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Rahim, Abdur


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Rahim, Abdur (c 1785-1853) was a remarkable rationalist thinker of nineteenth century India. He was born around 1785 at Gorakhpur in upper India. His father Musahib Ali, a weaver by profession, was a great admirer of Persian language. Hence he desired his son to acquire a sound knowledge of Persian in addition to learning Arabic. While a young boy Rahim had a fall from horseback and injured his left hand. This accident made him unfit to take up family profession and he was allowed to continue his education. By the time he had reached fifteen, he mastered Persian and soon acquired proficiency in Arabic. His father then took him to tandah, a place near Gorakhpur, and placed him under the tutorship of his spiritual guide. Rahim stayed there for three years and gained considerable knowledge in various subjects.

In 1804 he moved to Lucknow for higher education. In the varied intellectual atmosphere of Lucknow Abdur Rahim's mental world underwent a transformation. He started writing poems. He was disgusted with the frequent religious bickering between the xhia and sunni sects. He spent a year at Lucknow and then proceeded to Delhi where he studied the religious texts of Islam under the guidance of Shah Abdul Aziz and his brother Mullah Rafiuddin, two leading Islamic theologians of the time. One of his fellow scholars was Sayyid Ahmad of Rai Bareli. At Delhi Abdur Rahim also studied the classical treatises on philosophy and science that were then available in Arabic and Persian languages and acquired some proficiency in Oriental indigenous medicine.

In his early life Abdur Rahim had been a devout Muslim and zealously performed the religious rituals and practices strictly according to the xharia. But in the cosmopolitan environment of Delhi and particularly after reading the sacred books of different religions and also the treatises on various schools of philosophy, his mind was freed from all kinds of religious dogma. Completely shedding his former religious beliefs and prejudices he became a freethinker and a rationalist. Because of his heretical views he had now come to be known as dahri, that is a materialist or atheist. According to Abdur Rahim, the idea of God or a Supreme Being was the innovation of the imams (religious leaders). He believed in the law of nature and in his opinion the sun was the source of all creation.

In 1810, at the age of twenty-five, Abdur Rahim came down to calcutta where he spent the rest of his life. In Calcutta he seemed to be quite at home because the cosmopolitan metropolis drew all kinds of people with all kinds of ideas, and provided a safe haven for conformists and heretics.

Soon after coming to Calcutta Abdur Rahim had started learning English. Within a few years he gained such proficiency in that language that the Committee of Public Instruction employed him for translating various English works into Arabic and Persian. This became necessary in order to implement the East India Company Government's policy to introduce European science in the curriculum of the calcutta madrasa.

While in Calcutta Abdur Rahim for quite a number of years stayed in the house of Tipu Sultan's son, Sultan Shukrullah in Tullygunge and tutored the Prince's two sons. In this house poets and literary lovers assembled periodically and Abdur Rahim became the focal point of a lively intellectual circle. Among his favourite pupils was Obaidullah-el Obaidi (1834-1885), the well-known orientalist scholar, educationist and social reformer.

In 1810, along with Maulana Obaidi, Abdur Rahim translated Gibb's English fables in to Persian under the title Mashriqul Anwar. The manuscript of Afsanye Dereene Rozagar, his autobiography, is preserved in the Central Public Library, Dhaka. Among his other writings are Farhangee Dabistan, Shegarf Bayan Ibrat Toaman, Tarikh-i Hindustan, Karnam-i-Haidari, and Pandnama-i-Bahrami, a Persian booklet of advice. Fatihatuttarjama is an Arabic translation of some essays on Arithmetic by Hutton from the Encyclopedia Britannica.

In personal life Abdur Rahim was a simple and kind-hearted gentleman. He never married. A lover of nature and animals, he considered killing of birds and animals unlawful and thought it improper to pluck flowers or tear away branches of trees, for he believed that trees and plants have life. He found pleasure in seeing birds flying in the sky and sometimes purchased them from hunters to set them free.

Abdur Rahim spent the last days of his life in seclusion devoting his time to study and teaching in a tent pitched in a park. He died on 29 December 1853. [AF Salahuddin Ahmed]

Bibliography Alfred Guillaume, Philosophy and Theology in Sir Thomas Arnold and Alfred Guillaume (ed) The Legacy of Islam, Oxford 1931; ABM Habibullah, Samaj, Sangskriti O Itihas, Dhaka, 1974; AF Salahuddin Ahmed, Bangladesh: Tradition and Transformation, Dhaka 1987; Muhammad Abdullah, Paschim Bangey Farsi Sahitya, Dhaka 1994.