Dr. Shabbir Ahmed believes that he has lived a simple and a ordinary life and he is quite contented about it within his heart. “If there were such a thing as ‘reliving in this world’, I would choose to relive the way I have.”
Dr. Shabbir Ahmed was born in a middle class family at Delhi on the Independence Day of Pakistan 14 Aug 1947. The very next day, his honorable parents, Abdul Rashid (1921-2000) and Rashida Begum (1925-?) moved to Karachi, Pakistan along with their two little sons Shabbir and his older brother Saeed Ahmed (1945 – 1999). Saeed Ahmed, a kind-hearted, first class gentleman and a conscientious, hard-working pharmacist, died in New York. What a loss! Although only slightly older, Saeed extended a father figure role for his younger brother, Shabbir, through his ever sustaining love and kindness. Their father served with distinction as an engineer at All India Radio, and later at Radio Pakistan, Karachi until his retirement in 1981. Living with Shabbir and his lovely wife, Farida, he died in Florida in 2000. He was always known as, ‘A man of life upright’. The honorable mother lives with Dr. Shabbir as a blessing to the entire family comprising of four generations. All her life, she has been an extraordinarily loving, caring and soothing presence for the extended family, friends, neighbors and anyone needing help, or just having the honor of meeting with her.
Dr. Shabbir married the lovely, gentle and good-natured Farida at the parent’s recommendation in 1971. When asked about Farida, Dr. Shabbir always says “Thanks to Allah for granting us an excellent companionship”. Those who know Farida agree that she is an ideal daughter, sister, wife and mother. Allah has blessed them with three wonderful children; two boys and a girl: Shahzad, an attorney, Fawad, a physician and Aisha, a high school student in 2007. Shahzad and Fawad are happily married to the lovely and virtuous Safia and Saira respectively, both at the elders’ choice.
Dr. Shabbir also says that he has two other children. They are his brother Saeed’s kids. During his visit to New York in 1979, he and Farida quickly decided that the hectic New York City was not the best place to raise kids. Brother Saeed and his wife Shahida (incidentally, Farida’s sister) have a daughter and a son. They were elementary school students in 1980. With permission and agreement of their parents and their elders, they moved the delighted kids with them to the peaceful Indiana and then to Florida. Thus, they had the blessing of raising another two respectful and brilliant kids. By the grace of Allah, both of them are nice professionals in Law, Hospital Administration and Medicine. Dr. Shabbir personally chose a handsome and noble Pakistani young doctor (now a nephrologist) to match Shazia. His mother and Farida’s mother discovered the beautiful Saima for their doctor nephew, Babar. When asked about his opinion on arranged marriages, Dr. Shabbir has this to say. “Like most educated Pakistani families, we do not believe in ‘arranged’ or forced marriages. It is a matter of suggestion. The youngsters must approve our choice, or we must approve their choice. Few Muslims would engage in dating for religious and sensible reasons. Al-Hamdulillah, the four young couples are happily married and blessed with little kids.”
Dr. Shabbir’s schooling:
1951-55 Primary: Govt Boys Primary School, Jacob Lines, Karachi. Pakistan had just come into being. Students used to sit on jute mats through the four years at the Primary School. Ah, how selfless, humble, dedicated and dignified their teachers were!
1955-61 Secondary: Govt Boys Secondary School, Jacob Lines, Karachi. School benches were the new luxury they had at the Secondary School. The honorable teachers had the same traits as mentioned above.
1961-63 Premedical: Adamjee Science College, Karachi. The widely respected college had been newly built and began functioning just then in 1961. To this day, it retains its high standards and good name.
1963-68 Medical: Liaquat Medical College, Jamshoro. There were only six medical colleges in West Pakistan, and LMC was the latest among them. Surrounded by patches of desert and oases, the college, the hostels and the associated hospital were most beautifully designed and built with yellow-brown bricks. The Indus River flowed a few miles from their hostels and friends used to enjoy boating and the picturesque scenery. There was a solitary restaurant, the gorgeous Al-Manzar, at the river bank. They loved to eat there; fresh fish fried and even the inexpensive, (yes, inexpensive) caviar.
Shabbir remained one of the top students in his school and college years.
1968-69 House Job – Residency: Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Center, Karachi. Named after the blessed Founder of Pakistan, JPGMC remains the most advanced governmental medical institution in the country. Its cardiology and kidney sections are among the most modern in the world. Deserving patients can easily get the most sophisticated treatment at no cost.
The developing and bustling Karachi was a model of peace and tranquility all through these years. One could walk miles and miles even in the darkness of nights without any fear.
