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Islam and Pluralism ( 21 Aug 2008, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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My friend Yusuf: an example of unmistakable religious tolerance when Jammu & Kashmir is in flames

Hiranmay Karlekar


He was an example in our troubled times


My friend Mohammad Yusuf Khan left for the hereafter on August 9. The last time we talked, it was on the telephone in September last year. I told him that I was going to disappear to finish my book on the study of human aggression in the mirror of our savagery toward stray dogs and would call him as soon as I had finished. I did precisely that in July, only to learn from his daughter Anisa, who responded on his cell phone, that he was very ill. As she broke down, I was overcome with a feeling of foreboding. On August 10, his son, Mansur, gave me the terrible news.


I met Yusuf in 1990, when I was at the Indian Express, and in charge of its editorial page. He had brought a 'middle' which he wanted published. It was one of those rare days when I had time on my hands. So I asked him to sit down and began reading, racing to the end in one breath.


Yusuf, who retired from the Indian Air Force as a Wing Commander, was a Flight-Lieutenant during the India-Pakistan war in 1971. Flying a Canberra bomber, he was a part of the squadron that had destroyed the radar at Pakistan Air Force's critical base at Sargodha. Furious, PAF interceptor-fighters had come in relentless pursuit, following Yusuf's plane to Agra, where his squadron was based, and strafing the runway as he landed.


The plane was severely damaged, and it was a miracle that he survived. The next day, the word went round in parts of Agra that a Muslim IAF pilot had guided PAF jets to the city!


Yusuf asked as I finished reading, "Would you publish it?" His quiet dignity and the clear stamp of honesty on his face, told me that the incident had happened. There was another reason why I thought so. In 1985, Ram Nath Goenka, the legendary proprietor of the Indian Express, had sent me to Ahmedabad to take charge of the paper's office there, which had been attacked by a rampaging mob during the vicious communal riots of that year, and which had escaped destruction thanks to a last minute appearance of an Army patrol.


I had heard people say barely after I had stepped out of the Ahmedabad airport that one Major Karim, heading the Army unit deployed in the city, was actively supporting Muslims! I soon found out that it was not 'one Major Karim' but Maj-Gen Afsir Karim, now a distinguished authority on national security, who was heading the Army formation in the city, and whose firm and absolutely impartial handling was rapidly bringing the situation back to normal. Yet, I wanted to be doubly sure and said, "Please call me tomorrow. I'll let you know". I talked to a friend who knew several IAF officers based in Agra at the time. He confirmed that the incident had occurred and that the other IAF officers were furious about the canard about Yusuf.


I sent the piece down for publishing, and left for Kolkata (my hometown). Yusuf called me a couple of weeks after my return and told me that the piece had not been published. I checked; it had been lost. I requested him to bring the carbon copy. When it was published, he told me, "Frankly, I did not think you would carry it".


We became friends after that. Later, while writing my book on Bangladesh, I checked with him almost every reference to matters pertaining to Islam. He was deeply religious, steeped in the finest tradition of his religion and remarkably knowledgeable about it.


What has always struck me, his experience in 1971 did not embitter him because, as he said, while some Hindus spread the canard, others stood solidly by him. Against intolerance of all kinds and a patriot to his marrows, he became a fluent writer who strongly condemned both terrorism and fundamentalism. I will miss a dear friend.


The country will miss a brave man who did not let vicious slander lose his perspective and who was a living example of how deep religiosity could go with unshakeable religious tolerance -- an example of unmistakable relevance when Jammu & Kashmir is in flames.


Source: The Pioneer, New Delhi