Professor Rafiqul Islam- A torchbearer of Sandwip

Professor Rafiqul Islam was my direct teacher of Haji A B College. I first saw him in 1977 when I attended his Bengali class in intermediate first year. On the first-day of his class, I was impressed to see him. He was bright, handsome, smart and well-dressed, wearing black shoes, black suit, white shirt and a matching beautiful tie. In our school life, we heard from our senior students, who were studying at college, about college life and the attitude, mood and gravity of a professor. Naturally, we were curious about all that. So, joining the first-day class, I saw through Professor Rafiqul Islam how a professor is and I enjoyed it much.

Gradually, I came close to him. I discovered him as a man he was always simple, smiling, well-mannered, outspoken, helpful and punctual but very strict to principle. Whatever the reasons or whoever said what, he never compromised with the principle. His punctuality was also quite extraordinary. Wherever he was required to attend, he always reached there not only in time but before the time.

Professor Islam comes of a very respectable family of Sandwip. His forefathers were renowned and rich persons in their locality. His grandfather and father had contributions to enhancing the social condition to their locality. In front of their house, a primary school was established, where his forefathers had a big contribution. His brothers were also well-established and renowned persons of their time.

In 1966, one of his brothers, Maksudur Rahman, along with some other elites of Sandwip, took initiative to establish a college in Sandwip, to fulfil the long cherished demand of Sandwipees. Rafiqul Islam was also involved with this initiative. Due to Maksudur Rahman’s sudden death, the initiative postponed.

Professor Rafiqul Islam inherited the legacy of philanthropic works from his family. He never deviated from the spirit of establishing a college in Sandwip, which his brother started. He passed Matriculation Exam from Sandwip Model High School in 1957. He passed Intermediate from Feni College in 1959 and B.A. from the same college in 1962. Later, he admitted into the University of Dhaka, the Oxford of the East and received M.A. degree in Bengali Literature in 1964 (probably final exam was held in 1965) from the University of Dhaka.

During his student life, he was actively involved in progressive student politics and proved his leadership capacity and quality in his university life. While studying at Feni College, he was general secretary of United Progressive Party (UPP). While at Dhaka University, he was a member of the central committee of East Pakistan Students’ Union and elected general secretary of Dhaka Hall (presently named Dr. Shahidullah Hall) Unit of the Students’ Union, where Asaduzzaman (Asad), the great hero of 69-Mass Uprising, was the joint general secretary of the hall unit.

In the DUCSU elections of 1963-64, Rafiqul Islam was elected common room secretary with huge votes, where present minister Rashed Khan Menon was elected VP and present minister Begum Matia Chowdhury was elected GS of DUCSU. Some prominent ones, among many of his contemporary university friends and political colleagues of this time, are Rashed Khan Menon, Begum Matia Choudhury, Shahid Asad, Haider Akbor Khan Ronu, Dr. Kamal Siddiqui, Kazi Zafar Ahmed, Abdul Aziz Baghmar, Asmat Ali Shikder and Sheikh Fazlul Huq Moni.

He along with his friends played vigorous roles in anti-Ayub movement. For protesting the presence of the then governor Monayem Khan- a die-hard Ayub-flatterer in the convocation ceremony of Dhaka Univesity, he and his some other friends were arrested and put behind the bars, in the pleas of treason, killing and other offences. Then practicing advocate of Dkaka District Court and, later, president of Bangladesh, late Zillur Rahman, gave them legal protection. As a result, after 3 months of imprisonment Rafiqul Islam with his other friends were freed.

Many of his university friends and political colleagues are now leading the country in different ways. Some of them are now national level leaders, some are top bureaucrats and some are leading media personalities and so on. Of course, he had every scope and opportunity to set him in Dhaka. But, he did not try to stay at Dhaka.

His activities prove he loved Sandwip more than anything. He did not hanker after name or fame or wealth or so-called success. He chose teaching and journalism as his profession and his philosophy of life was ultimately chosen to serve his local people and his homeland Sandwip. This inspired him to return to Sandwip to educate the people and to focus on the problems and potentials of his island Sandwip. Perhaps for that, he never tried to search his fortune in Dkaka like his friends or political colleagues, who are now leading the country.

There is no scope to deny it that if he could search fortune, he of course might have reached to a height like his friends. So, he did not do it only because of his philosophy for serving his homeland Sandwip and its people. He had attraction for teaching from his boyhood. Accordingly, after successful completion of his Master’s degree, he was involved in teaching and first joined as Professor of Bengali at Satkanya Degree College, Chittagong. But, under the pressure of his family, he once joined as officer to a leading bank and again as officer to a government department. No where, he stayed. He left both the jobs and returned to teaching profession and involved in establishing a college in Sandwip.

