The Diaries of a Dhaka Hakim: Islam, Medicine, and Local Politics in Eastern Bengal, 1905–47

Sunday, January 6, 2019: 10:00 AM
Williford B (Hilton Chicago)
Andrew Amstutz, University of Arkansas at Little Rock
Sitting forgotten on the shelves of the Dhaka University Library in contemporary Bangladesh are the diaries of Hakim Habibur Rahman (1880-1947), in which he chronicled his daily experiments with Islamic healing, poetry, and sexual advice in Urdu and Persian at the turn of the twentieth century. Although Dhaka is a major center of the Bengali language, Hakim Habibur Rahman’s diaries were not written in Bengali, but in a mixture of Urdu and Persian. Distinctive in content as well as in language, the spells, poems, and healing tips of this Muslim healer’s diary point towards a largely unstudied layer of vernacular scientific writing in modern South Asia. Hakim Habibur Rahman was a prominent healer in the unani tibb tradition of Indo-Muslim humoral medicine in Dhaka. Along with his healing practice, Hakim Habibur Rahman founded the city’s first humoral medical college and became an influential leader of Dhaka’s urban Muslim elite in the final decades of British colonial rule. This paper investigates the diaries of Hakim Habibur Rahman to reconstruct how he made the case for the scientific capabilities and geographic reach of this system of Indo-Muslim humoral healing in response to political challenges to urban Muslims in early twentieth century Bengal. More broadly, this paper explores how Muslim healers challenged British colonial assumptions about the decline of Islamic sciences in the modern era. Moving in a different direction, Hakim Habibur Rahman contested this story of Muslim scientific decline by celebrating a recent ‘Golden Age’ of Muslim medicine located in the eastern reaches of colonial India.
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