A literary giant, social activist and a secular at heart, Dr Asghar Ali Engineer passed away today at 9:30 a.m. in Mumbai.
Born on 30th March 1939 at Salumber to a Dawoodi Bohra family, his father Mulla Qurban Husain was a religious scholar in his own right and though not an alumni of the Bohra religious seminary at Surat, he was appointed Amil of various towns by Late Sayyedna Tahir Saifuddin Saheb, the 51st Dai-ul-Mutlaq of Dawoodi Bohra Community.
Asghar Ali got his basics in Islam from his father who was well versed in Quran, Hadis and Islamic jurisprudence. He learnt Arabic and Persian also from his father and Urdu at Urdu medium schools of Madhya Pradesh. He developed his scholarly pursuits thus, right from his child hood.
As for his formal academic learning he did his schooling at Mandasaur, Devas and Indore. During this period he came in contact with enlightened teachers who were rooted in humanity and secularism-his own most cherished views. There after he completed his BSc in Civil Engineering from Vikram University, Ujjain and started his career as a Civil Engineer in the Municipal Corporation of Greater Bombay (now Mumbai).
His service as an engineer was only a means of lively hood for Asghar Ali. His world views brought him in contact with literary giants and intellectuals and his flare in writing made him a noted writer while in his youth. His pamphlets and articles on various subjects were published in the National print media.
In early seventies he supported the Bohra Reform Movement launched at Udaipur and became its supreme leader. He was instrumental in the establishment of Central Board Of Dawoodi Bohra Community-an umbrella organization of reformist Bohras and remained its General Secretary until 2011 when he was elevated to become its Chair Person.
Along with his other activities Asghar Ali founded the Institute of Islamic Studies in 1980 on the eve of 1400 yrs of Islamic Revolution and in the year 1993 he founded the Centre for the Study of Society and Secularism at Mumbai, both of which made him an international figure. He travelled almost the whole globe as a key speech deliverer on religions, secularism and development of universal brother hood.
Starting with ‘The Bohras’ in 1980 to ‘Anna Hazare Upsurge: A Critical Appraisal’ in 2012 Asghar Ali has 68 published books to his credit. ‘A Living Faith – My Quest for Peace, Harmony and Social Change’ – An autobiography of Asghar Ali Engineer’ was released in New Delhi on 20th July 2011 by Vice President of India Shri Hamid Ansari.
Shri Hamid Ansari praised Dr. Engineer’s courage and his struggle in his own community. He likened him to Espinoza (16th century rationalist philosopher from Holland) and described him as the modern day Espinoz.His popularity, scholarship and perseverance bought for him 18 national and international awards which includes “Right Livelihood Honorary Award (also called the Alternate Nobel Award) for vision and work, Stockholm, Sweden, Dec.2004’ on one hand and ‘Hakim Khan Sur Award by Maharana Mewar Foundation, Udaipur for national integration’ on the other to mention a few.
He was also a member of National Integration at the time of his death. In his death the Bohra Community has lost a great son.