَسْتَفْتِ فِيْهِمْ مِّنْهُمْ اَحَدً .

(Surah-18: 22)

Translation: People said: ‘They were three in number and their fourth was their dog; some other said they were a group of five and the sixth was their dog; yet some others said they were seven in number and their eighth was their dog.’ Say: ‘My Lord best knows their number; their true number is only known to only a select few. Don’t fall into any serious discussion about them except in very general terms, and don’t ask too many questions about them to any others.’ Some scholars have opined that this verse is about the contingent grace and benediction associated with the companionship of the uber-devout.  Those young men of the Cave were undoubtedly exemplars of devoutness, as they had defied the call to idolatry and in that process had put their own lives on the line.  They had sought refuge in the cave.  Allah Himself says that He had increased them in devoutness.  Then Allah put them to sleep for as long as 309 years.  Allah regales His Prophet with the infectious story of these great people, thereby immortalizing them.  Each time they are referenced by Allah in His Kalam, their humble dog too finds a citation in perpetuity.  This is the honorable citation that companionship—even a largely fortuitous companionship— begets a random straggler.  The point presently is that both Maulana Yusuf and Maulana Umar Palanpuri are orders of magnitude more distinguished in their piety and acceptance with Allah than Naeem Chowdhury.  And yet, Allah chose in His Infinite wisdom to insert him where the illustrious twain made history: in other words, Allah graced Naeem  with the payload of  companionship of the distinguished.  Whereas Maulana Yusuf and Maulana Umar Palanpuri are kindred to the young dervishes of the Cave, Naeem is like their dog.

Raiwind’s first ijtima, 1954

On the morning of Saturday, 6 Sha’ban 1373 H/ 10 April, 1954 CE, Yusuf left Delhi by air for Raiwind via Lahore, reaching Raiwind by the afternoon the same day.  The ijtima, at which Yusuf addressed a large audience on several occasions, coursed through for three days.  On Wednesday 10 Sha’ban, Yusuf came to Lahore, and stayed there for 6 days, making a number of important speeches at various concourses. The first story dates to this six-day period.  On 16 Sha’ban, Yusuf left Lahore for Delhi by air just after mid-day.

This story brings together the ingredients which conjure up a wholesome product, in this case the wholesale seizing of the soul of a capable but highly secularized man of the world and make a true believer out of him for the rest of his life: namely, organized spiritual effort made coherent by decisions taken per mutual consultation (mushwara), visitations, motivational conversations, local-level travel and interactions, all fuelled by soulful and tearful supplications.  The two protagonists in this story were Hadrat-ji Maulana Yusuf Sahab and a brigadier-general in Pakistan Army, Malik Haq Nawaz Khan

Following the anti-Ahmadiyya riots of February, 1953 in which twenty Qadiani people were mobbed and killed largely by Sunni Muslims, the central government of Pakistan had imposed Martial Law and the city of Lahore was placed under the Section 144, a kind of crowd-control mechanism inherited from the law-enforcement code of the British Raj. Section 144 by definition rules out the holding of any assembly of men more than 4 people. Malik Haq Nawaz Khan, a Brigadier and the Commander of the Lahore garrison, was the Martial Law Administrator of the Punjab province. Shafi Qureshi went to see Haq Nawaz Khan, requesting a formal waiver from section 144 for the tablighi concourse at Lahore’s markaz at Bilal Park. Qureshi briefly explained the purpose of tabligh, emphasizing its non-denominational, non-political worldview. Brigadier Khan, who had been trained as a young Gentleman Cadet at the Royal Indian Military Academy at Dehra Dun, India, and subsequently trained in the United Kingdom, was a professional soldier, kept listening to Quraishi’s pitch while maintaining an outwardly stern demeanor. Towards the end of  his pitch, Quraishi requested an waiver for an ijtema to be held at Bilal Park mosque at Bhagbanpura the following day. Haq Nawaz Sahab readily granted the waiver despite his outward officiousness, saying that Qureshi Sahab could take the matter to be settled.  On his way out, Qureshi gently invited the young brigadier to kindly make it convenient to himself come to Bilal Park mosque to hear what could turn out to be an important speech that would be delivered there.  The brigadier said out of a pro forma respect for the elderly gentleman: “Okay, I might come around.”  The following day, Maulana Yusuf had been delivering his speech at Bilal Park when Brigadier Haq Nawaz, wearing civies, in fact did drop by.  From this point, listen to this story from Brigadier Haq Nawaz himself.

