MY JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE
PROFESSOR GHULAM AZAM
(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
My Family Background
I was born in the famous ‘Mia Saheb’s Estate’ at the Municipal Road in Lakshmibazar, Dhaka, which is my maternal grandfather’s estate. The tradition of the first child’s birth taking place at the mother’s paternal house still exists today.
One of the most famous ancestors of this sufi family was Shahid1 Mawlana Shah Sufi Abdur Rahim – popularly known as ‘Mia Saheb’. Born in 1074 AH2 (1663 CE) in Kashmir, he was the tenth descendent of Shah Abdul Qadir Jilani3 (also known as Bara Pir ‘the big sufi’). His father Shah Sufi Abdullah had come to Kashmir from Baghdad for business. Shah Abdur Rahim began teaching in Lahore after graduating in Hadith4 in 1114 AH. He had spent a few years in Makkah and Madina after living in the wilderness for 20 years, and relocated to Murshidabad in India to preach Islam during the reign of Emperor Aurangzeb. He came to Dhaka in 1120 AH at the age of 46, accompanied by his nephews Shah Nazimuddin and Shah Bahauddin. There was a large estate in Lakshmibazar at that time full of various kinds of trees. They included wild trees under which he began to live along with his companions, sustaining themselves by having fruits of the trees around them.
Many people came to visit them after hearing the news of three foreigners in the area. His handsome appearance and his preaching of Islam impressed the people and the number of his followers increased rapidly. They also built a house for him under the tree and gave him the respectful title ‘Mia Saheb’. Hence the tree orchard came to be named ‘Mia Saheb’s Estate’. His fame as a true servant of Allah spread everywhere and people from far away, including Hindus, would come to see him and ask him to pray for their sufferings to be reduced or their illnesses to be cured.
Shah Abdur Rahim never married and since his youth would often go into meditation. This intensified in his later life when he preferred to often be in solitary conditions. He was martyred in 1158 AH at the age of 84 when an anonymous man hit him seven times with a sword while he was in meditation. Then his nephew Shah Sufi Nazimuddin became the sufi leader of the area. He died in 1230 AH after living for over one hundred years. After that, his son Shah Sufi Badiuddin became the leader of the sufi tradition until his death in 1269 AH when his younger brother Shah Sufi Kamaruddin took over the sufi leadership. Shah Sufi Kamaruddin had no son and his two daughters were married to the two sons of Shah Sufi Ali Abdullah, also known as Emdad Ali of Syedabad in Kaliakor5. My maternal grandfather, Shah Sufi Abdul Munim, was the younger of the two brothers.
Shah Sufi Ali Abdullah’s ancestor Hazrat Mawlana Shah Sufi Huseini arrived in this country in 1135 AH from Iran via Delhi and settled in the Bariab village of Kaliakor, which was later known as Syedabad. Shah Sufi Kamaruddin (My grandfather’s father in law) died in 1305 AH while in meditation and according to his wishes his favourite grandson (my eldest uncle) Shah Sufi Abu Yusuf Abdullah became the sufi leader at the age of only 13, though he took his oath as the sufi leader from his father before the latter passed away in 1326 AH.
My Paternal Grandfather’s Relationship With This Family
My uncle’s eldest son Syed Ahmadullah became the sufi leader after his father’s death. He completed his MA in Islamic Studies from Dhaka University and wrote a book in Urdu called Ainun Jaria (Flowing Cascade) from where I got the history of my mother’s family. He had gifted me the book himself.
My maternal grandfather’s father in law Shah Sufi Kamaruddin was one of the founders of the famous Mohsinia Madrassah (now Kobi Nazrul Government College) in Dhaka where my paternal grandfather came to do his higher education. He was looking for tutored lodging6 as he was unable to bear the costs of hostel life. One of the teachers in the madrassah told him that the sufi leader of ‘Mia Saheb’s Estate’ was looking for someone to teach his son proper Qur’an recitation. My paternal grandfather was selected to teach my eldest uncle (who later became the sufi leader at age 13) by my maternal grandfather out of three candidates.
