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Movement : Emancipation of the Intellect

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16th-May-2018       
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Mahmud Shah Qureshi :
If one considers Kazi Nazrul Islam in his totality, it will appear, without any doubt, that a creative genius that no formula can bind and that, with the matter which was furnished to him in a determined epoch, he learned to shape an eternal image of the universe and the humanity. An immediate success - national and prolonged rendered popular his verses, songs, and even novels, narratives, and plays sometimes not well-conceived. We draw to an end this sketch of the poet with his own words, which seems to be strongly justified:
"1 was born in this epoch of the undetermined possibilities of the 20th century; I am but a drummer of the battalion of the avant garde - this is my mark."
With Nazrul Islam, the Muslim writers started to situate themselves on the literary map of Bengal. They left aside their inferiority complex and succeeded better in their enterprises. After the First World War, the young Muslims came in a greater number to Calcutta and found themselves before a political and cultural situation that was more welcoming than it had been before. It is in this way that the young poet Jasimuddin stated his career, thanks to the encouragement which was given to him by the poet Nazrul and the grand person of Bengali letters, Dr. D. C. Sen (1866- 1939).
The poetic career of Jasimuddin (1903- 1976), which already in his life-time inscribed his name in letters of gold in the history of literature, offers us the melody and the lively image of the rural Bengal in their tradition of real folklore, but artistically refined as if by a magic touch.
 It is evident that after what we have just related, the two Muslim poets were not the instigators of a Muslim Renaissance as one is often tempted to say, but promoters of the Renaissance of Bengali letters. Their poetic creations did not leave any doubt on this subject, because their images were borrowed from the common storehouse of the Bengali tradition; and, their vocabulary of Arabic Persian inspiration enlarged the horizon of Bengali literature. Their efforts do not resemble at all that of Iqbal in Punjab, by whom they have not been influenced either. Their success is essentially due to their own genius. The Muslim writers, henceforward, found their own ways to move forward. The young poets who tried to imitate them had generally failed because they partially accepted the traditional situation and superimposed it on the modern world without trying to conciliate the two trends.
It is from there that ambiguity and imperfection are born which characterize these young poets, along with other contemporary Indian writers. We shall see this more clearly if we consider an intellectual movement which blossomed at this moment and sealed the ulterior happenings of the events. Being named as Buddhir Mukti (Emancipation of the Intellect), this movement started at Dhaka towards 1926. Teachers and students of the university had started gathering around Kazi Abdul Wadud and some other intelicctuals who had been already renowned for their insolent writings. Calling themselves the Kemalists, the partisans of the movement were being inspired by Kemal Ataturk, Raja Ram Mohun Ray, Rabindranath Tagore, Romain Rolland, as well as by Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.), Persian poet Sa'di, and German writer Goethe. In politics, they advocated religious harmony and the institution of modern democracy by reinforcing the struggle for liberation. In literature, their efforts are characterized by a straight co-operation with the Hindus (without posing for them the question of persistent inequality among the communities) and an aesthetic research. In fine, the promoters of this movement wished to integrate the secular elements, all by continuing to work for a social renewal.
The mentor of the movement, Kazi Abdul Wadud (1894-1969), was born in Faridpur, but did his higher studies at Calcutta. It is there that he resided for a long time, even after the independence. He occupied important positions in the department of Public Instruction. Earlier, he had received liberal education in the tradition of classical spirit of Bengal. As a Lecturer of Literature at Dhaka College, soon he became well-known in the literary circles for his essays which expressed, with new and neat points of view, his thoughts about religion, literature, philosophy, politics, and social reform, along with narratives or novels treating Muslim life. In 1935, Tagore invited him to deliver a series of lectures (Nizam lectures) on HinduMuslim conflict at Visva-Bharati (Santiniketan).
In his expose, Abdul Wadud examined the important points of religious development among the Hindus and the Muslims, without asking for what were the main reasons of actual conflict. In his opinion:
"It would be preferable to know what are the currents of thought, hopes, and aspirations of these two communities. This will bring us to the comprehension, if not to the solution to the conflict, or at least, aid us to acquire a little of this moral force which will permit us not to be left abated by the actual situation."
