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
Involvement in Sports
I remember playing some sports, like kabbadi1, gollachut2, athletics, kite flying and so on during my primary school years in our village, among which kabbadi was the most popular. Watching elders play football, we also became interested in it, but didn’t have a ball to play with, so we used an unripe grapefruit as the ball. Observing our interest in football, my grandfather asked a cobbler to make a leather football for us with cotton inside it so that we could play in our own backyard rather than with the mischievous boys of the village. He used to be the referee sitting on the veranda while we played. When I was at Barail Junior Madrasah I used to love the PE3 lessons and used to practice them with others at leisure time. There used to be competitions in kabbadi, football and athletics, but I was not as good as others in those sports.
I continued to enjoy the PE lessons while at Comilla High Madrasah and also played football when there was no PE. I was never good at football, but I always loved the sport. During 1938-39 when I was in Class 7 or 8 I used to go to a local English landlord’s house with my friends to listen to the football commentary on the radio between Mohammedan Sporting and Mohun Bagan football clubs in Kolkata. Mohammedan Sporting was for Muslims while Mohun Bagan was a club for Hindus. Politics and sports were closely related to each other during that time, so a victory of Mohammedan was considered to be a victory of Muslims, making football an influential sport in nurturing Muslim nationalism. The Daily Azad, established by the legendary Muslim journalist Mawlana Akram Khan, used to make big headlines when Mohammedans won a match. When elders read those stories aloud we would all listen to hear about the performances of our heroes. I still remember the name of a famous player called Jumma Khan, a Punjabi player with a bulky physique. I also remember a line from a report in the Daily Azad that showed how the newspaper and Mohammedan Sporting were closely related to our Muslim sentiments at that time. It said, “Who can stop Mohammedan’s victory? Hafez4 Rashid is playing with the Qur’an in his heart!”
I used to go and watch annual sports competitions of some famous schools at that time. I never tried to be a sportsman, probably because I didn’t think I had the potential, but I enjoyed watching others play. When I was in Comilla I once collapsed with sunstroke while watching the annual sports of a Hindu school called ‘Ishwar Pathshala’.
I used to play volleyball regularly while I was in Koltabazar Hostel in 1940, and continued to play the sport the following year in the college ground. I realised that although I was not good at football, I played volleyball quite well. While I was staying at Paradise Hostel during 1941-42, I could play volleyball at the hostel premises rather than having to go to the college ground. In the absence of the required equipment for volleyball we would play badminton, which I liked even better. I had a slightly taller friend called Amin Uddin with whom we formed a doubles team, calling ourselves ‘Hopeless’, and we won the college championship that year. The principal was very amused at our name and while giving his speech during the prize giving ceremony he said, “The doubles team of Ghulam Azam and Amin Uddin were so confident of winning that they called their team ‘Hopeless’ to surprise everyone.” Our ‘Hopeless’ team was revived in 1944 when Amin Uddin and I were in the same student hall (Fazlul Haque Muslim Hall) of Dhaka University. We maintained our reputation by becoming the hall champions for two consecutive years. Our team ended naturally after Amin Uddin left university in 1946.
I also played volleyball regularly during the dry season in the hall compound. When I went back to Chandina for holidays I played both volleyball and badminton in the high school grounds there and became known as a good player in both these games.
I formed a badminton doubles team with Professor M R Helali of the English department while lecturing at Rangpur Carmichael College, although we never took part in a competitive game. I also played badminton, having been inspired by a Jamaat leader when I was in Lahore Jail in 1964, with other central leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami after the then President Ayub Khan banned Jamaat. We used to play against each other and leaders like Mawlana Mawdudi and Mawlana Abdur Rahim used to enjoy our competition and acknowledged that we were good players. As I used to win most of the time, they wanted to know whether I had played badminton during my student life and I had to confess that I had been the doubles champion in my hall. I was later transferred to Dhaka Central Jail upon my request so that I could see my family every fortnight. There were no badminton facilities there, but I would play rings with one of the Jamaat leaders there.
Although cricket is the most popular sport in our country, I still like football more. Unlike cricket, one doesn’t have to wait long to get a result in football. Sometimes a cricket match continues for days and the crowd sit and watch the game for a long period of time. It may be worth it for players to watch the game like this in order to learn and devise tactics, but I have to admire the patience of the crowd who spend such a long time watching the game. I definitely don’t have this strange patience. It is not only in stadiums; many people stop their work and watch the game on television for hours and hours. As the results and analyses of these matches take up prominent spaces in newspapers, I also read some of them and try to find out who is winning. However, I don’t have the competence of a supporter or a follower of the game like others.
