Professor Ghulam Azam

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My Journey Through Life Part 8

MY JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE

 

BY

 

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

 

Chapter Eight

University Education

I passed my Higher Secondary Exams (IA) in May 1944. In undivided Bengal all the general colleges of Dhaka city and all Islamic Intermediate Colleges of Bengal were under the Dhaka Board; the rest were under the Kolkata Board. Seven out of the first ten winners of first grade scholarship in Dhaka Board were from Islamic Intermediate College – myself included. All of us who passed from this college that year enrolled in Dhaka University, which was the only university in East Bengal. There were five colleges in Bengal at that time known as ‘premier colleges’ of which four were from East Bengal. The four premier colleges in East Bengal were Comilla Victoria College, Barisal BM College, Rangpur Carmichael College and Mymensingh MM College. The only premier college in West Bengal was Kolkata Presidency College.

Which Subject to Study?

Many people nowadays plan long ahead which subjects they would study. There was no such plan at least by me at that time. My father always emphasised one thing – to master Bangla, English and Arabic, which according to him was the mantra of success in all aspects of life. There was no plan about my future career, so the question arose which subject I should choose to study at university. It was mandatory for scholarship holders to study a three-year Bachelor’s degree with honours, without which the scholarship would be cancelled.  To help in making a decision I, along with some friends, approached our favourite English teacher Syed Mainul Ahsan at his residence in Nazimuddin Road. I was thinking of studying either English Literature or Political Science for my degree, but our English professor spoke for ten minutes encouraging us to study Arabic. The logic he attempted to give was to take a subject that would enable us to get high marks that would lead us to a good government job.

Hindus at that time were much more advanced than Muslims in education, for which reason it was difficult to compete with them in the job market, particularly in the academic sector, so the government sector would be preferable. As a Muslim-majority state the Muslim government of East Bengal were keen to have people from the community in government positions, but it was difficult to exceed the Hindus by competing with them. He said, “As you are good students you should target the civil service and studying Arabic will give you more opportunity to score highly and do better in the competition.” He suggested that subjects like English, Economics, Political Science etc. can be taken as minor subjects. The Pakistan movement had not found much momentum then and there was no sign of the establishment of Pakistan – a separate state for Muslims – so in that situation we found his arguments logical and we all decided to study Arabic. I chose English and Political Science as my minor subjects.

Choosing a Student Halls

Dhaka University has been a residential university since its inception, so the majority of its students stay in one of the student halls. Those who don’t stay in halls also need to be attached to one of the halls. Both residents and non-residents of a hall could vote in the hall union elections. There were four student halls at that time, two for Hindus and two for Muslims. The university started with two halls – Salimullah Muslim Hall and Jagannath (Hindu) Hall and later Fazlul Haque Muslim Hall and Dhaka (Hindu) Hall were opened.

I didn’t choose Salimullah Muslim Hall despite its reputation and beautiful architecture; I didn’t like the halls being scattered in different places. I decided to stay in Fazlul Haque Muslim Hall as it was near the building where the classes were held. Thus my university life began as a resident of Fazlul Haque Muslim Hall in July 1944. The provost of the Hall at that time was Dr Mahmud Hossain, who was a Reader in the History department and later became the Vice Chancellor of the university. I last met him in 1957 while he was working at Karachi University. He loved his students very much and used to speak to them frankly. He was originally from Delhi and was once elected in Pakistan Parliament as a representative of East Pakistan. His elder brother was the renowned educationalist Dr Zakir Hossain who founded Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi. He was also the Vice chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University and became the President of India during the premiership of Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru.

There were two house tutors in Fazlul Haque Muslim Hall. One of them, Dr Mazharul Haque, was a lecturer in Economics (and later became a prominent economist). Dr Haque called me in his office one day and asked me, “Why did a talented student like you choose to study a degree in Arabic? Generally only those from madrasah background study Arabic and some choose it as an easy subject to get a university degree. You did the opposite. You chose English and Political Science as your minor subjects, but Arabic as your major subject. I am surprised!” When I related the reasoning behind my decision he commented, “It was the wrong advice from your English teacher.”

University Lectures

I was very enthusiastic about the lectures in university as I had a very good impression of university lecturers. The distribution of marks in my degree was 800 for honours in Arabic, 300 each for the two minor subjects English and Political Science, and 100 for Bangla – compulsory for all students in the university. All teachers in English, Bangla and Political Science were Hindus and their lectures were very enjoyable. I used to note down the summary of these lectures with great care, which would be very useful during my exams. Teachers would ask questions in class that also contributed well towards my notes. Our English teacher took five days to talk about Shakespeare before introducing his works. Similarly our English poetry teacher would first talk about poets like Wordsworth, Tennyson, Byron and so on before discussing their poems. The lectures of Political Science were also very interesting and I could feel that I was learning something. A lot could be learned from my Bangla teachers as well. I would ensure that I never missed any lectures of these three subjects. It became my passion to attend all lectures irrespective of any other commitments and take down notes of each lecture. I never missed a lecture even when I was actively involved with the hall union. If I ever missed a session due to illness, I would make sure that I copied class notes from the better students in class.

