Professor Ghulam Azam: A Model for the Global Muslim Community
Professor Ghulam Azam is one of the most recognized and admired names in the politics of Bangladesh. He was a distinguished religious scholar, renowned writer, civil society leader, social reformer and a veteran politician in Bangladesh. He is the man who had witnessed 3 historical periods - the British colonial rule, the Pakistani period and independent Bangladesh. Professor Ghulam Azam was among the most discussed about political leaders of contemporary Bangladesh. He was an iconic figure to millions of young men and women. He was elected as the General Secretary of Dhaka University Central Students Union for two terms from 1947-48 and 1948-49. He led the language movement, popularly known as "Bhasha Andolon" in 1948 during his tenure as GS of Dhaka University. In November 1948, he submitted a memorandum to the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Liaqat Ali Khan, on behalf of the students of Dhaka University demanding state language status for Bengali. He was the prime organiser of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami and one of the key players of historic events of the nation including the Language Movement and the movement for democracy in the sixties and eighties. He presented the ‘Caretaker Government’ formula which became a foundation stone of Bangladesh’s democracy.
Professor Ghulam Azam has come from a respected family. He was born on 7th November, 1922 at his maternal gandfather's Laxmibazar house in Dhaka. His father is Maolana Golam Kabir and mother is Sayeda Ashrafunnisa. The root of his family is in Birgaon of Nabinagar thana under Brahmanbaria district. His father bought a piece of land at Maghbazar and he along with his family have been living in the house located in Kazi office lane of Mogbazar for many years. His maternal grandfather, late Shah Sayed Abdul Monaem, and grandfather Sheikh Shahabuddin were famous Alems. Munshi Shahabuddin was known as the most prominent religious scholar on the east of the Meghna River. His father was an Islamic and modern man. He was the teacher of a high school and also the marriage registrar (Kazi) of Dhaka city. His first known ancestor was Shaikh Zaki, the great grandfather of his great grandfather, who is known to have migrated there from the Middle East.
Prof Ghulam Azam has 3 brothers and 5 sisters (1 brother & 1 sister remain living), and he is the eldest. He and his siblings displayed exceptional academic excellence. The first, Dr. Ghulam Muazzam, passed his M.B.B.S degree from Calcutta Medical College. He was a gold medalist in his batch, where national professor Nurul Islam was also his batchmate. He was the principal of Sylhet and Rangpur Medical colleges and professor of Acra Medical College in Ghana through Commonwealth invitation. He rose to become the leading pathologist in Bangladesh and wrote several books. Two of the books are Science in the Quran and The Quran and Medical Science (written in Bangla). The second brother was an electrical engineer and chief engineer in a division of Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corporation (BCIC). His third brother, Dr Mahdiuzzaman was also an Electrical Engineer. He was a professor in Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) and a research fellow at the University of Manchester, UK. Prof Azam’s sisters were educated women for their time; among them, one was a lecturer in Bangla Literature. Husbands of the sisters include Advocate Moshihur Rahman, Maolana Alauddin Al-Azhari (the first Bangladeshi graduate of Al-Azhar University and author of Bangladesh’s key textbook in Arabic Language) and Maolana Kazi Shariatullah (Secretary General of Bangladesh Kazi Association). Prof Azam is married to Sayeda Afifa Azam, daughter of Maolana Mir Abdus Salam of Bogra. Their marriage was on 28th December’1951. They have six sons and no daughters. His eldest son completed his degree and masters in Economics from the University of Manchestor, UK. He works for a development bank in the Middle East. His second son is a businessman in UK and third son works for a company also in UK. His fourth son is an ex-brigadier general and award winning officer of the Bangladesh Army who was dismissed without explanation by the current Awami League government upon their rise to power. Prof Azam’s fifth son is a management consultant in UK and his youngest son completed his doctorate from Aligarh University and is a lecturer at a British University.
He started his student life in Birgaon Primary School. He read there upto Class3. Then he studied in Barail Junior New Scheme Madrasha upto class 6, in Hucha Miah High Madrasha (now converted into high school), Comilla from class 7 & 8. In 1937, he passed the Junior Madrasha Exam and obtained A First division. Then he went to Govt. Islamic Intermediate College (the present Kabi Nazrul College) and passed the High Madrasha Exam ( Equivalent to S S C) and stood 13th . Then he completed H.S.C from the same College in 1944 achieving the 10th position. Professor Golam Azam wanted to study Maths and Science but his father wanted him study Arts. He fulfilled his father’s wishes. He joined the Arabic Dept. to study Honours. But due to poor Arabic syllabus and old method of teaching Arabic through English, his enthusiam evaporated. He passed BA with Arabic, English and Political Science in 1946 from Dhaka University, and later passed MA in Political Science in 1948 from Dhaka University.
