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My Journey Through Life Part 13





(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 Thirteen

Involvement in Sports

I remember playing some sports, like kabbadi1, gollachut2, athletics, kite flying and so on during my primary school years in our village, among which kabbadi was the most popular. Watching elders play football, we also became interested in it, but didn’t have a ball to play with, so we used an unripe grapefruit as the ball. Observing our interest in football, my grandfather asked a cobbler to make a leather football for us with cotton inside it so that we could play in our own backyard rather than with the mischievous boys of the village. He used to be the referee sitting on the veranda while we played. When I was at Barail Junior Madrasah I used to love the PE3 lessons and used to practice them with others at leisure time. There used to be competitions in kabbadi, football and athletics, but I was not as good as others in those sports.

I continued to enjoy the PE lessons while at Comilla High Madrasah and also played football when there was no PE. I was never good at football, but I always loved the sport. During 1938-39 when I was in Class 7 or 8 I used to go to a local English landlord’s house with my friends to listen to the football commentary on the radio between Mohammedan Sporting and Mohun Bagan football clubs in Kolkata. Mohammedan Sporting was for Muslims while Mohun Bagan was a club for Hindus. Politics and sports were closely related to each other during that time, so a victory of Mohammedan was considered to be a victory of Muslims, making football an influential sport in nurturing Muslim nationalism. The Daily Azad, established by the legendary Muslim journalist Mawlana Akram Khan, used to make big headlines when Mohammedans won a match. When elders read those stories aloud we would all listen to hear about the performances of our heroes. I still remember the name of a famous player called Jumma Khan, a Punjabi player with a bulky physique. I also remember a line from a report in the Daily Azad that showed how the newspaper and Mohammedan Sporting were closely related to our Muslim sentiments at that time. It said, “Who can stop Mohammedan’s victory? Hafez4 Rashid is playing with the Qur’an in his heart!”

I used to go and watch annual sports competitions of some famous schools at that time. I never tried to be a sportsman, probably because I didn’t think I had the potential, but I enjoyed watching others play. When I was in Comilla I once collapsed with sunstroke while watching the annual sports of a Hindu school called ‘Ishwar Pathshala’.

I used to play volleyball regularly while I was in Koltabazar Hostel in 1940, and continued to play the sport the following year in the college ground. I realised that although I was not good at football, I played volleyball quite well. While I was staying at Paradise Hostel during 1941-42, I could play volleyball at the hostel premises rather than having to go to the college ground. In the absence of the required equipment for volleyball we would play badminton, which I liked even better. I had a slightly taller friend called Amin Uddin with whom we formed a doubles team, calling ourselves ‘Hopeless’, and we won the college championship that year. The principal was very amused at our name and while giving his speech during the prize giving ceremony he said, “The doubles team of Ghulam Azam and Amin Uddin were so confident of winning that they called their team ‘Hopeless’ to surprise everyone.” Our ‘Hopeless’ team was revived in 1944 when Amin Uddin and I were in the same student hall (Fazlul Haque Muslim Hall) of Dhaka University. We maintained our reputation by becoming the hall champions for two consecutive years. Our team ended naturally after Amin Uddin left university in 1946.

I also played volleyball regularly during the dry season in the hall compound. When I went back to Chandina for holidays I played both volleyball and badminton in the high school grounds there and became known as a good player in both these games.

Post-Education Life

I formed a badminton doubles team with Professor M R Helali of the English department while lecturing at Rangpur Carmichael College, although we never took part in a competitive game. I also played badminton, having been inspired by a Jamaat leader when I was in Lahore Jail in 1964, with other central leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami after the then President Ayub Khan banned Jamaat. We used to play against each other and leaders like Mawlana Mawdudi and Mawlana Abdur Rahim used to enjoy our competition and acknowledged that we were good players. As I used to win most of the time, they wanted to know whether I had played badminton during my student life and I had to confess that I had been the doubles champion in my hall. I was later transferred to Dhaka Central Jail upon my request so that I could see my family every fortnight. There were no badminton facilities there, but I would play rings with one of the Jamaat leaders there.

