Professor Ghulam Azam

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My Journey Through Life Part 20: Joining Tamaddun Majlish

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Prof Ghulam Azam

MY JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE

BY

PROFESSOR GHULAM AZAM

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(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

Chapter Twenty

Joining Tamaddun Majlish

In mid-1952 a person named Sulaiman Khan of Tamaddun Majlish came to see me at my Rangpur College campus home. He came all the way from Chittagong[1] just to see me. I was surprised and asked him the purpose of his visit and was told that he came to talk about Tamaddun Majlish[2].

I cordially invited him into my house upon hearing the name Tamaddun Majlish. I had heard about this organisation many times when I was politically active in Dhaka University in 1948. During the Language Movement I used one of their books called Is Pakistan’s State Language Bangla or Urdu? (Pakistaner Rashtro Bhasha Bangla na Urdu?) during the campaign to establish Bangla as a state language. I had also seen the founder of the organisation, a young lecturer of Dhaka University, Mr Abul Kashem, several times although I was never formally introduced to him.

Mr Khan stayed with me for two days. As my wife was not at home we spent a lot of time together and discussed many things and soon became close friends. I was impressed by his sweet smile, conversational style, and his ability to speak eloquently. I developed deep love for him as a brother of deen (religion). He told me that the Tablighi Jamaat teaches the meaning of the Kalimah[3]; that there is no other god than Allah, and teaches the oath that one will spend one’s life obeying Allah’s orders following the path of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). This is obviously correct in terms of wordings, but when they use the word ma‘bud to mean ‘someone to worship’ only and the word ibadah (worship) is confined to some religious rituals then this Kalimah bears little revolutionary significance. Therefore, the fact that the oath in the Kalimah is applicable to all walks of life is not highlighted much by Tabligh, although it instils the sense that the promise in the oath has to be kept.

This little speech of brother Sulaiman shook my conscience and touched my heart. He reminded me that we also need to lead our social and economic lives by obeying Allah in the path of the Prophet (PBUH), highlighting the fact that our Prophet himself led a huge revolution in his land of birth on the basis of the Kalimah. That Tamaddun Majlish called upon people with the message of this revolution left me no other option but to join them. I had never received this type of message before. I completed the membership form of the organisation and took the responsibility to develop and lead it in Rangpur. He left some books with me, which I bought from him. I found two key points about the movement from those books – the sovereignty of Allah and that He is the owner of all our wealth.

Sovereignty of Allah

As a student and then a teacher of political science, I knew the word ‘sovereignty’ very well as an important terminology in the discipline. One of the four core components in the definition of a state is sovereignty. The book, The Grammar of Politics, written by a famous British political scientist, Professor Harold Laski, was my textbook at MA level. In its chapter on ‘Location of Sovereignty’ he proved that there is no such thing as a ‘sovereign force’ in a state. It is not possible to find out where to find the features of sovereignty that political science speaks of. I knew this concept very well and had to teach sovereignty as a key term in my discipline to my students.

In fact, I was a bit perplexed about how to go about with this concept as I was a strong supporter of Laski’s theory. After getting the solution of the term through Tamaddun Majlish I began to invite people to this movement making the sovereignty of Allah as the key point in my discussions. The attributes of Allah found in Ayatul Kursi[4] are similar to quite a few features of sovereignty in political science. I realised that Laski’s confusion on the concept can only be resolved by accepting Allah as the sovereign entity. I also acquired the book Political Theory of Islam by Mawlana Mawdudi through my involvement with Tamaddun Majlish. My concept of sovereignty became clearer after reading that book and I started lecturing my students based on my renewed understanding of the concept.

I developed a partial understanding of the second point of brother Sulaiman’s speech that Allah is the owner of all our wealth, which can be found in the verse: ‘Allah is the owner of everything in the heavens and the earth (lillahi ma fis samawati wama fil ardh)’.[5] Therefore, Islam does not believe in personal wealth, which is the basis of a capitalist economy leading to economic oppressions in a society.

The political mission of Tamaddun Majlish was clear to me and, as it was related to my academic discipline, I decided to concentrate my calls to the organisation on this point. As I was not yet very clear on the economic aspect, I decided to know more about the area before speaking about it.

Serving Two Organisations Simultaneously

I continued to serve both Tablighi Jamaat and Tamaddun Majlish simultaneously as the leader of their Rangpur chapters, emphasising the importance of both organisations. Tablighi Jamaat remained central to me in terms of spirituality, while I continued to call people towards Tamaddun Majlish highlighting its political and economic thoughts. I was satisfied that both these organisations were able to lead me to the establishment of Islam in my life. I still remember that I once took some posters of Tamaddun Majlish while going on a Tablighi chilla.

Islamic Cultural Conference

After joining Tamaddun Majlish, my first opportunity to attend a major programme of the organisation was the Islamic Cultural Conference held at the famous Curzon Hall of Dhaka University in October 1952. The three-day conference was presided over by the President of Tamaddun Majlish and a professor of philosophy, Dewan Mohammad Ajraf, while the conference was inaugurated by the editor of Daily Tasneem of Lahore, Mawlana Nasrullah Khan Aziz. I was asked by the founder secretary of the organisation, Professor Abul Kashem, to bring the guest from Lahore to the conference venue from 205 Nawabpur Road where Jamaat-e-Islami office was at that time. He gave his inaugural address in refined Urdu, which I didn’t understand very well as I had only learned enough Urdu to carry basic conversation. However, I did understand the spirit of Islamic movement in the speech.

