TODAY -

Muhammad Abdur Rahman: His life and works

Dr Syed Ahmed *

  Muhammad Abdur Rahman Khutheibam (Gopal Sharma Awardee, 2019)
Muhammad Abdur Rahman Khutheibam :: Pix - Mohd Mustaque Ahmed



Muhammad Abdur Rahman Khutheibam, one of the most prolific and respected Manipuri Muslim literary figures in Manipur, passed away on September 11, 2020 at the age of 85.

During his lifetime, Abdur Rahman had published numerous books written in prose and poetry. Deservedly, he was honored with prestigious literary awards for his contributions and excellence in the field. He was one of the few literary personalities of the State who excelled not only in writing poetry, but also in prose on different areas, particularly history, folklore, linguistic and culture.

He also had in-depth knowledge of Islamic history, culture and traditions and produced scholarly Islamic literatures. He also had the distinction of writing both in vernacular and in English. Besides all these, he was also a cultural activist who labored tirelessly for the preservation and promotion of Muslim culture.

In his early days, Abdur Rahman, along with his close associate, Pukhrimayum Kayamuddin, had initiated a modern literary movement within the small Manipuri Muslim community in the State. Kayamuddin, born in 1953 at Keirao in Imphal East district, also made enormous contributions to Manipuri literature. Sadly, his life was cut short by a tragic road accident on July 13, 2003.

The two with their organizations, particularly Writers' Union, Manipur and Islamic Cultural and Research Association (ICRA) gathered, promoted and nurtured Manipuri Muslims who had literary talents and capabilities. As a member of Writers' Union, Manipur, I, the author of this piece, had the opportunity of working closely with Abdur Rahman as the union worked under his advice and guidance since its inception. I even had the privilege of serving as the secretary of the union.

The efforts of Abdur Rahman and Kayamuddin had a positive influence on the Manipuri Muslim community. Over the decades, a handful of Manipuri Muslims who have the interest, taste and talent for writing and the zeal for promoting and preserving Muslim culture and identity joined them. We (which included, besides me, SM Sheikh, MM Ahmed, Maulana Mubarak Ali, Azrun Kabir, Dr Raheijuddin Sheikh, Muhammad Salim, MA Hasim, Abdul Rashid, to name a few) often gathered at his humble residence at Keikhu in Imphal East district when his health started deteriorating.

We discussed matters related to the two organizations and on various topics relating to literature, history and culture. We enjoyed listening to his long narrations on various topics, which often ranged from the history of the Manipuri Muslims in Manipur, their folklore and folk traditions, linguistics to Islamic literature, history, culture and traditions over tea and snacks. We often wondered at his range of knowledge.

In 2019, I had the privilege of reading out his research paper, entitled "Manipuri Muslims and their cultural events," at an International Seminar organized by All Manipur Muslim (Meitei Pangal) Welfare Association (AMPWA) at Imphal Hotel on 2nd and 3rd March as he was not able to attend due to his poor health.

Abdur Rahman started contributing his writings, particularly poems and short articles on the history, society and culture of the Manipuri Muslims in the Manipuri journals, in particular Thoudang, Payame Islam, Mingsel, Ritu, Pandam, etc. One such article appeared in the journal, Pandam, in its August 1980 edition, entitled, "Manipuri Muslim amasung Meiteilon," which presents and analyses the Urdu and Farsi (Persian) loan words and the Manipuri proverbs that the Manipuri Muslims commonly use.

Abdur Rahman published his first collection of poems, entitled Thamoigi Khollao, in 1980. It was followed by a significant work on folksongs of the Muslims, Pangalgi Khunung Esei, which he edited with Kayamuddin and published in 1986. It is a collection of folksongs sung by the Muslims in the old days existing in oral form. He published several other works of poetry, namely Pelle Taibang in 2000, Eraldubu Karino? in 2002, Sahir-Salima Luhongba in 2004, Ngaklaba Punshi in 2007 and Echel amasung Khonjel in 2011.

Sahir-Salima Luhongba, published by Liberty Publishing Association, Manipur, is a remarkable work of poetry of Abdur Rahman which presents the marriage custom of the Muslims in the past. The traditional marriage custom of the Manipuri Muslims, a combination of the Islamic and the local Meitei traditions, are presented in poetic compositions.

