Muhammad Abdur Rahman: His life and works

Dr Syed 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),
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