By Maqbool Ahmed Siraj
Death of Janab Dr. Abidullah Ghazi in the wee hours of Sunday April 11, in Chicago, should sadden us all. A restless soul, he has ultimately found peace in death. Ghazi sab would go down in the annals of Islam as a marathoner who dedicated his life to create a vast and rich corpus of textbook Islam in English for the children born or raised in families migrated to or settled in the western hemisphere. It was no easy task. For migrants or new settlers, livelihood concerns are first and foremost and override all other assignments. But Dr. Abidullah Ghazi thought about the next generation and invested all his time, talent, energy, insight, zeal and may be resources, to put in place a vast library of textbooks for children to learn Islam in an ambience where rationality challenged every bit of religion, status quo and credos of faith.
He and his wife Tasneema Ghazi founded the Iqra International Educational Foundation at Chicago and produced over the last (probably) 40 years around 150 books, all scientifically designed for children growing away from the traditional trappings of Islam or Muslims. Coming as he did from a family of Islamic scholars, Dr. Ghazi carried the torch of Islamic enlightenment to the West. People having Harvard doctorates would have looked for pastures for personal enrichment. But not Dr. Ghazi. He was a live dynamo spewing energy every moment to propel forward the mission of salvaging the next generation of Muslims in the West. It was no small feat to gather talents, combine them for a cause and impart them a direction.
The textbooks the Foundation produced under the couple’s stewardship were meticulously written in language carefully graded as per the age and and were field-tested by expert educators, evaluators and scholars. The coverage was comprehensive, embracing aspects of faith, practices, culture and other manifestation of religion in human lives. Alive to the stranglehold of orthodoxy and possibly criticism, the visuals were minimal in the early stages but got bigger, better and more appealing to the children’s pysche in later stages. Workbooks accompanied Textbooks as the serious academics ought to have. Stories about the Prophets, Sahabis, others based on Islamic culture added more flavour to the curriculum as the work of the Foundation proceeded.
I met Dr. Abidullah Ghazi in Delhi in 1991 in Zakir Bagh from where we ran a news and feature agency called FANA for eight years (1988-1996). He was visiting Delhi and staying with some relatives in an apartment in the twin-towers of colony facing the Hotel Sofitel Suriya. He came off as a whiff of fresh breeze, not burdened with any despondency, He carried the spark of new enlightenment and a promise to keep the torch of faith burning against the gusts of hostile winds. Children and the next generation was central to his scheme and what better promise than passing on the baton to the next generation.
Following my return to Bangalore he visited the city twice in 2000 and (not very sure )2014. The first visit coincided with kidnapping of Kannada matinee idol Rajkumar (regional cinema’s most popular icon) on July 28, 2000. The city was in throes of confusion with regional sentiments on boil and shops downing the shutters. Yet we were successful in arranging an interaction with leading lights of the city to introduce the work and textbooks of Dr. Ghazi. He was accompanied by Dr. Tasneema, brother Salman Ghazi and his wife Uzma Naheed, the regional director of Iqra programmes in India. My wife (Ayesha) took up the distribution in the State which by then had a vast retinue of English medium schools run by Muslims. Second time, it was in 2014 when he was here for business contacts with an Infotech company which was digitizing the entire curriculum so assiduously prepared by the couple and the team. Between the twin visits to our city, I had a chance meeting with him in Chicago at the ISNA annual conference July Ist to 4th, 2011 at the Iqra.org book stall. He could put me across several prominent people working under him and those interested in promoting his work.
In his death, we have lost a legendary figure who single-mindedly devoted his life for a cause, something most desis in the West may not afford to pursue. Writing for children for an eminent scholar is no easy task. One has to come several notches down to figure out the child’s psyche, needs and capacity to absorb. In an interview with me, he had observed: “It is not easy for one to relate the story of Prophet Hazrath Yusuf alayhis salam to a child. A part of the story has to be set aside for a stage when he grows us.” He had several such instances to amplify the scope of the work for a Muslim child in the West.
In his passing away, the community has been deprived of a scholar who knew the urges of the age, the society and the vast challenges the Muslim face in both retaining their faith and explaining it to others. May his soul rest in peace. Ameen!