The traditional marriage custom of the Manipuri Muslims commenced with parents of the boy looking for a prospective girl, after getting one, proposal placed to the girl's parents, if accepted, the elaborate engagement procedures started, which include yumjangpot puba, sagei-kwa yenba, panukwa puba, mahar ana leppa (fixing the dower), luhongba numit leppa (fixing the wedding date), luhongba (wedding), the marriage dance and songs (thabal chongba, khullang esei, ghazal, etc.), daman sanba (the marriage procession of the groom and his friends to the residence of the bride), nikah sonba (performing nikah), goina thinba (leaving the bride at the groom's residence) and hinam hanba (the visit of the newly married couple to the residence of the bride). All these are described beautifully in verses.

Abdur Rahman had gathered immense knowledge on Islamic history, customs and traditions through intensive reading of the Islamic literatures published in English and Urdu outside the State. He wrote and published Islamic literatures on several themes in Manipuri with the purpose of informing the ordinary Muslims and non-Muslims on Islam, its beliefs and practices.

Some of his important works include Roja (on Ramadan, the month of fasting, 1986), Yusuf-Julekha (the story of Prophet Yusuf and Julekha mentioned in the Quran, 1987), Eid ani (on Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Azha, 1987), Muharram amasung Karbalagi lan (on the battle of Karbala and Muharram, 1992), Islam (1997), Dunya Akiratki Lourokpham (booklet, 1999), Khangpham thokpa farz khara (on some essential duties prescribed by Islam, 2000), Lankon (2003), Leiramlel (booklet, 2006) and Khutwatul Wada (2009).

In the book, entitled Islam, one in the series of Islamic literatures published by ICRA, Abdur Rahman outlines the fundamental teachings of Islam. In his booklet, Lankon, also published by ICRA, Abdur Rahman discusses some of the crucial topics of Islam, like the Muslim law-makers, the four imams, hadith and its authors (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad), bidat (innovation in religious matters), tasawwuf (Islamic mysticism), among others. Such Islamic literatures published by Abdur Rahman are read with curiosity not only by ordinary Manipuri Muslims, but also by non-Muslims who have keen interest in understanding Islam and its rituals.

Abdur Rahman also contributed chapters dealing with history and culture of the Manipuri Muslims in few edited volumes written in English. He contributed a significant short chapter, entitled "The Meitei Pangal," in N. Sanajaoba Naorem's edited work, Manipur : Past and Present, Volume IV, published in 2005.

In the chapter, Abdur Rahman traces a brief history of the early advent of Muslims in Manipur from the west starting from the middle of 16th century during the reign of Meitei king, Meidingu Mungyamba (1562-1597 AD), followed by the entry of the one thousand Muslims from Taraf, in Sylhet in 1606 AD during the reign of Meidingu Khagemba (1597-1652 AD). He also contributed a long and informative chapter on the history and culture of the Muslims in Manipur, entitled "The Manipuri Muslims: Their advent and culture," in the book, The Other Manipur, Volume 5 edited by H Dwijasekar Sharma, published in 6 Volumes in 12 parts in 2013.

In his chapter, Abdur Rahman writes on the history of Muslim settlement in Manipur, their socio-cultural traditions, focusing on the marriage custom delineating the Islamic traditions and the local customs, other rite de passages, the Islamic prayers (namaz) and the religious festivals observed by the Manipuri Muslims. He also gives concise explanations of the surahs (chapters) in the Quran, besides a long list of Islamic terms with its English meanings in his end notes.

Abdur Rahman also contributed a valuable chapter on the Islamic rituals associated with death practiced by the Manipuri Muslims, entitled "Meitei Pangal Khunnaida mi Siba amasung Potloiba," in the special souvenir published by Manipuri Sahitya Parishad on the occasion of Platinum Jubilee Celebration in 2010.

Abdur Rahman also presented numerous papers in seminars and conferences. He presented a significant paper, entitled "Manipuri Muslimgi Saktamlangba Kala" (on the performing arts of Manipuri Muslims), at a seminar organized by ICRA on September 9, 2007 at Manipur Hindi Parishad Hall, Imphal.

The papers presented at the seminar are compiled into a small booklet, entitled Manipuri Muslimgi Cultureda Saktam langba kala amasung khunung esei (folk music). In the paper, he describes in detail the dance and songs performed by Manipuri Muslims during the marriage ceremony in the past, like khullang esei (a type of folk song), ghazal, qawali, nat and marifat, and tradition of wari liba (story-telling), etc.

