By Victor Edwin
Hyderabad, March 19, 2020: The Henry Martyn Institute in Hyderabad, a pioneering specialized institute of Islamic studies, has honored a Jesuit educationalist and a Muslim scholar for their contribution to Muslim-Christian relations.
Church of South India Bishop Pushpa Lolita, vice-chairperson of Henry Martyn Institute, on March 18 conferred Doctor Litterarum on Jesuit Father Thomas V Kunnunkal, the president of Islamic Studies Association of Delhi, and Akhtarul Wasey, professor emeritus, Islamic Studies and the president of Maulana Azad University, Jodhpur in Rajasthan.
Professor C. R. S. Prabhu, Maulana Raheemuddin Khan and Bishop P. C. Singh have also received the honorary doctorate for their contribution to education and religious understanding.
Father Kunnunkal was the principal of Delhi’s Xavier’s School for 14 years (1962-1974 and 1977-1979) and developed it into a school of excellence. It was started as a residential school in 1960.
The Jesuit also headed the Central Board of Secondary Education for eight years and transformed it India’s premier education board.
He also launched the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS), which has now become the largest schooling system in the world with an enrollment of more than 3.5 million from all over India and a few from some neighboring countries. The NIOS provides redeeming education to those pushed out of the school system who get a second chance to have a certificate education.
All this led to the Indian government honoring him with a Padma Shree, the fourth highest civilian award in India, in 1974.
Father Thomas was regional superior of the Delhi Jesuits, then superior and director of the Indian Social Institute, a social research and action center of the Jesuits.
As the school principal, he had made as his motto, “Making everyone a winner.” He uses the same now to transform lives of people who come to him for retreats, seminars and workshops on education.
Even now, eight months into 94 years old, he writes short articles for publication.
Professor Wassey taught at Jamia Millia Islamia (Central University) in New Delhi. Formerly he worked as the director of Zakir Husain Institute of Islamic Studies at Jamia Millia Islamia, Vice-chairman of the Urdu Academy Delhi and a member of the Executive Board of National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language.
He is respected as a Muslim spokesperson among academicians. In 2013 Wasey received the Padma Shree, from the Indian president for outstanding achievers among Indian citizens.