Khan Bahadur S. Hakim Ahmad Shuja (also sometimes written as ‘Hakeem Ahmed Shujah’ and ‘Hakim Ahmad Shuja Pasha’) (born 1893-died 4 January 1969), MBE, was a famous Urdu and Persian poet, playwright, writer, film writer and lyricist, scholar and mystic, from former British India, later Pakistan.
Hakim Ahmad Shuja belonged to an old and prominent family of mystics and Islamic religious scholars, who had migrated from Arabia and Turkey to India, between the 10th-12th centuries AD. During the times of the Sultans of Delhi, the family came to prominence as religious divines and Hakims i.e. practitioners of the traditional Hikmat (the Unani, or Greek system of medicine) and by the time of the Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great (c.1542-1605) they were established as Court Physicians at Lahore, in the Bhati Gate area of the Old City. Later, family members served as Chief Qazis (or Qadis) at Lahore and Kashmir under Afghan (Durrani) rule, and a branch were ministers during Ranjit Singh’s Sikh rule.Ahmad Shuja’s father, Hakim Shuja-ed-din, was a Sufi mystic of the Chishtiya Order and one of the early pioneers of the Urdu literary press in Lahore, bringing out the famous Shor-i-Mahshar journal and participating actively in the work of the Anjuman-i-Himayat-i-Islam and Anjuman i Punjab associations.
Early life and career
Hakim Ahmad Shuja was the only son of his parents, who both died when he was still a minor and he was brought up largely by an elder cousin, Hakim Amin-ed-din, Barrister. After a basic education in Arabic and Quranic studies at home, and initial Sufic training under various notable mystics in both Chishti and Qadiri systems, he was then admitted for ‘English education’ to the old Central Model School, Lahore and later went to the famous Aligarh Muslim University, from where he graduated with honours. For some time, Hakim Ahmad Shuja then worked as a lecturer at the Osmania University in Hyderabad state (Deccan) but was not happy and returned to Lahore to seek employment there. After several journalistic and academic ventures, he eventually settled down to regular service in the secretariat of the Punjab Legislative Assembly, finally retiring as Secretary to the Punjab Assembly in the 1950s.
Hakim Ahmad Shuja was a very prolific and versatile writer indeed, producing several collections of Urdu and Persian poetry, countless essays and belles-lettres published in newspapers and journals throughout India (and later Pakistan), one of the earliest translations of the Quran in Punjabi language, several dramatic works in collaboration with Imtiaz Ali Taj, Agha Hashar Kashmiri and other theatrical producers, and, later on, screenplays and lyrics for the early Indo-Pakistan cinema. However, his fame today rests chiefly on these noted works: “Lahore ka Chelsea” (1967; 1989 reprint), a collection of memoirs of Old Lahore; “Khoon-Baha” (1962), some of his other personal memoirs; “Gard-i-Karvan” (1950s; reprint 1960), a collection of poems and essays in praise of the Islamic prophet Muhammad and the ‘Ahl i Bayt’ (members of the Prophet’s family) as exemplars of the ‘Ideal’ Muslim character; and his lovely, lyrical poems, some of which were later successfully adapted for film songs. These works reflect his idealism and humane and deeply mystical faith and a Romanticism which reflects both the typical Urdu and Persian poetic traditions, as well as the influence of Western writers such as Shelley, Thomas Carlyle, Goethe and Victor Hugo.
Later life and legacy
Hakim Ahmad Shuja continued to write even until the time of his death in 1969. Between the 1950s and 1960s, he became especially interested in the potentialities of film-making and cinema. In many ways, thus, he had a direct influence and bearing upon the development of both early Indian and Pakistani literature and cinema. In addition, he also made a significant contribution to the early development of Urdu language, linguistics and etymology as permanent secretary and one of the main compilers/editors of Pakistan’s Official Language Committee, 1949, responsible for the standardization of official and court terms, from English to Urdu.