A beautiful blend of East and West: In memory of Saleem Malik Sahib

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Asif M Basit

A few days ago, I received the news that a very dear senior friend, Salim Malik Sahib passed away.

اِنَّا‭ ‬لِلّٰهِ‭  ‬وَ‭ ‬اِنَّا‭ ‬اِلَيْهِ‭ ‬رَاجِعُوْن

How much room one makes for oneself is not defined by anything physical; rather, it depends on the quality of one’s character and actions. This realisation and the news of Salim Malik Sahib’s passing came to me in the same moment. I also realised that one’s love for another person is not dependent on the amount of time spent with an individual, but the impression it has on them. 

I did not have the opportunity to spend a vast amount of time in Salim Malik Sahib’s company. If I had to calculate the total, it would amount to, perhaps, only a few hours. Those few hours, though, were enough to have a profound effect on my heart and mind; those few hours established within me a deep respect and love for him.

I do not recall exactly how we were first formally introduced, but I do remember seeing him for the first time at Hazrat Khalifatul Masih V’saa Roehampton University address in 2005. It was in this academic institute, on first seeing him, that I came to understand that his life revolved around education and academia.

I saw many dimensions to his personality, but the one that left the most powerful impression on me was that of being an academic and educationalist. He was an educationalist in the truest sense. After my dear teacher, the late Chaudhry Muhammad Ali Sahib, if anyone I knew fit the term of an educationalist in every respect, it was Salim Malik Sahib. 

These revered gentlemen shared the attribute of possessing a thirst for acquiring knowledge. This had surged to such a stage that it eventually evolved into a desire to impart knowledge. In other words,  the acquistion of knowledge in their stream of consciousness knew no limits and grew into an ocean. It is this very passion that transforms a person into an academic and educationalist; otherwise, there are millions of people who, owing to their profession or source of income, are affiliated with the field of education. 

When, under the instruction of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa, teams to assist with MTA programmes were formed consisting of Jamia UK students, I would often hear of Salim Malik Sahib as he was their English teacher. The students had respect for all their teachers, but their respect for Salim Malik Sahib could be observed in their eyes. All of them were in agreement of his intellectual prowess, but also appreciated his love and compassion for them. 

Some of them told me that at the time, Salim Malik Sahib was disappointed with them, but in saying so, their expressions would reflect their own regret and disappointment. This showed me the esteem they had for this teacher’s opinion. 

From its inception, Salim Malik Sahib was associated with Jamia Ahmadiyya UK. When I say its inception, I do not mean 2005; rather, I refer to the 1990s, when its plan came into existence. This was in the time of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IVrh

Saleem Malik Sahib (right) walking beside Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IVrh | Photo courtesy of Saleem Malik Sahib’s family

When Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih IVrh desired to establish Jamia Ahmadiyya in the UK, he formed a committee for this project, of which Salim Malik Sahib was a pioneering and key member. Thus, Salim Malik Sahib was able to participate and offer his services at every step – from its planning to its becoming a reality. 

When this dream was fulfilled during the time of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa, Huzooraa included Salim Malik Sahib among the first lecturers of Jamia UK. In fact, most of my encounters with Salim Malik Sahib took place in the first campus of Jamia Ahmadiyya UK, which was in Colliers Wood, London. Although by this time, he held a walking stick, his conversation and his love for Jamia Ahmadiyya never suggested any hint of his being aged. 

Saleem Malik Sahib welcoming Hazrat Amirul Momineenaa at the old campus of Jamia Ahmadiyya UK | Photo
courtesy of Jamia UK

This was when he had crossed the 70-year mark. Most people, when they pass this milestone, often get lost in reminiscing the past. This is understandable since at this age, the future seems to offer little hope, ambition or urge, and one can easily seek refuge in past memories. 

Salim Malik Sahib’s unique quality was that he had associated himself with the future; with the future of Jamia Ahmadiyya UK. If he ever stepped into the avenues of the past, it would be to trace roots and to pave ways for the future. Otherwise, I never found him to be nostalgic. He had set his sights on Jamia Ahmadiyya, its students and their future, which was ultimately connected with the future of the Jamaat. 

I never found him to have given up hope with respect to Jamia’s future. At times, he would be sorrowful, for he desired to cultivate in his students a sense of progress in such a way that would not only help them learn, but also create a want in them to acquire knowledge. Where he noticed that students were passing exams on the basis of what is known in Pakistan as “ratta” (rote learning), he would be incredibly disappointed. 

Once, I visited his home for work-related purposes and found that he was marking the end-of-year English exam papers. He picked up one of the papers in front of him and said, “I have been looking at this paper for so long, yet I don’t know what to do with it. In a year’s time, this student”, who shall remain nameless, “will become a qualified murabbi. How will he talk to people living in the Western world? He cannot even formulate a basic sentence in English.” 