The lectures I felt most uncomfortable with were my Arabic classes. The only class I enjoyed was Islamic Philosophy, taught by an Indian professor named Syed Jilani. Those who taught Arabic poetry and prose hardly gave lectures, but would merely read out English translations of the texts and give us dictations. It was not helpful to learn Arabic at all. I had expected them to give lectures in Arabic, as done by the English teachers in English classes, but it was not to be. They never gave lectures in Arabic and would just read out the Arabic of textbooks.  There were no printed translations of the Arabic texts at that time as no publisher found it a lucrative business proposition. Therefore, teachers would read out the notes they had written and we would copy them. I used to consider it a complete waste of time as I could get the meanings of words from the dictionary myself. Although the Arabic grammar teacher was good, what use is there in grammar if it doesn’t facilitate language learning? Grammar does not teach a language, it merely corrects the mistakes. Without competence in language I found the grammar lessons meaningless. There was a textbook by Abdur Rahman Awqabi who tried to copy the style of the Qur’an in his book. The teacher used to recite the book as if he was reciting the Qur’an. Hearing this, some badly-behaved students used to say, Subhan Alla[1], Marhaba[2] etc. The teacher never felt embarrassed that the students were making fun of him. He never spoke anything about its content other than dictating its translation to us. This continued for six months and my irritation towards my Arabic classes continued to rise.

I strongly felt that taking Arabic as a major subject was of no use. I felt no progress in my command over the Arabic language since I left college. I tried to explore the possibility of changing my major subject.  The other two options I had for a major subject were English and Political Science. I felt more inclined towards political science and approached the head of the department Professor D N Banerjee. He was happy that I wished to major in his subject, but told me that it was too late for that year, so I had to wait until July the following year to enrol in the department. I became very worried. I was neither ready to lose another year from my academic life, nor was I happy to continue with Arabic. I also came to know that if I chose pass course degree[3] instead of an honours degree then I would lose my scholarship and would also need to pay fees for my studies, which were exempted due to my scholarship. I went back home to Chandina for the winter vacation with this dilemma.

I was unsure how my father would react to my decision. He had been exceptionally glad when I chose to major in Arabic. I was not certain whether or not he would allow me to leave the subject. The other problem was that he would now have to pay for my educational expenses as I would lose my scholarship. I took a good few days to prepare myself how to approach my father. I was so anxious that my food and sleep were affected. My father noticed this condition of mine and asked me one day why I looked so tense. I couldn’t say a word and tears began to roll down my cheeks. My father became very concerned. I then told him everything. It was a big relief when he replied; I was overwhelmed by his confidence in me. He said, “I only want you to do well in your studies. Financial losses don’t factor to me at all. It is not possible to study a subject without feeling comfortable about it. Whatever decision you take I will support you.” I felt a heavy burden released from my shoulders and I decided at once that I would not lose another year and would complete my degree in pass course and then do a master’s degree.

University Environment

The two-storied hall building of Fazlul Haque Muslim Hall (now three-storied) had student accommodation on three sides and the southern side had a big gate, which had the offices and residences of the two house tutors on its two sides. There was a pond on the western side of the hall and on its other side was the Dhaka Hall for Hindus (now Shahidullah Hall). There was no scope to take shower inside the halls at that time, so students used to bathe in the pond.

I really liked the hall environment. There was a wonderful tradition of juniors respecting the seniors, for example, by letting the seniors sit on the dining table first, making way for them while walking, giving the seniors priority while having bath in the pond and letting them jump the queues for the toilet. The environment was so nice that the seniors would often forfeit their advantages and would affectionately let the juniors enjoy a particular privilege. If they would take the privilege due to time constraints they would never forget to thank the juniors for their generosity. Good students used to get special treatment and juniors used to greet them with special respect. This type of environment is unthinkable in modern times. Even the teachers hardly get this type of respect. While attending the 40th anniversary of Fazlul Haque Muslim Hall in 1979, I asked the then provost Dr Mohabbat Ali what type of respect he received from his students compared to the older days. He replied in a sad voice, “I just somehow manage to maintain my dignity”.

Although boys and girls would study in the same class, the seating environment was such that there was little scope of free mixing. One could hardly see male and female students chatting in the campus. Girls would usually walk together from one building to another. There were more Hindu girls than Muslims and they could be easily distinguished by the way they used to wear their saris. Muslim girls would always cover their heads, while unmarried Hindu girls would keep them open. Although married Hindu girls would cover their heads, they would also have sindoor [4] on their heads.

Cultural Activities

Debate and speech competitions organized by the cultural units of hall unions were very popular and the competitions used to be very lively. The influence of English literature was so high that even science students would quote Shakespeare, Tennyson, Wordsworth, Byron, Bernard Shaw, Keats etc. in their speeches. It is worth mentioning that all speech competitions were in English. The concept of cultural functions did not mean the dominance of dance, music and drama that is seen in modern times. In plays boys would dress as girls who could rarely be seen singing on stage. In music, Qawwali[5] used to be the most popular genre. Songs were the most prominent item during the cultural programmes for the inauguration of newly elected hall unions. There would be dance as well, but no female over the age of 10 was allowed to dance. There was no hint of vulgarity in the university and hall campuses. Education was always the main focus.

[1] Glory be to Allah; generally used by Muslims to express awe.

[2] Used as a greeting in Arabic. In Bangla it is mostly used to congratulate someone.

[3] Degree without honours.

[4] Red pigment made from powdered red lead, especially as applied as a dot on the forehead or in the parting of the hair of married Hindu women.

[5] A form of sufi devotional music

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My Journey Through Life Part 7

MY JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE

 

BY

 

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

 

Chapter Seven

My Hostel Life and Dhaka City

 

I spent four and a half years in different student hostels in Dhaka from Class 9 prior to my intermediate exams. I started my hostel life in January 1940 in a two-storeyed building in Koltabazar, Dhaka, situated at the north of my Islamic Intermediate College. There was a mosque near the hostel, where I prayed five times a day. In January 1941 our hostel moved to another two-storeyed building near the gate of Dhaka Nawab Bari (residence of the Nawab[1] family) in Islampur Road, where I stayed until my high madrasah exams in March 1942. From March 1942 to April 1944, during my higher secondary education, I lived in the Paradise Hostel which was located in a big one-storey building adjacent to the eastern gate of Nawab Bari.

