Navid Zafar

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S. Iftikhar Murshed [*]

Allama Iqbal once said that the sign of a true believer is that he wears a smile at the time of his death in the knowledge that the yearning of the soul to be reunited with its beloved Creator is being fulfilled.  This is precisely the manner in which Navid Zafar breathed his last on the 12th of March 2009. The 13th century sufi poet, Jalaluddin Rumi, who Navid admired so profoundly, encapsulated this yearning in his Mathnavi:

Hearken to this reed forlorn,

Breathing ever since ‘twas torn

From its rushy bed, a strain

Of impassioned love and pain.

The secret of my song, though near

None can see and none can hear,

O, for a friend to know the sign

And mingle all his soul in mine.

‘Tis the flame of love that fired me

‘Tis the wine of love that inspired me

Woulds’t thou learn how lovers bleed

Hearken, hearken to the reed.

This poem was recited by one of the many speakers who paid tribute to Navid Zafar at the impressively attended remembrance meeting organized by the International Islamic University, Islamabad and the Archeological & Historical Association of Pakistan on 3 April.

Navid passed through the portals of this finite world to his eternal home mourned by a loving family and innumerable friends whose grief is as overwhelming as it is enduring. The Korean proverb “a sorrow that is shared is halved but joy, when shared, is doubled” is only partially correct because the grief so widely shared on Navid’s sudden demise cannot be mitigated.

Navid Zafar was a man of enormous learning who, as a teacher, lavished its treasures on his students and friends alike for he believed that the acquisition of knowledge was the inalienable birthright of humankind. He understood only too well that the foundation of all learning was truth and believed as Keats did that “beauty is truth, truth beauty; that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” The quest for truth brought him through the gate of knowledge to the resplendent radiance of religion which he conceived as the love of God and accounts for his admiration of sufi poetry. He had embarked on an ambitious project for the translation of Rumi’s works into English.

Navid was a deeply religious person to whom true piety lay not only in the adoration of the Divine but also in the love of humanity. It was an article of faith to him that where there was sorrow, there was need for compassion, for the healing touch, for the helping hand. In De Profundis, Oscar Wilde described loving tenderness towards those in distress as the quintessence of sanctity: “It was in this spirit, and with this mode of love that saints knelt to wash the feet of the poor, or stooped to kiss the leper on the cheek.”

Navid Zafar despised both extremism as well as the obscurantist dogma preached by self-appointed clerics as he staunchly believed that such exhortations were anathema to Islamic doctrine.  Shortly before his untimely demise, he was working on organizing a seminar in conjunction with the International Islamic University on the theme: “Terrorism, Extremism and Islam.” Navid’s religiosity never made him self-righteous. He never wore religion on his shirt sleeves, never pontificated and never looked down on those whose views he did not share. Piety imbued him with the priceless virtue of modesty in line with the injunction of the Quran: “And walk not on earth with haughty self-conceit: For, verily, thou canst never rend the earth asunder, nor canst thou ever grow as tall as the mountains.”

Navid Zafar was introspective enough to realize that life is not only a perpetual struggle that one must wage against oneself on behalf of oneself but also on behalf of one’s fellowmen. He did not build his nest on some lofty perch of solitude but mingled and interacted with the multitudes. He also knew that the dense luster that surrounds those who live in ivy-mantled towers also obscures their vision of reality. He believed that thought could only be justified if it led to action. He shared the views of Romain Roland that “Action is the end of thought. All thought which does not look towards action is an abortion and a treachery. If then we are the servants of thought we must be the servants of action.”

Navid did not merely exist but he lived his life and lived it to the full. Not a moment was wasted. At times he worked all night and success pointed her choosy finger along his way. His achievements were many but he never rested on his laurels and neither did he speak about them. It was only after his death that one learnt through an article in The Nation that several awards were conferred on him as an outstanding personality of the Pakistan media. These included the President’s Cash Award on Television Programs in 1982 and 1983; the best PTV Current Affairs Producer Trophy in 1981 and 1983; the best PTV Sports Producer 1985; the PTV Silver Jubilee Medal in 1989; PTV Cash Award for Current Affairs Programming 1992; PTV Cash Award for Marketing Excellence 2000; the Golden Jubilee Excellence Shield Public Relations Institute, Islamabad, 1997; and the Mussawar Golden Jubilee Award for Media, Lahore 1997. The befitting tribute paid to him by his son was: “He was not only my father; he was Navid Zafar.”

These and many more achievements did not detract Navid from his unending search for truth. He contemplated on the miracle of birth and the mystery of death “from whose bourn no traveler returns” but this contemplation was never morbid. To him life was a journey towards death but death was the beginning of life eternal. This belief was reinforced by the words of the Quran: “Say: Verily unto God we belong and, verily, unto Him we shall return.” These words had inspired Rumi to proclaim, “Why should I fear? When was I less by dying,” and it was the same spirit that guided Navid through his brief but blessed life.

Navid was a founder editor of Criterion. On 12 March, he was scheduled to attend a meeting related to the journal at 2 p.m. He phoned an hour earlier to say that he was on his way to consult a doctor because of a chest pain. He passed away at the clinic. His life was a splendid symphony of the soul in which truth and sincerity were in perfect harmony. It was as though he lived and died in accordance with the invocation in the Quran: “And say: O my Sustainer cause me to enter (upon whatever I may do) in a manner true and sincere, and cause me to leave (it) in a manner true and sincere, and grant me, out of Thy grace, sustaining strength.”

[*] S. Iftikhar Murshed is the publisher of Criterion quarterly.