Professor Ghulam Azam

My Journey Through Life Part 10


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My Journey Through Life Part 10





(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 Ten

Contributions of Two Great Scholars


Mawlana Shamsul Haque Faridpuri

As mentioned in the previous chapter, I used to visit the office of Monthly Neyamot regularly after starting my education in Dhaka and developed a special rapport with its editor Mr Abdus Salam. Mr Salam informed me that Mawlana Shamsul Haque Fardipuri was a teacher at the Boro Katra Mosque in Dhaka and suggested that I could meet him following the afternoon prayer at Chakbazar Mosque any day. I went to see him accordingly and found him surrounded by some people who were asking him questions on Islamic jurisprudence and he was replying to them briefly with a constant smile in his face. Some people were also asking his advice on their personal problems. I realised that people loved and respected him like a sufi leader.

I was sitting quietly amidst older and knowledgeable people and felt a bit overwhelmed as I was only a teenager in front of a great Islamic scholar. I kept looking at him and wondering how to approach him, and noticed that he was also staring at me while answering other peoples’ questions. After he dealt with all the questions that day he signalled me to go near him. He shook my hands and asked me the reason for my visit. I was waiting for this opportunity and kept talking to him for a few minutes while the elders around me looked surprised at how a scholar like him was listening to a young boy with such interest. I told him how I was introduced to Mawlana Ashraf Ali Thanvi’s works in the Neyamot magazine through his translations and asked him where I could find his books and whether I could visit him sometimes. He affectionately stroke my back and told me that I was always welcome to visit him and that his books could be found in the library below the mosque.

I became a regular visitor of the Chakbazar Mosque to listen to Mawlana Faridpuri. It was difficult to find him alone; there would always be 15/20 people around him who used to ask questions about different issues of Islamic jurisprudence and other religious advice and I would learn valuable things from his answers. I didn’t ask too many questions, but would only listen to his conversations with others. After the question and answer sessions finished he would inquire about my well-being and ask which books I was reading and recommend which ones to read next. He later left Boro Katra Madrasah and began a new madrasah at Lalbagh Shahi Mosque.

My communication with Mawlana Faridpuri became infrequent while I was in university. I met him several times after I joined Tabligh Jamaat[1] and attended monthly meetings of Tabligh at Lalbagh Shahi Mosque. Our meetings occurred even less often after I started teaching at Rangpur Carmichael College, though I met him several times for Tabligh programmes. When I used to speak at the monthly meetings of Lalbagh Shahi Mosque I heard that he listened to my speeches with interest. When I went to see Mawlana Fardipuri in 1954 after joining Jamaat-e-Islami, he became very happy and hugged me. Finding everyone surprised he said, “I knew from his speeches in Tabligh Jamaat programmes that the programmes of Tabligh can’t keep him for long.” He asked the people around him, “Didn’t I tell you this?” A number of them said, “Yes, you had said that several times”.

My close relationship with Mawlana Faridpuri contributed immensely towards my development as a Muslim. What I admired most about him was his big heart. The general trend is when people are involved with a type of religious organisation, they usually don’t regard other similar organisations very highly, but Mawlana Faridpuri was an exception who always acknowledged contributions of everyone who served Islam. He used to encourage me while I was in Tabligh, and the encouragement even intensified when I joined Jamaat-e-Islami. When Ayub Khan[2] banned politics in 1959, Jamaat organised Islamic seminars around the country and Mawlana Faridpuri attended several of them as the chief guest. His health was in poor condition, but he still attended some seminars outside Dhaka. His attitude of acknowledging everyone’s contribution towards Islam influenced me greatly and I tried to do the same when I returned to Bangladesh in 1978 after my exiled life. I wrote a book called Islami Oikko Islami Andolon (Islamic Unity and Islamic Movement), the philosophy behind which was the contribution of Mawlana Faridpuri. The most important teaching I received from him was to respect all Islamic scholars. There can be differences of opinions, but one can learn many things from a scholar because of the qualities they possess. That is why I respect all scholars and try to build good relationships with them, even with those who oppose and condemn Mawlana Maududi.

Mawlana Faridpuri took me to speak at different programmes. His concerns for me was at a personal level as well. He once told me, “I can clearly see exhaustion in your face. When I was young like you I was not at all health conscious and due to my negligence towards eating and sleeping I am now suffering from chronic illnesses. I have not been able to fully utilise whatever ability Allah has given me due to my poor health and am wondering how I will answer Allah when He will ask me why I failed to look after the good health He had bestowed on me. You should learn from this bitter experience of mine. Always keep some dry food or fruits with you when you are travelling. Remember to take rest whenever you feel tired. Try to be regular in meals, rest and shower. Always remember that good health is Allah’s blessing and it is your responsibility to look after yourself.” Later in 1957, when political activities were banned during the rule of Ayub Khan, I fell ill and had to be hospitalised. Mawlana Faridpuri came to see me in hospital and said, “I advised you a few years ago about taking care of your health, but you probably didn’t pay much attention to it, and consequently you are in hospital.” I promised him that I would not forget his advice in future, and thankfully, I was able to maintain my health much better after that.

If we had more scholars like Mawlana Faridpuri who could show magnanimity like him then there would have been no problem in unifying all Islamic organisations. Unfortunately, despite having so many Islamic scholars and organisations it is the anti-Islamic forces that are governing the country. That is why I miss a scholar like Mawlana Faridpuri dearly.


Mawlana Noor Muhammad Azmi[3]

It was Mawlana Shamsul Haque Faridpuri who introduced me to Mawlana Noor Muhammad Azmi. When Awami League formed government in East Pakistan in 1956 with Ataur Rahman as Prime Minister and in charge of the Education Ministry, he created an education commission and declared the madrasah education system as useless and a complete waste. I wrote a big article entitled, “A Framework of Islamic Education” to explain the importance of madrasah education. I met Mawlana Akram Khan, the founder of Daily Azad with the article who liked it very much and published it in his newspaper, and later the then editor of the newspaper, Abul Kalam Shamsuddin, wrote a post-editorial on the article appreciating it. It was this article that ultimately led to my close relationship with Mawlana Azmi.

I had been previously introduced with Mawlana Azmi at Mawlana Faridpuri’s office at Lalbagh Madrasah, but did not have the opportunity to be close to him. After the publication of my article Mawlana Akram Khan organised a meeting at his residence and invited Mawlana Faridpuri, Mawlana Azmi, Mawlana Abdur Rahim[4] and others and asked me to join as well. As soon as I arrived Mawlana Azmi hugged me with deep affection and congratulated me for the article. I was really moved by the way he showed his love towards me and gradually our relationship became more and more close.

A ten member ‘Islamic Education Commission’ was formed in that meeting with Mawlana Akram Khan its chair and me its secretary. The committee made some recommendations to the government to Islamise the education system and create a link between the general and the madrasah education. Mawlana Azmi made the biggest contribution to the preparation of these recommendations with Mawlana Faridpuri also contributing well. During that process I had the opportunity to work closely with Mawlana Azmi. I met him many times after that and would often see him for his advice. He loved Jamaat-e-Islami so much that he would be keen to advise Jamaat about different Islamic issues from time to time.

I was always impressed by Mawlana Azmi’s vast knowledge and thoughtful opinions on different aspects of Islam. I found few Bengali scholars at that time of his calibre. His translation and explanation of Mishkat Sharif [5] was of high literary standard. However, for the majority of the time he suffered from ill health and I used to feel bad that he could not contribute as much as he was qualified to due to poor health. When I expressed my frustration to him he said, “I received the impression from the doctor that my illness has no cure, but what is the use of having a long life in this condition? I am, therefore, praying to Allah that He gives Mawlana Mawdudi my part of life as he is serving Islam in such a large scale.” I was not aware before then how much he loved Mawlana Mawdudi and after that then my respect for him increased even more.

Among other Islamic scholars I was close to and always received affectionate love from were the legendary journalist of Muslim Bengal Mawlana Akram Khan and the founder of Nizam-e-Islam Party Mawlana Athar Ali. Other prominent scholars for whom I have deep respect include Mawlana Abdul Aziz (Khulnavi), Mawlana Ziauddin Aligarhi, Mawlana Mufti Deen Muhammad, Mawlana Mufti Amimul Ihsan, Mawlana Abdullahil Baki Al Quraishi, Mawlana Siddiq Ahmed, Mawlana Syed Muslehuddin, Mawlana Syed Mustafa Al-Madani, Mawlana Syed Abdul Ahad Al-Madani and Mawlana Tajul Islam (may Allah be pleased with all of them).

The close bond I had with Mawlana Shamsul Haque Faridpuri and Mawlana Nur Muhammad Azmi (may Allah be pleased with them) and the love and affection I received from these two great scholars have contributed hugely towards my work and development in the cause of Islam. I have come across many scholars of Islam in my life, but I remember these two individuals with special love and respect. They had the magnanimity of acknowledging the contribution of any person who had served Islam. I never heard them talk ill of others. They sincerely wanted the movement for the establishment of Allah’s Deen[6] to be on the right path and would always give me valuable advice. I have always felt that their thoughts on Islam were exactly in the same line.


[1] An Islamic religious movement based on the principle of the “Work of the Prophets” inviting to Allah in the manner of prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

[2] President of Pakistan in 1950s and 1960s

[3] Another prominent Islamic scholar of that time, contemporary to Mawlana Faridpuri

[4] Former President of Jamaat-e-Islami of the then East Pakistan

[5] A revered book of hadith compilation

[6] The path along which righteous Muslims travel in order to comply with divine law

My Journey Through Life Part 9





(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 Nine

Growing Up as a Muslim

I was 19 when I completed my high madrasah education in 1942. I learned how to read the Qur’an before my primary education and continued to read the Qur’an in this way for 13 years. I learned Bangla, English and Arabic in whatever way I could in those years and learned about Islamic jurisprudence and customs through books and translations of the Qur’an and hadith[1]. I also learned about moral values from some books in Bangla and English. However, there was no book on Islam that would provoke my thoughts, so whatever I learned and practiced about Islam was outside my educational experience.

My grandfather helped me develop the practice of regular prayers and daily recitation of the Holy Qur’an. He also taught me some essential Islamic food etiquettes, such as starting to eat by saying Bismillah[2], ending the meal with Alhamdulillah[3], not wasting food etc. While staying in student halls I could guess fellow students’ family backgrounds by their food etiquettes. Some had very annoying habits which made me feel the importance of learning these etiquettes during childhood, as it is difficult to teach such things when people grow older.


Attraction for Waz[4]

I don’t know why, but I loved to listen to waz from childhood and used to organise children of my age to walk a few miles to attend waz programmes. The speakers at that time would quote poets like Sheikh Saadi and Mawlana Rumi more than quoting from the Qur’an and hadith. They would recite works of those Persian poets in such beautiful melodies that we enjoyed them even without understanding what they meant. Their explanations of those poems and the lessons behind them were very catchy and I used to feel how they influenced me in my life. The teachings of those wonderful stories, such as the importance of truthfulness, the dangers of telling lies, the negative effects of causing harm to others; the humiliating consequences of breaking promises and so on would be explained so eloquently that I realised how some of these vices could lead to troubles in this life.

Almost all speakers used to narrate the story of Adam (PBUH[5]) and Iblis (Satan). Instead of finding them inspiring, some fundamental questions arose in my mind that no one could answer satisfactorily. These questions made me feel very uncomfortable, but I couldn’t find their real answers until I read works of Mawlana Mawdudi[6]. Some of these questions include:

  1. Allah secretly taught Adam (PBUH) answers to some questions that the angels failed to answer. Does this mean Allah was not impartial?
  2. Many people narrate the story that if Adam and his wife Hawa (peace be on them) did not eat the forbidden fruit then they would have stayed in heaven forever. If that is true, then what about Allah’s declaration that He created human beings as his representatives on this earth?
  3. If Adam (PBUH) was sent to this earth as a punishment then how did he acquire the status of prophet?

