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My Journey Through Life Part 22: Joining Jamaat-e-Islami

MY JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE
BY
PROFESSOR GHULAM AZAM

cropped-pga-reading.jpg

(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

Joining Jamaat-e-Islami

 

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.[1]

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.[2] 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[3] and Maw’ezatul Hasanah[4] 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.[5] 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[6] 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.

 

[1] 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.

[2] Another nearby district of northern Bangladesh.

[3] Wisdom

[4] Best use of language while calling people to Allah’s cause as advised in the Qur’an.

[5] Late night prayer before dawn highly recommended to come closer to Allah.

[6] Call for prayer.

 

My Journey Through Life Part 20: Joining Tamaddun Majlish

MY JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE

BY

PROFESSOR GHULAM AZAM

cropped-pga-reading.jpg

(Abridged translated version of the author’s original Bangla memoir Jibone Ja Dekhlam)

Translated and Edited by Dr Salman Al-Azami

Copyright – The Ghulam Azam Foundation

Chapter Twenty

Joining Tamaddun Majlish

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

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

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

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

Sovereignty of Allah

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

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

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

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

Serving Two Organisations Simultaneously

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

Islamic Cultural Conference

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

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

Knowing Islamic Economic Systems

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

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

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

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

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

I Have Always Loved Tamaddun Majlish

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

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

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

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

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

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

[3] The first article of faith in Islam.

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

[5] Quran (4:131)

[6] Quran (4:131)

[7] Quran (53:39)