Islamic politics that originated in the sub-continent can be divided into two major sections. One faction maintains the legacy of All-India Muslim League which was established in 1906 with an idea of reforming Islam to ensure the civil rights of elite-class Muslims. And another one has been formed comprising the followers of Deobandi Movement which was conducted in 1867 in the wake of the unsuccessful Sepoy Mutiny to remain strict to the conservative Islamic principles. Highly influenced by the Wahhabi doctrine of Sunni Islam, both the groups tried to spread their ideology and increase the number of their supporters. But finally it was Muslim League which led sub-continent’s Muslims in Pakistan Movement to form a separate state for them in 1947 albeit the party lost its popularity due to its detachment from mass people in the later years. During the Pakistan period, all the Islamic political parties believed that the survival of Islam in the sub-continent depends on the existence of Pakistan! Thus none of them took stance in favour of our independence movement. Moreover, Jamaat-e-Islami, Muslim League and Nezam-e-Islam directly opposed the birth of Bangladesh and helped Pakistan Army to conduct genocide against the people of their own country in 1971. In the post Liberation War Bangladesh, politics in the name of religion was prohibited and political parties involved with the war crimes were banned. But after the sudden change in the political scenario in 1975, military dictators lifted the ban on religion-based politics and patronised fundamentalism to extend their regimes. As a result apart from the anti-liberation Islamic parties, the Islamic forces which were silent and inactive in politics for a long period of time made a comeback. Since then they have been participating in the national parliamentary elections and other local government polls individually and as part of different alliances. Ahead of the 11th national parliamentary election, this week ‘morning tea’ will try to understand the overall situation, electoral tactics and prospects of Bangladesh’s Islamic political parties.
It is always difficult to know the exact whereabouts of the Islamic political parties of our country as many of these parties are not interested to reveal their activities in public. Among the 39 political parties which are registered with the Election Commission, at least 10 are known for religion-based politics. Besides, according to different news reports, there are 80-100 Islamic parties in the country. Around 70 of them are active in electoral politics. But they are now clearly divided into three separate factions. The first group is associated with the admirers of Barelvi Movement, the second section is of the followers of Abul A’la Maududi and the third faction consists of the political workers who believe in the Islamic ideas of Darul Uloom Deoband. Zaker Party and Bangladesh Tarikat Federation (BTF), led by Pirzada Mostafa Amir Faisal Mujaddedi and Syed Nazibul Bashar Maizvandary, and guided by the Sunni Hanafi school of jurisprudence, are two familiar political parties of Barelvi trend. They usually take out colourful processions on the occasion of Eid-e-Miladunnabi and patronise mazar (tomb) centered politics. Albeit these two parties are partners of the ruling Awami League in the Grand Alliance, Zaker Party’s participation in the election is uncertain while BTF is going to contest the upcoming national polls from a couple of constituencies.
Last but not least, the third group of Islamic political parties in Bangladesh are the adherents of the Deobandi theory of Islam. Basically the former and present students and teachers of Qawmi madrasas are the main supporter group of these parties. Albeit they were not directly involved with politics in the initial years of Bangladesh, Mawlana Mohammadullah’s (also known as Hafezzi Huzur) second position in 1986’s president election as the candidate of Bangladesh Khilafat Andolan brought them in the center of discussion. Deobandis still dream of establishing Khilafat as they have many complaints about the constitution of our country. After the death of Hafezzi Huzur in 1987, his three ideological successors Mufti Fazlul Haque Amini, Shaykh Ul Hadith Allamah Azizul Haque and Maulana Syed Mohammad Fazlul Karim (later Pir Saheb Charmonai) formed three separate political parties, namely Islami Oikya Jote, Bangladesh Khelafat Majlis and Islami Shashantantra Andolan. Amini’s Islami Oikya Jote is now divided into several factions. Main part of this party is conducting their programmes centering Jamia Qurania Arabia Lalbagh led by Maulana Abdul Latif Nezami. Initially they expected Awami League’s support in some constituencies in the upcoming national polls but finally the ruling party has refused to back them. Now they will contest separately. Azizul Haque’s Khelafat Majlis is also segregated into many fragments. The most powerful section of it is now operating their politics from Mohammadpur’s Jamia Rahmania Arabia headed by his son Mufti Mehfuzul Haque. One faction of the party has allied with Jatiya Party and the other part will contest as a part of the Twenty Party Alliance.
In the recent years the Deobandi political party that has stunned all through its dramatic progress in electoral politics is Islami Andolan (previous name Islami Shashantantra Andolan) led by Mufti Syed Muhammad Rezaul Karim (son of late Pir Saheb Charmonai Maulana Syed Mohammad Fazlul Karim). Though the party once joined an alliance with Jatiya Party but for the last several years it has been contesting elections separately and securing a significant number of votes. Some people allege that Islami Andolan’s main intention is to divide the anti-Awami League votes and there are some reasons behind this debate. When almost all the opposition parties have struggled to conduct their activities, the government never showed its aggressive face against this party. In the 11th national parliamentary election Islami Andolan will contest from 300 constituencies and political observers believe that they have a certain vote bank in Barishal, Khulna and northern districts of the country. Apart from these parties, two more Islamic parties led by Maulana Noor Hossain Kasemi and Mufti Mohammad Wakkas also represent Deobandi politics and they will participate in the next poll from BNP-led Twenty Party Alliance.
Recent transition of a number of Islamic political parties towards various alliances proves that they also want the share of power. This tendency of attaining power rapidly is one of the main obstacles before these Islamic parties which is not allowing them to remain united. Among all the Islamic political parties Jamaat-e-Islami has a clear political vision but they have been struggling due to their historic mistake that they committed in 1971. And they will continue to be inculpated for the same reason in the coming years. In contrast, the Deobandi Islamic political parties’ strength is their Qawmi madrasas. Each of these madrasas has created an isolated world which is controlled by their principles. If all the principles stand for the same cause, then they may become a factor but unfortunately they are divided because of their mutual disagreement, doubt and disdain. The biggest problem for them is their lack of competent leadership and obscure political stance. Though Hefajat-e-Islam Bangladesh Chief Allama Shah Ahmad Shafi is their guardian but he has no interest in traditional politics rather he is more concerned about the rights of the students of Qawmi madrasas.
Jamaat-Deobandi dissent is the biggest issue which has pushed Bangladesh’s Islamic politics back to a great extent. Despite being the partners of the same political alliance for so many years, Deobandis consider that Jamaat activists belong to a wrong doctrine of Islam. On the other hand, Jamaat also sees no reason to accept Deobandi politics. There is no possibility of finding a solution to this problem in the near future. Thus despite having a huge supporter base, including a significant portion of youths, Islamic political parties of Bangladesh are struggling to reap its benefits. They react strongly against the defamation of Islam and are always vocal to establish Islamic culture but have failed to create a social impression for their inactive role in opposing continuous discrimination, injustice and corruption. The future of religion-based politics in Bangladesh will depend on how these parties will stand for other public-related issues and modify themselves to cope with the modern state structure.