Foundation of NJ, USA


the Message Continues 4/35

Newsletter for June 2004





And The Message Continues.................
(written in 1999)
By Nasir Shamsi

Haider Shamsi was like a brother to me. His death took us all by surprise.  I was devastated and despite my knowing that death is imminent and we are all to go to the final abode, I still have not been able to reconcile with this colossal tragedy, which deprived our community of a jewel--the most rare, unique and precious jewel.  I wish to convey to our sister Adiba, the loving and devoted wife and partner of our dear friend and brother that she is not alone in her suffering. We all mourn with her the sad and untimely demise of Haider and pray to Allah that He may, in His Infinite Mercy, bestow His Choicest
Blessings on the departed soul.

 The agony, the anguish and the sense of loss has made it difficult to reflect on my association with Haider Shamsi and to' recap the sweet memories of my intellectual and spiritual bond with that magnificent being who is no more.  My daughter, Saima asked me to pen down my feelings.  She probably thinks it may help me, by way of catharsis.

 I had known Haider Bhai for the last 36 years.  I first met him in Lahore in 1963.  He was studying medicine at King Edward Medical College.  We were introduced by a common friend, Dr. Saijad Sheikh. We shared our family tree; both descendents of the great mystic saint, Shams Tabriz, the spiritual master of jaial ul Din Rumi.  The goal of education seemed to be very dear to his heart.  He told me how pleased he was to learn from Sajiad that I had been selected in the Civil Service Competitive Exam.  At the first meeting, we became instant friends.

 However, we soon parted ways.  I was posted out of Lahore and he left Pakistan for Africa, later for England to attain further excellence in his most cherished goal of education.  Born in Narowal near Sialkot in Pakistan, Haider grew up in Kenya, Africa where his father worked for the British Railways.  His father, late Syed Muhammad Hussain Shamsi was a man of great piety and virtue.  He was highly respected in the nascent Immigrant Muslims community.  He started a Sunday school for Muslim youth.  He was often assisted by young Haider with his teaching materials.  Haider was frail but hard working.  He had beautiful and skillful hands; his dexterous fingers drew well.  Of all his children, the elder Shamsi wanted Haider to be a Physician.  By careful supervision he steered his gifted son in that direction. When he breathed his last in the Mayo Hospital, Lahore, his illustrious son was in attendance as Doctor on his bedside.

 Having achieved the goal set by his father, Dr. Haider Shamsi was to dedicate the next three decades bringing new lives to this world.  He was a highly respected Ob Gyn Physician; he taught the same subject in Columbia Presbyterian Hospital where he breathed his last on April 21, 1999. 1 was in attendance at a special Memorial Service for him at St.Lukes Hospital.  Haider's previous Director who had also hired him nearly 19 years gave a eulogy.  In a failing voice, Dr. Robert Neuwirth said, "Dr.  Shamsi was a competent Physician, capable Professor and a man of great integrity.  He did not seek power; he strived for excellence in his profession.  "

 Purity of intent, integrity of action and sincerity in relationship were the cardinal features of Haider's personality.  He not only cherished these virtues but also practiced them.  His life is best described by a line from Allama lqbal's Zarbe Katim:'Zameere pako-Khayale buland-o-Zauqe Lateef.' Pure Conscience, Lofty Thought and Fine Aesthetics.  He was sensitive to all that was good.  He was I meticulously particular about details; he picked up the right gift, when visiting friends or relatives (I dearly cherish his last present: a cassette of Allama lqbal's Shlkwa & jawabe Shikwa).  Haider Bhai was generous in
complimenting others.  He loved to share other peoples' moment of joy as if it was his own.  Seldom have I seen anybody exhibiting so much enthusiasm ... with supreme genuineness as he did, on the simple pleasures of others.  I have witnessed those moments of bliss, of pure joy when his face would radiate with subliminal happiness, a true happiness, born of only a heart that is touched by Divine Mercy.

 Dr.Haider Shamsi was truly a man of God.  He was a very simple person.  He was humble and shunned any display or fanfare.  Last year, he wrote an article for a souvenir to be published on the occasion of Ali Day. The compiler wished
to add a little Bio of each author along with the articles.  Haider Bhai did not agree because it might take away the purity of purpose.  The organizers contacted me.  When I hesitantly called him to discuss it, he reiterated the same argument. When I asked him to oblige them, he said, "Nasir Bhai, if they insist, you may give them a small note yourself."

