This week I received the tragic news of the death of Professor Hassan Murad, founder and chair of Pakistan’s esteemed University of Management and Technology (UMT), in a fatal car accident as he returned from a conference at the Khunjrab border with China, the highest international border crossing in the world, where the roads are dangerous and deteriorating.
His courage, intellectual curiosity, his zeal for interreligious cooperation as a counter to extremism, his generosity and gentle spirit were hallmarks of Pakistani hospitality and emblematic of his passion for peace, justice and human dignity among all people. Dr, Murad was more than tolerant. He embraced diversity. As a recipient of his gracious spirit, I was privileged to witness how he would welcome the stranger with open arms and a twinkle in his eye.
Dr. Murad was a hero in Pakistan and across Central Asia. For me, he was more than that: he was a friend.
He first became aware of my work to build bridges between the US and Pakistan through UPIC (the US-Pakistan Interreligious Consortium) back in 2012. In 2016, as our UPIC delegation visited UMT, he and I spoke privately about holding a much larger gathering the following year. “Let’s do it!” he said enthusiastically. “We’ll host it here.” We shook hands publicly on the idea that same day. Twelve months later, 30 UPIC delegates from 12 countries—and dozens of their Pakistani counterparts—were guests of UMT for a global conference on building mutual respect and understanding between our countries and in the broader international arena. Dr. Murad beautifully hosted us in his home (I will always remember the Pakistani chai topped with crushed pistachios I was served). He was not just a visionary, but someone who followed through, committed to delivering even more than he had promised.
The University of Management and Technology that he founded in 2004 has grown to its current enrollment of more than 10,000. Despite its emphasis in fields such as commerce, economics, IT, engineering and business, Dr. Murad established the Center for Global Dialogue, evidence of his understanding for the need for cooperation across lines of cultural, religious and geopolitical differences. Junaid Ahmad, a strong UPIC leader and the son of Dr. Mumtaz Ahmad, one of UPIC’s founders, was named Director.
Junaid’s poignant and heartfelt words express the loss felt at Dr. Murad’s passing:
A visionary has returned to his Creator, and I feel orphaned for a second time. Dr. Hasan Murad was like a father figure for me after my father, Dr. Mumtaz Ahmad, one of Dr. Murad’s dearest friends, passed away two years ago.
As Muslims, these very painful moments are reminders for us to state: Inna Lilahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un, “From God do we come, and to God do we return.”
Dr. Murad exemplified exceptional leadership, a deep and meaningful religiosity that undergirded every single transformative, often revolutionary, act of his…He displayed a gentleness, generosity, etiquette, and kindness that lived up to the highest ideals of our faith traditions. He earned the respect and affection of all because he was a principled human being, relentless in his passion to do what he could to improve the education and lives of the people of his society, and to collaborate with like-minded individuals throughout the world.
I think of a person like him, and the concept of ‘prophetic religion’ makes so much sense to me: a purposeful life of transformative conduct that manifests, in concrete terms, the Divine spirit that many of our faith traditions assert to be in all of human creation.
Dr. Hasan Murad’s loss is an excruciatingly difficult tragedy to digest for both the world of academia, as well as the community of dedicated individuals and groups striving in different ways to make the world more humane and just. But such enormous losses remind us again that we are all, ultimately, returnees to God – and this most beautiful, indefatigable, inspirational, and extraordinarily gifted soul made the most of his time in this world. (You can read Junaid’s full tribute here.)
Before his death, Dr. Murad offered to host a UPIC delegation in 2019. Seton Hall University’s School of Diplomacy and International Relations has agreed to assume organizational responsibilities for continuing this work and hopes to lead a delegation to Pakistan next spring. Those of us privileged to know Dr. Murad are more committed than ever to continue his legacy so that the mutual respect and understanding that will in sha’Allah come to pass between our countries shall be a beacon for the whole world to see. Rest in peace, Dr. Murad.
(At the time of this writing, Hurricane Florence bears down on the Carolina coast. Our hearts are with those who are in the path of the storm that they may be safe, and we pray for sensitivity, wisdom and courage for those leading recovery efforts.)