I found brilliant answers to all these questions that used to bother me in Tafhim-ul-Qur’an[7] and thought of writing on this issue separately. While I was in jail in 1992-93 I wrote a book named Adam Srishtir Hakikot (The Significance of Adam’s Creation) where I analysed the seven places in the Qur’an where the story of Adam (PBUH) and Iblis are narrated. I tried to prove that the real significance of this story is very different from that which is commonly narrated in waz programmes.


Interest in Islamic Literature

As already mentioned, there were no textbooks that succeeded in enlightening me with the knowledge of Islam as a way of life, and the books I used to borrow from my madrasahs’ libraries were of no use either. When I was in Class 8 in Comilla a student two classes senior to me called Abdul Qayyum used to live as a tutored lodger in a house on the way from my madrasah. He used to call me and my friends to his room and give us some snacks to eat and read to us from a monthly magazine. I started to like the content of the magazine after a few visits and came to know that it was a Dhaka-based monthly magazine called ‘Neyamot’. It used to contain translations of waz by Mawlana Ashraf Ali Thanvi[8] (may Allah be pleased with him) translated by Mawlana Shamsul Haque Faridpuri[9]. Abdul Qayyum never let us borrow his books; he preferred to read them aloud to us. Most students stopped calling on his residence after a few days, but I found my visits very fascinating and continued to visit him.

I was very impressed by the waz of Mawlana Thanvi. He used to recite a particular portion of the Qur’an followed by its translation and explanation in a very logical style giving us a clear idea about the main aspects of those verses. The monthly Neyamot would consist of one topic from his waz every month. I was so overwhelmed by this that I would eagerly wait for each new edition and until it arrived Abdul Qayyum would read to me from other books by Mawlana Thanvi. I can never forget the contribution of Abdul Qayyum in creating my interest in Islamic literature, through which I was exposed to the writings of both Mawlana Thanvi and Mawlana Fardipuri. When I started Class 9 in Dhaka I went to the monthly Neyamot office and became a subscriber. I developed a good rapport with its editor, Mawlana Abdus Salam, who was from my own district of Brahmanbaria. It was he who introduced me to the great personality of Mawlana Shamsul Haque Faridpuri.

Until then I understood Islam as a religion from my parents and grandparents and obeyed their orders in practising it. Although Mawlana Thanvi’s books gave me the confidence that Islam was a logical religion, I was still not aware that it was a complete way of life. However, Mawlana Thanvi’s greatest contribution to me was that he created my thirst for learning Islam.


Strict Practice of Islam at Home

My father was uncompromising about the practice of Islam in our daily lives. The following are some examples:

  1. Praying in congregation: When I was in Chandina the mosque was a little far from our house. He used to pray five times at the mosque and encouraged us to do the same. He would become angry if we sometimes failed to go to the mosque. When we moved to Dhaka in 1953 he used to pray regularly at the mosque next to the Ramna Police Station. The distance to the mosque in Dhaka was similar to that of Chandina. When my eldest son was in Class 6 he arranged prayers in congregation at home. The first reason was that he found it difficult to walk to every prayer due to his arthritis, and secondly he wanted his grandson to grow the habit of praying in congregation. He subsequently decided that he would build a mosque on his property in Moghbazar. He realised that it would be difficult to take all his grandchildren to the mosque near Ramna Police Station, so it was necessary to have a mosque at home. The first floor of the present three-storeyed Moghbazar Kazi Office Lane Mosque was built entirely from his own expenses without any external help. The mosque began operating from the first day of Ramadan in 1971.
  2. Keeping a beard: My youngest uncle, Mr Shafiqul Islam, was three years older than me. When I was in Class 8 in Comilla in 1939 he was studying in Dhaka Government Intermediate College. My father noticed when he came to Chandina that my uncle had started shaving his beard. My father told him, “It is Sunnah[10] to keep a beard and Allah has made this for men only. If you don’t keep a beard then it means that you prefer to be like a woman. I want you to keep a beard and if you don’t then I will have to stop paying for your education.” When my uncle came home the following summer with a bearded face my father became extremely happy, hugged my uncle and said to him with tears in his eyes, “If you follow the path of Allah and His Prophet then you will succeed in both the worlds.” My mother also joined the celebration and held a mirror in front of my uncle saying, “See, how handsome you look!”

This incident of my uncle made such a big impact in our family that all those who were dependent on our father – we four brothers and the first two sons of our eldest uncle – kept a beard from the beginning. I first grew a beard in 1942 when I started Islamic Intermediate College. Initially I had some scattered facial hair, so some of my friends suggested that to make my beard look good I should shave it for a while. I remember that one of my roommates shaved my beard a few times, which made my conscience hurt. I didn’t let him continue this as I was supposed to go back home in a couple of months. When I returned to the hostel after the summer holidays my beard was big enough to be noticed. Although some of my friends were not happy to see me with a beard, a number of them felt encouraged to keep a beard themselves. One of them said, “We decided to keep a beard looking at you. We had also thought that we needed to shave for a while to make the beard look good, but your beautiful beard changed our minds.”

I found very few students with a beard in university. Even students of Arabic and Islamic Studies hardly had a beard except those who came from madrasahs. The only prominent academic with a beard was Dr Muhammad Shahidullah. After retirement Dr Shahidullah used to run a Qur’an class in the prayer room of Fazlul Haque Muslim Hall, which I used to attend regularly. He was a short man, but his beard was quite big compared to his physique. One day, he held his beard in his fingers and asked, “How much does my beard weigh?” When students found this question quite surprising he said, “Then why do most of you shave your beard? Do you think it is too heavy?” He also said that people look at bearded people with respect. This I found to be very true throughout my life. During my terms at the Dhaka University Student Union I used to notice that students would behave more gently when I was around. Even the only female member of the union would cover her head when I used to come to the union office.

  1. Wearing clothing above the ankles: My father would never hesitate to suggest to people not to wear clothes below the ankles. As there are strong words against it in the hadith, he was justified to put emphasis on this. None of my classmates were concerned about this, so my clothes also used to be below the ankle. I would only raise clothes above the ankle before prayer and roll them back after finishing the prayer. However, we never dared to wear clothes that crossed the ankle in front of my father. We would pull our pyjama bottoms up to ensure that they were above the ankle before we met him and go back to the previous position afterwards. This behaviour was completely unacceptable. After reading the book Witness unto Mankind by Mawlana Maududi I realised that this type of behaviour is normal if one is not fully aware of what Iman (faith) means and does not develop the true spirits of Islam. I stopped wearing clothes below the ankle as soon as I became truly conscious about Iman and Islam.
  2. Wearing shirts and trousers: No one in our family was used to wearing shirts and trousers. My uncle Shafiqul Islam was a student leader during the Pakistan movement and used to stay in the famous Bekar Hostel of Kolkata while studying at Kolkata Presidency College. Yet he would always wear pyjama bottoms[11] and shirts and never wore shirts or trousers. When my younger brother started hospital duty in the third year of his medical college studies in Kolkata Medical College, he wrote a letter to my father seeking permission to wear trousers. He didn’t dare to wear trousers himself without my father’s permission due to my father’s uncompromising attitudes towards religious practice. My brother thought it was necessary to avoid his long shirt touching the patients and as it would look very odd to tuck his shirt inside his pyjama bottoms, he thought it would be better to wear trousers. My father replied, “If you can’t study medicine without wearing trousers, then it is better to leave this subject.” With the grace of the Almighty this brother of mine passed with a gold medal award wearing pyjama bottoms and shirts throughout his student life.

I too spent my university life, including my roles at hall and university unions, wearing pyjama bottoms and shirts although most of my fellow students used to wear shirts and trousers. When I started my teaching career at Rangpur Carmichael College in December 1950 I found it very difficult to keep myself warm with pyjama bottoms and shirts, so I had to wear warm trousers and a sherwani[12]. I ensured that my tailor stitched the trousers above the ankle. When I arrived back home for holidays wearing sherwani and trousers I found my brother Dr Ghulam Muazzam and my father sitting on the veranda. I observed that my brother was staring at my trousers and then looking at my father. After doing that for several times my father understood what he was thinking. He said to my brother, “I never considered wearing trousers to be haram[13], but had thought that trousers are always worn below the ankle. I was unaware that it was possible to wear trousers above the ankle. That is why I didn’t give you permission to wear trousers. I have no problem if you wear trousers above the ankle. However, although wearing shirts is permitted in Islam, I don’t like it.” After this my brother also started wearing trousers.

When Dr Ghulam Muazzam went to London for higher studies he took with him warm trousers and a sherwani. One of his classmates told him that he would not be given his degree if he didn’t wear a suit. I heard from my brother that his individuality was rather appreciated and he was always praised as a good student. When Dr Muazzam was working as a pathologist at Dhaka Medical College, the principal once told him, “You should come properly dressed.” Dr Muazzam asked him, “What dress is proper according to you?” The principal, in a rude voice, said, “Don’t you see what other doctors wear?” Muazzam replied in a firm voice, “I have seen sweepers wearing that type of dress in England. It is their national dress, not the uniform of a doctor.” The principal preferred to remain silent after this.

Some people may not like my father’s strict attitude towards religious principles, but the lessons I had from this have been extremely valuable for me. We do everything for our children’s worldly successes and never hesitate to sacrifice for them, but how many parents are serious about their success in the hereafter? I have seen many pious people not even bothering to ensure that their children pray five times a day and not worried if their daughters don’t wear the hijab. They are only happy if they do well in their exams and succeed in this world. They forget that they will have to answer to Allah on the Day of Judgment if their children are derailed due to their negligence. If my father had not been strict then it would have been difficult for his children to lead an Islamic lifestyle being brought up in a secular educational environment. There is little scope of bringing up our children as a Muslim in our general educational system. Those who are able to live as a Muslim have been able to do so only because of their parents’ influence.


[1] Teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) including sayings, actions and tacit approvals.

[2] In the name of Allah

[3] All praise is to Allah

[4] A traditional Islamic gathering with massive attendance in Bangladesh with an Islamic scholar speaking about different aspects of Islam and narrating stories about the prophet and his companions.

[5] Peace be upon him

[6] A renowned Islamic thinker and founder of Jamaat-e-Islami

[7] ‘’Towards Understanding the Qur’an” translation and explanation of the Qur’an by Syed Abul Ala Mawdudi

[8] A prominent late 19th and early 20th century South Asian scholar from the Deobandi school of thought.

[9] A famous 20th century Islamic scholar in East Bengal

[10] Teachings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)

[11] A type of trousers worn in Bangladesh as distinct from the salwar bottoms worn in Pakistan.

[12] A knee-length coat buttoning to the neck, worn by men from South Asia.

[13] Forbidden in Islam

My Journey Through Life Part 8







(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 Eight

University Education

I passed my Higher Secondary Exams (IA) in May 1944. In undivided Bengal all the general colleges of Dhaka city and all Islamic Intermediate Colleges of Bengal were under the Dhaka Board; the rest were under the Kolkata Board. Seven out of the first ten winners of first grade scholarship in Dhaka Board were from Islamic Intermediate College – myself included. All of us who passed from this college that year enrolled in Dhaka University, which was the only university in East Bengal. There were five colleges in Bengal at that time known as ‘premier colleges’ of which four were from East Bengal. The four premier colleges in East Bengal were Comilla Victoria College, Barisal BM College, Rangpur Carmichael College and Mymensingh MM College. The only premier college in West Bengal was Kolkata Presidency College.

Which Subject to Study?

Many people nowadays plan long ahead which subjects they would study. There was no such plan at least by me at that time. My father always emphasised one thing – to master Bangla, English and Arabic, which according to him was the mantra of success in all aspects of life. There was no plan about my future career, so the question arose which subject I should choose to study at university. It was mandatory for scholarship holders to study a three-year Bachelor’s degree with honours, without which the scholarship would be cancelled.  To help in making a decision I, along with some friends, approached our favourite English teacher Syed Mainul Ahsan at his residence in Nazimuddin Road. I was thinking of studying either English Literature or Political Science for my degree, but our English professor spoke for ten minutes encouraging us to study Arabic. The logic he attempted to give was to take a subject that would enable us to get high marks that would lead us to a good government job.

Hindus at that time were much more advanced than Muslims in education, for which reason it was difficult to compete with them in the job market, particularly in the academic sector, so the government sector would be preferable. As a Muslim-majority state the Muslim government of East Bengal were keen to have people from the community in government positions, but it was difficult to exceed the Hindus by competing with them. He said, “As you are good students you should target the civil service and studying Arabic will give you more opportunity to score highly and do better in the competition.” He suggested that subjects like English, Economics, Political Science etc. can be taken as minor subjects. The Pakistan movement had not found much momentum then and there was no sign of the establishment of Pakistan – a separate state for Muslims – so in that situation we found his arguments logical and we all decided to study Arabic. I chose English and Political Science as my minor subjects.

Choosing a Student Halls

Dhaka University has been a residential university since its inception, so the majority of its students stay in one of the student halls. Those who don’t stay in halls also need to be attached to one of the halls. Both residents and non-residents of a hall could vote in the hall union elections. There were four student halls at that time, two for Hindus and two for Muslims. The university started with two halls – Salimullah Muslim Hall and Jagannath (Hindu) Hall and later Fazlul Haque Muslim Hall and Dhaka (Hindu) Hall were opened.

I didn’t choose Salimullah Muslim Hall despite its reputation and beautiful architecture; I didn’t like the halls being scattered in different places. I decided to stay in Fazlul Haque Muslim Hall as it was near the building where the classes were held. Thus my university life began as a resident of Fazlul Haque Muslim Hall in July 1944. The provost of the Hall at that time was Dr Mahmud Hossain, who was a Reader in the History department and later became the Vice Chancellor of the university. I last met him in 1957 while he was working at Karachi University. He loved his students very much and used to speak to them frankly. He was originally from Delhi and was once elected in Pakistan Parliament as a representative of East Pakistan. His elder brother was the renowned educationalist Dr Zakir Hossain who founded Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi. He was also the Vice chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University and became the President of India during the premiership of Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru.

There were two house tutors in Fazlul Haque Muslim Hall. One of them, Dr Mazharul Haque, was a lecturer in Economics (and later became a prominent economist). Dr Haque called me in his office one day and asked me, “Why did a talented student like you choose to study a degree in Arabic? Generally only those from madrasah background study Arabic and some choose it as an easy subject to get a university degree. You did the opposite. You chose English and Political Science as your minor subjects, but Arabic as your major subject. I am surprised!” When I related the reasoning behind my decision he commented, “It was the wrong advice from your English teacher.”

University Lectures

I was very enthusiastic about the lectures in university as I had a very good impression of university lecturers. The distribution of marks in my degree was 800 for honours in Arabic, 300 each for the two minor subjects English and Political Science, and 100 for Bangla – compulsory for all students in the university. All teachers in English, Bangla and Political Science were Hindus and their lectures were very enjoyable. I used to note down the summary of these lectures with great care, which would be very useful during my exams. Teachers would ask questions in class that also contributed well towards my notes. Our English teacher took five days to talk about Shakespeare before introducing his works. Similarly our English poetry teacher would first talk about poets like Wordsworth, Tennyson, Byron and so on before discussing their poems. The lectures of Political Science were also very interesting and I could feel that I was learning something. A lot could be learned from my Bangla teachers as well. I would ensure that I never missed any lectures of these three subjects. It became my passion to attend all lectures irrespective of any other commitments and take down notes of each lecture. I never missed a lecture even when I was actively involved with the hall union. If I ever missed a session due to illness, I would make sure that I copied class notes from the better students in class.

The lectures I felt most uncomfortable with were my Arabic classes. The only class I enjoyed was Islamic Philosophy, taught by an Indian professor named Syed Jilani. Those who taught Arabic poetry and prose hardly gave lectures, but would merely read out English translations of the texts and give us dictations. It was not helpful to learn Arabic at all. I had expected them to give lectures in Arabic, as done by the English teachers in English classes, but it was not to be. They never gave lectures in Arabic and would just read out the Arabic of textbooks.  There were no printed translations of the Arabic texts at that time as no publisher found it a lucrative business proposition. Therefore, teachers would read out the notes they had written and we would copy them. I used to consider it a complete waste of time as I could get the meanings of words from the dictionary myself. Although the Arabic grammar teacher was good, what use is there in grammar if it doesn’t facilitate language learning? Grammar does not teach a language, it merely corrects the mistakes. Without competence in language I found the grammar lessons meaningless. There was a textbook by Abdur Rahman Awqabi who tried to copy the style of the Qur’an in his book. The teacher used to recite the book as if he was reciting the Qur’an. Hearing this, some badly-behaved students used to say, Subhan Alla[1], Marhaba[2] etc. The teacher never felt embarrassed that the students were making fun of him. He never spoke anything about its content other than dictating its translation to us. This continued for six months and my irritation towards my Arabic classes continued to rise.

I strongly felt that taking Arabic as a major subject was of no use. I felt no progress in my command over the Arabic language since I left college. I tried to explore the possibility of changing my major subject.  The other two options I had for a major subject were English and Political Science. I felt more inclined towards political science and approached the head of the department Professor D N Banerjee. He was happy that I wished to major in his subject, but told me that it was too late for that year, so I had to wait until July the following year to enrol in the department. I became very worried. I was neither ready to lose another year from my academic life, nor was I happy to continue with Arabic. I also came to know that if I chose pass course degree[3] instead of an honours degree then I would lose my scholarship and would also need to pay fees for my studies, which were exempted due to my scholarship. I went back home to Chandina for the winter vacation with this dilemma.

I was unsure how my father would react to my decision. He had been exceptionally glad when I chose to major in Arabic. I was not certain whether or not he would allow me to leave the subject. The other problem was that he would now have to pay for my educational expenses as I would lose my scholarship. I took a good few days to prepare myself how to approach my father. I was so anxious that my food and sleep were affected. My father noticed this condition of mine and asked me one day why I looked so tense. I couldn’t say a word and tears began to roll down my cheeks. My father became very concerned. I then told him everything. It was a big relief when he replied; I was overwhelmed by his confidence in me. He said, “I only want you to do well in your studies. Financial losses don’t factor to me at all. It is not possible to study a subject without feeling comfortable about it. Whatever decision you take I will support you.” I felt a heavy burden released from my shoulders and I decided at once that I would not lose another year and would complete my degree in pass course and then do a master’s degree.

University Environment

The two-storied hall building of Fazlul Haque Muslim Hall (now three-storied) had student accommodation on three sides and the southern side had a big gate, which had the offices and residences of the two house tutors on its two sides. There was a pond on the western side of the hall and on its other side was the Dhaka Hall for Hindus (now Shahidullah Hall). There was no scope to take shower inside the halls at that time, so students used to bathe in the pond.

I really liked the hall environment. There was a wonderful tradition of juniors respecting the seniors, for example, by letting the seniors sit on the dining table first, making way for them while walking, giving the seniors priority while having bath in the pond and letting them jump the queues for the toilet. The environment was so nice that the seniors would often forfeit their advantages and would affectionately let the juniors enjoy a particular privilege. If they would take the privilege due to time constraints they would never forget to thank the juniors for their generosity. Good students used to get special treatment and juniors used to greet them with special respect. This type of environment is unthinkable in modern times. Even the teachers hardly get this type of respect. While attending the 40th anniversary of Fazlul Haque Muslim Hall in 1979, I asked the then provost Dr Mohabbat Ali what type of respect he received from his students compared to the older days. He replied in a sad voice, “I just somehow manage to maintain my dignity”.

Although boys and girls would study in the same class, the seating environment was such that there was little scope of free mixing. One could hardly see male and female students chatting in the campus. Girls would usually walk together from one building to another. There were more Hindu girls than Muslims and they could be easily distinguished by the way they used to wear their saris. Muslim girls would always cover their heads, while unmarried Hindu girls would keep them open. Although married Hindu girls would cover their heads, they would also have sindoor [4] on their heads.

Cultural Activities

Debate and speech competitions organized by the cultural units of hall unions were very popular and the competitions used to be very lively. The influence of English literature was so high that even science students would quote Shakespeare, Tennyson, Wordsworth, Byron, Bernard Shaw, Keats etc. in their speeches. It is worth mentioning that all speech competitions were in English. The concept of cultural functions did not mean the dominance of dance, music and drama that is seen in modern times. In plays boys would dress as girls who could rarely be seen singing on stage. In music, Qawwali[5] used to be the most popular genre. Songs were the most prominent item during the cultural programmes for the inauguration of newly elected hall unions. There would be dance as well, but no female over the age of 10 was allowed to dance. There was no hint of vulgarity in the university and hall campuses. Education was always the main focus.

[1] Glory be to Allah; generally used by Muslims to express awe.

[2] Used as a greeting in Arabic. In Bangla it is mostly used to congratulate someone.

[3] Degree without honours.

[4] Red pigment made from powdered red lead, especially as applied as a dot on the forehead or in the parting of the hair of married Hindu women.

[5] A form of sufi devotional music

My Journey Through Life Part 7







(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 Seven

My Hostel Life and Dhaka City


I spent four and a half years in different student hostels in Dhaka from Class 9 prior to my intermediate exams. I started my hostel life in January 1940 in a two-storeyed building in Koltabazar, Dhaka, situated at the north of my Islamic Intermediate College. There was a mosque near the hostel, where I prayed five times a day. In January 1941 our hostel moved to another two-storeyed building near the gate of Dhaka Nawab Bari (residence of the Nawab[1] family) in Islampur Road, where I stayed until my high madrasah exams in March 1942. From March 1942 to April 1944, during my higher secondary education, I lived in the Paradise Hostel which was located in a big one-storey building adjacent to the eastern gate of Nawab Bari.

Koltabazar Hostel

There were 20-25 students in this hostel from Class 8 to 10. I was first in a room with four beds; however, the hostel superintendent later changed me to a room with two beds. As mentioned previously, this hostel superintendent was my inspiration for joining the scout movement. He was very affectionate towards me and would always inquire after the progress of my studies. He maintained strict discipline in the hostel. Students always feared him, but at the same time respected him for the way he looked after them. Between every evening and night prayers, he would begin his inspection by checking the students upstairs. . Upon hearing his footsteps, the students downstairs would immediately sit at their desks and study. He did not enter, or require the students to greet him outside their rooms; he merely wanted to ensure that they were studying. He would not tolerate smoking and would fine students who were caught doing so. Smokers learnt to be extra cautious and so no trace of any cigarette could be found inside the hostel.

The hostel was state-run and our monthly food bill was four and a half taka[2]. The health and safety standard was reasonably well due to the superintendent’s sincere efforts. Initially, my mother was worried about the standard of food and its consequent effect on my health.  However, upon my first visit home after staying in the hostel, my mother happily noted that my health had in fact improved. She even commented, “You have done the right thing going to Dhaka as your health was not good at all when you were in Comilla.”

Due to my good results in junior madrasah, I would receive a monthly scholarship of two taka from the Haji Muhammad Mohsin[3] fund, so I would only have to pay the remaining two and a half taka for food. I had heard about this great philanthropist from my Bangla text book while in Class 7 in Comilla. He was a life-long bachelor who donated a large portion of his property in endowment for poor and meritorious Muslim students.

There was a small pool in the hostel area through which we would shower, by obtaining water from it using a mug. During the weekends, we would swim in the river Buriganga in Sadarghat, which was particularly enjoyable during the rainy season. When I was small, I would   long to swim in the Buriganga and to stand on its pier with my uncle whilst observing its clean water, but I was never allowed. Therefore, my hostel life enabled me to fulfil my childhood wish.

Some of my hostel friends later became prominent figures in Bangladesh. One of them was Mr Nurul Haque of Rangpur who was the district president of Awami League and later became a member of the Bangladesh Parliament in 1973. Another significant figure was Dr Kazi Deen Mohammad, a renowned linguist who was a professor and Head of Bengali in Dhaka University.

