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MY JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE
PROFESSOR GHULAM AZAM
(Abridged translated version of the author’s original Bangla memoirJibone Ja Dekhlam)
Translated and Edited by Dr Salman Al-Azami
Copyright – The Ghulam Azam Foundation
Chapter Twenty Two
Jamaat-e-Islami Conference in Gaibandha
It was April 1954. My restless mind became a bit stable after having been invited by Mr Abdul Khaleque to attend their conference in Gaibandha. On the very day I was supposed to travel, the President of Tablighi Jamaat, Mawlana Abdul Aziz, was scheduled to reach Rangpur. He was the main leader in Tabligh and as the president of its Rangpur branch, I was supposed to be his host. However, I needed to travel to Gaibandha to know more about Jamaat-e-Islami. It was a great dilemma for me. I decided that I would ask my youngest brother Mahdi (then a higher secondary student at my college) to take Mawlana Aziz from the station to the main Tablighi Mosque in Rangpur. His train was supposed to arrive before the departure of my train to Gaibandha, so when he arrived, I informed him very respectfully the reason for my failure to accompany him and said that my brother would drop him at the Tablighi Mosque. Mawlana Aziz looked at me with astonishment and was unable to say anything due to the shock of seeing me leave like this. I understood that it was natural for him to be confused to see me leave when I was aware of his visit. Due to our close relationship, he was surprised that I could behave in that manner. However, I had little time to explain to him the reasoning behind my departure as my train was only a few minutes later. He came to know from my brother that I was travelling to Gaibandha to attend a conference of Jamaat-e-Islami. Later, I came to know that he immediately wrote to my father, who was then attending a Tablighi chilla in Lahore, saying that I had joined an organisation which was worse than Qadianis.
At the Conference
Mr Abdul Khaleque received me from Gaibandha Station and took me to a place where guests from Dhaka had been resting after lunch. There was no opportunity to be introduced to them before the conference, which was held at the Municipal Park in Gaibandha. I sat on a bench in the park and listened to the speeches. Mr Khaleque was one of the three people that spoke at the conference until the Evening Prayer. The two other speakers, who spoke in Urdu, were the Dhaka City President of Jamaat and a young lecturer of Economics in Dhaka University, Mr Muhammad Ozair, and the organiser of Jamaat’s North Bengal Zone, Mr Asad Gilani. The Chief Guest was Mawlana Abdur Rahim, the then provincial secretary of East Pakistan Jamaat-e-Islami who spoke after the evening prayer. After the prayer finished, some students of Rangpur Carmichael College came to see me, among whom some were my own students. I went back to the bench I was sitting at after the prayer and found myself surrounded by 20/25 students of my college. I was known as a preacher of Islam due to my speeches after the noon prayer at the college building. As Gaibandha College was newly established at that time, most students from Gaibandha studying at degree level were students of Rangpur.
I felt quite embarrassed when suddenly Mr Khaleque made an announcement during Mawlana Abdur Rahim’s speech saying, “We received several requests from students of Rangpur College to allow their teacher, Professor Ghulam Azam, to speak. He will speak immediately after the conference of Jamaat-e-Islami officially concludes.” I felt uncomfortable that some might imagine that I had asked my students to make such a request. Nonetheless, when the conference officially ended and all speakers left the stage, I went up the stage and said, “This is a conference of Jamaat-e-Islami, so it was improper to ask someone from outside to speak here. I came from Rangpur to listen to the leaders of Jamaat. I was not supposed to speak here, nor had I any intention to do so. It is very kind of the leadership of Jamaat-e-Islami to have listened to this illogical demand from some of my students, and therefore I thank them for their magnanimity.” After this opening, I spoke for 15 minutes highlighting the sovereignty of Allah and asking all to join Jamaat-e-Islami.
