There is a book originally written in Urdu by Maulana Abdus Sattar and later translated in Bangla by Mustafa Haroon. The Bangla version was published by Islamic Foundation Bangladesh during 1980. This Bangla book is entitled “Aliya Madrasar Itihash”. Abdus Sattar, in all probability, was an Urdu speaking East Pakistani. The original Urdu book was possibly written during Pakistan era of Bangladesh. In the narration of Bangla “Aliya Madrasar Itihash”, it becomes clear that the concept of “Muslims are separate nation” was very much apparent even in mid-nineteenth century India. It is fact that in the minority Muslim ruled India, this was not an issue. But after 1857, the non-Bengalee Muslim aristocrats suddenly found themselves as a faceless and stateless population. The sentiment percolated to poor Muslims of Bengal without any socio-economic reason which was relevant to their aristocrat non-Bengalee brothers only. The poor Muslims of Bengal simply fell in line on religious ground only.
Muslim rule in India was based on non-Bengalee Muslim aristocrats whose forefathers came from outside India. They had the support from many Hindu aristocrats in running the administration. The situation of the bulk of poor Hindus and Muslims (mostly converts) in the country was similar. To them, it was the question of livelihood and existence only. Thus they had no conscious interest as to who their ruler was. Foreign languages like Arabic and Farshi were in use along with Indian Urdu in the royal court, administration and education.
Things changed drastically after 1857. British rule gradually started pushing English and Western education in Bengal. Hindus, on whom religion did not have absolute control, took the opportunity of new learning process and started getting jobs. Non-Bengalee Muslim aristocrats looked to other direction and fell behind. They were leaking their wounds. The poor Muslims of Bengal simply followed their non-Bengalee aristocrat brothers and kept on brooding over their fictitious misfortune.
Non-Bengalee Muslim aristocrats’ psyche in nineteenth century India was filled with the conviction that though in minority, either they ruled India or they were a nation within nation. They did not have anything to do with pluralistic India. The religious bondage made the poor Muslims of Bengal mental slaves of those non-Bengalee Muslim aristocrats.
In nineteenth century Bengal, the extent of that mental slavery was reflected in trying to adopt an ‘Islamic Bengali language’ with some dose of Arabic, Farshi and Urdu words in ‘Hindu Bengali language’. The distinction was made by Muslims and not Hindus. The same trend was observed in post-partition East Pakistan also. Mentally Muslims of Bengal were closer to Saudi Arabia & Iran than Bengal.
There was a time in late nineteenth century when it was felt that Muslims of Bengal should learn English for getting jobs, Bengali as an everyday spoken language (not mother tongue), Urdu and Farshi for religious and cultural reason and also Arabic if possible (Aliya Madrasar Itihash: page 133, last paragraph). All such efforts were made in the name of Islamic identity.
Can any Bangladeshi youth comprehend this today? Urdu is nowhere in today’s Bangladesh? A few Farshi words are still in use in the courts of law and Arabic is generally related to Qur’an reading and Islamic education. Tagore, Nazrul and Jashimuddin et al along with Poila Baishakh had changed the whole spectrum of language and culture of the country. Many Bangladeshi Muslims have come a long way from the parochial views of their nineteenth century non-Bengalee aristocrat brothers.
In spite of all this, Bangladeshi has been perpetually suffering from identity crisis. Before 1947 they were Muslims, during 1952 Bhasha Andolon they were Bengalee Muslims, during 1971 liberation war they were Bengalee, during Zia’s rule they became Bangladeshi Muslims. Now a certain proportion wants to be identified as Bengalee.
There are some similarities between Bangladesh and Turkey. Turkish people are torn between their Asian and European identities. Similarly, Bangladeshi people are torn between Bengalee and Islamic identities. In other words, they are torn between ‘Islamic Foundation’ and ‘Bangla Academy’ of Bangladesh.
A good proportion of Bangladeshi ape Islamic (Arabic) culture through the use of long kurta, above-ankle pajama, head gear, hena coloured beard, surma in eyes and Itr etc. On the other hand some proportion of Bangladeshi mainly the cyber age youths, intellectuals and rationalists are more inclined towards Bengalee identity.
Turkey is possibly the only Islamic country where names of Muslim people are Turkish and not Arabic or Persian. In Bangladesh also addition of Bengalee name with Arabic or Persian is commonplace. Kemal Ataturk took the bold step of closing Madrassas and ensured that Azan should be in Turkish language and not in Arabic. Mujib miserably lost the opportunity. BNP and Jamaat-Shibir term Bengalee identity as Hindu Indian identity. AL also pampers Islamists of Bangladesh for vote based politics. Without the support from major political parties and with hostility from Islamist Jamaat-Shibir and Hefajat-e Islam, the Bengalee identity is fighting for survival. “Gono Jagoron Moncho” is covertly pushing Bengalee identity and “Hefajot-e Islam” is overtly pushing Islamic identity.
And the story of ‘Unhealthy Bangladesh’ goes on.