this article was written as a memory of the late Qazi Hussain Ahmad , former head of the Jamaat Islami who died recently ed-note.
To say I was a naughty child would be a bit of an understatement; I was quite a handful at the best of times. Having been brought up overseas, I have vivid memories of visiting my family hometown of Peshawar as a child.
Make no mistake about it – I did not enjoy my visits. Being four or five years old I found Peshawar boring, and as the only one my age in a very old family, I did not have much to do except for playing in my grandparents’ large garden. There was not much on television in English in those days. This being the 1980s – the era of the VHS tape – it was an established tradition that once a week over those hot summers we would all sit around my uncle’s television and watch a movie.
My ever-protective female cousins would cover my eyes when scenes too sensitive for my young eyes would occur (so watching Dirty Dancing was a complete no-no) while my elder male cousins would terrify me by making me watch Evil Dead. Such was life in the cocoon that was my childhood summers.
Enter my cousin. To say my second cousin was a rebel would be an understatement. He had gone against the mould in what was a largely apolitical family and joined the Jamaat-e-Islami. The gasps and horror this decision triggered was to lead him to be seen with suspicion.
But like many from the extended family, he was particularly fond of me. He was almost 18 years older than me and quite protective. Then came the day he visited and, in all earnestness, asked my parents if he could take his favourite cousin out to get a movie – and that we would be back soon. Overly protective whenever we visited Pakistan, my parents reluctantly agreed – with a caveat: he would not let me out of his sight for even a second. My cousin readily agreed.
So off we went to the local video store in Peshawar’s Saddar Bazaar. However, my cousin had a small detour planned. He wanted to meet a few of his friends in the Jamaat-e-Islami. These friends included a man called Qazi Hussain Ahmad, another activist called Sirajul Haq Yousafzai and other leaders from Karachi and Punjab. Pleasantries were exchanged, and the JI leaders seemed happy to see their enthusiastic young recruit. Then my cousin realised he’d forgotten to check on me. Sure enough, left to my own devices, I had gone about wandering.
Now there were very few things my cousin was scared of – Allah being first and next would be my parents. Terrified of what would happen to him, and in no way helped by his vivid imagination, he turned to the men who would in a generation be the crème de la crème of the JI and begged and pleaded for their help.
Feeling sorry for their young activist the entire lot of people started their search. Turning the JI headquarters upside down, I – oblivious to all the panic and playing with marbles – was finally discovered by Qazi Hussain Ahmad. Picking me up in his arms he brought me back to my cousin and the others and remarked “this one looks like he is going to be real trouble”.
My cousin returned me home, with some sort of a convoluted excuse about how we couldn’t find the right video tape for me to watch. As for me I went back to playing with my marbles. It would be many years before my cousin would recall the story to me of the day I was hunted by the top leadership of Pakistan’s major politico-religious party and lived to tell the tale.
-originally published by The NEWS on the 10th of January as the Jamaat and I