The Localist

In Memory of a Dear Friend and Colleague

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I disagreed with him more than any other of my colleagues. I called him “Moulana”, meaning Muslim priest, and he called me “Diversity.” I accused him of being a prey to the Talibanized way of thinking, and he accused me of being a victim of Western ideology. Our disagreements ranged from topics such as big bang vs. genesis, human evolution vs. creationism, secular education vs. religious education, through to homosexuality vs heterosexuality. Sometimes, we even discussed God and man; who created whom and whether there existed a single absolute truth or multiple truths that were relative and varied from person to person. As the pluralistic agnosticism and staunch religious beliefs clashed with each other, we received big surprises, and sometimes even terrible shocks.

I would be exaggerating if I claimed that the disagreements were without wounds. Being overwhelmed with our ideas, we occasionally hurt each other’s feelings. But the wounds were soon healed with laughter and left no scars. We disagreed on a thousand issues, yet still we were good friends and colleagues. Mostly we kept the debate academic, civil and decent. We tried not to cut out each other or raise voices. However, sometimes, the rhetoric swept us along. We acknowledged the blessing of education that had given us the strength to tolerate each other as different people.

We continued to disagree with each other as we continued to have meals together. We would go to the office canteen, order food, share it equally and each one of us would try to foot the bill.

After working together for a few months, he got a new job in Afghanistan. His family was still here in Pakistan, and he often came to see them. After he left the Pakistan office, I had the opportunity to meet him twice, both times in a restaurant over lunch. In the spirit of being a decent host, I tried not to stir up our intellectual disagreements. He realized I was avoiding the talk on purpose. He teased and again we started. Everyone else laughed as we argued and teased each other. Both times we had memorable evenings, full of disagreements and laughter.

I was never convinced by his arguments, and nor was he convinced by mine. Yet he maintained his differences with a charming smile on his face. I learned from him how to disagree without losing respect and love for each other. He practised the pluralist spirit without even realising it. I tried to follow the spiritual doctrine of keeping other fellow humans safe from my tongue and hands, without becoming religious.

As I heard of his sudden death in an attack on a guest house in Afghanistan, I could not hold back my tears. I had a very disturbed day and a sleepless night. I was told he was a victim of Taliban assault. I believed he had been much earlier. But I could never imagine he could also be a victim in that most brutal manner of all. I realized how special he was to me and how much I will miss him for his quick wit, charming smile and lovable demeanor. He will always have a place in my heart. He chose to embrace Shahadat (martyrdom) too early. And on this also, I continue to disagree with him!

MEET THE LOCAL: MUHAMMAD AWAB

 

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