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Home  Worldwide  Bangladesh  April, 2005  Ahmadiyyas and faith as tribalism
Ahmadiyyas and faith as tribalism

Dhaka Courier
Online Version Vol. 21 Issue 4029 April 2005
Main> Column

Ahmadiyyas and faith as tribalism

By Syed Badrul Ahsan

Let there be no running away from the truth. The Ahmadiyya community in Bangladesh is now an endangered species. And those of us who have been watching the way in which these innocent people have been targeted by riff-raff and bigots over the past many months cannot forgive ourselves for our indifference to the plight of the community. There do not seem to be very many people around the country at all interested in what happens to these humble, self-effacing men and women. Or could it be that whole swathes of people we know are actually hoping in the darkest recesses of their hearts that the Ahmadiyyas will actually be pushed out of the Islamic ambience in this country? You never really know, for this happens to be a country where even some of the most respected of individuals have had little embarrassment in referring to Hindus and Christians in an extremely pejorative way. There are perfectly good people who often cannot resist the urge to inform you that Ahmadiyyas do not actually belong in Islam, that indeed they are followers of a distinctly separate faith.

There might be a good deal of logic in such an argument. But that is not the point. Why must we be judgemental? If any individual thinks he is a Muslim despite all the manifest instances of his actually not being that, who are we to complain? If Elijah Mohammad could in another era tell us all that he was a Muslim, we knew his way of preaching and practising Islam was not the way we thought was the correct way. But we did not complain. If he was happy with that, so were we. Besides, religion ought never to be a matter of tribalism. People who believe their own God, or gods as the case may be, ought not to be told that their way of pursuing faith is wrong. It is a sin teaching a man the idea that his faith is not the true faith. But once you do that, you are actually creating the grounds for conflict, maybe even some bloodletting. You are peddling hate. And we who inhabit this part of the world know very well how faith can get to be mutilated in the hands of wrong or sinister people. Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams have created big holes in the soul of the Irish. The partition of India remains a poignant tale of the incalculable damage religion can do once it mutates into tribalism. And then, of course, there is always the sad tale of how Bengali Muslims were murdered by Pakistani Muslims once the latter began to develop the notion that the former were in effect deviating from the faith. And see the tragedy those good Muslims caused.

But the soldiers who murdered Bengalis were not and are not destined to be the only good Muslims we have known or will know. Abul A’la Maudoodi once caused blood to flow on the streets of Lahore in his zeal to have the Ahmadiyyas pushed out of Pakistan’s Islamic community. Had it not been for General Azam Khan, Maudoodi and his kind would have left all Pakistanis going through sectarian violence of the worst kind. Maudoodi was the chief of the Jamaat-e-Islami and in the years before 1947 had strenuously opposed the creation of Pakistan. And now here he was engaged in the job of purifying Pakistan through turning it into a land of Muslims, his version of it. It was again Maudoodi’s Islam that was practised for nine terrible months, through his Bengali henchmen and Pakistani brothers, here in Bangladesh during the war of liberation. In the name of Islam and the solidarity of Pakistan, the Jamaat, employing its goon squads to the full and armed with the bad teachings of Maudoodi, went on an orgy of killing in this country. In 1974, it whipped up a frenzy of bigotry in Pakistan, where Zulfikar Ali Bhutto turned out to be a man ready to please them. He declared all Ahmadiyyas in Pakistan non-Muslim. Since that dark day, Pakistan’s Ahmadiyyas have been less than citizens of Pakistan. It is that precedent which now seems be working behind the sinister mood of the fanatics who call themselves the Khatme Nabuwat in Bangladesh. These fanatics have gone around humiliating Ahmadiyya men and women in such places as Satkhira and Khulna; they have compelled Ahmadiyya children to stay indoors and so stay away from school; and they have with impunity committed sacrilege at Ahmadiyya mosques, with the police standing ready to appease them. In other words, what we have before us, thanks to the ferocity of the bigots and the pusillanimity of the administration, is the making a new, our kind of Inquisition. Those among us not willing to speak up in defence of our Ahmadiyyas do not realise the danger we are inviting for ourselves through our silence. It is ominous silence we speak of. Such silences almost always lead to the death of a society.

It is morally wrong to have religion turned into politics. For years on end, matters of faith have been served up to our people as commodities to be enjoyed before being abused. We have had our culture rudely pushed aside through a super-imposition of religion on us. We are now being told that faith is a matter that needs to be talked about in the public domain. That is patently a wrong attitude. Our forefathers — Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, et al — prayed to their deities in the fading light of day. When they talked politics, they did not see God anywhere there.

Religion, then, should be an inclusive affair. But when you drive people away from your faith, what difference is there between you and the Hutus who once murdered, with their sharp machetes, the Tutsis in Rwanda? Our Ahmadiyyas are our own brethren, our fellow Bengalis. Anyone who seeks to push them into the bushes should swiftly be put out to pasture.

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