Khan Bahadur Ahsanullah (R.), an Assistant Director of the Department of Education in undivided Bengal and Assam, a renowned academician and social reformer, a reputed philanthropist, a famed literary figure and Sufi thinker of the country, was the pride of the Muslims in Bengal and one of the most enlightened personalities of his time. He was blessed with a long life and spent all his years for the advancement of a largely backward Muslims in the British-governed India by rejuvenating their thoughts and values and by lifting them from an all-consuming process of social degeneration. The goal of bringing a positive change both in the lives and the psyche of the Muslims that he had set himself to was fully accomplished through his works and deeds. As a result, Khan Bahadur Ahsanullah (R.) became an institution by himself. The name of this vast, prodigious personality, who lived long enough to drench him in the sunlight to an entire millennium, will be pronounced again and again generations after generations. This nation and its people will continue to be indebted to him many ways.
Childhood and Education
Khan Bahadur Ahsanullah (R.) was born on Saturday in December 1873, in a village called Nalta, previously under Khulna and now under Satkhira district of Bangladesh. His father, Munshi Mohammad Mofijiuddin was a pious, wealthy and a generous man. His grandfather, Munshi Mohammad Danesh, was also a religious and affluent person.
Khan Bahadur Ahsanullah (R.) was his grandfather’s only son’s eldest issue. Therefore, from his very childhood, both his father and grandfather were very keen on providing his with a good an education. He started studying before he crossed the age of five. After completion of education in the elementary school, he was admitted to the Middle English School at Nalta.
After a while, he was admitted in class IV (present equivalent of class VII) at the Takee Government High School, West Bengal. In the annual examination of Class III (presently, Class VIII) at this school, he stood first and as promoted to class II (now Class IX). At the end of the year, he got himself admitted to the LMS Institution (London Missionary School) in Calcutta in Class II. In 1890, Khan Bahadur Ahsanullah (R.) passed the Entrance (now the S.S.C) examination with distinction and was awarded a scholarship. He passed F.A (now H.S.C) from Hoogli College in 1892 and the B.A examination from the Presidency College in Calcutta in 1894. He obtained Master of Arts (M.A) degree in Philosophy from Calcutta University in 1895.
In 1896, Khan Bahadur Ahsanullah (R.) joined the government service. At the beginning of his career, he was appointed the Supernumerary Teacher at the Rajshahi Collegiate School for a brief period of time. During this time, A.W Croft was the Director of the Department of Education. After a few months, with a raise in salary, Khan Bahadur Ahsanullah (R.) was appointed Additional Deputy Inspector of Faridpur.
After having had some experience in working as the Additional Deputy Inspector, he served as the Sub-inspector of Schools for six months. During this period, he had to inspect many schools.
On April 1, 1898, he gave up the job of the temporary Sub-inspector and joined the service permanently as Deputy Inspector. After that, he was posted as the Deputy Inspector in the relatively larger district of Bakherganj. He was appointed to the post by Director Martin. His office was in Barisal.
Khan Bahadur Ahsanullah (R.) spent the next seven years of his service life working in the post of Deputy Inspector. At this time, Director Martin recommended the names of 12 officials to the Government of Bengal for being absorbed from the Subordinate Education Service. The name of Khan Bahadur Ahsanullah (R.) was also among them and he was considered eligible by the Director. As a result, he became the first person to be absorbed from the inspecting line to the teaching line in the Provincial Service and was, consequently, appointed the Head Master of Rajshahi Collegiate School in 1904. During his working tenure there, he created a congenial atmosphere for the education of Muslim Students and removed the age-old hurdles that impaired their growth.
Rajshahi did not have a good madrasah or religious school for the Muslim students. The classes of the madrasah were held in a number of rooms of the college where light was very insufficient. Through acquisition of a vast area of land, Khan Bahadur Ahsanullah (R.) made provisions for the madrasha. In Rajshahi, during those days, no Muslim was found contesting for the post of Chairman of the District Board. It was through his initiative that Mohammed Emazuddin was elected the Chairman of the District Board for the very first time.