One of the most significant contributions made by Abdur Rahman in the field of literature and culture was his engagement with the formation of several literary and socio-cultural bodies. He was associated with the institution of Cultural Forum, Imphal; Liberty Publishing Association, Muslim Writers' Forum, Writers' Union, Manipur and ICRA. Some of these bodies have ceased to exist, while others are still actively engaged in promoting Manipuri literature and Manipuri Muslim culture.

Liberty Publishing Association was formed in the late 1970s with the objective of promoting literary activities among the Manipuri Muslims in the State by publishing literary works on various themes. Kayamuddin, Abdur Rahman, Md. Hesamuddin and Md. Abdus Salam (Artist Salam) were the founding members of the association. Besides books, the association published the bi-monthly journals, Mingsel and Pandam, both edited by Kayamuddin. Mingsel became a popular journal and it was in circulation from 1980 to 1993. Abdur Rahman wrote numerous articles in these journals.

Abdur Rahman was the founder president of ICRA, formed in 1988 to promote Islamic education, research and culture, and publication of Islamic literatures. Kayamuddin was the founder secretary of the body. The association has over the years released Islamic literatures, organized cultural programmes and exhibitions, recognized and felicitated Manipuri Muslims who excelled in various fields.

It may be recalled that ICRA has been presenting ICRA awards with titles to Manipuri Muslims from Manipur and Assam distinguished in literature, arts and culture, sports, social work, etc. over the years. In 1995, ICRA gave awards and titles to the following:
1) Kazi Mujibur Rahman Rahman Rahi from Thoubal, Islamic Scholar (Musninful Islam),
2) Kheiruddin Chowdhury from Cachar, Poet (Saire Azam),
3) Muhammad Abdullah from Paobitek, Sagol Kangjei player (Fatuhul Lieb),
4) Fatima Begum from Khetrigao, Football Player (Fatuhul Lieb),
5) Muhammad Safiullah from Irong Chesaba, Social Worker (Khadimul Qaum)
at a grand function held on November 12 at Jawaharlal Nehru Dance Academy Hall.

In 1996, ICRA honored the following:
1) Hazrat Maulana Tayeb Kasmi from Cachar, Islamic scholar (Hakimul Ummat),
2) Haji Muhammad Abdus Samad, Yairipok, Marifat singer (Mutribe Azam),
3) Muhammad Nasir Ali urfe Tonjao, Lilong, Marifat (Mutribe Azam),
3) Hamida Begum from Keikhu, weaver (Kamrun Fannana),
4) Muhammad Arasuddin from Khetrigao, arm-wrestler (Fatehul Laib)
at a grand function held on November 17 at Jawaharlal Nehru Dance Academy Hall. In 2019, ICRA Lifetime award was given to Abdur Rahman.

ICRA also organized a grand cultural festival and exhibition of the Manipuri Muslims on the theme, "Meitei Pangal Cultural Festival and Exhibition," in connection with Diamond Jubilee Celebration of the Aryan Theatre (1935-1995) on 28th and 29th December 1997 at the complex of Manipur State Museum, Imphal. It was co-organized by Aryan Theatre, Imphal, ICRA, Manipur and Manipur State Museum, Imphal and sponsored by North East Zone Cultural Centre, Dimapur.

The programme exhibited the traditional artifacts, textiles and several methods of manufacturing things used by the Manipuri Muslims. One of the main highlights of the exhibition was the traditional method of paper making. The event also showcased various cultural items of the Manipuri Muslims. The cultural festival cum exhibition was very well received by the audience.

Abdur Rahman was the founder member of Muslim Writers' Forum and Writers' Union, Manipur. Muslim Writers' Forum was formed on August 13, 2000 with the aim to promote Manipuri language and literature. The first executive body of the forum included Abdur Rahman as president, Kayamuddin as secretary, Fariz Nongjaimayum as joint secretary, SM Sheikh as treasurer and MM Ahmed as member.

Writers' Union, Manipur came into existence on June 11, 2006 after the union of Muslim Writers' Forum and Liberty Publishing Association. The Writers' Union, Manipur engages in promoting Manipuri language and literature, and preservation of the art and culture of Manipuri Muslims in Manipur.

