By Syed Zubair Ahmad
The sudden demise of Zaheeruddin Ali Khan, affably called ‘Zaheer Bhai’, is an immense loss to the beleaguered Indian Muslim community and a deeply personal loss for me. His departure comes at a time when his leadership was most needed for the community.
He was a dedicated sincere and silent community servant, who devoted his life for the empowerment of the community. A steadfast advocate against fascism, he tragically succumbed to a cardiac arrest while attending the funeral of Gaddar, a revolutionary poet who battled against oppression until the end.
Zaheeruddin Ali Kahn RA left an indelible mark on me, standing out as one of the few individuals who truly impressed and influenced my life. He was a visionary leader with practical wisdom, yet his humility set him apart.
An unwavering champion of social welfare
I recall my first visit to Hyderabad, where Zaheer Bhai extended an invitation, along with my friend Adv. Sharfuddin Ahmad sb. Though Zaheer Bhai arranged a fine hotel, we chose to stay at his guest house, valuing the chance for more meaningful time together. To our surprise, the most part of the expansive Siasat complex was dedicated to various NGOs operating under Zaheer Bhai and his elder brother Zahid Ali Khan’s guidance.
Notable initiatives included a free career guidance center, helping students with information on government schemes and facilitating application submissions. They also offered computer classes and an English speaking course. A seprate section for database of prospective brides and grooms from poor families.
Infact the Siasat office, located in the upscale area of Abids in Hyderabad, served as a haven for nearly 400-500 individuals who visit the complex daily for soulation of their problems.
A patron beyond compare
In historical accounts, we’ve often heard of kings and nobles patronizing artists, writers and poets, but at Siasat office, this tradition was alive and thriving. We had the honor of encountering renowned satirist Mujtaba Hasan and the revolutionary poet Gaddar at this very office. Zaheer Bhai once introduced a young man from Bengal, recognizing his latent talent Zaheer Bhai employed him. This individual blossomed under Zaheer Bhais’s patronage, evolving into a masterful Islamic woodcrafter known for crafting Quranic verses onto wood. Zaheer Bhai also provided employment for many Urdu calligraphers who faced unemployment due to the digital age. His love for Arabic calligraphy was evident through the thousands of rare Quranic calligraphy pieces he left behind. He participated in international Quranic calligraphy exhibitions, promoting this distinct Islamic art form at his own expenses.
Remarkable contributions to social causes
Through the Siasat Millat Fund, he donated Rs 4 crores to support over 22,000 underprivileged students across states. In 1994, he established the Abid Ali Khan Trust, launching initiatives to ensure the education and well-being of marginalized children.
His philanthropic endeavors extended to healthcare for slum dwellers through collaborations with corporate hospitals and empowering underprivileged women with vocational training.
The Millat Trust undertook the responsibility of burying unclaimed bodies in Hyderabad. Inspired by a poignant incident, Zaheer Bhai established a large old age home for elderly individuals, located 100 km away from Hyderabad.
He founded the Minority Development Forum to aid needy students and established a school in Muzaffarnagar for families displaced by the 2014 communal riots, enrolling 600-700 students. I can recall numerous instances when he reached out to me, urging my presence during his visits to Muzaffarnagar.
We met his many employees whose sons / daughters are software engneers or working in MNCs just because of the support of Zaheer Bhai.
A mighty defender of social equity
A steadfast champion of social justice and equality, he tirelessly worked to unite marginalized sections of society. Regular meetings with Dalit leaders highlighted his commitment to inclusive progress.
Support for mob lynching victims and their families
Zaheer Bhai played a pivotal role in financially supporting victims of lynching incidents. He personally attended to victims’ families, getting bank accounts for them and including these details alongside news reports. His compassionate efforts were carried out discreetly, as he preferred not to publicize them. He never missed forwarding the account details of victims families to me for inclusion in Muslim Mirror reports. Due to his personal efforts most of the victims families got 20-60 lacs. He was of the view that financial support would also help the victims families to fight the battle legally and fearlessly.
Zaheer Bhai’s support for Muslim Mirror
Despite being a news portal akin to Siasat English online, Zaheer Bhai extended financial support to Muslim Mirror, like big brother. When Muslim Mirror organized a journalism award, Zahid Ali Khan (the chief editor of Urdu Daily Siasat) was invited to receive an award. Travelling from Hyderabad to Delhi, the Khan family graced the event, demonstrating their support for newcomers in the field. This gesture underscored their generosity, greatness, and humility. Zaheer Bhai even offered to have his software engneer son redesign Muslim Mirror.
On a separate occasion, Zaheer Bhai financially aided a female staff member of Muslim Mirror during her wedding, a testament to his kindness.
Last meeting and last message and last journey
Almost two years ago, we met for the last time at IICC. Zaheer Bhai invited me on dinner. During the dinner he said that he came to collect the receipts for donations made to assist victims of the Delhi riots due to an ongoing investigation.
Surprisingly he last journey of life was with the funeral procession of his dearest friend Gaddar- the legendary poet who kept fighting against imperialist-communal forces till the last breath of his life.
His last message to me, dated July 9th, was about donation for the family of Jahiruddin, a truck driver who was lynched by a mob in Bihar’s Saran district. His message reads,
‘Please donate 300/500 to the family account it will help us in getting conviction. Khatre Khatre se Darya bantee’.
As I pen these words, my eyes has turned into a small river.