During one of his inspections to the Rajshahi Collegiate School, the then Director of the Department of Education for East Bengal and Assam, H Sharp expressed his total satisfaction at the work carried out by Khan Bahadur Ahsanullah (R.). As recognition of his accomplishment, in 1907, he was appointed the Divisional Inspector for the Chittagong region. For long 17 years, he stayed in Chittagong and made considerable improvements in the field of education in this division.
Following some recommendations from H Sharp, huge financial allocations were made by the government for the advancement of education in East Bengal and Assam during this time. H Sharp was always confident about the competence, honesty and professional integrity of Khan Bahadur Ahsanullah (R.). So, he was never miserly in sanctioning the financial budgets proposed by Khan Bahadur Ahsanullah (R.) for the development of education in the Chittagong Division. Being sanctioned enough money, he could take many positive steps for the qualitative and quantitative improvements of many impoverished sub-divisional schools in the region. His personal contribution in establishing and running the high schools in Feni, Chandpur, Brahmanbaria, Chittagong and Noakhali was enormous. The huge school in Sheoratoli near Chittagong City was built at his initiative. Besides, in many areas of the Chittagong division, he built a number of hostels both for the Hindu and the Muslim students. He also built many schools in the abandoned houses of the Zamindars or Landlords, in the month of June 1911; he was elected a Member of the Royal Society (MRSA) of London.
In 1912, the Delhi darbar or conference was held. In this conference, the King annulled the partition of East and West Bengal. As a result, for the next few years, he was appointed the Additional Inspector of Presidency. So, he left the Chittagong for Calcutta. Dr. Donne, who became the Director Later, was the Inspector during this period.
When Khan Bahadur Ahsanullah (R.) was serving in the Chittagong division, he was absorbed into the Indian Education Service (IES). After that, he was appointed the Assistant Director of Muslim Education in Bengal. He continued his service as Assistant Director for the next five years.
In the undivided Bengal, no Indian had hitherto been appointed Assistant Director. And after his retirement, the post was filled by a British by the name of Mr. Botmali as no Indian after him was considered eligible for the post. In those days, two Assistant Directors were appointed to help the Director. But both had the same official status and remuneration ceilings. When the Division of Bengal was called off, the post of the Assistant Director was transferred to Calcutta. So, Khan Bahadur Ahsanullah (R.) also moved to Calcutta. For some time, he even held the current charge of the Director of the Department of Education in undivided Bengal. In 1929, at the age of 55, he retired from the government service. It also needs mentioning that he accomplished the Holy Hajj in 1920.
The entire service life of Khan Bahadur Ahsanullah (R.) was spent in the Department of Education. During the culmination phase of his service life, when he was promoted to the higher ranks, he put the experiences derived from years of dedication and hard work to the best use. During his time, many commendable reforms took place in education field, with particular reference to education of the Muslim students, due to his personal initiative. Below are some of the educational reform programmes undertaken during his time:
During that time, there was the tradition of writing the names of the students in the examination papers. Many people believed that this open-identity went against the interests of a section of the students (due to communal reasons). For this reason, Khan Bahadur Ahsanullah (R.) went all out to introduce the system of writing the roll numbers of students instead of their names. This was first applied in the Honours and Masters examinations and later also followed in the Intermediate and Bachelors degree examinations of the time.
He elevated the standard of education in both the higher madrasah and secondary madrasah classes and created congenial atmosphere for the students to enter colleges and universities after completing the madrasah education.
During that time, he created posts for maulavis or Muslim religious teachers in all schools and colleges and eliminated the wage disparity between the Hindu pundits or priests and Muslim maulavis.
Urdu, during those days was not considered among the “classical languages”. This created problems for the Urdu-speaking students in West Bengal. It was through his initiative that Urdu occupied the place of Sanskrit.
It was dint of his active initiative that the proposal for establishing a separate college exclusively for the Muslim students in Calcutta was approved. This gave birth to the Islamia College. The principal of Calcutta Madrasah Mr. Hurley was appointed the first Principal of the college.
He was instrumental in establishing many muktabs or elementary religious schools, madrasahs, Muslim high schools and it was for him that many Muslim teachers got their appointments. The Baker Hostel, Taylor Hostel, Karmichael Hostel, Moslem Institute etc., situated at the heart of Calcutta, hold evidence to his contribution.
