My Journey Through Life Part 17

Twitterfeed

Enter your email address to follow this site and receive notifications of new posts by email.

My Journey Through Life Part 17

MY JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE

BY

PROFESSOR GHULAM AZAM

 PGA41

(Abridged translated version of the author’s original Bangla memoir Jibone Ja Dekhlam)

Translated and Edited by Dr Salman Al-Azami

Copyright – The Ghulam Azam Foundation 

Chapter Seventeen

The Language Movement

The multilingual Muslims in undivided India during British rule had Urdu as their lingua franca, while Hindi was the lingua franca of the Hindus. These two languages are quite similar in terms of sound and structure. However, there are two clear differences: firstly, Urdu is written in Arabic script although Urdu has more letters than Arabic, while Hindi is written in Devanagri script. The second difference is in vocabulary, with Urdu having many Arabic and Persian words while Hindi is full of Sanskrit words. However, there are quite a few Sanskrit words in Urdu and a significant number of Arabic and Persian words in Hindi. In fact these two languages are not original languages, but lingua francas. In other words, they are combinations of various languages. Bangla also has many Sanskrit words, but due to pronunciation differences it is not always easy to understand Hindi.

Urdu is the mother tongue of many people in the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi. The capital of Urdu is there. The Nizam (ruler) of the Southern Indian state of Hyderabad had declared Urdu as the state language and paved the way for the language to develop by making it the medium of instruction at Osmania University. Most of the Islamic literature published in India since colonisation have been in Urdu, which contributed to a huge collection of Urdu literature. With many books in English translated into Urdu, the language is now considered very rich.

National Language Debate in Pakistan

Pakistan was created with four provinces in the west and one province in the east. The people in these provinces spoke different languages. The main languages of the four western provinces are Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashtu, and Baluchi, although the common language of the educated people in all those provinces is Urdu. Although these four languages have developed significantly since then, they hadn’t developed much literature at that time. Urdu was the medium of education in madrasahs and the scholars practised the language widely. As Urdu was compulsory in schools, modern educated people were able to learn the language. Considering all this, it can be said that Urdu was the most common language of West Pakistan at that time.

However, apart from those who studied in madrasahs, modern educated and common people in East Pakistan knew nothing about Urdu. Making Urdu the only national language would certainly make people in this region, even those who completed university, completely illiterate in different affairs of the state. I found it difficult to understand why those who were in favour of Urdu as the only state language did not realise this matter. They were probably in the wrong illusion that a nation state should have only one state language. That probably led them to declare that Urdu would be the only state language of Pakistan. However, one has to condemn the effort to persist on this despite Tamaddun Majlish starting a movement demanding the declaration of Bangla as one of the state languages of Pakistan.

The movement to declare Bangla as one of the state languages began during the first visit to Dhaka by Pakistan’s Founding Father, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, in March 1948. The Prime Minister of East Pakistan at that time was Khwaja Nazimuddin. Realising the intensity of the movement of 11th March, he decided to come to a compromise with the leaders of the ‘Rashtra Bhasha Shongram Committee’ (Committee for the State Language Movement). An eight-point treaty was agreed between the Prime Minister and the committee on 15th March. The second point of the treaty said: “A proposal comprising the recommendation for making Bangla a state language have to be sent to the central government.”

However, on 21 March Mohammad Ali Jinnah declared at a civic reception at the Racecourse Ground, “Urdu will be the only state language.” I became so agitated that I left the ground immediately with some of my friends. When he made the same announcement at the convocation ceremony at Curzon Hall in Dhaka University on 24 March, the audience shouted “No, No!” When the movement committee met with Jinnah the same evening, he said, “Let us differ respectfully.” He further said, “You can make demands of the government in a systematic manner, but if you try through any other means then you will be dealt with very strictly.”

The huge personality of Mohammad Ali Jinnah was able to temporarily tame the movement for the state language, but the publicity campaign for the demand continued.

Memorandum to the Prime Minister

The Dhaka University Students’ Union organised a huge student rally at the University Gymnasium Ground on 27 November 1948, where students from all educational institutions were invited to attend. The occasion was very important; it was to submit a Memorandum to the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawabzada Liaqat Ali Khan, on behalf of students.

As my classes for the MA ended in June 1948, I didn’t go back to stay in the hostel after the summer holidays, instead staying at my uncle Shafiqul Islam’s house in Tikatuli, Dhaka. I had to continue the duties as General Secretary of the Students’ Union although as there was no election for the 1948-49 session. However, due to not staying at the hall, an Acting General Secretary was nominated from the elected representatives.

The responsibility for writing the memorandum to be read to the Prime Minister was given to the then Vice President of Salimullah Muslim Hall, Abdur Rahman Chowdhury, (who later became a renowned justice of the Supreme Court) with a committee approving the draft. The problem arose as to who would read it out at the event in front of the Prime Minister. The natural choice would be the Vice President of the Students’ Union, but as the VP was a Hindu, it was decided that considering the demand for Bangla as a state language was the most important aspect of the memorandum, it wouldn’t be wise to ask Arvind Bose to read the memorandum. The main reason for this decision was that the Muslim League government had already started to confuse the public saying that the demand for Bangla was mainly the demand of the Hindus. Hence, it was decided that Ghulam Azam would read the memorandum as the General Secretary of the Students’ Union.

As students from all educational institutions attended the event, the huge ground was packed with people, including on the adjacent roads as well. The Prime Minister, Nawabzada Liaqat Ali Khan, was seated on the right of the Chair of the programme with his wife Begum Rana Liaqat Ali Khan sat next to him. When I stood to read the memorandum, I noticed that Mrs Khan was just a couple of yards behind the microphone stand. The introduction of the memorandum was to warmly welcome the Prime Minister and to reiterate our commitment to the development of peace and prosperity of Pakistan, to underscore the need to bring unity between East and West Pakistan, and to condemn the narrow mentality of those who only work for regional and provincial interests. The Prime minister became very happy with this introduction and clapped while I kept on reading the memorandum, written in eloquent English, in a loud and clear voice.

When I read the section demanding Bangla be declared a state language, the whole audience gave a huge round of applause supporting the demand. I paused to allow for the clapping to continue.

At that time, I heard the Prime Minister’s wife telling him, “language ke bare me saf saf keh dena (tell them clearly about the language issue).”

I started reading again. This time I repeated the paragraph about the language issue even more firmly. Again the clapping started and some stood up clapping. After the audience became calm, I read out the remainder of the long memorandum and handed it over to the Prime minister on behalf of the students. He shook my hand and accepted it without saying a word.

Then he stood up to give his speech. I was worried that he would reiterate the same words that Mohammad Ali Jinnah had uttered. He began his speech in an angry voice saying, “If this is not regionalism then what is?” He then said in a manner as if to rebuke the audience, “We will not tolerate any regionalism, for the sake of the nation and its unity.”

I became even more worried and wondered how the audience would react if, taking the suggestion of his wife, he used the same language as Jinnah and clearly spoke against the language demand. What would I do if he did that? Would it be possible for me to sit quietly on the stage when the whole audience wanted Bangla to be a state language? I decided that I would instantly protest saying, “No, No” if he said anything against our demand.

As I was getting increasingly tense what the Prime Minister would say, I found him change his tone completely. He talked positively about our other demands; asked students to concentrate on their studies; and asked them to grow up as worthy citizens of the nation. However, he said absolutely nothing about the language issue. He could have said that he was not able to make a decision about this without talking to the Parliament. He probably decided not to say anything against it considering the sentiments among the audience. Despite not being happy with his speech, I had no opportunity to protest as the clever politician managed the situation very deftly.

21 February 1952

The first Prime Minister of Pakistan was assassinated at a public meeting in Rawalpindi on 16 October 1951, and the then Governor, General Khwaja Nazimuddin, became the Prime Minister. Although he was from the Nawab Bari of Dhaka, his mother tongue was Urdu. On 27 January 1951, Khwaja Nazimuddin declared at a public meeting at the Paltan Ground that Urdu will be the only state language of Pakistan. He wouldn’t have made this declaration if he had been as clever as Liaqat Ali Khan. I was astonished at this, as he was the person who had signed a treaty to consider Bangla as a state language when he was the Prime Minister of East Pakistan.

The language movement attained a new momentum after Khwaja Nazimuddin’s announcement. On 21st February, students defied Section 1441 and demonstrated in favour of their demand. The procession started from Dhaka University campus. When it reached the front of Dhaka Medical College Hostel, police fired upon it killing four people and injuring another 17. This killing triggered a mass movement in East Pakistan demanding Bangla to be declared a state language, culminating in the movement’s success the following year.