Meeting with the Jamaat Leaders
After the night prayer and dinner, Mr Abdul Khaleque introduced me to the leaders of his party. Mawlana Abdur Rahim and Professor Muhammad Ozair sat with me while Mr Asad Gilani went to rest as he was very tired. Another person in the meeting was Sheikh Amin Uddin from Bogra. Mr Abdul Khaleque introduced me as the President of Rangpur Tablighi Jamaat before he left. I wanted him to stay in the meeting and expected him to ask me about the books he had given me a month before, but he had some post conference engagements that he could not avoid.
I had thought that Mawlana Abdur Rahim would speak to me as the leader of East Pakistan Jamaat-e-Islami, but it was Professor Ozair who played the leading role in the discussion. He spoke continuously in a very aggressive language against Tablighi Jamaat and its works, saying that it was a destructive force against Islam due to advocating Islam merely as a religion keeping the people away from striving in the cause of Allah. He also asked me to answer some questions, but I didn’t know what to say. If I had no prior knowledge as to Jamaat-e-Islami, Professor Ozair’s approach would have given me a very negative impression of them. However, I had already been attracted to the organisation through my understanding of Islam as a way of life due to my involvement with Tamaddun Majlish and because of reading some books by Mawlana Mawdudi. I was already mentally prepared to join Jamaat. He had no idea what I had been thinking; yet he decided to speak in such an aggressive style. I found a serious lack of hikmah and Maw’ezatul Hasanah in his approach and I believe that any other person would stay away from Jamaat as a result of his style. When I complained about his approach to Mr Khaleque, and when he was asked about it, Professor Ozair apparently said, “Tablighi people are generally blinded about these issues and are usually never convinced about other opinions. I had thought he would never join Jamaat leaving Tabligh, so I decided to express my anger towards them whilst speaking to him.”
The meeting ended at 11.30 pm. Sheikh Amin Uddin held my hand and took me to a room where two beds had been arranged. He asked me to sleep in one of them.
A Significant Night
That night was a turning point in my life as that was when Allah helped me to make my decision. After speaking with me for a few minutes, Sheikh Amin Uddin went to sleep and soon the sound of snoring could be heard. However, I was then in a completely different world and my mind was in total disarray as to what I should do. There was no sign of sleep at all. Even though I was seriously considering joining Jamaat-e-Islami, still I was not able to make the final decision. Although most of the things Professor Ozair had said in his aggressive language made sense, my deep acquaintances with friends and senior leaders of Tablighi Jamaat were preventing me from taking such a decision. Leaving Tamaddun Majlish was not a problem as Jamaat-e-Islami had everything Tamaddun Majlish could offer. It was the deep spiritual feeling I had developed through Tablighi Jamaat that was making it hard for me to leave. When I realised that I was not able to sleep until 3 am, I decided to perform ablution and start praying tahajjud prayer. After praying for an hour, I started pleading to Allah to help me to arrive at a verdict. Dua means to speak to Allah and I never feel comfortable speaking to Him silently, particularly after tahajjud prayer. Whether the language is Arabic or Bangla, I plead to Allah aloud. Due to my restless condition, my voice was probably louder than usual as I had completely forgotten that someone else was also in that room. I was in an extremely emotional state and pleaded to Allah in a very passionate manner. I still remember the key aspects of that dua as it was at one of the most critical junctures of my life:
“Oh Allah! You are the only one who can guide a person to the right path. There are so many different types of organisations and activities in the name of Islam that it is beyond me to conclude which one is right. I was very content working with Tablighi Jamaat, and although I realised that working with them alone is not enough, I cannot leave its attraction. The call for Jamaat-e-Islami has been very appealing to me and I am in this dilemma since then. I am unable to make a final decision. You are the owner of my heart, so I am completely surrendering to you. Please help me take the right decision and remove the restlessness from my heart.”