Professor Islam was a member of the organizing committee of Haji AB College and performed the duty of the first principal-in-charge of the college, until he was able to convince one of his colleagues, Professor of English Ashoke Kumar Chatterjee of Satkania Degree College, to join the college as full-principal. This is one of the rare examples of greatness of Professor Rafiqul Islam that he spontaneously left the post of principal for the other, aiming to give the college a quick institutional shape and he agreed to become the vice-principal, lowering him down from the post of principal.

Professor Islam chose such a worthy person for principal that within a very short time Professor Chatterjee’s name and fame spread from one end to the other of Sandwip for his outstanding capacity of English teaching and versatility of knowledge and science. Professor Chatterjee was a great scholar of varied subjects. This was the credit of Professor Islam that he collected such a scholar like Chatterjee for Haji AB College.

Haji Abdul Baten Sowdaghar, a famous businessman of Sandwip, in whose name this college has been named, had kept main contribution behind the establishment of this college. And Professor Rafiqul Islam was one of those who played the pioneering roles in initiating and turning this college to final institutional shape. It is also relevant to mention here that the people of Sandwip and even the students of this college, including myself, we all by the by call Haji A B College in the name of Sandwip College. I do not know the exact reason behind it. Only Professor Rafiq or other pioneers could know it well.

But, the reason behind it I think is perhaps  that this is the first and only college established in Sandwip in Pakistan period on 15 July1969, in a time when to establish a college in a remote place like Sandwip, completely isolated from the mainland of the country, was truly a big matter. And this is a historic college in Sandwip. So, the names of the college and the place of Sandwip are inseparable to us all. So, by calling it Sandwip College, I feel the people and students i.e. we all undoubtedly uphold the significance of this historic college and it is a true expression from our hearts that how much we love Sandwip and our first and only college in Sandwip. Although, there are four more colleges now in Sandwip, still Haji AB College means Sandwip College or Sandwip College means Haji AB College.

I feel proud to be a man of Sandwip and to be a student of Haji A B College. While I was a student at Haji AB College, many eminent educationists were the teachers of this college.  Today while writing this small paper in paying my homage to Professor Rafiqul Islam, I remember them all and pay my homage to them all, including reverend Haji Abdul Baten Sowdaghar and others who contributed to the establishment of this college.

Now I am paying special homage from the bottom of my heart to my direct teacher Professor of Bengali Vice-Principal Rafiqul Islam Sir. Rafiqul Islam Sir was born on 22nd September 1941 in the village of Bawa of Batajora union in Sandwip and died of cancer under treatment in BIRDEM Hospital, Dhaka on 25th May 2013. He was buried in the graveyard of Kalsi in Mirpur, Dhaka near his residence.

I do not know whereabouts or about the present positions of my other direct teachers of Haji AB College, Professor of English Principal Ashoke Kumar Chatterjee Sir, Professor of Accounting M R Huq Sir, Professor of Accounting Yousuf Zalal Sir, Professor of Management Shamsul Alam Sir, Professor of Economics Ziaul Hasan Sir, Professor of Economics Nazmul Huda Sir, and Professor of Bengali Dilip Kumar Sir. I am also paying my special homage to them all and wish them all good health and long life.

Haji A B College has become a government college since the late seventies of the last century, during the regime of General Ziaur Rahman. A few years ago, the college campus was fully devoured by the mighty river Meghna and now the campus was shifted probably to one km east of its original existence. While we were studying at Haji AB College, we felt it as our second home. The college campus was very beautiful. Nowadays a campus like it will be rarely seen. The campus was situated in a huge area, near Sandwip Town, which also has gone into the river. There were a large playground, a big pond (dighi), a number of academic and administrative buildings, including dormitories for teachers and students. Cultural events and sports were regularly held in the college campus.

Truly speaking, this institution has brought a silent revolution in higher secondary and tertiary education in the island of Sandwip. It quickly became a centre of excellence in education, culture, sports and making future leaders for Sandwip and the country. I am sorry for that I could not write about the present campus of the college, since I am yet to visit the present campus.

