A guiding father’s love shows ways of life to his children. Nonetheless, it is not an easy feat to become an accomplished father in traversing through thick and thin of a toilsome life – from being the family’s breadwinner and helping children build their careers to meeting the social responsibilities. Such a model father’s image is reflected from the earthly journey of a Manipuri Muslim philanthropist Haji Sh. Noor Muhammad, the former Chairman of the Imphal-based Sheikh Babumacha Memorial Trust (SBMT), and chief architect of the Sheikh Brothers Seenaipung Training Programme (Handlooms & Handicrafts), Kshetri Top Khongnang Makhong, Imphal East, Manipur.
Haji Noor’s sudden demise at the age of 66 on 22nd May 2021 caused irreparable loss of a guiding father and a compassionate philanthropist. The inordinate loss is aptly depicted in Her Excellency, the Governor of Manipur Dr. Najma Heptullah’s official condolence letter addressed to the deceased’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.”
The charisma of Haji Noor Muhammad’s personality, thanks to his efforts for his children’s development particularly in higher education and his social contributions towards Pangal community, becomes more visible as one takes a timeline-walk down memory lane.
The grandson of Kunjehari Bibi, a freedom fighter of the famous Second Nupi Lal (1939) against the British, Noor Muhammad was born to middle class parents Sh. Babumacha and Sanatombi Bibi on 5th June 1955 at Kshetri Top Khongnang Makhong, 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 higher education was at its peak. With strenuous struggle propelled by his father Babumacha’s vision, he graduated from DM College, Imphal. Though he completed the 1st year of MA (Mathematics) from Manipur University, he had to discontinue the course as he landed the job of 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 Hajjan Husne 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 became the first ever IFS officer among the OBC and General candidates from the Meitei and Pangal communities of Manipur after he ranked 187th all over India in the Civil Services Examination (CSE)-2003 conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), New Delhi. Earlier, in his first attempt in 2002-03, he got Indian Revenue Services (IRS). These achievements were a rare feat for a Pangal as none from the community could have entered the Indian Civil Services directly through the UPSC-CSE 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 Kshetri Bengoon, etc. Thus, he earned a place in the annals of Pangals despite being born into a middle-class family.
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 Indian Civil Services arena soon after his graduation in Political Science (Hons) from the Hindu College, Delhi University, Delhi, and that too after dropping out as a cadet from the National Defence Academy (NDA) on medical ground earlier. The news of his achievements virtually helped the community to perceive the competitive examinations like the UPSC-CSE as tough but surmountable ones. He has always been available to help any aspirant who needs help and seeks it. He inspired them to cultivate determination, patience, sincerity, etc. that had led him to becoming one of the brightest civil servants of the country. If his achievements ever made UPSC examinations look like surmountable to Pangal aspirants, then the credit goes to his father’s efforts for empowering his son to turn the ‘impossibility’ to ‘possibility’ which soon became resonant at the community level.
The second son, Sh. Sheikh Noorul Hassan is a budding politician intending to contest the General Election-2022 from Kshetrigao Assembly Constituency. After graduating from Delhi University, Hassan 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. Sh. Sheikh Abdul Hakim, Deputy Secretary, Government of Manipur, is the third son of the deceased Noor Muhammad. A college topper in Political Science (Hons) from Rajdhani College, Delhi and a post-graduate in the same subject from Delhi University, Abdul Hakim cracked Manipur Civil Services (MCS) Examination-2014 holding 45th rank. Meanwhile, he got qualified in the UGC-NET-2014 in the first attempt when he was still in his MA 3rd Semester. He too attributes his achievements to his loving father’s timely guidance and inspiration. The fourth son Sh. Sheikh Qamran, an entrepreneur, the younger Sh. Rabiul Sheikh, who is pursuing medical studies (BDS) in New Delhi, and the last son Sh. Sheikh Abu Bakr, studying in 12th class, are making efforts to realise their father’s dreams. Among Haji Noor’s two surviving daughters, Sh. Sheikh Aquida, a post graduate in Political Science from Delhi University, got qualified in the UGC-NET-2014 while his last daughter Dr. Sh. Sheikh Hasina is a practising dental surgeon.
Respected in his community as a model father who successfully moulded his children to secure coveted government jobs, Haji Noor also supported many young scholars from his community, who would have not been able to pursue further higher studies, through financial help, motivation, inspiration and rightful guidance. His philanthropic work for the welfare of the Manipuri society, particularly in the most disadvantageous Pangal community, in terms of education, economy and polity are praiseworthy. 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 community particularly in the Kshetrigao Assembly Constituency. The school provides free education to 250 students from families below property line (BPL). While the SBS Training Programme (Handlooms & Handicrafts) was set up for empowering underprivileged women and freeing them from economic and social hardships, he started farming ventures like poultry, fish farming, cattle rearing, etc., for economic development of the Pangal community especially in Kshetrigao Assembly Constituency. 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 the Shija Hospital and Research Institute, 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 pandemic that threatens the world today with an unprecedented human crisis. 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. While expressing gratitude to the deceased for sponsoring its tournaments, the All Manipur Football Association (AMFA), in its condolence message, termed Haji Noor’s demise as an irreparable loss for the community.
Yes, his untimely death has caused an irremediable loss for the Kshetrigao Constituency in particular and Pangal community in general. As the family mourns the loss of a model father, the society will always remember Haji Noor Muhammad for illustrating quality education as gold standard for all times through his contributions to his children’s success, and community service for the development of downtrodden people. 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 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 Hajjan Husne 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!!
The writer is Doctoral Candidate, Centre for Historical Studies, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi