Justice Muhammad Habibur Rahman is one of the polymaths of our country who has guided our nation throughout his life with his knowledge. He is one of the great scholars whose contributions in every field were vital for the emergence of this nation. From his early life he was involved in every phase of the movement for independent Bangladesh. And till the very end he has always tried to guide our troubled country with his wise words. He was a prolific writer, a remarkable historian, a talented lawyer, a former chief justice and also an able administrator. Such a man of excellence and virtue will always be remembered by this nation.
The Pattern of Patriotism
Muhammad Habibur Rahman was born on December 3, 1928. He spent his childhood in the Jungipur village of Murshidabad district, West Bengal. His father Moulovi Jahiruddin Biswas was a lawyer and a devoted activist of the anti- British movement. Jahiruddin was also sent to prison for his activities. So alone, under the care of his housewife mother Gul Habiba, Habib got first hand lessons in patriotism and honesty from early childhood. After the division of India, Habib's family moved to Rajshahi and settled in the new country.
Habib's brilliant and colourful student life built the foundation of altruism that we have seen in his later life. He completed his graduation from the history department of Dhaka University in 1949 and completed his masters on 1951. He then pursued another graduation and post graduation degree in modern history from the prestigious Worcester College of Oxford University. At that time he also earned his professional degree of Barrister at Law from the Lincoln's Inn, London.
During his studies abroad, he deeply studied the practices of neo liberalism in the rapid growth of the post war Europe and felt its relevance for the newly formed country of ours, the then East Pakistan. But the discrimination he saw in reality took him to the streets where he, along with his comrade demanded the basic right to be Bengali.
The Language Movement
In 1952 when Nazimuddin declared that Urdu would be the only state language of Pakistan, Habib was one of the first persons to protest it. As a student of Dhaka University he participated in the language movement and he was one of the first persons to break the section 144 and lead the procession forward. In one of his articles named “Ekusher Smriticharon (Memories of 21)” he said, “At that time Bengali Muslim students had no past experience of breaking the section 144. But as I had some experiences of participating at a rally in Calcutta breaking section 144, I felt that I had something to do.” During the movement he was arrested with his comrades. To the court he bravely said, “Section 144 was imposed illegally, so we have broken it.”
Advocating for the Nation
At first Habibur Rahman joined as a teacher of Dhaka University, but since he was deeply involved with the language movement he found himself in the black books of the university authority. Soon he left Dhaka University and joined Rajshahi University. In 1964 he finally quit teaching and joined the high court bar as a lawyer. On May 8, 1976 he became the judge of the High Court division. After serving as the judge of the appellate division from 1985, he assumed the prestigious position of the chief justice on 1995. During his life as a judge, he solved many significant cases which have turned the history of Bangladesh. Among his judgments, verdicts of the cases of 8th amendment of the constitution, Kader Siddiqui, Ghulam Azam's citizenship were remarkable.
In 1996 Habibur Rahman became the chief adviser of the caretaker government and guided the nation towards a democratic path. The election under his government is considered to be one of the fairest polls ever held in Bangladesh.
Life in Literature
Habibur Rahman didn't confine himself only to the pages of legal codes and judiciary. He gave the nation a great collection of modern literature, philosophy and practical political thoughts. He authored 40 books of prose on various topics. His anthology of prose “Prothome Matribhaha, Porbhasha pore (First the mother tongue, then the foreign ones)” is a treasure trove for academicians working on promoting higher education in the mother tongue. In his book “Bhasahr Apon Por” he revealed the hidden treasures of Bengali language and described it for ordinary readers.
He also demanded practices of Bengali in the legal offices. He commented in his prose named, “Ekushe Februarir Shuborno Joyontite”, “The dual rule system which is in full swing in our courts must be stopped now. The system of running lower court in Bengali and upper court in English is really absurd and should be stopped.”
His deep knowledge of different religions and cultures made him a multi-cultural and truly secular personality. He also translated the Holy Quran into simple and easy Bengali for the readers in general. The name of this translation is “Quransutra”.
Habibur Rahman also distinguished himself as a Tagore expert. His analysis on the literary works of Rabindranath Tagore is renowned for originality and unique points of view. He authored many books on Tagore's literature.
Habibur Rahman was very hopeful about the young generation of Bangladesh. His newspaper columns on various topics and articles are full of resourceful and inspiring advice for the young generation. He also authored four books of poetry.
Throughout his colourful life Habibur Rahman achieved numerous awards in recognition of his invaluable contributions. For his diversified writings, he received the Bangla Academy Award in 1984. He achieved Ekushey Padak in 2007. Despite hlding high portfolios, he used to lead a very simple life. One of his friends Barrister Harun Ur Rashid said, “One day he complained to me that he sent an article to a newspaper and was upset when it carried the article, the newspaper added “Justice” before his name. He asked me “Why can't they seriously take the name of the writer without any appellations before or after the name?”
Muhammad Habibur Rahman was one of the guardians of our nation who served this country selflessly. His thoughts will guide our nation in its future path of progress and development.