I replied that if the student didn’t belong to the UK and to another European country, then shouldn’t the curriculum and method of testing be separate for them, i.e. teaching English as a foreign language?

Malik Sahib replied, “You are right. I will look into this.” But this was when his health had begun to deteriorate quite rapidly and Malik Sahib was unable to physically attend lessons in Jamia. 

But Malik Sahib probably never accepted this “inability”, that he could ever be “unable” to serve the Jamaat. He would travel almost daily from Bedfont, West London – where he resided – to the Colliers Wood campus. Then, when Jamia shifted to Haslemere, he travelled there and the students would benefit from his knowledge. 

His love for Jamia was such that there was hardly ever an encounter with him in which he didn’t express his love and concern for it. He desired an extremely bright future for his students. 

He had a deep love for the English language, so much so that for a long time, I thought that perhaps his qualification was in English literature. It was only when he spoke about his area of expertise that I realised his formal education had been in geology and chemistry, which he had taught at Reading University for over 35 years. 

He had studied English literature purely out of personal interest, and that too very keenly. In fact, it would not be inaccurate to say that he possessed a vast and comprehensive understanding of English literature. 

Jamia Ahmadiyya’s theses cover a wide range of topics. Whenever he was assigned the task of supervising a student’s thesis, he would fulfil the role with utmost dedication. The thesis would thus do justice to the subject and the standard of English would also be to a decent level. 

My communication with Salim Malik Sahib increased when the morning show, Asr-e-Hazir, began airing on MTA. This programme would cover issues related to the modern world. On the show, we would discuss how Islamic teachings could be practised in conjunction with the requirements of living modern-day lifestyles and how it was not necessary to compromise our faith in doing so.

Saleem Malik Sahib during the live Asr-e-Hazir show | Photo courtesy of MTA International

Among the guests that were considered for this show, Salim Malik Sahib’s name was the foremost. Consequently, he was invited on the very first show and also the second. On both occasions that he was invited, between each show, we would talk over the telephone about the topics and how much time we would allocate to each subject. 

For the third show, we had invited another guest. As mentioned above, this show would be broadcast live in the morning. Whilst preparing for the show in the MTA studios, Salim Malik Sahib climbed up the staircase with great effort and entered our office. 

Usually, the guest who is to appear in the following show is given a formal invitation, whereas those who are not invited on the show are not told that they should not come. However, it was a mistake on my part that I considered this an understood rule. 

A large part of that day was spent in regret that I should have informed Malik Sahib that he was not going to appear on the third show. This could at least have saved him the pain of travelling in the early hours of the day. However, when he was informed that someone else was a guest on the show that day, very lovingly, he said, “It doesn’t matter. At least we got to see each other again.” 

Those who were helping me on the show that day were either his students or had been his students. I asked one of them to sit with Malik Sahib throughout the programme and benefit from his company as I would be occupied in hosting the show. He spent some time with us after the show, before leaving. 

On the show, whilst talking about fashion trends among the younger generation and the effects of celebrity culture, Malik Sahib said, “My childhood and formative years were spent in Qadian. Our role models and celebrities were the likes of Hazrat Maulvi Sher Ali Sahibra. I personally observed at that time that Maulvi Sahibra would try to be first in extending Salaam. As children, we would be so intrigued by this habit of his that we would also try to do the same.” 

This was something that had a lasting impression on me and others too. There is guidance for parents in this also. When we explain to our children not to blindly follow worldly figures and celebrities, then we should also introduce to them the real celebrities who can play the role of true role models. 

In this regard, nowadays, Hazrat Amirul Momineenaa is narrating the accounts of the Companionsra of Badr in his Friday Sermons. This is such a wealth that if we encourage our children to listen to these sermons attentively, they will not require any worldly role model to look up to. 

There is another aspect of Malik Sahib’s personality I would like to talk about, which spoke volumes. 

Those who migrate to settle in the Western world may sometimes entirely compromise their habits, customs and even values, whilst adopting an entirely Western lifestyle. Having lived in Britain for many decades, Malik Sahib had adopted all the positive aspects of Western life, but never let it compromise his religious and cultural identity. He was never embarrassed about his religion, but his punctuality, discipline, intellectual awareness and straightforwardness were like the English. In this manner, his personality had adopted the positives of both East and West. 

The British are known for their humour and wit and “British humour” is a term often used for this quality. Its unique aspect is to ease difficult and uncomfortable situations with wit. Salim Malik Sahib embraced this positive aspect as well. 

