Ahsanullah, Khan Bahadur

Khan Bahadur Ahsanullah

Ahsanullah, Khan Bahadur (1873-1965) educationist, litterateur, Islamic theological scholar and social worker, was born in Nolta village in the district of satkhira. After initial schooling at a village primary school, he went to Nolta Middle English School, Taki Government High School, and London Missionary School in Kolkata, from where he passed the Entrance Examination in 1890. He then studied Hugli college and In 1895 he completed his MA in Philosophy from presidency college, Kolkata. At that time he also studied law at Ripon College, Kolkata.

Ahsanullah started his career in 1896 as a supernumerary teacher at Rajshahi Collegiate School. After a couple of months, he was appointed Additional Deputy Inspector of Schools at faridpur. In 1898, at the age of only 25, he was appointed Deputy Inspector of Schools. Later on he was transferred to Bakerganj where he came in contact with the politician and educationist, aswini kumar datta, and M Wazed, father of Sher-e-Bangla ak fazlul huq.

In recognition of his merit and diligence, he was appointed Headmaster of Rajshahi Collegiate School in 1904, the first Muslim appointed to this post. Within a very short time he was again promoted to the post of Divisional Inspector of chittagong division in 1907. In 1912 he was appointed Additional Inspector of Presidency Department. 

While serving in Chittagong, he became the first person amongst the Hindus and Muslims of undivided Bengal to join the Indian Education Service (IES). He was then appointed Assistant Director of the Department of Education, being the first Muslim in this post as well. He also worked for some time as Director of the Department of Education of undivided Bengal, the topmost post of the department.

Ahsanullah was a Senator of university of calcutta. In consideration of his extraordinary contribution to the field of education, his honesty, and devotion to duty, the British Government conferred on him the title of 'Khan Bahadur'. He retired from government service in 1929, at the age of 55.

During his career of 33 years, he not only served the government dutifully but also was devoted to the welfare of the neglected and backward Muslims of his community. He undertook various reforms for their educational development. By reforming the Secondary and Higher Madrasa curriculum and syllabus, he enabled students who passed Madrasa examinations to go to the university. He played an active role in creating the post of Maulvi, (equivalent to the post of Pundit), in schools and colleges, and in inducting a Muslim member into the textbook committee. He also took various steps to introduce a separate syllabus for maktabs, to select textbooks for Muslim students written by Muslim authors, and to increase the amount of their scholarships.

Ahsanullah urged that special privileges be given to Muslim employees in the Department of Education. He also contributed to the creation of the New Scheme Madrasa. The author and educationist, abul fazal, the researcher and linguist, muhammad abdul hye, Syed Sajjad Hossain, Head of the Department of English, university of dhaka and later Vice-Chancellor, university of rajshahi were students of this New Scheme Madrasa.

Khan Bahadur 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 of Kolkata. 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.

Khan Bahadur Ahsanullah was a Sufi and a devout Muslim. He was also the exponent of a liberal philosophy. He established a publishing house in Kolkata named Makhdumi Library, from which famous novels like bisad-sindhu, Anowara and Manowara, written in Bangla by Muslim authors, were published. On 15 March 1935, he established Ahsania Mission, the objective of which was to serve humanity.

Khan Bahadur Ahsanullah wrote books on bangla language and literature, religion and cosmology. He wrote a biography of the holy Prophet (Sm) and 79 textbooks. His Amar Jibandhara (1946) is a remarkable autobiography written in Bangla. His language is lucid and fascinating. Among his notable writings are Bangabhasa O Musalman Sahitya (1918), Islam O Adarsha Mahapurus (1926), Hejaz Bhraman (1929), Hazrat Mohammad (Sm) (1931), Xiksaksetre Bangiya Musalman (1931), History of the Muslim World (1931), Tariqat Xiksa (1940), Bangala Sahitya (1948), etc.

Khan Bahadur Ahsanullah made valuable contributions to society and to the cause of islam. At the same time, he kept himself in touch with contemporary literary movements. He was the vice-president of the working committee of the bangiya mussalman sahitya samiti and Bangla Sahitya Samiti for 1917-18. In recognition of his contribution to bangla literature, he was nominated a Fellow of the bangla academy in 1960. Schools, colleges and University were established in different part of country including Dhaka in his honour. Khan Bahadur Ahsanullah died on 9 February 1965 at Nolta. [Shafiul Alam]