Maulana Shah Ahmed Noorani
Islamist opposition leader in Pakistan
13 December 2003
Shah Ahmed Noorani Siddiqui, politician and cleric: born Meerut, India
1926; married (two sons, two daughters); died Islamabad 11 December 2003.
Maulana Shah Ahmed Noorani was unmistakable with his round spectacles and
flowing beard. He headed the powerful MMA (Muttahida Majlis i Amal), an
unlikely six-party Islamist alliance of clerics and pro-Taliban mullahs in
The septuagenarian leader was known for his integrity and unwillingness to
cut political deals. He was a pious and powerful cleric, and had deep
political roots in Sindh province. He was not branded as a religious
reactionary, but considered to be “a beard and a brain”, because he was so
articulate and well-travelled, according to political commentators in the
Pakistani capital, Islamabad.
Noorani was a fiery orator, and could get a crowd shouting slogans with
ease, but he prided himself on his cool delivery, using logic like a
scimitar. He spoke a dozen languages with fluency, including English, Arabic
and French. He was one of the first jet-setting Muslim clerics, and
globe-trotted across North America, Europe and the Middle East with ease.
For 33 years as an opposition politician, Noorani opposed military rule and
was an unrelenting critic of successive generals, from Zia ul Haq to Pervez
Musharraf. Earlier, as spokesman for the opposition, he was a thorn in the
side of the prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Noorani oversaw the triumph
of his Islamic alliance in the October 2002 election, and the Islamist party
dominated the frontier region where the renegade Taliban were said to be
Born in Meerut, India, in 1926, Shah Ahmed Noorani was influenced by his
father, Maulana Shah Muhammad Abdul Aleem Siddiqui, a distinguished Islamic
scholar known across the subcontinent. By the age of eight, he had memorised
the Koran. He took a degree from Allahabad University, followed by graduate
studies in Meerut, and then organised the Muslim Youths National Guard
Forces during the independence movement and spoke at hundreds of rallies.
After the violence he witnessed during the partition of India and Pakistan,
in 1947, Noorani preached at mosques abroad for 23 years, and won a
reputation as a firebrand preacher. He converted hundreds of non-believers
First elected as a member of parliament from the port city of Karachi in
1970, Noorani led the Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP), a moderate Sunni Muslim
party, and brought it to prominence. It was the country’s second largest
party and he was unanimously elected its leader. While composing the 1973
Pakistan constitution, he advocated “the constant Struggle of Muslim Hand”,
and argued for the founding of an Islamic republic.
When the party was deemed a threat, JUP was divided into factions by the
intelligence agencies under General Zia’s military regime, but Nooranli was
not silenced. He would not abide martial law, and he resisted dictators who
ruled through military might. Consistently, he clashed with top brass, and
he made no exception for the present President of Pakistan. Noorani recently
opposed controversial constitutional amendments that granted General
Musharraf sweeping powers over the parliament.
Noorani was about to leave his house to address a news conference in
Islamabad when he died of a mild heart attack. He was 77.
Qazi Hussain Ahmed, a politician who has been asked to stand in as interim
president of the MMA, said, “Noorani’s death is a great setback to the MMA.”
Maulana Fazl-ur Rehman, another political ally, said, “Maulana Noorani
initiated democratic culture in the country and he will always be remembered
as a great religious and political mentor.”