By: Md. Chingiz Khan
Ph.D Research Scholar, Centre for Historical Studies,
School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
A guiding father’s love shows ways of life to his children. Nonetheless, to be a model father in successfully traversing, as the guiding light, through the thick and thin of a toilsome life is not an easy feat. It becomes rather a herculean task when he is engaged in charitable activities besides discharging the primary role of the family’s breadwinner and helping his children build their careers. Only a few fortunate ones have accomplished such kind of success as fathers. Such a model father’s image is reflected from the earthly journey of a Manipuri Muslim philanthropist Haji Noor Muhammad, the former Chairman of the Imphal-based Sheikh Babumacha Memorial Trust (SBMT), and the chief architect of the Sheikh Brothers Seenaipung Training Programme (Handlooms & Handicrafts), Kshetri Top KhongnangMakhong, Imphal East, Manipur.
Haji Noor’s sudden and untimely demise at the age of 66 on 22nd May 2021 after battling with COVID-19 at a private hospital in Imphal caused irreparable loss of a guiding father to his children and of a compassionate social worker to needy sections of his society. The inordinate loss from such an abrupt end of his earthly journey is aptly described in Her Excellency, the Governor of Manipur Dr. Najma Heptullah’s official condolence letter addressed to deceased Haji Noor’s eldest son Sh. Noor Rahman Sheikh (IFS), the former Consul General, Consulate General of India, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, who is presently posted as the Director, Economic Diplomacy Division, Ministry of External Affairs, New Delhi.
Her Excellency’s message reads: “Haji Noor Muhammad, honestly speaking, was a firm and straightforward guardian not only for your family but the whole of your community also who had a soft corner, particularly for needy and backward people. The sudden demise of a very straightforward and invaluable person is an irreparable loss. Please accept my heartfelt condolences on his sudden demise. May Allah give you and your family members the strength to bear this irreparable loss with courage and fortitude and may his departed soul rest in peace.”
Respected in his community as a model father who successfully moulded his children to get through tough national level competitive examinations and helped them secure coveted government jobs, he was a dynamic and energetic person who always thought of bringing desirable changes in the Manipuri society particularly in the most disadvantageous Pangal community in terms of education, economy and polity. The charisma of the model father in Haji Noor Muhammad’s personality, thanks to his successful discharging of responsibility for his children’s development particularly in higher education and his social contributions, becomes more visible as one takes a timeline-walk down memory lane.
The grandson of Kunjehari Bibi, a freedom fighter who took part in the famous Second Nupi Lal of Manipur (Second Women’s Uprising-1939) during the British rule, Noor Muhammad was born to middle class parents Sh. Babumacha and Sanatombi Bibi on 5th June 1955 at Kshetri Top KhongnangMakhong, Imphal East, Manipur. As the only male child with three female siblings, Noor Muhammad’s childhood was full of struggle due to poverty while the urge for education was at its peak. With strenuous struggle propelled by his father Babumacha’s vision, he completed his graduation from Manipur’s premier higher education institute, the DM College, Imphal. He also completed the 1styear of MA (Mathematics) from Manipur University but had to discontinue the course as he landed a job as an Assistant Sub-Inspector (ASI) in Manipur Police Wireless (MPR), Government of Manipur. Before this, he taught Mathematics and English at the Standard English School, New Checkon, Imphal besides giving private tuition for Mathematics to students, which earned him a lifetime name of ‘Oja’ with reverence.
Overcoming life’s tragedies like the domestic fire incident in 1989 which snatched away his 3rd child, the eldest daughter, of just 2 years, he worked very hard to develop his sons and daughters for their future careers while his progressive and graceful better half HajjanHusne Banu effectively shouldered the responsibility of childcare and household maintenance enabling him to meet his social obligations too. And, his children’s achievements reflect his image of a model father.
His eldest son Sh. Noor Rahman Sheikh cracked the Civil Services Examination (CSE)-2003 conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), New Delhi, in his first attempt and got the Indian Revenue Services (IRS). In his second attempt, he ranked 187th all over India and got Indian Foreign Services (IFS) in 2004 and became the first ever IFS officer among the OBC and General candidates from the Meitei and Pangal communities of Manipur. It was a rare feat for a Manipuri Muslim as none from the community could have cracked the CSE of the UPSC and entered the Indian Civil Services before him. Till then the community could boast of only a few high-ranking IAS and IPS officers, all promotees of the state civil services, namely Abdul Halim Choudhury of Babupara, I. G. Rahman of Kairang, Abdul Sattar of Hatta, AR Khan of KshetriBengoon, etc.
Noor Rahman attributes his achievements to his father’s timely advice, motivation and inspiration apart from Allah’s blessings. It will not be an exaggeration to acknowledge Haji Noor’s contributions to making his eldest son the pioneering Pangal torch-bearer in the Civil Services arena as he became the first Pangal IFS officer, that too soon after his graduation in Political Science (Hons) from the Hindu College, Delhi University, Delhi, and after dropping out as a cadet from the National Defence Academy (NDA) on medical ground earlier. With this achievement he earned a place in the annals of the Pangals and left considerable appeal to the community about the importance of cultivating social consciousness, aspirations, determination, patience, sincerity, dynamic personality, etc. that had led him to realising his dreams and becoming one of the brightest civil servants of the country over the years, despite being born into a middle-class family of a socio-economically backward community. This had virtually triggered waves of awareness among civil services aspirants and enlightened parents in the community after 2002-2003. In one way he brought changes in his community’s dominant perceptions about competitive examinations like the CSE thereby showing them as tough but surmountable ones. As an officer he elevated the Pangal community to new heights and as a visionary inspired other aspirants to a great extent.
