Saturday, July 8, 2017


Bhaskar Sur

West Bengal in recent past has witnessed sporadic sectarian violence chiefly owing to power games between the ruling Trinamul Congress and Hindu rightist BJP ,desperate to carve a place in the state.In Bengal Muslims account for about 27% of the population and despite Hindu influx(15 million) from Bangladesh( erstwhile East Pakistan)it has been an exemplarily tolerant society.The Left has unjustly taken the entire credit for that which ought to go to the syncretic tradition and the reformist Brahmo movement initiated by Raja Rammohun Roy,the first modern man of India.Girish Sen ( 1836- 1910),the first translator of the Quran in Bengali belonged to this movement whose noble aim it was to bring Hinduism closer to reason and ' universal religious harmony' through mutual understanding.
It was Keshab Sen ,the great religious reformer who asked him to undertake the project with love and respect.Sen was humble enough to admit that he was ' uneducated and unworthy of the onerous responsibly." With a rare dedication and zeal ,he began to learn Arabic,a semitic language,at the age 42 and soon made great progress. In 1876,he travelled to Lucknow ,then a great seat of Islamic learning.He stayed there for a full year and after returning Bengal spent another four years diving deep in the Islamic lore.Besides Arabic ,he mastered Persian and Urdu.He had to face unexpected difficulties in procuring a copy of the Quran.A Muslim book seller declined to let him touch the book,let alone sell it.However ,Mia Zalaluddin ,a liberal Muslim.eagerly supported him with the necessary books from his library.Sen proved himself equal to the task and brought out a scholarly and accurate translation in two thick volumes.While it was highly acclaimed by the wide reading public,some fanatical Muslims were infuriated that a kafir should translate their holy book and issued a ' fatwah' to behead him.Sen faced the situation bravely and was able to win support from most of the educated Muslims who called it ' an unparalled and wonderful achievement of textual accuracy and Islamic scholarship."Sen altogether wrote twenty three books on Islam,mostly translations from Arabic and Persian as well as exegesis..A grateful Muslim community honoured him with the epithet 'Maulana' which he gracefully accepted.
Sen was basically a pious scholar living a life of voluntary poverty.However ,he took political position during the first Partition of Bengal (1905)by Lord Curzon.Going against the strong current of Hindu nationalism,he supported the new political arrangement as the new province would create some space for Muslims and Hindu lower castes.Had the Hindu elite,the dominanant minority ,been more sensitive to the just demands of Muslims ,perhaps the Partition of 1947 could have been averted.Today ,in an atmosphere of hatred and mutual distrust,we need to remember persons like Girish Sen and the rich legacy they left.

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