For over an hour I continued to cry to Allah, repeating these words until the adhan for the morning prayer. After the adhan, Sheikh Amin Uddin got up, did his ablution, picked me up from the prayer mat, hugged me with deep brotherly love, and took me to the place where the morning prayer was meant to be held. There, Mawlana Abdur Rahim led the prayer and I enjoyed his recitation very much. After the prayer, brother Amin Uddin took me near Mawlana Abdur Rahim and brought a piece of paper and a pen from Mr Abdul Khaleque and gave them to me. I started reading the paper carefully while others around me were silently staring at me. The paper I was given was the form to join Jamaat-e-Islami. I liked every word in the form and found nothing to disagree with, so I quietly completed the form and signed it. Subsequently, Sheikh Amin Uddin immediately asked Mawlana Abdur Rahim to make dua. While Mawlana Abdur Rahim was supplicating in Bangla, Sheikh Amin Uddin was translating it into Urdu. He prayed to Allah to enable me to make a significant contribution to the Islamic movement. Although I found little emotion in the Bangla dua, Sheikh Amin Uddin’s dua made me emotional.
I cannot express in words how content I felt after the dua. The restlessness that had lasted a month was now diminished. The stress of uncertainty had completely disappeared. Sheikh Amin Uddin was the first to give me an emotional embrace after which everyone else embraced me and graciously welcomed me into the organisation.
Role of Sheikh Amin Uddin
Sheikh Amin Uddin later took me back to the room where we spent the night before. If he had not brought the form to me in such a way, my joining Jamaat might have been delayed. He himself told me his reasons for playing that role:
“I was awakened by the sound of your passionate crying to Allah late at night. I decided to remain quiet so that your dua was not disturbed. I kept praying to Allah that He accept your dua. The wordings of your dua touched me deeply and I was certain that your mental state was such that you would complete the form if it was given to you after the morning prayer. That is why I took the form from Mr Abdul Khaleque and gave it to you. Mawlana Abdur Rahim was not aware of your situation, so his dua didn’t have much emotion, but I could not but play my role during that dua.”
I felt very happy after hearing everything from him, but at the same time was embarrassed that I had displayed such a degree of emotion through my dua that I was oblivious to his presence and had caused him to awaken.
The day of my joining Jamaat-e-Islami is so significant in my life that I still remember each miniscule detail. It was Tuesday, 22 April 1954. The day is also meaningful in another way as I was also born on a Tuesday, whereas the Tuesday of 22nd April was my new birth in the way of deen. After spending a month with uncertainty, Allah enabled me to come to the right decision on that day.
 A term used by some South Asian Muslims to refer to the Ahmediyya community, although it is considered pejorative to that community. Although they identify themselves as Muslims, many do not consider them Muslims due to their belief that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is not the last prophet.
 Another nearby district of northern Bangladesh.
 Best use of language while calling people to Allah’s cause as advised in the Qur’an.
 Late night prayer before dawn highly recommended to come closer to Allah.
 Call for prayer.
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.
See here for original article:
THE gallows, not jail, had always seemed like the more likely destination for Abdul Quader Mollah. On September 17th the Supreme Court of Bangladesh made it so. In revising Mr Mollah’s sentence, the Supreme Court also taught a stern lesson to the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT), a flawed but popular war-crimes court. When it comes to the determination of guilt and punishment of war criminals, the Supreme Court will not be gainsaid.
A bench comprised of five Supreme Court judges had to deal with two appeals in the case of Mr Mollah, a leading member of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh’s biggest Islamic party. Mr Mollah’s lawyers had appealed against their client’s conviction by the ICT on February 5th on five crimes against humanity committed during Bangladesh’s war of secession from Pakistan in 1971. The judges dismissed the appeal. In addition, they had to decide whether there was merit to the prosecution’s call for a death penalty. Here, the court reversed an earlier acquittal on one charge (the killing of hundreds of villagers) and ruled that on another (the murder of a family) the sentence should be changed: from life imprisonment to death by hanging.
On February 5th Mr Mollah became the first defendant not tried in absentia to be sentenced by the ICT, which is a domestic court set up by prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s ruling Awami League (AL) in 2010. The initial sentence, which would have spared his life, was seen by many Bangladeshis as being too lenient. It triggered mass demonstrations calling for the death sentence to be handed down to all war-crimes defendants and, for good measure, that the Jamaat be banned as a political party. (Another court has since ruled that the party is unfit to contest national polls because its charter puts God above democratic process.) The opposition soon framed the trials as a struggle between anti-Islamist forces and the pious. That paved the way for another kind of march on Dhaka, the capital, by Hefazat-e-Islam, an Islamic splinter group with fundamentalist demands, in May. Then security forces killed as many as 50 of those demonstrators. The effect on the government’s popularity has been devastating.
