KARACHI: For everyone close to him he was baba, for the rest of the world he was Professor Karrar Hussain, an educationist and a man whose death left Pakistan “poorer in intellectual and academic pursuits.” Born on September 8, 1911, at Kota, Rajasthan, he did his masters in English and Urdu literature from Agra University and had a degree in law. He died on November 7, 1999.
During his student days in India, he played an active part in student unions and had leanings towards the Indian National Congress. He was part of Allama Mashriqi’s Khaksar Movement, which he left together with his long time friend Akhtar Hameed Khan after a difference of opinion on a “fascistic” interpretation of Islam. After breaking away from the movement, the two companions published weekly magazines, ‘Al-Amin’ and ‘Radiance,’ in Urdu and English respectively, to further their cause.
Akhtar Hameed Khan, founder of the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP), and Professor Karrar were as close as any two brothers could be and died a month apart. “I’m half sufi and half communist,” Karrar Hussain would often say. In world affairs he was a communist, in spirituality he was a sufi. In his view, the approach of sufism and Communism towards humanity was the same.
Professor Karrar believed in a progressive view of Islam. He sought an interpretation of religion by understanding the changing realities of the world and felt Islam was too often understood by going back in time. “Truth does not change and reality is always changing. You need insight by which you can find solutions to modern problems while maintaining your religious identity,” his son Taj Haider says of his fathers views. Prof Karrar said that Muslims are too often in denial of their weaknesses. “The West is sinking with their eyes open and you are drowning with your eyes closed,” he said.
Having taught in Sindh and Balochistan, the two provinces always remained close to his heart. In the late 1960s, he was forced to retire by General Musa Khan, then governor of West Pakistan, as Principal of Quetta College. At that time hundreds of students stopped Prof Karrar’s train to Karachi chanting “Give us back our father.” Their father did return to Balochistan later as the first vice-chancellor of Balochistan University in 1973. In his last days, Professor Karrar would talk about how much he owed to the two provinces and asked his children to return the “karz” he had of this land.
Karrar Hussain said in 1947 what unfortunately remains true of Pakistan today. In a letter to his friend and student Intizar Hussain after his arrival to the country, he wrote: “Mujhay lagta hai Pakistan aik zinda laash hai, jissay cheel aur gidh beth kar kha rahain hain.”
A close associate of Karrar Hussain and educationist Anita Ghulam Ali says she knew him since 1965 and they would have a “baithak” everyday. “I used to call him Baba. He was an icon. Anyone who wants to be considered a part of humanity should just follow Baba’s way.”
Published in The Express Tribune, November 7th, 2010.