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
My Wedding Part I
I was not keen to get married early, as I had just started working and had very little savings. After a few months of joining the college a letter arrived from my father saying, “We have started searching for a bride for you; you too should join the search.” I was a little concerned as I was not prepared to get married for another couple of years until I had some savings. I knew that my father would bear the expenses of my wedding, but there were some expenditures that were entirely my responsibility to manage. Hence, I wrote to my father that I wanted to wait two more years and that I would discuss this issue in detail when I returned home during the summer break.
When I reached home for the summer holidays my mother informed me that the search for my bride was in full swing, particularly because the bride for my younger brother Dr Ghulam Muazzam was all but fixed. It was awkward to get the younger brother married before the elder brother, hence the hurry. My younger brother had by then joined Dhaka Medical College after completing his MBBS degree from Kolkata Medical College with a gold medal award for excellence. I came to know from my mother that he was ready to get married. I knew that my age was ideal for matrimony and that one should not unnecessarily delay marriage. Meanwhile, my father was not ready to accept the reason for my desire to delay my marriage.
The Search Continues
I wanted to know how they could find a bride for my younger brother so quickly, whereas there was little opportunity to find one for me. I was told that my father wanted a daughter of an Islamic scholar as a bride for me, one who was capable of giving proper Islamic teaching to his daughter. It was difficult to find someone who could fulfil these conditions, hence the delay. On the other hand there was no need to even search for the bride of my younger brother. My father was very keen to develop a new relationship with the family of my grandfather’s namesake and his close friend and classmate, Mawlana Abdus Subhan. He found that his second son, Mohammad Hossain, had a daughter yet to be married. My mother and sisters had already seen the girl and liked her, but they could not send the proposal until I got married. I was delaying the marriage of my younger brother, hence I had no other option but to agree to get married soon.
Those who were assigned to search for my bride continued their task and I had no control over it. But I had to give information about one proposal myself. My colleague in History at Rangpur College, Yusuf, who was also my classmate and close friend at Islamic Intermediate College, one day showed me a letter in the teachers’ common room. It was written by a professor of English at Kushtia College named A T Saadi. I knew him a little as he was my junior in Dhaka University. The letter was a marriage proposal for his second sister with me, for which he wanted Yusuf to do the matchmaking. He asked me to read the letter as part of the responsibility he was given. I came to know that the prospective bride’s father, Mawlana Mir Abdus Salam, was a professor of Arabic at Naogaon Degree College. Her uncle (husband of her aunt) was Mawlana Abdullahil Baki, the then president of the East Pakistan Muslim League and a member of the Pakistan National Assembly. Along with other additional information, this seemed quite a good proposal to me. I asked my friend and matchmaker to get more information about the bride and her siblings. I then wrote to my father about this proposal.
I was surprised when I received my father’s reply. I was informed that the bride’s father had already been to Chandina to meet my father and developed a warm relationship. My father had already chosen my father-in-law and the bride’s father had also chosen me as his son-in-law. He was so satisfied with the recommendation given about me by his son that he didn’t feel the need to meet me in person. I also came to know that some relatives of the bride living in Rangpur and Bogra had come to see me without me realising it, and certified that it was difficult to find such a good groom among thousands. My prospective father-in-law had stated all this to my father during their meeting.
My father’s letter also said that the bride’s father had invited me to go and see her at their residence in Naogaon and reminded my father that it was an important Islamic practice. This made me respect the bride’s father even more. I realised that my father had already fixed my marriage and was waiting for my approval. He would take the next step once I saw the bride and gave my consent. This was quite embarrassing for me. I had never heard of such a situation among my relatives where the groom had to go all by himself to see the bride. Usually this is done by the groom’s father, mother, sister, aunt, sister-in-law and so on, but in my case the difficult task was given to me, that too all alone. I realised that my father had already developed the relationship with the bride’s father and did not find it necessary to see the bride himself. I was in a dilemma whether to see the bride or not. What would I tell my father if I didn’t like her? He had already selected her and felt that he had found the daughter-in-law he wanted. There was no other alternative proposal that would fulfil the condition of my father. It was really embarrassing for me to see the bride in those circumstances. When I was considering my options, the second letter from Mr Saadi arrived through my matchmaker with the information I had asked for.
I told my matchmaker that I had never seen such a successful matchmaker who didn’t have to do any running around and got all the information through letters. The information I got in the second letter was enough for me and I informed my father that I didn’t want to see the bride and I had full confidence in his choice. I thought, what use would it be by seeing the bride other than seeing her face, and girls from families like this would never even stare at me. I remembered that when my sister’s groom came to see her, they asked her to open her eyes. She opened them for a second and closed them again and didn’t utter a single word. The groom’s father was rather happy at this shyness of my sister.
