(Written on the demise of Altaf Mahmood Chaudhry)
He was a dreamer; overtly ambitious. Yet not for himself –
but for many projects of education and welfare. He was a man
with a mission. Visionary to the core, imaginative to the
hilt. Many of his ideas seemed fantasy. They looked
incredible and far-fetched to those around him. But not to
him! He could speak for hours on his plans; the cadences of
his voice matching his emotions; sincerity writ large on his
face; tearful eyes suggestive of a trembling heart. Yet
admiration he seldom received because of his surreal
schemes. People listening to him would even smile at their
bizarre nature – but this could never deter him. He had an
iron-will and an unstinted self-belief.
At times, he would write long letters to his friends and
colleagues and would read these out to them in meets and
moots. Every word he wrote reflected his deep commitment to
a worthy cause. His sentiments were as pure as fresh air. He
had a heart of gold. And yet he was a human being and had
his weaknesses. And who doesn’t? May God forgive all his
blemishes and have mercy on this noble soul.
He was the simplest of human beings. He lived to serve
others. While he was extremely frugal in his personal needs,
he spent generously on others. In fact, he went as far as to
procure huge loans to help people and finance welfare
projects. And then he would procure more loans to pay back
previous loans. He ate the simplest of foods yet for his
friends he threw yummy banquets to make them come together
and synergize. He never built a house for himself. All his
life he preferred to live in a rented house. In one of his
last conversations, he said that he would prefer to have a
personal house in heaven and live in a rented one here!
His well-wishers would be shocked at his way of planning.
His planning was that no planning is needed. One can argue
with the type of trust he had in God and the hopes he would
pin on his creator. “Mind boggling” is a word that falls
short to depict his approach. Yet perhaps none can argue
about his genuine disposition.
For causes dear to him, he would fearlessly jump in the
dark. His fervent soul and restless spirit knew no bounds.
He would begin with minimum resources – many a time, below
minimum and would launch projects single-handedly much to
the amazement and dismay of his friends. And then if a
project succeeded and they joined hands with him, he would
welcome them with an open heart forgetting all their harsh
criticism. And if a project did not succeed in the eyes of
people, he would continue to smile back at his critics, as
if saying: “Don’t worry … I will tread this path alone ...
and still wait for the day when you all will join me.”
One such project that he embarked upon was single-handedly
financing Al-Mawrid (www.al-mawrid.org). Originally
established in 1983, this institute had stopped functioning
in 1987 because of administrative and financial reasons. In
1990, he stepped forward and said that he would take
responsibility of all its affairs if his life-long friend,
guide and mentor, Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, would supervise its
academic side. The call seemed too daring and involved high
risks. Yet it was so earnest and full of assurance that it
somehow convinced his guide to take this bold step ... and
Al-Mawrid became functional once again.
Once he told us that he divided his income into three
parts: one part for Al-Mawrid, one for his business and one
for his house. However, those who know him closely knew that
these were not three equal parts. The lion’s share always
went to Al-Mawrid. He did not have a very flourishing
business, and was never a rich person; yes, he was rich at
heart. God was kind to this project. The initial years were
tough and testing, yet miraculously Al-Mawrid survived its
incubation period. There were hindrances and hiccups –
enough to discourage a normal person. Yet they never wavered
the unstinted resolve of this mighty servant of God. In
thirty years, this sapling planted by him has now grown into
a tree under whose vast shade many new saplings have
emerged. It has produced some committed individuals and
worthy researchers who are now determined to humbly spread
the light of religion to the best of their ability.
In 1990, some months before the revival of Al-Mawrid, Altaf
sb initiated another project, again financing it
single-handedly: a monthly Islamic journal called
“Renaissance” (www.monthly-renaissance.com). He took up the
position of its managing editor. I was entrusted the
responsibility of its editor. It was my first assignment
just after graduating as an electrical engineer. Our common
mentor, Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, became its academic patron.
With no less a commitment he later made to Al-Mawrid, this
lone-ranger began financing this project through his pocket.
Days turned into months and months into years, his support
never stopped. He would always ask me to concentrate on
writing and editing the journal and forget about the rest.
He himself made arrangements to have the journal printed
every month and used his office staff to have it packed and
Altaf sb was among the founders of the Musab Public School
(www.musab.edu.pk), a school set up in 1993 as a harbinger
to a new system of education. It was named after Mus‘ab ibn
‘Umayr, a famous companion of the Prophet (sws) whose
pioneering efforts took Islam to Madinah. The school
envisages producing good human beings who are adept in
religious knowledge and social skills. Altaf sb spent hours
and hours with his colleagues and board members in planning
for the school and in providing support from his resources
which were fast dwindling. From a non-entity, the school has
now arisen to unprecedented heights. There was a time when
people would find it difficult to even pronounce its name.
Today many feel proud to get their children admitted to it.
His last major project was his life-long dream of grooming
needy yet talented children. Defying all odds once again, he
started it without any major external support. He was once
again relying on his restless spirit to power the project.
Altaf Mahmood Foundation (www.facebook.com/AMF12.org) was
set up by him in 2014 when he had completed six decades of
his life. Later on, some philanthropists did join hands but
could not sustain their support. And how could these ups and
downs shake the resolve of Altaf sb? His closest friends and
relatives tried to convince him to shut down this project
and wait until sufficient finances could be raised. He
refused to budge and continued to borrow to finance the
project. In a spate of travels and travails, he selected
more than three dozen children for this Foundation. Many of
these children had lost one or both parents. When someone
dubbed his foundation as an orphanage, he retorted that he
was a father to each of these children. No one should dare
call it an orphanage! And the children loved him as their
father. They would hug and embrace him. And he would respond
in the most affectionate way. Cuddling and kissing them as a
mother does. Like a shepherd he looked after his flock. Not
only their academic needs were taken care of, these children
would be regularly coached to play sports and undergo
physical training. Personal attention was paid to their
nourishment. Milk and meat were specially bought to feed
them in their growing age. Accommodation was free and
customized to their needs. Teachers and caretakers were
hired and trained for their jobs. Just a few days before he
was hospitalized, he had gone shopping for the children for
Eid. Eyes shed tears today with the realization that these
children have once again become orphans. In fact, they have
lost both a father and a mother!
Over two decades ago, he lost his young son to a tragic
accident. He bore this sorrow with stoicism. But it broke
his heart and plunged him forever into deep grief. This was
the first and perhaps the greatest personal tragedies that
he encountered in life. If anything this incident propelled
him even more to focus on his mission. He became even more
devoted than before. It became for him a panacea for his
We can continue to mourn the death of Altaf Mahmood Chaudhry.
Eulogies can be written and elegies can be composed for this
eerie servant of God, but perhaps none may fully capture his
all traits and idiosyncrasies. Last night when we buried
him, his face in the coffin was titled upwards from the
chin. It was pointing towards the sky. It reminded me of his
whole life: he always looked towards the sky for help. Human
support mattered just a wee bit.
Goodbye, dear friend and brother! You have gone but your
memories never will. Au revoir!