Koltabazar Hostel

There were 20-25 students in this hostel from Class 8 to 10. I was first in a room with four beds; however, the hostel superintendent later changed me to a room with two beds. As mentioned previously, this hostel superintendent was my inspiration for joining the scout movement. He was very affectionate towards me and would always inquire after the progress of my studies. He maintained strict discipline in the hostel. Students always feared him, but at the same time respected him for the way he looked after them. Between every evening and night prayers, he would begin his inspection by checking the students upstairs. . Upon hearing his footsteps, the students downstairs would immediately sit at their desks and study. He did not enter, or require the students to greet him outside their rooms; he merely wanted to ensure that they were studying. He would not tolerate smoking and would fine students who were caught doing so. Smokers learnt to be extra cautious and so no trace of any cigarette could be found inside the hostel.

The hostel was state-run and our monthly food bill was four and a half taka[2]. The health and safety standard was reasonably well due to the superintendent’s sincere efforts. Initially, my mother was worried about the standard of food and its consequent effect on my health.  However, upon my first visit home after staying in the hostel, my mother happily noted that my health had in fact improved. She even commented, “You have done the right thing going to Dhaka as your health was not good at all when you were in Comilla.”

Due to my good results in junior madrasah, I would receive a monthly scholarship of two taka from the Haji Muhammad Mohsin[3] fund, so I would only have to pay the remaining two and a half taka for food. I had heard about this great philanthropist from my Bangla text book while in Class 7 in Comilla. He was a life-long bachelor who donated a large portion of his property in endowment for poor and meritorious Muslim students.

There was a small pool in the hostel area through which we would shower, by obtaining water from it using a mug. During the weekends, we would swim in the river Buriganga in Sadarghat, which was particularly enjoyable during the rainy season. When I was small, I would   long to swim in the Buriganga and to stand on its pier with my uncle whilst observing its clean water, but I was never allowed. Therefore, my hostel life enabled me to fulfil my childhood wish.

Some of my hostel friends later became prominent figures in Bangladesh. One of them was Mr Nurul Haque of Rangpur who was the district president of Awami League and later became a member of the Bangladesh Parliament in 1973. Another significant figure was Dr Kazi Deen Mohammad, a renowned linguist who was a professor and Head of Bengali in Dhaka University.

Most distinguished among them was Justice Nurul Islam who later became the Vice President of Bangladesh. I have an interesting anecdote with him which is worth sharing. Mr Islam was a judge in Dhaka High Court in 1971 when a person came to see me with a request. He said that some people were trying to grab his hard-earned property by false claims and fake witnesses. He told me that he had won the case in the lower court, but was worried about the outcome in the higher court. He came to know that the case was in the court of my close friend Justice Nurul Islam and asked me to tell the judge that he was the real owner of the property. I am not a student of law and was not aware of whether I should talk to a judge about a case. However, the overall background, appearance and emotion of his deliberation had me convinced that I should attempt to help him. Hence, I called Justice Islam instantly and said what I felt was necessary.  His reply caused me to feel rather ashamed and embarrassed. He said, “You wanted to help the person, but have harmed him instead. It was his big mistake to ask you to recommend him. As I know you very well, I am now convinced that the person is the real owner of the property. Therefore, I have already become biased and have lost the legitimacy of judging this case. I now have to refer this case to the Chief Justice who will send it to another judge.” I informed the man of my embarrassment, “You would have got real justice from this judge, but can’t have justice from him now because you asked me to lobby to him for you. If I knew this system of law I would have never called him.”

The Relocation of Koltabazar Hostel

Due to several Hindu-Muslim riots, the Koltabazar Hostel had to be relocated to the Nawab Gate of Islampur Road in January 1941. Muslims were dominant in Koltabazar and Rayshaheb Bazar (then known as Johnson Road) up to the marble statue of Queen Victoria on the south of Bahadur Shah Park (then Victoria Park). After this, Sadarghat, Banglabazar and Patuatoli areas were Hindu dominated. Our hostel was on the southern side of a lake, the northern side of which was a Hindu area. During tense moments we would have to guard the hostel 24 hours a day against any potential Hindu attack. Every student was required to guard for at least two hours a day. Due to this trouble, the hostel authorities decided to relocate to an area in which such threats were unlikely. Although our new hostel was quite far from the college, everyone was content, as it was a safe area for Muslims and there was no need for it to be guarded against Hindu attacks.

We would pray at the Nawab Bari Mosque which was between our hostel and the Ahsan Manzil museum. It was named after a famous Nawab of the 19th century, Nawab Ahsanullah. The Nawab family used to live there at that time. Nawab Ahsanullah’s son Nawab Sir Salimullah was known for his service towards the Muslims of this region in the early 20th century. When Banga Bhanga (The Partition of Bengal) took place in 1905, a new province was created with Bengal and Assam and Dhaka was its capital. When the Partition of Bengal was revoked in 1911 by King George the 5th (after protests from Hindu leaders in Kolkata), the people of Dhaka suffered.   Sir Salimullah tried his best to minimise the losses and was instrumental in the establishment of Dhaka University in 1921, which was the first institution of its kind, catering to Muslims in East Bengal. In 1906, when Dhaka was the capital of East Bengal and Assam, the Muslim League officially took birth when Sir Salimullah organised a conference in Dhaka for Muslim leaders of India.

Although we prayed at the Nawab Bari Mosque, we never had the opportunity to interact with any member of the Nawab family. During Friday prayers the male members of the Nawab Bari would pray at the front and leave quietly after prayer. One could easily recognise members of the Nawab family due to their appearance, complexion and clothing.  For example, no female member of the family could be seen without hijab. They would travel in horse carriages concealed with silk clothes and when they travelled by car, even the windows would be veiled to obscure them from public eye.