I was working at Rangpur Carmichael College at that time. Like other parts of East Pakistan, students brought out processions in Rangpur as well. I and my colleague Professor Jamiruddin were among those who led that demonstration. As a result, both of us and some leading students were arrested on 6 March.

First Experience of Jail

The jailor of Rangpur was a friend of Professor Jamiruddin. I and Jamiruddin were flat mates at that time when he came to visit his friend. I had been curious about life in a prison since boyhood, when I used to live in a tutored lodging adjacent to the walls of Dhaka Central Jail in 1939. Prior to my arrest, I asked the jailor if he could take me around the jail, and he said he could do so after getting permission from the authorities. Incidentally, a month later, the same jailor put me and his friend into jail and didn’t have to bother asking permission to show me around.

The Jailor felt very embarrassed, particularly because he couldn’t arrange division2 for us in jail on the first day and we had to sleep on the floor like common criminals resident there. He fast tracked the process the following day and arranged our division swiftly. This was my first experience of jail, and I actually liked it. A prison cell is very effective if one wants to come closer to Allah. When one is away from the family and confined within high walls, then Allah becomes their only resort to get comfort, and He becomes ever closer. No prison wall can stop this. He is the only person to talk to. The taste of pure submission I felt during Tahajjud during those days was unprecedented.

However, I was very sad for one reason. That was the spring time of my married life, as I was newly married just three months earlier on 28 December 1951. We had just began our life together as a family in mid-January, when I brought my wife to my college accommodation. I had to stay in jail for 25 days and it could have been longer if my uncle, Advocate Shafiqul Islam (former leader of Muslim League), had not arranged my release through the then provincial Prime Minister, Nurul Amin.

My Journey Through Life Part 16

MY JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE

BY

PROFESSOR GHULAM AZAM

 PGA41

(Abridged translated version of the author’s original Bangla memoir Jibone Ja Dekhlam)

Translated and Edited by Dr Salman Al-Azami

Copyright – The Ghulam Azam Foundation 

Chapter Sixteen

Life as an Academic

Rangpur Carmichael College

During British rule, five colleges in undivided Bengal were known as premier colleges. Four of the colleges, apart from the Presidency College in Kolkata, are in Bangladesh, with Carmichael College being one of them. Situated two miles away from Rangpur city, the college is on a huge stretch of land encompassing nine acres. I used to love the college campus for its beautiful serene environment.

Teaching Journey Begins

My visit to Rangpur for the interview made me aware of how cold it could become there during December and January. I had no winter clothes and spent my student life wearing cotton clothing. I would at best wear a woollen shawl during the cold season. After being advised by some colleagues at the college, I got myself some flannel shirts and a sherwani for the winter in Rangpur. I joined the college on 3rd December 1950. The principal introduced me to Professor Gopal, an elderly person who was in charge of the college timetable. He cordially invited me to his room and asked the typist to prepare my timetable from a piece of paper on which he had noted it down from a master timetable at his desk. When it was ready, he gave me the paper and said, “I wish you all the success, welcome!”

I got a bit worried looking at the timetable as I was given 24 lectures over six days a week for first and second year BA students. Professor Gopal explained that I was the only lecturer in my subject and needed to take all the lectures on Political Science and Civics. I was also told that Professor Abdul Mannan of the Economics department used to take these lectures before. I went to the principal and requested him to relieve me from such a high teaching load. He called Professor Gopal and they both requested Professor Mannan to take six of my 24 lectures, which he kindly agreed. I eventually got 18 hours of teaching a week.

My first lecture was on 5th December with the intermediate1 students. At that time, lecturers had to take the female students with them to class who would then go to the girls’ common room after the lecture. After taking the attendance register I looked at my students. It was a huge classroom with almost 200 students. Some of them didn’t even have a place to sit. I decided to give my students some important pieces of advice at the beginning. All the lectures at that time were in English and teacher-student communication outside the classroom was also in English. I said the following:

You are the future of the nation. It is you who will lead this country towards development, so you need to equip yourselves with different types of skills to face the challenges ahead. You need to be sincere towards your academic matters, but at the same time you should indulge in activities that will help you grow as good human beings.”

I then told them about five things that would help them do well in studies and two habits that would build them as good human beings. The points I gave for doing well in exams are:

  1. Be regular in class

  2. Go through the topic to be discussed in a lecture beforehand

  3. Listen to the lectures carefully and note down important points

  4. Discuss topics covered in class with friends

  5. Always ask questions if something is not clear

I reminded them that only good students have the courage to ask questions as their inquisitive minds would like to understand things clearly. I also told them that I would like to help them learn and whoever has this attitude would find me beside them.

My suggestions for being a good person were:

  1. Read biographies of noble men and women in history

  2. Read books as much as you can both in Bangla and in English

Their expressions told me that the students were encouraged by my words and looked happy when they left class at the end of the lecture. In the corridor outside the classroom, around eight to ten students surrounded me and said, “We have never heard such beautiful advice.” I saw quite a few students behind them nodding in agreement.

I felt content after my first lecture. I took up teaching not only as my profession, but also as a passion. My mission was to help my students develop as good human beings. I always believe that this should be the only reason for taking up teaching as a profession. Those who do this only as a job will fail to make this contribution as they spend every day as monotonous routine work and are not lucky enough to have the pleasure of developing good human individuals.

Why Teaching?

My salary was only 180 taka, which was much less than one could get in a government job. As a result meritorious students who possessed the qualities of good academics joined the civil service to earn better livelihood. However, my motivation to become a teacher was entirely missionary, so my pay scale was never a priority for me. I used to encourage my students to take up this profession saying that this is the only profession which expects one to maintain good moral character. This profession enables people to keep themselves away from bribery and corruption and encourages them to build future citizens who have good moral character.

I was a teacher at Rangpur Carmichael College for only a few years. I would have spent my whole life in this profession had I not felt compelled to leave it for the sake of the Islamic movement. I loved the profession so much that I would often dream that I was giving lectures at my college or walking towards college. Another advantage of teaching as a profession is the respect one gets throughout one’s life. During my organisational visits to greater Rangpur and Bogra districts, I would often find my former students, many of whom were teachers themselves. Is it possible to measure the love and respect they showed towards me? This is much more precious for me than any material goods in this life.

My father used to say that no one wants to see others more successful than themselves other than parents and teachers. Genuine good teachers get respect from their students as parents get from their children. That is why for me it is the best profession and one that builds humanity.

The Prophet (PBUH) said, “I have been sent as a teacher.” However, he didn’t say that to mean a profession, but as the teacher of mankind, because he is the ideal teacher for every aspect of our lives.

Prayer Arrangement in College

There was a break of 45 minutes for Zuhr (noon) prayer and most teachers who used to pray would go back to their campus accommodation to pray. Students would pray at the Lalbagh Bazar Mosque nearby. Some of them could be seen praying on the grass inside the campus. I felt that there should be prayer arrangement in the college building, which would make it easier for everyone to pray and encourage more people to perform their prayers. With this in mind I convinced the principal to allocate a room for prayer in the main college building. Among the lecturers, I was the one always present during the prayer and I would spend 20 minutes each day to discuss about different aspects of Islam. I would pray there every day even when I didn’t have a lecture.

I observed that due to my discussions on Islam the attendees in the prayer room started to increase. I would use a blackboard to explain things on Islam, and despite having teachers of Arabic and Persian attending prayers, who were also Islamic scholars, students considered me their teacher on Islam and would often come to me with questions.

1 Higher secondary level

My Journey Through Life Part 15

MY JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE

BY

PROFESSOR GHULAM AZAM

 PGA41

(Abridged translated version of the author’s original Bangla memoir Jibone Ja Dekhlam)

Translated and Edited by Dr Salman Al-Azami

Copyright – The Ghulam Azam Foundation 

Chapter Fifteen

MA Exams and Seeking Employment

MA Final Exam

I was supposed to appear at my MA final exam in October 1948, but I decided to wait for another year. This was because I was not satisfied with my preparation due to my busy schedule as the General Secretary of Fazlul Haque Muslim Hall Union and for some other personal issues. However, I later realised that this was the wrong decision. I attended my classes regularly and always made a note of the lectures. It was a great mistake not to appear in that year’s exam for the sake of achieving a better mark. No good student would want to lose an academic year and my misjudgement cost me one and a half years. I do hope that no one makes this same mistake in their life. Due to the Hindu-Muslim riots, which happened twice in the latter half of 1949, I lost a further six months. I was supposed to obtain my MA degree in December 1948, but due to my erroneous decision I was unable to receive it any earlier than August 1950.

