Poet Alfred Tennyson composed his famous "In Memoriam" after the demise of his intimate friend Arthur Hallam. Syed Mahbub Murshed's achievements warrant a comparable "In Memoriam", but we are without the illustrious talent of Tennyson. Justice S M Murshed was a prominent figure and a name across all sections of our society. His noble background was a fitting precursor to a brilliant academic career.
Murshed 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 letters 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 letters 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, 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. 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 was the ability to rise above the 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 1940's.
Following the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, he joined those who were determined to bring to an end the frenzy of communal violence that swept through the Indian subcontinent. Murshed also was an active participant of the Language Movement. In early 1954 he was involved in drafting the famous 21-point manifesto of the United Front led by his uncle Sher-e-Bangla A K Fazlul Huq, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy and Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani.
Justice Murshed 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 demand of the students of what was then East Pakistan. What perhaps was most significant was that during the round-table conference, Justice Murshed demanded 'one man one vote'. Murshed argued in his speech that it was vote of the eastern wing that created Pakistan and 'we are the majority by population'.
During Bangladesh's War of Liberation he refused to collaborate with the Pakistan army despite the inevitable pressures. He dedicated his energy to the freedom and well-being of the people of this land. He protested vehemently against any form of corruption, venality and exploitation.
Murshed stressed that the role of teachers is to instil values, indicating that they should be at the forefront in protesting against any undesirable situation. 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.
Men like Murshed have to confront many obstacles. He was subjected to many pressures by the government for his honesty, integrity and above all his independent spirit.
As a man Murshed was loving to his family members and affectionate to his friends. His compassionate vision of Islam inspires us. His works will continually inspire our nationalistic spirit. His values and principles as well as his steadfastness are worth emulating in an age of time serving convenience. We sincerely pray for his departed soul on his 41st death anniversary tomorrow, April 03.
Halima Aktar is an advocate.
Syed Mamnun Murshed