The ‘learned’ minister and the great Dr Leitner

By Majid Sheikh

Dawn, Aug 30, 2013

When the Almighty uttered the very first words to our Holy Prophet (PBUH), it began with the word ‘Iqra’. In classic Arabic the word ‘Iqra’ means “to search, to research, to learn, to read, and to attain a higher understanding”. I quote this meaning from ‘Lisan al’arab’, the classic Arabic dictionary, a copy of which, I think, the Punjab Assembly library should have.

On Tuesday, there was an attempt to honour the man who founded the famous Government College, Lahore, the Punjab University, Lahore, and the Oriental College, Lahore. This great man, Dr Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner, M.A., Ph.D., L.L.D., D.O.L. (1840–1899), set about laying the foundations of modern education in Lahore, and the Punjab in particular. Our government colleges and our central model schools all flowed from the foundations he laid.

But then his research into education in Punjab remains an unrivalled classic. But even greater were the real results that he produced in the form of our greatest educational institutions. Today all of us, including the honourable Rana Sanaullah Khan of Faisalabad, have been educated in institutions founded by, or because of, Dr Leitner. “We are how we treat our teachers” says a Hadith.

Just a few words about Dr Leitner that might wake up the learned Rana Sahib. At the age of 19 Leitner was appointed as a lecturer of Arabic, Turkish and Greek at King’s College, London. By the age of 23 he was appointed as a professor of Muslim Law and Arabic at the same college. He fluently spoke and wrote 50 languages and dialects, and to top it all he could, thanks to his experience of working in Turkey, recite the Holy Quran by memory. Among his many publications is ‘History of Islam’, a book I would highly recommend to Rana Sahib.

On retirement Dr Leitner returned to England at the end of the 19th century, only to establish, mind you with his own money, the famous Woking Mosque and Islamic Research Centre, an establishment that for the first time introduced serious research on matters Islamic and Oriental. The sheer span of his contribution, given its time and age, has never been equaled.

A simple resolution was tabled as a Private Member’s Bill by a rare bird in the Nawaz flock who wanted to rename Kutchery Road as Leitner Road out of sheer respect to this great man. The resolution was mocked and rejected. A ‘pious’ Islamic member of the assembly roared: “We cannot have un-Islamic names to our roads”. The Punjab law minister immediately agreed and went livid, added his own spicy description of “this Hungarian called Leitner”. His view, as his speech on the floor of the house mentioned, was that the man, Leitner, did not understand “our Islamic ethos”. Imagine!In my humble view what the very learned Punjab Assembly did was quite the opposite of what the Almighty has ordained on us Muslims, which is to seek knowledge. The Jamaat-e-Islami opposed Pakistan’s creation and now they are opposing honouring the man who built the famous Woking Mosque in England to research Islam and the cultures of the Orient.

I feel sad for the Jamaat-e-Islami, which once was immensely respected all over the world for its scholarship and research on Islam. That they once opposed Pakistan on what can be said to be ‘reasonable’ grounds is understandable. One should not hold that against them. It was a reasonable stand given its time. But once they went political, forgot all about ‘Iqra’ and the promotion of scholarship, they simply lost track and direction. The famous Maudoodi, certainly a great Islamic thinker of our times, writes: “If we just spent our life understanding what ‘Iqra’ means, we certainly are on the right path”. How can one disagree?

Just one last fact to further educate the learned Punjab Assembly members a wee bit. On the grave of Dr Leitner is inscribed the words: “Al-‘ilmu khayrum min al-maali”. I suppose such words do not interest the pious Rana or his religious backers. On top of his tombstone are written the words: “The Learned are Honoured in their Work”. Need more be said? A sadder day Lahore has yet to see.

But then all is not lost. Let Punjab Chief Minister Mr Shahbaz Sharif, a man who has also studied at the Government College, Lahore, table another resolution in the assembly to honour the great man – one of the greatest linguists that ever lived, certainly the greatest educationalist to work for Lahore and the Punjab, and definitely an outstanding researcher of the Orient. Forget the great man Mr Sharif, at least honour his work.




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