During the exam, by the grace of Allah, out of the four papers, there was only one question that I was not prepared for. No one received a first class in political science that year and I was one of four students who obtained a high second class. My classmate in my MA final year, named Kafiluddin Mahmud, with whom I would play carom and volleyball regularly, received a first class first in the MA exams of 1948 and immediately joined the university as a lecturer. Incidentally, he examined the paper that contained the one question I was unable to answer. He felt sympathetic towards me and asked why I didn’t do well in that question. I felt embarrassed that my classmate had become my examiner and regretted my decision not to appear in the exam in the same year with him. Kafiluddin Mahmud later joined the civil service and was one of the advisers of the 1991 Caretaker Government of Bangladesh.

I embarked on my spiritual journey with Tablighi Jamaat after appearing in my MA final exam in March 1950 and returned to Dhaka in July 1950 after completing three chillas (four months). Upon returning to university, I came to know that the date of my oral examination had been announced. At that time, the oral examinations would take place after the written examination results were ready, unlike now, when they take place immediately after the written exams. I came to know during my viva that I had done very well in three papers and was asked why the fourth paper, which cost me a first class mark, was not as good. The teachers seemed satisfied with my performances in the oral exams and, when the results were declared in the first week of August, I came to know that I was the second out of four that obtained a high second class.

Choosing a Profession

I had decided during my third Tablighi chilla that I would begin teaching as my profession. I met the head of the department who told me that I could not apply for lectureship at a university as I did not hold an honours undergraduate degree and the only way it could be compensated for was with a first class master’s degree. Hence, I missed that opportunity too, whereas one who had a third class undergraduate degree and fewer marks than me in their master’s degree was able to join the university.

My First Job

I sent applications to four famous university colleges with all my certificates, although I was unaware of whether any of the colleges had a vacancy. While I was looking for jobs after the MA final exams, I went to see the Accountant General[1] Syed Mohammad Jamil who had met me in Tablighi Jamaat and had asked me to visit him after the completion of my third chilla. He was from Northern India and was very affectionate towards me in Tablighi Jamaat, and that relationship continued for many more years. During my exiled life, I met him once in Libya in 1973 at an international youth conference where he sincerely prayed for my life in exile to end. I realised at that time that when people develop a deep love for Allah, their hearts become very soft towards fellow human beings.

When I met Mr Jamil at his residence in Dhaka, he hugged me affectionately and asked me to join his office in the position of an upper division clerk until I obtained the job of my choice. He said, “Hundreds of people work in my office; all upper division clerks are graduates and the lower division clerks are not below matriculation. I have increased the prayer break for the noon prayer (zuhr) to 45 minutes so that someone capable of speaking about Islam can speak about 20/25 minutes after the prayer. However, I am not too happy with their speeches. I have heard you speak many times and would like you to expound Islam to our employees after joining here. I hope you will not decline in doing this service for Islam.” I had no intention whatsoever to do this kind of job, but could not refuse the affectionate demand of Mr Jamil. I thought that it was a good idea to be occupied until I found a proper job. I could get some experience and simultaneously provide some service to Islam and also receive enough money that I wouldn’t need to ask my father to cover my expenses. Hence, I agreed to join.

He asked me to apply that very day and gave me the form, telling me that interviews were held every week and that someone like me would get selected easily. I received a letter for an interview within four days of applying. I then attended the interview two days later and joined after three days. I was among 25/30 clerks under a senior superintendent. He was very caring and as I was new he would often come to my desk in order to help me understand the work. Most of the work was accounting, which I didn’t enjoy, but I continued to do it for the sake of completing a job.

The officers would deliver the speeches after prayer and one of them introduced me and asked me to speak a few days after I joined. It seemed that the audience liked it. However, some senior clerks did not like the fact that a junior clerk was delivering an officer’s job, and I could hear some mutterings around. With Allah’s mercy I saw my acceptability increase after speaking for a few days. If someone displayed an interest in the topics I discussed, I would send them to the Kakrail Mosque to attend Tablighi Jamaat programmes. I worked in that office for only forty days and I was able to encourage 8 to 10 people to join Tabligh during that time.

A Better Offer

After working as an upper division clerk for a month, Mr Jamil asked me to see him at his home. He had already heard that my MA final results had been published, so he asked me to take with me all my certificates and testimonials. He became very happy seeing my papers and said, “I love you for the sake of Islam. The superintendent of my office has praised you highly for your performance in his department and I have heard very satisfactory remarks about your speeches after prayers. I would like you to be permanent in this office, so I want to promote you to the position of an officer. Please sign this paper if you agree.” Saying this he gave me the form, which was 4 or 5 pages long. I was surprised to see that most of the columns had already been filled and realised that he did so by taking the particulars from my previous application. I only needed to complete a few areas. I was overwhelmed by his love and kept looking at the document without saying a word. He said again, “I will be here for at least two more years and will be able to promote you to higher positions. I will make such arrangements that you will continue to thrive in this job. You can sign this document without any worry.”

With a gentle and emotional voice, I expressed my deep gratitude towards him and said, “I know that you love me so much because of the deen (religion) and it is with this spirit of deen that I have decided to take up college teaching as my profession.”

I then explained to him the thoughts that led to the decision that I made whilst at a Mosque in Rangpur during my third chilla. Hearing this, he hugged me, kissed my forehead and said, “My love for you has grown even deeper after seeing your courage to reject such a big offer. May Allah accept you for His deen. Government jobs are not appropriate at all for a person like you. You have made the right decision.” When I returned and relayed this to my father, he said, “You have to make your own decision about these things, but always remember to take decisions with full confidence in Allah and with the spirit of Islam in mind”.

A Strange Telegram

I was asked to lead another Tablighi chilla to train some educated youths. When I informed them of my applications to colleges and the job I was working at the time, I was asked to apply for leave and was told that they would keep in contact with my father and inform me if I had an interview call. However, I could not get long-term leave due to working for only over a month, so after only forty days of serving in that office I resigned and went for the chilla.

After completing the chilla in October, I returned and continued to work for Tabligh in Dhaka and its adjacent areas as I didn’t have any job. In mid-November 1950, I got a telegram from a college to attend an interview, but was surprised to see that there was no mention of the name of the college or the district. The only name that was mentioned in the telegram was the telegram office, Alamnagar, from where it was sent. I was confused as to where the letter was from. I heard that there was a vacancy in the Political Science department at Pabna Edward College, so I went there for the interview only to find that they hadn’t sent me any telegram. I then went to the telephone office and was informed that Alamnagar was in Rangpur, so I decided to go there immediately.

I missed the interview date as I had been to Pabna, so I reached Rangpur the day after the interview and went straight to the residence of the principal. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the principal was none other than Mr Abdul Hakim Qureshi, who was my principal at Islamic Intermediate College for four years. He also taught me Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar during my intermediate class. I said, “Sir, if I knew you were here I would have come to see you a long time ago.” He received me with a cordial handshake and asked why I came a day after the interview. When I informed him the reason he got very annoyed and said, “That head clerk is a fool. How could he send a telegram like this? Please don’t mind this, as it was not your fault”.

I asked him in a low, worried and sad tone, “Sir, will I be given another chance to give an interview?” He replied, “There is no need for an interview. I have already decided to appoint you due to your qualifications being much better than those who came for the interview and my personal acquaintance with you. Return tomorrow to receive your appointment letter and join on the given date.” From the core of my heart came out the expression Alhamdulillah to express my gratitude towards the Lord and my whole existence felt a deep sense of satisfaction. This proves the power of Allah’s decisions, that I could be appointed even without an interview. On the other hand, if He doesn’t approve something, then no amount of effort can lead to success.

As mentioned before, it was during a late night in May 1950 while at the Keramotiya Mosque in Rangpur that I decided not to do any government job and take up teaching as a profession so that I could give more time to the cause of Allah. It was His wish that it was in Rangpur above all where I could start my teaching career. I had sent letters to three other university colleges, but none of them replied, whereas Rangpur Carmichael College appointed me without an interview. Two other colleagues received appointment letters the following day. They were Professor Zamir of Bangla and Professor Kalim of Philosophy. I joined the political science department. After receiving my appointment letter I returned to Dhaka that evening.

[1] A high official responsible for financial records during the British rule, also known as “Her Majesty’s Service”.

