Ahmed Sofa remains a leading writer in Bangladesh. Since his departure from this world at a relatively young age in 2001, his writings have been drawing increasing attention of readers here and beyond. Eminent thinker Salimullah Khan has been playing a key role in firing up this interest of the young generation about his deep thoughts surrounding his society, his people and his times. Through all his writings he became the spokesman of the heart of this nation. He is a Bangali and a Mussalman, and secular to the utmost limit. Who is a Bangali Mussalman?
Ahmed Sofa gave the answer to this question in his essay, 'Bangali Mussalmaner Mon' (The Mind of Bengali Mussalmans), published in 1976 in the literary journal Samakal edited by Hasan Hafizur Rahman. It gave birth to a controversy that involved intellectuals of both Bangladesh and West Bengal and continued for many years. This long essay, the background of its making and the controversies surrounding it are reproduced in the Ahmed Sofa Bidyalay periodical edited by Salimullah Khan. There are the editorial giving the latest interpretation of that essay and other rare and valuable items in this new Oct-Nov issue of this journal.
Writer and educationist Abul Fazal was in love with Ahmed Sofa's writings. His review of Sofa's book, Shipahi Juddher Itihas, (History of The Sepoy Movement) is reprinted here. Sofa also had great respect in his heart for Abul Fazal and paid tributes to him in 1983, calling him a great man on an unending journey (choloman manob), which is also included in this issue. After Ziaur Rahman came to power, one morning while walking through Suhrawardy Udyan in Dhaka, Sofa came across Professor Abul Fazal accompanied by M G Tawab, a leading figure in the military regime. The secularist professor told him that he was going to join the Bishwa Ijtema at Tongi. This meeting threw up some serious questions before Sofa about the identity of his nation, Bangali Mussalman.
In Sofa's view, Bangali Mussalmans had been an agro-based community in the distant past of history. When India fell into the hand of the Aryans, the people of this deltaic region were subdued and brought under the yoke of perpetual slavery by being turned into lower caste Hindus. Once the creed of Buddha became victorious, they revolted against the Brahmanical exploitation by converting to Buddhism en masse. But their peace did not last long because in course of time Buddhism had to surrender the ground to Brahmanical hegemony. In this condition, as soon as Muslim power began to conquer this region, Bangalis sought refuge from the Brahmanical tyranny by gathering under the flag of Islam. Bangali Mussalman is therefore a nation suppressed and tyrannized for centuries by Brahmanism, and later the British and the Pakistanis, and denied any progress, either mental or socio-economic, and freedom. The fate of Bangali Hindus who are poor, working and lower caste has been no different from that of their fellow Muslims. The inhabitants in this deltaic region, except for a few among the upper class who bent their backs before their masters, have been an oppressed people through the centuries. To talk about an oppressed people is not abandoning secularism, but rather giving support to the emancipation of other oppressed peoples as well.
Sofa finds the root of the backwardness of the mind of Bangali Mussalmans in their long-lasting suppression and exploitation in history. The mind of this people has remained so static that they find a Brahman Ajor, an Indian Hindu, living at a place between Damascus and Karbala in their punthi literature and Mir Mosharraf Hossain's Bishad Shindhu. His oppressed psyche takes revenge on the Hindu Brahmans by imagining Ajor, his wife and seven sons all saying their kalema before the cut-off head of the grandson of their prophet and sacrificing his life along with his wife's and sons' for the cause of Islam. Bangali Mussalman's mind stands still in time and Sofa wants to awaken Muslims by beating them severely and criticizing them ruthlessly. He hates those impotent intellectuals who keep chewing the cud of past glories and point to the British or other outside forces for all their own backwardness. Sofa dared to do this because he thought himself to be a true Bangali Mussalman and loved his nation without any pretense or pretension.
This issue includes Sofa's criticism by Ibne Golam Samad, a preface by Dhirananda Ray to Sofa's book, a tribute to him by a writer from Germany, a discussion of his novels by Sudipta Hannan, who recently earned his Ph.D. on the life and works of Sofa, a passionate write-up by Dipankar Goutam, another by Syed Manzoor Morshed, and an interview that Sofa gave to Sharifa Bulbul in Chittagong. This is a most valuable issue and a considerable contribution to our literary field.
Alamgir Khan is Research and Publication Officer, Centre for Development Innovation and Practices (CDIP)