By Ghualm Rasool Dehlvi, New Age Islam
6 April 2015
Freedom of conscience and expression is in jeopardy in Bangladesh. Radical Islamists do not recognise any basic human rights. Two bloggers, Avijit and Washiqur Rahman, have been killed in quick succession for demanding religious freedom and tolerance. It is a tragedy for the country that was established as a secular state and that has been recognised by the UN, as Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics claimed in 2008, as a moderate Muslim country. But this tall claim does not stand to scrutiny.
The killing has reminded us of a similarly brutal violence against a Bangladeshi woman journalist, Nadia Sharmeen, who was mistreated by the country’s largest radical Islamist group Hefazat-e-Islam Bangladesh. The fanatic goons of this extremist outfit, who loudly claim to be ‘protectors of Islam’ manhandled the lady and beat her up badly merely for being a ‘woman field journalist’ and working outside her home. Actually, the Emir of the Hefazat warned the government with 13-point demands, which included banning the women’s right to work outside. They admonished their followers in their preachy speeches not to educate their girls in schools, colleges, and universities and to confine their early school education up to grade four or five. For, women, in the eyes of the Hefazat leaders, have been created to stay within the four walls of their homes, look after their husbands and their belongings and raise their children. That’s all they are meant for.
Clearly, moderate, peaceful, tolerant and pluralistic narrative of Islam is no longer the reality of Bangladesh. Going by the history, Islam was first preached in Bangladesh during the rightly guided caliphate of the Khulafa-e-Rashidin. According to modern research studies, inhabitants of this land were well-acquainted with Islam much earlier than the Muslim conquest of Bengal. Muslim merchants would come all the way from Arabia to Chittagong port even in the pre-Islamic period. But it was a group of Prophet’s companions, namely Abu Oakkas Malik, Quyes bin Sairadi, Tameem Ansari, Urrah bin Assasa and Abu Quyes bin Harisa, who came to Chittagong in 618 during the lifetime of the Prophet (pbuh).
They preached Islam in various parts of Bangladesh for years and then moved. Afterwards, several delegations of the followers of the Companions (Tabi’een) including Muhammad Mamun and Muhammad Mohymin came and preached Islam in the land. Then emerged the Sufi saints, who came to be known as Pirs and Fakirs in Bangladesh. Perhaps, they were the people who played the most vital role in preaching Islam in the country. For instance, the Sufi saint Shah Jalal of Yemeni origin, who was a descendant of the Prophet’s family and belonged to a family of saints, had a large share in preaching Islam in Bangladesh.
Clearly, the group of Prophet’s companions, the Tabein and the Sufi saints who first introduced Islam to Bangladesh must have preached moderate, peaceful and pluralistic Islam, which is the only true version of this faith as enunciated in the Qur’an. But the radical Islamists in Bangladesh today have sabotaged all the Islamic legacy of peace, pluralism and democracy brought by the earlier preachers of Islam. As a matter of fact, essential and egalitarian messages of Islam, particularly the ideals of human equality, universal brotherhood, and social justice had attracted the indigenous peoples of Bangladesh who embraced Islam. Muslim mystics and Sufi saints (popularly known in Bangladesh as pirs and faqirs) reached out to the downtrodden sections of Bangladeshi society. They preached the universal Islamic values of infinite love, mutual respect, religious harmony and social affinity in place of retrogressive and ritualistic views in the name of Islam as being propagated today by the radical Islamists of Bangladesh.
Sufi influence is now beginning to disappear. It has been confined to only occasional consultation or ritual observance of Sufi-oriented rituals and festivals. Today’s fakirs and pirs in Bangladesh have also done away with their duty to keep alive the moderate and mystical Sufi ideas and values. Though they still enjoy their occupations in the shrines of saints, that outnumber the mosques and madrasas in some areas, they have almost lost an impacting ideology that continued to preach peace and moderation for centuries. Now their business has been reduced to merely providing spiritual consultation to the shrine visitors and devotees, who look up to them as their peer-o-murshid (spiritual guru) and seek consultation in relation to the issues in their life and career.
As Sufi masters, pirs and fakirs are no longer the influential ideological entities in the country; Salafi-Wahhabi mullahs have successfully established the rule of their widespread fanatic ideology. They have become the dominant ideologues of Bangladeshi Muslims today. Members of the orthodox clergy, mostly educated in Darul Ulum Deoband, Jamiatul Falah, Jamia Salafia and other Indian Islamic seminaries, attached to mosques as imams or associated with madrasas as maulvis, play the most pivotal role in reshaping the common religious mindset of Muslim community in the country.