Watching Sports

Although cricket is the most popular sport in our country, I still like football more. Unlike cricket, one doesn’t have to wait long to get a result in football. Sometimes a cricket match continues for days and the crowd sit and watch the game for a long period of time. It may be worth it for players to watch the game like this in order to learn and devise tactics, but I have to admire the patience of the crowd who spend such a long time watching the game. I definitely don’t have this strange patience. It is not only in stadiums; many people stop their work and watch the game on television for hours and hours. As the results and analyses of these matches take up prominent spaces in newspapers, I also read some of them and try to find out who is winning. However, I don’t have the competence of a supporter or a follower of the game like others.

My Views on Sports

I have my own perspective on sports. I feel that sports have a role to play in physical activities and entertainment and some people may be very passionate about them, but I find it difficult to understand why people would take up sports as a profession. Many players in the world have a huge income as professional players and don’t need to be involved in any other profession. I also acknowledge that some players have improved the sports they play at a very high level and have achieved remarkable feats. However, as a believer of life after death I wonder what these people will answer to Allah when asked what they did in this world. Is the purpose of this life just to play? Should one choose sports as their primary way of life? On the other hand I do admit that sports can inspire the youth and they can play positive roles in the society. Elderly people are also inspired by sports and can enjoy it as a form of entertainment. From these perspectives one cannot ignore the significance and contributions of sports in the life of citizens.

Amazing Popularity of Cricket in Bangladesh

As already mentioned I am not fond of cricket and don’t waste my time watching the game. However, everyone in my house loves the game and although their over-enthusiasm sometimes annoys me, I don’t stop them from enjoying. One of the pleasures of watching a game is shouting and yelling with other compatriots. Those who are unable to go to the stadium become their spiritual comrades watching it on TV. When all of this happens, I find myself isolated and unwanted in my own house.

My younger brother Dr Ghulam Muazzam is also a fan of cricket, as are his sons and grandchildren. They are not only fans, but cricket analysts as well. As my brother is not as boring as I am in terms of sports, his grandchildren are even better skilled in the sport than their grandfather. My youngest son Salman used to play cricket when he was a student and loves the sport. When I was in Dhaka Central Jail in 1993, Salman’s newly published book Bishsher Shera Cricket O Cricketor (The World’s Best Cricket and Cricketers) reached me. I was in the VIP jail cell, called ”26 Cell”, where most of my cellmates were cricket fans as well. They almost snatched the book from me before I could read it, so I had to be the last person to read the book. Although I am not fond of cricket, I read most parts of the book and found it an enjoyable read. Salman claimed in his book that cricket can be a force to unite this world and wrote in his introduction:

Cricket has conquered the world. It has brought the whole world together – not through the power of weapons, but through the beautiful means of discipline. (…) How beautifully cricket has transcended geographic boundaries and united the world! It has brought people together by destroying their differences in terms of race, language or culture. (…) I read in the religious scripture that ‘Allah is beautiful and He loves beauty’. We can’t see Allah, but we can feel His beauty by seeing His beautiful creations. Cricket is one such beautiful creation of Allah and we bow down towards Him for gifting us this beautiful game”.

Although I am not influenced by Salman’s philosophy and deep emotion towards cricket I do acknowledge the huge popularity of the game.

Cricket Politics

When in 1999 Bangladesh beat Pakistan in the Cricket World Cup in England, the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina commented, “This victory was possible because the players played with the spirit of 1971.” However, Bangladesh was defeated by Pakistan the following year in Dhaka with Sheikh Hasina present in the ground. I could not understand why she herself could not bring that spirit back to our players.

Cricket is just a game and she made herself a laughing stock by bringing the Liberation War into the game. Bangladesh’s victory was not due to the spirit of 1971, neither was their defeat because of the lack of it. Victory and defeat in sports depend on performances on the ground – nothing else.

India and Pakistan are top teams in world cricket. Pakistan has won more matches between them than India, but I am not sure whether the ‘spirit of 1947’ had to do anything with their success against their arch rivals. When these two teams play against each other in Dhaka, most people support Pakistan. My impression is that this support is more to do with people’s negative attitude towards India than their love towards Pakistan. Awami League leaders consider India their close ally despite most people in Bangladesh supporting teams that oppose India. Does this mean most people in Bangladesh are Razakars5? Who are the patriotic people then?