Religious and Extra-curricular interests:
Never given to sectarianism, since early childhood, Shabbir was blessed with an observant and critical mind. He would not and will not accept anything irrational. By the way, he was born to a ‘Sunni Hanafi’ family. The Jami’ah Masjid, Jacob Lines was one of the most respected institutions in Pakistan. ‘Maulana’ Ehtisham-ul-Haq Thanwi, the Imam of the Masjid, was an extremely personable, pleasant, popular and world-renowned orator. People used to travel long distances to listen to his Friday sermons. The elderly Qari Baqaullah Saheb was an outstanding scholar of Islam and comparative religion. Shabbir was fortunate to complete his initial Islamic Studies in that Masjid at age 12. He had studied the Quran with his limited understanding by then. The wonderful duo never snubbed students, even the inquisitive ones like Shabbir.
Since childhood, Shabbir loved drawing, painting, music, debating, singing, playing cricket, tennis and swimming. He played first class cricket for Sindh. He was a college champion in tennis and diving. He has been a voracious reader of non-fiction all his life.
1969-1971 First Job: House Physician at B.M.H. Parsi General Hospital, Saddar, Karachi.
1972-80 Professional assignments in the Middle East.
Shabbir moved to the USA in 1980. His wife and two little boys had moved earlier in 1979 primarily for children’s education and lived with his brother, Saeed and family in New York. The baby of the house, Aisha was born in 1989.
Since 1980, Shabbir furthered his postgraduate studies in Indiana and honorably practiced medicine in Florida.
Dr. Shabbir recollects his memories of his years in Saudi Arabia in the 1970s as below:
Malik Faisal: My Foremost Quranic Teacher
Being a young member of the Saudi royal medical staff, I had the good fortune of learning the Quraish dialect in the 1970s under the auspices of King Faisal bin Abdul Aziz and King Khalid bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia. The Quraish dialect is the Arabic language of Makkah in which the Quran was revealed to the exalted Prophet Muhammad 14 centuries ago. I was blessed with the opportunity to learn Islamic Theology in Riyadh and Madinah after having learnt the subject under the guidance of the celebrated names of Qari Baqaullah Saheb and ‘Maulana’ Ehtishamul Haq Thanwi in Karachi during my school days.
In addition, the opportunity to socialize with the Bedouins was certainly a great advantage since even today they frequently speak the Quraish dialect.
King Faisal used to advise people to understand the Quran through two basic principles:
1. Focusing on the language in which the Quran was revealed. 2. Making use of Tasreef, that is, how the Quran repeats its messages from very diverse vantage points.
The use of Tasreef along with a diligent study of the Book shows us the Quran in its Big Picture, and this indeed, is a phenomenal aid in the Glorious Book’s rendition and understanding.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Learning the dialect, by no means, amounts to absorbing the Saudi theology. Rather, it’s quite the opposite as we see how non-sectarian the Quran is and how blessed and compassionate its Message is for the entire humanity, and not for Muslims only.
It is of paramount importance to know that the mentioned dialect is not extinct. It is very much alive and well in the Pre-Islamic and ‘Para-Islamic’ poetry and well preserved in some good old dictionaries. The special role of the desert nomads has already been mentioned. The Empty Quarter is the second largest desert in the world following only the Sahara of Africa. It is located in the south eastern part of the Arabian Peninsula touching the capital Riyadh.
Especially the Bedouins living in that area speak the Quraish dialect even today. They live in tents and migrate with their camels, sheep and goats in search of nearby water resources, primarily natural water springs and green foliage for their livestock. They live the simplest of lives and basically eat dates, melons, rice, wheat bread, lamb, and camel. They use plenty of camel milk and skin in different forms. They lead a tough life in very hot summers and very cold winters. They patiently fight scorching winds and find their ways through moving sand dunes. Almost every Bedouin is a master of stars, finding direction, time and even seasons through them.
King Faisal was a king only by title but truly he was a saint. He used to sit with us on the floor in the royal palace. He disliked being called Malik or by any other title. “Say Faisal”, he used to remind people. The only title the powerful man would accept was ‘Khadimul Harmain’ (A servant of Masjid Haram in Makkah and Masjid Nabawi in Madinah). Few people know that he was a scholar of the Quran par excellence.
A man of few words and very dignified manners, he had an aura of humility, righteousness and greatness about him. He was an affectionate father figure to us and other youngsters. He would never mind any questions and spoke fluent Arabic, English and French. He was easily the most outstanding mu’min I have seen in my life.
One day, I respectfully asked, “Would you kindly tell us the best way to learn the Quran?” His answer was brief and to the point, “My dear son! Remember that the Quran explains itself. Learn the ancient Makkah dialect and socialize with the nomads.” With this, he appointed a teacher for us (10 young physicians) to learn the pre-Islamic poetry in relation to the Quran.
I never saw him sitting on his ‘throne’ (which was nothing but a comfortable sofa) except when in the company of foreign diplomats. Of course, he wore no crown. With him, we always ate the simple food that he ate. The man never gave himself any special treatment or sought a special seating. He would stand up to welcome us and stand up to say farewell without fail.
I could call him the living Quran. Kindness and compassion personified, he never raised his voice, never showed arrogance. We would be awed in the presence of his towering, charismatic personality but never was there an element of fear around him. He was such a good patient that we never heard “ouch” from him during a medical procedure.