When my father went to study at Mohsinia Madrassah, my grandfather took him to my eldest maternal uncle (my grandfather’s student) who kept my father as a tutored lodger to teach his eldest son Syed Ahmadullah. My father was very fond of his student, particularly because he used to pray tahajjud7 from a very young age.
My Father’s Marriage
I heard this story from my father himself:
My paternal grandfather proposed to my eldest maternal uncle for my father’s marriage to his youngest sister. My mother was only 4/5 years old when her father passed away. So her eldest brother gave her the love of a father. My mother also lost her mother at a very young age and I witnessed the mother-daughter relationship my mother enjoyed with her sister in law (my eldest uncle’s wife).
My uncle remained silent and seemed a bit embarrassed at the proposal of my grandfather, which made my grandfather disappointed and he complained about this to the famous sufi leader of Narinda (in Old Dhaka) Shah Ahsanullah with whom my grandfather had a very good relationship. My uncle respected Shah Ahsanullah for two reasons: firstly because he was of his father’s age, and secondly because one of his sisters was married to Shah Ahsanullah’s son. After my grandfather’s complaint, Shah Ahsanullah called my uncle and asked why he was reluctant to get his sister married to my father. My uncle said, “I have observed this boy closely and like him very much, but how will my sister live in a village? She may feel that I have tried to get rid of her as her father is not alive”. In answer to that, Shah Ahsaullah said, “You will not find a boy like him among thousands in terms of education, looks and family background. Do you think he will live in the village forever? You should agree to this proposal if you don’t have any other objections.” My uncle immediately accepted the proposal.
My Mother’s Circumstances in the Village
My mother related her experience of village life to me. The first major challenge she encountered after arriving there as the daughter-in-law was with language. The language of Old Dhaka was a type of Urdu, which was the spoken language of all respectable families including the families in ‘Mia Saheb’s Estate’. No one in the village could understand my mother’s Urdu including my grandmother; on the other hand, whatever Bangla my mother knew was quite different from the dialect spoken in the village. So she found herself in an awkward situation failing to communicate with anyone. My mother became the centre of amusement for the maid servants and other ladies from neighbouring houses. They would burst into laughter when my mother would stare at them with blank face failing to understand their jokes. Even my grandmother felt helpless in seeing my mother’s situation.
Rumour spread around the village that there was a foreign daughter-in-law in the Moulvi House8 who was so pretty that one could not take one’s eyes off her and who makes everyone happy with her sweet smiles. However, she remains silent when she is spoken to. She is not dumb, but what she says is incomprehensible.
When my mother would become exhausted with rural life she would write to her brother who would realise that his dear sister wanted to come to Dhaka. Accordingly he would send my youngest uncle to bring my mother home.
Only my grandfather was able to communicate with her in Urdu. Occasionally, my grandfather would go inside the house to inquire about my mother and her timidity would instantly disappear as she would speak freely to her father in law without any inhibition. My mother became familiar with village life within a year. After spending 15 years there, she finally gained the opportunity to enjoy life in a city again when my father was transferred to Chandina9 in 1936.
I heard from my father that once there was a cholera epidemic in the village and my mother was caught with severe diarrhoea, which made my grandfather extremely concerned to the point that he shed tears for her. When my father tried to console him he said, “I know that I can get another daughter-in-law if she doesn’t make it, but where will I get a daughter-in-law like her? That is why I am pleading to Allah for her recovery.” My mother was able to endure all the difficulties of village life due to the sincere love and care of my grandparents.
1 Martyr – The Arabic word for someone who is killed while striving in the cause of Allah
2 After Hijri, a reference to the Islamic Calendar
3 One of the most revered sufi leaders in Islamic history from Baghdad
4 Prophet Mumammad’s (PBUH) actions, sayings, and approvals are known as Hadith.
5 an area adjacent to Dhaka
6 A now extinct tradition where poor meritorious students would be given accommodation and food in exchange for teaching the children in that household.
7 Optional early morning prayer before the scheduled morning prayer time – a prayer known as very special in Islamic tradition
8 The author’s ancestral house in the village was known as Moulvi House
9 A town in the district of Comilla