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
Working with Tablighi Jamaat
My father came to see me at my university hostel two months before my MA final exams. Saying, “Come, I will take you somewhere,” he took me to a mosque in Narinda. On the way he didn’t tell me where we were going and for what purpose. As soon as we entered the mosque, I noticed 25 to 30 people doing munajat. The person leading the proceedings was using very emotive language. I had never heard someone doing munajat in Bangla in such an appealing style and I observed that he was crying out loud and everyone taking part was also crying. The words touched my heart and tears came rolling down my cheeks freely. I felt an unprecedented pleasure in praying to Allah that filled my heart. After the munajat my father introduced me to the person who was leading it. He was very handsome and I felt an instant connection with him in our first meeting. He was the president of East Pakistan Tablighi Jamaat, Mawlana Abdul Aziz. I came to know that he was already well-acquainted with my father and it was a humbling experience when he hugged me with deep affection and won my heart immediately. He advised me to pray the isha prayer at Lalbagh Mosque every Thursday, where regular Tabligh events used to take place.
I later came to know that the language of the munajat that touched my heart was actually a translated version of some verses from the Qur’an and some famous Hadith. I realised that our Omnipotent Lord is so merciful that he taught us the best possible language to seek His blessings. Allah ensured that the language of our demands to Him is up to such a standard that all aspects are covered appropriately. There is no need to send a formal application to Allah. Even an illiterate person can also express their feelings to their Lord in their own language.
Lessons in Tabligh
The following Thursday I reached the Khan Muhammad Mosque in Lalbagh as advised by Mawlana Abdul Aziz. After the isha prayer, I noticed around 7 or 8 people sat together who were greeting each other smilingly. I felt that they were Tablighi brothers and this was confirmed by one brother who cordially welcomed me to the group. When they came to know who had recommended me to come, and that my father was a friend of their leader, the welcome became more emotionally charged with affectionate handshakes all around.
Then they started their weekly programme with the discussion on the six principles of Tablighi Jamaat. The chair of the meeting, Mr Abdul Haque, asked each person to explain one principle. The purpose was to make everyone capable of speaking in front of an audience. I too had to do that within a couple of weeks. The six principles of Tabligh are as follows:
- Kalimah – the first article of faith declaring Allah as the only one to be worshipped and Muhammad (PBUH) as the messenger of Allah.
- Salat – the five daily prayer
- Ilm & Zikr – the knowledge and remembrance of Allah
- Ikraam–e-Muslim – honouring a Muslim
- Tashih–e-Niyat – sincerity of intention
- Nafarun fi Sabilillah – going out for the cause of Allah (to invite people towards His way)
After the meeting it was time to eat and people took out the food they had brought from their homes. I was the only person who hadn’t brought my own food. I was not aware that I had to stay until the Morning Prayer, so I hadn’t had my dinner. I was feeling quite embarrassed, but others made me feel comfortable and almost forced me to eat their food. I was also told that I would be their guest every Thursday and didn’t need to bring my own food.
The activities of Tablighi Jamaat include going out in groups to invite people to join the movement and teaching people the six principles, how to perform sincere prayers, the proper pronunciation of the Qur’an, different types of dua, etc. In order to become an active member of Tabligh one must give a long time for this cause, by going on a Chilla (a spiritual journey) in three cycles, each consisting of forty days. Those who are able to spend these four months in this cause are considered the core members of the movement and are given the responsibilities of leadership at different levels.
My First Chilla
I completed the three Chillas after my MA final exams. The first and the last Chilla were spent in my own country, while the second one was spent in Delhi – the headquarters of the Tabligh movement. The 20-member group in my first Chilla was led by the president of the East Pakistan Tablighi Jamaat, Mawlana Abdul Aziz. I learned a lot in the first ten days of that spiritual journey due to my close acquaintance with Mawlana Abdul Aziz. I memorised some important verses from the Qur’an and also learned a lot of Dua from him. He found in me a sincere disciple and asked me to be with him all the time. I used to ask him many questions and he answered them with love and affection. The respect I felt for him was not felt for anyone else.
