Naeem Akhtar Writes Open Letter To Syed Ali Shah Geelani

Two parables and a condemned man

Mukarrami Geelani Saheb

A few weeks back a prominent militant organization publicly urged you to permit them to take action against those who are hurting the ‘tehreek’. Sometime later the organization actually issued a threat against me for ‘trying to open the schools’. This was followed, ironically only a day after I advised my audience of teachers to read your autobiography to understand the importance of education in the context of your personal struggle for it, you along with other leading lights of the ‘tehreek’ issued a statement justifying the action threatened earlier. A Mir Ja’afar, as I was supposed to be, obviously had to be punished. The verdict has openly gone out and the sentence is pronounced. The case is decided. An attempt to open schools, as you too mentioned in your charge sheet will go down as the newest crime in the land of Sheikhul Alam, Lal Ded and Sheikh Hamza punishable by death. And I plead guilty to having the belief that whatever our political future, it will have meaning only if our children receive education and are able to engage with the world on their terms.
I believe that we are caught in a big situation and its complexities are nowhere near a solution. Education is one sector that can enable us to navigate through the storm. Nothing else will.
Please don’t mistake this letter as a plea for clemency. Addition of one insignificant grave to thousands of the victims of violence will hardly matter. This place could survive the murder of the likes of Moulana Farooq, Abdul Ghani Lone, Moulana Masoodi, Dr Guru, Dr Farooq Ashai, Dr Wani, Jaleel Andrabi and countless others falling victim to guns of all description. Sadly it still is on. And I don’t count myself as in any way important enough even to be mourned. If I die one of these days or am killed I know my family might find it difficult even to get a burial place for me, for your condemnation comes with more than a death warrant. It carries a stigma. Still I would neither apologize nor explain or seek clemency.
I believe in the same God and profess the same faith as you do. Who can teach you the Quranic verdict of the timing of death being unalterable? It will come when it has to, for me, you and everybody. But I may remind you of a lesson that you taught me more than three decades back. It is an anecdote you have recorded in one of your books and therefore part of our history.

I had accompanied the legendary director General of Police, Peer Ghulam Hassan Shah sahib to look you up in the SMGS hospital Jammu when you were under detention. Understandably, you did not record my presence in your narration. But for the readers of this letter I’m trying to reproduce the conversation. Peer sahib had told you it’s all destined and from God when you complained about your detention. You narrated a parable to him which got etched in my memory. “A hermit stayed under a tree in a village. He would just repeat one sentence continually; jo karega Khuda karega. A mischievous person came from the rear and slapped the hermit. He turned his head around asking who it is. The person said why you are looking around as according to you it is God who does everything. The sage replied; I know it is God who did it but I was just finding out who blackened his face in the process.” For once I found Peer sahib at a loss for words.
Respected Geelani sahib I committed this story not just to my memory but my character as well. I wonder whether you remember it.
Why I feel education should be kept out of any discord flows not just from the common sense and cumulative wisdom of human race but also from the fact of Prophet (SAWS) organizing teaching classes of his Muslim companions in the immediate aftermath of the battle of Badr. I can’t be informing you, sir but it is worth repetition for the readers that the non believing Meccan prisoners who could read and write were released just for teaching the Muslims. They would obviously not be teaching them Islam. Education is one thing that we need for political, economic and social empowerment. Mankind is yet to invent an alternative to that.
In that context it looks sinister that while there is a hue and cry about everything, no one is able to speak about the nearly 2 million students missing their one year. We invent reasons for and against every imaginable situation but schools is nobody’s business, especially after you decided to make an example out of me. But I would beseech you to kindly go 75 years back in time and imagine yourself in place of the teenagers for whom you had set such a great example of personal struggle from Sopore to Lahore. I’m quoting another earthy parable to end this submission. As you know sir I am from a peer family like you. My uncle was a practicing peer and highly respected. He would lead the prayers in the Masjid built on the periphery of our premises.
Afzal Mir would never turn up for Nimaz. No one had spotted him near the mosque ever. One day when my uncle entered the mosque he was sweetly surprised to see Afzal making loud supplication. But soon he turned to him tersely reprimanding Afzal for the sole item on his wish list. He was invoking Allah for sending him a daand- a bull. “Is this what you came to the mosque for? How can you pray for a bull?” My uncle was furious. Afzal very tamely asked; what should I ask for, Peer sahib? Pray for Eemaan, Peer sahib advised. Afzal very innocently replied: But peer sahib I have got eemaan, that’s why I am praying for a bull which I don’t have. You ask for eemaan if you don’t have that.
Sir I am praying for education for we don’t have it though we do well in most other fields. Among 34 states of India we are at 33. Can’t we have a modest but more achievable target as a Muslim majority state to convert the wish of our Prophet (SAWS) to become number one by implementing his command: Seeking knowledge is the duty of every Muslim man and woman? Can we with our present performance card face Him on the day of reckoning, you Jenab Geelani sahib as the David in the present equation and me as the Goliath, you as the angel of Azadi and me as the devil of subjugation? I believe the goal can be achieved while you keep your mission statement intact.
I wish every child of Kashmir outperforms my children who are very well placed in life. Education saved them and many others from the fate of Insha and Junaid. It has this ability to keep people out of harm’s way like all of us, politicians, leaders, preachers, professionals, officers, journalists, writers, businessmen et al.
I am sure if I meet you again in life you would show the same affection that you always displayed towards me. I still feel the warmth of your kisses on my forehead whenever we met and truly believe my assassin would have to target some other part of my body for my forehead bears a love mark planted by you.

My best Wishes to Nayeem sahib and Naseem sahib. Hope they are well

With Respectful regards

Naeem Akhtar