The Fuller Hostel of Rajshahi is glowing witness to his immortal contributions. During the construction of this hostel for the Muslim students, he faced multifaceted obstacles. In spite of continuous hurdles set by the opposition and their negative remarks, such as, “why waste so much money to build a hostel in an earthquake-prone area like Rajshahi what is the use”, he managed the required permission and funding form the British authorities to build the hostel.
He introduced an independent educational curriculum for the muktab students and made provisions so that Muslim students could study the books written by Muslim scholars. This created the opportunity for Muslim scholars to write textbooks and also improve the lot of the Muslim book-publishers. For the founding and survival of institutions like Makhdumi Library, Provincial Library and Islamia Library, he had enormous contributions.
In the schools and colleges, he readjusted the ration of stipends for the Muslim students and made provisions so that increasing number of poor but meritorious students could study free of cost. He also removed the hurdles faced by the Muslim students in receiving government fellowships to for higher learning in foreign countries.
It was through his initiative that the representative and membership of the Muslim community was ensured in the Textbook Committee. He also made some readjustments in the volume of representation by the Muslim examiners, in the number of Muslim inspection officials in the Department of Education, in the volume of Muslim students studying at the training college and also in the number of representation by Muslims in the managing committees of schools and colleges.
It was through his efforts that the New Scheme Madrasah, which introduced education in English side by side Arabic, was established. He also played a pioneering role in consolidating the status f Arabic as the “second language” in the high schools.
Some specialized schools and colleges were founded for the female Muslim students as a result of his personal initiative. He prepared congenial atmosphere for them to receive education and become complete human beings.
Besides, the Governor of undivided Bengal on June 30, 1914, through Resolution No. 2474, formed a high-level committee to propose recommendations for the improvement of three distinct streams of Muslim education. The Director of the Provincial Assembly was appointed the chairman of the committee. Khan Bahadur Ahsanullah (R.) was one of the leading members of the committee. The recommendations of this committee had a far-reaching impact on the development and progress of Muslim education.
In those days, Khan Bahadur Ahsanullah (R.) represented in all the committees and conferences relating to education in East Bengal either as member or in any other official capacities. When a furious debate took hold of the Legislative Assembly regarding the Medium of Education, the then Chief Secretary brought to the notice of the assembly, an article written in this regard by Khan Bahadur Ahsanullah (R.).
He also had active contributions in the formation of Dhaka University. A major hue and cry was raised when the draft bill on Dhaka University was placed before the Senate and a special committee was formed later on to recommend on the issue. As an outstanding member of the committee, highlighting the need for such an institution, he recommended that the bill be passed.
During both his service and retired life, Khan Bahadur Ahsanullah (R.) relentlessly tried his hand on literature and creative writings. He wrote many books on Muslim traditions, thoughts on Islam and the principles of Islam to bring about a renaissance in the lives of a decaying Muslim population of the time. In his writings, he provided his readers with new information and theories regarding the various aspects of Islam.
Some of his outstanding publications included:
Teachers’ Manual (1952)
Bangabhasha-O-Muslim Shahitya or Bengali language and Muslim literature (1918)
History of the Muslim world (1931)
Islam – O- Adarsha Mahapurush or Islam and the Ideal Great Man (1926)
Tariqat Shiksha or Learning the rules of spiritual attainment (1940)
Shikshakhetre Bongio Mussalman or Muslims of Bengal in education (1931)
Quran -O- Hadiser Adeshaboli or the instructions of the holy Qur’an and Hadis (1931)
Shristitatta or the origins of creation (1949)
Islamer Mahaty Shiksha or the invaluable teachings of Islam (1949)
Mahapurushder Amiyoubani or the eternal messages of the great men (1950)
Islamer Bano-O-Paramhangsher Ukti or the message of Islam and the sayings of Paramhangsha (1956) and
Bibhinna Dharmer Upadeshaboli or the preaching of various religions (1965), etc.
The entire gamut of Khan Bahadur Ahsanullah (R.)’s literary thoughts originated from his deep feelings for his country, his language and his desire to do good for the human kind.