I can see similar political significance in India-Pakistan cricket matches to that which I used to witness between Mohammedan Sporting and Mohun Bagan football clubs during my student life.

1 A traditional sport in rural Bangladesh, also played in wider South Asia and is a competitive game played at Asian Games.

2 A traditional rural sport that is less played in modern times.

3 Physical Education

4 Someone who has memorised the whole Qur’an by heart.

5 A pejorative term referring to members of a paramilitary force created by the Pakistan Army during the Liberation War of 1971.

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

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.

My Journey Through Life Part 1





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

Copyright – The Ghulam Azam Foundation

Chapter One

My Childhood

I was born in Dhaka on 7 November 1922, although I spent my childhood mostly in the village. My place of birth was a distinguished Sufi household known as Mia Shaheber Moydan (‘The Mia Shaheb Estate’) in Lakshmibazar, Dhaka, which happened to be my grandfather’s house. I was the first child of my parents, and according to the tradition of that time the first child was to be born at the maternal grandfather’s house. Hence, I was born in the city despite our family living in a village at that time. My mother made annual visits to the city (these were usually for a month or so) and so, from childhood, I became familiar with both city and rural life. I studied in village schools until Class 6. I first went to the village primary school where I remained up until Class 3. Then, in order to learn Arabic, I started from Class 3 again until Class 6 at Barail Junior Madrassah, which was in a village five kilometres away from where we lived. Thus, I was brought up in a predominantly rural environment until I was 14.

It is difficult to remember the early years of one’s life; however, I can still recollect some differences between my city and village lives of that time. While in the village, I was able to wander around my own, including in the nearby villages. During the dry season, the huge farmlands between the villages would become our playground. As our village was the centre of the local authority and not every village had a school, children from nearby villages used to study in our school. That is why I had classmates from various villages from Class 1 onwards whose homes I sometimes visited. In contrast, whenever I came to the city, I was confined to only the houses of my uncles and was not permitted to leave the family residence as for reasons of safety my elders were afraid to let me go to the main road adjacent to my grandfather’s estate. I had very few cousins of my age to play with, and as I was not allowed to leave to play with children in the neighbourhood, I would often miss my village home and would be eager to return there after a few days in the city.

I developed a strong bond with everyone in the village. Those who were of my grandfather’s age became my great uncles; those in my father’s circle became my uncles; and elders and youngsters in my generation became my elder and younger brothers respectively. I had similar relationships with the women of the older generations as well. Therefore, there were many people who could show their affection and love towards me. This was completely missing in Dhaka as I could not visit anywhere other than my uncles’ houses. Most neighbours of my grandfather’s estate in Dhaka were Hindus with whom we lacked social links. I never enjoyed having a shower in Dhaka as we had to throw a bucket into the family well to obtain water and had to have the shower next to the well, thus missing the pleasure of swimming in the river by my village. Although my mother wished to stay on in the city for a longer period, I used to long for the country after a couple of weeks in the city and I always preferred rural over urban life. I felt that I had many people who were close to me in the village who would call me towards them affectionately, embrace me and give me delicious food to eat, whereas I found no one with whom I felt as comfortable in the city except in the three houses of my uncles. There were fruit trees at hand in every house in the village. One mostly saw trees in the countryside and few houses, as if the whole area were an orchard. On the other hand, in Dhaka, I could see only buildings around me and very few trees. Therefore, I always loved the village more than the city.

Although I was more fond of country life, when the time of the year would arrive for me and my mother to visit Dhaka, I would nonetheless become quite excited. We had to take the boat very early in the morning to the railway station at Bhairab. I used become quite restless the night before and would wake up often to check whether it was morning. I used to sleep with my grandmother, who would bring me back to bed whenever I woke up and say, “I’ll wake you up in the morning, so go to sleep now”. I don’t think I ever realised at that time why I was so keen to visit the city when I would become bored there within only a couple of weeks. Now I understand that humans always like change, so wanting to move on after being in one place for a while is a natural human instinct.