But before going any further, how this first-person account by Brigadier Haq Nawaz, later on promoted to Major-General, came to be included in a biography of Hadrat Maulana Yusuf Sahab deserves to be narrated.  This sub-plot casts into a sharp profile how Allah uses History as a handmaiden to add luster to the honor and glory of those of His bondsmen whose memory He wants to be elevated, immortalized.  And He recruits common, sometimes even downright sinful, Muslims as instruments of the preservation of history.  An explanation of the above-mentioned may be in order.  Haq Nawaz Sahab had related this story about his being initiated into tabligh on 12 March 1971 as the Minar Mosque, Mohammadpur, Dhaka, East Pakistan. He had been sent to Dhaka, East Pakistan, as part of a jama’at from Raiwind in early March, 1971, when acute political disturbance had broken out in that province. As it happened, the  author of these lines, Naeem Chowdhury, had himself been in the audience the whole time of that speech by General Haq Nawaz Khan. How Naeem ended up among Haq Nawaz Sahab’s audience that day in Dhaka must be recounted now using broad brushes. He had been studying Economics in the Government College Lahore as an Inter-Wing Scholar, since 1967. He had been introduced to Tabligh in the summer of 1968 by a History major by the name of Syed Maqbool Hossain, a fellow Ravian.  He had spent forty days in the summer of 1969, which is when he came to know Hadrat Haji Abdul Wahab Sahab at Raiwind.  He  then had recently (September, 1970 – January 1971) completed five months of time in khuruj in the then West Pakistan.  He had arrived at Dhaka in late February, 1971, to visit his family after an absence of more than three years. When he heard about this jama’at from Raiwind being in the city, he went for an evening of Islamic motivational speeches by some of the most compelling practitioners of that art. And what a motivational speech this in fact was.  What follows is a first-hand account of the story that General Haq Nawaz had narrated that March 1971 afternoon.  

Haq Nawaz Sahab continues: “When I reached close to the audience, I found that a mullah, sporting a flowing beard, was talking, with everyone hanging by every word from this man.  Now I was not particularly religious at that point.  And I wasn’t particularly deferential towards the mullahs.  So I sat a little away from the audience the way soldiers sit with their knees raised, their arms around the knees.  And I was not paying any particular attention to what the mullah had been saying. My eyes were flitting here and there. Quite an amount of time had elapsed, when suddenly the mullah mouthed the following sentence:  which translates, roughly, as follows: ‘If you people were to be imbued with the true spirit (haqeeqat)  of Islam, then all things of this world would become even less valuable in your eyes than toys of clay.’   I had still been flitting my eyes insouciantly but this sentence, like a guided missile, suddenly hit me and shredded all my insouciance. Indeed, something snapped inside me:  it not only hit me but also deeply penetrated my heart:  I was electrified.  It is almost as if I began hearing a voice saying within me:  ‘I have never heard any mullah say a thing like that before.   This man is special and his speech is really special.   I must pay attention now.’  So I began paying attention.  I sat more properly, assuming the posture of deference in Islam.  The speaker went on elucidating what he had meant by that sentence.   He had a habit of repeating a key subtext twice or thrice in a speech, elucidating it variously each time after repeating it.  In an eerie moment of truth, it seemed to me for a while that the mullah was using sentences and expressing solely for me.   It is almost as if he was speaking to me alone.  By the time his speech over, I had been completely bowled over.  I just could not peel away from the crowd anonymously. I felt a groundswell of emotion rising inside me, lording it over me. I moved forward, presented myself before the mullah.   I was told that this was maulana Yusuf Kandhlawi, the global amir of tabligh.  Qureshi, who was there as well, introduced me to Yusuf, who met me with all kindness.  I was ushered into the quarters where Yusuf had been staying.  He invited me to his other programs, and I was happy to oblige.   That day had since been a watershed for me:  I decided that I too had to mend my ways, and invest quality time and money in achieving the ‘true spirit’ of Islam.  I never went back to my old ways.

General Haq Nawaz Khan changed his life-style quite rapidly.  After sometime, his son, Zahoor Nawaz, was taken out of the track of secular studies and inserted into a purely Islamic stream of studies and grooming.  In 1970, Naeem Chowdhury witnessed him studying at the madrasa at Raiwind tablighi markaz.  Subsequently, maulana Zahoor Nawaz Khan became a martyr in the path of Allah when he died, at a young age,  while striving for Islam in Turkey with a jama’at from Pakistan.  General Haq Nawaz went to scale great heights of sacrifice for Allah and His prophet.  In the late summer (July) of 1975, Naeem Chowdhury saw General Haq Nawaz speaking at a three-day concourse at Coventry, England:  he was leading the first year-long jama’at from Pakistan to travel from England to Makaah al-Mukarrama for Hajj, as much as possible using daily foot-marches across continental Europe.  He was in the late fifties, whereas a couple of his co-travellers on that jama’at—Arif Ahmad from Lahore and maulana Abdul Rahim from Madhol, a Mewati scholar— were almost his son’s age.  The next month, in August, Naeem Chowdhury was in the company of General Haq Nawaz and his jama’at for a couple of hours in the early evening at a camping ground on their way to Dover, the English city on the Channel: Naeem Chowdhury and some other tablighi men had come from London to pay their respects to this heroic jama’at. That would be the last time Naeem Chowdhury would see General Haq Nawaz Saheb in person.  Even to this day, whenever either the name or the face of General Haq Nawaz flits before my mind, I am harkened back to that timeless sentence that Allah had put in the mouth of Yusuf in 1954:  ‘If you people were to be imbued with the true spirit  of Islam, then all things of this world would become even less valuable in your eyes than toys of clay.’ It is eminently credible that Allah had utilized that sentence as the leading-edge of the intiqaal-e-nisbat (the transference of the muse) from Maulana Yusuf Sahab to Haq Nawaz Sahab.  Not a mere turn on an entertainment medium,  discourses before a multitude in tabligh are congregational worships of the greatest potency, where lives of entire generations of Muslims may potentially hang in balance. When Maulana  Yusuf Sahab would speak on stage, Maulana Inam ul Hasan, a consummate expert in the liturgy of ‘zikr’, would often sit behind him on the stage calling Allah by His majestic names and asking Him to shower His mercy on all.


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