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
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