Throughout my four and a half years of hostel life, the government doctor would visit us to check our health. The official who visited us at Koltabazar Hostel was a Hindu doctor who would give us important health advice. I once questioned him about a dilemma I faced; after playing in the field in the afternoon, I tended to feel sleepy while studying in the evening. I required a remedy for this, so I approached him asking, “Sir, you look after us very well, so may I ask you a question?” The doctor smiled and said, “What is it?” I said, “Sir, our exams are looming, but I am struggling to study in the evening due to sleep. Could you give me a medicine that can reduce my sleep?” The doctor removed his glasses and stared at me for a minute, to which I felt quite fearful.   He then called me towards him, touched my shoulder with affection and said, “My son, you want a medicine to reduce sleep, but doctors never give such medicines. Today you are demanding medicine to reduce sleep, but a day will come when you will want doctors to give you medicine to assist you in sleeping.” Then he advised me that when feeling drowsy I should walk for a while and attempt to converse with others. By doing so, the urge to sleep should automatically withdraw itself from me.

Paradise Hostel

I spent two years of my life in this hostel adjacent to the eastern gate of Nawab Bari between 1942 and 1944 during my higher secondary education. With only 15 students in this government hostel, the rules were reasonably flexible there and its superintendent, Moulvi[4] Sanaullah, who was also the college librarian, was kind enough to let the students run their own affairs. Free from any draconian rule, we felt that we were living in our own student accommodation.

Hindu-Muslim Riots in Dhaka

I witnessed three Hindu-Muslim riots in one year while in Koltabazar Hostel. The city was divided into Hindu-dominated and Muslim-dominated areas for which religious minorities in those areas needed to be extra cautious during the riots. I was shocked to witness these riots where Hindus and Muslims would fight as if they were in a battlefield. The riots would start with the simple news of a Hindu or a Muslim being knifed to death in an area, which would lead everyone to become aware of the tension. The consequence would be news of further Muslims being killed in Hindu areas and vice versa. Those prone to violence among the indigenous people of Dhaka[5] would develop strong Muslim nationalism during these riots despite their hardly praying or fasting as Muslims. They would step out bearing machetes with the spirit of killing ten Hindus to avenge the death of one Muslim brother.

Once the news spread in Koltabazar hostel that Hindus are attacking and leaving pig meat in a mosque in a neighbouring area. We ventured to discover what had actually happened and were stopped by some youths at the entrance of Johnson Road. When asked about what had transpired they said, “Hindus had come to attack the mosque, but ran away after seeing us.” I saw around eight to ten people guarding the road holding machetes in their hands. No one related to the mosque or anyone with a gentlemanlike appearance could be seen. These people were not pious Muslims, but were ready to sacrifice their lives to save the mosque.

Many innocent lives were lost during those terrible riots. The situation was so tense that even the mere sight of people running would provoke fear that riots have begun. I remember one such incident when we were walking along the crossing of Sadarghat and Banglabazar when we saw some people running. We also started running as fast as possible and reached Victoria Park. When we went back towards Sadarghat to discover what had actually happened, we came to know that a calf had stolen a banana and was being chased by the shopkeeper and that the people were running to avoid being struck by the calf. At the mere sight of a few people running, for what transpired to be such a mundane reason, panic spread that a riot had begun. We too were part of that panicked crowd.

The situation was better in universities where there were initially no riots. However, this was until 1942 when a student of Fazlul Haque Muslim Hall of Dhaka University was stabbed to death. There were more incidents in the campus in 1943 and 1946. In 1949, I was unable to attend my MA final exams due to riots. After the partition in 1947, communal riots in India have been a regular feature, but in Pakistan and Bangladesh, the last major riot after 1949 took place in 1964, after which no major incident occurred.

Dhaka City at that Time

I had the opportunity to increase my knowledge concerning Dhaka when I joined the scout movement. Our scout master asked us to draw a map of Dhaka city as it was important to have a map of roads in order to survey an area. To do this task, I was required to visit every area of the city. It was not very difficult as the city was not too large at that time. There was a Bangla saying about Dhaka at that time: ‘bayanno bazar teppanno gol’i (52 markets and 53 lanes) suggesting that Dhaka was a city of small lanes. One of my servants in Rangpur Carmichael College campus once asked me, “Sir, I heard that there is no end in Dhaka city and if someone goes from outside Dhaka they would be lost in endless lanes after lanes. Is that true?” When Mawlana Maududi was taken to the Jamaat city office known as ‘Kawsar House’ in Siddikbazar during his first visit to Dhaka, he seemed very puzzled by so many small lanes in the city. He said, “Generally, a city has a few main roads and small lanes are found beyond those roads, but in Dhaka, I could only see lanes after lanes.” I informed him that Dhaka had only two major roads, Sadarghat to Nawabpur and Sadarghat to Chakbazar, and the rest were all lanes.

Dhaka after 1905

After the Partition of Bengal in 1905, when Dhaka was the capital of East Bengal and Assam, Dhaka city extended to the north. To the north of Gandaria Rail Station that divided old and new Dhaka, the Secretariat, Assembly House, Governor House, High Court building, residents of Secretaries, and such buildings were built. After the Partition of Bengal was revoked in 1911 and the subsequent establishment of Dhaka University in 1921, the buildings that were created for the capital were used for different purposes. For example, the High Court building was turned into the Government Intermediate College (now Dhaka College) and the Secretariat was turned into the Government Eden Girls College.

