Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A conversation with Sir Muhammad Zafarullah Khan

“Why did you go to the funeral of M.A. Jinnah?”

“I was the first foreign minister of the newly created Pakistan. Mr. Jinnah had selected me and appointed me to this post.”

“I loved and respected Mr. Jinnah and it was my sacred duty to pray for his departed soul. That was the least that I could do for the father of our nation. He was the sole spokesman* for the Muslims of India in the fight for our Independence from Britain, there was shock and extreme sorrow. (*This is in deference to Ayesha Jalal’s book The Sole Spokesman.)

Everyone wept that day in September 1948—the whole nation was numb with the shock of the sudden departure of our beloved leader…”

“People have said things against you Sir Zafarullah”

“I am not a great man. The great man was Mr. M. A. Jinnah our Quaid-e-Azam i.e. Great Leader.

“I am just a little humble soul who was lucky to be elevated to lead the first Pakistan delegation to the San Francisco conference where we were, along with many great nations, involved in writing up the Charters of the new U.N.”

“Which year was that?”

The year was 1945 A.D.”

“Did you contribute any ideas to the U.N. Charter?”

“Yes! Indeed—the old League of Nations became defunct and the nations, of the world decided to draw up a new Charter for the new world organization—the U.N.O.”

“Sir Zafarullah, tell us about your work on the constitution of the new U.N.O…”

“It was a Charter and we were able to insert actual words from the noble Quran and these became part of the document.”

“You were the first Pakistani to recite the noble words for the noble Quran.”

“Yes! When I had been appointed President of the U.N. General Assembly in the early 1950s, I began the session with quotes from the noble Quran.”

“But, Sir Zafarullah let us go back to the funeral prayer that you did not offer for Mr. Jinnah.”

“Let me tell you the detail, my son, before offering the prayer I was almost finished with my ritual ablution—one must be physically clean as well as mentally pure when offering any Islamic prayer.”

“What happened, Sir Zafarullah?”

“I was told that the cleric (mullah) who was to lead the prayer was none other than a person named Shabir Usmani who had used vile and abusive language against the founder of the Ahmadiyya movement.”

“So what did you do, Sir Zafarullah?”

“I was paralyzed and in shock.”

“So this knowledge caused you to miss the funeral prayer.”

“My son, the Nebi Karim always taught that actions will be judged by our intentions.”


“So! My intention in being there was to offer the congregational prayers along with everyone else---- if I had not intended and fervently desired to pray for my leader, would it not have been more logical and make sense for me have stayed home--- and not having come to the funeral?”

“Yes! Of course, Sir Zafarullah. The newspapers then reported you as sitting on a rock and missing the prayer… They also report that someone asked you why you missed prayer and you are reported to have said. Perhaps with some bitterness--- ‘I am either a Kafir foreign minister of an Islamic nation or an Muslim foreign minister of a Kafir nation…’ You were angry and caught in a catch 22 situation…”

Sir Muhammad Zafarullah then brought honour to his country when he was appointed a Judge and ultimately the President of the International Court of Justice at The Hague, in the Netherlands.

My wife and I visited him there along with my wife’s brother in Nov. / Dec. 1968.

Prior to that, in 1967, we drove Sir Muhammad Zafarullah in our battered 1960 green Mercury Comet from Chicago Airport to his speech at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. On the way there were huge crowds blocking the roads in Chicago.

Sir. Zafarullah wondered why there were so many people on the streets.

“Sir! Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. has just been assassinated in Memphis”

To be continued…