Mohammad Shah, a well-known scholar and professor of history at University of Chittagong, died on September 29, 2019. After a fatal road accident at Hathazari, Chattogram, in which he was involved, he was put on life support, and on the eighth day in hospital, he breathed his last. What a tragedy! We, his students, couldn’t hold back our tears.
Born in 1952, Prof Mohammad Shah was a brilliant student in his early days. He achieved his honours and master’s degrees in history from University of Chittagong. He completed his MPhil from Jawaharlal Nehru University, where he came in touch with renowned historians like Harbans Mukhia (his thesis supervisor), Romila Thapar, Bipan Chandra, and others. As a Commonwealth Fellow, Mohammad Shah was a proud student of some eminent historians of the West including Peter Robb (his supervisor), Francis Robinson, Peter Hardy, and Kirti Narayan Chaudhuri at SOAS University of London, where he got his PhD titled, “In Search of Identity: Bengali Muslims, 1880-1940”. His dissertation was published from K P Bagchi & Co., Kolkata in 1996 which brought him critical acclaim, both nationally and internationally. His other book, “Pan-Islamic Movement in India and Bengal”, was published from Royal Book Company, Karachi in 2002.
Prof Mohammad Shah had the unique quality to enliven his surroundings easily. He was simple and enterprising. As a researcher, his academic credentials established him as an erudite scholar. There are two books, twelve book-chapters, forty-plus articles and many more titles to his credit. He was very studious and could discuss any issue in the classroom or at any forum and adda. He was a devoted researcher of Bangladesh. Sometimes we would call him a “seminar man” as he constantly attended seminars and symposiums, and often turned a seminar into a festive occasion by making interesting questions and comments.
He was one of the teachers who helped to popularise the history of civilisation and historiography at the history department of our university. He served for around four decades at the University of Chittagong. He was a visiting fellow at Royal Holloway College, London. From 2018, Prof Shah was working as an adjunct professor at the Department of History and Philosophy, North South University. Two years back, on his farewell day at our university, he said: “Today is the beginning of my retirement life. I am satisfied for being able to complete my career successfully. Retirement does not mean the end of life; it is just the beginning of a new chapter of life. It is like changing the tyre of an old car with a new tyre. That is what I understand by the term ‘retirement.’”
The more tragic part is that this accident in which he was run over by a car didn’t get any media coverage, either in print or online. These types of deadly accidents are happening around us every day.
Mohammad Shah was a very sincere teacher who never missed a class intentionally. He taught thousands of students with utmost care in a career spanning around forty years. He was very student-friendly and always remained surrounded by the students. To us, he represented Brad Henry’s definition of a teacher: “A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination, and instil a love of learning.”
Mohammad Shah had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. Being a lifetime academic, he was always busy doing research and conducting classes. I remember sometimes he would call me around 5am in the morning. Naturally, I missed his calls at that hour. When I returned his call, usually after 8am, he would say, from the other side of the phone: “After being professors, most of the university teachers in Bangladesh do not continue their study. This is an irony, and you are no exception, Zahid. At 5 in the morning, a professor must be at his reading table or out for a morning walk.” He kept saying all this without giving me any chance to reply. I mention this incident only to show how Prof Muhammad Shah always inspired his students to acquire knowledge.
With his death, we have lost a great teacher, the likes of whom are urgently needed to fix the moribund state of our education sector. Prof Shah was a perfect example of a mentor. His tragic and untimely death is an irreparable loss for us—his students—and for the overall education sector.
Mohammad Zahidur Rahman teaches history at University of Chittagong. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org