(NEW YORK, NY, Oct. 23, 2014) – The Islamic Circle of North America is saddened by the loss of Professor Ghulam Azam of Bangladesh, one of the foremost Muslim activists in the world, who died on Thursday while serving a politically motivated conviction for war crimes.
Azam was a prominent political and religious leader in Bangladesh and played a crucial role in various sociopolitical and religious movements throughout the years.
He received a master’s in political science from Dhaka University and actively participated in and led representative student organizations. His academic and practical political foundation served him well in confronting the issues plaguing his society at the time.
In 1948, shortly after the independence of Pakistan, Azam submitted a memorandum to Liaquat Ali Khan, then prime minister of Pakistan, and demanded state language status for Bengali. His active role in the Language Movement placed him in prison several times and resulted in the loss of his position as assistant professor at Rangpur Carmichael College.
Shortly thereafter, Azam dedicated himself to the cause of Islamic activism. His previous experience in the socio-political Islamic organization, Tamaddun Mozlish, and the spiritually focused Tabligh Jamaat, compelled him to find something that combined aspects of both. He joined Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, and eventually became secretary general and president of the party.
His religious and political leanings had him thrown into prison by General Ayub Khan, the military leader of Pakistan. He jointly formed the Pakistan Democratic Alliance, a movement against Khan’s military dictatorship of the country. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the fore coming prime minister of a soon to emerge Bangladesh, was also a member.
Azam was against the independence of Bangladesh from Pakistan because he felt it was not a solution to the state’s problems. He felt that India’s proximity would be detrimental to an independently functioning government. However, during the war of 1971, the violence of the Pakistani army against the population of Bangladesh troubled Azam greatly. He appealed to the army to safeguard the people but he was ignored.
In a continuation of politically motivated persecution, Azam was forced into exile and revoked citizenship of Bangladesh after it gained independence under the leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. He was able to return to the country several years later as a visitor, deprived of political rights. In the early 90’s the government imprisoned him once again for overstaying his visit, and he appealed for a restoration of his citizenship. The Supreme Court ruled for its reinstatement.
In the recent War Crimes Tribunal set up by the Awami League government, Azam was arrested for alleged crimes against humanity during the 1971 war. The Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International issued statements against the tribunal because of its failure to adhere to international standards and due process of law.
Azam lived the last several years of his life retired from active political activity. He wrote a memoir, Jibone Ja Dekhlam, What I Witnessed in Life, and served as an adviser to Islamic thinkers and politicians within his homeland. His loss will be felt not only within Bangladesh, but also within the global Muslim community.
“Among the believers are men true to what they promised Allah. Among them is he who has fulfilled his vow [to the death], and among them is he who awaits [his chance]. And they did not alter [the terms of their commitment] by any alteration.” [Al-Ahzab:23]
The Islamic Circle of North America is a leading American Muslim organization dedicated to the betterment of society through the application of Islamic values. Since 1968, ICNA has worked to build relations between communities by devoting itself to education, outreach, social services and relief efforts.
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