Most distinguished among them was Justice Nurul Islam who later became the Vice President of Bangladesh. I have an interesting anecdote with him which is worth sharing. Mr Islam was a judge in Dhaka High Court in 1971 when a person came to see me with a request. He said that some people were trying to grab his hard-earned property by false claims and fake witnesses. He told me that he had won the case in the lower court, but was worried about the outcome in the higher court. He came to know that the case was in the court of my close friend Justice Nurul Islam and asked me to tell the judge that he was the real owner of the property. I am not a student of law and was not aware of whether I should talk to a judge about a case. However, the overall background, appearance and emotion of his deliberation had me convinced that I should attempt to help him. Hence, I called Justice Islam instantly and said what I felt was necessary.  His reply caused me to feel rather ashamed and embarrassed. He said, “You wanted to help the person, but have harmed him instead. It was his big mistake to ask you to recommend him. As I know you very well, I am now convinced that the person is the real owner of the property. Therefore, I have already become biased and have lost the legitimacy of judging this case. I now have to refer this case to the Chief Justice who will send it to another judge.” I informed the man of my embarrassment, “You would have got real justice from this judge, but can’t have justice from him now because you asked me to lobby to him for you. If I knew this system of law I would have never called him.”

The Relocation of Koltabazar Hostel

Due to several Hindu-Muslim riots, the Koltabazar Hostel had to be relocated to the Nawab Gate of Islampur Road in January 1941. Muslims were dominant in Koltabazar and Rayshaheb Bazar (then known as Johnson Road) up to the marble statue of Queen Victoria on the south of Bahadur Shah Park (then Victoria Park). After this, Sadarghat, Banglabazar and Patuatoli areas were Hindu dominated. Our hostel was on the southern side of a lake, the northern side of which was a Hindu area. During tense moments we would have to guard the hostel 24 hours a day against any potential Hindu attack. Every student was required to guard for at least two hours a day. Due to this trouble, the hostel authorities decided to relocate to an area in which such threats were unlikely. Although our new hostel was quite far from the college, everyone was content, as it was a safe area for Muslims and there was no need for it to be guarded against Hindu attacks.

We would pray at the Nawab Bari Mosque which was between our hostel and the Ahsan Manzil museum. It was named after a famous Nawab of the 19th century, Nawab Ahsanullah. The Nawab family used to live there at that time. Nawab Ahsanullah’s son Nawab Sir Salimullah was known for his service towards the Muslims of this region in the early 20th century. When Banga Bhanga (The Partition of Bengal) took place in 1905, a new province was created with Bengal and Assam and Dhaka was its capital. When the Partition of Bengal was revoked in 1911 by King George the 5th (after protests from Hindu leaders in Kolkata), the people of Dhaka suffered.   Sir Salimullah tried his best to minimise the losses and was instrumental in the establishment of Dhaka University in 1921, which was the first institution of its kind, catering to Muslims in East Bengal. In 1906, when Dhaka was the capital of East Bengal and Assam, the Muslim League officially took birth when Sir Salimullah organised a conference in Dhaka for Muslim leaders of India.

Although we prayed at the Nawab Bari Mosque, we never had the opportunity to interact with any member of the Nawab family. During Friday prayers the male members of the Nawab Bari would pray at the front and leave quietly after prayer. One could easily recognise members of the Nawab family due to their appearance, complexion and clothing.  For example, no female member of the family could be seen without hijab. They would travel in horse carriages concealed with silk clothes and when they travelled by car, even the windows would be veiled to obscure them from public eye.

Throughout my four and a half years of hostel life, the government doctor would visit us to check our health. The official who visited us at Koltabazar Hostel was a Hindu doctor who would give us important health advice. I once questioned him about a dilemma I faced; after playing in the field in the afternoon, I tended to feel sleepy while studying in the evening. I required a remedy for this, so I approached him asking, “Sir, you look after us very well, so may I ask you a question?” The doctor smiled and said, “What is it?” I said, “Sir, our exams are looming, but I am struggling to study in the evening due to sleep. Could you give me a medicine that can reduce my sleep?” The doctor removed his glasses and stared at me for a minute, to which I felt quite fearful.   He then called me towards him, touched my shoulder with affection and said, “My son, you want a medicine to reduce sleep, but doctors never give such medicines. Today you are demanding medicine to reduce sleep, but a day will come when you will want doctors to give you medicine to assist you in sleeping.” Then he advised me that when feeling drowsy I should walk for a while and attempt to converse with others. By doing so, the urge to sleep should automatically withdraw itself from me.

Paradise Hostel

I spent two years of my life in this hostel adjacent to the eastern gate of Nawab Bari between 1942 and 1944 during my higher secondary education. With only 15 students in this government hostel, the rules were reasonably flexible there and its superintendent, Moulvi[4] Sanaullah, who was also the college librarian, was kind enough to let the students run their own affairs. Free from any draconian rule, we felt that we were living in our own student accommodation.

Hindu-Muslim Riots in Dhaka

I witnessed three Hindu-Muslim riots in one year while in Koltabazar Hostel. The city was divided into Hindu-dominated and Muslim-dominated areas for which religious minorities in those areas needed to be extra cautious during the riots. I was shocked to witness these riots where Hindus and Muslims would fight as if they were in a battlefield. The riots would start with the simple news of a Hindu or a Muslim being knifed to death in an area, which would lead everyone to become aware of the tension. The consequence would be news of further Muslims being killed in Hindu areas and vice versa. Those prone to violence among the indigenous people of Dhaka[5] would develop strong Muslim nationalism during these riots despite their hardly praying or fasting as Muslims. They would step out bearing machetes with the spirit of killing ten Hindus to avenge the death of one Muslim brother.

Once the news spread in Koltabazar hostel that Hindus are attacking and leaving pig meat in a mosque in a neighbouring area. We ventured to discover what had actually happened and were stopped by some youths at the entrance of Johnson Road. When asked about what had transpired they said, “Hindus had come to attack the mosque, but ran away after seeing us.” I saw around eight to ten people guarding the road holding machetes in their hands. No one related to the mosque or anyone with a gentlemanlike appearance could be seen. These people were not pious Muslims, but were ready to sacrifice their lives to save the mosque.

Many innocent lives were lost during those terrible riots. The situation was so tense that even the mere sight of people running would provoke fear that riots have begun. I remember one such incident when we were walking along the crossing of Sadarghat and Banglabazar when we saw some people running. We also started running as fast as possible and reached Victoria Park. When we went back towards Sadarghat to discover what had actually happened, we came to know that a calf had stolen a banana and was being chased by the shopkeeper and that the people were running to avoid being struck by the calf. At the mere sight of a few people running, for what transpired to be such a mundane reason, panic spread that a riot had begun. We too were part of that panicked crowd.

The situation was better in universities where there were initially no riots. However, this was until 1942 when a student of Fazlul Haque Muslim Hall of Dhaka University was stabbed to death. There were more incidents in the campus in 1943 and 1946. In 1949, I was unable to attend my MA final exams due to riots. After the partition in 1947, communal riots in India have been a regular feature, but in Pakistan and Bangladesh, the last major riot after 1949 took place in 1964, after which no major incident occurred.

Dhaka City at that Time

I had the opportunity to increase my knowledge concerning Dhaka when I joined the scout movement. Our scout master asked us to draw a map of Dhaka city as it was important to have a map of roads in order to survey an area. To do this task, I was required to visit every area of the city. It was not very difficult as the city was not too large at that time. There was a Bangla saying about Dhaka at that time: ‘bayanno bazar teppanno gol’i (52 markets and 53 lanes) suggesting that Dhaka was a city of small lanes. One of my servants in Rangpur Carmichael College campus once asked me, “Sir, I heard that there is no end in Dhaka city and if someone goes from outside Dhaka they would be lost in endless lanes after lanes. Is that true?” When Mawlana Maududi was taken to the Jamaat city office known as ‘Kawsar House’ in Siddikbazar during his first visit to Dhaka, he seemed very puzzled by so many small lanes in the city. He said, “Generally, a city has a few main roads and small lanes are found beyond those roads, but in Dhaka, I could only see lanes after lanes.” I informed him that Dhaka had only two major roads, Sadarghat to Nawabpur and Sadarghat to Chakbazar, and the rest were all lanes.

Dhaka after 1905

After the Partition of Bengal in 1905, when Dhaka was the capital of East Bengal and Assam, Dhaka city extended to the north. To the north of Gandaria Rail Station that divided old and new Dhaka, the Secretariat, Assembly House, Governor House, High Court building, residents of Secretaries, and such buildings were built. After the Partition of Bengal was revoked in 1911 and the subsequent establishment of Dhaka University in 1921, the buildings that were created for the capital were used for different purposes. For example, the High Court building was turned into the Government Intermediate College (now Dhaka College) and the Secretariat was turned into the Government Eden Girls College.

The big two-storeyed building that was erected for Dhaka University later became Dhaka Medical College and Hospital and the residential houses built for Secretaries were used as two hostels: Sir Salimullah Muslim Hall for Muslims and Jagannath Hall for Hindus. A new hall for Muslim students named Fazlul Haque Muslim Hall was opened in 1940 when Sher-e-Bangla Fazlul Haque was the Prime Minister of Bengal, with its first provost being Dr Muhammad Shahidullah[6]. The effect of the Second World War could be felt in Dhaka in 1942 when the Anglo-American allied forces used Dhaka College and Salimullah Muslim Hall, and the main building of Dhaka University was turned into a military hospital. Dhaka again became a provincial capital when East Bengal separated from West Bengal and India and became a province of Pakistan. The Dhaka College building became Dhaka High Court and Eden Women’s College became the Secretariat once again.

Dhaka after 1947

The buildings created after the Partition of Bengal in 1905 were not sufficient for a provincial capital as many Muslim government officials who used to work in the ‘Writer’s Building’[7] in Kolkata migrated to Dhaka after 1947. It was difficult to arrange the office and residential accommodation for so many people. Temporary barracks had to be created in the areas of Nilkhet and Palashi, and new four-storey buildings were built in Azimpur. As many Indian Muslim businessmen decided to move to Dhaka, exchanging their business with Hindus in Dhaka, the Dhaka city’s population started to increase rapidly, leading to massive extensions of the city. New colonies of Urdu-speaking people were built in Mirpur and Mohammadpur areas. Many Hindus in Dhaka also exchanged houses with Muslim counterparts in Kolkata. A rise of businessmen in the city also contributed to the extension of the city.

Those in the government bought big plots in Gulshan and Dhanmondi and developed them as residential areas for the affluent, leading to the opening of big markets. Thus Dhaka city extended hugely in the north and by 1971, when Bangladesh became independent, the new Dhaka was already five or six times bigger than the old Dhaka.

Our area, Moghbazar, was then in the middle of the old and new Dhaka. The area of Moghbazar is quite immense, but I am not sure why it is known as Boro (big) Moghbazar as I am not aware of a Choto (small) Moghbazar. There are both Boro Katara and Choto Katara in old Dhaka, but in Moghbazar, there is only Boro Moghbazar.

Dhaka after 1971

As the capital of an independent country, Dhaka has naturally evolved rather quickly after 1971. The present Dhaka is extended up to Tongi and is gradually moving towards Joydevpur. Foreign embassies and residents of diplomats are spread over Gulshan-Banani-Baridhara-Uttara areas. Many high rise buildings can be seen in modern Dhaka. Many developers are operating in Dhaka by building residential flats in high rise buildings. Although Dhaka has not extended in the east as much as it has in the north, it is likely to have extensions in the east as well, thus leading the city to become a mega city.


[1] A title given by the British to some distinguished Muslim families in British India

[2] Bangladeshi currency

[3] A prominent philanthropist in Bengal in the 18th century

[4] A title given to an Islamic scholar

[5] Inhabitant of Dhaka

[6] A prominent  educationist, writer, philologist and linguist of 20th century.

[7] Secretariat building of Indian State of West Building which originally served as the office of the writers of the East India Company.

My Journey Through Life Part 6




(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 Six

Education in Dhaka

When I was in Class 8, my uncle, Mr Shafiqul Islam, was a student of Dhaka Islamic Intermediate College (Now Kobi Nazrul College). My father realized that the student who had come second (after me) in the Class 8 final exams received 100 marks less than me. He thought that I should study in a competitive environment where there are students better than me; so after consulting with my uncle he decided to enrol me in Islamic Intermediate College in Dhaka.

My father first took me to the Superintendent1 of the high madrasah for a ‘transfer certificate’2. The Superintendent was surprised and said, “I will be hurt if you take away my most favourite student of Class 8. I am hopeful that he will get scholarship in the high madrasah final exam”.