The journey towards Dhaka would require transit by boat first, followed by rail. I was accustomed to boat journeys as it was the most common transport method during the rainy season in the village; so there was never anything new for me in that first stretch of the journey to Bhairab. The part I really relished was travelling by train from Bhairab to Dhaka. The sound of the train was very rhythmic to my ears and the slow, calming movement of my body inside the train was very comforting. I can still remember the rhythmic sound of the train. At the level crossing during my journey from home to the Jamaat-e-Islami office in Moghbazar, Dhaka, whenever a train passed by, I would reminisce about the memories of my childhood train journeys. While most people talk on trains, I remember that I would hardly speak a word to anyone during those childhood journeys. I savoured it to such an extent that I would never sleep on the train and would constantly gaze out the window, searching for words to describe the beauty of the scenery beyond.

The Dhaka rail station at that time was at Fulbaria, which now is a bus station. We would proceed to my grandfather’s house by a horse carriage from the rail station. Horse carriages are no longer in use in Dhaka, but I used to love the ride, where four people would sit in the carriage, two on each side facing each other. As the journey was at a steady pace, I could enjoy the scenery around me. The sound of four pairs of trotting hooves was so soothing that I liked it even more than the sound of the trains. There were no rickshaws, auto-rickshaws or cars at that time. Horse carriages were the main transport vehicle of Dhaka and you could see them in abundance across the city.

My Village

Our village is called Birgaon – as is the local authority. Travelling to our village involves taking a bus or a train to Bhairab from where you can continue by motorboat on the River Meghna to reach Birgaon. The illustrious railway bridge between Bhairab and Ashuganj was built over the Meghna River during the Second World War, when we used to travel to Bhairab to watch the construction of the bridge. Our village is four miles away from Bhairab’s river port. Throughout the dry season one had to walk a mile from the river pier in Birgaon to arrive at our house, but during the monsoon season the boat would stop just next to our house. Once I was having a particularly troublesome journey to Birgaon from Dhaka and asked my uncle, who was then headmaster of the village school, why his father had bought his house in such an inconvenient location. He smiled and said, “Our family have been living here even before my grandfather. At that time most trips would be done on water, so people built their homes near the river”. As a student of social science I later realised the historical truth of this fact.

During those days most people would go to work in the field following the morning prayer and reading the Qur’an. I could hear the sound of Qur’an recitation from every single house whilst going to the mosque in the morning to read the Qur’an. This custom is almost lost now. The person who gave the call to prayer was our next door neighbour, Mr Aziz Ullah Munshi. There was no loudspeaker at that time, but Mr Munshi was a loud speaker himself and it was believed that people could hear his call to prayer from over a mile away.

There is a tradition in the villages of Bangladesh of bringing gifts such as vegetables or fruits from one’s own garden, or eggs laid by one’s own hens, or milk of one’s cows, and so on, to a Sufi leader or to the mazar (burial ground) of a spiritual leader or to a spiritual leader himself. As my grandfather was a celebrated Islamic scholar, people began to bring gifts for him. My grandfather then declared in one of his Friday sermons that such gifts should be brought only for the mosque. He introduced a wonderful practice where people would bring their gifts to the mosque on Fridays, and after the prayers an auction would take place at the mosque to sell these items (with the proceeds going towards the mosque fund).

There was no practice in our village of greeting everyone with salam1, although people would generally say salam to an Islamic scholar. A political leader would be greeted with adab, a type of greeting introduced by Hindus. People would talk to each other when they met, but the custom of salam was reasonably limited at that time. When I was a student of Barail Junior Madrassah our teachers encouraged us to greet each other with salam. I tried to practise this in my village and once greeted a political leader called Daru Miah with assalamu alaikum (peace be on you). He replied to my greeting with his hand, but I didn’t hear him say wa alaikumus salam (peace be on you too). Daru Miah was a prominent leader of the Indian National Congress in our local authority who was very well acquainted with my father. After my salam incident he was heard saying that I had become quite ill-mannered as I had failed to greet him with adab.