He had declared in unequivocal terms: “Social welfare should ideally be the aim of literature”. He also said: “A nation which does not have its own literature does not have self-esteem. The development of such a nation will always be a forlorn prospect. If one is to introduce oneself as a true Muslim and an equal to the rest of the world, then one has to uphold one’s mother tongue with a nationalistic fervour. For restoring the very existence of the nation, the development of the Bengali language is a must.”
Aiming at social welfare, national development and refinement of the individualistic characteristics of people, Khan Bahadur Ahsanullah (R.) published a number of autobiographical books on great men. These include the life of Prophet Mohammed (SM), life sketches of a number of Sufi leaders, the lives of heads of states and a host of other historical personalities.
Along with reflecting on the instructions of Islam, he presented in his writings, the inherent loftiness and the very essence of such religious creeds which made them so unique. This trend can be well observed in the books like Sufi, Shristitatta, Islamer Mahati Shiksha and Tariqat Shiksha. He believed, “the educated people of the time have keen interest for the deep mysteries of Islam. But the stringent rules of the shariah (the traditions) refrained them from delving into such mysteries. Few people, however, could understand that by piercing the hard rules of the shariah, they could find a passage into the world of unknown knowledge and bliss”.
He took to writing as a means of reviving the Muslim s from the wretched condition they were in at that crucial point of time. But the very skill of his writing and the novelty in the presentation of the subject matters which had an unmistakable individualistic touch, transcended them from the temporal to the eternal, eventually earning them the honour of creative literature. By involving himself with the activities of various literary organizations, he also made literary endeavours and practice easy for others.
After retiring from the government service, Khan Bahadur Ahsanullah (R.), on March 15, 1935, founded a religious and service-oriented organization – Ahsania Mission – with the twin objectives of enlightment of the soul and social service for the masses.
Ahsania Mission is the outward manifestation of Khan Bahadur Ahsanullah (R.)’s faith, ideals and mirrors the inherent beauty of his being. It was he who set the aims and objectives of the Mission: Praying for the grace of the Creator and serving those created by Him. Selfless service was one of the most distinct features of his life. He wrote in his autobiography on this: “I have set my life’s goal to serve people living far away from the cities. The pleasure that offering of service gives, cannot be found in personal aggrandizement. Boundless love will not come unless the element of ‘self’ is negated. If there is no love for the creation, there cannot be any love for the Creator. The only aims of my life are to extend brotherhood. Fraternity and spread the message of peace”.
Khan Bahadur Ahsanullah (R.) was an extremely pious man. In his spiritual quest, he received a good measure of attainment. In 1909, he received his spiritual bayat in the hands of the famous Hazrat Shah Gafur (r) of Patna and became a member of the Quaderia -Waresia Selsela. Today, he is revered by all as a very successful peer or saint. However, for the novelty of his perceptions, thoughts and religious beliefs, he could not be put in the same league with the other peers of the time. Rather than communication with his followers from the elevated position of a saint, he always emerged before them as a friend.
He gave his admirers, followers and well-wishers the status of friends. His natural humility and spiritual radiance gave many people a new direction for leading a worthy and beautiful life. The remark of Khan Bahadur Ahsanullah (R.) stated below on the mutual relation between the saint and his followers, bears testimony to the clarity, wiseness and humbleness of his character:
“The responsibility of the peer or the saint is to flourish and nurture the spiritual power of his followers. No saint can create spiritual power. He can only bring to surface, the power already bestowed on one by the Almighty. As friction on any iron substances could create fire, the Almighty has given in all human beings, a secret source of His own power. That power has to be attained through love and prayers. And, for this reason, there is the need for good teachers”.
Honours and Awards:
The entire life of Khan Bahadur Ahsanullah (R.) was an exemplary one. He carried out the duties of his service life with utmost honestly and dedication. He was and honest, pious, sincere and responsible officer. For this, his works were always praised by the higher authorities. As a reward for his sincerity and honesty, he received quick promotions several times during his career and was placed in higher salary grades, overtaking the middle salary grades. For his contribution for the development of the Department of Education and as a recognition for his sincere and praiseworthy initiatives, he was conferred the “Khan Bahadur” title by the then government.
He was also elected Senate and a Syndicate Member of the Calcutta University. No Muslim before him was bestowed these honourable posts. He also had a direct link with the literary circles and the literary movements of the time. During the years 1917-1918, he was the vice-president of the Literary Association of the Muslims in Bengal.
