Asghar Ali Engineer

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Asghar Ali Engineer
Asghar Ali Engineer, 2010 (cropped).jpg
Asghar Ali Engineer in 2010
Born(1939-03-10)10 March 1939
Salumbar, Rajasthan
Died14 May 2013(2013-05-14) (aged 74)
Santacruz, Mumbai, India
OccupationWriter, activist
Notable awards Right Livelihood Award (2004)

Asghar Ali Engineer (10 March 1939 – 14 May 2013) was an Indian reformist-writer and social activist. [1] Internationally known for his work on liberation theology in Islam, he led the Progressive Dawoodi Bohra movement. The focus of his work was on communalism and communal and ethnic violence in India and South Asia. He was a votary of peace and non-violence and lectured all over world on communal harmony. [2]

Liberation theology is a synthesis of Christian theology and Marxist socio-economic analyses that emphasizes social concern for the poor and the political liberation for oppressed peoples. In the 1950s and the 1960s, liberation theology was the political praxis of Latin American theologians, such as Gustavo Gutiérrez of Peru, Leonardo Boff of Brazil, Juan Luis Segundo of Uruguay, and Jon Sobrino of Spain, who popularized the phrase "Preferential option for the poor".

Islam is an Abrahamic, Monotheistic, Universal religion teaching that there is only one God, and that Muhammad is the messenger of God. It is the world's second-largest religion with over 1.8 billion followers or 24% of the world's population, most commonly known as Muslims. Muslims make up a majority of the population in 50 countries. Islam teaches that God is merciful, all-powerful, and unique, and has guided humankind through prophets, revealed scriptures and natural signs. The primary scriptures of Islam are the Quran, viewed by Muslims as the verbatim word of God, and the teachings and normative examples of Muhammad.

Progressive Dawoodi Bohra

Progressive Dawoodi Bohra known as "Bohra Youth" is a reform movement within the Dawoodi Bohra subsect of Mustaali Ismai'li Shi'a Islam. They disagree with mainstream Dawoodi Bohra, as led by the Da'i al-Mutlaq, on doctrinal, economic and social issues.


Engineer also served as head of the Institute of Islamic Studies and the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, both of which he founded in 1980 and 1993 respectively. [3] [4] He also made contributions to The God Contention, [5] a website comparing and contrasting various worldviews. Engineer's autobiography A Living Faith: My Quest for Peace, Harmony and Social Change was released in New Delhi on 20 July 2011 by Hamid Ansari, the then Vice-President of India. [6]


Asghar Ali Engineer Asghar Ali Engineer 1.jpg
Asghar Ali Engineer

Asghar Ali Engineer was born 10 March 1939 in Salumbar, Rajasthan, India as son of a Bohra priest, Shaikh Qurban Hussain. He was trained in Qur'anic tafsir (commentary), tawil (hidden meaning of Qur'an), fiqh (jurisprudence) and hadith (Prophet's sayings), and learned the Arabic language. [7]

Salumbar Town in Rajasthan, India

Salumbar is a small town and a municipality in Udaipur district in the Indian state of Rajasthan. It was ruled by the Chundawat Sisodia rajputs of Mewar.

India Country in South Asia

India, also known as the Republic of India, is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh largest country by area and with more than 1.3 billion people, it is the second most populous country as well as the most populous democracy in the world. Bounded by the Indian Ocean on the south, the Arabian Sea on the southwest, and the Bay of Bengal on the southeast, it shares land borders with Pakistan to the west; China, Nepal, and Bhutan to the northeast; and Bangladesh and Myanmar to the east. In the Indian Ocean, India is in the vicinity of Sri Lanka and the Maldives, while its Andaman and Nicobar Islands share a maritime border with Thailand and Indonesia.

<i>Tafsir</i> exegesis of the Quran

Tafsir is the Arabic word for exegesis, usually of the Qur'an. An author of a tafsir is a mufassir. A Qur'anic tafsir attempts to provide elucidation, explanation, interpretation, context or commentary for clear understanding and conviction of God's will.

He graduated with a degree in civil engineering from Vikram University in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh, [8] and served for 20 years as an engineer in the Bombay Municipal Corporation before taking voluntary retirement in 1972, to devote himself to the Bohra reform movement.

Vikram University

Vikram University is a university in the city of Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh, India.

Ujjain Metropolitan City in Madhya Pradesh, India

Ujjain is a city in Ujjain district of the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. It is the fifth largest city in Madhya Pradesh by population and is the administrative centre of Ujjain district and Ujjain division. It is a famous Hindu pilgrimage centre with the Kumbh Mela held here every 12 years.

He began to play a leading role in the reform movement in 1972 when a revolt took place in Udaipur. He was unanimously elected as General Secretary of The Central Board of Dawoodi Bohra Community in its first conference in Udaipur in 1977. In 2004 due to criticism of the Dawoodi Bohra religious establishment he was expelled. In 1980, he set up the Institute of Islamic Studies in Mumbai to create a platform for progressive Muslims in India and elsewhere. Subsequently, through the 1980s, he wrote extensively on Hindu-Muslim relations, and growing communal violence in India. Asghar Ali Engineer has been instrumental in publicising the Progressive Dawoodi Bohra movement through his writings and speeches. In 1993, he founded 'Center for Study of Society and Secularism' to promote communal harmony. [7] He supported the ban on Salman Rushdie's "Satanic Verses" because he felt that the novel "is an attack" on religion. [9] [ verification needed ]

Udaipur Metropolis in Rajasthan, India

Udaipur, also known as the "City of Lakes", is a city governed by Municipal Corporation which comes under Udaipur Metropolitan Region. It is the historic capital of the kingdom of Mewar in the former Rajputana Agency. It was founded in 1558 by Maharana Udai Singh II of the Sisodia clan of Rajput, when he shifted his capital from the city of Chittorgarh to Udaipur after Chittorgarh was besieged by Akbar. It remained as the capital city till 1818 when it became a British princely state, and thereafter the Mewar province became a part of Rajasthan when India gained independence in 1947.

