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A Man of Steel (Written on the Demise of Muhammad Ishāq Nāgī)
Dr. Shehzad Saleem

If passion for preaching can make a person aggressive yet humane, selfish yet selfless, obsessive yet considerate, impulsive yet compassionate, then this well and truly is the portrait of our dear Muhammad Ishāq Nāgī. After a three year battle with cancer, this humble servant of God left us for his heavenly abode in the wee hours of 26th August. He belonged to a rare breed of noble souls. With a fervent heart and an ardent soul, a dedication unmatched and keenness beyond control, he stood for the truth all his life.

One may differ with some of his strong views and mannerisms but how can one differ with the immaculate purity of his intent? His persona exuded sincerity and earnestness. His belligerence was for the cause of truth and yet he was quick to forgive. Many years ago a quarrel with a colleague led to a severe injury to him. A sharp object thrown at him cut through his skin and sliced a part of his liver. His colleague was nabbed. But this forgiving soul pardoned his colleague with magnanimity thinking that this might adversely affect his family and career.

He was a regular participant of the Islamic lecture sessions of Amīn Ahsan Islāhī and Jāved Ahmad Ghāmidī – two persons whom he revered and idealized. He remained their close associate for many years. Even though he adapted himself to follow their approach, yet he held unique views on many issues and an equally unique style of proselytizing. He was also a very enthusiastic promoter of the dawah literature of Wahīd al-Dīn Khān and spent the better part of his savings on distributing it for free. He had a specific sequence of books in mind according to which he would circulate them to people to bring them closer to Islam. He would literally lie in ambush for potential addressees. This was his Opus Dei. Most of the hospital staff, where he was being treated had become his fan club because whenever he went there, he would take along books for them. Surely, it was not just books that moved them. His concern for them to bring them closer to God must have left an indelible impression on them.

His was particularly severe on people involved in polytheistic practices and religious innovations. He thought that exercising wisdom in correcting such individuals was quite needless. He was stern in his approach and harsh in his choice of words for such people. The passion within him to reform others would pour out without mercy – but his inner veracity and sincerity would not escape a discerning beholder.

He had a very imposing library on polemical literature – a field in which he evinced great interest. Even in illness he would eagerly try to acquire some new book that came to his notice. Barely able to read, he would still go to great lengths to obtain it. As a voracious reader and a keen collector of books, he would carefully guard his books as if it was the greatest treasure of his life – and why not? It boasted many unique books painstakingly collected from all around. If he was finicky in guarding them, he was equally willing to lend them to students and researchers who needed them. In fact, he would personally go and deliver them if required.

He lived a simple life – a life that mocked pretension and showing-off. He would rather spend on books than spend on his own self. He was humble and down to earth and it would take seconds for him to accept his fault as soon as he realized it. He was a lively person as well and had a great sense of humour that was punctuated with some hilarious Punjabi phrases.

He battled like a warrior against cancer for three years and seldom did those around him hear any words of complaint from him. His resignation to the will of God was proverbial. Once when I remarked to him that, God willing, he would soon get better, his reply was to the effect: “only if the Lord wills and if the Lord does not will, I have no desire to live”. His twenty four year old only son, Ibrāhīm Nāgī, devoted these three years to serve and look after his ailing father with outstanding zeal and commitment – something his father can surely feel proud of. It was only befitting and a matter of pride for all of us to see this young man lead the funeral prayer of his beloved father.

Today Ishāq Nāgī sāhib no more. But his memories will continue to inspire and invigorate all of us. He served God with unmatched altruism. He was a self-employed worker for the cause of truth. He was both a soldier and a commander who had stationed himself at this front. He was uncompromising in what he believed to be true. Nothing could swerve him. He was indeed a man of steel!


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