“For his excellence in social work, his contribution in social and cultural fields, and especially, for his remarkable contribution in championing the cause of religion, the Islamic Foundation – Bangladesh award was bestowed on his posthumously in 1405 Hizri of the Arabic calendar”. Bangla Academy also awarded him an honorary fellowship for his “unique and versatile contribution in the field of Bengali literature”.
Khan Bahadur Ahsanullah (R.) lived for 92 years. He breathed his last on February 9, 1965. His departure only resulted in his bodily demise, but could do nothing to take away the name and fame, the contributions for which he will live eternally, he nearly touched the sun-rays of an entire millennium and made selfless contributions in creating the history of an entire century.
Immediately after his death the Daily Azad (Magh 28, 1371 Bangla) wrote in his editorial: “Many creations of Khan Bahadur Ahsanullah (R.)’s action-packed life, will remain ever alive to the nation. – the impact of the Muslim Education Movement had lived with him as the biggest inspiration till the last days of his life. This inspiration had developed in him, a serious interest to do good for the development of education, for the quest of religion and above all, for selflessly serving the Muslim population of the country. The fact that he was blessed with a long life and could spend every moment of that life in silently serving the cause of Islam and the Muslim people, was in itself, an act of blessing from the Almighty. With his death, an irredeemable void has been created in the society.”
Abul Fazal stated in the commemorative publication on Khan Bahadur Ahsanullah: ” he was a thoroughly religious man. But by no means, he was a fanatic. He had deep erudition as far as theological subjects were concerned and his erudition has lent our literature richness and variety”.
According to Professor Md. Mansuruddin: “He was courageous and a well-wisher of the society. Like the illiterate and fanatic mullahs or priests, he was never unkind and rough. He was always engrossed in the ecstatic love of the Almighty”.
In assessing this saintly personality, Dr. Waqil Ahmed said: “It is my belief that the huge volume of writings left behind by Khan Bahadur Ahsanullah (R.) never fell short of sensible thoughts and deep insights into subject-matters. On the contrary, his thought-provoking essays were always in keeping with the intellectual and the idealistic demands of the time”.
The comments presented below from an essay by the noted literary critic Dr. Abdul Mannan Syed can be considered as the most contemporary assessment on the man: ” In the awakening of Bengal and the rejuvenation of the Bengali Muslims, Khan Bahadur Ahsanullah emerged as a true renaissance-man who had reconciled the worldly and the spiritual on the palm of a single hand; succeeded to strike a balance between the worldly brilliance and the divine brilliance; ultimately gaining the eligibility to start his proud journey to receive the honour of the successful human being or Insan-ul-Quamel”.
Excerpts from the books authored by Khan Bahadur Ahsanullah (R.):
“The follower (of a saint) who can surrender himself to the Almighty, can establish himself in a more elevated position than the saint. Therefore, to look down on one’s follower and take undue privilege from him, is an act of foolishness. The relation between the two is a divine one, not a worldly one. A follower takes the aid of a peer or a saint only to reach the Almighty. The saint, therefore, should always keep in mind that he is an emissary only, not the provider. He is an intermediary, not an authority”. .. Amar Shiksha- O – Diksha
” Where ever we look at nature, we notice the enormous benevolence and the gifts of the Creator. The more science will go on unfolding the mysteries of nature, the more we will become aware about this gift and benevolence of the Creator. The creative process reflects the great kindness, power and enormity of the Almighty. The relation that Islam has with science, cannot be found in other relations” – ..Islamer Daan
“The goal of the Almighty is the same for all times. He only wishes to see how mankind spreads the message of His greatness as His representatives on earth. With the evolution of time, faults and follies have found their ways into every religion. Al long last, Islam came as the only self-sufficient religion. People from all nations and communities have, therefore, embraced and skill is embracing the principles of Islam without any reservations. However, it totally prohibits the tendency to sneer at people from other religious faiths, communities and national identities. All the creations are the making of one benevolent Creator. Therefore, tolerance towards all should be considered one of the highest qualities of man”.– Bibhinna Dharmer Upadeshaboli
