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
Chapter Twenty One
Introduction to Jamaat-e-Islami – Part 1
I was not a Member of any Political Party
In the early 1950s, I was the Ameer (President) of Tablighi Jamaat in Rangpur and at the same time the leader of the Rangpur chapter of Tamaddun Majlish. I was not aware of the existence of Jamaat-e-Islami till then. I had read and was influenced by the thoughts of Mawlana Mawdudi by reading the English translations of two of his books ‘The Process of Islamic Revolution’ and ‘Political Theory of Islam’, and the Bangla translation of another book Ekmatro Dhormo (The Only Religion) through my involvement with Tamaddun Majlish. However, I did not learn anything about the Jamaat-e-Islami organisation through reading those books.
I was not involved with any political party, though I once assisted in organising a public meeting of a party called the Khalafat Rabbani Party because I had become a fan of its leader Mr Abul Hashem while working as a student activist of the Pakistan movement, therefore I thought I should be of service to this incredible man. It was natural for people to think that I was involved with a political party as I was a teacher of political science and was very active with the language movement in Rangpur. Proposals for joining different political parties started to pour in similar to the manner in which people continue to propose to a marriageable girl until she is married. The first proposal came from the Muslim League when Mashiur Rahman Jadu Miah1 was the leader of the Muslim League, Rangpur branch and sent an advocate to see me. The man said to me, “You were active with the Pakistan movement during your student life and believe in Islamic ideology and Muslim nationalism. Pakistan was established under the leadership of the Muslim League and the party badly needs a leader like you. Mr Jadu Miah will come and see you if you agree to join.”
Why I Did not Join the Muslim League
I was already upset about the Muslim League due to its serious betrayal of the Islamic ideology by both the central and the provincial governments, and my annoyance intensified because of their role against the Bangla language movement. Moreover, after reading Mawlana Mawdudi’s ‘The Process of Islamic Revolution’ I became clear that there could be no service towards Islam by the Muslim League. Therefore, I politely told the representative of Jadu Miah that I had not yet decided to join any political party. I was not mentally prepared to join a political party that was not Islamic as I was involved with both Tablighi Jamaat and Tamaddun Majlish, and the impression about an Islamic political party I developed through reading Mawlana Maududi’s book made me sure that there was no such party in Pakistan at that time.
The Democratic Party
One of my comrades during the language movement in 1952, Sufi Motahar Hossain, asked me to join a political party called ‘The Democratic Party’. The party was not very big, but I decided to consider the proposal as I had known its leader Mahmud Ali since the Pakistan Movement. He later became the Provincial Secretary of the Muslim League when Mawlana Abdul Haid Khan Bhashani2 was its President. I did not know much about The Democratic Party, but understood by its name that democracy was its ideology. I also liked its leader and was close to Motahar through my involvement in the language movement, so I agreed to join the party and become the convener of the party’s Rangpur branch, though Motahar did the main work of the party, with me officially as the leader in Rangpur.
It was most likely 1953 when Mahmud Ali came to visit Rangpur to speak at a party event held at the District Board Hall, with me in the Chair and Motahar as the master of the ceremony. Interestingly, most speakers in the programme praised socialism more than democracy whereas there is no place of democracy in socialism. Although the Chief Guest Mahmud Ali spoke in favour of democracy, he maintained that the public do not get the benefit of democracy without socialism. I felt very embarrassed as the Chair of the event and realised that it was impossible to work with these people. However, I decided not say anything against socialism at that event and just spoke about the importance of democracy and strongly reminded everyone that Allah’s sovereignty should be the essence of all democratic work. After the programme, I invited Mr Mahmud Ali for dinner at my house in the college compound and handed over my resignation from membership of his party. He realised that I was not ‘fit’ to be a member of his party.
First Encounter with Jamaat-e-Islami
I had never been approached by anyone from Jamaat-e-Islami before and the party had no branch in Rangpur. Hence I never knew that such a party even existed. It was Allah’s blessing that He showed me the way in a miraculous fashion, i.e., without my intention or effort and without any direct approach from Jamaat I received its call and eventually decided to join them. The incident was very interesting.
I received a letter from Engineer Mukit, a central leader of Tabligh, that a group of Tablighi brothers were coming to North Bengal on foot, which meant they were stopping at different places on their way here and that they would reach Gaibandha (a neighbouring district) on a particular date where I should meet them. I reached Gaibanda on that day, which was Friday, and met the brothers from Dhaka. I was told that they have taken permission from the imam and the chair of the mosque committee for me to speak after the Friday prayers. To my surprise, the announcement after the prayer said that there would be two speakers – Ghulam Azam on behalf of Tablighi Jamaat and Abdul Khaleque on behalf of Jamaat-e-Islami. This is the first time I heard the name of Jamaat-e-Islami and was quite happy and eager to hear what they had to say.
I was given the opportunity to speak first. I talked about the six Usul (principles) of Tablighi Jamaat and invited everyone to join the brothers who came from Dhaka. Then Mr Abdul Khaleque talked about the revolutionary call of the Kalimah Tayyiba3 and asked everyone to join Jamaat-e-Islami to establish a society and a state based on the principles of Allah’s obedience and the Prophet’s leadership. After his speech he shook my hands and was introduced to me. We found out that we came from the same sub-district, so we felt closer to each other. He urged me to leave the mosque with him and I could not refuse.