Suddenly, after the tenth day, Mawlana Aziz told me in front of everyone else that I had to lead the group for the rest of the journey as he had to leave to attend a central meeting of the movement in Dhaka. I was not sure what others felt, but I was dumbfounded at this sudden decision and stood there surprised and tense. Observing my reaction he hugged me and said, “I joined this group to prepare you for leadership. I am confident that you will be able to lead this group efficiently. You are the leader of this group from now on and I will spend my last three days in this group under your able leadership”.
My confidence was boosted when other members expressed their allegiance to my leadership. Yet, I was finding it difficult to come out of the shock and told Mawlana Aziz with tears in my eyes, “I have been learning many things from you in the last ten days. I am worried that I now have to lead the team with only ten days of training.” He consoled me saying, “Allah directly helps those who work in His cause. As you go on teaching others your knowledge will also increase naturally.” However, as he was still around for three more days it was easy for me to get into the leadership mode as I was able to get important tips from him whenever I needed it.
Second Chilla in Delhi
I was told after my first Chilla that the second one will be in Delhi and that I would be accompanied by another person from Dhaka, and a third person from Kolkata. This was in April 1950 and at that time there was no passport control between India and Pakistan. I and my companion reached Kolkata by train and went to the central Tablighi mosque where we were joined by an Urdu-speaking gentleman who was made the leader of our three-member team. We started for Delhi on a train that took 24 hours to reach our destination. We prayed all the prayers on the train and our Hindu and Sikh co-passengers happily made space for us to pray.
I was happy to know that our leader was Urdu-speaking, as I was keen on learning the language. I considered it to be a sweet language from my boyhood when I used to hear it during my trips to Dhaka with my mother. I learned a little bit from my cousins in Dhaka and also spoke some Urdu with my paternal grandmother after returning from Dhaka. I don’t remember these much but heard about it from my mother and grandmother. I also realised later that the Urdu my mother spoke was not the standard form of the language.
As our leader lived in Kolkata he understood Bangla well, so it was easy for us to learn Urdu from him. During my involvement in the language movement I had decided that I would not learn Urdu, but my anger towards the language could not be sustained, and I learned the language with enthusiasm. It was relatively easy for me to learn as many words in Urdu are taken from Arabic. However, although Urdu used Arabic script I initially found it difficult to read as there were no diacritical marks like those in Arabic. Our leader helped me learn how to read.
The Tablighi Jamaat headquarters were situated in a small mosque in an area called Nizamuddin in Old Delhi. The Central President of the movement at that time was Mawlana Yusuf, the son of the founder of Tablighi Jamaat, Mawlana Iliyas, who used to live in that mosque’s premises. All the speeches in Delhi were in Urdu. We were able to understand most of them, but speaking was a bit difficult as we were often worried about making mistakes.
I and my companion from Dhaka were sent to a district called Bijnor with eight other members, under the leadership of Mawlana Ziauddin Aligarhi. I was hugely impressed by the personality of Mawlana Aligarhi, and learned a lot of things from him. He was our leader, but he never let us look after him; rather he would always be prepared to look after us. He was such an impressive leader that he never needed to order us to do anything. We got used to doing whatever was required without his order. I had never seen a leader as successful until then. Later when I was given the leadership, I tried to follow his style, but I do not think I was as successful as he was.