My Journey Through Life Part 14

MY JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE

BY

PROFESSOR GHULAM AZAM

 PGA41

(Abridged translated version of the author’s original Bangla Memoir Jibone Ja Dekhlam)

Translated and Edited by Dr Salman Al-Azami 

Copyright – The Ghulam Azam Foundation

Chapter Fourteen

Working with Tablighi Jamaat[1]

My father came to see me at my university hostel two months before my MA final exams. Saying, “Come, I will take you somewhere,” he took me to a mosque in Narinda. On the way he didn’t tell me where we were going and for what purpose. As soon as we entered the mosque, I noticed 25 to 30 people doing munajat[2]. The person leading the proceedings was using very emotive language. I had never heard someone doing munajat in Bangla in such an appealing style and I observed that he was crying out loud and everyone taking part was also crying. The words touched my heart and tears came rolling down my cheeks freely. I felt an unprecedented pleasure in praying to Allah that filled my heart. After the munajat my father introduced me to the person who was leading it. He was very handsome and I felt an instant connection with him in our first meeting. He was the president of East Pakistan Tablighi Jamaat, Mawlana Abdul Aziz. I came to know that he was already well-acquainted with my father and it was a humbling experience when he hugged me with deep affection and won my heart immediately. He advised me to pray the isha[3] prayer at Lalbagh Mosque every Thursday, where regular Tabligh events used to take place.

I later came to know that the language of the munajat that touched my heart was actually a translated version of some verses from the Qur’an and some famous Hadith. I realised that our Omnipotent Lord is so merciful that he taught us the best possible language to seek His blessings. Allah ensured that the language of our demands to Him is up to such a standard that all aspects are covered appropriately. There is no need to send a formal application to Allah. Even an illiterate person can also express their feelings to their Lord in their own language.

Lessons in Tabligh

The following Thursday I reached the Khan Muhammad Mosque in Lalbagh as advised by Mawlana Abdul Aziz. After the isha prayer, I noticed around 7 or 8 people sat together who were greeting each other smilingly. I felt that they were Tablighi brothers and this was confirmed by one brother who cordially welcomed me to the group. When they came to know who had recommended me to come, and that my father was a friend of their leader, the welcome became more emotionally charged with affectionate handshakes all around.

Then they started their weekly programme with the discussion on the six principles of Tablighi Jamaat. The chair of the meeting, Mr Abdul Haque, asked each person to explain one principle. The purpose was to make everyone capable of speaking in front of an audience. I too had to do that within a couple of weeks. The six principles of Tabligh are as follows:

  1. Kalimah – the first article of faith declaring Allah as the only one to be worshipped and Muhammad (PBUH) as the messenger of Allah.
  2. Salat – the five daily prayer
  3. Ilm & Zikr – the knowledge and remembrance of Allah
  4. Ikraame-Muslim – honouring a Muslim
  5. Tashihe-Niyat – sincerity of intention
  6. Nafarun fi Sabilillah – going out for the cause of Allah (to invite people towards His way)

After the meeting it was time to eat and people took out the food they had brought from their homes. I was the only person who hadn’t brought my own food. I was not aware that I had to stay until the Morning Prayer, so I hadn’t had my dinner. I was feeling quite embarrassed, but others made me feel comfortable and almost forced me to eat their food. I was also told that I would be their guest every Thursday and didn’t need to bring my own food.

The activities of Tablighi Jamaat include going out in groups to invite people to join the movement and teaching people the six principles, how to perform sincere prayers, the proper pronunciation of the Qur’an, different types of dua,[4] etc. In order to become an active member of Tabligh one must give a long time for this cause, by going on a Chilla[5] (a spiritual journey) in three cycles, each consisting of forty days. Those who are able to spend these four months in this cause are considered the core members of the movement and are given the responsibilities of leadership at different levels.

My First Chilla

I completed the three Chillas after my MA final exams. The first and the last Chilla were spent in my own country, while the second one was spent in Delhi – the headquarters of the Tabligh movement. The 20-member group in my first Chilla was led by the president of the East Pakistan Tablighi Jamaat, Mawlana Abdul Aziz. I learned a lot in the first ten days of that spiritual journey due to my close acquaintance with Mawlana Abdul Aziz. I memorised some important verses from the Qur’an and also learned a lot of Dua from him. He found in me a sincere disciple and asked me to be with him all the time. I used to ask him many questions and he answered them with love and affection. The respect I felt for him was not felt for anyone else.

Suddenly, after the tenth day, Mawlana Aziz told me in front of everyone else that I had to lead the group for the rest of the journey as he had to leave to attend a central meeting of the movement in Dhaka. I was not sure what others felt, but I was dumbfounded at this sudden decision and stood there surprised and tense. Observing my reaction he hugged me and said, “I joined this group to prepare you for leadership. I am confident that you will be able to lead this group efficiently. You are the leader of this group from now on and I will spend my last three days in this group under your able leadership”.

My confidence was boosted when other members expressed their allegiance to my leadership. Yet, I was finding it difficult to come out of the shock and told Mawlana Aziz with tears in my eyes, “I have been learning many things from you in the last ten days. I am worried that I now have to lead the team with only ten days of training.” He consoled me saying, “Allah directly helps those who work in His cause. As you go on teaching others your knowledge will also increase naturally.” However, as he was still around for three more days it was easy for me to get into the leadership mode as I was able to get important tips from him whenever I needed it.

Second Chilla in Delhi

I was told after my first Chilla that the second one will be in Delhi and that I would be accompanied by another person from Dhaka, and a third person from Kolkata. This was in April 1950 and at that time there was no passport control between India and Pakistan. I and my companion reached Kolkata by train and went to the central Tablighi mosque where we were joined by an Urdu-speaking gentleman who was made the leader of our three-member team. We started for Delhi on a train that took 24 hours to reach our destination. We prayed all the prayers on the train and our Hindu and Sikh co-passengers happily made space for us to pray.

I was happy to know that our leader was Urdu-speaking, as I was keen on learning the language. I considered it to be a sweet language from my boyhood when I used to hear it during my trips to Dhaka with my mother. I learned a little bit from my cousins in Dhaka and also spoke some Urdu with my paternal grandmother after returning from Dhaka. I don’t remember these much but heard about it from my mother and grandmother. I also realised later that the Urdu my mother spoke was not the standard form of the language.

As our leader lived in Kolkata he understood Bangla well, so it was easy for us to learn Urdu from him. During my involvement in the language movement I had decided that I would not learn Urdu, but my anger towards the language could not be sustained, and I learned the language with enthusiasm. It was relatively easy for me to learn as many words in Urdu are taken from Arabic. However, although Urdu used Arabic script I initially found it difficult to read as there were no diacritical marks like those in Arabic. Our leader helped me learn how to read.

The Tablighi Jamaat headquarters were situated in a small mosque in an area called Nizamuddin in Old Delhi. The Central President of the movement at that time was Mawlana Yusuf, the son of the founder of Tablighi Jamaat, Mawlana Iliyas, who used to live in that mosque’s premises. All the speeches in Delhi were in Urdu. We were able to understand most of them, but speaking was a bit difficult as we were often worried about making mistakes.

I and my companion from Dhaka were sent to a district called Bijnor with eight other members, under the leadership of Mawlana Ziauddin Aligarhi. I was hugely impressed by the personality of Mawlana Aligarhi, and learned a lot of things from him. He was our leader, but he never let us look after him; rather he would always be prepared to look after us. He was such an impressive leader that he never needed to order us to do anything. We got used to doing whatever was required without his order. I had never seen a leader as successful until then. Later when I was given the leadership, I tried to follow his style, but I do not think I was as successful as he was.

Efforts to learn Urdu continued during our tour of Bijnor. The thing I found extremely difficult to learn is the use of gender. Urdu has genders for all nouns, which is completely different from Bangla. Our leader during the journey to Delhi had said that it was acceptable to use masculine in place of feminine, but the other way round would be a problem. This was a good lesson that eased our worries a bit. Yet there would be mistakes due to linguistic differences between Bangla and Urdu. For example, I once said, khaneka pani dijiye ‘Please give me water to eat’ as this is how we say this in Bangla. A brother gave me water and said bhai lijiye khaneka pani, ye hai pine ka roti ‘brother, here is your water to eat, and this is your bread to drink’. I felt really embarrassed. However, when I heard that even in Persian they say ‘water to eat’ I felt a bit better. When I was given a similar answer by another brother after returning to Delhi, I said, ap pani pite raho, hum pani khatei rahenge ‘you continue to drink water, but we will keep on eating water.’