Clearly, an intolerant, exclusivist, totalitarian and religio-fascist version of Islam is massively imported and propagated across the country. The threat of violent ideological extremism is becoming more widespread and localised, as exemplified by the recent acts of violence in Bangladesh. The Islamist militant group of Bangladesh, Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), which draws inspiration from the global jihadist movement, is actively engaged in preparing more and more militants in the country, with an aim to conquer at least one part of Bangladesh through an armed jihad, something that is clearly mentioned in its stated objectives. Therefore, it has launched concerted efforts focused on the massive proliferation of the dangerous extremist ideology that is, most regrettably, detrimental to the madrasa students who are likely to fall prey to their evil designs.
However, as the fundamentalist activism has received a big boost and the cult of violent Islamist extremists is taking over the country, the duty of moderate Muslims of Bangladesh is becoming increasingly important. A rigorous and concerted effort to reclaim the lost legacy of spiritual Islam is the most needful thing to do. The sooner they wake up to this baffling challenge, the better for them.
But this gigantic task can only be carried out when Islam’s real enemy, radical Islamist ideology, is knocked down. It must be countered in Bangladesh much in the same way as it needs to be rooted out from all other parts of the Muslim world. From ISIS, Al-Qaida, and Muslim Brotherhood in the Middle East to the Tahrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and Hefazat-e-Islam Bangladesh, this ideology is the real common threat to moderate spiritual Islam that has sabotaged the peaceful efforts of the Sufi saints in South Asia. A massive work is needed to curb this radical thought that has caused the entire Muslim world to be a source of religious violence, suppression of free thought, killing of independent thinkers and more and more chaos in the rest of the world. The remedy, for Muslims of Bangladesh, is to recognise this ‘real enemy’ within and eradicate it with all its obnoxiously retrogressive forms in order to restore the mystical glory of their peaceful faith. A reformist religious discourse is the pressing need for them that may help them evolve a moderate, spiritually-inclined and inclusive understanding of Islam to save them from the clutches of the exclusivist Islamist discourse that has put the entire Muslim world in jeopardy.
Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is a classical Islamic scholar. He has graduated from a leading Islamic seminary of India, Jamia Amjadia Rizvia (Mau, U.P.), acquired Diploma in Qur'anic Arabic from Al-Jamiat ul Islamia, Faizabad, U.P., and Certificate in Uloom ul Hadith from Al-Azhar Institute of Islamic Studies, Badaun, U.P. He has also graduated in Arabic (Hons) and is pursuing his M. A. in Comparative Religion from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.
Dear Mohammed Rafiq Lodhia sahib, according to the source you provided, “ a
group of Sahabis including Abu Oakkas Malik, Quyes Ibn Sairadi, Tameem Ansary, Urrah
Ibn Assasa, Abu Quyes Ibn Harisa came to Chittagong in 618 during the lifetime
of the Prophet Muhammad (PUB). They preached Islam there for few years and then
went to China.”
And “the following Sahabis came
to Bangladesh through Chittagong seaport after the death of the Prophet
- Abdullah Ibn Utban
- Assem Ibn Amr Tameemi
- Sahel Ibn Abdi
- Suhael Ibn Adi
- Hakim Ibn Abeel Assaqafi”
And your question to me is, “Which
one is correct?”
What is the conflict between
these two reports? If there were ten different Sahabis visiting what is now
known as Bangladesh, at two different periods of time, five of them during the
lifetime and five others after the death of the Prophet (pbuh), then what is
the problem? I don’t understand what problem you see.
I don’t know about the latter
five who are reported to have visited the land after the demise of Prophet
(pbuh). However, I have given you three historical sources for the earlier five
who are mentioned in my article. May be they are also mentioned in hadith
literature, which is a vast corpus containing volumes of collections, but I
dint go through all. I don’t know about any such hadith, as of now.
Hello Dehlvi Saheb,
Currently, I am not in practice
of reading “Urdu,” since I left Karachi, Pakistan in the year 1970. Hence, the interest in
reading the two books by Shaikh Mohammed Ikram is most likely out of question.