It has published numerous books over the years. M Azrun Kabir's Thajagi Paojel (poetry, 2018), SM Shaikh's Manipur amasung Meitei Pangal (collection of essays on history, society and culture of Manipuri Muslims, 2018) and MM Ahmed's Umrao Jan Ada (translation, 2018) are the books published and released in the recent years, while Muhammad Salim's Arolba Thamoigi Chithi (novel, 2020) was released on July 19, 2020.

Abdur Rahman was honored by several prominent literary bodies in Manipur acknowledging the outstanding contributions he made for the development of Manipuri language and literature. He was accorded the prestigious Sahitya Bhusan by the Manipur Sahitya Parishad, Imphal in 2003. He was given the Writer of the Year award by the Naharol Sahitya Premi Samiti, Imphal in 2004. State Central Library, Imphal honored him by presenting the Certificate of Honor for Dedication in the field of Literature in 2009.

ICRA also honored Abdur Rahman with ICRA Lifetime Achievement Award 2014 by acknowledging the extraordinary contribution he made to Manipuri literature and his role in preserving and promoting the culture and traditions of the Manipuri Muslims during his lifetime.

The function jointly organized by Writers' Union, Manipur and ICRA on June 28, 2014 was graced by the then Vice-President of Jawaharlal Nehru Dance Academy, Prof. Nongmaithem Tombi Singh; Retired Director of Doordarshan Kendra, Dibrugarh, Sagolshem Indrakumar Singh; Retired Additional Director, Higher Education (U), Manipur and historian (Late) Prof. MA Janab Khan; and the then vice-president of ICRA, (Late) Maulana Mubarak Ali as dignitaries. The award included a citation, a shawl and an amount of Rs 10,000.

Again in 2019, Sahitya Thoupang Lup (Sathou Lup), a prominent literary body in Manipur, honored Abdur Rahman with Gopal Sharma Award in appreciation of his works on poetry on World Poetry Day on March 21, 2019. Abdur Rahman was born on January 2, 1935 at Keikhu, Khetrigao in Imphal East district to Sifatullah and Zuhra Bibi. He belonged to the Khutheibam clan.

He had his primary education at Khetrigao Lower Primary Madrasa. Then he was enrolled from Class III to Class X (1946-1950) at Churachand High School and cleared the Matriculation Examination, which was then conducted by Gauhati University, Assam in 1951. After that, he was admitted for Intermediate (IA) in Dhanamanjuri College at Imphal.

However, he failed to complete the course due to the poor financial condition of his family. However, he became an avid reader and a serious researcher. Besides Manipuri and English, he was well versed in Urdu and Hindi.

In order to help his parents, Abdur Rahman joined Post Office at Imphal as an employee in 1953. However, he soon left the job and became a teacher at Fatima Memorial School at Hafiz Hatta. Around the time, he started engaging himself in social work. To inculcate reading habits among the youth of Khetrigao, he set up Ansarul Islam Library, besides founding a body to help the students from poor families, named Rural Youth Organization.

In 1955, he got the post of Lower Division Clerk at Agriculture Department, Government of Manipur. He married Amina Khatun, the daughter of the last Manipuri Muslim Kazi, popularly known as Sanajaoba Kazi, in 1954. Abdur Rahman retired as an Accountant Officer in Agriculture Department in February 1993.

Abdur Rahman was a humble, honest and hardworking man. He led a peaceful and simple life, and devoted most of his time to reading and writing. He is survived by his wife and 7 children. With the demise of Abdur Rahman, Muslim community has lost the most prominent and popular literary figure who enriched the Manipuri language and literature by leaving behind a large body of published works.

Furthermore, we have also lost a literary and cultural activist who, over the decades, started, managed and organized several literary and cultural bodies which not only published literatures but also worked tirelessly to promote literary and cultural activities within the Manipuri Muslim community.

Abdur Rahman will be remembered by future generations through his published works. His relentless efforts in initiating and carrying forward a literary movement within the Manipuri Muslims community will not be forgotten by the generations that will follow us. His contributions in enriching Manipuri literature and engagement and efforts in promoting and preserving the unique culture of the Manipuri Muslims in Manipur will be cherished by all.

He will remain in the hearts of numerous research scholars, academicians, social and cultural activists, who were benefited immensely by his valuable advice and guidance, words of inspiration and blessings, including the author of this piece.


* Dr Syed Ahmed wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on November 24 2020.



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