My father replied, “I am taking him to Dhaka so that he achieves good results. He will come across many talented students there and will face tough competition, which will enable him to get even better results”. The Superintendent then had no other option but to give me the transfer certificate.

In 1940, I was admitted into Class 9 at the Islamic Intermediate College and I stayed in the Koltabazar Hostel near the college. The standards of both the teachers and the students were much higher than those in Comilla, and I could only achieve sixth position in the quarterly final examination. Thus the pride I had developed by coming first in each examination from Class 1 to 8 suffered a huge blow. Hearing this, my father wrote a letter to encourage me saying, “You didn’t have to face this type of competition in Comilla, which is why I took you to Dhaka. Now you have to study even harder. I do not demand that you come first in your class, but I expect you to achieve more than 75% marks in all subjects.” I was fourth when I was promoted to Class 10, but the mark I got was not much less than the boy who stood first. I was slightly disappointed for not coming first, but was not devastated as I achieved good marks in all subjects.

The Scout Movement

I joined the Scout Movement while in class nine in Dhaka. The Superintendent of the Koltabazar Hostel was a Scoutmaster who encouraged me to join this movement. Scouting taught me many useful things of everyday life, e.g., the knowledge of the human body. We were given an English book where the nervous system, blood circular system, respiratory system etc. were explained through diagrams. I learned these very enthusiastically and the knowledge I gained was useful to me for the rest of my life.

In the Scouts I also had to learn how to cook and obtained a ‘cooking badge’ after winning a competition. This skill was also very handy in later life when I was living in staff accommodation in Rangpur Carmichael College until my wedding. I would have been in trouble had I not known how to cook, as most of the servants who worked for me were unable to and I had to give them cooking lessons. They learned cooking so well that two of them found good jobs because of their cooking skills.

There were some other practical things I learned through scouting such as first aid, rescue skills etc., which I had to teach as the Scout troop leader of my institution- when I was in Class 10. There was a big Scout jamboree in Joydevpur in Gazipur district in 1941 where I became good friends with Mr Tajuddin, who later became the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. He came to that jamboree as the troop leader of Government Muslim High School, Dhaka.

I enjoyed the Scout Movement so much that I wanted to join the University Officer Training Corps (UOTC) after starting university- as it was of higher level than scouting. However, I was not permitted to join as I had grown a beard. The then UOTC officer Matiur Rahman saw my scout certificates and said with regret, “I am very upset that I can’t accept you for technical reasons.” He also informed me that the British government allowed beard and turban for Sikhs as part of their uniform, but they didn’t have any such provision in Dhaka University.

High Madrasah Final Exam

As in the scholarship exam, I also failed to attain my desired result in the high madrasah final exams held in March 1942. Our principal hoped that at least four of us would get a first grade scholarship, but his expectations for me were not fulfilled due to illness. There was a malaria epidemic all over South Asia at that time with many people losing their lives. It took ten years to make our region malaria free. I suffered from malaria for a few months; it first struck me while I was in Class 8 in Comilla. I was so afraid of this fever that I used to tell others that I have ‘fever-phobia’. The temperature would go extremely high and my body would shake so much that I had to be held tightly with two to three quilts. When the fever would go down, the sweat would dampen the bed and the bed sheet needed to be changed. It would take an hour or two for the temperature to lower, but it would return within 10-15 hours. I also had severe headache during the fever. The fever would leave in around two weeks, but used to make me extremely weak, and, as there was no vaccine at that time, it would relapse in a few months. The treatment for malaria was very tormenting as well. The injections they gave me were so agonizing that I needed to use a hot water bottle for hours to ease the pain. The horrible bitter taste of the quinine medicine meant that I needed a lot of sweets to remove the taste from my tongue. My sufferings with this terrible disease continued for four years.

I suffered from a severe malaria attack three weeks before my high madrasah final exams in March 1942, and the principal admitted me to the Mitford Hospital. This was the only government hospital at that time, which also had a medical school where students from high school and high madrasah were eligible to enrol. It was a four-year degree known as LMF. My principal wrote to the hospital Superintendent, “Please take care of this boy as I am very hopeful that he will get a scholarship in the exam that will be held after three weeks”. The hospital authority obliged in such a way that I was somewhat overwhelmed by their special care. I was given injections on my arms and hips, and the pain was so intense that even a hot water bottle was of no use. Moreover, the taste of quinine was unbearable. I probably swallowed several gallons of quinine in those four years. The Superintendent used to visit me every day, which led to special care by the doctors and nurses. My health improved over a week, but malaria made me so weak that I couldn’t study for more than two hours at a time.

Two weeks later I found myself in the exam hall and due to my post illness weakness I was even struggling to write in the exam hall with my fingers often bending and the pen slipping away. I had to massage my fingers for a while before being able to write again. Therefore, despite knowing the answers to all the questions, I could only answer 80-85% of the questions in almost all exams apart from Maths, in which I was confident of achieving 100%. I told my father after the exam that I expected to get first division, but not scholarship. I returned to Chandina still in a weak state after the exam. My father had been living in Chandina since 1936, so I would hardly go to our village home as I spent my holidays with my parents in Chandina.

When the results were due three months later, I was again suffering from malaria. I became so feeble that I collapsed one day after coming out of the toilet. My body temperature would rise up to 105-6 degrees, and one day it raised up to 107 degrees, causing me to faint again. I was shivering under two quilts on the day when my results were declared. My father rushed home from work looking very happy and said that he just received a telegram from Comilla sent by my uncle Shafiqul Islam, which said, “My dear nephew Ghulam Azam has achieved 13th place”3. I also became emotional with this unexpected success and jumped out of bed kicking the quilts away. To my surprise the fever was gone and didn’t return until a few months later. I was surprised to see how the mental state influences our health condition.

During that period, exams of all high schools in Dhaka city and the high madrasahs of the entire Bengal were under the Dhaka Board, while all high school exams outside Dhaka city were controlled by Calcutta (now Kolkata) University. The medium of education under the Dhaka Board was still English at that time, although Kolkata had already introduced Bangla as a medium. Dhaka Board moved to the Bangla medium system two years after I completed high madrasah.

My Interest in Science

As I was very accomplished in maths my teachers inspired me to take the ISC4 for which it was necessary to move to Dhaka Intermediate College as Islamic Intermediate College did not have a science department. However, my father would not allow me to enrol onto the ISC programme saying, “You will have no opportunity to study Arabic if you do the ISC. Have you forgotten that your grandfather had told you to master Arabic, English and Bangla?” I still wanted to study science despite my father reminding me what my grandfather had said. He became angry and said, “I didn’t put you into a madrasah and have you enrolled onto the New Scheme for worldly reasons, given that studying Qur’an, Hadith, Fiqh5 etc. does not lead one to have enough income. You are the eldest in the generation. If you don’t learn Arabic well then you will not be able to study the Qur’an well, and without this competence how will you lead your younger siblings towards Islam?” Yet I was not ready to leave science even after all this discussion and my father was quick to notice it through my body language. He became even angrier and said, “Okay, then I will send you directly to a madrasah. Whatever English and Bangla you have learned is enough. Now study Qur’an, hadith and fiqh.” I managed to save myself from going to madrasah by surrendering to my father’s reprimand, but remained a bit disappointed at my father for not allowing me to study the ISC, though there was a consolation that I could at least study at university.

When I dedicated myself to extensive study of the Qur’an and Hadith after joining Jamaat-e-Islami in 1954 I observed that my background in Arabic was immensely helpful in my work in the Islamic movement. Since then I have been praying to Allah so that He rewards my father for insisting on my studying Arabic and enhancing my knowledge in Islam. If I hadn’t learned that much Arabic at that time I would have considered my life as a Muslim to be a total waste.

My Intermediate Education

I began my higher secondary education, Intermediate in Arts (IA), under the New Scheme in the college section of Islamic Intermediate College in July 1942. A large number of students with scholarships and first division results from high madrasahs around the country were enrolled in that college, so the competition in class was very high, which got more intense when teachers gave tasks in class. I thoroughly enjoyed that competition and worked very hard to do well.

The quality of my teachers in English, Bangla, Qur’an, Hadith and Fiqh was very high; I felt encouraged being taught by them, but the Arabic teachers would only translate the texts from Arabic to English and I felt that my command over the language was not improving the way I wanted. I wished my Arabic teachers would use similar techniques as their English counterparts who adopted different methods to ensure that we learn the language well, but it was not to be. Our English teachers would never use the Bangla language in an English class however our Arabic teachers only ever used English to teach us, never Arabic.

There were 10 papers at IA level worth 1000 marks, which included Bangla (200), English (200), Arabic (200), Qur’an (100), Hadith (100) and Fiqh (100). There was a choice between two subjects for the remaining 100 marks; they were English and Logic. Most students chose Logic as it tended to result in very high scores, whereas no one had ever received a first grade scholarship by taking English. However, I didn’t hesitate to take English as I had studied the New Scheme to study Arabic, English and Bangla. By the grace of Allah I was the first person to get a first grade scholarship in IA with English as the optional subject, though I could not achieve any higher than the tenth position in the merit list.

1 Head of different types of institutions, e.g., madrasahs, hostels, hospitals etc.

2 An essential certificate to change educational institution

3 Until recently national board exams in Bangladesh used to announce a list of top twenty students in combined merit list. The author stood 13th in that list.

4 Intermediate in Science, i.e., higher secondary in science

5 Islamic jurisprudence

My Journey Through Life Part 5




(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 Five

Post-Primary Education

I started Class 3 in 1934 at Barail Junior Madrasah three and a half miles away from my village home. As mentioned before, to learn Arabic I was required to retake Class 3 despite coming first in the Class 3 final exams in the village primary school. My youngest uncle Shafiqul Islam, who was three years older than me, used to be a lodging tutor in a house near my madrasah. He arranged daily meals for me in that house; however, I wasn’t able to live there, so I had to live with my uncle. When my uncle relocated to another house as a tutor a year later I took his place and had my food and lodging arrangements in the same house. In the following year, I came first in the Class 4 final exams, and our Bangla teacher Mr Shamsuddin arranged an improved tutored lodging for me at his cousin’s house quite far from the madrasah. I had to teach his cousin’s son, who was my classmate, although he was three to four years older than me. I would also help his younger brothers in their education.

The tutored lodging system in our country is very good for students who study away from home. I used to teach the Qur’an in the first house I stayed at and I helped my classmate and his younger siblings in the second one. My Bangla teacher was also in charge of the library when I was admitted in the madrasah in Class 3. He used to encourage me to take books from the library and also selected books for me to read. It was he who helped me develop the habit of reading beyond my textbooks – something that stayed with me for the rest of my life. I still remember the first book he gave me to read: Shiyal Pandit (The Fox Pundit). He drove me towards reading many works of fiction, which encouraged me to continue the routine even more.

A lot of time had to be spent doing my own studies and helping the children of the house’s owner, so there was no time to read books while at my desk. The only time I read those story books was while lying on my bed before sleeping, another habit that continued for the rest of my life. The habit is such that I could never sleep without reading. Without reading books the mind becomes scattered before sleep, whereas a thoughtful book helps to focus on a single subject leading to sleep relatively easily and quickly.

Junior Final Exam

All students of Class 6 in the junior madrasah sector of the district had to appear in a final exam at the district centre. Our headmaster had very high hopes that I would receive the scholarship in the exam, but an incident due to my ignorance meant that I had to be content with only first class marks but no scholarship. Although the incident was small, it turned out to be big for me, as it was the reason I missed the scholarship. I had never had tea before and no one in our house at that time used to drink tea. When my classmates, who shared the same hotel as me during the exams, were having tea I joined them and had two or three cups on the eve of the first set of exams. Our headmaster had told us that we should to go to bed by eleven and revise after the morning prayer. All my friends had fallen into a deep sleep and the lights were off, but I kept awake in my bed. I could hear the wall clock ringing every half hour and the sound of the municipality rubbish trucks until 2am before I could sleep. I found it difficult to wake up for the morning prayer, and when I tried to revise after coming back from prayer, I found sleep taking hold of me. The exam was a few hours later, so I continued my fight against sleep as I didn’t have the courage to tell the headmaster my experience of the previous night and seek his permission to have a small nap before the exam.

