Eqbal Ahmad

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Eqbal Ahmad
Eqbal Ahmad

Died11 May 1999 at age 65
ResidenceAmherst, Massachusetts
EducationForman Christian College
Princeton University
Occidental College
Spouse(s)Julie Diamond
Era20th-century philosophy
RegionEastern philosophy
Notable ideas
Political Science
Anti-war movement

Eqbal Ahmad (1933 – 11 May 1999) was a Pakistani political scientist, writer and academic known for his anti-war activism, his support for resistance movements globally and academic contributions to the study of Near East.[1] Born in Bihar, British India, Ahmad migrated to Pakistan as a child and went on to study economics at the Forman Christian College. After graduating, he worked briefly as an army officer and was wounded in the First Kashmir War in 1948.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Eqbal spent a year studying American history at Occidental College.

Eqbal Ahmad was born in the village of Irki in the Gaya District (now Magadh Division) of the Indian state of Bihar. When he was a young boy, his father was murdered over a land dispute in his presence. During the partition of India in 1947, he and his elder brother migrated to Pakistan on foot.[2][3][4]

Eqbal Ahmad graduated from Forman Christian College in Lahore, Pakistan, in 1951 with a degree in economics. After serving briefly as an army officer, he enrolled at Occidental College in California in 1957. From 1958 to 1960, he studied political science and Middle Eastern history at Princeton University, later earning his PhD.[1][2]

He moved to the United States in the mid-1950s as a rotary fellow at Occidental College. He then moved to study political science and Middle Eastern history at Princeton University where he earned his PhD in 1965. During his time at Princeton, Ahmad travelled to Tunisia and Algeria as part of his doctoral dissertation. In Algiers, he supported the revolution, leading to his subsequent arrest in France. Ahmad went on to teach at the University of Illinois and at Cornell University until 1968. During this time, Ahmad also became a prominent fellow of the anti-war Institute for Policy Studies.[1][5]

His vocal support of Palestinian rights during the 1967 war led to his isolation within the academic community, causing him to leave Cornell. From 1968 to 1972, he worked as a fellow at the University of Chicago. During this time, Ahmad became a strong activist against the Vietnam War, which lead to his being charged as part of the Harrisburg Seven in January 1971. After the trial Ahmad was acquitted of all charges in 1972.[6] He moved to Amsterdam in 1973. In 1974, he founded and directed the Transnational Institute,[7] until 1975. In 1982, he moved back to the United States and joined the Hampshire College as a tenured professor and taught here until becoming professor emeritus in 1997.[8]

In 1990, he began splitting his time between Islamabad and Amherst and also began writing for Dawn, and worked unsuccessfully to establish a liberal arts college named after Ibn Khaldun in Islamabad.[9][5] Ahmad was one of the most prominent left-wing academics in both Pakistan and the United States. His legacy is that of strong opposition to militarism, bureaucracy, nuclear arms and ideological rigidity, while a strong supporter of democracy and self-determination.[1][9] Even though a little-known figure within Pakistan, Ahmad bestowed a strong legacy within intellectual circles both in and outside the country.[10][11][12][13][14]

Eqbal spent a year studying American history at Occidental College.


From 1960 to 1963, Ahmad lived in North Africa, working primarily in Algeria, where he joined the National Liberation Front and worked with Frantz Fanon and some Algerian nationalists who were fighting a war of liberation against the French in Algeria.[15][2] He was offered an opportunity to join the first independent Algerian government, but refused in favour of life as an independent intellectual. Instead, he returned to the United States. Eqbal Ahmad was fluent in Urdu, English, Persian and Arabic.[2][1]

When he returned to the United States, Eqbal Ahmad taught at the University of Illinois at Chicago (1964–65) and Cornell University in the school of Labour Relations (1965–68). During these years, he became known as one of the earliest and most vocal opponents of American policies in Vietnam and Cambodia.[2] From 1968 to 1972, he was a fellow at the Adlai Stevenson Institute in Chicago.[1] In 1971, Eqbal Ahmad was indicted as one of the Harrisburg Seven, with the anti-war Catholic priest Philip Berrigan, Berrigan's future wife, Sister Elizabeth McAlister, and four other Catholic pacifists, on charges of conspiracy to kidnap Henry Kissinger. After fifty-nine hours of deliberations, the jury declared a mistrial, in 1972.[3][2][5]

Eqbal Ahmad's friend, author Stuart Schaar suggested in a book on Eqbal Ahmad that he had warned the US against attacking Iraq in 1990. He had correctly predicted that Saddam's fall would bring in sectarian violence and chaos in the region.[2] Eqbal Ahmad had also interviewed Osama Bin Laden in Peshawar in 1986. In the early 1990s, he had predicted that considering the ideology of Osama Bin Laden, he would eventually turn against his then allies US and Pakistan.[2]

From 1972 to 1982, Ahmad was Senior Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. From 1973 to 1975, he served as the first director of its overseas affiliate, the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam. In 1982, Ahmad joined the faculty at Hampshire College, in Amherst, Massachusetts, a progressive school which was the first college in the nation to divest from South Africa. There, he taught world politics and political science. In the early 1990s, Ahmad was granted a parcel of land in Pakistan by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's government, to build an independent, alternative university, named Khaldunia University.[5]

Upon his retirement from Hampshire in 1997, he settled permanently in Pakistan, where he continued to write a weekly column, for Dawn, Pakistan's oldest English-language newspaper.[2][5] He continued to promote social democracy for Muslim countries like in the Scandinavian countries to prevent extremism, poverty and injustice in those countries.[2]

Eqbal Ahmad was the founding chancellor of the then newly established Textile Institute of Pakistan, a textile-oriented science, design and business-degree-awarding institute. The institute professes to be driven by the values Eqbal Ahmad stood for and awards its most prestigious honour, the Dr. Eqbal Ahmed Achievement Award, to one graduate unanimously deemed by the faculty as reflective of Eqbal Ahmad's values at its annual convocation.

