Remembering Prof. Hasan Jahangir Hamdani

By Zafar Khan Yousufzai
Fremont, CA

 


The late Professor Hamdani (left) and the author

Precisely 25 years ago in November 1981, I met Prof Hamdani at the General Body meeting of the Pakistan Association in San Francisco. He was accompanied by his wife and sitting in the audience when he heard that I contribute to daily Jang and came from Iran to study for my MBA degree. He met me after the meeting and introduced himself and mentioned that he too used to write for a Lahore weekly.
We duly exchanged our phone numbers. I took an instant liking for him and admired the way he introduced himself and asked if any help was needed by me.
The Anjuman-Tarriqi-e-Urdu, a San Francisco-based literary society, invited music composer Naushad Ali to attend a mushaira. He was also a poet. Prof Hamdani was seated next to him to present his poem. He had a charismatic personality and possessed vast knowledge of Islam, world politics, current affairs, literature, languages, world history, art, music, and a wide variety of cultures. He enjoyed commendable proficiency in several languages including Urdu, English, Arabic, Persian, and Punjabi.
He was very particular about punctuality and fully valued time. As the radio host of Subrung at KUSF San Francisco I invited him to speak in a special segment on Pakistan Day. He asked me, “Bhai, tell me at what time you want me at the radio station, and how much time would you allow.” It was a live show. I was puzzled and didn’t know what to say. Hesitatingly, I said, “11 o’clock.” The next day at exactly 10 minutes before 11 somebody knocked at the door and we saw Prof Hamdani with a winsome smile on his face but a plaster on his toe! “What happened Hamdani Sahib?” I asked, to which he replied, “Just nothing but a little pain. Ok, tell me when is my turn?” I asked him if 20 - 25 minutes were good enough for him to speak. He replied, “Fair enough.” I asked if he needed a pen or paper to jot down some points. He looked at me and smiled. “Bhai, I do not write my speeches!” He always paid rich tributes to Quaid-i-Azam M. A. Jinnah on such occasions, both on radio and at community events.
A couple of years ago I was hosting another radio show Watan Ki Awaaz for the Pakistani community. I planned a special segment on Ashura and called up Professor Hamdani to know if he was available to record his speech. Because of illness he told me he could not come but could send his recorded speech.
Once I heard him on a CBS radio talk show about Iran after Ayatullah Khomeini’s Revolution. He was a big supporter of the Islamic Revolution.
Besides his academic attainments and scholarship he was a practicing Muslim and a truly cultured person. When he happened to be in a good mood everybody enjoyed his sense of humor. He had an enviable grasp of history and made illuminating observations which could not be denied. He had a large library with a wide variety of books on literature, languages, history, Indo-Pak movement, etc. Many awards and plaques received by him embellished the library.
He had a simple lifestyle, a very friendly disposition and displayed extraordinary tolerance while defending his point of view - historically and logically. The Sikh community arranged a reception in honor of mayor-elect of Oakland city (now attorney General-California) Jerry Brown. Prof Hamdani was the emcee of the event and introduced Mr. Brown. I was among the guests and heard Mr. Brown say, “I am surprised that a person like Prof Hamdani can speak such excellent English in this neighborhood.” (Oakland is predominantly an African-American community).
About four years ago he started a Mehfil-e-Milad and Hamd o Naa’t competition under the aegis of the Hamdani Brothers Foundation. He was also in the process of giving finishing touches to a center of Islamic Studies for which I am sure he had traveled to Pakistan to bring a large collection of books to make the center a good resource of rich knowledge. He demonstrated great devotion to Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) and rarely missed a Mahfil-e-Milad function. During Muharram, he used to speak on Shahadat-e-Husain for ten consecutive days.
Prof. Hamdani was the guest speaker at our daughters’ Ameen ceremony during the month of Rabi-ul-Awwal. I asked him if we should present salam at the end of the ceremony. He supported the idea asking, “Why not?” This reflects his devotion for Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him). He wrote many Hamds and Naats under the pseudonym of Humdum. He was against extremism and frequently used to say, “Islam is the best religion, but it is in wrong hands.”
I learnt he was the chairperson of South-Asian Studies Center at the University of California, Berkeley and also taught at Ohio and McGill universities. He authored books on Urdu language during his tenure at UC Berkeley. He was also listed in “Who’s Who in Northern California.”
Lately, he disclosed to me that he was compiling Tafseer-Qur’an. He was also concentrating on building the Center of Islamic Studies in Richmond, CA where he intended to arrange lectures, panel discussions, open forums for the benefit of young Muslims.
More importantly, he organized several local and international mushairas in the San Francisco Bay area and remained in the limelight for more than 25 years.
When I was returning to Pakistan after completion of my MBA, I told him that I was going to get married soon. “Would you write a sehra on the occasion?” I asked. He nodded assentingly. A day before the nikah ceremony he called and congratulated me and said the Sehra was already in the mail.
Prof Hamdani always supported Indo-Pak and Israel-Palestine peace initiatives. No wonder, he was quite popular among the Sikh and the Fiji community. I read in community newspapers that he was the voice of the San Francisco Bay area. He was rightly called so. I don’t see anyone replacing him in our community.
Just a few days before his death I paid him a visit along with my family. I noticed he was weak but enthusiastic to talk despite the doctors’ clear instructions not to. Later, he developed lung congestion and heart complications and was admitted to the ICU. On July 28, 2006 around mid-day while I was driving I got the sad news: the voice of the San Francisco Bay area was no more. Inna Lillahe Wa Inna Elaihay Rajayoun.
The Pakistani, Sikh, and Fiji communities would long remember him. A true friend and a distinguished community member had passed away.
May Allah rest his soul in eternal peace and grant fortitude to his family, siblings and friends to bear the loss. Ameen. (The writer is the recipient of NSEP A 2007 to study at the University of Washington)

 

 

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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