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Allama Mashriqi- a great genius

11 July, 2006

By Manzoor H. Kureshi

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"This adage of the 18th century French philosopher can perfectly be fitted on Inayatullah Khan, popularly known in history as Allama Mashriqi, a genius in his own right. Allama Mashriqi was born in a well to do Rajput Muslim family in the year 1888 in Amritsar, a bustling Punjab town in undivided India. His father Atta Muhammad Khan, besides being a man of means, possessed an aura of scholarship. His ancestors held prominent positions in the Mughal Court. Diwan Lal Muhammad Khan, his great grandfather, embraced Islam at the hands of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir in whose court he got a place of significance.


Allama Mashriqi was a precocious child. From a very early age he had a strong passion for mathematics. He received his early education at home, but on entering school his record was simply outstanding. After completing intermediate he was admitted to the celebrated Forman Christian College, Lahore, where he distinguished himself by passing his MA in mathematics, securing first position.

His education record in Cambridge (1912) where he went to study as foundation scholar and wrangler (as bachelor scholar) was equally brilliant. His achieving four ‘triposes’ in mechanical and natural sciences were widely publicized in the London papers. He completed his studies in England when he was 24. On returning to India, he was offered the post of premiership by the Raja of Alvar, a princely State, which he declined as his area of interest was education. Therefore, in 1913 when he was offered the post of Vice-Principal Islamia College Peshawar, Allama Mashriqi immediately accepted the same and served as the youngest Vice-Principal of any college.

The most remarkable trait that Allama possessed, besides his deep interest in scientific knowledge and Islam, were the qualities of leadership and organization. After serving for about 17 years in the education department in different capacities, he launched a movement to transform Muslims into a well-organized and disciplined force along the lines of the army. Thus emerged the militaristic Khaksar movement.

The membership of this Spartan movement went into hundreds of thousands. Amazingly it even attracted a large number of youth from the highly educated and well-to-do class of Muslims from all over the Subcontinent. The Allama, through this movement, intended to bring about a revolution in society by elevating Muslims. Though his real intentions were masked, researchers on the subject suggest his political philosophy was to capture power.

His militancy, however, brought him into direct conflict with the government of the day. As an outcome he suffered a lot of jail sentences and privations. But for the cause he withstood all persecution with resilience and moral fortitude. His followers stood and suffered with him through thick and thin. The religious right detested him because of his radical views about Islam.

The Allama was a towering, charismatic person. He was also a prolific writer. He wrote numerous books and articles, mostly on Islam. In his view, since all the Prophets had brought both knowledge and authority, religion and politics were inseparable. The most prominent of his writings was the Tazkirah, in two volumes. This magnum opus is a tafseer of the Holy Quran, which earned him great repute as the committee for the Nobel Prize nominated it, subject to the condition it was translated into one of the European languages. The Allama, however, declined the suggestion of translation.

In 1926 Allama visited various European countries in order to draw the attention of scientists and scholars to Tazkirah, and the most prominent among them was Albert Einstein with whom he continued to communicate. His chance meeting with Adolph Hitler, whose party was still in an embryonic stage, is stated to have left a deep impact on Allama in forming the Khaksar movement.

When Allama was studying in Cambridge, his teacher was a distinguished 20th century scholar and authority on astronomy,

Professor James Jeans. One day he had a very thought provoking dialogue with Professor James Jeans on his religious conviction. The incident took place one Sunday morning when it was raining profusely. The Allama saw the Professor with an umbrella absentmindedly under his armpit, quickening to the Church. He inquired of the Professor why he was going to the house of worship without opening the umbrella to protect him from the rain.

The Professor replied, “When I introspect about the Universe and the marvellous feats of creation, my whole being trembles in awe at the majesty of the Creator. And when I go to Church and bow before the Lord and say, ‘Lord, how great You are’, I obtain incredible peace and joy from my prayer. So tell me, Inayatullah Khan, now do you understand why I go to Church”?

In answering the question the Professor went on into an inspiring description of the creation of celestial bodies and the astonishing order to which they adhere, the incredible distance over which they travel, and the unfailing regularity which they maintain, their intricate journey through space in their orbit, their mutual attracting and their never wavering from the path chosen for them, no matter how complicated it might be. His eyes were shining with awe and wonder. Trepidation at the thought of God’s all-knowing and all-powerful nature made his hands tremble and his voice falter, the Allama noted.

Sir James Jeans’ words left Allama’s mind spinning. “Sir,” said he, “Your inspiring words have made a deep impression on me. I am reminded of a verse in the Holy Quran which, if I may be allowed, I would like to quote. “Of course,” said Sir James, on which the Allama recited Ayat 27-28 Surah Al-Fatir.

“Hast thou not seen that Allah causeth water to fall from the sky, and We produce therewith fruit of divers hues; and among the mountains there are streaks of various shades of red and white, and jet-black rocks. And men, beasts and cattle have different colours, too. From among his servants, it is the learned that fear God alone. Lo! Allah is Mighty, Forgiving.”

“What was that?” exclaimed Sir James. “It is (about) those alone who have knowledge of God. Wonderful! How extraordinary! It has taken me fifty years continual study and observation to realize this fact. Who taught it to Mohammad (PBUH)? Is this really in the Quran? If so, you can record my testimony that the Quran is an inspired Book. Mohammad (PBUH) was untaught. He could not have learnt this immensely important fact on his own. God must have taught it to him. Incredible!”

However, regardless of great eminence and renown the Allama attained during his life, he was not as successful in his marital affairs. Almost all his five marriages ended in separation save one. In his last days Allama Mashriqi, the paragon of steadfastness and virtue, suffered serious health problems and finally passed away on August 23, 1963, at the age of 75."

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