Three of the charges against Mr Mollah relied on hearsay evidence. The charge for which Mr Mollah will hang was based on the testimony of a single witness, who was an 13-year-old at the time, and no corroborating evidence whatsoever. Mr Mollah was convicted nonetheless, but his guilt proved far harder to establish than his nickname, the “Butcher of Mirpur”, would have suggested.
Bangladesh’s attorney-general, Mahbubey Alam, has said that the verdict is final and there is no room for judicial review. The defence rubbished Mr Alam’s claim and said that it will file a review petition within 30 days of receiving the full verdict. The death penalty cannot be applied before the Supreme Court comes up with a written judgment, and that can take months. Even then Mr Mollah would have the right to seek clemency from the president. It now seems inconceivable that more than two or three of the accused will be sentenced and executed before the elections, which must be held by January 24th.
Mr Mollah is likely to be joined in his predicament by another defendant who is fast running out of legal options. Delwar Hossain Sayedee began his appeals process before the Supreme Court on September 17th. Mr Sayedee is a firebrand preacher, who was sentenced to death by the ICT on February 28th. That ruling resulted in the worst single day of political violence in the history of modern Bangladesh. Just maybe, according to observers of the trial, two other cases might progress to the stage where executions become possible. They are the cases of Ghulam Azam, the Jamaat-e-Islami’s leader in 1971, and of Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, a prominent member of the main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), and one of the closest advisers of its leader, Khaleda Zia.
Mr Chowdhury’s party might someday soon be in a position to have some influence over Bangladesh’s war-crimes trials. The BNP has been silent on what it intends to do with the trials if it wins the election. It fears that the stain of 1971 which still sticks to the Jamaat-e-Islami, its main electoral ally, may cost it votes. But it has a commanding lead in opinion polls and no party has ever won a second term. A BNP victory has come to seem very plausible indeed. That a BNP government would try bringing the trials to an end is a foregone conclusion.
Even with a government minded to do so, however, it would be tricky for anyone to halt the trials; they are still incredibly popular. An opinion poll by AC Nielsen in April 2013 showed that though nearly two thirds of respondents said the trials were “unfair” or “very unfair”, a whopping 86% wanted them to proceed regardless. The public view of the ICT is curious, but not self-contradictory. Annual opinion polls show that the war-crimes trials ranked among the top three “positive steps that the government has taken”, but they consistently fail to make the top-ten list of “issues that need the greatest attention of the government”. Fair or unfair, the trials pale in comparison before such matters of concern as inflation, education, power supply and food security.
Helpfully, from the BNP’s point of view, if it does decide to scotch the trials it need not fiddle with the judiciary or the constitution. According to the constitution the president has the “power to grant pardons, reprieves and respites and to remit, suspend or commute any sentence passed by any court, tribunal or other authority”.
For now, the conversation as Bangladesh heads towards its elections is focused on whether the BNP will boycott. The party says it won’t run unless the AL agrees to hold polls under a neutral caretaker. But the BNP is desperate to contest. It only persists in griping about the electoral procedures as an insurance policy, in case it fails to secure the victory it expects. The chances of an actual breakdown of the democratic process at or around election time seem (relatively) low at this point. Both parties are keen to contest, the army has no further appetite to intervene, having tried installing a technocratic government, which ruled from 2007 to 2008, already.
The more worrying prospect must be that of a political backlash and perhaps even the rehabilitation of the BNP’s Islamic allies; a less secular Bangladesh; and millions of AL supporters incensed by their government’s utter failure to deliver credible war-crimes trials.
This article first appeared in the Saudi Gazette.
