GOOL MOHAMED KHAN and HUSANARA KHAN HAKAM
November 1, 2009
Filed Under Features / Columnists, The Arts Forum
A FASCINATING STORY OF AN INDENTURED
INDIAN AND HIS GUYANESE-BORN DAUGHTER
(As told by Deen Ameerullah, great grandson of Gool Mohamed Khan)
My great grandfather, Gool Mohamed Khan, a Yusufzai Pathan, was born in 1853 in a small village of Moorni of the Nasruddin Khel tribe, in the District of Dir in Afghanistan (now Swat, Pakistan). He received his early education in various schools and mosques and at the age of sixteen he passed his examination in Arabic, that is, in Fiqa, Sirf and Naho.
On February 14, 1869, he started out on foot from Afghanistan to India since there were no railways or other means of conveyance at the time. He had gone to Jaroa State, Rajputana, India to bring back his brother to Afghanistan, as his mother was anxious to see him. Gool Mohamed completed the journey in 54 days on foot and stayed in India for four years, partly with his brother and partly in the service of a Prince of that state. Jaroa was ruled by Nawabs of Afghan descent.
On learning that his mother had died, Gool Mohamed Khan returned to Afghanistan alone in 1873 but the following year, he again went to India and joined the British Regiment. While there he learned Urdu, Nagri and Mathematics. He resigned from the regiment and went to British Guiana under the indentureship scheme in search of a better life.
In his book, Unity v Trinity, he writes: “I arrived in Guiana on 11th May, 1877 on the ship “King Arthur” and whilst waiting to be drafted to some batch for the sugar plantation, I was fortuitously recruited to join the Police Force. It happened that the Deputy Inspector General of Police, Mr. Payne, was passing by the Depot when I saluted him as I took him to be an officer. He drew his horse and put some questions to me in English, which I was unable to answer; an interpreter was called in and I was asked if I would join the Police Force. I readily consented as I had learnt to my cost that the supposed El Dorado existed only in air not even in paper. I was guided by other European Police officers for six months. One day while on duty a gentleman (who I subsequently learnt was Reverend Darnell, a priest of Christ Church) asked me if I would give him lessons in Nagri. I agreed, provided he taught me English in return. The pact was signed and we were both master and pupil during our respective periods.”
As a result of the criticisms made by the Christian community of the Prophet Mohamed and Islam, Gool Mohamed Khan was motivated to educate himself about the Koran as well as the Bible. Thus, followed the historic debates and discourses with the religious leaders of the Christian Church that resulted in the publication of his book, Unity v Trinity. It is not known when this book was first published, but the preface of the Second Edition is dated 1910. After the book was later discovered, Gool Mohamed Khan’s granddaughter, Begum Akhter Jahan Khan, published the Third Edition of the book in August, 1988 in Pakistan.
Gool Mohamed Khan resigned from the Police Force in September 1879, and started his own business, but became deeply engrossed in religion and humanitarian work. One of Gool Mohamed Khan’s historic achievements while he was in British Guiana was his involvement in the construction of “The Juma Masjid” in Church Street, Georgetown.
In 1947, an article entitled “Do You Know Your Georgetown? The Juma Masjid, where Muslims Worship” in The Guiana Graphic, a newspaper in British Guiana, states: “… the late Mr. Gool Mohamed Khan, a prominent Muslim Indian merchant, in the year 1895 got together a band of fellow Muslims, and they decided to erect an edifice worthy of the lofty ideals of Islam . . . . The Juma Masjid, or Mosque, the place of worship of Muslims resident in Georgetown and its eastern suburbs, is a work of architectural beauty and eastern charm. Residents in Queenstown, or those citizens who pass Church Street, Queenstown, cannot help but being struck by the magnificent domes of the Juma Masjid standing supremely, yea majestically, lifting one’s thoughts with a sudden jerk to those lands of the East, where minarets abound and shady palms bid welcome to the traveller. The foundation stone of the mosque was laid in 1895, and the building completed the following year, when it was opened for worship under the late Mr. Gool Mohamed Khan, as the first Imam.” [Editor’s Note: That Mosque has been dismantled and a new Mosque is presently being built on the very site].
In her Publisher’s Note in the Third Edition of Unity v Trinity, Begum Akhter Jahan Khan mentions that she sourced most of the information about her grandfather, Gool Mohamed Khan, from two of his daughters, Mrs. Husanara Hakam, her aunt, and Mrs. Gulshanara Wahab, her mother. Both Husanara and Gulshanara were born in British Guiana and lived in Pakistan until their demise.
Gool Mohamed Khan had eleven children: Jehanara Khan, Raffudin Khan, Husanara Khan, Shahabuddin Khan, Gulshanara Khan, Mohiuddin Khan, Badruddin Khan, Najmuddin Khan, Kamaluddin Khan, Ismatara Khan and Mehtebara Khan.
