From the pages of history

Allama Abdul Ali Akhunzada’s contributions to education and Pashto literature are commendable

Balochistan faces many challenges when it comes to the provision of education. The province’s literacy rate stands at 40 percent, one of the lowest in the country. With over 60 percent of children out of school in the region, education continues to be a neglected affair.

Even though there is an evident lack of proper educational infrastructure, Khanozai, a tehsil of district Pishin located some 40 kilometres north of Quetta, has an incredible literacy rate of 98 percent.

Khanozai is known across Asia for its impressive literacy rate and high school enrollment rates for both boys and girls. The credit for putting the region on the path goes to Allama Abdul Ali Akhundzada, who is sometimes referred to as the Sir Syed Ahmad Khan of Balochistan. He gave Khanozai its first school in 1905.

Born in 1872 in a renowned family of Khanozai town, Abdul Ali Akhundzada received his early education from his father, Mawlvi Abdul Khaliq Akhundzada. He also studied under his uncle for some period. He then left for Kandahar where he was in touch with well-known clerics and learnt Nahw, Sarf, Fiqh, Tafsir and Hadith.

After an extended stay in Kandahar, he returned home and then travelled to Delhi, where he became an expert physician. On returning to his home town he practiced medicine and spread awareness among people.

Abdul Ali Akhundzada established a primary school in Khanozai. He was the first to enroll the children of his family at the new school to set an example.

Akhundzada was a distinguished Islamic scholar. He was also an eminent Pashto poet and a visionary politician.

On account of his farsightedness and knowledge, he served as an adviser to the Khan of Qalat, Meer Azam Jan. He was appointed chief justice by the around 1930. When he quit the job, he moved back to his home town and remained engaged with the education sector.

Akhundzada devoted his entire life to serving his people.

The Allama started his political career from the platform of the All India Muslim League in the 1940s. In those days, Qazi Mohammad Isa (father of Qazi Faez Isa) had founded the AIML Balochistan chapter on Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s advice and was appointed the first president of the party’s new chapter. Akhundzada became one of Qazi Mohammad Isa’s early supporters. He wrote a Persian ode to Jinnah and presented it to him during one of his extended visits to Quetta and Pishin in 1943.

Akhundzada remained close to Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Maulana Zafar Ali Khan, Inayatullah Mashriqi and Maulana Mohammad Ali Johar. He also established ties with Ghazi Amanullah Khan in 1928 and dedicated a Persian qasida to the former Afghan king in appreciation of his vision. Khan reciprocated the gesture by lauding Allama’s efforts in a letter.

His book, Shakh-i-Gul, a worthy addition to Pashto poetry, was printed in 1992, by Pashto Academy, Quetta. He wrote many ghazals and authored many books including, Sharh Diwan-i-Sayeb, Rud Bar Ghulam Ahmed Qadiani and Sharh Aqaed Nasafiya. Unfortunately, these books have not been published to date.

Akhundzada discovered the original manuscript of Pata Khazana (the hidden treasure), one of the historical Pashto texts containing an anthology of classical Pashto classic poetry compiled by Mohammad Hotak Kandhari in 1141 Hijri (1728-29 AD). The book comprises three chapters; the first chapter discusses Pashto poets from the 8th to 17th century. The second one is dedicated to the contemporaries of Hotak and the last is all eminent female poets of Pashto language.

Abdul Hai Habibi, the Afghan scholar, wrote about the contribution of Allama Akhundzada, ”I knew Allama Abdul Ali when at 10, as I used to listen to his poetry sung by Baghi Akhundzada (a local musician of Arghandab Kandahar). I met Akhundzada for the first time at his clinic in Quetta while in India. In those days, I was editor of Tuloo-i-Afghan newspaper, which he regularly visited. He would warmly receive me, and we would exchange views with each other. He would kiss my forehead as a sign of his affection while leaving.”

Habibi wrote in 1939 that he had received a message from Abdul Ali Akhundzada stating that “I have found an original Pashto manuscript of Pata Khazana and want it to be published in the Tuloo-i-Afghan‘’.

Habibi adds that, after a prolonged wait, he received the historical manuscript from the Allama, and it was printed in 1943. The master copy remains at the Kabul library.

Habibi says, “Had Abdul Ali Akhundzada not discovered this precious holograph, Pashto would have been deprived of the treasure”.

Allama Akhundzada passed away in 1944 at the age of 72 and was laid to rest in Khanozai, Pishin.

The writer teaches literature at Zhob Degree College and is a columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]

From the pages of history: Allama Abdul Ali Akhunzada’s contributions to education and Pashto literature