March 27, 2024

Tribute in Memory of Dr. Zia Rahman

Dr. Zia Rahman, dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Dhaka, and a double alumnus of the Department of Sociology, University of Calgary, died unexpectedly on Saturday 23 March 2024
Zia Rahman and his wife Sheila at a dinner party in February 2011 that celebrated the completion of Zia’s doctorate.
Zia Rahman and his wife Sheila at a dinner party in February 2011 that celebrated the completion of Zia’s doctorate.

The Department of Sociology joins with social scientists in Bangladesh and around the world in mourning the sudden loss of Dr. Zia Rahman who died in the early morning hours of 23 March shortly after being rushed to hospital in Dhaka during an apparent heart attack. A correspondent for reported, “Teachers-students of Dhaka University thronged at the hospital after hearing about Zia Rahman’s death. DU vice chancellor A.S.M. Maksud Kamal also went to the hospital.” Dr. Rahman’s first Namaz-e-janaza was held at the Central Mosque of Dhaka University later on Saturday, after Zuhr prayers. He was laid to rest at Mirpur Martyred Intellectuals’ Graveyard following the second Namaz-e-janaza after Asr prayers.

Zia Rahman began his academic career in 1993 as a lecturer in the Department of Sociology at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology after completing Honours BA and MA degrees in Social Sciences at Dhaka University in 1990 and 1992. In 1997 he moved to the Department of Sociology at Dhaka University and was appointed as assistant professor in 1998. At the turn of the century, however, he took a leave of absence from Dhaka University in order to pursue further graduate education in sociology in Canada. Working with Dr. Daniel Béland, Zia completed his MA thesis, “Urban Policy in Bangladesh: The State, Inequality and Housing Crises in Dhaka City,” in 2003. Working with Dr. Tom Langford, Zia completed his PhD thesis, “Labour Unions and Labour Movements in the Readymade Garment Industry in Bangladesh in the era of Globalization (1980-2010),” in 2011. During these years Zia and his wife Fauzia (Sheila) Khan spent most of their time in Calgary but had extended stretches of time in Dhaka while Zia conducted field research for his theses. The trips also allowed Zia to maintain a teaching presence at Dhaka University where he was promoted to Associate Professor of Sociology in 2005.

Zia Rahman published a number of journal articles and chapters out of his dissertation, including “Why Labour Unions Have Failed Bangladesh’s Garment Workers," Chapter 5 of a book published by the International Labour Office in 2012: Labour in the Global South: challenges and alternatives for workers, edited by Sarah Mosoetsa and Michelle Williams; and “American hegemony, the expansion of globalized apparel industries, and the Asian Miracle,” Bangladesh Journal of Public Administration, XXIII (1): 23-38, 2014. He was promoted to Full Professor of Sociology in the spring of 2013 but later that year his career entered a new phase with his appointment as the founding chair of the Department of Criminology, a position he held until 2020. In line with his new administrative responsibilities, Dr. Rahman reoriented his research program as evidenced by the publication in 2023 of Terrorism in Bangladesh: The Process of Radicalization and Youth Vulnerabilities, a book co-authored by Monirul Islam and published by The University Press Limited.

A blurb for the book notes that it draws upon qualitative research, including interviews with terrorist suspects and their families, in order to “understand which factors play significant roles in developing violent singular identities and looks into indoctrination, politics and proliferation, vulnerable youth along with the vulnerability of regions to extremism.”

At the time of his death, Professor Rahman was the dean of the largest and most diverse faculty at the University of Dhaka (uniting 16 departments) and the director of the Centre for Advanced Research in Social Sciences in the faculty; he was also a past member of the board of directors of the International Society of Criminology. Outside the world of academia, Zia Rahman was an important, media-friendly public intellectual in Dhaka who could speak with erudition and vigor on a range of subjects in both Bengali and English.

Most importantly, Zia Rahman was committed to high ethical standards, both inside and outside the university. He was kind and considerate to colleagues and friends but also very determined in his intellectual pursuits. He was a leftist who pursued greater equality in the world system and social justice for the exploited workers and peasants of Bangladesh.

Zia also had a great sense of humour and an uncanny ability to mimic the way that others walked. This allowed him, in the right social circumstances, to be a physical comedian of the first order – an interesting juxtaposition to his very learned career. The Department of Sociology extends our condolences to Sheila and other family members as well as Zia’s wide circle of colleagues, students and friends. We too are heartbroken at the loss of this distinguished intellectual and lively spirit at such a young age.