Remembering Syed Ahmadul Huq
Though in erstwhile East Pakistan and now independent Bangladesh there was never a dearth of highly educated scholars and clerics well versed in Persian and Arabic literature, a responsibility fell upon an English educated bureaucrat to translate and interpret the "Mathnawi-e-Manavi", the magnum opus of Mowlana Jalaluddin Rumi in several volumes. This was none other than Syed Ahmadul Huq - the man who studied and savoured the flavour of Mathnawi throughout his life and spent the last 33 years of his long life interpreting it, inviting and inspiring others to understand and appreciate it. This outstanding scholar, mystic breathed his last on the 5th of September, 2011 at the ripe age of 93.
For Syed Ahmadul Huq, it was a lifelong passion of love and devotion to Sufism, Mawlana Rumi and Mathnawi from his school days when he started learning Persian. He Matriculated in 1936 and took up Persian as a subsidiary while studying Honours in English. The seed of love for the poem of Mathnawi was finally implanted in his heart by his Professor, Nurul Alam, then Professor of Arabic and Persian in Chittagong College. Syed Ahmadul Huq was also profoundly influenced in his love for mystic tradition of Islam and immortal works of Rumi by his father Syed Sirajul Huq who was an Islamic cleric trained in Shahranpur in India and who later became a disciple, a 'Khalifa' of the great Sufi Master and mystic, Hazrat Golam Rahman (God's peace be upon him) of Maizvandhar.
Syed Ahmadul Huq described in his autobiographical note that his father stayed with him for over a month while he was a Sub-Registrar in Patiya. On that occasion, the father went through the couplets of Mathnawi and interpreted to the son. This watering of the soul with the nectar of Mathnawi poems left a deep imprint on Syed Ahmadul Huq's heart and later on inspired him to carry on his study of Mathnawi.
By any standard, the task of interpreting Mathnawi or other formidable Sufi work is not an easy one. It needs love, devotion and spiritual enlightenment. Syed Ahmadul Huq had all these three in a rare combination and another advantage. He studied English literature and earned an MA in English in 1942. His exposure to the world of literature had given him a deep insight in interpreting poems including the classical poems from Persian origin. He brought upon to bear on his translation of Mathnawi and its interpretation a knowledge of English, Bengali and Persian literature which was both unique and rare. Needless to say, it is one thing to understand and quite another to interpret. The other case is more difficult and complex when it comes to interpretation of such a masterpiece as 'Mathnawi' which is at once a classical masterpiece and at the same time of undiminished contemporary relevance. One might wonder in what way Mathnawi can be relevant to the modern world. But Syed Ahmadul Huq achieved this feat with atypical display of scholarship and distinction.
There are obvious risks and pitfalls in interpreting Mathnawi from purely literal sense. Those who seek to interpret Mathnawi poems for its anecdotes, wits and humour belong to one category. And those who read and see the hidden world within them are of another class altogether. Syed Ahmadul Huq obviously belonged to the latter class of scholars who understood Sufi mysticism and Mathnawi in their true spiritual dimensions. Starting with the "Plaints of Flute" (Murulir Bilap) Syed Ahmadul Huq authored four volumes of commentary with translation of Mathnawi. He sought to unveil the hidden "signs" and "symbols" in each case and often juxtaposed them with the mystic poems from Bengali, notably of Rabindranath Tagore and Lalon Fakir side by side with Mathnawi. Whenever relevant, he quoted frequently from medieval Bengali poetry and works of the renowned English poets to highlight common strands, thoughts and philosophy in them.
Syed Ahmadul Huq carefully selected those verses of Mathnawi or other great Sufi works that are of great mystical import. The Mathnawi draws its inspiration and spirituality from the Quranic messages and Hadiths. "The effortless fusion of text and interpretation shows how completely, in aesthetics as in any other domain, the philosophy of Rumi is inspired by the monostic ideas" says Professor Nicholson. "The Mathnawi", he says, is the shop for unity (wahadat); anything you see their except the one (God) is an idol". The interpretative work of Syed Ahmadul Huq fully captures this vital fact. Syed Ahmadul Huq was fully conscious and careful about the gravity of the work he undertook joyously. There have been infamous instances of the translation of Rubayat of Omar Khayyam by Fitzgerald who is accused of being irreverent and errant in the translation of Rubayat-e-Omar Khayyam. Like famed Idrees Shah, Syed Ahmadul Huq also how hollow and far away from the true meaning of original Persian of Khayyam Fitzgerald's translation was. The scholarship and the sensitivity of mind of Syed Ahmadul Huq were always evident when he interpreted Mathnawi and other works of Sufi classics.
Syed Ahmadul Huq dared to delve into the ocean of Mathnawi. He presented in four volumes what he thought would be illuminating and instructive to Bengali readers. He also founded the "Allama Rumi Society" in Chittagong where the learned and the laymen used to congregate and listen to his words. A branch of Allama Rumi Society was also established later in Dhaka. He took as his mission to attract and enlighten those hearts which crave for the love and light of God through the poems of Mathnawi. Syed Ahmadul Huq did not take his initiatives to attain fame, but these were his works of love and expression of his unflinching devotion to Mowlana Jalaluddin Rumi and Mathnawi, which when understood, radiate love of God and mankind. The lasting legacy and work of love and devotion that he left behind for us will continue to inspire us all who knew him closely, and our future generations.
Syed Rezaul Karim is the President of Allama Rumi Society, Dhaka