Student Leadership :
Prof. Ghulam Azam was a meritorious student. He was gentle and amiable. Kazi Golam Mahbub (convenor of the all-party Committee for the language movement) said, Ghulam Azam, has contribution. They directly participated in the language movement. But nobody is ready to acknowledge the contribution of others. Ghulam Azam was a student of character and an ideal student. Sometime the extra-ordinary quality of the great people becomes visible in their early life. Such an event indicated that Ghulam Azam would one day become great. It happened when he was a student of class seven in a high school in Comilla. The local politicians held a large public meeting to express their resentment against the forcible carving out of the Jewish state of Israel in the Muslim heartland of Palestine. The young Ghulam Azam went to advocate Zahir Uddin who was presiding over the vast multitude and expressed his desire to address the meeting. He got the permission . Ghulam Azam stood on the dais but soon forgot his point and he was trembling. He firmly placed his hands on the table. Such incidents apart, Ghulam Azam had a very illustrious student career:
1944 – 1946 Assistant Secretary, Purbo-Pakistan Shahitto Shangsod (East Pakistan Literary Society)
1946 – 1947 : General Secretary, Hall Union, Fazlul Haq Muslim Hall, Dhaka University.
1947 – 1948 : General Secretary, Dhaka University Central Student’s Union (DUCSU). He reportedly received the highest votes amongst all the candidates.
1948 :As the DUCSU General Secretary, Ghulam Azam presented the Historic Memorandum, demanding Bengali to be a state language, to Mr. Liakat Ali Khan, the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, on Nov 27, 1948 at the Dhaka University Gymnasium ground, on behalf of all the students.
1948 – 1949 : Re-elected as the General Secretary of DUCSU
1948 – 1949 : General Secretary, Purbo-Pakistan Shahitto Shangsod (East Pakistan Literary Society)
Other Involvements as a Student :
• Mid 1930s: Spoke at a rally as a school boy, organised in support of Palestine.
• A scout leader in his school and in college (Islamic Intermediate College, Dhaka).
• He was also a keen sportsman and was a very good volleyball and badminton player.
• Champion in Badminton doubles. His team was called "Hopeless". But they always won.
• Also a good singer, he won the college competition for Naat-E-Rasul (songs to praise the prophet).
1950 – 1955 :Lecturer, and later Professor, Dept. of Political Science, Rangpur Carmichael College (now a university). This was his only employment before committing his life in full time politics and dedicating his entire life for the service of the people.
1952 – 1954 :Founder Secretary, Tamuddon Mojlish, Rangpur District .(a national socio-cultural organisation guided by Islamic principles)
1951 – 1954 : Ameer, Tabligh Jamayat, Rangpur, a worldwide religious organisation.
1958 :President, Editorial Board, The Daily Ittehad, Dhaka. Professor Ghulam Azam played a key role in the formation of Pakistan Democratic Alliance (PDM) in 1967 of which Shekh Mujibur Rahman was also a member
Political Involvement :
1954 : Formally joined Jamaat-e-Islami, the leading Islamic political party in the country. Soon became the Founder President of the party’s unit at Rangpur Carmichael College.
1955 : Became full member of the party while in jail. Upon his release from jail, gave up his job as a Professor to engage with the party full time. Secretary, Jamaat-e-Islami, Rajshahi Division In 1955, when he was in jail the party granted him the membership. In June 1955, he became the Secretary of Rajshahi Division. In 1956 the party selected him to accompany the founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami Moulana Syad Abul Ala Moududi in his tour to East Pakistan
1957 – 1967 : General Secretary, Jamaat-e-Islami, East Pakistan
1967 – 1971 : Ameer (President), Jamaat-e-Islami, East Pakistan
1978 – 2001 : Ameer (President), Bangladesh Jamaat-E-Islami.
Political Imprisonment :
1948 : DUCSU General Secretary Ghulam Azam was arrested on March 11, 1948 for his role in the famous Language Movement.
1952 : Pakistan Government arrested him for his continued involvement in the Language Movement in Rangpur.
1955 : Pakistan Government arrested him again for activities in the Language Movement.
1964 : Following the banning of Jamaat-e-Islami by Pakistan government, he was arrested while attending party’s Central Committee meeting in the then West Pakistan. He was released after 6 months. When he flew back to Dhaka, he was at Dhaka Airport upon got released through court after 2 months.
1992 : He was arrested by Bangladesh Government for becoming the leader of a Bangladeshi political party without the nationality of Bangladesh (which was wrongfully taken away by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1973), following the public announcement of his election as the Ameer (President) of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, after decades being the Ameer behind the scene. This was followed by a court case by his family to challenge the government, demanding the restoration of his nationality as his birth right. In 1994, the High Court ruled that there is no evidence to accuse or implicate him for any crimes during 1971 war, the key reason used to strip him of his nationality by the then Awami League led govt. The High Court also ordered the government to immediately restore his nationality and release him from prison. He was released, with full honour and right, after 16 months.
Key Political Roles:
• 1954 General Election: At an election rally in Rangpur in 1954, organised by Jukto Front (Combined Front), the main opposition political alliance, Prof. Ghulam Azam was introduced to Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy, the Leader of Jukto Front (who later became the Prime Minsiter, following the victory of Jukto Front in the election).
• The introducer was none other than Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, a friend of Prof. Azam during their student days, who later became the President of Awami League, the Father of the Nation, the Prime Minister and President of Bangladesh, and the man behind the independence of Bangladesh.
