A role model of the sort to be emulated

By Dr. Ausaf Ahmad

[Dr. Ausaf Ahmad was writing his memoirs titled, “A Wasted Life [Memoirs of Another Unknown Indian].” This work remained incomplete as his death came along. However, he had shared its written chapters with his friends. Dr. Ausaf’s memoir of Professor Mohammad Nejatullah Siddiqi, part of chapter seven of the work, is published here]

It was in Aligarh that I made certain acquaintances that lasted me for a life time. The first and foremost among them is Professor Mohammad Nejatullah Siddiqi. In fact, I knew Professor Siddiqi much before I joined the academic profession or came to Aligarh. When I was in Lucknow and working as an Urdu journalist with the weekly Nida-e-Millat, the monthly Zindagi was then serialising Nejatullah Siddiqi’s book on interest-free banking. I had read some of his papers published in Zindagi with interest. I was familiar with his name since then though I had no chance of meeting him before coming to Aligarh. My actual meeting with him had to wait till I had joined the Department of Economics.

There is a tradition in most institutions that the newly recruited staff member is given a tour of the Department and is introduced to persons already working there. That is how I was taken to Professor Siddiqi and introduced to him. I remember him sitting in the chair and writing something. He gave me a welcome smile while I was introduced to him as I got confirmation from him about his serial in Zindagi. He confirmed that he was the author. He was pleased to know that I knew him through his writings. He asked me whether I was interested in the subject. I told him that interest-free banking was a challenging and interesting subject. I am interested in it as a professional challenge as well as a challenge for economic policymakers of Muslim countries.

My contacts and relationships with Professor Siddiqi grew over time. Of course, I saw him every day in the Department. But these contacts were not confined only to the Department. He used to live in Badar Bagh locality which is near the University market, called Shamshad Market. The area was adjacent to the university campus. Many university teachers used to live there. Our relationship became stronger and deeper soon. Nejatullah had started his writing career by writing short stories in Urdu. So had I. Therefore, the love of literature was the first and foremost common factor binding us. My room was at a stone’s throw from the residence of Prof. Siddiqi.

There was a large unused field in front of his house. Prof.  Siddiqi used to take a stroll between the Asr and Maghrib prayers. I could see from the window of my room Prof. Siddiqi coming out of his house and having a walk. Very often, I would join him in his strolls. This was the best time I had with him as there were no interruptions. We used to discuss all topics under the sun. One thing I admired about him was that his was not a single-track mind. On a great number of issues, his position was a lot more open than usually people would think. At many times, he would accept your position if he saw that reason is with you even if it was diametrically opposed to his original position.

Prof. Siddiqi’s personal life is an epitome of real Islamic life. He believes in leading by example. Therefore, whatever principles he would like to preach, first he would like to experiment it on himself. If successful, there hardly remains any need for preaching as the example set by him is enough for this. I wish to prove this point by citing certain examples as follows:

Prof. Siddiqi is a strong disciplinarian and like all disciplinarians, he also exhibits the traits of strong will and determination. His strong will was nowhere manifested better than in his decision to quit smoking. Once upon a time he was a heavy smoker. At the behest of Dr. Muhammad Anas Zarka, his friend and colleague at King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah, he decided to quit smoking. He adopted a policy of progressive reduction of number of cigarettes smoked every day. Once during the process of quitting he told me that he does not smoke a cigarette before afternoon. Soon he settled for one cigarette a day. Once during this period, he contacted me for a cigarette. It was sort of late at night, may be past eleven or so that he came to my room. We were staying in some hotel in a foreign country. I remember telling him, “When you have succeeded in bringing it down to one cigarette a day, why don’t you make a last-ditch effort and quit it altogether?” His response was: “It is a fifty-year old habit. It will go away only slowly.” And it went away for sure. Some other smokers vouch that quitting all of a sudden was more effective in their cases. Their argument is this: So long your lips are aware of the taste of smoke, it is difficult to quit. Thus, all of a sudden approach is more effective than the gradualist approach. Apparently, Nejatullah had opted for a more difficult path and succeeded in it because of his strong will and determination.

Another manifestation of his strong will-power and determination was his concern for health. He has managed his health better than all his contemporaries. He eats his food at specific times and does not eat anything else in between, even if mann were coming from the sky.

He observes his daily routine very religiously. For instance, his afternoon siesta time is fixed. It cannot be changed for any reason. He guards it so carefully and so religiously that his friends made a joke about it that if by any chance the Angel of Death, Izrael, knocked at his door during his siesta hour, he would turn him away.

Prof. Siddiqi had his share of sense of humour also. I recall that a colleague in the Department of Economics could not distinguish between fiscal and physical was under discussion. Somehow, I made some harsh remarks about his stock of knowledge. Dr. Nejatullah did not like my remark and reprimanded me, saying: “Do not say anything against him. He is an innocent person.” Raising my voice, I said: “What kind of innocence is this? Shall we tolerate these things in a University?” He smiled, paused for a second, and then said: “He is innocent in academic matters too [Ilm mein bhi masoom hain!].”

One evening we were sitting in our apartment in Jeddah, that the doorbell rang, I was surprised to see Prof. Siddiqi on the door, along with his family. They were welcomed into the house. Before he made himself comfortable, he said to me, “Here are very few people left in Jeddah where one could go with his family, on the spur of a moment, unplanned and unannounced. For me you are one of those persons.”

All these characteristics have made him a very desirable person indeed, a role model of the sort to be emulated.

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