I had a class mate during my school days named Azizur Rehman. To me, in those days, he was Muslim and I was not supposed to eat anything from him. Otherwise I would become Dharmobhrosto. There were a few more Muslim students in our class also. I simply found them very different from rest of us (Hindu boys) in terms of wearing short pajama, skull cap and use of odd words which were not my Bengali. So far I remember, I neither loved nor hated them.

Sometimes I used to talk to Azizur mostly about study subjects. He was a good student. I never wanted to know what his parents were. I knew that he, like all other Muslim boys, lived in villages located out side my town. I was very surprised to find that all Muslim students performed dawn to dusk fast for one month (“Ramadan”- I came to know latter) in a year. During that month they even did not drink water in the school.

Gradually I started feeling like some sort of a Hindu boy vis-à-vis Azizur without knowing what religion or Hinduism meant. To me Hinduism was ‘Durga Puja’, ‘Saraswati Puja’ etc.. But generally speaking, I harboured a subtle sense of indifference towards those Muslim class mates.

Over the next couple of years, I gradually became little closer towards Azizur. I became somewhat conscious about religion and started asking him questions about his religion out of curiosity. I learnt my first tit bit about Islam from Azizur. However, I observed that though I was interested to know about his religion, he never asked me anything about Hinduism. It was another matter to put my extremely poor knowledge of Hinduism against Azizur’s vast knowledge of Islam. Azizur’s eyes used to glitter when he spoke anything about Islam. The most loved fruit for Azizur was date-palm and not mango or jack fruit. Being a Bengali Azizur’s choice about fruit was strange to me. At that tender age, I also failed to understand his passion for Islam.

I learnt from Azizur about the formless Allah (I was doubtful about Allah’s formlessness) and Qur’an, simplicity and fighting spirit of Prophet, the musical beauty of Azan, world’s Muslim population and number of Islamic countries and so on and so forth. As a sixth standard student I was no match for Azizur to defend Hinduism due to my gross ignorance about it and its different related statistics. Azizur not only knew about his religion well but was keen to establish that Islam was the best religion. The last part did not interest me as it was not my concern at that age. Azizur also told that no Muslim should bow head except before Allah and one day he even demonstrated how Muslims say ‘Taslim’ to parents by keeping head upright. I found that very odd as we gave ‘Pranaam’ to parents by bending our heads in front of their feet. Anyway, procedure of ‘Taslim’ did not disturb me much as I had accepted Azizur and other Muslim class mates simply as different.

After sixth standard, I changed school, lost contact with Azizur never to meet him again. In retrospect I think that Azizur was actually product of a straight jacket system, where one’s religion is impregnated in the brain since childhood as the best and the only best thing for humanity with many false and dangerous teachings. The doors and windows of Azizur’s mind were never allowed to open. Azizur never had any opportunity or liberty to ponder upon of what he believed to be the best thing for humanity. He was taught not to have any independent opinion about religions in general and Islam in particular. His liking of date-palm and knowledge of statistics about world’s Muslim population and number of Islamic countries etc. reflected a typical Islamic mind set of many Bengali Muslim boys like Azizur even more than fifty years ago.

In next few decades, I gradually found hollowness in religions and left Hinduism behind. The religious conviction and passion of an sixth standard student like Azizur always eluded me. After so many years, the memories of Azizur have come back to my mind. I don’t know where Azizur is now. If we meet some day even by chance, I won’t solicit Azizur’s forgiveness for my lack of faith in man made construct called religion. Though strange, I have suddenly started missing Azizur after a gap of so many years.