I don’t feel like writing anything about my dear friend Prof Waris Mir. He shouldn’t have died just yet. He deceived me by dying so early. I am angry with him. He didn’t show any sign of his imminent death till the very last moment. He lived a life of strength to the very end. Just a day before his death, I met him on the stairs of the daily Jang. He had an essay in his hand. His face was pale and he was out of breath. But there was fury in his eyes. He told me he wasn’t feeling well and hadn’t been able to sleep all night; that he didn’t even have the strength to write anything with his own hands so he had dictated the essay to his son.
I knew he was a restless man. He felt things strongly and didn’t calm down until he had written it out. He was respected throughout Pakistan and people read everything he wrote because he wrote only after conducting thorough and complete research. But what matter was so pressing that he had to write about it even in this condition, I asked him. Breathing heavily, he said: “You must have read it in yesterday’s papers. Ziaul Haq has compared intellectuals with salinity and waterlogging in soil. I thought this must be replied to immediately. So despite the fact that my stomach is sore and I can’t even sit, I have replied to it. I want to settle this score before I die.”
“When you get done with this essay, please go and see a doctor. You don’t look well,” I said. “But why talk of death, Waris Mir?” “I have consulted a hakeem. He has given me a few small packets of medicine. God willing, I’ll get better by tomorrow. But death will eventually come, won’t it?” he replied. By the next day, he was perfectly fine. There was no problem with his stomach. His breath was no longer heavy, because he had died. Mir’s friend from the Philosophy Department of the Punjab University Lahore, Professor Dr Mohammad Usman, had passed away just a week before and Mir had a feeling that it was his turn now [although he was barely 48 at that time]. Unconsciously, he knew that he couldn’t defeat martial law, but he couldn’t bear to live with it any longer. Death was his only salvation.
He was the head of an innocent little family. He had taught his children to live a life of honesty and truth. His wife, his four sons and the only daughter were gifted with the wealth of patience and resilience. He himself was a mujahid of the classical times. He fought for universal and eternal truths. He loved Pakistan to death and spoke for a revolutionary Islam. But martial law had jeopardized everything he believed in. In a bid to dissuade Waris Mir from opposing the Shariat Bill and raising his voice for the women rights, the leadership of the Jamaat-e-Islami, which was hand in glove with General Ziaul Haq at that time, finally framed one of his sons [Faisal Mir] in a murder case, even though the child was present in class at the time of murder. He was marked as present in the attendance register and his professor and class fellows were willing to testify to his presence.
However, under the Zia regime, the Jamaat-e-Islami had wide authority, through its student wing Islami Jamiat Tulaba [which used to rule the roost in Punjab University which at that time was described as mini Mansoora by many], to murder anyone or frame someone in a murder case if it so wished. The police knew the truth but didn’t want to risk displeasing the Jamaat. [The mastermind behind the murder case was Jamaat’s MNA who wanted Waris Mir to visit Mansoora and give an assurance to Mian Tufail Mohammad that he would neither oppose the Shariat Bill nor criticise the Jamaat for siding with the Zia regime]. In return, he was told that the Jamaat would arrange for his son’s release and acquittal in the fabricated murder case. But Waris Mir rejected this offer, which for him meant killing his conscience, vowing not to think or feel, and giving up writing.
Prof Waris Mir was an extremely honest and sincere intellectual. Almost a decade before his death, he was a conservative Muslim who believed in religious rituals. He was opposed to modernism and deemed progressivism to be an enemy of Islam. He hated communists to death. He debated and fought over these issues. But one thing was for sure – he was an honest man. When faced with a question that his conservative intellect could not answer, he would become silent instead of stubbornly defending his stance. Wrinkles would appear on his forehead and he would pay close attention to his opponent’s argument.
Even with regards to the Afghan jehad, he would become anxious whenever I pointed out to him that a CIA-funded war is not jehad but a nationalist war. He would then ask various questions, almost like an innocent child. He was a student despite being a scholar. The first couple of years after the beginning of the Afghan war were extremely agonising for Waris Mir. He was beginning to realise that what he had believed to be an incontrovertible truth was not in fact so. He realised that Islam and Islamic society must change with changing times and that ijtehad was indispensable. He also acknowledged the reality of the Afghan war. It was a war of American interests but the Russian invasion was also unjustifiable. The war had jeopardised Pakistan’s security but it was also reinforcing Ziaul Haq’s dictatorship and the power of bigoted molvis. The latter’s financial prospects were improving day by day even though they didn’t run any commercial enterprise. They had developed a taste for making political statements.
Then suddenly, Prof Waris Mir changed himself. Without apologising to anyone, he abandoned his old ideas and began expressing the new ones. He was a good public speaker as well. Through his speeches and writings, he began a relentless assault against dictatorship, the trade in fatwas, and hypocrisy. The authorities were taken aback by the new Waris Mir. So the Jamaat and the Jamiat goons who were backed by the Zia janta made life difficult for him. They opened a front against him in the Punjab University where he used to teach besides being the chairman of the Mass Communication Department. The vice chancellor offered him no help even as the IJT ransacked his office, attacked his house, and jeered at him in public.
His old friends had abandoned him but even some new friends from the left were suspicious of him. They thought Mir must have changed sides for some ulterior motive. A leftist political worker wrote a long open letter to him full of abuses and allegations against him, warning him that his cleverness won’t help him infiltrate the left. Sad and disappointed, he talked to me about this letter. I knew what kind of a person Mir was as well as the leftist in question who was himself a notorious opportunist. So I told Mir, “Don’t lose heart. This leftist has no standing compared to you. Right now, everyone in Lahore is talking about you.” And this was true. His funeral a few days later was the biggest in Lahore since that of Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Even his enemies came to shoulder his coffin because they too were impressed by his impeccable character, courage, honesty and truthfulness.
His last days were very tragic. The situation in Pakistan had left him hopeless. He was also hurt by the fact that not only had his son been wrongly framed in a murder case but his extensive contacts were also useless against the pressure exerted on the police by the Jamaat-e-Islami. After another night of writing against Zia, his children forcibly took him to a hospital early in the morning. The doctors were still asleep and it took half an hour to find one. When he saw the doctor, he angrily shouted at his children, “How can you save me if my time has come?” He placed himself on the hospital bed without any help and recited Kalma-e-Shahaadat. Two hours later, he was in the presence of his one true God. The news of his death spread in the city like wildfire. His death deprived the pen of a mujahid, and Pakistan of a true patriot. The murder charges against his son were dropped after his death. But the fact remains that Waris Mir lost his life to despair.
This article was part of the book “Jo Mile The Raste Main” by Ahmed Bashir, first published in 1996 in Urdu. The death anniversary of Prof Waris Mir falls on July 9