In 1906 Gool Mohamed Khan decided to return to India. However, before his departure with his family to India, he decided to leave two of his children, Jehanara and Raffudin, with his friend, Wazir Khan. It is not known why Gool Mohamed Khan left Jehanara and Raffuddin in British Guiana, very possibly because Wazir Khan and his wife did not have any children of their own and because Gool Mohammed Khan’s wife and Wazir Khan’s wife were sisters. One can surmise that he had intended to return for them later.
Whatever the reasons, the two siblings never left British Guiana. In 1913, Jehanara was married to Abdool Azeez and had four children: Zamirudeen, Hajra Kartoon, Amna Kartoon, and Khairoon Nesa. Unfortunately, in 1922, Jehanara Azeez died at the age of 28 years.
Later, in 1926, Raffuddin was married to Nazeeran (also known as Charlotte) and had six children: Kamal Uddin, Jamaluddin, Jalall Uddin, Safi Uddin, Shahabuddin, and Saleema. In 1989, Raffuddin passed away at 86. Although Gool Mohamed Khan did not return to British Guiana, his son, Shahabuddin, later visited. It was learnt that Shahabuddin met with his brother, Raffuddin, and the children of Raffuddin and Jehanara. Gool Mohamed Khan died in Calcutta in May 1934.
After Shahabuddin’s visit, there was no evidence of communication or contact between Gool Mohamed Khan’s family in India (Pakistan) and his relatives in British Guiana until one of his grandson-in-law, Muhammad Abbas Ali, also known as Major Abbas Ali, residing in Scarborough, Ontario, Canada, initiated the effort to reunite the long separated families. Major Abbas Ali is married to Sarwar Jahan, daughter of Gulshanara Khan.
The reunification of the family is a fascinating story. Major Abbas was at a travel agency in Toronto, Canada arranging a trip to Guyana to trace the relatives and history of Gool Mohamed Khan. He happened to mention to the travel agent his mission. By sheer co-incidence, the travel agent knew Roshan Deen Khan (R. D. Khan) who was in fact one of the great grandsons of Gool Mohamed Khan, and the connection was made – a wonderful development in our family history and reconnection.
Here’s a brief biographical sketch of Husanara Khan Hakam, eldest daughter of Gool Mohammad Khan and Mussamat Rahima Khan, since she left the land of her birth, British Guiana, settled in India, and later in Pakistan after the Partition of the Indian subcontinent.
Husanara Khan was born on 7 June 1887 in Georgetown, British Guiana and left with her father for India when she was eighteen. Gool Mohammad Khan belonged to a Yusufzai Pathan family of Swat but they settled in Calcutta. In 1907 Husanara (from hereon she is known as Husan Ara Khan Hakam) was married to Mukhlesur Rahman Abul Hakam who belonged to an orthodox Muslim family and was a Zamindar (landlord) of Calcutta. He was learned and highly respected in the society. Unfortunately, Mr. Hakam died in 1924. They did not have any children and Husan Ara Khan Hakam remained a widow for the rest of her life.
Husan Ara Khan Hakam became an active member of the Pakistan Movement and was one of the few Muslim women who worked with Mohamed Ali Jinnah and with the other members of the All India Muslim League Council that was actively involved in the creation of Pakistan. Mrs. Hakam played a pivotal role in the emancipation of Muslim women in India and Pakistan including East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). She dedicated herself to the uplift of their social and moral standards and to the cause of their education. She was a remarkable and extraordinary woman who selflessly dedicated her life for the good and welfare of people, particularly the poor and orphans.
Husan Ara Khan Hakam was the first lady Honorary Magistrate in Calcutta (1927) and an elected Member of the Bengal Legislative Assembly (1946). She was the founder of the M. A. O. Girls Scout in Calcutta, the Jamiat Khawateen for women in Pakistan, and the only female member of the All India Muslim League Council for Bengal. Widely travelled and respected, she was the founder and office-bearer of a number of social and cultural organizations. Together with her sister, Gulshanara (Mrs. G. A. Wahab), Gulshanara’s husband (Dr. A. Wahab) and her daughter (Begum Akhter Jahan Khan), they were active members of many benevolent and charitable women’s organizations and played dominant roles in promoting education bringing about radical changes in Muslim women’s attitude towards modern education.
Husan Ara Khan Hakam was a highly educated and courageous woman. She received many honours for achievements in her distinguished career. Based on her life and legacy, this brave woman could be profiled as an exemplary citizen for all humanity. Born in obscurity in British Guiana, South America, she entered the world stage in India, actively participated in the formation of Pakistan, and devoted her life to the caring of indigent people, especially women and children. She left a “legendary portrait” of herself and a profile of great courage and compassion.
Husan Ara Khan Hakam died October 30, 1985 in Karachi, Pakistan at 98 years of age.
[The editor of The Arts Forum column, Ameena Gafoor, can be reached on E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com or by telephone: 592 227 6825 or Fax: 592 225 0712]
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