Before relating my life story, I feel, it would be advisable to write about our ancestors, who are reported to have come from Kashmir, and how the title of Nawab was conferred upon them.
It was more than one hundred years ago, on 30th December 1906, that the All India Muslim League was formed, and, it was this political party that fought for and achieved Pakistan in August 1947. It is, indeed, very sad and regrettable that the city of Dhaka, where the All India Muslim League took its birth, is no longer a part of, what is now, Pakistan. Also, unknown to the young generation of Pakistanis, and forgotten by elders who are still around, is the person who took the initiative to propose the formation of this political party.
Nawab Sir Khwaja Salimullah Bahadur, the Nawab of Dhaka, had invited well known Muslims from all over India to attend the Twentieth Session of All India Mohammedan Educational Conference in Dhaka from 27th to 29th December 1906. It was held at the Durbar Hall at Ahsan Manzil Palace although most of the functions were held at the Garden House of Shahbagh.. In this conference Nawab Salimullah proposed to make a political platform with the objectives of safeguarding the interests of the Indian Muslims. Nawab Viqar-ul-Mulk, chairman of the conference, supported the motion, and thus the All India Muslim League came into being on 30th December 1906.
Nawab Salimullah bore the entire expense of the said conference. He entertained lavishly the luminaries of Muslim India in his Shahbagh Garden which had become virtually a city of tents. The birth of All India Muslim League was a triumph for Nawab Salimullah and a glory for the city of Dhaka.
It is interesting to note the background from which Dhaka and the Dhaka Nawab Family emerged. According to Md. Sirajuddin, the author of a book on Nawab Salimullah: “the last Moghul Viceroy of Dhaka was Gaziuddin Haider (1836-1843). Moghul administration in Dhaka ceased with his death in 1843 A.D. After that, the responsibility of education, culture and development of Dhaka fell upon the Khwaja Family. This elite family migrated directly from Kashmir in the third or fourth decade of the eighteenth century. During the second half of the 19th Century, and the first half of the 20th Century, the Khwaja Family played a historical role in modernization of Dhaka City and its cultural development, in creating parks, gardens, fountains and other recreational centres for the public, and in the field of education.
The family produced poets and writers of Urdu and Persian literature. Members of the Khwaja family entrusted with the administration of Dhaka city (chairman and vice-chairman of Dhaka Municipality etc.) were responsible for various development projects. These are the men who established and developed the Panchayat’ system of Dhaka. In short, the history of modern Dhaka is the history of the Khwaja Family.”
The history of this family goes back to about the year 1730 when two brothers – Khwaja Abdul Wahab and Khwaja Abdullah – arrived in Dhaka directly from Kashmir, and settled in a part of old Dhaka known as Begum Bazaar. It is quite obvious that they traveled this long distance in search of their fortune. The elder brother, Khwaja Abdul Wahab, went into business, straightaway, while the younger brother, Khwaja Abdullah, who was a very pious and a learned man, started preaching to the local people the rules and various disciplines of the teachings of Islam. It must have been for this reason that he was addressed as “Moulvi Abdullah”.
It is to be noted that Khwaja Ahsanullah, the eldest son of Moulvi Abdullah, died on his way to pilgrimage in Makkah in 1813. His brother, Khwaja Hafizullah, also started to preach Islam, but, along with it he also engaged himself in doing business. He earned a lot of money by trading in gold, jute, salt and leather and by investing his wealth by purchasing estates of some hereditary Muslim zamindars of East Bengal who were then on the verge of collapse. He upgraded the Khwaja family into a family of Zamindars (land owners).
His nephew, Khwaja Alimullah, who was the third son of Khwaja Ahsanullah, is reported to have been the most enterprising member of the clan, and he laid the foundation upon which successive heads of the family built their prosperity and power. Evidently, he was a handsome man with an eye for business as well as the ladies. In the book on Nawab Salimullah, Alhaj Md. Sirajuddin writes: “Khwaja Alimullah was learned in philosophy. His tutor was the famous Sufi, Shah Furaqi. Khwaja Alimullah practiced medicine in his early life and was one of the most successful doctors of Dhaka. He often said, ‘Plato might be superior to me in intelligence but he was not my superior in knowledge.’ He had unending thirst for knowledge.
“It was the dynamic Alimullah”, writes Almas Zakiuddin, “who, in 1835, purchased Ahsan Manzil from French traders who had been using the building as their factory for many years.” He learnt English and encouraged members of his family to learn English, and forged ties of friendship with Englishmen by mixing with them freely. He did some development work for the Dhaka Municipality and many other social welfare activities with the help of the British, who also helped him to set up the Ramna Race course. He purchased the famous diamond, Dariya-e-Noor at a Government auction in 1852. The diamond is presently in a vault of the Sonali Bank in Dhaka.
