Saifuddin Sabuj speaks to UCA News in Dhaka ahead of the 50th anniversary of Radio Veritas Asia in 2019. Sabuj died at the age of 49 on April 13. (Photo: Stephan Uttom/UCA News)
Christians are mourning the sudden death of a prominent Muslim journalist who worked in Catholic media for years and became a household name among Bengali-speaking Christians in Bangladesh, India and beyond.
Saifuddin Sabuj died at a hospital in capital Dhaka on April 13 at the age of 49. He was hospitalized recently due to health complications including low blood sugar and cardiac problems. He is survived by his wife and two sons.
Sabuj had an illustrious career in local and regional media after working as a freelance contributor for newspapers and weeklies as a college student.
He got involved with the Christian Communication Center (CCC), the Catholic Church’s media apostolate, in 1989 and joined its staff in 1992.
From 1992 to 2011, Sabuj played a vital role as a producer of programs for the Bengali service of Radio Veritas Asia (RVA) through Banideepti (Light of the Word), the multimedia wing of the CCC.
He also wrote extensively for Weekly Pratibeshi (Neighbor), the sole national Catholic weekly magazine in Bangladesh.
In an interview with UCA News on the 50th anniversary of RVA in 2019, Sabuj said he never felt he was a Muslim among Christians during his time in Catholic media, especially at RVA.
"The love, space and cooperation I received was incredible. Such a wonderful environment filled with love and the trust of so many people encouraged and inspired me every day to do better work. I worked in every section of the RVA Bengali Service and this experience has made me who I am today," he said.
He also carried out printing and publishing through his Dhaka-based agency Prokirti Media and regularly published a literary magazine called Prokirti.
After leaving RVA in 2011, he started various community radio stations with funding from the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and Bangladesh’s government. He also ran Radio Bangla Wave, an online radio station for Bengali speakers around the world.
Sabuj’s friends and former colleagues took to social media to pay glowing tributes to him.
Father Kamal Corraya, former director of the CCC, said Sabuj became “one of us through his works.”
“I have worked with Sabuj for 16 years and I have seen how he studied Christianity, Christian values, ethics, theology and even documents of Vatican II. He became one of us and he promoted the Church’s values through his works,” Father Corraya told UCA News.
Whenever the Church faced any crisis in terms of media in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, Sabuj used to play the role of troubleshooter, the priest noted. His extraordinary church know-how made him the only member of the media committee for Pope Francis’ visit to Bangladesh in 2017.
“He was pioneering in introducing the Church in mainstream media and he also mentored young talents who became professional journalists. He even took classes in parishes, seminaries and houses of religious orders. There will be no one like him,” Father Corraya added.
Dr. Benedict Alo D’Rozario, president of Caritas Asia, expressed similar sentiments.
“We always considered him one of us. He was available for anything or everything 24/7. He was a unique and dedicated man, and I learned many things from him while Caritas worked with RVA on various occasions. He was a positive and helpful man and always ready to lend a hand even after he retired from RVA,” D’Rozario told UCA News.
Porimol Palma, a senior correspondent of The Daily Star newspaper, worked with Sabuj from 2001 to 2004 and considers him his “first mentor in media.”
“You were a shelter and inspiration for many of the youths of our generation. Today, you have become a news item. It’s so shocking to me,” Palma wrote on his Facebook page.