Mr. Justice Muhammed Ibrahim was a man of dynamic character and great personality who lived an honest life and strived to see that justice was done, regardless of the circumstances prevailing at that time.
Mr. Justice Muhammed Ibrahim was born in September, 1894 in the district of Faridpur. Son of Haji Ghiyasuddin Ahmed, he studied in Barisal Zilla School and Dhaka College, from where he graduated in 1918. He pursued his post-graduate studies in Economics and simultaneously studied Law in Dhaka Law College. Justice Ibrahim was greatly influenced by the Indian Pre-independence Nationalist Movement and was inspired by the ideas of freedom and joined the Non-Cooperation and Khilafat Movements led by Mahatma Gandhi. This enabled him to live a life dedicated to democracy, civil liberties and rule of law. He practised law at Faridpur in 1922-23, and joined the Dhaka District Bar in 1924. Simultaneously, he taught Law at Dhaka University as a part-time teacher from 1924 to 1943. He was appointed as Public Prosecutor in the Dhaka District Court in 1939.In 1943 he was appointed an Additional District Judge from the Bar Council and become a District Judge there in 1945 and was eventually elevated as a Judge of the then High Court of East Pakistan in September 1949 after independence of the Sub-continent.
Respected for his merit, Justice Ibrahim remained Vice-Chancellor of Dhaka University from November 1956 to October 1958. Afterwards he received the post of Law Minister in 1958.Numerous judicial judgments of Mr. Ibrahimfrom those years still serve as a basis of clarity and honesty in decision making process of the courts today. Some of those foundations include passing of Muslim Family Law Ordinance 1961 for women rights’ protection and his dissention as a Law minister with the then President Ayub Khan’s Draft Constitution. At the time of drafting the constitution of Pakistan Justice Ibrahim referring to the ever widening economic gap between two wings of the country recommended that the responsibility for their economic development should be cast respectively on the provinces themselves and for that end each province should be recognized as a separate economic entity. He also suggested that the Central Government should have only defence, foreign affairs, inter-wing communication and currency; the entire remaining subject should be concern and responsibility of the provinces. Mr. Justice Ibrahim’s preference was for parliamentary government based on adult franchise, subject to such provisions as may be appropriate for strict party discipline. Alternatively Justice Ibrahim suggested that if it was decided to have presidential form of government then the provincial government should be elected and must always be men of the respective provinces. He suggested, as regards the provincial subjects, the Provincial Constitution may be made by the President in consultation with the representative of the respective provinces. It actually meant that there would be a provincial as well as central constitution. His next proposal was that there must be some law or convention that the post of President and Prime Minister should rotate between the two wings alternatively. He also demanded equal representation for the two provinces in the Central Cabinet and wanted the permanent seat of Central Legislation to be located in Dhaka. But ultimately all valuable recommendations of Justice Ibrahim were not taken into account and eventually ManzurKadir, a lawyer by profession drafted the constitution on the lines suggested by Ayub in his directive which was promulgated on 1 March 1962. Justice Ibrahim did not attend either of the meetings for its approval and adoption.
His adherence to maintaining balance between both wings of Pakistan was made abundantly clear when he sought resignation from the post of Law Minister by letter dated 11 April 1962 addressed to the President, stating that he was doing so in order to clarify misunderstandings which arose due to his maintaining his seat in the cabinet, as he was supportive of democratic election based on adult franchise. His stance in regards to a system of democratic elections at a Provincial level was vastly deemed to be revolutionary and criticized at a time when strict Military Rule was adhered to by most citizens of both wings of Pakistan but welcomed by the learned authoritative figures of the East Pakistan. Even after resignation he formed the Combined Opposition Party (COP) in 1964 to oppose Ayub Khan during the presidential elections.
Mr. Justice Muhammed Ibrahim’s dissenting voice towards injustice and unconstitutional government inspired many leaders and organizers of the democratic movement to hold their own grounds for preserving right of self-determination and for restoration of the fundamental rights of the people of this region. His fearless and bold actions against an oppressive government served as a beacon of light for those who at the time were unable to act out of fear for their life and in turn his actions paved a way for independence of Bangladesh, which we cherish to this day.
He lived a simple and humble life and was an epitome of honesty and integrity which he never compromised. A person of great patriotism and, as described by Mr. Justice Shahabuddin, the then President of the Republic of Bangladesh, in his inaugural address of the Justice Muhammed Ibrahim Trust Fund of the Asiatic Society in August I997 as “a Bengali first, last and all over his life”. In the same speech Justice Shahabuddin concluded by saying that Justice Ibrahim “upheld democratic principles all his life, fought for rule of law, independence of judiciary and civil liberties” (The Daily Star. 2 September, 1997).
He was also an ardent and committed social worker and was associated with the BuddhirMuktiAndolan 1926-1938, (Movement for Intellectual Freedom) from its inception, was the founding Chairman of the Dhaka University Old Boy’s Association (now renamed as the Alumni Association), President of the Bulbul Academy of Fine Arts, Honorary Provincial Scout Commissioner, Chairman of the East Pakistan Red Cross Society, and President of the Asiatic Society of Pakistan (now Bangladesh), 1956.
Justice Ibrahim died on 13 October 1966 at the age of 72. A life dedicated to democracy, rule of law, civil liberties and interest of the citizens of the East Pakistan, so came to an end. At the time of death Justice Ibrahim left behind two sons (Tariq Ibrahim and Khalid Ibrahim) and a daughter (Dr. Sufia Ahmed). Dr. Sufia Ahmed is a reputed National Professor and former Chairperson of the Department of Islamic History and Culture at the University of Dhaka. Dr. Sufia Ahmed married Syed Ishtiaq Ahmed (Bar-at-law), who was a renowned lawyer of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh, and their son, Syed Refaat Ahmed, is presently Hon’abe Justice of High Court Division, Supreme Court of Bangladesh.