I became very happy seeing the questions in the exam hall as I knew the answers to all the questions; I started writing enthusiastically. However, I was so sleepy that I inadvertently slept on the desk a couple of times and the pen slipped out of my fingers. On both the occasions the invigilators woke me up and gave me back my pen that slipped off. Hence, I couldn’t answer all the questions and became very upset when the exam was over. I had to again fight against sleep during the second exam of the day at two o’clock as there was no scope to have a nap between the exams, and subsequently failed to answer all the questions in the second exam as well. I had never imagined that drinking tea would have such consequences. Thankfully, the exams in the next few days went well, but I did not have the courage to tell my headmaster how I could not answer all the questions on the first day, and did not tell anything to my classmates either out of embarrassment. I was worried that this incident could cost me not only the scholarship, but also first class marks. Thankfully, the Almighty saved my dignity and I could at least pass with first class marks.

Studying in Comilla1

I was admitted to Class 7 of the Hussamia High Madrasah in Comilla in January 1938. I still remember how well my teachers in the madrasah taught us. The head of the madrasah Mr Akhteruzzaman graduated in Arabic under the ‘New Scheme’. He had a strong personality and was very popular as a teacher. Many years later in the 60s, I saw him amongst the participants in a training camp of Jamaat-e-Islami during my visit there as the provincial secretary of the organisation. I immediately stood upon seeing one of my favourite teachers Mr Akhteruzzaman in the audience and said, “Sir, it is very awkward for me that you are sitting there and I am up on the stage.” He replied, “I was once your teacher and you were my student, but now you are my teacher in the Islamic movement and I am your student.” When I visited Comilla again a few years later he hosted me at his house as his guest and looked after me the way a decent host would. I was so impressed by his dedication towards the Islamic movement that I felt extremely sad when I heard the news of his passing away.

Tutorships in Comilla

I was a tutor in a house one and a half miles away from the madrasah. My only student in that house was a young boy in Class 1. His grandmother was very affectionate towards me and asked me to call her grandma. I was missing my own grandmother and was happy to have a new one far away from home. She would feed both her grandson and me together with care, which made me feel very comfortable in that house. My student had a strange habit; he would demand food that had not been cooked at a particular meal. Therefore, everyone tried to make sure that he didn’t know what was being cooked, but the elders had to struggle to convince him to eat whenever he demanded something that had not been cooked.

I came first in the final exam of Class 7 and, after hearing that I was a good student, a retired postmaster very eagerly took me to his house to tutor his son of Class 3. I was in that house for a year, which was adjacent to the northern wall of Comilla Central Jail. The District Magistrate of Comilla, an Englishman, used the road next to my room to go to work. I sometimes saw him walking towards the Christian cemetery along with his wife. I never dared to speak with him, but wished that he would begin a conversation with me one day. The Indian Civil Service (ICS) officers at that time were required to know the language of the area they worked in to such a level that they were able to understand the language spoken by the common citizens. I came to know this fact through personal experience. When my father was the Marriage Registrar in Chandina, a city 12 miles west of Comilla, I once saw an Englishman coming to my father’s office for inspection, riding on a horse. As he was sitting in the office, I brought snacks for him and found him talking to my father in Bangla, though I found it difficult to understand because of his accent. My father told me that district magistrates and people of similar high positions needed to know some basic Bangla for communicating with the local people.

Extra-Curricular Activities in Comilla Madrasah

Every Thursday a teacher in the madrasah would lead the weekly speech competitions that included debates, set speeches and improvised speeches etc. I used to watch them with huge interest. They were mainly dominated by students from Class 9 and Class 10. I proposed to my classmates that we should have similar sessions each week among ourselves, which most students supported and gave me the responsibility to organise. I had no previous experience of giving a speech other than reciting poems and taking part in small plays while in junior madrasah, so the weekly programmes provided the platform to gain some confidence, which helped me a lot when we were allowed to take part in the weekly speech competitions of the whole madrasah the following year.

Introduction to Politics

My first experience of joining a political march was with the Muslim League in 1939 when I was in Class 8. “Sher-e-Bangla”2 Fazlul Haque, was then the Provincial Prime Minister. The march was to protest against the move by the Indian National Congress and the Hindu Mahasabha party for a vote of no confidence to oust the Fazlul Haque ministry. The Muslim League was not very organised then, but the protests took place all over the country. I loved the experience of chanting slogans while bounding with energy and in the end broke my voice. I also used to go to the Town Hall to listen to speeches by political leaders and used to aspire to be able to give political speeches. I developed a good rapport with the President of Comilla District Muslim League, Advocate Zahirul Haque Lil Miah, who later became a minister in the Sher-e-Bangla cabinet in 1954. He was from our Nabinagar sub-district and had a brotherly relationship with my father, so I used to call him uncle and visit his house, where he would look after me with love and affection.

During that time, Palestine was the main issue of concern for the Muslims. It was in that year (1939) that the Second World War began and the first call for a Jewish state to be established in Palestine came from the US. The Daily Azad newspaper, established by Mawlana Akram Khan, was then the only daily newspaper for the Muslims. My father regularly received a copy of the newspaper by post from Kolkata, which helped me develop my habit of reading newspapers. I first came to know about the Palestine issue from this newspaper. I could know more about the problem after attending a public gathering on Palestine at the Town Hall. I found one of the speaker’s points very logical when he said, “If Americans are so sympathetic towards the Jewish cause then why don’t they establish a land for them in their own country? Canada and Australia also have large unused lands. Why do they need to drive away the Muslims who had been living there for 1500 years?”

The United States and its allies established the State of Israel in Palestine by force in 1948 after the Second World War. The demand for this began in 1939, against which Muslims around the world strongly protested. The Jewish community is the richest community in the world and the Israeli state was created as a reward for the financial contributions of the Jews and the support by the Jewish media for the Allied forces during the Second World War.

My First Political Speech

When I saw Uncle Lil Miah presiding over a Palestine related protest meeting of the Muslim League at the Town Hall Ground in 1939, I gathered some courage and approached him requesting him to give me a chance to speak. The point I liked in the previous meeting was not mentioned by any of the speakers, so I thought that I should raise it there. Lil Miah then announced, “Now a boy named Ghulam Azam will speak before you.” This was my first experience in a public meeting, so I enthusiastically went to the dais to speak. However, as soon as I stood in front of the audience I became nervous – my legs began to shake and I found it difficult to speak. I somehow managed to put my hands on the table next to me and loudly said what I wanted to say for about a minute and a half and sat down immediately. The audience gave me a big round of applause and after the meeting some of them approached me and asked me about my family background. One of them then commented, “He is a true grandson of Mawlana Abdus Subhan.”

I didn’t have the courage to give a speech any time soon after that. My father used to speak during the Eid congregations where I had no scope to speak. When I heard others speak I thought it was easy, but why my nervousness appeared while giving a speech was a mystery.

1 An eastern district in Bangladesh, next to the author’s home district, Brahmanbaria.

2 Means the ‘Tiger of Bengal’ – a title given to one of the most prominent political figures in 20th century East Bengal

My Journey Through Life Part 4





(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 Four

My Primary Education

My father was the eldest among my grandfather’s four sons and I am his first grandchild. My grandfather was retired when I was small and taught me many valuable things orally before I learned to read and write. Generally, the first child of a family learns literacy a bit late and the subsequent children learn to read and write relatively faster by following their elder siblings. This happened in our house too as my younger brother Ghulam Muazzam was just one class below me though he was two years younger. He would approach me whenever he would see me studying and therefore learned to read and write before he started school.

Learning to Read the Qur’an

I started learning to read Qur’an in the mosque after morning prayers at the age of six. All the children in the village used to go to the mosque to learn how to read the Qur’an with the local Qari1who made everyone memorise the Qur’an until Surah al-Duha2. There was a tradition that when someone would complete memorising until Surah al-Duhaa, their family would send pitha (Bangladeshi pastries)3 for everyone in the mosque so that the whole village would know which boy or girl has achieved this feat. This was such an inspiring event that everyone wanted to compete with each other to master the chapters. The Qari also taught us how to pray by making us stand together and recite aloud every stage of a prayer and correcting us if we made a mistake. He would also ensure that we performed all the different rituals of the prayer correctly.

I would have my grandfather’s company for much of my time at home. He helped my brother and I memorise Surah Yasin4 and would often ask us to recite the chapter to him to ensure that we had learned it properly. When he was satisfied that we had successfully memorised the chapter, he said to us, “The Prophet (PBUH) has asked us to recite this chapter when a person dies. You should recite Surah Yasin in front of me when I die.” We recited the chapter when he passed away many times before he was buried.

I was not sent to school for a year to ensure that I first learned how to read the Qur’an independently without help; so I did not start my primary school when I was six as is usual. I would go to the Qari in the morning and would learn from my grandfather in the afternoon and evening. Thus, I learned how to read the Qur’an properly and independently within a year and then started primary school when I was seven.

Primary School Education

The headmaster of the school was from the Sarail sub-district of Brahmanbaria district. He lived as a tutored lodger at one of the houses in our area from where the school was a few minutes’ walk. In my exam results I came first in my class5 and was promoted to Class 2. Following this, the headmaster ordered me to see him every day in his office half an hour before school started and I would give him an update about my progress in my studies. He also encouraged me to take the Class 4 primary scholarship exams. He never demanded money for this extra tuition; headmasters at that time would take special care of those students who had potential so that they could be successful in the scholarship exam and bring honour to the school.

I used to go to school with the headmaster and return with him. On the way, he would ask me about my studies. His love and care made me so attached to him that I would speak to him frankly even though I was very afraid of him. He used to do dictation tests when I was in Class 3 and one day while checking how we did, he discovered that I had made one mistake. He became angry and hit me with a cane, whereas he said nothing to those who had made many more mistakes. I felt very upset and asked him, “Others made so many mistakes, but you beat me up for only one error!” Seeing my reaction, he called me near him with affection and said, “I can’t tolerate even a single mistake by you.” I became overwhelmed by his love towards me and tears began to stream down my cheeks. Later, I once visited him in 1950 in his village when he was elderly. He became very emotional seeing me and cried whilst hugging me, which brought tears to my eyes as well. I can never forget that moment. It is difficult to imagine such relationship between a teacher and a student in modern times.

The teaching method of our headmaster was also very unique. He used to make us memorise complex mathematical calculations, which made us so confident that we could even solve maths problems of higher classes. He also taught us another technique: to look through the topic of the following day in advance. When he went through the lesson the following day, the concepts became so clear that revising them at home was unnecessary. This technique helped me perform well during studies at college and university as well. As I would go through the topic in advance, everything became clear and I would only take down notes of some of the things that were difficult for me during my pre-reading. Those notes were to be very useful during exam preparation. Thus, my primary school headmaster was a guide for me even when I was at university.

I was promoted to Class 4, coming first in my class, and the headmaster inspired me to take the scholarship exam at the end of the year. However, my father and grandfather sent me to Barail Junior Madrasah three and a half miles away where I had to repeat Class 3. I had already lost an academic year, and now in order to attend a madrasah I was made to lose another year. This made me very upset, which came to the notice of my grandfather. I don’t remember exactly what he said or whether I understood what he tried to say. The only thing I remember is as follows: “You are the eldest in your generation. Your father and grandfather have mastered Arabic and, as the eldest in the family, you need to learn Arabic as well. There was no opportunity to learn Arabic in school, so you had to be admitted to a class one class lower than your level in order to learn the language properly.” He continued to encourage me, “You need to learn Arabic, Bangla and English very well. Your new institution will teach you all three languages from Class 3. There is no Arabic tuition in our village school, and English tuition is also very limited.” I became satisfied with my grandfather’s consolatory words and later realised how useful it was for me.

To understand the significance of my grandfather’s advice, it is important to discuss the four types of education systems at that time.