Before returning to Dhaka we spent three days in Delhi. This time I enjoyed the speeches of the Central President of Tabligh, Mawlana Yusuf (popularly called Hazratji) even more as my Urdu had improved considerably by then. When I was leaving Delhi it was an emotional moment to part from my dear leader Mawlana Aligarhi, whose personality had a huge impact on me. I cried a lot hugging him and found it difficult to stop. He also shed tears and gave me some valuable advice that I remembered for the rest of my life. He was one of the few Tablighi leaders who did not make rude comments about my joining Jamaat-e-Islami.

Third Chilla

As my first Chilla was in eastern Bengal I wanted to visit northern and southern Bengal for the third one. I started for Dinajpur[6] by train as the leader of a 15-member group. During the journey when it was time for prayer, I spoke about the importance of praying in congregation. Although it was meant for my fellow Tablighi brothers,  I spoke loudly to also convey this message to many other passengers in the compartment. One of us did the call to prayer and we observed that quite a few of our fellow passengers were prepared to pray with us. Others moved away to allow us more space to pray. I spoke about our activities in Tabligh after the prayer and invited others to join. Later four or five passengers who were going to Dinajpur joined us in a mosque for two days.

Although it was not part of the activities of Tabligh, I introduced something that impressed everyone and all the passengers followed this during the journey. When the train stopped at a station everyone would help passengers to get down with their luggage and help those people getting on the train with their luggage. We also ensured that elderly people, women and children had seats, by giving up our own seats. I told my companions to give up their seat when an elderly person was standing as Islam teaches us to respect the elders. I still remember the beautiful scene how younger people, including those who were not in our delegation, gave up their seats for the elders during that journey. This proves that people do possess basic human qualities; the problem is this feeling is not encouraged much. The sense of humanity is universal.

After spending three days in Dinajpur, we went to Rangpur and stayed in a famous mosque called Keramatiya Mosque. The Imam allowed us to stay there but did not seem too keen on our cause. He later joined Jamaat-e-Islami and told me that he had never found the Tablighi movement appealing as it lacked the revolutionary approach that he had been looking for, being inspired by the works of Mawlana Abul Kalam Azad[7] and Allama Iqbal[8].

After spending three days each in Rangpur, Bogra, Pabna and Rajshahi, and a few days in some other places on the way back to Dhaka, I finally completed my three Chillas. I returned to our house in Moghbazar and met my parents after spending four months on the spiritual tour of Tablighi Jamaat. This tour changed my life forever. I decided, while in Rangpur, that I would take up college teaching as my profession rather than becoming a government officer. In this way I would be able to perform Chillas during the vacation. After my MA results, I sent letters to four colleges and, incidentally, I was given an offer from Rangpur Carmichael College – the same city where I had decided to take up this profession.

 

[1] An Islamic religious movement based on the principle of the “Work of the Prophets” inviting to Allah in the manner of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

[2] Individual or collective supplications, often following ritual prayers.

[3] The fifth of the five daily prayers Muslims perform, prayed in the late evening.

[4] Supplications to God, often performed in Arabic and including verses from the Qur’an.

[5] A Persian word meaning forty days of spiritual journey.

[6] A northern district in Bangladesh.

[7] An Indian scholar and a senior political leader of the Indian independence movement. Following India’s independence, he became the first Minister of Education in the Indian government.

[8] Sir Muhammad Iqbal, widely known as Allama Iqbal, was an academic, philosopher, poet, barrister, mystic and politician in British India who is widely regarded as having inspired the Pakistan Movement.

My Journey Through Life Part 13

MY JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE

BY

PROFESSOR GHULAM AZAM

 PGA41

(Abridged translated version of the author’s original Bangla Memoir Jibone Ja Dekhlam)

Translated and Edited by Dr Salman Al-Azami 

Copyright – The Ghulam Azam Foundation

Chapter Thirteen

Involvement in Sports

I remember playing some sports, like kabbadi1, gollachut2, athletics, kite flying and so on during my primary school years in our village, among which kabbadi was the most popular. Watching elders play football, we also became interested in it, but didn’t have a ball to play with, so we used an unripe grapefruit as the ball. Observing our interest in football, my grandfather asked a cobbler to make a leather football for us with cotton inside it so that we could play in our own backyard rather than with the mischievous boys of the village. He used to be the referee sitting on the veranda while we played. When I was at Barail Junior Madrasah I used to love the PE3 lessons and used to practice them with others at leisure time. There used to be competitions in kabbadi, football and athletics, but I was not as good as others in those sports.

I continued to enjoy the PE lessons while at Comilla High Madrasah and also played football when there was no PE. I was never good at football, but I always loved the sport. During 1938-39 when I was in Class 7 or 8 I used to go to a local English landlord’s house with my friends to listen to the football commentary on the radio between Mohammedan Sporting and Mohun Bagan football clubs in Kolkata. Mohammedan Sporting was for Muslims while Mohun Bagan was a club for Hindus. Politics and sports were closely related to each other during that time, so a victory of Mohammedan was considered to be a victory of Muslims, making football an influential sport in nurturing Muslim nationalism. The Daily Azad, established by the legendary Muslim journalist Mawlana Akram Khan, used to make big headlines when Mohammedans won a match. When elders read those stories aloud we would all listen to hear about the performances of our heroes. I still remember the name of a famous player called Jumma Khan, a Punjabi player with a bulky physique. I also remember a line from a report in the Daily Azad that showed how the newspaper and Mohammedan Sporting were closely related to our Muslim sentiments at that time. It said, “Who can stop Mohammedan’s victory? Hafez4 Rashid is playing with the Qur’an in his heart!”

I used to go and watch annual sports competitions of some famous schools at that time. I never tried to be a sportsman, probably because I didn’t think I had the potential, but I enjoyed watching others play. When I was in Comilla I once collapsed with sunstroke while watching the annual sports of a Hindu school called ‘Ishwar Pathshala’.

I used to play volleyball regularly while I was in Koltabazar Hostel in 1940, and continued to play the sport the following year in the college ground. I realised that although I was not good at football, I played volleyball quite well. While I was staying at Paradise Hostel during 1941-42, I could play volleyball at the hostel premises rather than having to go to the college ground. In the absence of the required equipment for volleyball we would play badminton, which I liked even better. I had a slightly taller friend called Amin Uddin with whom we formed a doubles team, calling ourselves ‘Hopeless’, and we won the college championship that year. The principal was very amused at our name and while giving his speech during the prize giving ceremony he said, “The doubles team of Ghulam Azam and Amin Uddin were so confident of winning that they called their team ‘Hopeless’ to surprise everyone.” Our ‘Hopeless’ team was revived in 1944 when Amin Uddin and I were in the same student hall (Fazlul Haque Muslim Hall) of Dhaka University. We maintained our reputation by becoming the hall champions for two consecutive years. Our team ended naturally after Amin Uddin left university in 1946.

I also played volleyball regularly during the dry season in the hall compound. When I went back to Chandina for holidays I played both volleyball and badminton in the high school grounds there and became known as a good player in both these games.

Post-Education Life

I formed a badminton doubles team with Professor M R Helali of the English department while lecturing at Rangpur Carmichael College, although we never took part in a competitive game. I also played badminton, having been inspired by a Jamaat leader when I was in Lahore Jail in 1964, with other central leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami after the then President Ayub Khan banned Jamaat. We used to play against each other and leaders like Mawlana Mawdudi and Mawlana Abdur Rahim used to enjoy our competition and acknowledged that we were good players. As I used to win most of the time, they wanted to know whether I had played badminton during my student life and I had to confess that I had been the doubles champion in my hall. I was later transferred to Dhaka Central Jail upon my request so that I could see my family every fortnight. There were no badminton facilities there, but I would play rings with one of the Jamaat leaders there.

Watching Sports

Although cricket is the most popular sport in our country, I still like football more. Unlike cricket, one doesn’t have to wait long to get a result in football. Sometimes a cricket match continues for days and the crowd sit and watch the game for a long period of time. It may be worth it for players to watch the game like this in order to learn and devise tactics, but I have to admire the patience of the crowd who spend such a long time watching the game. I definitely don’t have this strange patience. It is not only in stadiums; many people stop their work and watch the game on television for hours and hours. As the results and analyses of these matches take up prominent spaces in newspapers, I also read some of them and try to find out who is winning. However, I don’t have the competence of a supporter or a follower of the game like others.

