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
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 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 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 was its secretary. I was very close to the president of the society Qazi Motahar Hossain 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 and Syed Ali Ashraf, 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, Professor Ibrahim Khan 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, and although I never tried to be a singer, I would often sing those songs myself. I read Tagore’s Gitanjali (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 I discovered that it had a lot of similarities with the poems of Gitanjali. Later, while reading works of Swami Vivekananda 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 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.
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.
 The most famous Bangla litterateur who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913.
 The National Poet of Bangladesh famous for his revolutionary works against the British Empire and for his Islamic songs.
 A famous 20th century scholar, academic, philosopher and essayist in Bangladesh.
 A renowned author, scientist, statistician and journalist in Bangladesh in the last century.
 Former National Professor of Bangladesh.
 A famous educationalist and founder of Darul Ihsan University in Bangladesh.
 A Bengali epic poet and writer of the 19th and 20th centuries.
 Another legendary litterateur in Bangladesh.
 A legendary Bengali folk singer and composer during British India.
 A compilation of lyrical poems that earned Tagore the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913.
 A Persian Sufi saint and poet.
 A Hindu monk, philosopher and chief disciple of the 19th century saint Ramakrishna.
 One of the most prominent of contemporary Bengali poets and litterateurs