Dr. Haider Hussain Shamsi was a great visionary.  In a fast changing world, there are unique challenges confronting the Muslims living in the West.  He often shared with me his concerns regarding lack of preparedness in the immigrant Muslims to meet these challenges. We often talked about the unwillingness of our people to come out of their cocoon and to reach out and communicate with the people of other faiths.  Unfortunately among some Muslims, there is a sheer apathy and indifference to the undeniable need for change.

 Allah (swt) has laid down certain clear limits, or 'hudood'.  Acting within the frame work of these Limits or the Divine Guidelines , we are permitted to adapt and evolve in response to the new needs and challenges, and, as Dr. Scott Peck says in his book, The Road Less Traveled, "to conform to the reality of the cosmos and our role in it, as best as we can know that reality--we must constantly revise and extend our understanding to include new knowledge of the larger world. We must constantly enlarge our frame of reference."

 History bears eloquent testimony to the fact that the nations which did not change, perished. The Greeks and the Romans, these great empires are no more. Allama lqbal, emphasizing this need to change among the Muslims, reiterated a verse of the Qur'an in his poetry, as follows:

 "Khuda ne aai tak oos qaum ki halat nahin bedli / naho jisko khayal khood aapni halat ke badlne ka" God does not change the condition of people until they themselves wish to change their condition.

 The problem, Dr. Shamsi often surmised, was that many Muslims were prone to defining religion too narrowly. Therefore, they had failed to evolve a macrocosmic view of religion, with a proper response to the changes brought in by socioeconomic and scientific developments.  Dr. Haider Shamsi was a devoted Shia Muslim.  He believed that Shia Islam had much to offer to the world because this school had continued reinterpreting jurisprudence in the light of changing circumstances, through. ijtehad'.  In contrast, the other schools of fiqh had unfortunately forsaken acceptance of change, assuming, 'the doors of ijtehad had been closed' nearly eight centuries ago.

 Haider Shamsi sincerely believed we had a lot to share with other communities.  He stressed it was time to forge unity between Muslims living in the West; we must build bridges and learn to cooperate with one another.  Muslims have
an obligation to share the Divine Message with others. We must particularly develop a dialogue with the Christians and the Jews, the followers of the Monotheistic Faiths-- who share with us belief in one God.  He wrote a Paper on the subject when he was invited to address an assembly of Christians in his neighborhood Church.  It had been his most ardent desire to establish an Interfaith Library.  During his tenure as President of the Muslim Foundation, New Jersey, he wanted to achieve this goal.  He even purchased a building, at his own expense, to house the Islamic Central Directorate and the Library.  The community was apparently not yet ready to embark on this ambitious program; the idea did not fly and eventually fell through, to his great dismay.

 Haider Shamsi had profound ideas about the education of Muslim children.  He was very concerned about the peer pressure they were faced with, at schools and elsewhere.  He was always eager and willing to work on plans to help children.  He was conscious that parents' priorities were somewhere else.  They were too involved in the rituals.  Unless we addressed this problem, he said, we could lose the next generation.  So he embarked on his own to organize last year a Muslim Youth Forum in North New Jersey so that the young could share ideas and work together to find solutions to their social and psychological problems.  He devoted a lot of his time to writing on the subject and in preparing reading materials for the youth.

 He had devoted his weekends to the Sunday school for the last 15 years.  He would not miss a class.  I remember that morning.  I was teaching Islamic Ethics in Mehfle Shahe Khorasan Sunday School in Englewood.  Haider Shamsi lived
in the same town then.  One morning he came to observe the class.  He looked great in his pin-stripe shirt and gray sweater.  My lesson that day was, "How to say, NO ' " The boys and girls were excited; the subject was close to their heart and they loved it.  Haider Bhai was visibly moved by an active and enthusiastic participation of children in the lively discussion that ensued. At he end of the class, he expressed great exuberance and asked me if he too could teach a class.  I gave him my personal copy of Safdar Hussain's Early History Of Islam and the following week, he started teaching Islamic History to the class.  To everyone's delight, he proved to be an excellent teacher.  He used firsthand materials, maps and charts to make his lectures more productive and understandable.  Because of his unique method and style of teaching, he was very popular with his students, who looked forward to attending his lecture.  Later, he continued teaching Islamic History at Masoomeen School in New York.  He drove 50 miles to commute to the School and took great pains in preparing for the class. The Masoomeen children loved Dr. Shams! for his exemplary dedication.

