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Shiraji and Bengal Muslim renaissance

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Professor Anwarul Karim, Ph.D
Muslim Renaissance in India begins with Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (1817-1898).  He helped the Muslims to learn English to compete with the Hindus during the British period. They lagged behind the Hindus as they did not cooperate with the British when the British conquered India from the Mughols. Muslim renaissance in Bengal started much later than what Syed Ahmad Khan did towards the Muslims of India and it was Nawab Abdul Latif (1828-1893) who in fact initiated the renaissance or the reawakening movement of the Muslims in Bengal. He was a social worker and pioneer of Muslim reawakening in 19th century Bengal. The Muslims believed that as long as the non-believers ruled India, the subcontinent was a 'Dar-ul-Harb' for Muslims and it was the duty of all to wage struggle against the British rule in order to regain the lost freedom. After his death, a good number of people worked for up-liftment of the Muslims in Bengal. They inspired Muslim community to change their attitude in view of the situation that helped the Hindu community in getting the upper hand over the Muslims during the British. Khan Sahib Abdul Wali (1856-1926) was among those who contributed greatly to these areas of his works. He was anthropologist, antiquarian, and writer who contributed much towards the Muslim renaissance. His father, Maulvi Abdur Rouf, was a Munsiff during the early 19th century of the British rule. His grandfather, Molla Nayeem, was a Persian tutor at Fort William College, Calcutta.
 Next to him was Maulana Maniruzzaman Islamabadi (1875-1950). He was an Islamic philosopher, nationalist activist and journalist from Chittagong, Bengal. Khan Bahadur Ahsanullah (1873-1965) was one of the pioneers of the renaissance in Bengal. He was one of the members who founded Dhaka University, a religious thinker and a spiritual guide to his people.
Syed Ismail Hossain Shiraji (1880-1931) was born in Sirajganj, Pabna. He was a writer, orator and peasant leader. He was anti British and organized movements against the British. He suffixed the term Shiraji with his name for his love of the place where he was born in the year 1880 and died in 1931. His father Abdul Karim Khandkar (1856-1924) practised Unani (herbal medicine) and was not financially well off. Shiraji, though extremely bright, he could not prosecute his higher studies in the College because of financial stringency. But this did not deter him from making himself a knowledgeable and enlightened person. Shiraji in his young age learnt Persian in school and also studied Sanskrit privately and was quite well versed in Sanskrit grammar and literature. He also studied Hindu scriptures like Vedas, Manusmriti and Upanishads. Here also we find points of similarity with Kazi Nazrul Islam. Nazrul studied Hindu scriptures, learnt Shyama and Kirtan sangeet (music), composed poems and songs on Hindu religion. Both Shiraji and Nazrul were chief exponents of Hindu Muslim unity.  Nazrul joined British army and he organized the Indians against the British and many of them joined Azad Hind Fauz of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.  Shiraji too joined the Khilafat movement to fight against the British. He went to Turkey with a medical mission when Turkey was involved in Balkan wars in 1912.
Shiraji was one of the most prominent figures in the Bengali Muslim reawakening during the British India. He encouraged Muslims to learn English and to go for higher education to regain their position equally with the Hindus. He also worked for encouraging women to undertake English   education as this would help strengthen their position in the society.
Shiraji believed in religious tolerance between Hindu and Muslim who lived side by side for generation together. He also thought that Hindu-Muslim unity would be of utmost need to create strong Bengali society to fight against the tyranny and oppression of the British. His writings inspired many nationalists and revolutionaries. The name of Syed Ismail Hossain Shiraji is thus specially remembered for his all out effort to the cause of Muslims and none had suffered like him in the hands of the British for securing the rights of the Muslims in Bengal. His date of birth was July 13, 1880. Ismail Hossain Shiraji also inspired the Rebel Poet Kazi Nazrul Islam (1899 -1976), and his son Syed Asaduddowla Shiraji accorded him one of the biggest receptions in Bengal at Sirajganj, Pabna. He organized an 'All Bengal Conference of Muslim Youths' under the name 'Bangiyo Muslim Tarun Sammelon' at the Theatre House in Sirajganj town on November 5-6,1932 one year after the death of Ismail Hossain Shiraji.Syed Asaduddowla Shiraji personally went to Kolkata to invite Kazi Nazrul Islam to attend the program at Sirajganj as the Chief Guest. Folk singer Abbasuddin, Sufi Zulfiqar Haider and Giashuddin Ahmad of Mymensingh accompanied Nazrul in the conference. Here the Poet Kazi Nazrul Islam delivered his most memorable and greatest Presidential speech addressing the youths of Bengal. The speech was afterwards published in the Saogat, edited by Nasiruddin in its1339 edition as 'Jouboner Dak'. It was later published in many journals as 'Toruner Swopno'. On the concluding day Nazrul visited the residence of Syed Ismail Hussain Shiraji, the author of banned anthology of poems 'Anal Probaho'  and his grave and paid his deep respect and homage to him.            
Shiraji was an activist and worked for many parties and organizations. These included : Indian National Congress, Muslim League, Anjuman-i-Ulamah-i-Bangala, Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, Swarajya Party and Krishak Samiti.
Here I quote a poem written by Ismail Hossain Shiraji : It caught the attention of all freedom loving men in Bengal.
