From time to time, we get people who glorify societies through their knowledge, intellect, dedication and work. Khanbahadur Ahsanullah (1873-1965) was such a great person. He was a renowned educationist, writer, social reformer, philanthropist, literary figure and spiritual leader of national and international repute. In his book Khanbahadur Ahsanullah: Shikkha O Samajchinta, Dr. Muhammad Abdul Mazid presents Khanbahadur Ahsanullah's thoughts on education and society as well as his contributions to social developments and educational reforms. The book, which is basically a review and research by the author, also discusses Ahsanullah's spiritual life.
The author begins the book with a discussion on 'Khanbahadur Ahsanullah and Contemporary Society'. Ahsanullah was born in a period when the Muslim community in the Bengal region was in a critical situation. Specifically, Muslims were lagging behind others in the education sector as they had been ignoring learning English. Born in Nolta village in the district of Satkhira, Ahsanullah completed his MA in Philosophy from Presidency College, Kolkata, in 1895. He started his career in 1896 as a supernumerary teacher at Rajshahi Collegiate School. During his entire working life, a kind of political, social and religious unrest was prevalent in society. Ahsanullah did not involve himself with any organisation or politics; rather he created his own world with the knowledge and intellect he had acquired. Khanbahadur Ahsanullah's pioneering role could be comparable, the author observes, with the roles played by Ramtanu Lahiri and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar in the reformation of the Hindu community; and also with the contributions made by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, Nawab Abdul Latif and Syed Ameer Ali for the advancement of the Muslim community.
Khanbahadur Ahsanullah's unparalleled contribution to the development and reform of education as well as his philosophy of education are explored in the second, third and fourth chapters of the book. The entire service life of Ahsanullah was spent in the Department of Education. During his career of 34 years, he not only served the government dutifully but also was devoted to the welfare of the neglected and backward people of his community. He undertook various reforms for their educational development. By reforming the Secondary and Higher Secondary Madrassa curriculum and syllabus, he enabled students who passed the Madrassa examinations to go to the university. He played an active role in creating the post of Maulvi, equivalent to the post of 'Pandit', in schools and colleges. He also contributed to the creation of the New Scheme Madrassa.
Khanbahadur Ahsanullah established many educational institutions during his lifetime. He also played a major role in establishing many student hostels in and outside Kolkata, including the famous Baker Hostel in Kolkata. The Fuller Hostel of Rajshahi is a glowing witness to his contributions. He was especially active in the movement to establish the University of Dhaka. When the Dhaka University Bill was first presented to Calcutta University Senate, it faced stiff opposition. Later, a special committee was formed to review this bill, and Ahsanullah was made one of its members. As an outstanding member of the committee, highlighting the need for such an institution, he recommended that the bill be passed.
During the culminating 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 their best use. During his 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. For this reason, Ahsanullah 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 MA examinations and later was also followed in the Intermediate and Bachelor's examinations of the time. For his contributions to the development of the Department of Education and as a recognition of his sincere initiatives, Ahsanullah was conferred the 'Khanbahadur' title by the then British Government.
Khan Bahadur Ahsanullah was a prolific author and wrote more than seventy books. Many of his books, specifically, 'Shikkha Khetre Bongio Musolman', 'Teacher's Manual' and 'Calcutta University Commission Report 1917-1919', present his philosophy of education. Ahsanullah would believe that education's main objective should be creating enlightened human beings. He also put great emphasis on women's education.
In the subsequent chapters of the book, Dr Mazid attempts to present Ahsanullah's social thoughts and works as well as their impact on society. He also focuses on this great man's spiritual life. On 15 March, 1935, Khanbahadur Ahsanullah founded the famous organisation - Ahsania Mission. Ahsania Mission is the outward manifestation of Ahsanullah's faith, ideals, and it 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. Bangladesh's leading development organisation 'Dhaka Ahsania Mission (DAM)' was the brainchild of Khanbahadur Ahsanullah which he founded in 1958.
Selfless service was one of the most distinctive features of Ahsanullah's 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 spreading the message of peace."
In the concluding chapter the author draws our attention: "Khanbahadur Ahsanullah was an extremely pious man and a Sufi. He was blessed with a long life and sacrificed his total life for the betterment of mass people and society. Although his life and activities are now a part of history, this nation and its people will continue to be indebted to him in many ways."
S.M. Rayhanul Islam is an independent researcher.
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