The big two-storeyed building that was erected for Dhaka University later became Dhaka Medical College and Hospital and the residential houses built for Secretaries were used as two hostels: Sir Salimullah Muslim Hall for Muslims and Jagannath Hall for Hindus. A new hall for Muslim students named Fazlul Haque Muslim Hall was opened in 1940 when Sher-e-Bangla Fazlul Haque was the Prime Minister of Bengal, with its first provost being Dr Muhammad Shahidullah[6]. The effect of the Second World War could be felt in Dhaka in 1942 when the Anglo-American allied forces used Dhaka College and Salimullah Muslim Hall, and the main building of Dhaka University was turned into a military hospital. Dhaka again became a provincial capital when East Bengal separated from West Bengal and India and became a province of Pakistan. The Dhaka College building became Dhaka High Court and Eden Women’s College became the Secretariat once again.

Dhaka after 1947

The buildings created after the Partition of Bengal in 1905 were not sufficient for a provincial capital as many Muslim government officials who used to work in the ‘Writer’s Building’[7] in Kolkata migrated to Dhaka after 1947. It was difficult to arrange the office and residential accommodation for so many people. Temporary barracks had to be created in the areas of Nilkhet and Palashi, and new four-storey buildings were built in Azimpur. As many Indian Muslim businessmen decided to move to Dhaka, exchanging their business with Hindus in Dhaka, the Dhaka city’s population started to increase rapidly, leading to massive extensions of the city. New colonies of Urdu-speaking people were built in Mirpur and Mohammadpur areas. Many Hindus in Dhaka also exchanged houses with Muslim counterparts in Kolkata. A rise of businessmen in the city also contributed to the extension of the city.

Those in the government bought big plots in Gulshan and Dhanmondi and developed them as residential areas for the affluent, leading to the opening of big markets. Thus Dhaka city extended hugely in the north and by 1971, when Bangladesh became independent, the new Dhaka was already five or six times bigger than the old Dhaka.

Our area, Moghbazar, was then in the middle of the old and new Dhaka. The area of Moghbazar is quite immense, but I am not sure why it is known as Boro (big) Moghbazar as I am not aware of a Choto (small) Moghbazar. There are both Boro Katara and Choto Katara in old Dhaka, but in Moghbazar, there is only Boro Moghbazar.

Dhaka after 1971

As the capital of an independent country, Dhaka has naturally evolved rather quickly after 1971. The present Dhaka is extended up to Tongi and is gradually moving towards Joydevpur. Foreign embassies and residents of diplomats are spread over Gulshan-Banani-Baridhara-Uttara areas. Many high rise buildings can be seen in modern Dhaka. Many developers are operating in Dhaka by building residential flats in high rise buildings. Although Dhaka has not extended in the east as much as it has in the north, it is likely to have extensions in the east as well, thus leading the city to become a mega city.

 

[1] A title given by the British to some distinguished Muslim families in British India

[2] Bangladeshi currency

[3] A prominent philanthropist in Bengal in the 18th century

[4] A title given to an Islamic scholar

[5] Inhabitant of Dhaka

[6] A prominent  educationist, writer, philologist and linguist of 20th century.

[7] Secretariat building of Indian State of West Building which originally served as the office of the writers of the East India Company.

My Journey Through Life Part 6

MY JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE

BY

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

Chapter Six

Education in Dhaka

When I was in Class 8, my uncle, Mr Shafiqul Islam, was a student of Dhaka Islamic Intermediate College (Now Kobi Nazrul College). My father realized that the student who had come second (after me) in the Class 8 final exams received 100 marks less than me. He thought that I should study in a competitive environment where there are students better than me; so after consulting with my uncle he decided to enrol me in Islamic Intermediate College in Dhaka.

My father first took me to the Superintendent1 of the high madrasah for a ‘transfer certificate’2. The Superintendent was surprised and said, “I will be hurt if you take away my most favourite student of Class 8. I am hopeful that he will get scholarship in the high madrasah final exam”.

My father replied, “I am taking him to Dhaka so that he achieves good results. He will come across many talented students there and will face tough competition, which will enable him to get even better results”. The Superintendent then had no other option but to give me the transfer certificate.

In 1940, I was admitted into Class 9 at the Islamic Intermediate College and I stayed in the Koltabazar Hostel near the college. The standards of both the teachers and the students were much higher than those in Comilla, and I could only achieve sixth position in the quarterly final examination. Thus the pride I had developed by coming first in each examination from Class 1 to 8 suffered a huge blow. Hearing this, my father wrote a letter to encourage me saying, “You didn’t have to face this type of competition in Comilla, which is why I took you to Dhaka. Now you have to study even harder. I do not demand that you come first in your class, but I expect you to achieve more than 75% marks in all subjects.” I was fourth when I was promoted to Class 10, but the mark I got was not much less than the boy who stood first. I was slightly disappointed for not coming first, but was not devastated as I achieved good marks in all subjects.

The Scout Movement

I joined the Scout Movement while in class nine in Dhaka. The Superintendent of the Koltabazar Hostel was a Scoutmaster who encouraged me to join this movement. Scouting taught me many useful things of everyday life, e.g., the knowledge of the human body. We were given an English book where the nervous system, blood circular system, respiratory system etc. were explained through diagrams. I learned these very enthusiastically and the knowledge I gained was useful to me for the rest of my life.

In the Scouts I also had to learn how to cook and obtained a ‘cooking badge’ after winning a competition. This skill was also very handy in later life when I was living in staff accommodation in Rangpur Carmichael College until my wedding. I would have been in trouble had I not known how to cook, as most of the servants who worked for me were unable to and I had to give them cooking lessons. They learned cooking so well that two of them found good jobs because of their cooking skills.

There were some other practical things I learned through scouting such as first aid, rescue skills etc., which I had to teach as the Scout troop leader of my institution- when I was in Class 10. There was a big Scout jamboree in Joydevpur in Gazipur district in 1941 where I became good friends with Mr Tajuddin, who later became the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. He came to that jamboree as the troop leader of Government Muslim High School, Dhaka.

