New Wave of Intolerance:Bangladesh Cracks Down on Muslim Sect
09 January 2004
DHAKA, Jan 9 (OneWorld) - In a major violation of Bangladeshs secular traditions, the government Thursday banned all publications of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Bangladesh, which represents the countrys 1,50,000 strong Muslim minority sect, bowing to pressure from Islamic fundamentalists.
In addition, the government decided to withdraw cases against 12,000 anti-Ahmadiyya activists charged with assaulting policemen while attacking an Ahmadiyya mosque in Dhaka on December 5.
Significantly, the ban by Bangladeshs Home Ministry was imposed a day before the end of an ultimatum to ex-communicate the sect by religious bigots. It appears to be the first step in this direction, although the government has not yet taken any decision on the issue.
Just last month, the State Minister for Religious Affairs said only God had the right to declare anyone a non-Muslim. On December 8, he had remarked, Now they (anti-Ahmadiyya group) are demanding it
once the demand is met, they will want to capture a mosque, then a church.
Given their previous stance, the sudden volteface by the authorities comes as a surprise.
Notes Thursdays official press release, The government has banned the sale, publication, distribution and retention of all books and booklets on Islam published by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Bangladesh, which includes the Bengali or any other translation (with explanation) of the Quran Majid. The ban has been imposed in view of objectionable materials in such (Ahmadiyya) publications which hurt or may hurt the sentiments of the majority Muslim population of Bangladesh.
Shell-shocked by the Home Ministry move, Abdul Awal, Missionary of Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Bangladesh, says, We are shocked. The government has bowed down to religious terrorists. The peoples right to the freedom of expression as enshrined in the Constitution has been violated by this decision.
Awal says he will sit with other community leaders to decide their next move.
The bigots represented mainly by Islami Oikya Jote (IOJ), a partner of the ruling coalition, have long been campaigning for the ex-communication of the Ahmadiyyas. The agitation is spearheaded by Hifazate Khatme Nabuwat Andolon (HKNA), represented by IOJ leaders, which warns they will launch an anti-government movement if the Ahmadiyaas are not ex-communicated soon.
The Home Ministry ban follows a high-level meeting Thursday evening chaired by State Minister for Religious Affairs, Mosharef Hossain Shajahan with State Home Minister Lutfozzaman Babar, former chief election commissioner Justice Abdur Rouf and a few religious leaders.
The Ahmadiyya Jamaat were not asked to participate in it.
The meeting concluded that the Ahmadiyya literature offended the sentiments of the majority of Muslims, therefore they should be banned.
In November and December 2003, when the fundamentalists begun attacking the Ahmadiyyas, senior ministers claimed the government was not concerned about the growing movement against the sect.
Declares HKNA chief Mamtazi, The state minister assured us of expediting our three-point recommendations, which include ex-communicating the Ahmadiyyas, banning all their publications and removing all members of the sect from the administration.
Since the government has initiated the move of declaring the Ahmadiyyas non-Muslims, we have changed our anti-Ahmadiyya program, adds Mamtazi.
The HKNA continues to demand that the Ahmadiyyas be ousted from the Nakhalpara mosque in the capital, Dhaka, since November 20 last year. When their activities were exposed by the press, the HKNA pronounced its war against the media and members of civil society who opposed its movement.
At a militant gathering of anti-Ahmadiyyas in Dhaka on December 21, Mumtazi declared that, We will go there on January 9 and will not return until we have driven the non-Muslims out of the area. Swear upon God, there will be doomsday if anyone comes to prevent us!
A week later, visiting Secretary-General of Amnesty International (AI) Irene Khan urged the government to safeguard minority rights by resisting attacks, citing incidents of religious intolerance including persecution of the Ahmadiyya community.
The anti-Ahmadiyya move across Bangladesh assumed new dimensions in October 1992 after some people vandalised an Ahmadiyya mosque in Dhaka. Ever since then, eight Ahmadiyaas were killed in different attacks.
Ninety percent of Bangladeshs 130 million population comprises Sunni Muslims.
Hailing from the central Bangladesh region of Brahmanbaria, the Ahmadiyyas follow the same rituals as the Sunnis, apart from their belief that Imam Mehdi, the last messenger of Prophet Muhammad, has already arrived to uphold Islam as it was preached 1400 years ago.
The Sunnis, on the other hand, believe Mehdi has not yet arrived.