Monday, February 14, 2005

BANGLADESH: State Inaction Encourages anti-Ahmadiyya Islamists

+ Though there is some amount of protest from the civil society of Bangladesh against the anti-Ahmadiyya campaign it is not strong enough to check the onslaught of Islamists. The governments will have to take a policy decision to combat religious extremism, which has emerged as a major problem in Bangladesh. The policy decision will have to be executed through proper co-ordination among different ministries. The state of religious freedom is likely to seriously suffer in Bangladesh if the media and civil society are not proactive and the government does not support them. +

14/02/2005

State Inaction Encourages anti-Ahmadiyya Islamists
Anand Kumar

Islamist extremists who have been active in Bangladesh since the early 1990s have now become very powerful. As these forces had sided with Pakistan during the War of Liberation of Bangladesh, they were despised. In fact they were not allowed to participate in the politics of the country for a long time. But now these Islamists have not only managed acceptance in Bangladesh polity they are also deciding the direction of the country’s politics. At the receiving end are minorities of Bangladesh and even some sects of Islam whom radical Islamists do not consider as Muslims. Ahmadiyyas are one such sect, that has been facing violence since the upsurge of Islamic fundamentalism in the country. This violence has intensified in recent times, threatening the very survival of the community.

In Bangladesh there are about 100,000 followers of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Kadiani whom they believe to be "Imam Mehdi". The sect respects him as a guide of the Muslims after Prophet Mohammad and his followers are known as Ahmadiyyas or Qadianis. The mainstream Sunni Muslim leaders refuse to accept Ahmadiyyas as Muslims. The Ahamadiyya leaders in Bangladesh say that they are Muslims and followers of Hazrat Muhammad. However, this proclamation has not satisfied fanatics who brand Ahmadias as Kafir (non-Muslims) saying they do not follow Prophet Mohammed and demand declaration of the Ahmadia sect as non-Muslim and the closure of their mosques.

Violence against Ahmadiyyas started in early 1990s as the Islamists grew in strength in Bangladesh. In recent times, there has been a revival of regular violence against them since November 2003. Fanatics killed an Ahmadiyya Imam on November 1, 2003 in Jessore following an altercation on religious beliefs. The leaders of Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat (AMJ) alleged that the extremist members of Jamaat-e-Islami including its leader Maulana Aminur Rahman killed him.

Anti-Ahmadiyya Islamists have formed an alliance in Bangladesh. It is called the Hifazate Khatme Nabuwat Andolon (HKNA) and its Amir (chief) is Mohammad Mahmudul Hasan Mamtaji. He is also associated with an Islamist outfit, Jaise Mostafa. A major constituent of HKNA is Islami Oikya Jote (IOJ), a radical organization that is a partner of the ruling coalition.

After a meeting on November 20, 2003, the HKNA decided to hold demonstrations to get Ahmadiyyas declared as non-Muslims. Next day, thousands of bigots led by Mamtaji tried to capture the mosque of Qadianis in Dhaka. In the ensuing clash with the police at least 100 persons, including 12 police officials, were injured at Dhaka city’s Nakhalpara area under Tejgaon police station. In the same month, at Balardiya village of Sharishabari Pourasabha of Jamalpur, a militant group damaged one of their mosques and called an anti-Ahmadiyya demonstration there. Ahmadiyya community also faced violence in Kushtia and Feni districts.

After the November 21 incident violence and demonstration against the Ahamadiyyas have become a regular feature in Dhaka city. Violence in capital also instigates violence elsewhere in the country. A number of Islamist groups including Nezam-e-Islam, Jamiye Talaba Arabia, Jaise Mostafa and the Islami Oikya Jote participate in the processions of HKNA. The HKNA Coordination Committee on December 19, 2003 asked the Government to pass a law in the Parliament declaring Ahmadiyyas as ‘non-Muslims’. Mamtaji also urged the 'real Muslims' to wage a Jehad against the Ahmadiyyas who, according to him, were stigmatising Islam by calling themselves Muslims.

The Islamists participating in agitation against Ahmadiyyas are also exerting pressure on those Islamist organizations which are part of the ruling coalition. Mamtazi warned Members of Parliament (MP) of Islamic Parties including Motiur Rahman Nizami, Fazlul Haq Amini, Delwar Hossain Sayeedi of serious consequences if they fail to table a bill declaring the Ahmadiyyas as ‘non-Muslims’ in the parliament. He reminded them that they had come to power promising an ‘Islamic society’.