Once, before a programme, he was offered a cup of tea that had been prepared with affection by one of his students. Instead of placing it on the table in front of him, the student handed the cup to Malik Sahib, but with the handle still in his own fingers. Thus, Malik Sahib had to hold the cup from the piping hot area. 

Before I could do anything, Malik Sahib had grasped the cup and was searching for somewhere to place it. Upon seeing the pain Malik Sahib was in, I immediately stood up to help. This commotion left the student extremely embarrassed, but Malik Sahib, resorting to British humour, said, “To check the temperature of something, you sometimes have to go ahead and touch it.” In this manner, Malik Sahib eased the embarrassment we all felt. 

Whenever I would call him on the phone and ask his advice, he would always lovingly ask me to visit him so that we could talk about the matter easily in person. Even if I was unable to visit him at his home, he would offer his guidance on the matter but would always persist in having me over. Whenever I visited him, he would be incredibly compassionate. 

One noteworthy aspect I observed when visiting his home was that he would always be dressed in smart clothes and his hair neatly made. 

He was also extremely hospitable and would always offer something to eat or drink. In my embarrassment, I once said that I would bring some food the next time I came, to which he replied, “If you do, then don’t come. We don’t go out of our way to prepare this food. Whatever is available, we place it on the table.” Although Malik Sahib said this, the manner in which it was presented would make it look formally prepared. 

Once, upon arrival, I said to Malik Sahib that he should not make anything for me as I had eaten earlier. Even then, he said, “Well at least have a cup of tea.” In truth, even that “cup of tea” was not the “least” in any way. 

In our last encounter, I said to Malik Sahib that we wanted to preserve his library in the Ahmadiyya Archive and Research Centre. He replied, “Of course! We should set a day for it and work on this. However, I have committed to Jamia as well in this regard.” Whilst leaving, he gave me his copy of the English translation of Iqbal’s Zaboor-e-Ajam

Whenever he met me in his humble manner, due to my being junior to him in every respect, I would feel extremely embarrassed. 

Once, there was a project that was related to a university and under Huzoor’saa instructions, I consulted Salim Malik Sahib. The love, attention and interest with which he listened to everything and the care with which he offered his advice, was proof of his deep-rooted love for Khilafat. In fact, when I told him that Huzooraa had instructed that I consult him and asked when to come and visit him, he replied, “If Huzooraa has instructed this, then there is no question of ‘when’; come now, at this very instance. I am here.”

My last conversation with him was in February this year. When Al Fazl International published an article I had written in their Musleh-e-Maudra special edition, I received a call from Malik Sahib that same evening. He appreciated the article and praised it. I was already embarrassed due to the praise, but he added, “This should be translated into English. The younger generation should be acquainted with this aspect of the grandeur of Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra.”

I replied, “Yes, Malik Sahib, insha-Allah.”

He then said, “No, I am saying that if you permit, I would like to translate this article.”

I recall that at the time, I was driving my car. In fact, I remember my exact location when he said this, for there are very few occasions when I have felt so embarrassed and humbled at the same time. I replied, “Malik Sahib, you do not need permission. This, in fact, would be a great honour for me.”

Malik Sahib translated the article in such a way that it seemed as though the original was in English and translated into Urdu. 

This was Malik Sahib’s last gift to me. He had given me, on various occasions, the gift of his love, affection and knowledge. After seeing him, a person always felt a desire to seek knowledge, which in fact is an extremely precious gift; a rare gift that is, unfortunately, getting scarcer. 

Aside from pestering him on the odd occasion, I could not offer anything to the late Malik Sahib. He was extremely knowledgeable and I, in comparison to his stature, felt I was nothing. What could I have offered him? I became indebted to his kindness to me and in this debt of mine, he departed this world. 

Photo courtesy of Saleem Malik Sahib’s family

At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that the most notable characteristic of his personality in my view was his academic prowess. Now, upon hearing the news of his demise, the couplet of Obaidullah Aleem Sahib springs to mind, with the field of education in mind:

صبحِ چمن میں ایک یہی آفتاب تھا

اس آدمی کی لاش کو اعزاز سے اُٹھا

(In the vastness of the morning, he was the only light; Let us lay him to rest with great honour and pride.)

May Allah the Almighty grant Hazrat Amirul Momineenaa hundreds of intellectual scholars in place of one, and in place of one ardent devotee, provide him with many more. 

May Allah bless the soul of beloved Salim Malik Sahib. 

1 COMMENT

  1. Beautifully written MashAllah. Uncle will be missed dearly. JazakAllah for all the rides to Jummah prayers, the many events and playing the grandfather figure in my life the past 20 years. May Allah grant beloved uncle a lofty station in paradise Ameen.

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