Government Education System

In the general education system, Arabic and Persian languages were compulsory from Class 7 to the end of secondary school, known as ‘matriculation’ at that time. At higher secondary level, known as ‘intermediate’, Arabic was optional and at undergraduate level, neither Qur’an nor Arabic was compulsory, whereas a selected course on the Bible, was. Hence, Muslim students remained ignorant about Islam through this education system. Whatever Arabic one could learn until Matriculation would be obliterated from the mind as it was not compulsory beyond that level. There was a lot of debate and speech competitions when I was at university, but I never heard any topic relating to Islam in those competitions.

I started university in 1944 and took part in debating competitions while living in student halls for four years. It used to amaze me how even science students were able to quote Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, Shakespeare and so on in their speeches on topics like materialism, dialecticism, evolution, nazism, fascism, democracy, etc. in English, particularly in the context of the Second World War at that time. There was little opportunity to develop the knowledge of Islam as general students never considered Arabic and Islamic Studies to be of any importance other than to those studying in madrasahs. These students cannot be blamed for this as the British colonial rulers introduced this education system in order to create a generation that would follow their own values, culture and civilisation. Those who still practiced an Islamic way of life despite being educated in this system were able to do so due to family influence and perseverance of their own. Their education had nothing to do with their religiosity.

During the Muslim rule before British colonisation, graduates from the madrasah system were capable of running the administration in government positions. The British created their own system of governance and recruited people who graduated from the education system they introduced, which led to the collapse of the education system of the Muslim rule. As the key to one’s livelihood was at the hands of the British, one was compelled to accept their education system in order to survive. Muslims initially did not accept this system whereas the Hindus widely accepted it and began to advance as a community. They filled up all the important government positions; business and trade went under their control. They produced from their ranks all the professionals such as doctors, engineers, lawyers, etc. whereas Muslims had no place in government posts as a result of not accepting the British education system.

The famous British ruler William Hunter wrote in his book The Indian Musalmans, “Fifty years ago, there was no Muslim family who were poor or uneducated, and now it is difficult to find an educated well-off Muslim family. The Muslims were completely reluctant to accept the slavery of the British, so they were not ready to accept this education system that would prolong the period of slavery. On the other hand, the Hindus of this country had no problem accepting this slavery. The British, in order to make their rule permanent, accepted the cooperation of the Hindus and made them their associates. This led Muslims to ‘double slavery’ – political slaves of the British and economic slaves of the Hindus.”

Private Madrasah Education

After the failure of the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857, Muslims had no option but to adopt the British education system. As the Muslim soldiers were at the forefront of this mutiny, the British increased their oppression towards Muslims. At this critical juncture for the Muslims, the Islamic scholars, through their strength of faith and immense financial sacrifice, established a madrasah education system called Darse Nizami. This education system neither had any government support, nor was there any source of income for the scholars coming out through this system. Although it was a great injustice towards the scholars, Muslims covertly benefitted from their contribution. These scholars dedicated their lives to serve Islam and the number of madrasahs started to increase through their efforts. These madrasahs served to continue the legacy of Islam by such actions as creating Muslim scholars, helping Muslims with their faith issues, establishing mosques to ensure prayers were said in congregation, leading congregational prayers in mosques and introducing the five pillars of Islam through public events.

The quality of the government education system at present is falling despite having a secured source of income and full support from the government. On the other hand, the Muslims will be ever grateful to the madrasah education system that has kept the Qur’an and Hadith alive amongst the Muslims – despite not getting any such support. If the scholars had not taken this initiative then there would be nothing left of Islam in this country.

Government Alia Madrasah

With the rapid increase of private madrasahs, the British thought of establishing their own madrasah system and a separate madrasah was established in Kolkata with an Englishman as its Principal. The purpose of starting this madrasah system was to create a group of Arabic-educated scholars who could teach Arabic and Persian in government schools and also work as registrars for marriage and divorce. These jobs were not available for privately educated madrasah students. Thus, there were two madrasah systems at that time – private education known as Qaumi Madrasah and government system known as Alia Madrasah. There was no provision for Bengali, English or any other modern subjects in the Qaumi Madrasah system, for which their graduates had no other jobs other than teaching in madrasahs or being imams of mosques. Even the Alia Madrasah system didn’t teach enough Bengali or English to enable students to then study at universities. Therefore, their job prospects were limited as well. In this situation. a renowned academic named Mawlana Abu Naser Wahid introduced a new system called ‘New Scheme of Education’ and obtained approval for it from the British rulers.

The New Scheme System

In this new system Class 1 to 6 was called ‘junior madrasah’, Class 7 to 10 was known as ‘high madrasah’ and the intermediate level became ‘Islamic intermediate college’. The system became very popular and many junior high schools became junior madrasahs and high schools turned into high madrasahs. In some places, Islamic intermediate colleges covered Class 7 to intermediate levels under the same principal. Students completing high madrasah in this system were able to start college to get into general education and were able to take up any subject including sciences. Those who passed Islamic intermediate were able to do BA and MA degrees in Arts and Humanities at universities, but not science and commerce subjects.

The reason this scheme obtained such popularity was that it was an alternative to the general and madrasah systems, and opened opportunities for those who wanted their children to receive a general education along with knowledge in Arabic and Islamic Studies. Through this, their children would get worldly success, but at the same time retain their Muslim identity by learning about Qur’an and Hadith and having a basic command over the Arabic language. Those who went to university from this system had the same privilege for employment as those from general education, but in their personal lives they were influenced by the Islamic way of life. Some of these students even went on to become vice chancellors of universities, like Dr Syed Muazzam Husain, (Dhaka University), Dr Syed Sajjad Husain (Rajshahi and Dhaka University) and Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari (Rajshahi and National University). Among some other prominent scholars coming from this system were Dr Kazi Deen Mohammad (former Head of Bengali, Dhaka University) and Dr Mohor Ali (former Reader of History, Dhaka University).

Unfortunately, during the autocratic rule of Ayub Khan in the late 50s, some government officials with anti-Islamic and western views conspired to get rid of the new scheme. They gave different excuses and turned junior madrasahs into junior high schools. Within five to six years, the high madrasahs and Islamic intermediate colleges had also changed into high schools and general colleges respectively.

I decided to discuss here the education systems of that time so that readers can understand the context in which my father and grandfather decided to admit me into a junior madrasah despite my success in primary school and the loss of one academic year.

1 A person who is able to recite the Qur’an with correct pronunciation and melodious tune

2 Chapter 93 of the Holy Qur’an

3 This is a traditional snack in Bangladeshi villages, usually prepared in an attractive or decorative manner and served to people as a treat

4 Chapter 36 of the Holy Qur’an

5 In Bangladesh, students are ranked in terms of their results at the end of the year and subsequently listed in the next year according to their rank in the previous year

Prof Ghulam Muazzam, Brother of Late Prof Ghulam Azam, Passes Away

It is with great sadness that we share the news that Prof Ghulam Azam’s younger brother, Prof Ghulam Muazzam, passed away today 22nd Jan at 3.45pm in Dhaka at the age of 90 – Innalillahi wa Inna Ilaihi Rajiun.

Prof Ghulam Muazzam

Prof Muazzam was one of the leading medical scientists of Bangladesh and a top pathologist. A gold medalist from Koltkata Medical College, he taught at Dhaka Medical College, Rajshahi Medical College and served as Principal of Sylhet Medical College and later Rangpur Medical College. He was the founder of Ibn Sina Laboratory where he also fulfilled the responsibility of founding chairman. He served as a fellow in medicine in London at the Nuffield Foundation UK, as a Professor at Al-Fatah University in Libya and as Professor of Pathology at the University of Ghana. While holding important positions both home and abroad he never compromised his principles as a true servant of Allah. Among his works, he published research into the medical benefits of the Islamic fast in Ramadan and on the Qur’an and science.

He was extremely close to Prof Ghulam Azam and had always supported him in his efforts for establishing Islam. He was also extremely loving to Prof Azam’s children and grandchildren. He had spent the last 10 years in illness, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. We request all to keep him and his family in your prayers. May Allah forgive all his sins and grant him the highest place in Jannah. May Allah grant the family patience to bear this loss. Prof Ghulam Muazzam is survived by his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

His janaza prayer will be held after Jumuah on 23/1/15 at Moghbazar Qazi Office Lane mosque, following which he will be buried at the family graveyard next to the mosque, joining his parents and his brothers already laid to rest there.

Prof Ghulam Muazzam can be seen in the following picture seated on the far left. His brothers the late Prof Mahdi Uzzaman is seated centre and the late Prof Ghulam Azam is seated far right.

Seated with two of his brothers, Dr Ghulam Muazzam (far left) and Dr Mahdi Uzzaman (Centre), and his niece.

Seated with two of his brothers, Dr Ghulam Muazzam (far left) and Dr Mahdi Uzzaman (Centre), and his niece.

My Journey Through Life Part 3





(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 Three

My Family Background


I was born in the famous ‘Mia Saheb’s Estate’ at the Municipal Road in Lakshmibazar, Dhaka, which is my maternal grandfather’s estate. The tradition of the first child’s birth taking place at the mother’s paternal house still exists today.

One of the most famous ancestors of this sufi family was Shahid1 Mawlana Shah Sufi Abdur Rahim – popularly known as ‘Mia Saheb’. Born in 1074 AH2 (1663 CE) in Kashmir, he was the tenth descendent of Shah Abdul Qadir Jilani3 (also known as Bara Pir ‘the big sufi’). His father Shah Sufi Abdullah had come to Kashmir from Baghdad for business. Shah Abdur Rahim began teaching in Lahore after graduating in Hadith4 in 1114 AH. He had spent a few years in Makkah and Madina after living in the wilderness for 20 years, and relocated to Murshidabad in India to preach Islam during the reign of Emperor Aurangzeb. He came to Dhaka in 1120 AH at the age of 46, accompanied by his nephews Shah Nazimuddin and Shah Bahauddin. There was a large estate in Lakshmibazar at that time full of various kinds of trees. They included wild trees under which he began to live along with his companions, sustaining themselves by having fruits of the trees around them.

Many people came to visit them after hearing the news of three foreigners in the area. His handsome appearance and his preaching of Islam impressed the people and the number of his followers increased rapidly. They also built a house for him under the tree and gave him the respectful title ‘Mia Saheb’. Hence the tree orchard came to be named ‘Mia Saheb’s Estate’. His fame as a true servant of Allah spread everywhere and people from far away, including Hindus, would come to see him and ask him to pray for their sufferings to be reduced or their illnesses to be cured.

Shah Abdur Rahim never married and since his youth would often go into meditation. This intensified in his later life when he preferred to often be in solitary conditions. He was martyred in 1158 AH at the age of 84 when an anonymous man hit him seven times with a sword while he was in meditation. Then his nephew Shah Sufi Nazimuddin became the sufi leader of the area. He died in 1230 AH after living for over one hundred years. After that, his son Shah Sufi Badiuddin became the leader of the sufi tradition until his death in 1269 AH when his younger brother Shah Sufi Kamaruddin took over the sufi leadership. Shah Sufi Kamaruddin had no son and his two daughters were married to the two sons of Shah Sufi Ali Abdullah, also known as Emdad Ali of Syedabad in Kaliakor5. My maternal grandfather, Shah Sufi Abdul Munim, was the younger of the two brothers.

Shah Sufi Ali Abdullah’s ancestor Hazrat Mawlana Shah Sufi Huseini arrived in this country in 1135 AH from Iran via Delhi and settled in the Bariab village of Kaliakor, which was later known as Syedabad. Shah Sufi Kamaruddin (My grandfather’s father in law) died in 1305 AH while in meditation and according to his wishes his favourite grandson (my eldest uncle) Shah Sufi Abu Yusuf Abdullah became the sufi leader at the age of only 13, though he took his oath as the sufi leader from his father before the latter passed away in 1326 AH.

My Paternal Grandfather’s Relationship With This Family

My uncle’s eldest son Syed Ahmadullah became the sufi leader after his father’s death. He completed his MA in Islamic Studies from Dhaka University and wrote a book in Urdu called Ainun Jaria (Flowing Cascade) from where I got the history of my mother’s family. He had gifted me the book himself.

