Review of Jassim Murad Book: ‘Ufuq Lam Yattasi’ Lahu Watan

2020-07-11 - 8:30 ص

Emile Nakhleh

Dr. Ghaniya ‘Ulaywi's book detailing the life and accomplishments of Jassim Muhammad Murad is informative, well-written and well-researched. The book offers the reader a vivid picture of Jassim Murad's personality, career, family life, life-long accomplishments, pragmatic political ideology, and his humanist and humanitarian value-driven worldview. The book is also a compelling chronicle of Bahrain's political, economic, social, cultural, and sectarian modern history from the mid-1950s, nearly two decades before independence, through the first two decades of this century.

The book and its central focus Jassim Murad depict the Bahraini people's struggle in the 1950s during the rise of the Arab nationalist movement under Egyptian President Jamal Abdul Nasser (whom Jassim met at the Bahrain airport in the mid-1950s), the labor demonstrations in the 1950s and 1960s, and the ensuing confrontations with the British authorities that ruled the country before 1971. In order to undermine the Bahraini nationalist struggle through Hay'at al-Ittihad al-Watani (National Union Society), the British authorities rounded up several leaders of the Society, including Jassim Murad, and exiled them to Kuwait. It also exiled three political activists in 1956-Abdel Aziz al-Shamlan, Abdel Rahman al-Bakir, and Abd Ali Ulaymat--to St. Helena (where Napoleon was exiled, also by the British, one hundred and forty years previously).

The author uses Jassim Murad's own words as an eye witness to history in order to highlight Bahrain's transition from British control to independence, and the late Amir Shaykh Isa bin Salman al-Khalifa's efforts to establish a Constitutional Assembly (Majlis Ta'sisi) and a National Assembly  (Majlis Watani) or a parliament. The Constitutional Assembly debated a draft constitution, which was promulgated by Shaykh Isa in 1973. I was honored to have attended the promulgation ceremony.

The author logically presented the book in two main parts:

1) The historical, political, cultural, economic, and business context through which Bahrain lived for over 70 years;

2) Jassim Murad's key role and contributions to his country and society during those seven decades.

The Book

The book is divided into five major chapters plus two sections on appendices and sources and documents. Ali Rabi'a, a life-long friend of Jassim Murad's and his close partner in the struggle to build a more modern and democratic Bahrain, wrote a moving, informative, and analytical introduction. The chapters follow an historical approach and methodology, beginning with the subject's youth and early business travels to the Indian subcontinent. While in high school, Jassim had a proclivity for commerce and demonstrated a noticeable business acumen.  He traded mostly in pearls, which he learned from his father, and in gold. Of course, the Bahraini pearl industry dried up with the advent of cultured pearls from Japan and the discovery of oil in Bahrain in the 1930s and 40's.

The second chapter focuses on the nationalist journey (al-sira al-wataniyya) in the country, which included the pre-independence period in the late 1960s, membership in al-Majlis al-Ta'sisi and al-Majlis al-Watani in the early to mid-1970s, the dissolution of the parliament, and the establishment of the security state beginning in 1975. The chapter also addresses the upheavals of the 1990s.

Chapter three highlights Jassim's outreach to the different Bahraini media, especially the newspapers, his active role in Bahraini civil society institutions, and active involvement in the Gulf Development Forum (Muntada al-Tanmiya al-Khaleeji), which met a couple of times annually mostly in the United Arab Emirates. The Muntada included political and economic thinkers from across the Gulf Cooperation Council member states. Jassim served on the board of directors and helped steer the group toward funding education, helping the poor, and opening up free trade and travel among Gulf States. The author has titled the fourth chapter "Enlightening Words" (Kalimat Mudi'a), which consisted of what others said about Jassim and what he said about himself and his life contributions. Chapter five consists of a series of touching and heartfelt statements and remembrances written by his relatives--beginning with his wife, brother, children, and grandchildren-and extending to his friends and companions over the decades.

The Man

Salah, Jassim's oldest son, wrote in his remembrance in the book that three pivotal commitments underpinned his father's life-long work: freedom of speech, social justice, and secularism. In fact, many other commitments in addition to these three drove Jassim's work. He played a critical role in the making of modern Bahrain, pre- and post-independence. He combined his business acumen with his political pragmatism and wisdom to work for the establishment of a Bahrain that serves all of its citizens regardless of religion, sect, gender, and economic standing. He was elated with the country's accomplishments in the early 1970s but must have been thoroughly disillusioned with what transpired in the first decade and a half of this century. 

The author masterfully presented Jassim Murad's humanity throughout his life, as a loving family man, an honest and incorruptible businessman, a charitable human being, a well-read political thinker, a strong and empathetic defender of the poor and less fortunate, a tireless advocate of women's rights, a committed believer in the separation of religion and state, and an unwavering preacher of modern education for boys and girls.  He saw education and freedom of thought as the only path for a prosperous Bahrain. He abhorred the politicization of religion and the "pietization" (religiosity) of politics and loathed the uninformed, ignorant opinions, which the "bearded" clerics, in his words, offered of Islam and the Koran.