My concern was, “Why there were ten
different Sahabis at two different period of time (?) visiting what is now
known as Bangladesh? And that also, during the lifetime of the Prophet of
Another thing that struck me was,
“Why would a classical Islamic scholar, believe the story about the Sahabis,
but vehemently demand that the Holy Qur’an cannot be clearly understood without
any references to the ‘Science of
From your vague response, it can
be concluded that without verification based upon the Hadiths, it is unwise to
believe in the story. If the journey was done during Prophet’s time, then
somewhere it should be recorded in the Hadiths. Am I right or wrong?
Hopefully, you will make a
sincere attempt to answer, even though it might be a little uncomfortable
question to answer. I can completely understand the difficulty, but for the
sake of confronting centuries old facts, it will be good to know “The Point Of Verification.”
Kind personal regards,
Mohammed Rafiq Lodhia
Dear B S Walia saheb,
Thank you for sharing
your reflection on this article. It will be translated into Urdu and Arabic
soon and thus we will be able to acquaint the Islamic preachers and madrasa
graduates and students with the messages meant for them.
We do need to engage
more and more madrasa graduates to combat the vicious Islamist campaign
hijacking the true principles of Islam. Muslims in general and madrasas
graduates in particular, need to wake up to this situation and defend their
faith before it is too late. Thanks again for your kind piece of advice.
Dear Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi Saheb,
This brief note is to request for
clarification about a group of Sahabis who visited Chittagong in 618 during the
lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him). The emphasis is upon, “during
On glancing at another website – Islamic News, five more names of the respected Sahabis is also listed. My question to
you is, “Which one is correct?”
Before Conquest of Bengal - http://islamic-newsbd.blogspot.com
People of this land were familiar
with Islam before the conquest of Bengal. Arab merchants had links with
Chittagong port since pre-Islamic period. It has been proven in recent studies
that a group of Sahabis including Abu Oakkas Malik, Quyes Ibn Sairadi, Tameem
Ansary, Urrah Ibn Assasa, Abu Quyes Ibn Harisa came to Chittagong in 618 during
the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad (PUB). They preached Islam there for few
years and then went to China.
The following Sahabis came to
Bangladesh through Chittagong seaport after the death of the Prophet Muhammad
- Hakim Ibn Abeel Assaqafi
It will be much appreciated, if
you can enlighten me on this subject matter.
Thanks & Regards,
Mohammed Rafiq Lodhia
The radicalization of Bangladeshi Muslims, as explained in the above
article, holds vital relevance for contemporary international debates on
religious tolerance and pluralism. Bangladesh experienced centuries of religious
tolerance at a time when religious dissidents even in Europe were still being
burnt on the stakes. The Sufi saints spread an Islam in Bengal that was
strikingly tolerant. Starting with Sheikh Akhi Shiraz, the disciple of
Nizamuddin Auliya, the Chishti silsila rapidly spread its all-embracing
influence in the region of Bengal, in the 14th century. In fact, the Chishtis’
effectiveness was so large that within less than half a century from their
arrival, the region’s rulers recognised these saints as spiritual mentors. But
today radical Islamists are exerting feverish efforts to establish the rule of radical
jihadism in Bangladesh, something that must pain every peace-loving moderate Muslim
and non-Muslim of the world.
By jamir sheikh dhaka - 4/7/2015 2:55:29 AM
As a matter of fact, there are always mischievous intentions and dangerous designs of the extremist Islamist or jihadist organisations
behind choosing such names.
By choosing its name: Hefazat-e-Islam, meaning protection of
Islam, this terror outfit has also done the same thing. We can clearly see what Islam do the Hefazat’s activists and supporters protect by
demeaning and torturing women, besieging the capital, destroying the
national properties, vandalising the holy mosque (Baitul Mukarram) and
burning down the Holy Quran? These mindless acts of violence brazenly make a mockery of their tall claim of “protecting Islam”.
Islamists tell me Avijit Roy was killed; you are next: Imran H Sarker | Public death threats issued on social media, and carried out soon after. That is chilling reality of bloggers in Bangladesh who are speaking out against religious extremism. In February, US blogger Avijit Roy was murdered with a machete on a busy road in Dhaka. A month later, it was the turn of 27-year-old Washiqur Rahman to be hacked to death.
In an interview on Skype, Imran H Sarker, head of the Blogger and Online Activists Network in Bangladesh and a spokesperson for the Shahbag Movement of 2013 talks to Indulekha Aravind about why bloggers are targets of deadly attacks, the fight against fundamentalism and the government's failure to bring the perpetrators to justice. Edited excerpts:
Why are bloggers being targeted so viciously?
