If you are a son or a daughter of a famous personality then you are automatically put in the spotlight, whether you like it or not. Every human being wants to have an identity of their own and the unnecessary pressure of being born in a family often makes it difficult for them to create an identity of their own. In Bangladesh this aspect is taken to a different level when people are either respected or hated unduly because of their family background. This sometimes leads to tragic consequences with the worst incident happening on 15th August 1975 when a nine-year-old boy was killed just because he was the son of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the then President of Bangladesh.
Being members of Ghulam Azam family all of our brothers have experienced how people's behaviour towards us change once our family identity is revealed. On most occasions we receive love and respect, which to be honest, sometimes becomes a bit embarrassing. I have had the privilege of visiting many countries and the love I received for being Ghulam Azam's son have been overwhelming. I remember my visit to the conference of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) in Chicago in 2003 when a famous African American Islamic Scholar Sheikh Siraj Wahhaj hugged me emotionally after hearing who I was. Just a few days ago I went to Portugal on an official visit. The Bangladeshi brothers there looked after me so well that I did not need to spend a single penny on food.
Our father brought us up in such a way that we never even contemplated taking advantage of being his sons. I always feel that I should be treated as who I am and not as who my father is. That is why I had always deliberately avoided disclosing my family identity even to people who have deep respect for my father. I do not feel comfortable if I am treated differently than I deserve. However, after becoming public as the family spokesperson the situation has changed slightly though I would still want people to know me as Salman Al-azami, not as someone's son. However, I do respect people's feelings and have always tried my best to return people's love towards me due to being Ghulam Azam's son appropriately.
The most unfortunate aspect of being born in a famous family is if you experience discrimination and prejudice and are unduly punished for a crime that has nothing to do with you as an individual. This has been the story of my life right from the year I started school. I was five years old when Bangladesh became independent. In January 1972 I appeared and passed the admission test in a famous school in Dhaka, but was refused admission after I disclosed my father's name in the viva. I couldn't start school that year. The following year I had to be admitted into a school using my father's nickname. When I started Jahangirnagar University as an undergraduate student everyone knew who I was. People would stare at me in such a way as if I was an alien from Mars. My classmates suggested that I should carry a poster with me all the time saying, "Yes I am Ghulam Azam's son, but please don't stare at me like this as this is embarrassing!" Although I could safely continue my studies for a year, but just before my first year exams a clash between Shibir and another organisation brought a premature end to my academic life in Bangladesh. I was not involved in politics in the campus, but that did not stop me from being unofficially declared persona non grata at the university. I had to pack my bags and go to Aligarh Muslim University in India to complete my studies.
After coming back from Aligarh with brilliant results and a gold medal I could not even dare to apply for lectureship at public universities, partly because it was not safe, and secondly because the politics in teacher recruitment would never allow Ghulam Azam's son a place as a teaching staff. Therefore, teaching at private universities was the only option left. There too I was subject to discriminations for which I had to be contented working at places where my father's name would not affect my job. Unfortunately this type of institution is few and far between in Bangladesh. I left my job and came to the UK in 2004 to do a post doctoral research. When no university would recruit me after I returned to Bangladesh, my father thought it was enough and advised me to explore my career in the UK.
By Allah's mercy, all the discriminations I faced led to better options for me. If I stayed at Jahangirnagar Allah knows whether I would be allowed good results, but in Aligarh I never stood second in any exam. No Bangladeshi university was ready to take me even when I had a PhD and a post doctoral experience, but Allah decided that I would teach at a UK university. I have been teaching at my present university for almost five years and not a single time did anyone even bother to know my family identity. They now know who I am as I told them, but do they care? No. All they care about is who I am and how I am performing.
Fortunately, my story has a happy ending so far, but the story of my fourth brother is horrific to say the least. Everyone knows he was one of the best army officers the country has ever produced, but one fine morning in 2009, just a few months after this government came to power, he was given a letter saying he was dismissed. No reason was given as to what crime he committed to be kicked out so unceremoniously. He has been deprived of almost 5 million taka worth benefits, expelled from entering any army cantonment, and prohibited to even write his rank. Well, he has committed the biggest crime, hasn't he? He is Ghulam Azam's son!
My father often felt bad that we suffered so much because we are his sons. We always told him that we are proud to be his sons. The end result is always good and truth always prevails over falsehood. I have seen the result and I have no doubt that my brother will be duly compensated soon inshallah. We are blessed because we are Ghulam Azam's sons! We are blessed because we get Dua from him! We are blessed because he taught us all the good things that are necessary to be a good human being! We are blessed because not many people are fortunate to have such a wonderful father!
Therefore I will end this post with the dua taught by our dear Prophet (SM) - RABBIRHAMHUMA KAMA RABBA YANI SAGHIRA - O Allah, please look after him as he looked after me when I was a child - Ameen!
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