He took me to the Jamaat office, which was in the living room of a tin-shed house, but looked clean and tidy. There were a few beautiful posters of Quranic verses with Urdu translations around the room with a bed in one corner next to a chair and a desk. I was informed that Mr Abdul Khaleque slept in that bed and worked on that desk and they would have their weekly programmes in the big living room space. Mr Abdul Khaleque put a cloth on the floor where we both sat for about ten minutes. He gave me two Urdu booklets before I left and said:
“Islam is not only a religion and the Prophet (PBUH) was not only a religious leader; Islam is a complete way of life given by Allah and it includes everything that the Prophet (PBUH) did for 23 years. He created an Islamic state in Madina and established the Islamic system of governance in the family, society and state. The whole life of the Prophet is Islam, and if we take only the spiritual side of it then we have only partially followed Islam. Human beings can have peace in this life and salvation after death only by establishing an Islamic society and state; while the vested interest groups who lead man-made social systems only do that to create and maintain their own leadership, power, and wealth so that they can dominate society and enjoy a comfortable life. Jamaat-e-Islami wants to build society and the state on the basis of the Quranic doctrines which the government does not like. One year ago they even wanted to hang Mawlana Mawdudi, but those who are involved with Jamaat do not care about imprisonment or the death sentence. I am giving you two booklets in Urdu written by Mawlana Mawdudi that haven’t yet been translated into Bangla. While reading these books just think about one question, “If the organisation (Tabligh) you work with wants to establish the Islam of the Prophet (PBUH), then why doesn’t the un-Islamic government of the country oppose it?”
My Reaction to the Meeting
Mr Abdul Khaleque’s question put me in a huge ocean of thought as I was aware of Islam’s revolutionary message through Tamaddun Majlish. The two books he gave were Banao our Bigar (Build and Break) and Hedayat (Guidance). He had to give me the Urdu versions as these books were not translated into Bangla then. I had learned to read Urdu during my Tablighi Chilla, but the language of the books was slightly difficult. I finished Banao our Bigar during my journey back to Rangpur and though it was challenging I could understand its core message.
I felt that someone was pulling me out of Tablighi Jamaat and dragging me towards Jamaat-e-Islami. I became restless after connecting the message of that book with the book I previously read by the same author ‘The Process of Islamic Revolution’, which talks about Allah’s role in the running of a society and a state. Moreover, the more I searched for the answer to Mr Abdul Khaleque’s powerful question, the more perplexed I became and found no logical answer. In this restless condition I went to my next door neighbour Mawlana Syed Ishaq Ahmed who was a senior colleague and a professor of Arabic. Despite our age gap, we were very close. I asked him to read the book and said, “I have come to know a new Islamic movement called Jamaat-e-Islami and I want to talk with you about it after you have read this book.” I met him at 10 pm the night I reached Rangpur from Gaibandha. The next morning after breakfast I started to read the other book, Hedayat, when Professor Ishaq came to my house and, in a voice filled with emotion, said, “Where did you get this book? I finished it last night and have been unable to sleep well since then. Please give me another book by the same author if you have one.” I discussed with him the question Mr Abdul Khaleque asked me. Before he left, Professor Ishaq took the book Hedayat before I could finish.
It was March 1954. The college was closed then at that time; if this were not so, I would have had a lot of problems. I was so restless that I began to develop irregular eating and sleeping habits. I was so sincerely involved with Tablighi Jamaat that it was difficult for me to leave that organisation. I was going through a huge mental turmoil as confusion about the deen is a very complex matter. I felt very tense because the success or failure in the hereafter is directly related to my decision to stay with or leave Tablighi Jamaat. My attraction towards Jamaat-e-Islami increased when I talked to Professor Ishaq, and I was surprised by how quickly he became contented while I remained indecisive. It was probably simple for him to make such a decision quickly because, unlike me, he didn’t have to leave an organisation. After reading Hedayat Professor Ishaq said, “I have never had such beautiful impression about the relationship with Allah. I kept pleading to Allah for guidance after reading this book and He helped me make the right decision”.
As my wife and two small children were at my in-laws at that time I kept myself fully occupied thinking about this issue day and night. I felt uneasy as I had never found myself in that situation before and thought that I should talk to Mr Abdul Khaleque about it. Two weeks passed in that way when I received an encouraging letter from Mr Abdul Khaleque in which he invited me to attend a conference of Jamaat-e-Islami in Gaibandha where central leaders of the party would arrive from Dhaka. I was already considering going to Gaibandha to meet Mr Abdul Khaleque, so I immediately decided to attend the conference and began to feel better thinking that I would get to know Jamaat-e-Islami better by attending their conference. I started to count days until I would attend the conference.
1 A former Bangladesh Senior Minister, with the rank and status of a Prime Minister, during the presidency of Ziaur Rahman.
2 Mawlana Bhashani is regarded as the proponent of anti-imperialist, non-communal and left-leaning politics by his admirers in present-day Bangladesh and beyond.
3 The first article of faith that declares that there is no god but Allah and Muhammad (PBUH) is his messenger and servant.