জন্মভূমি -
হউক সে মহাজ্ঞানী মহা ধনবান,
অসীম মতা তার অতুল
হউক বিভব তার সম সিন্ধু জল
হউক প"তিভা তার অুণ্ন উজ্জ্বল
হউক তাহার বাস রম্য হর্ম্য মাঝে
থাকুক সে মণিময় মহামূল্য সাজে
হউক তাহার রূপ চন্দে"র উপম
হউক বীরেন্দ" সেই যেন সে রোস্তম
শত শত দাস তার সেবুক চরণ
করুক স্তাবক দল স্তব সংকীর্তন।
কিš' যে সাধেনি কভু জন্মভূমি হিত
স্বজাতির সেবা যেবা করেনি কিঞ্চিৎ
জানাও সে নরাধমে জানাও সত্বর,
অতীব ঘৃণিত সেই পাষন্ড বর্বর।
The Land Of My Birth
Ismail Hossain Shiraji
Might he be the most wise and the top wealthy,
Might he enjoy the super-power limitless
Let his magnanimity be equal of the unfathomable Indus, great
Might his Talent glitter unhindered
No matter if he lives majestically in his mansion
Might he stay meticulously dressed amidst glamorous jewelry
Might his beauty be shining as that of the Moon
And heroism no less than Rustom
Tens of hundreds kiss his feet as slaves
And be flattered with songs in praise of him
But he who never did anything good for his motherland
Or worked little for his community
Tell that scoundrel as quick as possible
He is condemned as heartless savage base.
Translation: Anwarul Karim
The Poem 'The Land of My Birth' speaks of   Shiraji's great patriotism and utmost love for the country, Bengal. He paid great tributes not only to his homeland but his poem also expressed sharp criticism to those who betrayed the cause of their Motherland. He was not at all hesitant to condemn boldly those who took pride in them having power and position, name and fame and wealth in the society and never did anything worthwhile for the country or showed no love or regard also. Such kind of boldness of Shiraji stands as unique and unparallel in the history. Only Poet Nazrul could share his greatness.      
The following are the literary works of Syed Ismail Hossain Shiraji :
Shiraji wrote in the contemporary journals such as Al-Eslam, Islam Pracharak, Prabasi, Pracharak, Kohinoor, Soltan, Mohammadi, Saogat, Nabajug and Nabanur. Most of his writings tended to glorify Islamic traditions, culture and heritage. His books of verses include Anal Prabaha (1900), Akangkha (1906), Uchchhas (1907), Udbodhan (1907), Naba Uddipana (1907), Spain Bijoy Kabya (1914), Sangit Sanjibani (1916), Premanjali (1916). His notable novels are Ray Nandini (1915); Tara Bai (1916); Feroza Begum (1918) and Nooruddin (1919).
It was indeed very much surprising that without higher academic learning, Shiraji could produce such a great work of arts and these include poetry, prose, novels, travelogue and essays. During the British, the Hindus excelled in Bengali literature. Muslims were ignored and occasionally were looked down upon by the so called Hindus that Muslims were inferior to them. But the works of Shiraji proved beyond doubt that he had the quality of a great writer and he enriched Bengali literature by his works.  One such book was 'Anal Probaha', an anthology of poems written by Syed Ismail Hossain Shiraji and it was published in 1900.The poems of 'Anal Probaha' were anti-British and these encouraged the Muslims of that time to rise up from sleep and to fight for achieving liberation of the country. In those days, no other Muslim poet except Nazrul, the rebel poet of Bengal, dared to write anything against the British. But the valiant young Ismail Hossain Shiraji had done this heroic job. In fact 'Anal Probaha' was the first collection of poems which expressed the feelings and sentiments of the people of the region in verse form for the freedom of the country and also about the emancipation of the Muslims as a nation'. Such a great and noble man he had been.
The British imprisoned him for his works as these went against the British.       
'Anal Probaha' was a great revolutionary work. It spread fire all over Bengal. And Shiraji became famous overnight.
The effects of these poems left a tremendous impact on the mind of the youths to fight back the British in India. The British Government confiscated the 'Anal Probaha', in February, 1910. He was charged in a court of law for instigating people for liberation of the country. He was sentenced to suffer a rigorous punishment of 2 years' imprisonment. He was the first Muslim poet before Kazi Nazrul Islam in Indo-Bengal sub-continent who received such kind of punishment of imprisonment for writing poems on liberation. Syed Ismail Hossain Shiraji got released from jail on May of 1912. That time Turkey became involved in Balkan war. Shiraji had an attachment and a deep sense of feeling of World Muslim fraternity and he immediately joined as a member of a medical team organized by Indian Red Crescent and as a member of All-India Medical Mission and went to Turkey to help the Turk -Balkan war endangered destitute on 5th December, 1912.
He returned from Turkey in July 1913.
He breathed his last on 17th July, 1931.
Today, we salute to the memory of this great man who left no stone unturned for the betterment of the Muslim community and also took efforts to drive the British from this country. n
(The writer is a Pro VC, Northern University Bangladesh, formerly Visiting Scholar, Divinity School, and Harvard University, USA. E-mail: dranwar.karim@gmail.com)

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