My Views on Sports
I have my own perspective on sports. I feel that sports have a role to play in physical activities and entertainment and some people may be very passionate about them, but I find it difficult to understand why people would take up sports as a profession. Many players in the world have a huge income as professional players and don’t need to be involved in any other profession. I also acknowledge that some players have improved the sports they play at a very high level and have achieved remarkable feats. However, as a believer of life after death I wonder what these people will answer to Allah when asked what they did in this world. Is the purpose of this life just to play? Should one choose sports as their primary way of life? On the other hand I do admit that sports can inspire the youth and they can play positive roles in the society. Elderly people are also inspired by sports and can enjoy it as a form of entertainment. From these perspectives one cannot ignore the significance and contributions of sports in the life of citizens.
Amazing Popularity of Cricket in Bangladesh
As already mentioned I am not fond of cricket and don’t waste my time watching the game. However, everyone in my house loves the game and although their over-enthusiasm sometimes annoys me, I don’t stop them from enjoying. One of the pleasures of watching a game is shouting and yelling with other compatriots. Those who are unable to go to the stadium become their spiritual comrades watching it on TV. When all of this happens, I find myself isolated and unwanted in my own house.
My younger brother Dr Ghulam Muazzam is also a fan of cricket, as are his sons and grandchildren. They are not only fans, but cricket analysts as well. As my brother is not as boring as I am in terms of sports, his grandchildren are even better skilled in the sport than their grandfather. My youngest son Salman used to play cricket when he was a student and loves the sport. When I was in Dhaka Central Jail in 1993, Salman’s newly published book Bishsher Shera Cricket O Cricketor (The World’s Best Cricket and Cricketers) reached me. I was in the VIP jail cell, called ”26 Cell”, where most of my cellmates were cricket fans as well. They almost snatched the book from me before I could read it, so I had to be the last person to read the book. Although I am not fond of cricket, I read most parts of the book and found it an enjoyable read. Salman claimed in his book that cricket can be a force to unite this world and wrote in his introduction:
“Cricket has conquered the world. It has brought the whole world together – not through the power of weapons, but through the beautiful means of discipline. (…) How beautifully cricket has transcended geographic boundaries and united the world! It has brought people together by destroying their differences in terms of race, language or culture. (…) I read in the religious scripture that ‘Allah is beautiful and He loves beauty’. We can’t see Allah, but we can feel His beauty by seeing His beautiful creations. Cricket is one such beautiful creation of Allah and we bow down towards Him for gifting us this beautiful game”.
Although I am not influenced by Salman’s philosophy and deep emotion towards cricket I do acknowledge the huge popularity of the game.
When in 1999 Bangladesh beat Pakistan in the Cricket World Cup in England, the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina commented, “This victory was possible because the players played with the spirit of 1971.” However, Bangladesh was defeated by Pakistan the following year in Dhaka with Sheikh Hasina present in the ground. I could not understand why she herself could not bring that spirit back to our players.
Cricket is just a game and she made herself a laughing stock by bringing the Liberation War into the game. Bangladesh’s victory was not due to the spirit of 1971, neither was their defeat because of the lack of it. Victory and defeat in sports depend on performances on the ground – nothing else.
India and Pakistan are top teams in world cricket. Pakistan has won more matches between them than India, but I am not sure whether the ‘spirit of 1947’ had to do anything with their success against their arch rivals. When these two teams play against each other in Dhaka, most people support Pakistan. My impression is that this support is more to do with people’s negative attitude towards India than their love towards Pakistan. Awami League leaders consider India their close ally despite most people in Bangladesh supporting teams that oppose India. Does this mean most people in Bangladesh are Razakars5? Who are the patriotic people then?
I can see similar political significance in India-Pakistan cricket matches to that which I used to witness between Mohammedan Sporting and Mohun Bagan football clubs during my student life.
1 A traditional sport in rural Bangladesh, also played in wider South Asia and is a competitive game played at Asian Games.
2 A traditional rural sport that is less played in modern times.
3 Physical Education
4 Someone who has memorised the whole Qur’an by heart.
5 A pejorative term referring to members of a paramilitary force created by the Pakistan Army during the Liberation War of 1971.