Death and legacy[edit]

Eqbal Ahmad died of heart failure on 11 May 1999 at an Islamabad hospital in Pakistan, where he was being treated for colon cancer.[1] He had married Julie Diamond in 1969, a teacher and a writer from New York and they had one daughter, Dohra.[1]

Since his death, a memorial lecture series has been established at Hampshire College in his honour. Speakers have included Kofi Annan, Edward Said, Noam Chomsky, and Arundhati Roy. Ahmad was admired as "an intellectual unintimidated by power or authority". He collaborated with such left-wing journalists, activists, and thinkers as Chomsky, Said, Howard Zinn, Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, Richard Falk, Fredric Jameson, Alexander Cockburn and Daniel Berrigan. Ahmad influenced several left-leaning activists including Chomsky, Zinn, Abu-Lughod, Richard Falk, Pervez Hoodbhoy, Cockburn, Said and Roy. Ahmad is credited for his insight into Islamic terrorism; he publicly criticised global support for the Islamic fundamentalist groups in Afghanistan.[1]

Noam Chomsky in an article, after Ahmad's death in 1999, said that Ahmad describes with warmth and feeling the Islamic Sufi tradition that he remembers from his childhood in a village in Bihar, where Islamic Sufi admiration among the public united Hindus and Muslims. Simple and unpretentious, 'they preached by example', living 'by service and by setting an example of treating people equally without discrimination'. The Sufis appealed to the most oppressed, offering 'social mobility, as well as dignity and equality to the poor'. Sufis regarded the idea of nationalism as an anti-Islamic ideology that 'proceeds to create boundaries where Islam is a faith without national boundaries. Eqbal Ahmad describes himself as a 'harshly secular' person and an 'internationalist' but he was quick to praise elements of religious thought and practice that he found admirable among the Islamic Sufis.[15]

Eqbal Ahmad saw Islam as concerned, above all, with the welfare of common people. Eqbal's leftism was his humanity and this only reinforced the pride he took in being a Pakistani in a challenging time.[16] He brought wisdom and integrity to the cause of oppressed peoples all over the world.[1]

[Ahmad was] perhaps the shrewdest and most original anti-imperialist analyst of the post-war world, especially in the dynamics between the West and the post-colonial states of Asia and Africa.

See also[edit]


  • Confronting Empire (with David Barsamian), 2000, South End Press, ISBN 0-89608-615-1.
  • The Selected Writings of Eqbal Ahmad edited by Carollee Bengelsdorf, Margaret Cerullo & Yogesh Chandrani, 2006, Columbia University Press, ISBN 0-231-12711-1
  • Terrorism: Theirs and Ours (with David Barsamian), 2001, Seven Stories Press, ISBN 1-58322-490-4
  • Stuart Schaar, Eqbal Ahmad: Critical Outsider in a Turbulent Age, 2015, Columbia University Press, ISBN 9780231171571


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Said, By Edward W. (13 May 1999). "Eqbal Ahmad: He brought wisdom and integrity to the cause of oppressed peoples". The Guardian (newspaper). ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 27 July 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Paracha, Nadeem F. (3 May 2015). "Smokers' Corner: Eqbal Ahmed: the astute alarmist". Dawn (newspaper). Retrieved 27 July 2019.
  3. ^ a b Profile of Eqbal Ahmad on The Economist (magazine), UK Published 27 May 1999, Retrieved 27 July 2019
  4. ^ Arshad, Sameer (4 November 2012). "Will Nitish Kumar's visit give a boost to Biharis in Pakistan?". The Economic Times. Retrieved 9 March 2019.
  5. ^ a b c d e "Biography of Eqbal Ahmad". Hampshire College website. Retrieved 28 July 2019.
  6. ^ "The Nation (Harrisburg Seven trial)". The New York Times. 27 February 1972. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 28 July 2019.
  7. ^ "Collection Summary: Transnational Institute Archives". search.socialhistory.org. International Institute of Social History.
  8. ^ JACKSON, JUSTIN (1 January 2010). "Kissinger's Kidnapper: Eqbal Ahmad, the U.S. New Left, and the Transnational Romance of Revolutionary War". Journal for the Study of Radicalism. 4 (1): 75–119. JSTOR 41887645.
  9. ^ a b "Ahmad, Eqbal. – Oxford Islamic Studies Online". www.law.harvard.edu. Retrieved 1 October 2016.
  10. ^ Kabir Babar. "The intellectual's intellectual". The Friday Times (newspaper) website. Retrieved 28 July 2019.
  11. ^ Schaar, Stuart (1 October 2016). Eqbal Ahmad: Critical Outsider in a Turbulent Age. Columbia University Press. ISBN 9780231539920.
  12. ^ "Remembering Dr Eqbal Ahmad". Dawn (newspaper). 10 May 2011. Retrieved 28 July 2019.
  13. ^ "Profile of Eqbal Ahmad". 27 January 2014. Retrieved 28 July 2019.
  14. ^ Ahmed, Vaqar (14 May 2015). "Eqbal Ahmad: A memoir of Munno Chacha". Dawn (newspaper). Retrieved 28 July 2019.
  15. ^ a b Noam Chomsky pays tributes to Eqbal Ahmad in 2000 after his death in 1999 Retrieved 27 July 2019
  16. ^ Obituary of Eqbal Ahmad on Dawn (newspaper) Published 12 May 1999, Retrieved 28 July 2019

External links[edit]