My Views on Sports

I have my own perspective on sports. I feel that sports have a role to play in physical activities and entertainment and some people may be very passionate about them, but I find it difficult to understand why people would take up sports as a profession. Many players in the world have a huge income as professional players and don’t need to be involved in any other profession. I also acknowledge that some players have improved the sports they play at a very high level and have achieved remarkable feats. However, as a believer of life after death I wonder what these people will answer to Allah when asked what they did in this world. Is the purpose of this life just to play? Should one choose sports as their primary way of life? On the other hand I do admit that sports can inspire the youth and they can play positive roles in the society. Elderly people are also inspired by sports and can enjoy it as a form of entertainment. From these perspectives one cannot ignore the significance and contributions of sports in the life of citizens.

Amazing Popularity of Cricket in Bangladesh

As already mentioned I am not fond of cricket and don’t waste my time watching the game. However, everyone in my house loves the game and although their over-enthusiasm sometimes annoys me, I don’t stop them from enjoying. One of the pleasures of watching a game is shouting and yelling with other compatriots. Those who are unable to go to the stadium become their spiritual comrades watching it on TV. When all of this happens, I find myself isolated and unwanted in my own house.

My younger brother Dr Ghulam Muazzam is also a fan of cricket, as are his sons and grandchildren. They are not only fans, but cricket analysts as well. As my brother is not as boring as I am in terms of sports, his grandchildren are even better skilled in the sport than their grandfather. My youngest son Salman used to play cricket when he was a student and loves the sport. When I was in Dhaka Central Jail in 1993, Salman’s newly published book Bishsher Shera Cricket O Cricketor (The World’s Best Cricket and Cricketers) reached me. I was in the VIP jail cell, called ”26 Cell”, where most of my cellmates were cricket fans as well. They almost snatched the book from me before I could read it, so I had to be the last person to read the book. Although I am not fond of cricket, I read most parts of the book and found it an enjoyable read. Salman claimed in his book that cricket can be a force to unite this world and wrote in his introduction:

Cricket has conquered the world. It has brought the whole world together – not through the power of weapons, but through the beautiful means of discipline. (…) How beautifully cricket has transcended geographic boundaries and united the world! It has brought people together by destroying their differences in terms of race, language or culture. (…) I read in the religious scripture that ‘Allah is beautiful and He loves beauty’. We can’t see Allah, but we can feel His beauty by seeing His beautiful creations. Cricket is one such beautiful creation of Allah and we bow down towards Him for gifting us this beautiful game”.

Although I am not influenced by Salman’s philosophy and deep emotion towards cricket I do acknowledge the huge popularity of the game.

Cricket Politics

When in 1999 Bangladesh beat Pakistan in the Cricket World Cup in England, the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina commented, “This victory was possible because the players played with the spirit of 1971.” However, Bangladesh was defeated by Pakistan the following year in Dhaka with Sheikh Hasina present in the ground. I could not understand why she herself could not bring that spirit back to our players.

Cricket is just a game and she made herself a laughing stock by bringing the Liberation War into the game. Bangladesh’s victory was not due to the spirit of 1971, neither was their defeat because of the lack of it. Victory and defeat in sports depend on performances on the ground – nothing else.

India and Pakistan are top teams in world cricket. Pakistan has won more matches between them than India, but I am not sure whether the ‘spirit of 1947’ had to do anything with their success against their arch rivals. When these two teams play against each other in Dhaka, most people support Pakistan. My impression is that this support is more to do with people’s negative attitude towards India than their love towards Pakistan. Awami League leaders consider India their close ally despite most people in Bangladesh supporting teams that oppose India. Does this mean most people in Bangladesh are Razakars5? Who are the patriotic people then?

I can see similar political significance in India-Pakistan cricket matches to that which I used to witness between Mohammedan Sporting and Mohun Bagan football clubs during my student life.

1 A traditional sport in rural Bangladesh, also played in wider South Asia and is a competitive game played at Asian Games.

2 A traditional rural sport that is less played in modern times.

3 Physical Education

4 Someone who has memorised the whole Qur’an by heart.

5 A pejorative term referring to members of a paramilitary force created by the Pakistan Army during the Liberation War of 1971.

My Journey Through Life Part 12

MY JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE

 

BY

 

PROFESSOR GHULAM AZAM

 PGA41

(Abridged translated version of the author’s original Bangla Memoir Jibone Ja Dekhlam)

 

Translated and Edited by Dr Salman Al-Azami

 

Copyright – The Ghulam Azam Foundation

 

Chapter Twelve

Involvement in University and Hall Student Unions

When I left my Arabic studies, I had decided to study political science for my postgraduate education after my graduation in 1946. The Political Science department at Dhaka University was quite old and had good reputation, whereas political science and economics were under the Department of Political Economy in Kolkata University. I was not interested in going to Kolkata as Kolkata University was not a residential university like Dhaka. In addition, I liked the department in Dhaka University. However, my father wanted me to study in Kolkata and stay with my uncle Shafiqul Islam. I was told to stay with him in the famous ‘Bekar Hostel[1]’. My planned day of departure was 16 August 1946 and I was preparing accordingly. Incidentally, this was the ‘Direct Action Day’ in Kolkata, declared by the Muslim League to protest against the efforts of the Indian National Congress against the formation of a separate nation for Muslims. Therefore, it was suggested that I leave after observing what happened on that day.

The Muslim League had no plan to instigate a Hindu-Muslim riot and the Muslims were not aware that the Hindus had been well prepared for slaughtering Muslims on that day. Many Muslims lost their lives after being attacked by armed Hindus, and Muslim properties worth tens of millions were destroyed or looted. Many Muslim women were raped on that dreadful day. As a result my planned study at Kolkata University had to be cancelled and I enrolled myself in the department where I had wanted to study after all and continued to stay in my favourite hostel, the Fazlul Haque Muslim Hall.

Hall Union Elections

I was a hall resident from 1944 to 1948. The hall union election used to be held every year, although the university union election was a bit irregular. At that time Salimullah Muslim Hall had a strange system in their hall union elections. More than half of their students were from Greater Comilla and Greater Noakhali districts, and they would work together to ensure that their own people won the elections. A student in our Fazlul Haque Muslim Hall named Nazmul Karim took an initiative to ensure that this type of district nationalism did not take place in our hall elections. He led a movement to resist district nationalism and asked me to join his movement as I was from Greater Comilla. His movement became successful and no district nationalism could be observed in our hall union elections.

Two panels would contest in elections and each year the names of these panels would change. Generally names like ‘Progressive Front’, ‘Democratic Alliance’ etc. were popular in these elections. No student front of any political parties were active in Dhaka University at that time, although they were active in Kolkata University. I was actively involved with the Nazmul Karim panel in the 1944-45 election in which he was elected the Speaker. The constitution of the Fazlul Haque Hall Union was different from other halls, which was aimed at developing students in the system of parliamentary democracy. The hall provost would be the president of the union and would attend only the inauguration session. The Speaker would preside over the debates while the elected Vice President (VP) would act as the Leader of the House.

I was the chief election officer for one of the panels in the 1945-46 hall union election, with Sarder Fazlul Karim as its VP candidate. At that time communism was becoming popular as an ideology, and meritorious students of the university were attracted towards it. I too was influenced by them for a brief period through their leaflets and other publicity materials. The other panel was led by Matiur Rahman, who successfully convinced the voters that Sarder Fazlul Karim was a communist and won the election despite being far less efficient than our panel.

The environment in those elections were fully democratic. One of the main leaders of our opposite panel, Ismail (who later became a minister during the presidency of Ziaur Rahman), was my close friend and we would often ask each other how our campaigns were going. Everyone would accept the results in the spirit of sportsmanship. Matiur Rahman, the elected VP, would often ask me to write posters for him and I obliged despite being from his opposite panel.

I tried to know more about communism after that election and soon realised that their materialistic ideology was against religion and leads to atheism. My faith in Islam was so strong that communism as an ideology had no chance to win over me.

The Hall Union election of the 1946-47 academic year took place during the first year of my MA. I was quite known to others due to my involvement in the previous year. I was not the kind of person who would remain uninvolved in an election, so I decided to be active in the election of 1946-47. One of the panels was headed by Muazzam Hossain Chowdhury of the Department of History and when the other panel was being formed under the leadership of Azharul Haque Chowdhury of the Department of Economics, Chowdhury announced that he would not stand as the VP candidate unless I agreed to stand as the General Secretary (GS) candidate. I was not prepared for this. I was ready to actively work for his panel, but I had to give in to his pressure and contested the election. Our opposite panel led by Mr Hossain won the election, but I was surprised when I heard that I was the only person elected from our panel with record number of votes. I had no problem working with the other panel and I developed cordial relationship with the elected vice president.

