A century after his birth, there is much we can learn from him
The centenary of veteran scholar Professor Ahmed Sharif passed silently on February 13.
Dr Sharif, the legendary figure of the free-thinking movement in the country, was born on February 13, 1921 and died on February 24, 1999. He did his Masters and PhD in Bangla literature from Dhaka University in 1944 and 1967, respectively.
Dr Sharif was a celebrated academic, intellectual, and philosopher, who had immensely contributed to nation-building, enabling the creation of space for intellectual exercise for free-thinkers.
In present Bangladesh, there is a serious impediment to the intellectual exercise of free-thinkers. The absence of space for freedom of thought is rapidly reducing which is indeed alarming for a democratic society.
He was an outspoken rational humanist, who left behind a legacy for dissent, critiquing reactive and autocratic views and vehemently rejecting sectarian politics.
He was indeed a controversial and mostly misunderstood person. His thoughts were interpreted as anti-establishment and were thus blacklisted by the state-run electronic media.
The absence of non-conformists such as Dr Sharif is felt today, with the rise of the Islamists, along with reactionary elements and anti-liberation groups showing their fangs.
The dark forces are active for a deadly strike to undermine secularism, democracy, pluralist society, and freedom of faith, for which the 3 million martyrs sacrificed their lives for the independence of Bangladesh.
Dr Sharif joined as a Research Assistant in the Bangla Department, Dhaka University in 1950, and retired as Chairman from the Department in 1983.
Obviously, he was very popular among his colleagues and academics. He was elected as member of the Senate and Syndicate, President of the Teachers’ Association and the University Teachers Club. He is the only academic who was elected Dean of the Faculty of Arts for three consecutive terms.
Indeed, he received many accolades and recognition for his outstanding contributions in medieval Bangla literature and contemporary socio-cultural-political essays.
Among the prestigious accolades, was one given by Rabindra Bharati University, India, and conferred upon him, Doctor of Literature, in 1995 for his outstanding contribution to Bangla Literature. Dr Sharif was an authority on ancient and medieval Bangla Literature and authored more than 100 research publications.
He never bothered about appreciation for his scholarly works. On the other hand, no one has ever questioned his intellectual honesty, although many pseudo-liberal democrats and secular intellectuals of the country rejected his scholarly contributions and suppressed his free thoughts.
His able academic son Dr Nehal Karim (former Chairman of Dept of Sociology of Dhaka University) aptly said: “He was considered an impractical man, seized with radical ideas but never 'clever' enough to understand his mundane interests as he never took any advantage of his scholarship position nor wielded his influence to become wealthy, famous, or powerful.”
Whatever Dr Sharif stated often caused a furore among intellectual circles and strong rebuttal for the vested groups.
The reputed educationist maintained a secluded life to avoid the wrath of the reactionary and reactive groups in the public domain.
For his outspoken statements against sectarianism, autocracy, and fascism, invited threats, especially when the Islamists and radicalized Muslims declared him as “murtad” (apostate).
Dr Sharif never compromised due to threats and intimidations. He was himself an institution and will be remembered for his modern thoughts.
Surely, his contributions to society will encourage liberal democrats and progressive intellectuals immensely. His huge scholarly contributions will surely enrich the researchers of Bangla literature in the years to come.
Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He can be reached at [email protected] Twitter @saleemsamad.