In the social media driven literary stardom, Mushtaq ul Haq Ahmad Sikandar remains a mild man-of-letters from mountains. His unassuming pile of paperwork might be speaking for his decadal toil as another prodigious penman from the valley, but his activism equally makes him the face of seminars and conferences.
In a candid chat with Mountain Ink, Sikandar talks about his latest literary take on Bazaz, his research on Mawdudi and his flair for activism.
As someone who recently edited four volumes of essays and articles of Prem Nath Bazaz, what’s your take on Bazaz’s Kashmir ideology?
Well, during his lifetime, Prem Nath Bazaz’s ideology witnessed quite an evolution. Earlier he strived for accession to Pakistan, then for some time, he advocated the idea of an Independent Kashmir and later he was disturbed with the rise of communalism in India, but believed that J&K should enjoy complete autonomy within the Indian dominion.
He mostly wrote in English and his articles, books, monographs and journalistic pieces remain an important source for construction of political history and events taking place between 1930 and 1980.
Except for his books, many of Bazaz’s writings were scattered and published in the form of booklets and pamphlets that had been unavailable to the readers. So I compiled, edited, wrote footnotes and Introduction to these works.
Since you’ve also translated some books, why you felt they should be translated to reach the wider audience?
We as Kashmiris have inherited a literary culture, not an analytical one. We boast about having the documented history of more than five thousand years, still we have very little archives and books written by native Kashmiris.
In vernacular Urdu, there have been few writings related to contemporary history but that is quite inaccessible to people, as very few among the new generation do read Urdu.
When I read these books, I found them useful and worth a translation. Being written originally in Urdu, they had a limited audience and I intended to make them available globally.
So with these concerns, I started translating these works during my high school days itself.
As a college-goer, I translated Prof Hamid Naseem Rafiabadi’s book Nazool e Quran (The revelation of Quran), Kaleem ullah Khan’s book, Asaan Hajj (Hajj Facilitated), and recently Rashid Shaz’s Purdah (Unveiling the Islamic Veil).
How did your literary journey begin?
I got hooked to reading books due to my mother who used to read out to me. Later, my tutor late Fayaz Ahmad Hashmi from Rainawari boosted my literary prowess. As a bibliophile, he had a personal collection spanning thousands of tomes. He allowed me to borrow some books from his collection. I used to study children books and novels with my classmate, Faheem-ud-Din.
Among the books, the famous five series by Enid Blyton was my all-time favourite. I also read the adventures of Tom Sawyer, Heidi, Alif Laila. Besides that Tinkle magazine was my all-time favourite. I still relish if I can lay my hands on it. Reading experience was something very different and personal for me.
Your MPhil thesis was about Mawlana Mawdudi. Tell us something about it?
Mawlana Abul Ala Mawdudi is the pioneering ideologue of what is academically known as Political Islam or project of Islamism.
Since my high school days, I’ve been reading Mawlana Mawdudi, a very prolific writer, who still continues to influence generations of Muslims. It is his articulation and understanding of Islam that is prevalent today among Muslims or it is a reaction against it.
Further to give practical and pragmatic execution to this understanding of Islam, he established a transnational Islamic revivalist movement known as Jamaat-e-Islami.
But there is a lot of confusion about his thoughts, viewpoints and a state that he envisioned.
So I was interested in understanding his concept of Islamic State. It is this concept that has been romanticized and criticized by Muslims for the last two centuries so I wrote my thesis about it.
You’ve been invited to many different states and countries to present your papers, ideas and opinions. Tell us about your travel experience.
I was invited as a paper presenter for the first time in 2009 at an international conference held in Delhi. I had very little experience of travelling outside the state, so my father accompanied me. Since then, I’ve attended numerous conferences, workshops and training within and outside India.
I’m always ready for travelling when it comes to academic conferences and education. I believe that conferences make a ready man. Travelling has always been a fulfilling experience for me.
Apart from being a reader, writer and orator, you are also an activist? What is activism for you?
Karl Marx observed that “Philosophers have defined the world, now it is time to change it.” Maulana Muhammad Yusuf known as Hazratji was asked why he did not write books, he stated, “I will pen them down sitting while readers will read them lying on their backs.”
So reading, writing, speaking are noble pursuits but unless the lofty ideals are not implemented through vigorous activism, they remain non-pragmatic. So activism is essential for remaining grounded instead of being confined to ivory towers of philosophers.
But activism is not a discipline that has basic foundations, it is quite fluid and one can start activism at any age, when one feels that reading and writing does not change much on the ground. All movements start with an ideology but the execution is done by the activists on the ground.
I’ve been involved in social, philanthropic and vernacular language activism. This type of activism does ruffle feathers. But that is a part of the activism; every type of public activity has consequences, if one is not ready to bear them, then as Steve Jobs says, “Sell Ice cream.”
You have also written a book on Madrasas. What is it about?
I was invited by Dr Rashid Shaz, when he became the founding Director of Bridge Course started by Aligarh Muslim University for madrasa students. I did carry out a survey regarding the response of the Bridge course among madrasa administrators and students. It was a pan-India survey and the report has been published and is available under the title, “Bridging the Divide: Rise of a New Dawn.”
As someone you’ve written more than 400 pieces of write-ups including articles, opinions, essays, book reviews, research papers and more, where do you see the reading culture in Kashmir heading?
I am quite optimistic that despite the decline of reading culture all over the world, youth in Kashmir are bracing up for reading.
Further, a new crop of indigenous writers is documenting their stories and each day we witness that a local author is getting published. So we are staring at a bright future.
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Muhammad Nadeem is a reader and writes about what he reads. Among his writings are reviews, poetry, and short stories. He also works with translation and criticism, and has previously been published in Prachya Review, Cafe Dissensus Magazine, Kashmir Lit, Sheeraza, Inverse Journal, AGNI, Poet Lore, 32 Poems, Jaggery Lit among other literary magazines and journals. His poems have been translated and published in several anthologies. His reading interests are diverse, and he has reviewed hundreds of books for literary publications. He is also a former editor of the Mountain Ink.