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A linguist and his other identities  

Dr Muhammad Shahidullah\'s 134th birth anniversary observed

Published : Thursday, 11 July, 2019 at 12:00 AM  Count : 215
Iftikhar Hossen

Dr Muhammad Shahidullah's 134th birth anniversary observed
A linguist and his other identities  

A linguist and his other identities  

Dr Muhammad Shahidullah----educationist, writer and philologist, was born in Pacchim Bangla (India) on July 10 in 1885. His father, Mafizuddin Ahmad, was a warden at the shrine of Pir Gorachand. But he was able to forsake this hereditary service and devote himself to secular education and research. He learnt Urdu, Persian and Arabic at home and Sanskrit at school. He passed his Entrance examination from Howrah Zila School and FA from presidency college, Kolkata, and took admission in Hughli College. After a temporary break of study because of illness, he passed BA with Honours in Sanskrit from the City College, Kolkata, and MA in comparative philology from the University of Calcutta.
Shahidullah began teaching in Jessore Zila School. After working as headmaster of Sitakunda High School for some time, he started to practise law at Bashirhat in 24 Parganas. He was elected vice-chairman of the town's municipality. Later, he worked as Sharatchandra Lahiri Research Fellow under Dinesh Chandra Sen at the University of Calcutta and joined the University of Dhaka as a lecturer in Sanskrit and Bangla.
From academic point of view, his life at the University of Dhaka made the most important period of his life. He did research on the origins of the Bangla language. In 1925, he gave his thesis that Bangla as language originated from Gaudi or Magdhi Prakrt.
 Shahidullah went to Europe for higher studies in 1926, and learnt Vedic Sanskrit, Buddhist Sanskrit, comparative philology, and Tibetan and ancient Persian language at University of Paris, and ancient Khotni, ancient Vedic Sanskrit and Prakrt at Freiburg University in Germany.
He received his doctorate from the Sorbonne in Paris in for his research on the dialects of the Charyapada, the earliest extant specimens of Bangla language. He was the first Indian Muslim to receive the doctorate degree. He also received a diploma for his fundamental research in phonetics from the University of Paris the same year. After completing his doctorate, he returned home and started teaching. When the Sanskrit and Bangla Department was split into two separate departments, he became head of the Bangla Department in 1937 and retired from this position in 1944.
However, Shahidullah continued to work despite his retirement. He became principal of Bogura Azizul Huq College after retirement. He then rejoined the Bangla Department of the University of Dhaka as a supernumerary teacher and taught there for six years as departmental head and dean of the faculty of arts. Besides, he taught part-time at the Law Department and the International Relation Department. He also worked as head of the Bangla and Sanskrit Department of the University of Rajshahi.
Muhammad Shahidullah played an important role in the Language Movement. He was the first to establish the reasons why Bangla, instead of Urdu, should be the state language of Pakistan. Earlier, he was secretary to the Bengal Muslim Literary Society and had presided over many meetings and conventions, including the second Bengal Muslim Literary Convention, Muslim Literary Society Convention in Dhaka, All-Bengal Muslim Youth Convention in Calcutta, All-India Oriental Studies Convention and East Pakistan Literary Convention. He also represented UNESCO at the International Seminar on Traditional Culture in South-East Asia in Madras and was elected its chairman.
His writings on language, literature and culture were published in many magazines and newspapers; and he himself edited many such publications. He worked as an associate editor of Al Eslam and was joint editor of Bangiya Mussalman Sahitya Patrika. He edited and published the first children's magazine of Muslim Bengal, Abgur. In addition, he edited a monthly called The Peace, the monthly literary magazine Babgabhumi and the fortnightly Taqbir.
Shahidullah was a pious Muslim, and all his books on religion reflect his deep faith in Islam. He addressed public gatherings at different places to uphold the importance of Islam. He was awarded the 'Pride of Performance' Award by the Pakistan Government, made Professor Emeritus by the University of Dhaka and awarded 'Knight of the Orders of Art and Letters' by the French government for his lifetime achievement in research on language and literature. He died in Dhaka in 1969.  

The writer is a freelance contributor.

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