Age Islam Special Correspondent
celebration of the birth centenary of independent Bangladesh’s architect and
father of the nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is going on. On this
occasion, Bangladesh announced the commemoration of 2020–2021 as the “Mujib
Year”. This occasion is being celebrated from March 17, 2020 to December 16,
2021(and now extended to 9 months, from 17 March 2021 to 16 December 2021).
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has urged all to take a vow in the “Mujib Year” to
take the country to newer heights in the international arena and transform the
country into a “safe and peaceful abode for the next generation”.
context, it would be a timely effort to remind the readers at New Age Islam of
how India’s contributions to the inception of a syncretic Islamic culture in
Bangladesh can enhance the peaceful values and moderate ethos of Islam in
Bangladesh. At the same time, it should be seen as an opportunity for India and
Bangladesh to increase historical religious and cultural ties between the two
countries for a multifaceted bilateral cooperation.
Bangladesh has got a great adherence to Indian/syncretic Islam as an integral
part of identity for the Bengali Muslims. But now even these Indian-origin
schools of thought are likely to give way to either the right-wing Islamist
tendencies in the country or the global pan-Islamist ideologies. Most
Sunni-Hanafi denominations in the Muslim majority of Bangladesh—Deobandis &
Tablighis, Barelwis & Sunni-Sufis—have their respective centralities in
India. The majority among them comprises Deobandi-affiliated groups like
Tablighi Jama’at (51%) and Barelwi organisations and madrasas (26%). The
Deobandi-owned Qawmi madrasas run the vast majority of private Islamic
institutions/seminaries. The TJ in Bangladesh organises the largest annual
international congregation “Bhishwa Ijtema” in the district of Tongi, just
outside Dhaka. The largest centre for the TJ activities in Bangladesh is
Mymensingh, followed by Dhaka, Noakhali, Comilla, Sylhet and Chittagong. The
movement is largely active among the middle-class clergy-led Bengali Muslims.
The reformist Deobandis oppose popular Sufism in Bangladesh, while
Jama’at-e-Islami has a regimental centre in Bangladesh. In addition, there is
an increasing number of Ahl-e-Hadithis.
rise of the Right-Wing in Bangladesh and its political play has increasingly
becoming anti-India, in addition to a plethora of pan-Islamist ideologies that
provide an enabling environment. Regular religious shows on cable TV, social
media and public meetings have amplified attempts to paint secularism as a
‘threat to Islam’. Educational curriculum is purging the portion of books
written by secular Muslims or non-Muslims and the new school textbooks are
being designed as per the demand of Hefazat-e-Islam Bangladesh and Awami Ulema
Bangladesh—the country’s largest radical Islamist group was formed in January
2010, primarily with an aim to protest against the women's equal rights policy
of the Bangladeshi democratic government. Since its inception, its prime
concern has been the stiff and violent opposition to all the government’s plans
and schemes meant for the women empowerment and their rights equal to those of
men. Right from the beginning, Hefazat’s attitude towards working and
progressive Muslim like TV journalists and even headscarf-wearing woman
reporters and interviewers has been bizarre, extremely hostile and appalling.
It should be recalled that the Emir of the Hefazat in 2013 warned the then
government with 13-point demands, which included banning women’s right to work
at office. Women, in the eyes of the Hefazat leaders, have been created to
‘stay in their husband’s homes only, look after them and their belongings and
raise their children, and that’s it’.
other hand, there are pressure groups within the deep state and outside, along
with several fundamentalist Islamist groups in Bangladesh calling for the
Shariah-based state which may not be ruled out after the end of the current
regime. There is a plethora of well-entrenched radical Islamist groups such as
Jamaat-e-Islami, Islami Andolan Bangladesh, Islami Shasantantra Chhatra
Andolan, Bangla Bhai etc. apart from several new terror conglomerates like
those affiliated to Al Qaeda and ISIS which have strong footprints in
Bangladesh. As a matter of fact, Bangladesh had become a hotbed of violent
radical Islamism and violent extremism during the BNP-Jama’at government, with
500 simultaneous bomb explosions in 63 districts of Bangladesh conducted by
terrorist organisation, Bangla Bhai which shook the core of the country.
Radical Islamists would openly chant in Bangla, "Sobai Hobey Taliban,
Bangladesh Hobey Afghan". (All will become Taliban; Bangladesh will
turn into Afghanistan).