The injustice meted out to Prof. Ghulam Azam, former leader of Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, is unjustifiable on all counts and totally unacceptable. A well-known respectable figure in the Islamic world, Azam is renowned for his piety, righteousness, honesty and trustworthiness. He is now implicated in crimes against humanity that were allegedly committed 40 years ago. This is not only surprising and astounding but also highly condemnable. How can anybody justify detaining a 90-year-old man who retired from politics more than 10 years ago, throwing him into an isolated prison cell and putting restrictions on who can visit him?
Ghulam Azam was the leader of Jamaat-e-Islami in East Pakistan. It is well known that Pakistan Jamaat-e-Islami, headed by Abul Ala Maududi, the founder of Jamaat-e-Islami, was always with the opposition, and therefore, its leaders, including Azam, were detained several times during the time when Pakistan was united.
When the political crisis erupted in Pakistan after the 1970 general elections, the military ruler Yahya Khan announced the postponement of convening the National Assembly and that resulted in civil disobedience being declared by the Awami League, which scored a sweeping victory in East Pakistan in the elections. These developments followed a military crackdown on protesters and a series of political detentions, and that resulted in a nine-month-long civil war, which ended with India’s military intervention that was decisive for the establishment of the independent state of Bangladesh in place of East Pakistan.
Ghulam Azam took a political stance in support of a unified Pakistan and vehemently opposed division of the country. He was also against the atrocities perpetrated by the Pakistan army in East Pakistan. When the war with India broke out, Ghulam Azam was in West Pakistan.
After the defeat of the Pakistan army in the war and its surrender to Indian troops, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was released from jail and returned to Dhaka to take over the leadership of the new independent state. He promulgated a war crime law, and as per the law, 195 people were charged with war crimes. All of them belonged to the Pakistan army and they included no Bengali civilians. Then, Mujibur Rahman issued a general amnesty for all of them saying: “I want to show that Bengalis know how to forgive.”
Regarding the war crimes of Bengali civilians, the new government enacted a law to punish those who extended support to the Pakistan army. Subsequently, more than 100,000 civilians were arrested. None of these people remain under detention with charges of committing crimes against humanity. All of them, except for 752, were released following a general amnesty announced by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Of the 752 people, none were political figures.
But now, after 40 years, a number of prominent figures – all of them leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, including Ghulam Azam – have been detained. This move has elicited massive condemnation from international human rights organizations as well as from eminent lawyers from a large number of Western countries.
Ghulam Azam has been a victim of political vendetta several times. In 1993, he was detained for 16 months by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party government. Later, he was released after the Bangladesh Supreme Court pronounced the following unanimous verdict: “There is nothing to directly implicate the petitioner Ghulam Azam in any of the atrocities alleged to have been perpetrated by the Pakistani army or their associates – the Rajakars, Al-Badr or Al-Shams. Except that the petitioner was hobnobbing with the military junta during the war of liberation, we do not find that the petitioner was in anyway directly involved in perpetuating the alleged atrocities during the war of independence.”
But now this issue has once again been raised after 40 years during which time there were no criminal cases registered against any of those who remain under detention. This was the situation during the periods of the successive governments, including the incumbent Awami League government, which ruled the country from 1996 to 2002. No one was implicated in any crimes against humanity. What then is the justification for the detention of such a respectable figure as Ghulam Azam after a gap of 40 years?
— Dr. Ali Alghamdy is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at email@example.com __
Barrister Toby Cadman and Mohammed Nakibur Rahman (son of Motiur Rahman Nizami) spoke at a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington DC on 26th March. The Jamaat leader’s son spoke of his fears for the lives of the accused who are currently being detained by the Bangladeshi government on allegations of war crimes.
Nakibur Rahman spoke about his father’s character and simple lifestyle, and highlighted the political nature of the allegations. He also stated that his father was deprived of sleep and subjected to torture in custody. He also detailed the harassment suffered by other members of his family.
Toby Cadman focussed his remarks on the lack of international standards in the proceedings of the tribunal. He also stated that the Bangladeshi government failed to respond to a letter from the UN Working Group on Arbitrary detention and commented that the government is trying to place deadlines on when the trial should be concluded, which places pressure on the tribunal and prevents a fair trial.
Further details can be found here