What I came to know about the bride from Mr Saadi’s letter was that most of the brothers and sisters of the family were studying. Mr Saadi was the eldest followed by three sisters with the bride being the second. She had passed Alim1 and was preparing for her Fazil2 exams. Her elder sister had already completed her Kamil3 and was married to a man with a Kamil as well as an MA degree in Arabic. I had never heard of a woman with a madrasah degree before. My father-in-law used to teach his own daughters and arranged for them to appear in the board exams. Later, Dr Mohammad Shahidullah heard about the match and became very happy that I got married to a daughter of Mawlana Mir Abdus Salam and asked me whether my wife was Afifa. When he saw my surprise he said, “She sat in the Alim exam in Bogra College when I was its principal. I was very curious about her as she was the only female examinee. Then I met your father-in-law and soon became his good friend. That is how I remember her name.”
The groom has to go to the place where the bride’s family arrange the wedding party. My father-in-law lived in Naogaon, a district in northern Bangladesh, and was a professor of Arabic in Naogaon College. He arranged the ceremony at his own house. On the other hand, my father lived and worked in Chandina, which was very far from Naogaon. We started the long journey by first taking a bus towards Comilla Railway Station and got on a train at 10pm. Lower middle class people like us had to travel on the inter-class compartment where there was no scope for reserving seats. It was difficult to get on those compartments at night time as it was full of people. We somehow managed to get on the train. As the journey was for the whole night, it was important to find a place to sleep, which was very difficult. There was no question of getting any place on the seats, so we were looking for places where people keep luggage. My younger brothers and cousins somehow found a place for me to sleep. I was given this privilege not only for being the eldest in the generation, but also for being the groom. My uncle managed to get a place for my father to sleep in the next compartment. The train reached Bahadurabad Station early in the morning. Now it was time to rush for seats on the ferry to go to the other side of the river Jamuna. This is the reality of life; the competition never ends, and everyone is busy to ensure that they get what they want.
It was 28 December 1951. The weather was very cold and foggy. We somehow managed to do our ablution for the morning prayers and perform the prayer. When the train reached the Fulchuri Port at the other side of the Jamuna, then we had to run again to get seats on the train. The road was terrible to run on, but few care. I saw quite a few elderly people and children tripping over while running. When we finally reached Shantahar Station it was noon. My in-laws had reserved a bus for us at the station, so we didn’t need to hurry again. The Naogaon city is three miles from Shantahar Station, and when the bus reached Chakdev Street it was time for the noon prayers. We started our journey by bus and ended with it. In the middle we took a train, then ferry, then again train. After a marathon 18 hour journey, everyone was extremely tired and hungry.
My father-in-law was a renowned scholar of Ahl al-Hadith4 and was very cautious about the guidelines of sharia. That is why there was no extravagance in the decoration of the wedding venue. The simple ceremony began after the afternoon prayer. The marriage registrar of Naogaon was a resident of the same street, so there was no delay. The main wedding ceremony was led by the bride’s father. After the completion of the wedding rituals, he led a very emotional dua during which he wept and made us weep too. I saw tears in my father’s eyes who seemed very happy to marry me to a family of the standard he wanted. His tears were to express deep happiness for the achievement of marrying his eldest son to a good Islamic family.
One of the conditions for an Islamic wedding is fixing an amount for a dowry or marriage gift that has to be paid to the bride by the groom. When the marriage registrar asked what amount should be recorded, my father asked my father-in-law if he had any demand about the amount. My father-in-law said, “The main factor is the relationship between the bride and the groom. I am not in favour of a big amount for dowry, so three thousand will be enough.” My father said, “If there is love, then the husband gives much more to a wife than she needs. As it is an obligation that the dowry is paid, we need to fix an amount that can be paid quickly. Could we reduce the amount a little bit as my son doesn’t have a big income? I know three thousand is not much, but it would be nice if it is reduced a little bit.” The bride’s father then said, “You can suggest what that amount should be. I have decided to marry my daughter to your son, so I give that responsibility to you as the groom’s father.”
I was feeling a bit uncomfortable and thought that it would have been nice had my father not asked to reduce the amount for the dowry. I was praying that my father did not demand the amount to be much less. He then requested very humbly whether making it five hundred less would be alright. My father-in-law agreed, and my wedding was completed with 2,500 taka dowry. It was not possible to provide my wife with the full amount immediately. When I received the money from my provident fund after resigning from my job, I immediately fulfilled the full amount of the dowry to her.
1 A madrasah degree equivalent to higher secondary exams
2 Equivalent to undergraduate degree
3 Postgraduate degree
4 The phrase Ahl al-Hadith (people of hadith) refers to a group who venerate the Sunnah and seek to propagate it.