According to Noor Rahman, if his achievements are anything to do with any change in Pangal community’s perception, about competitive examinations like the ones conducted by the UPSC as achievable, then the credit goes to his father because he strove hard for his son’s achievements with the determination of turning ‘impossibility’ to ‘possibility’ which became resonant at the community level.Haji Noor’s second son, Sh. Sheikh Noorul Hassan is a budding politician intending to contest the General Election-2022 from Kshetrigao Assembly Constituency in Imphal East district of the state. After graduating from Delhi University, he completed his PG Diploma in English Journalism from the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC), New Delhi, and MBA from the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade (IIFT), New Delhi. He too attributes his educational achievement to his father’s motivation and inspiration. The third son Sh. Sheikh Abdul Hakim, Deputy Secretary, Government of Manipur, cracked Manipur Civil Services (MCS) Examination-2014 holding 45th rank all over Manipur. As a college topper in Political Science (Hons) from Rajdhani College, Delhi University, Abdul Hakim did his post-graduation in the same subject from Delhi University meanwhile getting through the UGC-NET Examination-2014 in the first attempt when he was still in his MA 3rdSemester. He attributes his achievements to his father’s timely guidance and inspiration. The fourth son Sh. Sheikh Qamran is an entrepreneur and fifth son Sh. Rabiul Sheikh is pursuing medical studies (BDS) in New Delhi while the last son Sh. Sheikh Abu Bakr is in 12th class. They are following their elder siblings’ footsteps for realising their father’s dreams. Haji Noor’s second daughter Sh. Sheikh Aquida had completed her MA in Political Science from Delhi University and gotqualified in the UGC-NET Examination in 2014 while the third daughter Dr. Sh. Sheikh Hasina is a practising dental surgeon. Besides working hard for his children’s educational attainment, Haji Noor, true to his image of a model father, also supported many young scholars from his community, who would not be able to pursue further higher studies, through financial help, motivation, inspiration and rightful guidance.
During his lifetime Haji Noor Muhammad did much praiseworthy and creditable philanthropic work for the welfare of the Pangal community. He founded the SBMT after his father’s name with an objective of uplifting the downtrodden sections in the Pangal community. The trust runs the Princeton International School at Kshetri Awang Leikai, Imphal East, for providing quality education to the Pangal society particularly in the Kshetrigao Assembly Constituency. With an aim to empower the community through education, the school provides free education to 250 students belonging to families below property line (BPL).He conceptualised the SBS Training Programme (Handlooms & Handicrafts) with the aim of giving employment and job facilities to economically underprivileged women for freeing them from economic and social hardships thereby improving their living standard. In addition, he started farming ventures like poultry, fish farming, cattle rearing, etc., for generating employment and economic development of the Pangal community especially in Kshetrigao Assembly Constituency which in turn would lead to the betterment of the state economy as a whole. Not long ago, he also founded a Drug Rehabilitation, Reformation and Skill Development Centre on the premises of the erstwhile Jalil English School, Keikhu with the aim of rehabilitating drug users and giving benefits to them.
It may be noted that Haji Noor Muhammad was undergoing treatment at Shija Hospital and Research Institute, Langol, Imphal from the 1st to 22nd May 2021, when he breathed his last even as the country has been combating waves of a devastating ‘COVID-19 tsunami’ that threatens the world today with an unprecedented human crisis. As per the medical reports, he was suffering from type 1 respiratory failure with SARS-CoV-2 infection with co-morbidities – type 2 diabetes mellitus, hypertension and acute kidney ailment. Like other hundreds of thousands of COVID victims all over the world, he too lost the battle leaving extremely sad news for the family and other well-wishers. In his condolence message, Sheikh Abubakr Ahmad, Grand Mufti of India, Chancellor, Jamia Markaz prayed for Allah’s forgiveness for the deceased and to bless him with a place in His blissful paradise. The All Manipur Football Association (AMFA), in its condolence message, termed Haji Noor Muhammad’s demise as an irreparable loss for the community and expressed gratitude to him for sponsoring its tournaments during his lifetime.
Yes, his untimely death is an irreparable loss to the Kshetrigao Constituency in particular and Pangal community in general. While condolences continue to pour in, as the family mourns the loss of a model father, a pillar of strength, a wonderful person and above all an inspiring and guiding light, the society will always remember Haji Noor Muhammad for his deep attachment to child education, for illustrating quality education as gold standard for all times through his contributions to his children’s success, and community service aimed at bringing out development of the downtrodden people which will continue to shine as the guiding light to inspire other fathers for generations. His innovative ideas on society, firm commitment towards ideological dedication and worthy contributions to Manipuri Muslim society will be everlasting and ceaselessly serve as a source of strength for the present generation and posterity. The image of a silent model father adorned with a halo of the adage-”Work hard in silence, let your success be your noise”- will continue to shine as the guiding light for hard work to inspire even those who make noises in the name of community welfare in Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, etc. but do little on the ground.
While prayers continue for his departed soul to rest in peace in heavenly abode, the best tribute to Haji Noor Muhammad is to take his legacy forward. With the blessings of their quinquagenarian mother HajjanHusne Banu, the children are taking their father’s legacy forward. His vision of setting up a multi-speciality hospital is being turned into reality at the site where the Standard English School, New Checkon once stood when he was teaching there. Yes, the mundane world’s show must go on!!