Whether Hindu or Muslim, all gentlemen wore a dhutti (loincloth) at that time except those who were Islamic leaders. I remember that I once received a loincloth as a gift. Muslims stopped wearing loincloths after the Pakistani movement had become prominent. During weddings aristocratic individuals would wear a sherwani2 and a round tall hat called a rumi.

My District and Sub-District

The name of my sub-district is Nabinagar3-a name that fills my heart! What better name could a place have? I am unaware of the history behind this name, but it certainly carries a Muslim identity. However, the name of my district is quite the opposite. Though my sub-district is Nabinagar, but it is under the dominance of Brahmins4. That is, my district is called Brahmanbaria or in short Bbaria. I do not know the history behind this name either. I read an article on the subject in a monthly magazine called Brahmanbaria Sangbad (Brahmanbaria News), but whatever the writer wrote based on legends and hearsay certainly cannot be considered as history. However, there is no doubt that the Brahmin community must have dominated this place before, hence the name.

I grew up observing the prominence of the Hindu community; many became successful in sectors such as education, employment, business, land ownership and beyond by assisting the British imperialists. Next to our local authority of Birgaon is Krishnanagar, where there was the house of a Hindu landlord surrounded by huge walls. When I was small I heard that Muslims were forbidden to pass by that house wearing their shoes or with their umbrellas open. Without the Pakistani movement for Muslim nationalism and without the partition of India in 1947, Muslims in this land would still be restrained by Hindu dominance.

1 Muslim greeting: assalamu alaikum (peace be with you)

2 A type of suit including trousers and a long coat worn in South Asia by aristocrats

3 Literally meaning ‘Prophet’s Town’

4 Upper class Hindus

Thousands Attend Ghulam Azam’s Janazah

1st Muharram 1436, 25th October 2014

Hundreds of thousands attended Professor Ghulam Azam’s Janazah which was held after Dhuhr prayers at Baitul Mukarram Mosque in Dhaka. In a fitting tribute to the great leader and Islamic personality, the streets were filled with mourners attending to pay their last respects. The funeral procession and prayers were all conducted peacefully and without incident, despite a heavy police presence. The indignity and hardship of his last years due to the illegal and politically motivated trial conducted by the Awami League government can never be forgotten. The family have found comfort in knowing he was honoured in death with something akin to a state funeral and a dignified burial beside his father in the family graveyard. May Allah accept good deeds and sacrifice in the service of Islam and Bangladesh.

His Janazah was led by his son, former Brigadier General Amaan Azmi. He also gave a powerful speech to the crowd which moved many listeners to tears, speaking of his father’s sincere love for Islam and his hope that many more will continue to be inspired by him. The family are particularly indebted to Amaan for providing constant support to his parents in the face of unrelenting pressure from the government and media.

In addition to the main Janazah prayer, many more thousands attended funerals in absentia which were performed all over Bangladesh and in many other countries around the world on Friday and Saturday. Prayers were led by the eminent scholar, Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi in Doha, Qatar and in the UK, USA, Finland,Turkey, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and India. He was particularly revered in Turkey as a  close friend of the former Turkish premier, Necmettin Erbakan, and his death was reported as front page news by a national newspaper, as well as by many Turkish supporters on Twitter.

We continue to uphold Ghulam Azam’s innocence and to denounce the International Crimes Tribunal which has led to the wrongful arrest and imprisonment of opposition leaders in Bangladesh. We have no doubt that the trial failed in its aim to provide justice for those who suffered in 1971 and has victimised those who politically opposed independence. Our prayers are with those who remain in custody and with the family of Abdul Quader Mollah.

“Ghulam Azam in a critical state” – Wife Mrs Azam

Former Ameer of Jamaat-e-Islami Professor Ghulam Azam, who is serving a 90-year prison sentence for so called ‘crimes against humanity’, is in a critical condition – said his wife Mrs Afifa Azam in a statement on Sunday.

