Omar Khalidi, who died on November 29, 2010 at the age of only 57 years in a car-train accident following disorder in sugar level at Boston (USA), was a pioneer in the field of research on Indian Muslims and has left behind him a monumental legacy that had a significant impact on the political landscape of India and a multitude of people inspired by his work. At the time of his death he served as librarian at the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was also a trustee of the American Institute of Yemeni Studies and admirer of the Institute of Objective Studies (IOS), New Delhi. He is survived by his wife and daughter.
He was a great patriot of India. He was the type of person for whom it can be said, “you can get out of India, but India can never get out of you”. Hailing from Hyderabad, physically he lived in the USA for a long period, but his mind and heart always cried for India. He was, in fact, one man army, doing all by himself, for a good cause.
He used to visit his home country time and again and express his views on different issues of past and present. He was in India last time only a year ago. Then interacting with Muslim media-persons in a roundtable discussion at the American Center, New Delhi, he said American Muslims has emerged as a unique community of the American society, playing a significant role in its reconstruction. When asked by this scribe on several aspects of the Muslim community in the USA from different angles, he felt uneasy but enjoyed fully with the questions while replying in detail. Even after his return to Boston, he kept in touch with this scribe on email.
Omar Khalidi will be missed by all. He travelled the world over and impressed many and was quick in making friends everywhere. His books can be found at many book stores. Even in his life-time he was widely quoted by the intelligentsia in India and elsewhere. Scholar-politician Mani Shankar Aiyyar quoted him in his master-piece “Confession of a Secular Fundamentalist”. He was equally challenged by his opponents. This scribe recalls BJP leader L K Advani once saying in an accusing sense that “people like Omar Khalidi and Arundhati Roy who lives abroad…” He was among those campaigning to ensure that Narendra Modi was not allowed to keep his foot in the USA and elsewhere.
The untimely death of Dr. Omar Khalidi leaves a huge void in the field of Indian Muslim studies in general and in Hyderabad studies in particular. The author of more than two dozen books and scores of academic articles, his contributions are many. The subjects of his books include minority rights, history, architecture, economics, demography, politics, Urdu education, military history, library science, cataloguing, etc. But he will forever be remembered as the man whose incisive writings inspired the Sachar Committee to seek a community-wise census of the Indian armed forces. This fact even though officially unacknowledged is widely known.
This scribe also recalls his book “Khaki and Ethnic Violence in India” leading to a hot debate in Parliament on the controversy over a census of minorities in the armed forces a few years ago. Therein he discussed why the suspicion of Muslim loyalty in India is largely based on myth and why the Muslim presence in the Indian Army's officer ranks is low.
Dr Omar Khalidi was born in 1953 in Hyderabad. He was initiated into the scholarly world by his father, Abu Nasr Muhammad Khalidi, who was a specialist in the fields of Islamic studies and Urdu literature at Osmania University. He studied at the famous Madrassa-e-Aaaliyah High School in Hyderabad. He later on completed his BA in history at the Wichita State University, Kansas (1980), ALM from the Harvard University School of Extension Studies (1991), and his PhD from the University of Wales-Lampeter, UK (1994).
Author of several books and articles on art and architecture, and history, he lectured and exhibited on Islam in America, mosque architecture, and religious freedom at various forums and universities in the United States, Europe, the Middle East, Malaysia, India, and elsewhere. Most recently he had lectured on Islam in America and Germany. In May 2006, he organized an international conference on mosques in the West at the MIT. In 2007-08, he extensively talked on Islamic architecture in Europe and United States. He visited Kabul and Herat in Afghanistan at the invitation of US Department of State lecturing on Islam and mosques in America in summer 2009.
----A U Asif, Editor, www.fanawatch.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Omar Khalidi's Published Works
Omar Khalidi's Last Piece on ASI