He made a Waqfnama (Trust Deed) in the service of Allah and gave all the income of his “Ata Pargana” to the poor permanently. In 1846 he made a Waqfnama in favour of his second son Khwaja Abdul Ghani, and made him a powerful Mutawalli (Manager) for the management of all the properties of the Khwaja Family. That famous Waqfnama is reported to be the main key responsible for the success of the Khwaja Family of Dhaka. Khwaja Alimullah died in 1854 and was buried in the Begum Bazar graveyard.
Khwaja Abdul Hakim, the eldest son of Khwaja Alimullah, was reported to be a very simple and deeply religious person, who had no interest in business or finance. Hence, as mentioned above, Khwaja Abdul Ghani, his second son from his second wife, was made the Mutawalli.
In his book, ‘Vignettes of India’ Sir Percival Griffiths, I. C. S. has devoted a chapter entitled ‘An East Bengal interlude’ in which he has written very briefly about the Dhaka Nawab Family and his impressions about some of the personalities. He was appointed Chief Manager of the Dacca Nawab Estate in April 1929. He writes: “Abdul Ghani and the Moslems of East Bengal stood firmly by the Raj during the Indian Mutiny and for his services, Abdul Ghani was not only knighted, but also had the title of Nawab conferred upon him. He was made a Nawab in 1875, (and this title was made hereditary in 1877 for the eldest male member of the line) and Nawab Bahadur in 1892.”
Nawab Abdul Ghani made several contributions towards benevolent and charitable work, not only in the city and elsewhere in Bengal but also beyond the Indian subcontinent. His most conspicuous public act was the water works system in Dhaka city. The filtered water was supplied free of charge to the people of Dhaka. In addition he established a number of schools, madrasas and donated funds for the Mitford hospital in Dhaka, Kolkata Medical College and Aligarh College. He supported women to act in dramas in spite of the opposition of leaders of the conservative society. At the beginning of the Christian era, each year, he arranged a grand fair in Shahbagh Garden, and maintained a Portuguese Band to entertain guests on festive occasions.
In his book “Glimpses of old Dhaka”, Syed Muhammad Taifoor writes:
“Abdul Ghani had a chae-khana (tea hall) on the river bank where every morning from 8 to 10, he treated people with tea. He took advantage of this opportunity to hear grievances of the people, and took measures to remedy them. Abdul Ghani died in 1896 at the age of 82. The writer remembers to have accompanied his cortege which was followed by no less than one lac of people most of whom had tears in their eyes.” A London daily commented on his death: “Today, the morning sun has set, we cannot hope that it will rise in a thousand years.” His acts of public and private charity were very numerous and magnificent. In aid of schools and colleges, hospitals and dispensaries, clubs and societies, mosques and tombs (mazaars), the sick the poor, he spent very large sums. His charity was not confined to his country or nationality.”
Nawab Abdul Ghani handed over the responsibility of the Dhaka Nawab Estate to his eldest son, Khwaja Ahsanullah on 11 September 1868, but continued to supervise the estate until his death on 24th August 1896.
Khwaja Ahsanullah, was born in Dhaka in the year 1846. He was reported to be a natural Urdu poet and his pen name was “Shaheen”. He was known to compose verses spontaneously, and at the spur of the moment at the request of his friends. His songs disclose a joyous and optimistic outlook on life. His selected poems, “Kulliat-e-Shaheen” is preserved in the Dhaka University. His book, “Tawariq-e-Khandan-e-Kashmiria” is a very important addition to Urdu literature and history. “He was a man of such influence that he was known as the uncrowned King of East Bengal and for his many public services he received the title of Nawab Bahadur” writes Sir Percival Griffiths.
Both father and son had the title of Nawab conferred upon them in 1875, and in 1877, this title was made hereditary for the eldest member of the line.
“Nawab Ahsanullah maintained a tireless vigil on mass education, and donated generously for various worthy causes. He established the Ahsanullah School of Engineering, and being thoughtful of the health of the residents of Dhaka he, along with his father, contributed towards the establishment of a water tank from which filtered water would be supplied to the citizens of Dhaka as far back as 1874. There is no Mosque, Mausoleum, or important public institution in Dhaka which does not bear the stamp of his magnificence”, writes Syed Muhammad Taifoor. “The electricity in Dhaka was installed by him in the year 1901, which must have been shortly before he passed away that year in December during the month of Ramadhan. He died of heart failure on board his barge, soon after the death of his father, and he was buried in the family graveyard.
Having recounted the history of Sir Salimullah’s ancestors and their numerous activities, we now have a look at the life and achievements of a great visionary who was actually responsible for initiating action which was carried forward by the Quaid-e-Azam to fight for and achieve Pakistan.