They are being targeted because they are individuals. They never negotiate with anybody, or succumb to pressure unlike political parties or activists belonging to an organisation. And two, they cannot be controlled by radical religious groups, unlike political parties.
After 1947, Islamic groups like Jamaat-e-Islami have tried to dominate this region. Jamaat-e-Islami is an organised terrorist group, wearing a mask of democracy. They believe in an Islamic revolution, and are preparing for that. It is also very strong financially and so they can manage any political party, even the secular ones. In 2013, when the Shahbag movement happened, Jamaat was faced with an existential crisis because young people had united agains the role of religion in politics.
We called for a ban on Jamaat-e-Islami, demanded a war crimes trial and called for a boycott of the financial organisations controlled by Jamaat-e-Islami, which includes the largest bank in Bangladesh. But at the same time, the ruling party, the Awami League, encouraged opening branches of the same bank. This just showed that Jamaat could control everyone, apart from the youth, and bloggers. So they started killing them.
Washiqur Rahman was posting anonymously. How did they identify and kill him?
Good question. Even Ahmed Rajib Haider, who was killed in 2013, was writing anonymously. They have organised cells to identify and analyse those who are against radical Islamic groups and promote secularism. They identified them and began killing them one by one.
Is it true that the people caught had never read the blogs?
Absolutely. They don't even know what a blog is. But their terrorist mentor had ordered them to kill, so they did.
Several bloggers are also reported to have died under mysterious circumstances recently, according to reports...
Yes, it's not just the three bloggers we talked about. Others faced different kinds of attacks, including Shahbag activists -- deaths designed to look like road accidents or robbery. But how is it that it is only bloggers and activists who seem to be dying like this.
Have you received threats?
If you read some of the comments on my Facebook page or on my Twitter feed, you would be terrified. When the Shahbag movement began in February 2013, I used to get thousands of threats every single day. The threats were blatant, along the lines of “I will kill you tomorrow”. When we were protesting against the murders of bloggers, they would say things such as “Avijit Roy was killed. You are next” or “Washiqur Rahman was killed, you’ll be the next victim”.
Has the government promised security?
In the case of Avijit Roy, who was living in the US, threats were issued to him openly, with radicals saying they would kill him if he came to Bangladesh. The next time he came, he was killed. These extremists are going about the murders in a very organised manner, but the government has taken no action. If these radicals complain that what bloggers are writing is against Islam, the bloggers are arrested.
For instance, in 2013, when a fanatic group raised their voice against four secular, progressive bloggers, they were immediately arrested. But till now, no one from the extremist groups issuing death threats have been arrested, though it is being done openly. So we know the government is not going to do anything. Even the political parties talking about a secular Bangladesh negotiate with fanatics for votes. And no one from the government has come forward to express solidarity with the victims, even though it is supposed to be a secular government.
Have you tried approaching the police?
Avijit Roy was killed in a public place, where there were a lot of policemen. His wife, who was with him, cried out to the police for help but they did nothing. They did not even care to take him to the hospital. So yes, you can file a complaint, but they will laugh at you. Nothing will come out of it.
How is the blogger community reacting?
We are determined to fight back. We have been fighting since 2013, especially those of us involved in the Shahbag movement. Some of those not involved, the common man, might be afraid. But the young people of this generation, especially students, are determined to free the nation from Islamist evils.
Has the response of the international community been adequate?
We are fighting a global terrorist group. Their names might be different but they are the same people destroying Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria. They are patronised and funded by the same group of people. And those who believe in a liberal, secular state should fight them together. To fight them just locally is difficult.
What is the way forward, for all of you?
It's difficult because we are still fighting against these evils. But the government is not listening to us. A month has passed since Roy's murdered but there has been no progress in the investigation. The man who was arrested was someone who issued a threat on Facebook but no evidence has been found of his involvement in the murder.
Bangladesh becoming one of the most dangerous places to be a blogger?
It’s becoming a dangerous place for freedom of speech and for freedom of expression. We didn’t expect this because Bangladesh has a history of fighting radical groups. We have a secular constitution that guarantees the same right to freedom of speech to everyone, irrespective of religion, caste and colour. But with the lack of political commitment today, we are being killed, one by one. It’s as if we are fighting the same evil forces we fought against in 1971.