A unique voice

SM Murshed never allowed himself to be shackled by any particular ideology or dogma

  • SM Murshed

SM Murshed’s aristocratic background was a fitting precursor to a brilliant academic career. He rose to pre-eminence as a jurist imbued with a deep sense of social justice. His contribution to the field of literature and belles-lettres was no less outstanding. All in all, he lavishly bestowed upon us his vast store of wisdom on various issues ranging from jurisprudence to politics to innumerable social causes.

As a jurist, he was a pre-eminent exponent of the rule of law. Like many great legal minds he drew his inspiration from a variety of historical, philosophical, and theological sources. Yet he was able to interpret these sources in his own inimitable fashion. His genius lay in the ability to fashion these diverse influences into his own brilliant individualism. He was acutely aware of the fact that excessive insistence on the letter of the law often violates the spirit.

In recounting his legal skills, one is reminded of the artfulness of Portia’s intervention in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. The letter of law, and the contract between Antonio and Shylock clearly required Shylock payment of the eponymous pound of flesh, but he was prevented from exacting this by Portia’s artful insistence that not a drop of blood be shed in the process.

The application of the rule of law is ultimately down to the deft, and even witty, handling of the law by legal practitioners. Murshed demonstrated his talent in this connection by reforming innumerable laws and unravelling their complexities; offering us something truly unique in the process. He can be compared to great jurists such as Marshall, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Lord Denning. He was forever kind and generous with his affectionate advice for his juniors, without ignoring those senior to him. His relations in this area were governed by mutual self-respect and tolerance.

Murshed’s reputation as a great judge came through some famous cases like the Mahmud and Samabarton Mamlas, all of which are landmarks in the legal history of Pakistan. His forte lay in constitutional law as evidenced by the Minister’s and “Pan” cases. His fame was not just confined to the shores of his country, but he had an international reputation in this regard. Like all great judges, his judgments were not only impartial but tinged with humanity and compassion. Indeed, few took exception to his judgments.

But the hallmark of a truly great man is the ability to rise above the narrow confines of his profession. Murshed never allowed himself to be shackled by any particular ideology or dogma, but took a keen interest in the political developments of his time. He was distressed by the episodic communal violence that punctuated the politics of the 1940s. Following the transfer of power and the partition of India in 1947, he joined those who were determined to bring an end to the frenzy of communal violence that swept through the Indian subcontinent.

In 1954 he helped draft the famous 21 point manifesto of the United Front led by his uncle Sher-e-Bangla A K Fazlul Huq. He played a prominent part in the mass upsurge of 1969 against President Ayub Khan, and in the round table conference convened by Ayub in its wake. He gave his support to the 11 point demands of the students of East Pakistan. During Bangladesh’s war of liberation he refused to collaborate with the Pakistan army despite the inevitable pressures.

His commitment to democracy, and his interpretation of the same was akin to Abraham Lincoln. He dedicated his energy to the freedom and wellbeing of men. He protested vehemently against any form of corruption, venality, and exploitation. When the education department of our country was becoming corrupt, Murshed stressed that the role of teachers was to instil values, indicating that they should be at the forefront in protesting against any undesirable situation.

We should be cognisant of the range and depth of his knowledge which included writings on diverse subjects in top flight journals and magazines. His association with the Anjuman-e-Mufidul Islam showed his concern for the poor. He was president of Rotary and Lions clubs, and was deeply involved with many cultural and social causes. As a powerful voice of humanity, to him “man was the measure of all things.”

Inevitably, men like Murshed have to confront many obstacles. Socrates was forced to drink the cup of hemlock; Murshed too was subjected to many pressures by the government for his honesty, integrity, and above all his independence. But unlike the proverbial Faust he did not sell his soul, remaining uniquely courageous in maintaining his freedom.

As a man, Murshed was loving to his family and affectionate to his friends. His compassionate vision of Islam still inspires us. Not only was he a truly international figure, but he will continually inspire us as someone whose values and principles, as well as his steadfastness in this regard, often without recompense, are worth emulating in an age of time serving convenience.

Source: Dhaka Tribune

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