To please these fanatics, the government of Bangladesh has accepted part of their demand and the Home Ministry of Bangladesh on January 8, 2004, through a press release banned the sale, publication and distribution of all books and booklets on Islam published by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat. The proscribed publications include Bengali or any other translation (with explanation) of the 'Quran Majid'.

But the government ban on Ahmadiyya publications has only further encouraged them. As a result, Islamists have now started targeting other sects as well. A group of bigots, in a press conference under the banner of Iman-Akida Sangrokhhon Committee, Bangladesh on January 9, 2005 demanded of the government to ban all publications of Dewanbagis. Islamists say that these publications contain anti-Islamic elements. A number of leaders of the committee including its secretary general, M Jamal Naser Chowdhury also declared their programme of protests against the Dewanbagis. Jamal is also a key leader of Amra Dhakabasi organisation which launched agitation against the Ahmadiyas.

To get Ahmadiyyas declared non-Muslims, zealots are continuing with their strong arm tactics. They organized a rally on January 7, 2005 under the banner of International Khatme Nabuwat Movement, Bangladesh (IKNMB) after Friday prayers in Tejgaon Nabisco crossing in Dhaka where they reiterated their pledge to go for a tougher movement if the government does not declare the Ahmadiyyas non-Muslim immediately. The IKNMB leaders Mahmudul Hasan, Momtajul Karim and Mohammed Motahar spoke at the rally. They announced their plan to seize the Ahmadiyyas' mosque in Bogra on March 13.

The Islamist zealots, who initiated the movement against Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat, Bangladesh, had earlier threatened several civil society leaders, including Prof Kabir Chowdhury, poet Shamsur Rahman, writers Humayun Azad and Shahriar Kabir, as well as human rights leaders who condemned the movement against the Ahmadiyyas. The inaction of the government has encouraged unabated killings of the intellectuals. Fanatics stabbed to death Prof Mohammad Yunus, a teacher of Rajshahi University (RU) on December 24, 2004. Prof Yunus was also the president of RU unit of Bangabandhu Parishad and senior vice-president of Bangladesh Economic Association. The Jamaat-e-Islami and its student wing Islami Chhatra Shibir are suspected for the killing. Leading intellectuals in Bangladesh believe that these killings would continue unless proper investigation and trial are conducted.

Islamists have recently also criticised senior Supreme Court lawyer Dr Kamal Hossain for pleading for the Ahmadiyyas in court on the ban on Ahmadiyya publications. The Khatme Nabuwat zealots threatened Kamal Hossain and demanded the resignation of Attorney General AF Hassan Ariff for performing their professional duties. Few days ago, the Khatme Nabuwat operatives had declared Dr Kamal a 'murtad', or atheist, and 'prohibited' him from moving in the court for the Ahmadiyyas. A Nabuwat leader also demanded that Dr Kamal stop 'mixing up' with the Ahmadiyyas in 15 days and asked him to 'establish himself as a true Muslim'. In the even of non-compliance he threatened to stop his vehicle in Dhaka. Nabuwat leaders also demanded the resignation of the attorney general, since, in their view, he has not played the role he was supposed to against the Ahmadiyyas. Thus Islamists are trying to even obstruct the free functioning of judiciary.

The Bangladesh Supreme Court Bar Association (BSCBA) has demanded that the International Khatme Nabuwat Movement, Bangladesh be barred from the Supreme Court premises during the hearing of a case challenging the ban on Ahmadiyaa publications. It has also demanded punitive actions against Khatme Nabuwat operatives who have 'issued a fatwa against Dr Kamal and other dignitaries to attain their communal interest.' They also urged the government to play a secular role and stop the fundamentalist movement, saying it is creating instability in society, tarnishing the image of the country and trying to create havoc in the judiciary.

But all this has not deterred International Khatme Nabuwat Movement, Bangladesh. On January 14, 2005 it set December 23 as the deadline for the government to enact a law declaring the Ahmadiyyas non-Muslim. Leaders of the movement asserted that they will sacrifice their lives to save the 'dignity of Islam and Khatme Nabuwat Movement'.

Though there is some amount of protest from the civil society of Bangladesh against the anti-Ahmadiyya campaign it is not strong enough to check the onslaught of Islamists. The governments will have to take a policy decision to combat religious extremism, which has emerged as a major problem in Bangladesh. The policy decision will have to be executed through proper co-ordination among different ministries. The state of religious freedom is likely to seriously suffer in Bangladesh if the media and civil society are not proactive and the government does not support them.