I enjoyed the Scout Movement so much that I wanted to join the University Officer Training Corps (UOTC) after starting university- as it was of higher level than scouting. However, I was not permitted to join as I had grown a beard. The then UOTC officer Matiur Rahman saw my scout certificates and said with regret, “I am very upset that I can’t accept you for technical reasons.” He also informed me that the British government allowed beard and turban for Sikhs as part of their uniform, but they didn’t have any such provision in Dhaka University.

High Madrasah Final Exam

As in the scholarship exam, I also failed to attain my desired result in the high madrasah final exams held in March 1942. Our principal hoped that at least four of us would get a first grade scholarship, but his expectations for me were not fulfilled due to illness. There was a malaria epidemic all over South Asia at that time with many people losing their lives. It took ten years to make our region malaria free. I suffered from malaria for a few months; it first struck me while I was in Class 8 in Comilla. I was so afraid of this fever that I used to tell others that I have ‘fever-phobia’. The temperature would go extremely high and my body would shake so much that I had to be held tightly with two to three quilts. When the fever would go down, the sweat would dampen the bed and the bed sheet needed to be changed. It would take an hour or two for the temperature to lower, but it would return within 10-15 hours. I also had severe headache during the fever. The fever would leave in around two weeks, but used to make me extremely weak, and, as there was no vaccine at that time, it would relapse in a few months. The treatment for malaria was very tormenting as well. The injections they gave me were so agonizing that I needed to use a hot water bottle for hours to ease the pain. The horrible bitter taste of the quinine medicine meant that I needed a lot of sweets to remove the taste from my tongue. My sufferings with this terrible disease continued for four years.

I suffered from a severe malaria attack three weeks before my high madrasah final exams in March 1942, and the principal admitted me to the Mitford Hospital. This was the only government hospital at that time, which also had a medical school where students from high school and high madrasah were eligible to enrol. It was a four-year degree known as LMF. My principal wrote to the hospital Superintendent, “Please take care of this boy as I am very hopeful that he will get a scholarship in the exam that will be held after three weeks”. The hospital authority obliged in such a way that I was somewhat overwhelmed by their special care. I was given injections on my arms and hips, and the pain was so intense that even a hot water bottle was of no use. Moreover, the taste of quinine was unbearable. I probably swallowed several gallons of quinine in those four years. The Superintendent used to visit me every day, which led to special care by the doctors and nurses. My health improved over a week, but malaria made me so weak that I couldn’t study for more than two hours at a time.

Two weeks later I found myself in the exam hall and due to my post illness weakness I was even struggling to write in the exam hall with my fingers often bending and the pen slipping away. I had to massage my fingers for a while before being able to write again. Therefore, despite knowing the answers to all the questions, I could only answer 80-85% of the questions in almost all exams apart from Maths, in which I was confident of achieving 100%. I told my father after the exam that I expected to get first division, but not scholarship. I returned to Chandina still in a weak state after the exam. My father had been living in Chandina since 1936, so I would hardly go to our village home as I spent my holidays with my parents in Chandina.

When the results were due three months later, I was again suffering from malaria. I became so feeble that I collapsed one day after coming out of the toilet. My body temperature would rise up to 105-6 degrees, and one day it raised up to 107 degrees, causing me to faint again. I was shivering under two quilts on the day when my results were declared. My father rushed home from work looking very happy and said that he just received a telegram from Comilla sent by my uncle Shafiqul Islam, which said, “My dear nephew Ghulam Azam has achieved 13th place”3. I also became emotional with this unexpected success and jumped out of bed kicking the quilts away. To my surprise the fever was gone and didn’t return until a few months later. I was surprised to see how the mental state influences our health condition.

During that period, exams of all high schools in Dhaka city and the high madrasahs of the entire Bengal were under the Dhaka Board, while all high school exams outside Dhaka city were controlled by Calcutta (now Kolkata) University. The medium of education under the Dhaka Board was still English at that time, although Kolkata had already introduced Bangla as a medium. Dhaka Board moved to the Bangla medium system two years after I completed high madrasah.

My Interest in Science

As I was very accomplished in maths my teachers inspired me to take the ISC4 for which it was necessary to move to Dhaka Intermediate College as Islamic Intermediate College did not have a science department. However, my father would not allow me to enrol onto the ISC programme saying, “You will have no opportunity to study Arabic if you do the ISC. Have you forgotten that your grandfather had told you to master Arabic, English and Bangla?” I still wanted to study science despite my father reminding me what my grandfather had said. He became angry and said, “I didn’t put you into a madrasah and have you enrolled onto the New Scheme for worldly reasons, given that studying Qur’an, Hadith, Fiqh5 etc. does not lead one to have enough income. You are the eldest in the generation. If you don’t learn Arabic well then you will not be able to study the Qur’an well, and without this competence how will you lead your younger siblings towards Islam?” Yet I was not ready to leave science even after all this discussion and my father was quick to notice it through my body language. He became even angrier and said, “Okay, then I will send you directly to a madrasah. Whatever English and Bangla you have learned is enough. Now study Qur’an, hadith and fiqh.” I managed to save myself from going to madrasah by surrendering to my father’s reprimand, but remained a bit disappointed at my father for not allowing me to study the ISC, though there was a consolation that I could at least study at university.

When I dedicated myself to extensive study of the Qur’an and Hadith after joining Jamaat-e-Islami in 1954 I observed that my background in Arabic was immensely helpful in my work in the Islamic movement. Since then I have been praying to Allah so that He rewards my father for insisting on my studying Arabic and enhancing my knowledge in Islam. If I hadn’t learned that much Arabic at that time I would have considered my life as a Muslim to be a total waste.

My Intermediate Education

I began my higher secondary education, Intermediate in Arts (IA), under the New Scheme in the college section of Islamic Intermediate College in July 1942. A large number of students with scholarships and first division results from high madrasahs around the country were enrolled in that college, so the competition in class was very high, which got more intense when teachers gave tasks in class. I thoroughly enjoyed that competition and worked very hard to do well.

