Prominent scholar and legendary educationist Agha Ashraf Ali passed away at his residence at Raj Bagh here on Friday night. He was 97.
He was laid to rest at his ancestral graveyard, Gulistan Baba Mazaar at Alamgari Bazar in Downtown here on Saturday.
Agha Ashraf Ali, born on October 18, 1922 at his ancestral house – “Qasr-e-Qazalbash, Agha Manzil” – in Khanqah-e-Sokhtah, Nawa Kadal area of Srinagar, did his PhD from the United States in 1965 in comparative education. Late Agha Ashraf was in active public service for 45 years. He taught at the Jamia Milia Islamia University at Delhi, served as Inspector of Schools, Kashmir. He was also Principal of College of Education and Chairman Training and Curricula. Agha Ashraf Ali was also a Professor Emeritus at University of Kashmir in the Department of Education. He also served as Commissioner Higher Education from where he retired in 1982. Post his retirement, Agha Ashraf Ali was appointed as the first Chairman of the Competent Authority of J&K (at present BOPEE) in 1988. He also served as the acting Vice Chancellor at the University of Kashmir.
Agha Ashraf’s wife Sufia Agha died in 1997. Their eldest son Agha Shahid Ali was a world famous poet. Shahid died in 2001. Agha Ashraf’s son Dr Agha Iqbal Ali, and two daughters Dr Hena Ahmed and Dr. Sameetah Agha work as Professors in the United States.
Agha Ashraf had compiled a book “Dawat-e-Fikr”, a compilation of essays from Allama Iqbal, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and others.
Agha Ashraf Ali was the youngest son of Begum and Agha Zaffar Ali Qazilbash. He grew up in an aristocratic feudal household with a rich legacy of excellence and where education was a top priority. His mother Begum Zaffar Ali was the first woman matriculate of Kashmir and was an acclaimed teacher and educationist.
Agha Ashraf was educated at the Mission School at Fateh Kadal, Srinagar (later Tyndale Biscoe School). After his schooling he went to Sri Pratap College from where he graduated with first class. A lecture by Dr Zakir Hussain (later President of India) at SP College in 1941 became a turning point in Agha Ashraf’s life. Dr Zakir Hussain later became his teacher and was instrumental in moulding his personality.
After completing his graduation, Agha Ashraf studied history at Aligarh Muslim University. He stood first in MA and received the Morrison Medal in 1945. Later he went to Delhi and joined Jamia Millia Islamia University where he started teaching. He had close association with India’s noted intellectuals prominent among them being Dr Zakir Husain, Prof. Mujeeb, Prof. Habib, Prof Abid Husain and Prof Kidwai. Through them Agha Ashraf had the opportunity to meet Mahatma Gandhi and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. These people had a great impact on Agha’s life and were a source of inspiration for him. During this time, Agha married Sufia Nomani from Lucknow.
After the partition of India, Agha Ashraf decided to come back to Kashmir. He was told that the state had no funds for any post and that Agha must go to England for further studies. Agha Ashraf went to England and specialised in academic diploma in comparative education and educational organization and administration. On his return from England, Agha Ashraf Ali was appointed as officer on special duty under then Prime Minister of J&K Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah.
In 2004, Agha Ashraf Ali was offered membership of the legislative council with a berth in the cabinet as the Education Minister by then chief minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, however he refused.
Universities, colleges and schools across J&K have conferred upon him awards of honour and excellence. He was presented an Award of Excellence by his alma-mater, Ball State Teachers College, Muncie, Indiana, USA where he has delivered many keynote addresses. College of Education bestowed upon him the award of “The Pride of Education”. On Teachers Day on September 5, 2006, Agha was awarded Nigeena-e-Watan by the teaching fraternity of J&K for his contribution in the field of education.
National Conference president and Member of Parliament from Srinagar Dr Farooq Abdullah and vice-president Omar Abdullah have expressed sorrow over the demise of Agha Ashraf Ali. “The light has gone out of our lives, Agha Sahib’s demise is a great loss for the entire society, such great souls are rarely born,” Dr Abdullah said in a statement. “One of the most distinguished scholars who was endeared and revered by all. A renaissance figure of Kashmir, his philosophy of life was firmly grounded in the progressive philosophy of humanism and secularism. A polymath, he authored many books and many lucky ones had the honor of having him as their teacher. He was an institution in himself and guided generations. I pay my earnest homage to Agha Sahib, and pray to Almighty to grant him the highest stations in Jannah,” Dr Abdullah said.
“A great educationist, an outstanding academician, Agha Ashraf’s demise has created a great vacuum in the field of education,” Omar Abdullah said.
The statement said NC general secretary Ali Mohammad Sagar, provincial president Nasir Aslam Wani, Members of Parliament Mohammad Akbar Lone, Hasnain Masoodi and party spokesperson Imran Nabi Dar have also expressed grief over the demise and prayed for peace to his soul, strength to the bereaved family. NC provincial president Devender Singh Rana also expressed grief over the demise. “A great loss to Jammu and Kashmir. An iconic versatile intellectual is gone,” said Rana.
Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party (JKAP) president Syed Muhammad Altaf Bukhari on Saturday expressed grief over the demise of Agha Ashraf Ali. In a statement issued here, Bukhari termed the deceased as a visionary who had dedicated his whole life in public enlightenment through the medium of education. Paying rich tributes to his illustrious life, Bukhari said that with Prof Agha’s demise J&K has “lost a luminary and a torchbearer who chose to change the lives of people by bringing out their best and instilling confidence and values among them.”
A condolence meeting was held on Saturday by JK Board of School Education at its office premises at Bemina to mourn the demise of Agha Ashraf Ali. “The employees lauded his contribution in JK BOSE where he served as Chairman from 1973 to 1980. They expressed that his demise was a great loss to the entire academic fraternity of J&K as he was a distinguished educationist, scholar and unparalleled academician,” said a statement issued by JK BOSE.
Former Union Minister and senior Congress leader Saiffudin Soz has said that Agha Ashraf Ali’s death will be mourned by a “vast community of teachers and teacher-educators.” “His death is a great loss to the widespread community of teachers and researchers in the J&K State,” Soz said in a statement.
Anjuman Nusrat-ul-Islam has expressed grief and sorrow over the demise. In its condolence statement, the Anjuman hailed the invaluable contribution of Agha Ashraf Ali in the field of education and the reformative works therein saying the demise is a big loss for all of us. Terming the contribution towards education especially in the literary field by Agha Ashraf Ali and his son Late Agha Shahid Ali as highly remarkable, the Anjuman said the Late Agha Ashraf Ali and his family had close relationship with the Mirwaiz Family especially the former chairman of Anjuman Shaheed-e-Millat Mirwaiz Moulana Farooq and its present chairman Mirwaiz Moulvi Muhammad Umar Farooq. “Late Agha Ashraf Ali always used to give his valuable suggestions aimed at carrying out reformative measures in the educational sector in Jammu & Kashmir and also taking forward the programmes of the Anjuman,” the statement said. The Anjuman expressed condolence and solidarity with the bereaved family of Agha Ashraf Ali and prayed to Almighty Allah to grant the deceased the highest place in Jannah.