Then he affirms that in the intellectual history of the Muslims there had always been a great conflict between the rationalists and the followers of orthodoxy, but at the end it had always been the masses who decided, whereas among the Hindus the masses had always followed the orthodoxy. Notwithstanding, the rationalist Muslims had to leave the place to Al-Ghazzali who professed marriage between Sufism and Puritanism. Muslims suffered from the inborn weakness of this thought. The rationalism of Ibn-Rushd (Averroes) influenced greatly European ideas, but it could not be brought to India at the price of a very late effort of Sir Sayyid Ahmad and Amir Ali. In benveen, the Indian Muslims, for the most part moderate Hanafis, had to follow the influence of the Wahhabis, puritans par excellence. Because of the socio-political situation, the particular social condition in Bengal accentuated more this influence in the region. Consequently, the Muslims of Bengal lost the synthetic liberalism that they had elaborated in the Middle Ages and the reason which had guided them in the beginning of the last century. Contrarily, they were profited in having a strict belief and the sentiment of the community by leaving on side syncretism and liberal thought. The Muslimization of the Muslims and the disgrace of the personal reflection installed there, leaving rationalist researches of Sir Sayyid Ahmad and Amir Ali. A similar influence extended further more to the Hindu society with the teachings of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda. The efforts of personal reflections appeared to the public as the weakness of a class of thinkers; ancient traditions were glorified revengefully and installed anew.
But the greatest obstacle to obtain a new Indian life has come, according to Abdul Wadud, by the political action in the 19th century. The elites reunched certain movements, he says for their own interest and then imposed them on the public. For this elite class, the Indian awakening cannot be other than a Hindu renaissance. The counter-current was equally present among the Muslims. Sir Sayyid Ahmad, despite his liberal ideas, could not do other than to think that his religion was an incomparable light (ek la-jawab noor). His words - "what is not true is not Islam" - could certainly promote a renewal of ideas, but unfortunately, his successors were rather influenced by his separatism. While analyzing the political philosophy of Iqbal which got at the moment the attention from the Muslims of India, Abdul Wadud diagnosed that Iqbal (along with other separatists, especially) was not against Hinduism, but against the anti-Muslim Hindu attitude. Yet, this great thinker did not denounce the leaders for their attitudes towards religion. Tagore and Gandhi had successively affirmed that the sacred word did not only constitute the religion, which "is the eternal conscience." Unfortunately, the Indians, in general, did not approve but one part of this teaching where Gandhi incited everyone to be sincerely religious. This had rather provoked fanaticism. "But this fanaticism does not reflect (and Abdul Wadud expresses here his optimism that) the true face of Hinduism or of Islam of the other 'day or today." Abdul Wadud concluded his study by these words:
"We should relate ourselves profoundly with our entourage engage ourselves to the meditation and force ourselves to transform these religions in veritable laboratory of creative forces to the service of Man."
It now goes without saying that this brief discussion cannot be a just idea of the work of Abdul Wadud. His luminous thoughts are elaborated in many other writings and in his last lecture at Visva-Bharati, Banglar Jagaran (The Awakening of Bengal). Rationalism in religious thought was one of the leading ideas of Abdul Wadud. He had taken it first of all from a close source teachings of the great reformer Raja Rammohon Ray. Now, it is natural that our author has consecrated erudite pages on his immediate master. Other than the works already mentioned, his numerous essays have enriched the field of Rammohonian research, above all, what is concerned as the influence exercised by Islam on Raja Rammohun Ray and the influence exercised by him on the Bengali intellectuals.
Of all European thinkers, it is Goethe who made the greatest impression on Abdul Wadud. Being a great soul of the new age, epitomized by the European renaissance and by German classicism, Goethe appeared to him as the most imposing figure in the domain of efforts undertaken in view of "the emancipation of the intellect" (Buddhir Mukti). He consecrated many articles and two magistral studies on him, the first ones to appear in Bengali. It seems well that Abdul Wadud preferred moral energy to moral formalism as well as vital values to mythic values in literature, politics, and thought.
A clear reflection served by a profound erudition has always pushed Abdul Wadud to take up interesting studies on the problems in social, political, cultural, and literary fields. Whether one agrees or not with him, his writings bring to his readers an intellectual pleasure. His efforts of syntheses revealed fruitful, although after 1940, date from which aggravate the fanatic sentiment among Muslims as well as Hindus, his voice turned, to some extent, weakened and he became rather solitary. His movement - "The Emancipation of the Intellect" - had an existence of about ten years under the auspices of Muslim Sahitya Samaj) (Muslims Literary Society). The annual sessions of this intellectual and literary movement became real events at Dhaka - in the first two Kazi Nazrul Islam and in the tenth the great novelist Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay attended.
Among Kazi Abdul Wadud's friends and disciples - all of them writers or teachers - one should name Kazi Motahar Hossain (1897-1981), Syed Motahar Hosen Choudhury (1903-1956), Shamsul Huda (1910), Abul Fazal (1903-1983) and Sayyid Abul Hosain (1897-1938), who took up on their shoulder the heavy task of awakening the society from its mortal lethargy and published a literary review, Shikha (The Flame) (1927), for five years. Among the partisans of the movement, Sayyid Abul Hosain, a law teacher, was the most brilliant and most revolutionary-one. Although a practicing Muslim, he professed, at the risk of finding himself condemned by the orthodoxy, that the evolution of human beings does not have any limit and that one can enrich because Islam has ordained the search of knowledge as of prime importance in the Holy Quran and Sunnah.

(The writer is adistinguished researcher and scholar. Former teacher of Paris University and  Chittagong, Rajshahi and Jahangirnagar University. Ex-DG, Bangla Academy, Dhaka. Former Professor and Dean, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Gono Biswabidyaloy, Savar, Dhaka.)

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