Colonialism, politics of language and partition of Bengal PART XVIIby Nurul Kabir
BESIDES the Sudhakar group, there were some other Islamic pundits, such as Moulana Muniruzzaman Islamabadi (1875-1950), who engaged themselves in analysing as well as interpreting Islamic faith in the mother tongue to ‘cleanse the faith of Islam’ from the influences of Hinduism and Christianity.
Muniruzzaman Islamabadi was a highly politicised moulana, who was active in the anti-colonial movement led by the Indian National Congress [Moulana Muniruzzaman came from Chittagong, once known as Islamabad. Hence, he is known as Islamabadi, which has nothing to do with Pakistan’s capital Islamabad.]. He was also associated with the Pan-Islamic Khelafat movement of India, and founded the Bengal chapter of Jamiyate Olamae Hind. [The Jamiyate Olamae Hind had resolved in its Kolkata conference in 1925 that the ‘Muslims have to continue to fight for independence, even if the non-Muslim communities abandon the demand for Swaraj.]
Islamabadi devoted his intellectual energy, side by side with politically fighting against British colonialism, to combat the deliberate demonisation of Muslim rule in India by Western historians and their local Hindu collaborators, and thus provide the readers with the ‘correct narratives’ of history, vis-à-vis the ‘incorrect’ versions provided by the communalist Hindu authors, in Bangla. In this regard, Islamabadi’s book, Bharate Musalman Sabhyata (Muslim civilisation in India) published in 1914, still remains a testament of his intellectual efforts in Bangla.
The moulana’s objective to project the past glory of Islam, its contributions to the progress of human civilisation and thus inspiring the Muslims of Bengal to change their lots got manifested in publications like Bhugol Shastre Musalman (Muslim contributions in geographical science), Khagol Shastre Musalman (Muslim contributions in astronomy), Korane Swadhinatar Bani (Messages of freedom in the Qur’an), Moslem Birangana (Heroic Muslim women), Bharate Islam Prachar (Spreading of Islam in India), Musalman Amale Hindur Adhikar (Rights of the Hindus in Muslim Rule), Turashker Sultan (Sultan of Turkey), Aurangzeb, Nejamuddin Aulia, etc.
The moulana concludes his Bhugol Shastre Musalman by saying: ‘The Muslim readers! Would you now, on reading the essay, shed one or two drops of tears after realising the devotion of your predecessors [towards knowledge]? We are so worthless children of our predecessors that we are now shameless enough to beg for invaluable knowledge achieved by our predecessors that we had once handed over to the others out of ignorance.’ [Moulana Muniruzzaman Islamabadi, ‘Bhugol Shastre Musalman’, Moulana Muniruzzaman Islamabadi Rachanavali (Works of Moulana Muniruzzaman Islamabadi), Volume I, (ed.) Moniruzzaman, Bangla Academy, Dhaka, 1993, p 131]
Referring to the uneducated mullahs’ reservation about learning geography on the baseless ground that the subject was created by the ‘Kafir English’, Islamabadi writes: ‘We wouldn’t be able to change our conditions, let alone make progress, until we would take the trouble to review out history and acquire essential knowledge about geography, science, industry, commerce and agriculture, et cetera.’ [ibid]
Moulana Islamabadi used to inspire Muslim youths to work for the ‘national independence’ from the British colonial rule, arguing that patriotism is a very important component of Islamic faith. Addressing a youth conference in Chittagong in April 1930, the moulana said: ‘The [Muslim] youths must work towards generating patriotism in society. Islam has inspired all to love their motherlands, while the pious Muslim scholars have observed that the love for motherland is an inherent component of the Islamic faith.’ [See Moulana Muniruzzaman Islamabadi’s presidential address at the Chattagram Moslem Juba-Sammilani on April 21, 1930, ibid, p 317.] Not surprisingly, Moulana Islamabadi enjoyed the affection of the leaders of the Sudhakar group.
The brief almanac of the intellectual activism of the Sudhakar group clearly shows that the writers and journalists in question had a couple of clear objectives: defending Islam against its demonisation by the colonialist European Christian historians and the vilification of the Muslims by the local communalist Hindu intellectuals, and, in the process, enlightening the contemporary Muslims of Bengal with Islamic principles and inducing in them a sense of pride about the glorious tradition and inherent strength of Islam, and thus saving them from being converted to Christianity by the European missionaries. To meet the objectives, all these authors wrote books, pamphlets, essays and articles on Islamic philosophy, Islamic history and traditions, etc in Bangla. Thus was created a huge body of Islamic literature in Bangla since mid-18th century.
Not only books, the contents of the journals published and edited by the Kolkata-based Muslims in the last quarter of the 19th century shows that the Muslim writers of Bengal mostly concentrated on Islam and its glories in West Asia and India. Rafiuddin Ahmed notes, ‘Of the articles published in the major Bengali Muslim journals between 1873 and 1900 about 29 per cent dealt with Islam in the Middle East, another seven per cent with the glories of Islam in India and 32 percent with related subjects; only six per cent had any reference to Bengali language and culture.’ [Rafiuddin Ahmed, op-cit, p 111] The ‘remaining 26 per cent, or so, were concerned with general subjects, without any particular reference to local or religious issues’. [ibid, Endnote number 23, p 222]
However, none of the munshis and moulanas who came forward in the 19th century to write books in Bangla with a view to defending Islam and saving Muslims from being converted to Christianity was English-educated. The most of them were pundits in Arabic and Persian language and literature. Subsequently, the Bangla prose they had written was bound to be different from the one written by the Hindu authors. While the prose of the Hindu writers got generally Sanskritised and free from even the familiar words of Arabic and Persian origin, the prose of the Muslim writers became generally Arabicised and Persianised, with a clear tendency of avoiding words of Sanskrit origin as much as possible. Thus, in terms of its syntax, semantics as well as contents, the Bangla prose evolved in the 19th century through two distinct paths — Hinduised and Islamised — contributing towards making the political and economic wall taller between the Hindus and Muslims of Bengal. The 19th century trend of the communal linguistic division of Bangla language and literature continued to get stronger in the 20th century.
Linguistic and literary activism for Hindu political revivalism
WHILE Raja Rammuhan Roy’s Brahma-ism and the Tattabodhini group’s supplementary literary intellectual activism succeeded to a significant extent to stop conversion of Hindus into Christianity, which in turn substantially contributed to the development of the modern Bangla prose, the literary activism of Bankim Chandra Chattapadhya (1838-1894) ushered in a socio-political movement for Hindu revivalism in Bengal on the one hand and ensured a qualitative change towards the progress of the Bangla prose on the other.
In his efforts to develop the Bangla prose, Bankim Chandra started from the point where Ishwar Chandra Sharma had left off. Sukumar Sen aptly notes that ‘Bankim started his journey of developing Bangla prose along the paths of [Ishwar Chandra] Vidyasagar’, which implies, along with other things, the use of a lot of tatsama, i.e. Sanskrit words, use of compound words, and syntax based on Sanskrit grammar. [Sukumar Sen, Bangala Sahitey Gadya, Ananda Publishers, Kolkata, 1998, p 77]
To be continued.
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