Dhaka, Saturday, January 10, 2004
Anti-Ahmadiyas rejoice as book ban draws flak
A government ban on all publications of the Ahmadiya Muslim Jamaat imposed on Thursday seems to have stoked the flames of the anti-Ahmadiya movement with Sunni religious fanatics now demanding a bill in parliament declaring members of the marginalised sect non-Muslims.
At the same time, different political, social and student organisations on Friday also strongly protested against and condemned the government decision, terming it a serious breach of the peoples right to religious freedom.
Ban violates sections 28, 39 and 41 of Constitution
The Ahmadiya Muslim Jamaat, Bangladesh has termed the government ban on all its publications unconstitutional and impractical.
We are devastated, our lifelines have been cut off. Our ideology and beliefs survive through the texts we publish. This impractical decision is a big blow to our ideology, practices and survival, Abdul Awwal Khan, the organisations central missionary told New Age on Friday.
The ban violates sections 28, 39 and 41 of the Bangladesh Constitution, he further pointed out. These sections safeguard a citizens freedom of speech, conscience and religion.
The Ahmadiya Muslim Jamaat is yet to receive any official notification about the ban from the government. We came to know about the ban from media reports, Khan said.
He said that after receiving such notification, the organisation will explore legal options to fight the ban.
He also added that the Ahmadiya Muslim Jamaat has published such a large number of books since 1912 that it will be impractical and impossible for anyone, in logistical terms, to abide by the government directive against distribution and retention of these publications.
In separate statements issued on Friday, a number of political parties (but not the major ones) and civil society leaders termed the ban an act of repression of the religious minorities and demanded immediate withdrawal of the government decision.
A high-level meeting on Thursday imposed the ban on Ahmadiyan publications citing objectionable materials printed in such publications that might hurt the sentiments of a majority of Muslims in Bangladesh.
Mosharef Hossain Sahjahan, state minister for religious affairs, admitted to the BBC Bangla Service that the government decision came in the face of pressure of disorder. He, however, was still doubtful about whether the government would ultimately declare the Ahmadiyas non-Muslim.
A section of fundamentalist Islamists welcomed the government decision.
A group of Sunni Muslims under the banner of the Hifazate Khatme Nabuwat Andolon (HKNA) brought out a procession in the citys Tejgaon area after Jumma prayers on Friday.
They urged the government to pilot a bill in the next session of parliament to formally announce that Ahmadiyas are non-Muslims.
Moulana Mahmudul Hasan Momtazi, the ameer of the HKNA, addressed a rally on the Tongi Diversion Road. He announced further rallies on January 16 and 23 to drum up support for their demands.
Our movement will continue until the government declares the Ahmadiyas Non-Muslim, Momtazi, also the khatib of Rahim Metal Jameya Masjid in Tejgaon, told the gathering.
He said, The government has already banned all publications of the Ahmadiyas. It is a sign that our demands would be fulfilled. If the government does not declare them non-Muslims, we know how to attain our goal through bloodshed.
Mohammad Nasir, a member of the Ahmadiya sect, was converted to Sunnism at the demonstration.
Moulana Azizul Haq, a leader of the BNP-led ruling four-party alliance, Islami Shashantantra Andolon leader Moulana Fazlul Karim and leaders of the Islami Okkiya Jote, a component of the ruling alliance, attended the meeting.
Police in riot gear was deployed all along the Tongi Diversion Road to avoid any untoward incident.
Different political, social and student organisations on Friday termed the government decision nothing but a fascist attack on freedom of expression.
Asked for comment on this issue, senior Awami League leaders declined to comment at this moment.
In a statement, president and general secretary of the Communist Party of Bangladesh, Monzurul Ahsan Khan and Mujahidul Islam Selim, termed the government decision an infringement on the freedom of religion and a violation of human rights.
They demanded immediate withdrawal of the government decision saying that Bangladesh was not a happy hunting ground of fanatics.
Workers Party, at a meeting of its central politburo, condemned the ban saying that the government has violated the citizens rights that the Constitution guarantees by bowing down to the demands of certain fanatic clerics.
The country will be completely destabilised if the BNP-Jamaat alliance government does not stop this dangerous game involving religion, resolved the meeting with Rashed Khan Menon, the president of the party, in the chair.
The meeting observed that the government decision followed pressure from a section of religious fanatics, and it was not taken to ensure religious sanctity but rather for political gains.
President of the Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal Hasanul Haq Inu and general secretary Syed Sajjad Zafar in a statement said that if the reason the government had cited for banning the books and booklets stands then it should have banned the books by Moulana Moududi, the founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami.
The state becomes undemocratic if it takes a side or represses a group taking advantage of a religious debate, the statement said.
Masud Alam Raghib Ahsan, director of Odhikar, a coalition of human rights organisations, in a statement termed the decision a violation of a constitutional right. The coalition also demanded withdrawal of the decision to save the countrys image in the international forum.
Forty-six noted civil society members on Friday condemned and protested the ban.
The civil society members, attending a citizens meeting commemorating Salma Sobhan, termed the government ban unconstitutional and demanded its withdrawal.
The signatories included Dr. Hamida Hossain, Asaduzzaman Noor, MP, A.M.A. Muhit, Sigma Huda, Tasmima Hossain, Mofidul Haque, Sara Hossain, Rasheda K. Chowdhury, Maleka Begum, Salma Ali and Sara Zaker.