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Tackling the Onslaught of Radical Ideology in Bangladesh: Muslims of Bangladesh Must Reclaim the Spiritual Islam Threatened by the Extremists



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.