The quality of my teachers in English, Bangla, Qur’an, Hadith and Fiqh was very high; I felt encouraged being taught by them, but the Arabic teachers would only translate the texts from Arabic to English and I felt that my command over the language was not improving the way I wanted. I wished my Arabic teachers would use similar techniques as their English counterparts who adopted different methods to ensure that we learn the language well, but it was not to be. Our English teachers would never use the Bangla language in an English class however our Arabic teachers only ever used English to teach us, never Arabic.

There were 10 papers at IA level worth 1000 marks, which included Bangla (200), English (200), Arabic (200), Qur’an (100), Hadith (100) and Fiqh (100). There was a choice between two subjects for the remaining 100 marks; they were English and Logic. Most students chose Logic as it tended to result in very high scores, whereas no one had ever received a first grade scholarship by taking English. However, I didn’t hesitate to take English as I had studied the New Scheme to study Arabic, English and Bangla. By the grace of Allah I was the first person to get a first grade scholarship in IA with English as the optional subject, though I could not achieve any higher than the tenth position in the merit list.

1 Head of different types of institutions, e.g., madrasahs, hostels, hospitals etc.

2 An essential certificate to change educational institution

3 Until recently national board exams in Bangladesh used to announce a list of top twenty students in combined merit list. The author stood 13th in that list.

4 Intermediate in Science, i.e., higher secondary in science

5 Islamic jurisprudence

My Journey Through Life Part 5

MY JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE

BY

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

Chapter Five

Post-Primary Education

I started Class 3 in 1934 at Barail Junior Madrasah three and a half miles away from my village home. As mentioned before, to learn Arabic I was required to retake Class 3 despite coming first in the Class 3 final exams in the village primary school. My youngest uncle Shafiqul Islam, who was three years older than me, used to be a lodging tutor in a house near my madrasah. He arranged daily meals for me in that house; however, I wasn’t able to live there, so I had to live with my uncle. When my uncle relocated to another house as a tutor a year later I took his place and had my food and lodging arrangements in the same house. In the following year, I came first in the Class 4 final exams, and our Bangla teacher Mr Shamsuddin arranged an improved tutored lodging for me at his cousin’s house quite far from the madrasah. I had to teach his cousin’s son, who was my classmate, although he was three to four years older than me. I would also help his younger brothers in their education.

The tutored lodging system in our country is very good for students who study away from home. I used to teach the Qur’an in the first house I stayed at and I helped my classmate and his younger siblings in the second one. My Bangla teacher was also in charge of the library when I was admitted in the madrasah in Class 3. He used to encourage me to take books from the library and also selected books for me to read. It was he who helped me develop the habit of reading beyond my textbooks – something that stayed with me for the rest of my life. I still remember the first book he gave me to read: Shiyal Pandit (The Fox Pundit). He drove me towards reading many works of fiction, which encouraged me to continue the routine even more.

A lot of time had to be spent doing my own studies and helping the children of the house’s owner, so there was no time to read books while at my desk. The only time I read those story books was while lying on my bed before sleeping, another habit that continued for the rest of my life. The habit is such that I could never sleep without reading. Without reading books the mind becomes scattered before sleep, whereas a thoughtful book helps to focus on a single subject leading to sleep relatively easily and quickly.

Junior Final Exam

All students of Class 6 in the junior madrasah sector of the district had to appear in a final exam at the district centre. Our headmaster had very high hopes that I would receive the scholarship in the exam, but an incident due to my ignorance meant that I had to be content with only first class marks but no scholarship. Although the incident was small, it turned out to be big for me, as it was the reason I missed the scholarship. I had never had tea before and no one in our house at that time used to drink tea. When my classmates, who shared the same hotel as me during the exams, were having tea I joined them and had two or three cups on the eve of the first set of exams. Our headmaster had told us that we should to go to bed by eleven and revise after the morning prayer. All my friends had fallen into a deep sleep and the lights were off, but I kept awake in my bed. I could hear the wall clock ringing every half hour and the sound of the municipality rubbish trucks until 2am before I could sleep. I found it difficult to wake up for the morning prayer, and when I tried to revise after coming back from prayer, I found sleep taking hold of me. The exam was a few hours later, so I continued my fight against sleep as I didn’t have the courage to tell the headmaster my experience of the previous night and seek his permission to have a small nap before the exam.

I became very happy seeing the questions in the exam hall as I knew the answers to all the questions; I started writing enthusiastically. However, I was so sleepy that I inadvertently slept on the desk a couple of times and the pen slipped out of my fingers. On both the occasions the invigilators woke me up and gave me back my pen that slipped off. Hence, I couldn’t answer all the questions and became very upset when the exam was over. I had to again fight against sleep during the second exam of the day at two o’clock as there was no scope to have a nap between the exams, and subsequently failed to answer all the questions in the second exam as well. I had never imagined that drinking tea would have such consequences. Thankfully, the exams in the next few days went well, but I did not have the courage to tell my headmaster how I could not answer all the questions on the first day, and did not tell anything to my classmates either out of embarrassment. I was worried that this incident could cost me not only the scholarship, but also first class marks. Thankfully, the Almighty saved my dignity and I could at least pass with first class marks.

