ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

The ‘Trial’ of Abul Hussain and the Shaping of the Bengali Muslim Identity in the Early 20th Century


Shahita Mrittika - University of Cambridge, History, Cambridge, United Kingdom


01 – Bengali Muslim Societies and Literatures, c.1600-1947


 Early 20th century witnessed impactful enthusiasm by the young Bengali Muslim intellectuals. Establishment of the University of Dhaka in 1921 certainly played a crucial role in this. An Anti-veil League was established in 1923 by its progressive students which stood for the cause of women’s emancipation. In less than three years, a unique organization Muslim Sahitya Samaj (Muslim Literary Society) was initiated by a few of its students and teachers who envisioned changing society through literary works. Since its inception, Abul Hussain (1896-1938), lecturer of the Economics department actively led the group. However, very soon the organization found itself as a target of the conservative Muslim society of Dhaka city. In 1928, Zamidar Kazemuddin Siddique of Baliadi, Dhaka called upon Hussain to seek an explanation of the published write-ups. Next year, Hussain was again summoned by the Nawabs in Ahsan Manzil where he was forced to submit a letter seeking an apology and approve the public distribution of the letter. Ultimately Hussain resigned from the University and moved to Kolkata in 1932. The literary society could not continue for long either; became inactive by 1936. This paper will discuss this brief but crucial period of history focusing on the confrontation between the progressive and conservative sections of the Muslim society of Dhaka during the early twentieth century and trace its impact to shape the Bengali Muslim identity with its still shifting parameters.