 He recognized there was need for teaching literature in English.  This led to his writing two important books in English, The Prophets of Islam and ... And The Message Continues.  The latter consists of the biographies of the Twelve Imams.  Since I had edited the two books, I am aware how much time and effort he had contributed to complete the two books.  Ironically, his second and last book, ... And The Message Continues was in the Press when he passed away.  Initially, the book had a different title.  One morning, Haider called me to relate that he was thinking, and it had just occurred to him, that it would be
better to rename the book as it is now.  He wanted my opinion.  "It is very good," I said.  He was very pleased to hear that.  Now when I think of it in retrospect, I am amazed at his selection of this name for his last book.  And I wistfully but assuredly whisper, "You are gone, my brother ... but the message continues."

 Haider was a visionary.  Often we would speak, on the weekends or at the end of the day; we were sort of Mentor to each other; he held up a mirror to me and I to him, often checking on things and points of view about our favorite subjects. We would talk of the current and future shape of things.  Haider had great plans.  He was a dreamer (only dreams give birth to change).  He talked about the youth, about the need to have a learning center for them where they could sit more comfortably as they do in other American schools; the need to have an Inter-faith Library and to publish a series of books to disseminate the Message; taking steps to foster unity among Muslims; adopting measures to promote understanding of Islam among the Christians and the Jews and to replace the stereotypes by a crystal clear understanding of our beliefs and practices.

 Haider Shamsi did not only envision things, he wanted to implement them right away.  He did not procrastinate. Truly a pragmatist, he pursued things that he believed in, with great passion.  In 1993, he and his wife, Adiba Shamsi registered a Private Charitable Foundation called Al-Huda Foundation to help carry out some good work.  Since then, the Foundation has helped publish thousands of copies of the translation of Qur'an in English and Spanish, among other acts of charity.

 Haider used to share with me his inner thoughts; there was always a certain sublimity, sincerity, genuineness and purity in his soft-spoken words.  Concerning an idea we had been discussing for a while, he thought its time had come. Just a month before his sad demise, Haider told me it was time to implement our idea of developing a Retirement Residential Community where all of us could live close to one another when we retire.  This facility will have a common area consisting of a small mosque, library and conference room, by the lake.  We can sell our properties and move in there right away.  "Will you?" he asked me.  "Surely", I replied.  And he was dearly pleased.  So let us do it, he said.  Haider was a charismatic but a very low profile person.  He did a lot of good things, but without fan-fare or display.  He would have started the first Retirement Community for Muslims in America, had he not been recalled to his eternal abode where he now rests in peace, in Allah's Protection.

 Just as hard work pays off in this world, those who strive in the way of Allah are richly rewarded in the next world.  The recipients of Allah's Bounty, according to Qur'an, "are they who are steadfast in prayer, who set aside a due portion of their wealth for the needy and the deprived; who truly believe in the Day of Reckoning, and dread the punishment of their. Lord; who restrain their carnal desires; who keep their trusts and promises and bear true witness; and who keep a guard on their prayers.  These are the people who shall be in the gardens, honored (jannatin mukraimoon)." [Ma'arij: 33]

 Allah (swt) calls these peoples, "the servants of Allah, the purified ones (ibadillah hil mukhlaseen).  For them is a known sustenance, and they shall be honored, in gardens of pleasure (jannatin naeem)." (Saffat: 4043]

 "Allah has promised to the believing men and the believing women gardens, beneath which rivers flow, to abide in them, and goodly dwellings in gardens of perpetual abode; and best of Allah's good pleasure--that is the great achievement (fauzul azeem)." [Baraat: 72]

 May Allah (swt) the Master of the Universe, who alone we worship and who alone we ask for help, grant eternal peace to the departed soul, enlighten him with His own Light and may He give his wife, Adiba Shamsi, adequate strength to accept His Will and to continue the mission they had undertaken together, so that the message continues.





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