Studying in Comilla1

I was admitted to Class 7 of the Hussamia High Madrasah in Comilla in January 1938. I still remember how well my teachers in the madrasah taught us. The head of the madrasah Mr Akhteruzzaman graduated in Arabic under the ‘New Scheme’. He had a strong personality and was very popular as a teacher. Many years later in the 60s, I saw him amongst the participants in a training camp of Jamaat-e-Islami during my visit there as the provincial secretary of the organisation. I immediately stood upon seeing one of my favourite teachers Mr Akhteruzzaman in the audience and said, “Sir, it is very awkward for me that you are sitting there and I am up on the stage.” He replied, “I was once your teacher and you were my student, but now you are my teacher in the Islamic movement and I am your student.” When I visited Comilla again a few years later he hosted me at his house as his guest and looked after me the way a decent host would. I was so impressed by his dedication towards the Islamic movement that I felt extremely sad when I heard the news of his passing away.

Tutorships in Comilla

I was a tutor in a house one and a half miles away from the madrasah. My only student in that house was a young boy in Class 1. His grandmother was very affectionate towards me and asked me to call her grandma. I was missing my own grandmother and was happy to have a new one far away from home. She would feed both her grandson and me together with care, which made me feel very comfortable in that house. My student had a strange habit; he would demand food that had not been cooked at a particular meal. Therefore, everyone tried to make sure that he didn’t know what was being cooked, but the elders had to struggle to convince him to eat whenever he demanded something that had not been cooked.

I came first in the final exam of Class 7 and, after hearing that I was a good student, a retired postmaster very eagerly took me to his house to tutor his son of Class 3. I was in that house for a year, which was adjacent to the northern wall of Comilla Central Jail. The District Magistrate of Comilla, an Englishman, used the road next to my room to go to work. I sometimes saw him walking towards the Christian cemetery along with his wife. I never dared to speak with him, but wished that he would begin a conversation with me one day. The Indian Civil Service (ICS) officers at that time were required to know the language of the area they worked in to such a level that they were able to understand the language spoken by the common citizens. I came to know this fact through personal experience. When my father was the Marriage Registrar in Chandina, a city 12 miles west of Comilla, I once saw an Englishman coming to my father’s office for inspection, riding on a horse. As he was sitting in the office, I brought snacks for him and found him talking to my father in Bangla, though I found it difficult to understand because of his accent. My father told me that district magistrates and people of similar high positions needed to know some basic Bangla for communicating with the local people.

Extra-Curricular Activities in Comilla Madrasah

Every Thursday a teacher in the madrasah would lead the weekly speech competitions that included debates, set speeches and improvised speeches etc. I used to watch them with huge interest. They were mainly dominated by students from Class 9 and Class 10. I proposed to my classmates that we should have similar sessions each week among ourselves, which most students supported and gave me the responsibility to organise. I had no previous experience of giving a speech other than reciting poems and taking part in small plays while in junior madrasah, so the weekly programmes provided the platform to gain some confidence, which helped me a lot when we were allowed to take part in the weekly speech competitions of the whole madrasah the following year.

Introduction to Politics

My first experience of joining a political march was with the Muslim League in 1939 when I was in Class 8. “Sher-e-Bangla”2 Fazlul Haque, was then the Provincial Prime Minister. The march was to protest against the move by the Indian National Congress and the Hindu Mahasabha party for a vote of no confidence to oust the Fazlul Haque ministry. The Muslim League was not very organised then, but the protests took place all over the country. I loved the experience of chanting slogans while bounding with energy and in the end broke my voice. I also used to go to the Town Hall to listen to speeches by political leaders and used to aspire to be able to give political speeches. I developed a good rapport with the President of Comilla District Muslim League, Advocate Zahirul Haque Lil Miah, who later became a minister in the Sher-e-Bangla cabinet in 1954. He was from our Nabinagar sub-district and had a brotherly relationship with my father, so I used to call him uncle and visit his house, where he would look after me with love and affection.

During that time, Palestine was the main issue of concern for the Muslims. It was in that year (1939) that the Second World War began and the first call for a Jewish state to be established in Palestine came from the US. The Daily Azad newspaper, established by Mawlana Akram Khan, was then the only daily newspaper for the Muslims. My father regularly received a copy of the newspaper by post from Kolkata, which helped me develop my habit of reading newspapers. I first came to know about the Palestine issue from this newspaper. I could know more about the problem after attending a public gathering on Palestine at the Town Hall. I found one of the speaker’s points very logical when he said, “If Americans are so sympathetic towards the Jewish cause then why don’t they establish a land for them in their own country? Canada and Australia also have large unused lands. Why do they need to drive away the Muslims who had been living there for 1500 years?”

The United States and its allies established the State of Israel in Palestine by force in 1948 after the Second World War. The demand for this began in 1939, against which Muslims around the world strongly protested. The Jewish community is the richest community in the world and the Israeli state was created as a reward for the financial contributions of the Jews and the support by the Jewish media for the Allied forces during the Second World War.

My First Political Speech

When I saw Uncle Lil Miah presiding over a Palestine related protest meeting of the Muslim League at the Town Hall Ground in 1939, I gathered some courage and approached him requesting him to give me a chance to speak. The point I liked in the previous meeting was not mentioned by any of the speakers, so I thought that I should raise it there. Lil Miah then announced, “Now a boy named Ghulam Azam will speak before you.” This was my first experience in a public meeting, so I enthusiastically went to the dais to speak. However, as soon as I stood in front of the audience I became nervous – my legs began to shake and I found it difficult to speak. I somehow managed to put my hands on the table next to me and loudly said what I wanted to say for about a minute and a half and sat down immediately. The audience gave me a big round of applause and after the meeting some of them approached me and asked me about my family background. One of them then commented, “He is a true grandson of Mawlana Abdus Subhan.”

I didn’t have the courage to give a speech any time soon after that. My father used to speak during the Eid congregations where I had no scope to speak. When I heard others speak I thought it was easy, but why my nervousness appeared while giving a speech was a mystery.

1 An eastern district in Bangladesh, next to the author’s home district, Brahmanbaria.

2 Means the ‘Tiger of Bengal’ – a title given to one of the most prominent political figures in 20th century East Bengal