“Nawab Sir Khwaja Salimullah Bahadur, G.C.I.E., as he was officially addressed, was born on 7th June, 1871, and according to the tradition of the Nawab Family,” writes Alhaj Muhammad Sirajuddin, “he was educated at home by a British and a German teacher, and experts in Urdu and Persian. He married in August 1893, and in the same year he joined Government Service as a Deputy Magistrate. He spent a year in Mymensingh and was then transferred to Muzaffarpur in Bihar. One of the reasons why he joined Government Service would appear to be, a strained relationship with his father, Nawab Ahsanullah.” According to Syed Muhammad Taifur in his book Glimpses of Old Dhaka, “his father did not like him perhaps on account of his extreme religious proclivities. So he kept to himself, aloof from him, and the Government, in consideration of his family prestige, straightaway appointed him a Deputy Magistrate in the senior rank.”
On 16th. December, 1901, while he was posted in Mymensingh, he received a telegram informing him of the death of his father, and on his arrival in Dhaka the next morning, as the eldest son, and with the “unanimous consent of all parties concerned” was installed as the new Nawab. i
Nawab Salimullah was a great educational reformer, and like his father, was inclined to prodigal liberality. He was a great philanthropist, rendering financial assistance to many poor students, and established the largest orphanage of undivided Bengal, which was named “Salimullah Muslim Orphanage”. For the benefit of Muslim students he donated the well-known “Salimullah Muslim Hall” in Dhaka, which was then the largest residential Hall in any Asian University.
Nawab Salimuilah is mainly remembered today for three of his greatest achievements. Firstly, the part he played in the partition of Bengal which was implemented on 16th October, 1905, aimed at freeing the Bengali Muslims from the bondage of Hindu domination, and to secure their socio-economic progress by establishing a separate Muslim majority province; secondly, for being the founder of such a strong political party as the All India Muslim League in December 1906, and the establishment of Dhaka University in 1912.
Sir Percival Griffiths, who was Chief Manager of the Dhaka Nawab Estate in 1929, writes in his book, “The Vignettes of India”, obviously from a British point of view: “Ahsanullah’s son, Sir Salimullah, succeeded to his father’s influence and was a staunch supporter of the British Government at the time of the Partition of Bengal in 1905. Bengal at that time consisted of much of Bihar and Orissa and West Bengal as well as East Bengal and Assam. East Bengal and Assam, with a majority Moslem population, were detached from Bengal and created into a separate province- The Hindus, who formed the majority of politically conscious people in Bengal, were at once up in arms.
In this critical period, Salimullah rendered great support to the Government and carried out a protracted campaign in which he explained the wisdom of the action taken. Some years later, the British Government surrendered to the Hindu agitation and annuled partition, creating two provinces, Bihar and Orissa, reconstituted Bengal, and separated Assam as a separate unit under a Chief Commissioner- This change of policy may or may not have been wise, but unfortunately no previous warning of it was given and on the evening before the annulment was announced, Salimullah addressed a meeting in support of Partition. The announcement thus came as a great shock and the archives of the Dacca Nawab Estate in my time included a pathetic letter from Salimullah, written immediately after the annulment, in which he declared that he would never again trust a promise by the British Government or the word of an Englishman.
As has so often happened in the great families of India, after three generations of splendour, the Nawab Family now entered on a period of decline. Extravagant living and the necessity of maintaining an ever-increasing number of dependants were the main causes of the trouble, but to them must be added, the considerable sums spent by Ahsanullah and Salimuilah on public service or pro-Partition propaganda. The family was heavily in debt and in view of the political importance of the family, its estates were brought under the Court of Wards in 1909.
“As a result of the Moslem law of inheritance the family became so split up that many of its members lived on less than the salary of a petty clerk – they just slummed it in the Palace, the Ahsan Manzil, in which they were entitled to live. Fortunately, one portion of the family property was protected against this splitting up by the creation of what was known as ‘Waqf Trust’ in which the property was nominally dedicated to God, but was in fact enjoyed by the ‘mutawalli’. or manager. He enjoyed its income though he could not alienate the property and on his death it merely passed to another mutawalli.”
Sir Salimullah was the first man of the Nawab Family of Dhaka to actively participate in politics. He is reported to have said that, his grandfather, Nawab Sir Abdul Ghani, and his father, Nawab Khwaja .Ahsanullah, were men of international renown and were imbibed with the love of their country and people, but, they refrained from participating in politics. It was in his destiny to open the door to politics for the Nawab Family of Dhaka.
Nawab Salimullah died in Calcutta on 16th. January, 1915, and his coffin was brought to Dhaka by a special launch, and he was buried in the family graveyard in Begum Bazar.”