Efforts to learn Urdu continued during our tour of Bijnor. The thing I found extremely difficult to learn is the use of gender. Urdu has genders for all nouns, which is completely different from Bangla. Our leader during the journey to Delhi had said that it was acceptable to use masculine in place of feminine, but the other way round would be a problem. This was a good lesson that eased our worries a bit. Yet there would be mistakes due to linguistic differences between Bangla and Urdu. For example, I once said, khaneka pani dijiye ‘Please give me water to eat’ as this is how we say this in Bangla. A brother gave me water and said bhai lijiye khaneka pani, ye hai pine ka roti ‘brother, here is your water to eat, and this is your bread to drink’. I felt really embarrassed. However, when I heard that even in Persian they say ‘water to eat’ I felt a bit better. When I was given a similar answer by another brother after returning to Delhi, I said, ap pani pite raho, hum pani khatei rahenge ‘you continue to drink water, but we will keep on eating water.’
Before returning to Dhaka we spent three days in Delhi. This time I enjoyed the speeches of the Central President of Tabligh, Mawlana Yusuf (popularly called Hazratji) even more as my Urdu had improved considerably by then. When I was leaving Delhi it was an emotional moment to part from my dear leader Mawlana Aligarhi, whose personality had a huge impact on me. I cried a lot hugging him and found it difficult to stop. He also shed tears and gave me some valuable advice that I remembered for the rest of my life. He was one of the few Tablighi leaders who did not make rude comments about my joining Jamaat-e-Islami.
As my first Chilla was in eastern Bengal I wanted to visit northern and southern Bengal for the third one. I started for Dinajpur by train as the leader of a 15-member group. During the journey when it was time for prayer, I spoke about the importance of praying in congregation. Although it was meant for my fellow Tablighi brothers, I spoke loudly to also convey this message to many other passengers in the compartment. One of us did the call to prayer and we observed that quite a few of our fellow passengers were prepared to pray with us. Others moved away to allow us more space to pray. I spoke about our activities in Tabligh after the prayer and invited others to join. Later four or five passengers who were going to Dinajpur joined us in a mosque for two days.
Although it was not part of the activities of Tabligh, I introduced something that impressed everyone and all the passengers followed this during the journey. When the train stopped at a station everyone would help passengers to get down with their luggage and help those people getting on the train with their luggage. We also ensured that elderly people, women and children had seats, by giving up our own seats. I told my companions to give up their seat when an elderly person was standing as Islam teaches us to respect the elders. I still remember the beautiful scene how younger people, including those who were not in our delegation, gave up their seats for the elders during that journey. This proves that people do possess basic human qualities; the problem is this feeling is not encouraged much. The sense of humanity is universal.
After spending three days in Dinajpur, we went to Rangpur and stayed in a famous mosque called Keramatiya Mosque. The Imam allowed us to stay there but did not seem too keen on our cause. He later joined Jamaat-e-Islami and told me that he had never found the Tablighi movement appealing as it lacked the revolutionary approach that he had been looking for, being inspired by the works of Mawlana Abul Kalam Azad and Allama Iqbal.
After spending three days each in Rangpur, Bogra, Pabna and Rajshahi, and a few days in some other places on the way back to Dhaka, I finally completed my three Chillas. I returned to our house in Moghbazar and met my parents after spending four months on the spiritual tour of Tablighi Jamaat. This tour changed my life forever. I decided, while in Rangpur, that I would take up college teaching as my profession rather than becoming a government officer. In this way I would be able to perform Chillas during the vacation. After my MA results, I sent letters to four colleges and, incidentally, I was given an offer from Rangpur Carmichael College – the same city where I had decided to take up this profession.
 Individual or collective supplications, often following ritual prayers.
 The fifth of the five daily prayers Muslims perform, prayed in the late evening.
 Supplications to God, often performed in Arabic and including verses from the Qur’an.
 A Persian word meaning forty days of spiritual journey.
 A northern district in Bangladesh.
 An Indian scholar and a senior political leader of the Indian independence movement. Following India’s independence, he became the first Minister of Education in the Indian government.
 Sir Muhammad Iqbal, widely known as Allama Iqbal, was an academic, philosopher, poet, barrister, mystic and politician in British India who is widely regarded as having inspired the Pakistan Movement.