Trying to make a point in conversation, if we erred in reciting a Quranic verse, he wouldn’t ever say we were wrong. Rather, he would gently ask us to read again. Malik Faisal was very fond of telling us young doctors to ride camels at least twice a week maintaining that it was the best thing for physical fitness.
His joy knew no bounds when one day he heard from me that I would even decline to drink non-alcoholic beer. Often, he would repeat, “If you wish to attain supreme success in both lives, love Prophet Muhammad (S), yes, love him, yes again, love him in word and action.”
He frequently told his audiences that none could be a Muslim if he mistreated a non-Muslim. “The Prophet (S) has warned us the he would be a personal pleader for a non-Muslim who has been wronged in the Islamic State.”
When Z.A. Bhutto was the P.M. of Pakistan, he called an international Islamic conference in Lahore in 1973. The proposal came forward that Malik Faisal be accepted as the AMIRUL MU’MINEEN of the entire Ummah. The work was moving ahead in that direction but, Alas!
When he was shot in March 1975 right in the middle of his chest, I was one of the first medical men to see him. We knew that the bullets had gone through his heart and that his moments were numbered. Can you believe that there was no groaning at all? The only words he was uttering faintly but repeatedly were those which the Prophet (S) had uttered, “Allahumma Rafiqil A’la” (Allah is the Supreme Companion).
Ah, those 8 years of my life carry what wonderful memories!
Malik Faisal bin Abdul Aziz was a unique figure in the Saudi Dynasty. His predecessor, Malik Saud bin Abdul Aziz had tarnished the image of Islam, the Arabs and his illustrious father, Malik Abdul Aziz, the founder of the Desert Kingdom. The royal family and the council of ministers dethroned him in 1964. Malik Faisal (1906-1975) was quite the opposite, a man of extraordinary piety and a most noble character expected of a true mu’min. Saudi Arabia truly shifted into high gear and started flourished during his rule. (1964-1975)
King Khalid was a simple, honorable gentleman who only graciously followed Faisal’s policies although with much less vigor. The ailing Khalid was not as brilliant and he was not an original thinker.
Such was Faisal’s consciousness of time that we could fix our watches by his scheduled appearance to the audience. One morning, he desired to meet with us at 8:30 AM. We young doctors were all at the palace at 8:15. I was looking at my beautiful gold RADO watch, the most elite and fashionable gift of that era. The King had given it to me only two weeks ago and I still have it, looking and working like brand new after 34 years of constant use. But that morning! – Well, the watch was showing 8:29 and there was no sign of the king arriving. I was getting delighted – about to find some fault for once in the mu’min of the century. Nay, exactly at 8:30 the silk curtain moved and there emerged the lone, slim, awe-inspiring figure of the King with his trade-mark dignified smile saying, “Assalam alaikum, Sabah al-Khair, Ya Ahlan!” (Peace unto you all, a blissful morning, O Welcome!).
There was a serious revolt by the unruly Saudi employees of ARAMCO, Dahran against the American officers and their families one late night of 1972. Law enforcement personnel were too few to quell the rebellion. The provincial governor frantically called the King at 2 AM. The Malik did not know how to panic. He had been the right hand of his great father since age 12 during all his expeditions! He calmly ordered, “Do not fight. Move everyone to safety. Make a video.” You can imagine how successful the strategy was. It saved bloodshed and every single culprit was caught the next morning.
Malik Faisal repeatedly used to say that memorization of the Quran was not a dire need of the modern times when we have millions and millions of copies available and millions more printed every year. Only the congenitally blind should memorize the Quran for personal fulfillment, teaching and for public recitations.
The King, being a master scholar, craved for modernization within the vast limits of the Quran. He knew that Islam is not to be bound in orthodoxy. The extreme, orthodox elements in the kingdom had reason to dislike him. He had no hesitation in admitting that the system of government in Saudi Arabia was archaic and he wanted the country to be modernized in all areas; politics, education, science and technology, human rights, women’s liberation such as their ability to drive cars and travel without an escort. He was planning to withdraw the harassing power of the mutawwa’s (religious police) in 1974. Most importantly he envisioned the provincial governors and city mayors to get elected for a four year term. Even the king would only remain a formal figure-head as in Britain. The government would be run by an elected parliament with a prime minister.
I saw even his local opponents, some western oil officials and top diplomats, admiring the man’s brilliance, integrity, empathy, foresight, trustworthiness and courage.
In 1974, Malik Faisal began using television as a very effective tool in pursuit of his reformist agenda. “Love for all, hatred for none” was his favorite slogan for domestic and international policies.
Malik Faisal’s namesake nephew, young Faisal who had been studying in the United States, moved back to Saudi Arabia in Feb 1975. He was the assassin who fatally shot the saintly King in the chest on that fateful day in March 1975.
When the mu’min of the century was assassinated, there were two common views behind the tragedy.
May Allah bless his ‘self’!