There was no party politics in university at that time. The heated political climate of 1945-46 did not affect the academic environment of the university. Dhaka was not as affected by the political struggles as much as Kolkata, the capital of the then Bengal region. The Indian National Congress had very little presence in Dhaka as none of their leaders were based in Dhaka, although some of them were practising law in Comilla. Therefore, student politics was limited to hall and university unions only. The Muslim Students’ League was the only notable student organisation at that time, but they were not active on campus. Politics outside university was mainly led by the Muslim League. Even the language movement was not organised by any particular political party, and the Muslim League became very unpopular among students due to their negative role during the language movement.

 

University Union

The university union, known as DUCSU (Dhaka University Central Students’ Union), was previously known as Dhaka University Students’ Union. The word ‘central’ was probably added later to use the acronym DUCSU. The elections of the university union was not held every year in the way that the hall union elections were, but that did not create any problem because most student activities were based in student halls and the university union had limited functions. There was no university union election when I started university in 1944, so the first university union election I witnessed was the one for the 1945-46 academic year.

There was only one panel contesting in that election, but we had little scope of knowing the candidates well. The campaign was not nearly as exciting as the hall union elections. I only remember one independent candidate called Farid Ahmed of the English department giving a speech in the common room. He immediately caught everyone’s attention as an eloquent speaker and I too decided to vote for him despite not knowing him personally. There were 16 members in the only panel that contested the election and some independent candidates contested against them. I voted for 15 of the 16 members from the panel and gave one vote to Farid Ahmed. He won as an independent candidate, and later became known as Moulvi Farid Ahmed, the leader of the Nizam-e-Islam party.

The university union comprised of four students, each from the four student halls, making the total number 16. A 17th member was elected from the female students based in a house called ‘Chummery House’ near Dhaka University campus. The Vice Chancellor was the president of the union and would distribute offices among the elected members. The most important two positions – VP and GS were nominated on the basis of the following criteria:

  1. If the VP was a Muslim, then the GS would be a Hindu.
  2. The VP and the GS would be nominated from each hall by rotation.
  3. If the VP was a Muslim in one session, then a Hindu VP would be nominated in the following year
  4. Other office bearers would be equally distributed among the four halls

In this system the VP post went to Ahmedul Kabir of Salimullah Muslim Hall for the 1945-46 session (who later became the editor of the Bangla daily ‘Dainik Sangbad’). I cannot remember the name of the Hindu GS of that year. There was no colourful inauguration like the hall unions and I don’t even remember if any significant event took place under the leadership of Ahmedul Kabir. In the middle of that session Ahmedul Kabir’s student life ended and Farid Ahmed was nominated as the VP.

 

University Union Election 1947-48

There was no election of the university union in 1946-47, so the next election was for the 1947-48 session when I was in the final year of my MA programme. The rota system meant that the VP would be a Hindu from Dhaka Hall and the GS would be someone from Fazlul Haque Muslim Hall. I was actively involved in the hall union election supporting my classmate and friend Toha (later known as Comrade Toha). His room was next to mine in the hall and we actively worked together in the language movement. After Toha was elected as the VP, he insisted that I stand for the GS election of the university union. Arvind Bose from Dhaka Hall was nominated as the VP candidate.

Although there was only one panel, quite a few students contested as independent candidates, so it became important to campaign for our panel. Arvind Bose and I both campaigned hard going to every room of every hall, and everyone believed that we two would hold the VP and GS positions respectively. The campaign continued for two weeks in which we not only reached every hall student, but also collected addresses of non-resident students and went to their homes. We had to make sure that every voter had been reached so that no one could say we had not approached them. In doing so, we became extremely tired and exhausted.

Our hard work paid dividends as our panel won by huge margins, with none of the independent candidates coming even near. The pleasure of success is unique, and the exhaustion of the previous few weeks disappeared almost instantaneously. We then had to meet everyone to thank the voters and shake their hands for supporting us, and my face ultimately began to ache due to smiling continuously for hours and hours.

The president of the university union was the Vice chancellor Dr Syed Muazzam Hossain, who was the head of the Arabic department when I was doing BA Honours in Arabic. He was extremely handsome and smartly dressed with the attire of a perfect English gentleman. He was always seen wearing his hat on the university campus. The inauguration took place in a grand ceremony at Curzon Hall[2] with the Vice Chancellor in the chair. However, as discussed before, the activities of the university union were quite limited as hall unions had more active roles in different matters. The activities that we had to arrange centrally included inter-hall literary competitions and inter-hall sports. As mentioned, the university union had no involvement in national politics.

During my tenure as the GS of the university union we arranged two major programmes that were beyond the regular activities of the union. The first was a reception in honour of the then Minister of the Pakistan government, Dr Mahmud Hossain. He had been a Reader of the History department of Dhaka University and was also the Provost of my hall when I was the GS of the hall union. The second event was the reception given to the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawabzada Liaqat Ali Khan, on 27 November 1948 at the University Gymnasium Ground[3].

[1] A hostel for the Muslim students of Kolkata University

[2] Named after Lord Curzon, it is one of the landmark buildings of Dhaka University built by the British. It is now the building of the Faculty of Science.

[3] It was at this event where the first official demand for Bangla to be recognised as an official language of Pakistan was made through a memorandum that the author read out as the GS of the union. The details of this event will come later when the language movement is discussed.

My Journey Through Life Part 11

MY JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE

BY

PROFESSOR GHULAM AZAM

 PGA41

(Abridged translated version of the author’s original Bangla Memoir Jibone Ja Dekhlam)

Translated and Edited by Dr Salman Al-Azami 

Copyright – The Ghulam Azam Foundation

Chapter Eleven

Literary and Cultural Activities

As mentioned before my teacher in junior madrasah Mr Shamsuddin sparked my interest in reading for which I will never forget him and will continue to pray for him from the core of my heart. I would take books from the madrasah library and continued to do so while in high madrasah, although there was no one like Mr Shamsuddin to guide me to which books to read. When I was in Islamic Intermediate College in Dhaka I again started taking books from its library, and upon observing my progress  in Bangla in the half-yearly exam, the Bangla teacher Mr Aminuddin suggested that I should read the short stories of Rabindranath Tagore[1] to improve my Bangla. I was startled by the beautiful literary style, linguistic elegance and philosophical teachings of those stories. My eldest two sons Mamoon and Ameen were students of Dhaka College in 1971. As the situation in Bangladesh was not good, in 1972 they and my brother Dr Ghulam Muazzam’s eldest son Suhail went to England to study there. When I met them in 1973 after two years I realised that there was no scope for them to practice Bangla in that country. At that time I remembered the prescription of my Bangla teacher Mr Aminuddin and arranged to bring all the volumes of Tagore’s Galpaguccha (Collection of Short Stories) from Bangladesh.

I became very attracted to Bangla novels while studying at intermediate level and, upon seeking Mr Aminuddin’s advice, he  suggested I read Saratchandra’s novels. Before sleeping, I would read non-academic books, but the storylines in novels were such that it was difficult to go to sleep before finishing a novel. Lack of sleep was beginning to affect my studies, so I went back to Mr Aminuddin for advice. He shook my shoulder and said, “Make a decision that you will not read for more than an hour before sleep, and when it is time to sleep you will stop reading. You need to know how to control your mind.” This advice was instrumental in aiding me to strike a balance between reading and sleeping.

When I was in secondary school I was fond of the poems of Kazi Nazrul Islam[2] in my textbooks. My cousin and classmate Abdul Quddus sang Nazrul’s songs well and I obtained Nazrul’s poetry collections through his help. We would organise internal programmes where Abdul Quddus would recite Nazrul’s poetry, which had all the ingredients to attract the youths – revolutionary poems that would inspire us tremendously. I was introduced to Rabindranath’s poetry in university. Tagore’s Sonar Tori (The Golden Boat) was our text in Bangla literature, which was beautifully taught by Professor Biswaranjan Bhaduri. He talked a lot about Tagore’s poetry, so I asked him to recommend books that would inform me on the famous poet’s work. He told me to read a book of poetry criticism called Rabirashwi (The Light of Rabi) through which I became a fan of Tagore’s poetry as well. His poems were completely different from those of Nazrul in terms of language and content. They were both beautiful flowers for me, but with different fragrances. That is why the appeals of Tagore’s and Nazrul’s songs are very different. Nazrul is the national poet for Bengali Muslims while Tagore is the emperor of Bangla literature.