“It is essential for one to follow the rules of religion to achieve refinement of the rules of religion to achieve refinement of the soul. For someone who wants to find out the relation between the immediate spirit and the eternal soul, who wants to feel the presence of the Almighty in all His creations, who wants to have a taste of the eternal life in this temporal world, who wants to engross into prayers whole-heartedly —abiding by the principles of religion is essential for him”.– Tariqat Shiksha
“The soul is like a shining mirror. Acts of sin robs the natural clarity of the soul and adds stigma to it. So, the divine-ray does not reflect on that mirror. Remorse, shame and repentance or tauba are the only remedies for the soul.” — ..Sufi
” The meaning of the world – Islam – ..is surrender, endearment and peace. Muslims discard petty personal interests for the greater well being of the world. Through surrendering the self, a Muslim becomes one with the universal reality or the ultimate truth. A Muslim shows his love for the Almighty by serving Him. Islam dedicates the goods delivered by man for the well being of the universe. By discarding transitory happiness, Islam embraces perpetual happiness. By establishing worldly love, Islam makes its journey to the ultimate truth. Islam creates the condition for peace for the entire human kind”- .. Islam O Adarsha Mahapurush
“It is a mark of greatness to be humble and show humility during exchange of words with others. The softer one’s heart is, the less harsh one’s words will be. Harsh words are the signs of arrogance. It is, therefore, a matter of great shame and ignominy when a truly religious person speaks to others harshly, looks down on others with disdain and resorts to cruelty and lies. A person who cannot lower his head in respect to other human beings, also cannot offer his heart in the court of the Almighty”.-.Bhakter Patra
Social service should ideally be the prime objective of literature. But unfortunately, violation of this aim is noticed on many occasions. Literature should be aimed at refining the taste, not corrupting the taste. With the help of literature, we have to clear the path of future development of out society”.—Bangabhasha O Mussalman Shahitya
Each one of you is lake a ruler and one day each of you will have to account for your actions as ruler. The monarch is a ruler and he shoulders the responsibility of his subjects. In the real life drama of the family, the person who lords over his family, will also be held accountable and made to answer on how well he looked after his family members. In the husband’s house, sometimes the wife is seen to emerge as the ruler and this will make her account for her deeds. Even the servant can sometimes become a ruler and he also has to account for the responsibilities that are vested on him”. — Bangla Hadis Sharif
“One of the cardinal instructions of Islam is to establish or offer zakaat. It is instructed that the rich should help the poor by offering zakaat in the rate of 2.5 percent from his fixed income. This will help breed friendship, global fraternity, and along with it, promote global peace. Without sacrificing the heads of rich people to the sword or to the destructive powers of atoms, the rich should take the advantage of financially helping the poor and both should join together in harmony to develop this world. This is the aim of the Creator”. -.. Islam O Zakaat
” Man can become the owner of undying wealth, provided he abides by the dictates of the Holy Quran. It has everything -. rules of religion, rules of society, rules of statesmanship, rules of education and rules of home-economics. Every alphabet, word and line of it is an expression of originality, which rejects dualism. It is an impressive combination of theology and philosophy. Every sentence of the Quran is thoroughly logical and conclusive. It provides solutions to the mysteries of the past, present and future”. –Quraner Bani O Ekottobad
“Islam is a naturally easy religion, which is devoid of any complexities and compound scholastic references. Islam does not teach anything that goes beyond the intellectual faculty or the understanding of the average or the common man”. -.. Islamer Mahati Shiksha
” Maya or longing is the main hindrance to reaching the source of the hidden power. Occasional longings put a tab on the regular source of power and strength. The Almighty has given all human being the essential hidden power. He wants that by exercising that hidden power given by Him, human beings come out victorious against the forces of worldly desires and longings. The creation of human desires and longings also testifies to the benevolence of the Almighty. If there were no testes or trails, then there would not have been any justification for crime and punishment, hell and heaven and the aim of creation would have remained incomplete. Every reward, therefore, entails a hard test. On the Day of Judgment, the Almighty will be present as the examiner to judge the rewards and the punishments, it is His wish”. –.Amar Shiksha O Diksha.
Source: Booklet written by Dr. Golam Moyenuddin and Published by Dhaka Ahsania Mission in March 2000