• Member of Central Committee, Democtratic Action Committee (DAC), a combined opposition alliance formed against General Ayub Khan, the then President of Pakistan,during late 60s.
• Participated in the Round Table Conference (RTC) held by the then President of Pakistan, General Ayub Khan in late 60s, with representatives of all political parties of the country. He represented Jamaat-e-Islami East Pakistan.
• Secretary General, Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), a combined opposition alliance against Pakistani ruler.
• During the mid 80s, under General Ershad’s Martial Law, he floated the idea of a non-party Caretaker Govt to conduct the National Parliamentary Elections.
Ghulam Azam stands for democracy:
As a student and teacher of political science he was able to discover the concept of ‘caretaker government’ to oversee general elections. This concept was later on accepted by all parties and Bangladesh saw through smooth transition of power for four consecutive elections before the current fascist government removed it from constitution. He always believes in democratic practices and felt that Islam can only be established when the people want it and the transfer of power should always be through peaceful electoral system.
Ghulam Azam stands for consistency:
We will rarely find a politician who is consistent between his or her public and private life. Ghulam Azam was an exception. He is someone who has never been pretentious, rather everyone knows his straightforwardness and simplicity both in his public and private lives. According to family members, they never saw him preach that which he never practised. You can ask any person who knew him personally. Ask the people who worked in his house; ask the person who worked with him in his chamber and took him to the Mosque every day; ask the neighbours who prayed regularly with him in the Mosque whether they ever found any inconsistency in his behaviour.
Ghulam Azam stands for piety:
Ghulam Azam is a deeply pious man. He doesn’t have a conventional madrassah degree, but he studied Islam extensively and has written more than a hundred books abot Islam and Muslims. He wanted to cater for those people who are not highly educated and wrote about Islam in a simple language for easy understanding. He also translated Maulana Maududi’s famous tafsir into easy Bangla for common people to understand the Holy Qur’an. All he taught us in our whole lives was how to lead a pious life. For him our life has no other meaning but to serve Allah’s Deen.
Commitment to the people of his country:
Professor Ghulam Azam’s political and social engagement and activism spans over 92 years, during which he proved himself to be a dedicated and honest politician. He was at the time the youngest representative in the National Assembly of Pakistan. He was a member of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM). Ghulam Azam traveled widely and represented his country at numerous international forums. Ghulam Azam’s was personally known and respected by renowned scholars such as Shaikh Abdullah bin Baaz (rahimahullah) and Shaikh Yusuf al-Qardawi. As a recognized community organizer, Ghulam Azam helped draw international aid and assistance to Bangladesh from major donors, including UK-based Islamic Relief, Kuwait-based International Islamic Charity Organization (IICO), as well as Makkah-based Rabita al-Alam al-Islami. Through their support, he established numerous schools, orphanages and mosques throughout Bangladesh, especially in the rural countryside. His vision and activism in the field of Islamic financing became a reality through the most successful private bank in Bangladesh, Islamic Bank Bangladesh Ltd (IBBL). His personal relationship with Fuad Abdul Hamid Al-Khatib (former Saudi Ambassador in Bangladesh in the late ’70s) helped to pave the way for a huge man-power export from Bangladesh to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in subsequent decades, becoming the highest source of remittance earnings from Bangladeshi expatriates in any foreign country. Yet he personally never gained from any aspect of these labor and industry relations with KSA or any other Middle Eastern country—a very rare quality among any politicians or business leaders. Ghulam Azam served for the greater good of the country. Being a visionary leader, he had always initiated and facilitated new, innovative ideas to serve the people, especially those who are needy and underprivileged.
Author Ghulam Azam :
Professor Ghulam Azam is not only a politician and Islamic thinker but also a prominent writer. He has authored over 100 books, mainly in his native language, but some in English as well. These books are mainly on Islam and Bangladesh. He also authored a 9-volume series of his memoir titled ‘’Jibone Ja Dekhlam” (Reflections of My life). He was a prolific writer. The style of his writing was simple and lucid, useful to all classes of readers.
Millions flocked to Ghulam Azam’s funeral :
The veteran Islamic leader and former Chief of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami Professor Ghulam Azam (92) received something akin to a people’s state funeral. Dhaka became a sea of people and for once the security forces were also in their best of behavior. The funeral of this internationally reputed national leader was held in the national Mosque the Baitul Mukarram in Dhaka. Multitude of people soon filled this largest Mosque in the country which was overflowing to the huge avenue outside as far as eye could see. At the end the man who some in the country disagreed with, received the most dignified burial in utmost respect which no other Bangladeshi leader received since independence. The national and international funeral prayers were held throughout the Muslim world. May Allah accept good deeds and sacrifice in the service of Islam and Bangladesh.
So, Professor Ghulam Azam also appeared as an outstanding thinker and notable scholar and writer He strived for strengthening the relations of Millat and its new generation with Islam on strong basis. His noble deeds have been preserved in golden letters in history; there are millions of people around the world who respect him, pray for him, shed tears for him. Insha Allah, he will get best rewards from Allah and those who persecuted him for raising the flag of Islam in his own country will not escape from the wrath of Allah.
Central Education Secretary
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