League, with its roots in secularism, didn’t capitulate to the demands of
Sharia law by Islamist hardliners. But in the 2018 elections, it decided to
gather support of the Islamist groups, in a rivalry to the opposition party BNP
which aligned with JeI, the largest Islamic party in Bangladesh. Sheikh Hasina
sought the support of Ahmad Shafi’s Hefazat-e-Islam, a coalition of several
Islamist parties in the country. Consequently, Hasina agreed to changes in
public school textbooks to make them more “Islamic” as demanded by Hefazat and
announced that her government would recognize degrees from thousands of
unregulated Qaumi madrassas run by Hefazat.
Bangladesh founding leader Ahmad Shafi belonged to a band of Islamists that
unlike JeI, did not oppose the independence of Bangladesh. He supported a
united India and rejected the creation of Pakistan. Now after Shafi has
recently died and his successor is Junaid Babunagari, who backs the opposition
party (BNP) and its ally JeI, the future of Bangladeshi secularism vs.
pan-Islamism is uncertain. The lines have blurred more now because of the lack
of a clear position on where Bangladesh stands vis-à-vis state and religion. In
all likelihood, this will help breed more Islamist fundamentalism and
anti-India sentiments in the country.
recently only local Islamists—Islami Andolan Bangladesh, Islami Shasantantra
Chhatra Andolan, JeI, HuJI, Bangladesh Bangla Bhai etc— were involved in terror
activities. But since 2016, ISIS and Al Qaida became the driving force behind
the violent extremism in Bangladesh. India needs to be wary of this
development. A study of IS and AQ's propaganda narratives in Bangladesh shows
that the West in general, and India in particular are pitched as enemies of the
‘Islamic agenda’ in Bangladesh. AQIS has adopted a propaganda-centric approach
to gain a foothold in the country. The Jama’at affiliates within the deep state
have become more vociferous against India. For instance—a pro-Jama’at
Bangladeshi Army ex-Major Delwar Hossain said in a video footage that surfaced
on social media recently: "A list of 'Indians in Bangladesh' and
'India-loving Bangladeshis' will soon be prepared to kick them out of the
country to offer job opportunities to Islamic youth only”.
Islam continues to pose threats to the cultural and civilizational values of
Bangladesh. The classical Indian Islam and its seminaries have a pivotal role
to play by deepening their historical and traditional linkages through the
centrality of Deoband, Bareilly and Ahl-e-Hadith, in addition to the joint
counter-radicalisation efforts of the modern, progressive and pluralist Muslim
institutions in India and Bangladesh.
the common dots, the Bengali-language Indian philosophers, Sufi mystics, saints
and poets who are immensely popular in Bangladesh as well as in India, must be
recalled and highlighted. For instance, Bangladeshi nationalist authors like
Kazi Nazrul Islam whose writings greatly inspired Bengalis during the 1971
Liberation War should be highlighted in the Indian Muslim academia, educational
syllabus and madrasas.
not the least, the greatest Bangalee of all time Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib must
be introduced and his thoughts should be taught to Muslim students especially
interested in political science and international relations.
Tungipara village of Gopalganj subdivision (now district) of the then Faridpur
district on March 17, 1920, Bangabandhu was a fearless, indomitable, brave and
equally kind-hearted man from his childhood. Since his early days in school and
college, he was conscious about politics and people’s rights. The key aim of
the long political life of this towering Muslim leader who had keen memory and
farsighted vision was to liberate the Bengali nation from the chains of
subjugation, and ensure a developed life by freeing people from the curse of
hunger, poverty and illiteracy. At a time when an ideological onslaught and
systematic attacks were made on his mother tongue, Bangabandhu came forward in
the struggle to establish the status and dignity of the Bangla language. On his
proposal, the Rashtrabhasha Sangram Parishad (State Language Movement Council)
was formed in 1948 by Chhatra League, Tamaddun Majlish and other student
organizations. Nearly all major movements of Bangalees—Jukto-Front (United
Front) election in 1954, the movement against military rule of Ayub Khan in
1958, the Education Movement in 1962, the Six-Point movement in 1966, the
movement against Agartala Conspiracy Case in 1968, the Mass Upsurge in 1969,
the General Elections in 1970 and the War of Liberation in 1971—were led by the
determined and unhindered leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
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