My maternal grandfather’s father in law Shah Sufi Kamaruddin was one of the founders of the famous Mohsinia Madrassah (now Kobi Nazrul Government College) in Dhaka where my paternal grandfather came to do his higher education. He was looking for tutored lodging6 as he was unable to bear the costs of hostel life. One of the teachers in the madrassah told him that the sufi leader of ‘Mia Saheb’s Estate’ was looking for someone to teach his son proper Qur’an recitation. My paternal grandfather was selected to teach my eldest uncle (who later became the sufi leader at age 13) by my maternal grandfather out of three candidates.

When my father went to study at Mohsinia Madrassah, my grandfather took him to my eldest maternal uncle (my grandfather’s student) who kept my father as a tutored lodger to teach his eldest son Syed Ahmadullah. My father was very fond of his student, particularly because he used to pray tahajjud7 from a very young age.

My Father’s Marriage

I heard this story from my father himself:

My paternal grandfather proposed to my eldest maternal uncle for my father’s marriage to his youngest sister. My mother was only 4/5 years old when her father passed away. So her eldest brother gave her the love of a father. My mother also lost her mother at a very young age and I witnessed the mother-daughter relationship my mother enjoyed with her sister in law (my eldest uncle’s wife).

My uncle remained silent and seemed a bit embarrassed at the proposal of my grandfather, which made my grandfather disappointed and he complained about this to the famous sufi leader of Narinda (in Old Dhaka) Shah Ahsanullah with whom my grandfather had a very good relationship. My uncle respected Shah Ahsanullah for two reasons: firstly because he was of his father’s age, and secondly because one of his sisters was married to Shah Ahsanullah’s son. After my grandfather’s complaint, Shah Ahsanullah called my uncle and asked why he was reluctant to get his sister married to my father. My uncle said, “I have observed this boy closely and like him very much, but how will my sister live in a village? She may feel that I have tried to get rid of her as her father is not alive”. In answer to that, Shah Ahsaullah said, “You will not find a boy like him among thousands in terms of education, looks and family background. Do you think he will live in the village forever? You should agree to this proposal if you don’t have any other objections.” My uncle immediately accepted the proposal.

My Mother’s Circumstances in the Village

My mother related her experience of village life to me. The first major challenge she encountered after arriving there as the daughter-in-law was with language. The language of Old Dhaka was a type of Urdu, which was the spoken language of all respectable families including the families in ‘Mia Saheb’s Estate’. No one in the village could understand my mother’s Urdu including my grandmother; on the other hand, whatever Bangla my mother knew was quite different from the dialect spoken in the village. So she found herself in an awkward situation failing to communicate with anyone. My mother became the centre of amusement for the maid servants and other ladies from neighbouring houses. They would burst into laughter when my mother would stare at them with blank face failing to understand their jokes. Even my grandmother felt helpless in seeing my mother’s situation.

Rumour spread around the village that there was a foreign daughter-in-law in the Moulvi House8 who was so pretty that one could not take one’s eyes off her and who makes everyone happy with her sweet smiles. However, she remains silent when she is spoken to. She is not dumb, but what she says is incomprehensible.

When my mother would become exhausted with rural life she would write to her brother who would realise that his dear sister wanted to come to Dhaka. Accordingly he would send my youngest uncle to bring my mother home.

Only my grandfather was able to communicate with her in Urdu. Occasionally, my grandfather would go inside the house to inquire about my mother and her timidity would instantly disappear as she would speak freely to her father in law without any inhibition. My mother became familiar with village life within a year. After spending 15 years there, she finally gained the opportunity to enjoy life in a city again when my father was transferred to Chandina9 in 1936.

I heard from my father that once there was a cholera epidemic in the village and my mother was caught with severe diarrhoea, which made my grandfather extremely concerned to the point that he shed tears for her. When my father tried to console him he said, “I know that I can get another daughter-in-law if she doesn’t make it, but where will I get a daughter-in-law like her? That is why I am pleading to Allah for her recovery.” My mother was able to endure all the difficulties of village life due to the sincere love and care of my grandparents.

1 Martyr – The Arabic word for someone who is killed while striving in the cause of Allah

2 After Hijri, a reference to the Islamic Calendar

3 One of the most revered sufi leaders in Islamic history from Baghdad

4 Prophet Mumammad’s (PBUH) actions, sayings, and approvals are known as Hadith.

5 an area adjacent to Dhaka

6 A now extinct tradition where poor meritorious students would be given accommodation and food in exchange for teaching the children in that household.

7 Optional early morning prayer before the scheduled morning prayer time – a prayer known as very special in Islamic tradition

8 The author’s ancestral house in the village was known as Moulvi House

9 A town in the district of Comilla

My Journey Through Life Part 2





(Abridged translation of the author’s original Bangla memoir, Jibone Ja Dekhlam)

Translated and Edited by Dr Salman Al-Azami

Copyright – The Ghulam Azam Foundation

Chapter Two

My Family Background


Our beloved Prophet (PBUH) said, “If one’s deeds pull them behind, their family cannot bring them forward”. This proves that there is nothing to be proud of in one’s family background; the most important things here are faith and actions. There have been disbelievers in prophets’ families, and prophets have been born in families of disbelievers. However, family background can be significant if there is a combination of good family and good character.

All people are the children of Adam (PBUH)1. Some people are revered by others due to possessing certain praiseworthy qualities and characteristics. The fame of these people spreads everywhere and their children enjoy the respect of society for being their descendants. This is how a family attains high status. Yet, if someone within that family is detested as a person, then they cannot escape simply by evoking the blood of that family. There is no harm if the children from a good family are respected when they are able to retain the family status by developing a high moral character and maintaining the positive traditions of their ancestors. In fact, it can only be positive if one is inspired by the admirable deeds of one’s ancestors; but without this, just being proud for being born in a noble family is harmful and meaningless. This is the context in which I intend to write about my family.

There is no written history of my family, but I can trace back up to five generations having heard it from my father and grandfather. My father was Mawlana2 Ghulam Kabir; his father was Mawlana Abdus Subhan; who was the son of Sheikh Shahabuddin Munshi; whose father was Sheikh Bakhtiar, who was the son of Sheikh Taki. Sheikh Taki probably first began to live in the village of Birgaon beside the river Meghna, but there is no record of where he came from. The earlier generations used ‘Sheikh’ with their names, but as my grandfather didn’t use it, our family no longer uses this title.

I heard from my grandfather that there were seven generations before him where there was only one surviving son in each generation. He had a younger brother who died before getting married. After completing his education, my grandfather was married into an illustrious Syed3 family, and after his wedding, before leaving for Hajj4, his father Sheikh Shahabuddin Munshi told him, “I will pray to Allah at His Holy House that He blesses you with four sons so that our family increases in number. I want to spend the rest of my life beside Allah’s House and do not intend to return”.

He experienced a beautiful death as he passed away the following year during his second Hajj while at Arafah5. My grandfather has had the greatest influence over me and I enjoyed the opportunity of spending a lot of time with him until his death when I was 14. Although I never saw my great grandfather, I felt strongly for him from the stories I heard about him; he used to plead to Allah that his descendants followed the true path of Islam.

My Grandfather

My father was the eldest among my grandfather’s five sons and one daughter. I was my father’s first son and the eldest of the generation. My grandfather was the first noted scholar of the Nabinagar sub-district. He was a teacher of the famous Mohsania Madrassah in Dhaka (Later, Islamic Intermediate College, now Kobi Nazrul Government College) after graduating from the same institution. When my great grandfather passed away, people in our village demanded that they should receive a similar service from my grandfather in spreading Islamic learning. Therefore, he accepted a job as the Marriage Registrar of Nabinagar and relocated to the area before retiring at 65 and spending the rest of his life in the village.

People from far away used to come to visit my grandfather to learn about Islam, and he would teach them with utmost sincerity. He spent very few nights at home as he used to stay at a cottage he built beside a mango orchard at the northern border of our village, and would come home only during the day. When I came home during summer holidays, until I was in Class 6, I used to study by the mango orchard along with my younger brother and my youngest uncle where we would also enjoy the mangoes. There were seven or eight large mango trees in the garden and the thickest and strangest one was planted by my great grandfather while the rest were sowed by my grandfather. I developed my passion for gardening from my grandfather, with whom I once worked to cut some older trees and plant new ones. Later, I learned a lot about gardening from my father in Chandina6.

As their eldest grandchild, I was very close to my grandparents. My father spent six days in Nabinagar, so I saw him very little. My younger brother, Ghulam Muazzam, and I would sleep with our grandmother whilst my grandfather would never have his meals without me. As far as I can recollect, my grandfather was my best friend who would often call me towards him and teach me many good things. This strong bond with him once led to a problem. On that occasion, my grandfather accompanied my mother, my siblings and I to Dhaka. When he was about to return to the village, he told me, “My dear, won’t you go with me? How can I stay at home without you?” I rushed to my mother and said, “Please give me my clothes. I want to go home with grandfather”. My mother was surprised and attempted to discourage me, but I was adamant and emotional, so I went back with my grandfather. However, immediately after returning home, I began to yearn for my mother and siblings and would cry for them, though I refrained from expressing this emotion in front of my grandparents. I still remember that I used to go to an isolated place and cry for them.

My Grandfather’s Death

My grandfather’s death was my first experience of witnessing someone in their death bed. It was Ramadan in December or January 1936. I was home as my madrassah7 was closed. When not studying, I spent most of my time with my grandfather, who had no major illness other than old age complications. He had been suffering from loose bowel motion and was getting weaker day by day. He realised that he wouldn’t live much longer, so he would ask whoever came to see him to pray for him saying, “Please pray so that the angel who comes to take my life does it with ease and causes me less discomfort”.

The day he passed away, my grandmother, one of my uncles and I were sitting next to him. He did tayammum8 and completed his morning prayers while lying on his bed. When my grandmother stood to pray after he finished, he spoke loudly: “Please go to pray after bidding me farewell as the angel is coming now”. We looked at him with astonishment. My grandmother approached him and said, “How can you leave now? Your only daughter will be devastated if she can’t see you!” My grandfather then said, “It is painful for me to wait”. My aunt came at 10am on a palanquin9 and we were astounded to see how better he looked after seeing his beloved daughter. The father and daughter spent a long time chatting and later that day he looked much healthier, whereas he had been ready to leave this world that very morning.

Following the evening prayer, my aunt brought him a cup of milk. He drank the milk from his daughter sitting on his bed and requested us to lay him down after that. He had my grandmother and my aunt on one side and my uncle and me on the other. We began talking cheerfully when seeing him in a better condition. After a few minutes, he asked us to slide him towards right. Thereafter, he put his right hand under his right cheek and said, “Don’t talk now and let me sleep”. We observed that his lips were moving slowly and his fingers were counting, and gradually the counting stopped. We thought he had fallen asleep. After 15-20 minutes, my grandmother checked, couldn’t find a pulse and found that he had stopped breathing. Everyone realised that he had passed away.

I had never heard about such a death, which further increased my love towards my grandfather. I have strong conviction that he was very dear to Allah. His memories have continued to influence me since then. I have tried my best to follow his advice at all times and feel contented that I have been able to do so. I can’t describe how much his advice has helped me in my life, which makes me pray for him even more. Before his death, my grandfather called my eldest uncle and dictated his will in which he decided to give me a portion of his land. My uncle looked after that land while he was alive and later I got earnings from that land. This is how I continued to receive my grandfather’s love long after his death, and I remember to pray for my grandfather whenever I pray for my parents.

I remember fondly the qualities of my father, grandfather and great grandfather who have influenced me greatly and make me realise the importance of my family background. That is why I try my best to inspire my juniors in my grandfather’s dynasty towards practising Islam.

1 Peace Be Upon Him

2 A title given to people with Islamic scholarship through education and/or good knowledge of Islam

3 Syed families are families considered to have descended from the Prophet [PBUH]

4 Muslim Pilgrimage to Makkah, one of five pillars of Islam

5 Staying at a place called Arafah three kilometres away from Makkah is the most important ritual during the pilgrimage

6 A city in the district of Comilla where the author’s father was employed.

7 A religious school

8 Ablution before prayer using clean dust as substitute for water. This is used in the absence of water or in times of illness.

9 A covered seat or sedan chair carried on poles by two or more men.