Mrs Azam said that she went to see Prof Azam at the hospital prison cell of BSMMU on Saturday and found his condition to be “extremely feeble”. She said, “Today we saw him in the worst condition so far. Physically he is so weak that two people had to hold him to get him up from bed. His eyesight has become much weakened and hearing ability considerably lessened than the last time we saw him. It was hard to even hear his voice.”

She continued, “He didn’t even have strength to move his hands, feet, shoulders, head etc. He is hardly able to eat nowadays and his weight is going down day by day looking nothing but a skeleton. He fell down in the bathroom thrice in less than a month.  According to him, the doctors found him to be in a critical condition last Thursday”.

“Despite being in such a critical state, the hospital or jail authorities didn’t even inform the family about his condition” – complained Ghulam Azam’s wife.

She expressed concern that such inhumane behaviour, like indifference and lack of care may lead to catastrophic consequences.

In her statement, Mrs Azam requested the authority to release him to ensure his proper medical care under family supervision.

She also called upon the people to pray for her ailing husband.

মানবতাবিরোধী অপরাধের মামলায় ৯০ বছরের কারাদণ্ডপ্রাপ্ত জামায়াতে ইসলামীর সাবেক আমির অধ্যাপক গোলাম আযমের অবস্থা আশঙ্কাজনক বলে জানিয়েছেন তার স্ত্রী সৈয়দা আফিফা আযম।

রবিবার রাতে গণমাধ্যমে পাঠানো এক বিবৃতিতে তিনি এ কথা জানিয়েছেন।

আফিফা আযম বলেছেন, গতকাল শনিবার বিকেলে তিনি অধ্যাপক গোলাম আযমের সঙ্গে বিএসএমএমইউ’র প্রিজন সেলে সাক্ষাৎ করেছেন।

তিনি বলেন, ‘উনার শারীরিক অবস্থা অত্যন্ত নাজুক। এ যাবৎকালের সবচেয়ে খারাপ অবস্থায় আজ উনাকে দেখা গেল। শারীরিকভাবে এতই দুর্বল হয়ে পড়েছেন যে, বিছানা থেকে দু’জনে ধরে উঠাতে হয়েছে। দৃষ্টিশক্তি অনেক ক্ষীণ হয়ে এসেছে, শ্রবণশক্তি অনেক হ্রাস পেয়েছে এবং গলার আওয়াজ অত্যন্ত ক্ষীণ।’

‘হাত-পা-ঘাড়-মাথা এগুলো নাড়ানোর শক্তিও উনার নেই। দিন দিন ওজন কমছে, শুকিয়ে কঙ্কালসার হয়ে গেছেন। এ পর্যন্ত ছয়বার বাথরুমে পড়ে গেছেন। গত এক মাসের কম সময়ের মধ্যেই তিনবার পড়ে গেছেন। খাওয়া-দাওয়া প্রায় করতেই পারছেন না বলা চলে। উনার ভাষ্য অনুযায়ী, গত বৃহস্পতিবার উনার অবস্থা অত্যন্ত আশঙ্কাজনক হয়ে গিয়েছিল এবং চিকিৎসক উনাকে উনার অবস্থা ‘Critical’ বলে জানিয়েছিলেন।’

গোলাম আযমের স্ত্রী বলেন, ‘তার স্বামীর অবস্থা আশঙ্কাজনক হলেও হাসপাতাল কিংবা জেল কর্তৃপক্ষ কেউই পরিবারকে অবহিত করেনি।’

কর্তৃপক্ষের অবজ্ঞা, অযত্ন, অবহেলা, উপেক্ষা ও অমানবিক আচরণে যে কোনো সময়ে মারাত্মক পরিস্থিতি সৃষ্টি হতে পারে বলেও আশঙ্কা প্রকাশ করেন তিনি।

বিবৃতিতে আফিফা আযম তার স্বামীর সুচিকিৎসা নিশ্চিত করার জন্য মুক্তি দিয়ে পরিবারের সার্বিক তত্ত্বাবধানে রাখার অনুমতি দেয়ার জন্য কর্তৃপক্ষের কাছে অনুরোধ জানান।

তিনি তার স্বামীর জন্য দেশবাসীর দোয়া চেয়েছেন।