Eminent educator, National Professor, writer, researcher, cultural activist, Bangla Academy Chairman and Director of the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB)'s Centre for Bangla Studies Dr Rafiqul Islam passed away at the age of 87 on Tuesday, November 30, at Dhaka's Evercare Hospital. He was laid to eternal rest at the Azimpur graveyard in the capital, amid overwhelming tributes pouring in from all quarters of society - to which, he has dedicated his eventful life to share his enlightening knowledge.

The Ekushey Padak and Independence Award recipient's body was taken to Central Shaheed Minar on Wednesday afternoon, for people to pay their last respects by placing wreaths. Representatives of President Md Abdul Hamid and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina led the people in paying their last tribute to the eminent scholar. Cabinet members, lawmakers, mayors of Dhaka south and north, teachers and students of many educational institutions, different socio-cultural organizations and political parties also paid their respects to the late scholar and academician. Prior to that, Prof Islam's body was also taken to his beloved Bangla Academy premises, to let his colleagues, staff and others pay their last tributes.

One of the most revered Nazrul researchers in the world, Professor Rafiqul Islam was undergoing treatment for multiple complications. He was put on life support at the Evercare Hospital on November 26; prior to that, he was admitted to the hospital a week before that and got shifted to the High Dependency Unit after his condition worsened. On October 7, the 87-years old National Professor was admitted to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) with abdominal pain. After the examination, the doctors confirmed that water had accumulated in his lungs which was later extracted.

Many wondered why the Professor did not go abroad for the treatment. "I wanted to take my father abroad, but he insisted to stay here as he loved his country and wanted to receive his treatment here," said Barshan Islam, the only son of the eminent Professor. Talking to reporters at Bangla Academy, Barshan said: "My father's whole life was a success. The pictures captured on his camera during the 1952 Language Movement are all history; If he did not capture those historic photographs, the proper history would never see the daylight today. I once told him that I hadn't seen his credit in any of the images, to which he replied that he didn't need credit because everyone knew the history. We, his family, are immensely proud of his successful and celebrated life."

A great achiever

Born on January 1st, 1934 at the Kolakanda village, Matlab Upazila in Chandpur district to Dr Md Zulfiker Ali and Jannatunesa, Professor Rafiqul Islam completed his MA in Bangla from Dhaka University in 1956. He was an active participator in the 1952 Language Movement. Later, he completed his MA in Linguistics from Cornel University, USA in 1960. He obtained his PhD from Dhaka University in 1976.

He started his glorious career in academia at Dhaka University in 1957 and taught Bengali and linguistic there till 1958 and then 1961 till 2004 as Senior lecturer, Assistant Professor, Associate Professor and Professor. Inducted as a National Professor in 2018, Professor Rafiqul Islam later became head of the Bangla department at Dhaka University.

Besides academia, he was the President of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's Birth Centenary Celebration National Implementation Committee. He was also the Chairman of Bangla Academy from June 2021 till his death, and its former Director General (2001-2002). He had actively participated in the 1952 Language Movement, and is widely revered for capturing rare photographs of that time and portraying that history in his writings. He wrote about 30 books, including the first book on the martyred intellectuals of 1971 and the first book on the centenary history of DU.

Besides the Ekushey Padak (2001) and the Independence Award (2012), Professor Rafiqul Islam received many other awards throughout his iconic career including the Bangla Academy Literary Award (1994), the International Mother Language Award (2021), Channel-i Life Time Award (2010), Marchentail Bank Life Time Award (2011), Bangla Academy Shommanona (2017) and more.

For the love of Nazrul

Widely revered as one of the most respected Nazrul researchers in the world, Professor Rafiqul Islam was the first Nazrul Professor at the Bangla Department of Dhaka University and the first director of its Nazrul Research Centre. Throughout his iconic career, he has published a large number of research articles in various national and international journals on the eventful life and majestic works of Kazi Nazrul Islam. While teaching at Dhaka University, he devoted himself to researching the life and works of Poet Kazi Nazrul Islam which earned him a PhD degree in 1977. He participated in two major North American Nazrul conferences held in Boston and Florida, and led the cultural delegation from Bangladesh to London and Paris on the occasion of Kazi Nazrul Islam's birth centenary in 1999. He wrote more than 30 scholarly books, mostly on the life and works of the National Poet, edited a total of 12 volumes of Nazrul's works (2007-2010) published by Bangla Academy. He was also the Chief Editor of Nazrul Rachanbali (Nazrul Omnibus) published by Kabi Nazrul Institute, and Nazrul Birth Centenary Edition of Nazrul Rachanabali, published by Bangla Academy.

Speaking of the beloved professor's contribution in the field of research on National Poet Kazi Nazrul Islam, Professor Monalisa Das from the Department of Bangla at the Kazi Nazrul University (KNU) in Asansol, India, said that when her university established its Nazrul Centre for Social and Cultural Studies, Professor Rafiqul Islam and Professor Anisuzzaman had come forward as pioneers and the premier associates. "Our university planned to honour the eminent professor with an honorary D Litt degree; however, the pandemic emerged and we could not arrange the program. The way Kazi Nazrul Islam and his creations has been portrayed worldwide was possible because of the research of Prof Rafiqul Islam, and we will forever remember him with due respect."

For his influential works on the National Poet, Professor Rafiqul Islam was awarded the Nazrul Academy Award, Churulia, West Bengal (1987) and the Nazrul Institute Award, Dhaka (1987), among his other accolades.

A guardian angel for ULAB

The University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB) is admired by many for its special focus on the liberal arts-based curriculum, and the university always got a guardian angel in disguise of the late Professor, till his last breath. He was a formed Vice-Chancellor (2007-2011) of the university, as well as its Professor Emeritus and Advisor (2011 - till his death), Center for Bangla Studies. He was also the co-editor of the bilingual volume titled "Commemorating Sheikh Mujib: The Greatest Bengali of the Millennium" with Professor Shamshad Mortuza, Pro Vice-Chancellor and Dean, School of Arts and Humanities of ULAB, and the book was the maiden publication of ULAB Press, which contains 13 essays by ULAB professors and associates.

Sadly, the beloved guardian angel passed away the day after his beloved university's sixth convocation.

In a condolence message to all the current and graduating students of ULAB, Professor Imran Rahman, the current Vice-Chancellor of ULAB, said: "We pray for the salvation of his soul, and recall with fondness and gratitude all his contributions to ULAB, a place he considered his home for the last seventeen years. May Rafiq Sir rest in peace." Although he could not pay his last respect to the beloved Professor as he is currently out of the country, the faculty and staff members of ULAB paid their last respects to National Professor at the Shaheed Minar on Wednesday.

Through the fond memories and significant scholarly publications which he crafted with the utmost care, Professor Rafiqul Islam will always be remembered.

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