Dawoodi Bohra sect of Ismaili Shia Islam

The Dawoodi Bohras are a sect within the Ismā'īlī branch of Shia Islam. The largest populations of Dawoodi Bohras reside in India, Pakistan, Yemen, East Africa and the Middle East. There are also significant numbers living in Europe, North America, South East Asia and Australia. Most sources put the worldwide population to be one million.

Mumbai Megacity in Maharashtra, India

Mumbai is the capital city of the Indian state of Maharashtra. As of 2011 it is the most populous city in India with an estimated city proper population of 12.4 million. The larger Mumbai Metropolitan Region is the second-most-populous metropolitan area in India, with a population of 21.3 million as of 2016. Mumbai lies on the Konkan coast on the west coast of India and has a deep natural harbour. In 2008, Mumbai was named an alpha world city. It is also the wealthiest city in India, and has the highest number of millionaires and billionaires among all cities in India. Mumbai is home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Elephanta Caves, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, and the city's distinctive ensemble of Victorian and Art Deco buildings.

He authored more than 50 books [10] and many articles in various national and international journals. He was the founding chairman of the Asian Muslim Action Network, director of the Institute of Islamic Studies, and head of the Center for Study of Society and Secularism in Mumbai, where he closely worked with scholar and scientist Professor Dr Ram Puniyani. Engineer was also a supporter of the supporter of the Campaign for the Establishment of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly, an organisation which campaigns for democratic reformation of the United Nations. [11]

Ram Puniyani Indian writer

Ram Puniyani is a former professor of biomedical engineering and former senior medical officer affiliated with the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay. He began his medical career in 1973 and served IIT in various capacities for 27 years, beginning 1977. In December 2004, he took voluntary retirement to work full-time for what has been stated by some as "communal harmony" in India. He is involved with human rights activities and initiatives to oppose something which some see as "the rising tide of fundamentalism in India". He is associated with the organisations All-India Secular Forum, Center for Study of Society and Secularism and ANHAD. In 2006, he was awarded the Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration.

Campaign for the Establishment of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly

The Campaign for a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly (CUNPA) is a global network of more than 300 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and 1,500 current and former parliamentarians from around 150 countries devoted to establishing a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly.

Beliefs on women's rights

Engineer wrote that "Women do not enjoy the status the Qur'an has given them in Muslim society today." [12] Engineer believed that in this day and age women should be equal to men.

Women had internalized their subjugation of men as the latter were the breadwinners. Since then women have become quite conscious of their new status. [13]

Engineer believed that women should be treated as equal to men, and said that people who support an unjust order, or remain silent in view of gross injustices were not religious people. Women’s inequality topped his priority list of injustices. However, critics said that his interpretations of the Qur'an were not strong enough to get people to change their beliefs surrounding women’s place in Islam. Sikand thought that Engineer’s opinion was based on his interpretation of the Qur'an and his outlook on the 21st century instead of the interpretations that the Qur'an has now. “His understanding of Islam is indelibly shaped by his concern for social justice and inter-communal harmony, of course.” [14]


Engineer was given several awards during his lifetime, including the Dalmia Award for communal harmony in 1990, an honorary D.Litt. by the University of Calcutta in 1993, the Communal Harmony Award in 1997 and the Right Livelihood Award in 2004 (with Swami Agnivesh) for his "strong commitment to promote values of co-existence and tolerance". [8]

Some works

Further reading

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  1. IANS (14 May 2013). "Scholar Asghar Ali Engineer dies at 74". Hindustan Times. Retrieved 14 May 2013.
  2. About Asghar Ali Engineer Archived 19 May 2007 at the Wayback Machine Rutgers University.
  3. Institute of Islamic Studies and Centre for Study of Society and Secularism.
  4. Asghar Ali Engineer gets alternative Nobel Indian Express, 2 October 2004.
  5. The God Contention
  6. "Center For Study of Society And Secularism". Retrieved 16 May 2013.
  7. 1 2 Asghar Ali Engineer: the man Muslims in India Since 1947: Islamic Perspectives on Inter-faith Relations, by Yoginder Sikand. Routledge, 2004. ISBN   0-415-31486-0. Page 12–13.
  8. 1 2 Right Livelihood – Asghar Ali Engineer Archived 22 November 2008 at the Wayback Machine Right Livelihood Award
  9. A.A. Engineer, interviewed by Sharmila Joshi, Times of India, 16. April 1995.
  10. Books written and edited by Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer Archived 13 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine CSSS- Centre for Study of Society and Secularism.
  11. "Supporters". Campaign for a UN Parliamentary Assembly. Retrieved 26 September 2017.
  12. On Methodology of Understanding Qur'an. Archived 6 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine Engineer, Asghar Ali. "Dr Asghar Ali Engineer's Articles." Rutgers-Newark: The State University of New Jersey.
  13. Engineer, Asghar Ali. The rights of Women in Islam. 2nd ed. Elgin, IL: New Dawn Press Group, 2004, 190.
  14. Sikand, Yoginder. “Asghar Ali Engineer’s Quest for an Islamic Theology of Peach and Religious Pluralism.” Progressive Dawoodi Bohras. Quest. (accessed 23 April 2009), 16.