The Shahr Qazi of Allahabad

Justice Markandey Katju-

Justice Markandey Katju

Justice Markandey Katju is a former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own.

Eid in most parts of India is either on Thursday, 13th May, or on Friday, 14th May, depending on the visibility of the moon.

I was a lawyer in Allahabad High Court from 1971-91 and a Judge of the High Court from 1991-2004. Since Eid is approaching, I am reminded of the Shahr Qazi of Allahabad, Syed Maqbool Hasan when I was a lawyer and Judge in Allahabad.

Syed Maqbool Hasan had been the Shahr Qazi in Allahabad for over half a century.

Although he was also the Imam ( head priest) of Jama Masjid in Allahabad, he never took any money from the funds of Jama Masjid. He earned his livelihood as an ordinary stamp vendor in Allahabad High Court. When I was a lawyer there ( 1970-1991) I used to often see him sitting at the bottom of the stairs below the Bar Association Library, selling stamps. He wore a simple kurta pyjama, and on looking at him one could never make out that he was the Shahr Qazi.

Until he agreed, Eid could not be declared in Allahabad, and all Muslims accepted his verdict. Since for declaring Eid two respectable Muslims must state that they have sighted the moon, he rigorously cross-examined the persons claiming that they had seen the moon, and he also strictly applied the parameters required before declaring Eid. He often rejected the claims of persons who said they had sighted the moon, when he was not satisfied with their veracity. His integrity was of such a high order that everyone in Allahabad accepted his verdict.

Because of old age ( I am told he is still alive but very old as he is in his 90s ) he retired, but before that he was coming to the High Court on a bicycle every working day to sell stamps.

In the 1986 communal riots in Allahabad, he refused to take any police security, although it was offered to him. He lived a simple life, and put all the money he earned in educating his children. Today one of his sons is in the USA and the other children are also well settled, some in business, and others in other vocations.