As already mentioned, I understood the concept of Allah’s sovereignty very well, but was not very clear about the concept of Islamic economics while working with this organisation. In the session on social science in the conference, I became a bit worried about the content of a speech by one Mir Shamsul Huda whose topic was, ‘Allah + Marxism = Islamic Economics’ where he clearly announced that we can accept a Marxian economic system as Islamic. Although Karl Marx was an atheist, he suggested that if we just avoid the atheistic concept of Marx, then there is no problem. I had read and initially liked a book written by the Chair of that session, Mazharuddin Siddiqui, entitled Economic System of Islam, and liked some aspects of it, but when I came to know that he accepted Socialist economics as Islamic I lost interest in it. It seemed that due to the lack of knowledge on Islamic economics, even some Islamic scholars considered socialism as an alternative to capitalism.

Knowing Islamic Economic Systems

I spent 15 days during the Ramadan of 1953 at a training camp of Tamaddun Majlish where I realised that they loved Islam with sincerity and had strong faith in Allah, the Prophet (PBUH) and the Quran. They were also very keen to learn about Islam, but as there was very little Islamic literature at that time they struggled, like I did, in developing in-depth knowledge of Islam. I was particularly concerned that my knowledge about the Islamic economic system remained unclear.

We had the impression that two fundamental aspects of socialism can be found in Islam

  1. Personal wealth is the foundation of capitalist oppression, so it is not natural for Islam to support personal wealth, because Islam cannot support oppression. We thought that the verse lillahi ma fis samawati wama fil ardh, which means ‘whatever exists in the heavens and the earth belongs to Allah’[6] is a straightforward announcement against personal wealth.
  2. We also thought that labour was the only cause for production. Socialism does not accept personal wealth as the ‘cause of production’ because of its hatred towards capitalist economics. We used the verse laisa lil insani illa ma sa’a, which means ‘man can have nothing but what he strives for’[7] to support this principle. The essence of this principle was that only labour is the source of production and that no one has the right to any wealth without labour.

I was able to gain real knowledge of Islamic economics in 1956, two years after joining Jamaat-e-Islami in 1954. This was when Mawlana Mawdudi came to the then East Pakistan for the first time. I arranged a meeting between Mawlana Mawdudi and Professor Abul Kashem at the request of the latter where these two verses were discussed in details. When Professor Kashem tried to justify labour as the source of production citing laisa lil insani illa ma sa‘a as the basis, Mawlana Mawdudi said, “Brother, wherever this verse has been used in the Quran, Allah used it for life after death. People will only get on the Day of Judgment that which they have earned in this world; so one will neither be blamed for someone else’s sins, nor will they be benefitted by other people’s good deeds. If you apply the socialist principle then children, old people, disabled – no one can have any wealth. They would have no right whereas Allah has categorically given them their rights.”

When Professor Kashem reminded that Islam does not support personal wealth as declared in the verse lillahi ma fis samawati wama fil ardh, Mawlana Mawdudi said, “Allah Himself has given the right to inheritance after the death of a person. He has allowed personal wealth. This misconception has been created due to not understanding the verse properly. Allah is the supreme owner and the ownership of human beings is controlled by Allah’s doctrines. Through that verse Allah tells humans that you are not the supreme owner of your wealth that you can use them however you like. Allah is the ultimate owner of your wealth and it is He who has given it to you, so it is the responsibility of human beings to follow the instructions of earning and spending wealth. Capitalism has been created due to violating those instructions, which has led to public being oppressed by the privileged few”.

I Have Always Loved Tamaddun Majlish

Although I left Tamaddun Majlish and joined Jamaat-e-Islami, I have always had a good impression about the organisation and never said anything negative about them. I have written in several books how grateful I am to the organisation as it is my involvement with this organisation that led me to join the Islamic movement.

After Mr Abdul Khaleq invited me to join Jamaat-e-Islami in 1954, and after reading two Urdu books he gave to me, I could feel that someone was dragging me to that organisation. I was satisfied with the spiritual side of Tabligh and the political side of Tamaddun Majlish, but when I realised that both could be found in Jamaat-e-Islami, then I decided to leave both these organisations and get involved in all aspects of Islam in one organisation rather than being involved in two.

Given my closeness to the Tablighi Jamaat, I am doubtful about whether I would have joined Jamaat-e-Islami had I not been involved with Tamaddun Majlish. I sincerely acknowledge the contribution of Tamaddun Majlish for paving the way for me to join Jamaat-e-Islami. I am forever grateful to Tablighi Jamaat and Tamaddun Majlish for their contribution towards my life as a Muslim. Tablighi Jamaat gave me the spirit of missionary work while Tamaddun Majlish made me the understanding Islam as a movement for social revolution. I first heard the term ‘Islamic movement’ from Tamaddun Majlish.

If brother Sulaiman had not come all the way from Chittagong to invite me to Tamaddun Majlish, I would not have joined it only by reading their literature. Similarly I would not have joined Jamaat-e-Islami had I not been approached by Mr Abdul Khaleq. From my own experience I have come to learn that people may be influenced by the speeches at public meetings or other gatherings, but no one joins an organisation if they are not personally approached by someone.

[1] A major coastal seaport city and financial centre in south eastern Bangladesh.

[2] An Islamic cultural organisation in Bangladesh, established in 1947 in erstwhile East Pakistan, which founded the Bangla Language Movement.

[3] The first article of faith in Islam.

[4] The Throne Verse or Ayatul Kursi, is the 255th verse (ayah) of the second chapter (sura) Al-Baqara in the Quran. It is one of the most famous verses of the Quran and is widely memorised and displayed in the Islamic world due to its emphatic description of Allah’s power over the entire universe.

[5] Quran (4:131)

[6] Quran (4:131)

[7] Quran (53:39)


1 Comment

  1. Abdul Aziz says:

    Very nice life story.

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