Ascertaining the cultural identity of Bengali Muslims | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, August 27, 2011 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, August 27, 2011

Ascertaining the cultural identity of Bengali Muslims

Khalid Hossain

Nazrul, The National Poet of Bangladesh, was a harbinger of secularism, liberalism, and interfaith harmony at a time when the sub-continent was mired in religious discord. But that's not all, there was more to Nazrul. His spirituality generated what's considered some of the most magnificent musical and lyrical odes to Divinity -- both in Islamic and Hindu traditions.
Imagine an Eid-ul-Fitr without the song “O Mon Ramzan-er Oi Rozar Sheshey Elo Khushir Eid”, or a child's initiation to religiosity in music without “Ei Shundor Phool”. Without Nazrul, the cultural identity of Bengali Muslims would be incomplete.
“Nazrul wrote and composed around 400 Islamic songs -- belonging to Hamd, Naat, Marsia and motivational sub-genres. Of them about 300 are available,” said renowned Nazrul Sangeet artiste Khalid Hossain. Hossain is known particularly for his emotive renditions of Nazrul's Islamic songs.
“K. Mallick first recorded Nazrul's Islamic songs -- 'Muhammad Naam Jotoi Jopi', 'Duur Arab-er Shopon Dekhi', 'Madina'r Shahanshah' and more.
“K. Mallick [Muhammad Kasem] was a Muslim but sang under the widely known alias because those were different times. Muslim artistes often had to assume Hindu sounding names to be widely accepted. The reverse happened as well. Since there were no Bengali Muslim female singers around and there was a demand for Bengali Islamic songs composed by Nazrul, Ms. Ashchorjomoyi recorded 'Ami Jodi Arab Hotam' under the alias Sakeena Begum. Girin Chakraborty and Chitta Roy also recorded some songs under Muslim names. Of course, Abbasuddin's renditions were hugely popular,” said Hossain.
What makes Nazrul's Islamic songs so stirring? “Because these songs are relatable, every devoted Bengali Muslim can find him/herself in these songs. The remarkable demonstration of spirituality and depth in these songs make them timeless. Nazrul had written about unwavering loyalty to Allah, following the footsteps of the Prophet (PBUH), the five pillars of Islam…virtually every aspect of our religion,” Hussain said.
“Whatever Nazrul touched, he conquered. When he took interest in Hinduism, he literally digested everything about the religion, and composed Shyama Sangeet, Kirtan that remain unrivalled. Similarly, his Islamic songs -- in Ghazal, folk and Qawwali styles -- are matchless. Besides having an innate ability to master languages and diverse traditions, Nazrul's upbringing provided an edge. Son of an Imam, Nazrul studied at a maktab as a child. His deep interest in Persian literature resulted in the creation of Bangla Ghazal that became a massive hit with the music lovers.
“Nazrul dreamt of a world where all factions of Islam would come together. There are so many aspects that make his creations incomparable,” the singer added.
About the popularity of these songs today, Hussain said: “Compared to 10/15 years ago, more singers are rendering and recording Nazrul's Islamic songs. Not all artistes are equally committed and not all renditions come from the heart. But I consider it a positive trend, nevertheless.”

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