Sayed Hyder Ali Shihab Thangal: The simple, secular and spiritual stalwart of Kerala

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Sayed Hyderali Shihab Thangal

By Mujeeb Jaihoon

Panakkad Sayed Hyder Ali Shihab Thangal (1947 – 2022) has left the mortal world for the bliss of the eternal abode. For the last five decades, Thangal illuminated the spiritual and political trails of Kerala, leading the Community with composure and fortitude. He shone as the brightest luminary garrisoning peace and communal harmony.

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Hyder Ali Shihab Thangal helmed both the temporal and spiritual saddles of the Community. He served as an asylum for people saddled with difficulties ranging from high stakes political tremors to laymen perturbed over medical and marriage expenses. He came to be epitomized as simplicity and care but also eulogized as a resolute politician, rarely seen in the rough and tumble of Indian democracy.

The diminutive person helmed both religious and political organization; without compromising religion and secularism. He is credited with initiating the ‘Majlis Noor’ devotional congregations to kindle spiritual vibrancy in the society. According to him, religion and spirituality have the potential to reinvigorate a believer’s life. Nevertheless, he was also a bulwark of religious harmony, shielding it from attacks, both from within and outside the Community.

The Affectionate ‘Attapoo’

The demise of honorable Sayed is an irreparable loss to my family also. Beginning with my father and children, I had the fortune to closely interact with the Panakkad family on several occasions. It was Sayed Hyder Ali Shihab who solemnized my son’s completion of Hifdh (Quran memorization) at his residence.

I was often awestruck with the humility of the ‘Attappoo’, as he was affectionately called, and the affection he showered upon people. It was a rare proximity for all, irrespective of their social and financial backgrounds, to feel the warmth of his magical healing. On many occasions, Sayed was curious to know about my father and offered sincere prayers for his well-being.

His photographic memory has often baffled me. I attribute this memory to the noble heritage of the Panakkad Sayyid family whose legacy is dedicated for the people like a candle burning to perish for others. They radiated exuberance round the clock. It is said that once Hyder Ali Shihab Thangal learned of the difficulties the visitors had in approaching him in the wee hours of midnight, shifted his resting room the next day close to the verandah.

The Well Wisher

As a biographer of his elder brother and predecessor, Panakkad Sayyid Muhammed Ali Shihab Thangal, I had the distinguished academic and personal bonhomie with his family. I gratefully recall when my book, ’Slogans of the Sage’, (a dossier of remarkable collection of quotations inspired by the life and message of the late Indian Statesman and Philanthropist), materialized after tedious years of research. His life is still contemporaneous and a valuable template on how to tread in Indian democracy without compromising religious and secular life. Once during his trip to UAE, I presented my book to Hyder Ali Shihab Thangal. I saw in him an inquisitive audience listening to the details with rapt attention. He motivated me to work harder with the might of pen and sharpness of the written word. His soothing mantras continue to ring in my ears to carry on my literary journey with greater zeal and vigor.

Champion of Humility

His humility and simplicity was as striking as his calm but resolute personality. Once I happened to visit him at his residence during a summer night. It was all dark around the verandah. A short man opened the door holding a torch in his hand. After welcoming us with a warm greeting, he excused himself to go and fix the power outage. With no luck at his side, the host finally chose to sit with us with a flashlight on, serving us the traditional black tea and delicious Malabar snacks. I wondered in disbelief: the most powerful Muslim leader in Kerala, supremo of Kerala State Muslim League, the largest political representattion of Kerala Muslims, and an eminent scholar and spiritual healer who had hundreds of thousands of admirers at his command, did not find it embarrassing to perform his house chores on his own. Hyder, meaning the brave, was also the champion of humility and simplicity in our modern times.

The Promising and Practical Panacea

His life and legacy, like his predecessors, will serve as torchlight for the Kerala Muslims to negotiate the changing demands of Indian society. While communal fissures are exacerbated and religion widely misinterpreted, his life will provide ideological and practical panacea to heal pestering problems. ‘Life is to contribute, never to destruct’ is the lesson his life has taught. He has demonstrated that only a good Muslim could be an exemplary citizen.

May the Almighty accept and elevate the noble contributions of Sayed Hyder Ali Shihab.

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Mujeeb Jaihoon is an Indian-born writer and community activist, better known for his books, ‘Slogans of the Sage’ and ‘The Cool Breeze From Hind’. His blog can be reached at www.jaihoon.com

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