We all know Sandwip is a famous and beautiful island of Bangladesh but prominent portion of the island have already gone into the river. Professor Rafiq’s village was also grabbed  by the river long ago. As a result, he lived in Sandwip Town. As Sandwip is a quite isolated place from the mainland, to maintain physical commutation with Sandwip is always very rough and tough. Many ordinary and extraordinary persons already lost their valuable lives by the river communication between Sandwip and the mainland. And these kinds of accidents often happen. Besides, the place of Sandwip is always disaster-prone. Storm, cyclone, flood, tornado, torrential rain, savage of the Bay of Bengal, etc. are common phenomena to face by the permanent dwellers in Sandwip.

All these situations bring about the cause of fear not only among the permanent dwellers but also among the other Sandwipees who live out of Sandwip for their near and dear ones living in Sandwip. Naturally, if one once comes out of Sandwip, he never wants to go back to Sandwip for permanent settlement. The case of Professor Islam is quite opposite. After receiving higher education, he chose Sandwip as his final destination. This is also one of the extraordinary examples of his true love for Sandwip.

Side by side his teaching, he made an outstanding contribution to journalism. Since 1968 till 2003-long 35 years, by his powerful writings in The Daily Ittefaq, a leading national daily of his time in the country, he focused on the problems and potentials of Sandwip to the people of our nation and across the world. There was not a single issue of challenges and developments of Sandwip including cross-dam, which he did not touch.

His role in our great liberation war is very praise-worthy. In the first week of March 1971 when Swadin Bangla Mukti Parishad was formed in Sandwip, he became vice-president and the then MP Obaidul Huq was president of the parishad. During the 9 months of bloody war, he worked hard as organizer of freedom fighters for arranging food, shelter and training for them.

Professor Islam had been able to make his aim in life successful. He was a successful teacher, a successful journalist, a successful organizer, a successful social worker and a successful cultural inspirer. In his long 34-year teaching career, though he worked sometime in other government colleges out of Sandwip, he lastly retired as Vice-Principal from Govt. Haji AB College in 1999. From Haji AB College, he has produced a large number of high quality students, working in leading positions in public and private sectors at home and abroad.

Among his students, today there are some secretaries to the government, renowned bankers, media personalities, leading industrialists, professors, headmasters and political leaders, who are serving the nation from their respective fields. His students, thus by their positions and works, are now illuminating his homeland Sandwip and the country.

Professor Islam inspired his later generation of Sandwip in different ways. He also worked behind the establishments of many social, cultural, academic and religious institutions and libraries in Sandwip. He played an active role in administering the Gono Unnoyon Pataghar-a famous library of Sandwip, Sandwip Public Library and Sandwip Town Hall.

When Sandwip Town also has gone into the river, he had no other place to live in. In his retired life, he returned to Dhaka and settled in Mirpur. I always communicated him over pohone to know his well-being. If I missed to call him sometime, then and there he called me. He liked to speak with loud voice and laughed with loud laughter. He asked me, “Hey Hashem, where are you? How are your prince and your wife? ……..etc.” He never expressed his own grievances. He always laughed away his sorrows and always inspired me and others.

While living in Dhaka, Professor Rafiqul Islam was actively involved with activities of Sandwip Development Forum and other social organizations of Sandwipees in Dhaka. He was vice-president and later became adviser of the Forum. He kept notable contributions to the publications of the Forum and had been editor of Forum’s Dwiper Chiti twice. Until his death, he was connected with Sandwip in different ways and thought about the good of Sandwip in heart and sole. He was a store-house of knowledge and information for Sandwip.

His contributions to different fields and inspiring the developments of Sandwip and Sandwipees are quite extraordinary. By dint of his untiring efforts and contributions, he became a leading figure of his time in Sandwip. He was faithful to his feelings and philosophy. He proved it by his activities. He was a torchbearer of Sandwip.

At the death of Professor Rafiqul Islam, I lost one of my great teachers and Sandwipees lost a great son of their soil. He left behind his wife, two daughters, one son, many admirers, friends and students to mourn his death and his deeds and philosophy to follow. His children are also academically, socially and financially well-established.

While bringing out this issue, we invited the members of Professor Islam’s family and some of his close relatives for relevant cooperation. They did not respond. If they had cooperated, we might have brought out this issue on him more successfully and beautifully.

We, however, express our gratitude to some eminent persons of Bangladesh, hailing from Sandwip, who have expressed their feelings and regards about Professor Rafiqul Islam through writing articles on his deeds and philosophy in this issue and who have extended financial and advertisement supports for this issue. Among these eminent persons, there are his friends, his admires and his students. These articles are published in this issue.

As his student I believe his good deeds and philosophy for human service will keep him alive in the minds of the people of Sandwip and the country, in the days to come. In the end, I pray may Almighty Allah rest his soul in peace and grant him Jannat. Ameen.