As I was intrigued with Bangla literature I was not contented with only two lectures a week in university. Only those who took a module called ‘Special Bengali’ could attend six hours of Bangla lessons a week. However, I came to know that there was a class on novels taken by Professor Ashutosh Bhattacharya, which did not clash with any of my lectures and I started attending it with his permission. He would  analyse the characters in Bankimchandra and Saratchandra’s novels, and as I had read the novels before, I really enjoyed the discussions. I soon became his favourite student, despite not being an enrolled member of his class, due to my enthusiasm and ability to answer different questions. I later achieved the highest results in Compulsory Bengali in my BA final exam held in 1946.

 

Involvement in Literary Organisations

I was actively involved with the East Pakistan Literary Society and was its assistant secretary when Sardar Fazlul Karim[3] was its secretary. I was very close to the president of the society Qazi Motahar Hossain[4] as he was my house tutor in our student hall. I later became its secretary in 1948 during my MA. My relationship with Syed Ali Ahsan[5] and Syed Ali Ashraf[6], the two famous brothers, developed during my activities with this organisation. I was very lucky to have acquaintances with some legendary figures of Bangladesh like poet Kaykobad[7], Professor Ibrahim Khan[8] and many more due to my involvement with this organisation.

Since my boyhood I had been fond of Nazrul’s Islamic songs sung by singer Abbas Uddin[9], and although I never tried to be a singer, I would often sing those songs myself. I read Tagore’s Gitanjali[10] (Disambiguation) after my BA exams and memorised some of my favourite poems and would recite or sing them alone sometimes with great pleasure. When I read the Masnavi by Mawlana Rumi[11] I discovered that it had a lot of similarities with the poems of Gitanjali. Later, while reading works of Swami Vivekananda[12] I came to know that Tagore was greatly influenced by Mawlana Rumi’s works and would often recite his Persian poetry aloud in his room. The poems of Gitanjali are devoted to the Creator with songs on surrender to God, supplication to Him, emotive appeals to the Creator and immense love for the Almighty. Whilst in jail in 1964 I wrote some of these emotional poems in a diary and have retained the diary all my life. I was surprised that the materialistic people in the West decided to award the Nobel Prize for a book of religious nature, and came to the conclusion that there is an underlying belief in the divinity behind the so-called materialism they claim to possess.

The anti-Muslim sentiments that are found in Tagore’s writings are political thoughts of an Indian Hindu. He acted against Muslim interests by being strongly against ‘Bangabhanga’ (The Partition of Bengal). He was guided by Hindu nationalism, so only the inhabitants of this country who possess Bengali nationalism and are Indian in their hearts can ‘worship’ him as their national poet instead of our actual national poet Nazrul Islam; those who believe in Bangladeshi nationalism do not think in this way.

I am not a litterateur or a cultural activist

I love literature, but I am not a litterateur; similarly I am fond of good songs, but I am not a cultural activist. Those who become inherently litterateurs start writing from a very young age. As practice makes one a singer, continuous writing makes one an author. If I was inherently a litterateur then I would have been writing from my student life. Despite being actively involved in the East Pakistan Literary Society I did not develop the habit of creative writing. I only remember writing a piece of political satire called ‘Indian Politics in the Hereafter’ for the Dhaka University Magazine in 1946. It was an imaginary discussion after death between prominent politicians of British India like, Gandhi, Nehru, Jinnah, Patel, Mawlana Azad, Subhash Basu and so on.

I consider myself as a person who loves literature, but due to my active involvement in the Islamic movement I have not been able to enjoy literature as much as I would have liked for many years, which I do deeply regret. I have been reading in Bangla, Urdu and English, but they do not fall under the category of literature that I previously enjoyed.  Thus, despite being fond of literature, I never consider myself a litterateur. This is not because I am trying to be modest, but due to the fact that my writings  have not been written for literary discussions, but for the sake of propagating Allah’s Deen. My political books are also for the cause of Islam. I am rather close to poet Al Mahmud[13] due to our ideological positions and it was he who inspired me first to write my memoirs. He once strongly protested when I claimed that I am not a litterateur. Despite his disagreement I have not changed my mind.

The Bangla first translation of Mawlana Mawdudi’s Tafheem ul Qur’an (Towards Understanding the Qur’an) was done by Mawlana Abdur Rahim. His language was of a high literary standard, but it was difficult for the less educated activists of Jamaat-e-Islami to understand. When I voiced my concerns he said, “I have intentionally made the language difficult as I want to prove that Islamic scholars can have good literary standard as well.” He is successful from that perspective, but my thoughts are a bit different as I wanted the translation to be easy for everyone to understand. I started translating Tafheem ul Qur’an from Urdu into simple Bangla myself and began with the final part of the Qur’an. After it was published in 1982 I sent a copy to Mawlana Abdur Rahim for his comments. He wrote, “The language of the last part of the Qur’an is of high literary standard, so its translation should also be of high standard. You have insulted it by using the language of common people.” I replied saying, “I have no objection to the perspective from which you felt this way, but at the same time I think I have received confirmation from you that the general public will be able to understand my translation.” This story proves that I am not a litterateur and do not write for literary purposes. Therefore, I have never been concerned with the literary standard of my writings. However, it was reassuring when Professor Syed Ali Ahsan praised my translation and told me that he had liked my translation of the last part of the Qur’an more than any other translation he had read.

Cultural Field

I am not only culturally-minded, I am also very fond of cultural works, but I have never been culturally active. The word ‘culture’ is very broad and I am referring to its narrow meaning that refers to literature, poetry, drama, music, art, etc. Many people may become infatuated by literature when they are young, but that craze later disappears when they enter professional life. My younger brother Ghulam Muazzam  loved poetry when he was in Class 9, but could not sustain that interest when studying medicine. I also had my poems published in school magazines. I even wrote a few poems dedicated to Allah while in Dhaka Central Jail in 1964. I kept it a secret from my prison cell colleagues. Whereas, if I was a poet I wouldn’t have been able to  help but read my poems aloud to my colleagues.

There were stage dramas while I was actively involved in Dhaka University hall union, and I even helped manage some drama programmes, but I never felt the urge to do any acting. I acted in two plays in my life, once when I was in Class 5 and the second time when in Class 9.

I was also  not a singer, but I liked to sing. It is rare to find a person who has never sung in their life. However, I would not take part in public singing. Whilst doing my undergraduate I once visited Kolkata and spent a few days in one of my uncle’s houses. I was given a separate room and one day I started singing aloud thinking that nobody could hear me. After dinner my aunt took me to the roof of the house. It was a moonlit night with a nice breeze in the month of June 1946. I discovered that my school-going cousin had brought a mat and a pillow to the roof. I was not sure what was happening. Then my aunt said, “My dear, you have a very sweet voice. Please sing an Islamic song for me.” I became surprised and felt extremely embarrassed. She continued, “You can’t avoid this. I have heard you singing and I was very impressed. Please sing those songs for me”

I had never imagined that I could be caught in this way, so I sang a famous Nazrul song dedicated to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). My aunt was so impressed that she asked me to sing another song and I obliged by singing another Nazrul song. I had never sung in this manner in the presence of others, but gradually I started to feel confident and sang a few more songs. I had not noticed that people started to gather around the roofs of neighbouring houses and were quietly listening to my songs. I felt very uneasy and, with my aunt’s permission, quickly returned to my room. I almost forced myself to leave the house and go to my uncle Shafiqul Islam’s hostel early the next morning.

[1] The most famous Bangla litterateur who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913.

[2] The National Poet of Bangladesh famous for his revolutionary works against the British Empire and for his Islamic songs.

[3] A famous 20th century scholar, academic, philosopher and essayist in Bangladesh.

[4] A renowned author, scientist, statistician and journalist in Bangladesh in the last century.

[5] Former National Professor of Bangladesh.

[6] A famous educationalist and founder of Darul Ihsan University in Bangladesh.

[7] A Bengali epic poet and writer of the 19th and 20th centuries.

[8] Another legendary litterateur in Bangladesh.

[9] A legendary Bengali folk singer and composer during British India.

[10] A compilation of lyrical poems that earned Tagore the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913.

[11] A Persian Sufi saint and poet.

[12] A Hindu monk, philosopher and chief disciple of the 19th century saint Ramakrishna.

[13] One of the most prominent of contemporary Bengali poets and litterateurs

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 69 other followers