Wide Angle View By MOHD. ZEYAUL HAQUE (FEB. 17, 2007)

Wide Angle View
Aks, Zawiye aur Khutoot (Urdu)
By Prof. Ausaf Ahmad
Pages: 463
Price: Rs 400
Modern Publishing House
New Delhi

Prof. Ausaf Ahmad’s latest book revives the tradition of formidably learned intellectuals holding forth on a diverse range of topics

One academic writing for another academic is quite common, but an academic writing for lay readership is a rare phenomenon. Still rarer is the two-in-one type that writes for fellow academics and then (separately) for non-specialists. Prof. Ausaf Ahmad, an economist of substantial merit, is that rarest of the rare creature who straddles the mutually exclusive (and often hostile) worlds of specialists and common folk (among whom there could by quite a few specialists of fields other than economics).

For all practical purposes, much of Prof. Ahmad’s work over the last three decades could be defined as "developmental economics". With a PhD degree from the prestigious University of Northern Illinois and teaching experience in Indian universities, he moved on to the Islamic Development Bank in Jeddah in the mid 80s from where he retired earlier this year as a senior economist. That adds another dimension to his attainments: he is also a specialist in the development issues of post-colonial, Afro-Asian Muslim world.

Such formidable credentials in economics notwithstanding, much of the writing in the present book consists of religion, fiction, literary criticism, letter and, of course, economics. And on all those diverse subjects he has something interesting (sometimes startling) to say.

Quite appropriately, the book begins with a brief appraisal of facets of the Prophet’s (PBUH) life in terms of contemporary scholarship. The prophet, who himself was unlettered, advocated relentless pursuit of knowledge. Prof. Ahmad argues that acquisition of knowledge is mandatory for Muslims and quotes the exegesis of the Quran by Maulana Abul Aala Mawdoodi in support of his argument.

Admittedly, there is never a dull moment in this 463-page book, but sometimes he leaves you wondering. He cites the interpretation of the first word of the first revelation in the Quran (Quran itself means something to be read) which, in fact, was a Divine Commandment to the prophet sent through Archangel Gabriel (Jibrael). The Command was, Iqra -- read.

The traditional Muslim understanding is that only religious learning is mandatory in Islam. However, the learned professor thinks that it encompasses learning as such, both religious and secular. He substantiates it with impeccable reasoning and unimpeachable facts.

Professor Ahmad does some dabbling with literary criticism also, and carries it away with elan. In that exercise he drags a literary dictator through dirt for making contradictory observations on Ghalib. Quoting one of the observations of the man, he turns around and asks innocently, "but what happened of your earlier remark on the subject?" Or, something to the effect.

There are some extraordinarily profound observations in the section on literary criticism. One such remark concerns Iqbaliyaat  (Iqbal Studies). Prof. Ahmad says that in the large body of Iqbaliyaat  there is very little that has anything to do with Iqbal’s poetics. Virtually all of it is about his philosophy, political stance, religious convictions and cultural preferences.

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad’s prose writing has also been brought under the scanner. Happily, the maulana’s majestic prose (and the grand style specially crafted for the cognoscenti) passes muster with Prof. Ahmad. Frankly, one begins the piece on the good maulana with some trepidation, fearing that the fastidious professor would at some point brush aside his writings dismissively, calling it abstruse and pedantic. Thank God, the maulana comes out unscathed at the end of it.

Prof. Ahmad is less magisterial, far more warm and self-effacing in his letters which, in a way, constitute some of the "features of genuine countenances" of our times. All said, this book makes interesting reading.


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