Jassim believed in the woman's right to pursue education, including higher education in Western countries, to live freely at home, to pursue business interests, to sit on corporate boards, and to marry whom she chooses. He denounced those who viewed women as "hatching machines," or "bayyadat," to use Jassim's words. If we expect mothers, he argued, to raise their children to seek modern education through science, data analysis, technology, innovation, and business and finance, these mothers should themselves be empowered to practice freedom of thought and choice and to enjoy economic security.  He passionately maintained that women's rights should be elevated to expand their role in civil society, technological innovation, and political participation.

Jassim's successful career was based on a deep-seated philosophy of political pragmatism, moral courage to speak truth to power, and determination to express his views without fear or hesitancy. When he was in parliament, for example, he belonged to a group of independent parliamentarians. Yet he worked closely and effectively with members of the religious and leftist groups. He presented his demands to the Prime Minister and other ministers with steadfastness and without trepidation.  He was always prepared with documents and convincing references to other constitutions and constantly advised his colleagues to avoid dogmatic positions and refrain from putting the government or the ruling family in an untenable or embarrassing position. His approach was based on the gradualist principle of "take and ask for more".

Jassim's political vision for Bahrain was clear and unyielding. He believed that the principles of consultative government and the state's support of its citizens, particularly in housing and education, were the corner stone of a viable state. He took an oath to defend the 1973 constitution and to live by it. The King accepted Jassim's position because of the respect the ruling family had for his integrity and selflessness. Although he was a serious person and sometimes engaged in loud arguments, he always conveyed his thoughts with his captivating smile and his charming Muharraq dialect.

Although he was born and raised in Muharraq, he and his family moved to Manama several decades ago. Yet, he maintained his Miuharraq roots. He knew that his listeners, from the Emir down, always enjoyed his discourse and Muharraq style, and so whenever he wanted to convince his audience of a particular point, he would revert to his beloved Muharraq.  Until his death, Jassim held two weekly majlises, one in Manama, the other in Muharraq.

Jassim always put his money where his mouth was and never sought a personal or business favor from the government but always petitioned the ruler or the prime minister on behalf of other people. He was a wealthy businessman who frequently and quietly gave money to needy families and supported students in their quest for education.  He often financed the education of students-boys and girls-and encouraged them strongly to seek modern education. According to the book, Jassim wrote in his will that his estate should continue to support several poor families. He was credited with adding a constitutional article which states that the state should provide adequate housing, healthcare, and education to Bahraini citizens. The key point here is that Jassim's philanthropy wasn't the flashy kind that often generated media coverage and kudos. His gave quietly to those in need who couldn't pay their rent, fix their car, or put food on the table. He would put money in an envelope and pass it to the needy party without fanfare or need for recognition. The book is full of personal anecdotes that attest to Jassim's personalized philanthropy.

Jassim Murad was a Bahraini (and Gulfi) national treasure and a patriot through and through. He believed in good governance (al-hukm al-rashid) based on the modern practice of democracy, a responsible citizenry that is free to participate in decision making and an accountable government embodied in the Islamic principles of true bay'a and ijma'. He swore allegiance to the 1973 constitution and did not divert from it one iota. Some mistakenly and perhaps mischievously attributed this position to "stubbornness," but most others who knew him and worked with him viewed this quality as an embodiment of his nobility, humanity, love for country, and intellectual integrity. Jassim came alive in the book as a larger than life personality. The testimonials in the book offer such a vivid picture of a "gentle giant" of a man who enriched Bahrain during his life. 

I expect this seminal book will help keep Jassim life's work a living memory and a legacy for generations to come. By reading the book, future generations of school children will come to see Jassim Murad as one of Bahrain's "greatest generation" that brought about independence and a worthy member of "al-salaf al-saleh."

Sadly, today's "security state" barely resembles the vision that Shaykh Isa, Jassim, and all his companions at the time had in mind. If Jassim were alive today, he would have worked tirelessly across the Bahraini political, social, and business spectrum to make sure the current crisis in governance is a temporary phenomenon that will soon dissipate.

The book leaves the reader with the feeling that Jassim Murad's death has left a void in Bahrain, which will be difficult to fill.

*Dr. Emile Nakhleh is a Research Professor and Director of the Global and National Security Policy Institute at the University of New Mexico, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and President of the World Affairs Council of Albuquerque.  He is the author of A Necessary Engagement:  Reinventing America's Relations with the Muslim World (2009), Bahrain:  Political Development in a Modernizing State (1976 and 2011), The Gulf Cooperation Council: Policies, Problems and Prospects (1986), and The Persian Gulf and American Policy (1982) 

Arabic Version