Straight Talk

Hefazat - A New Menace

Abdul Mannan

10th April, 2021 01:18:34 printer

Hefazat - A New Menace

Since the killing of the Father of the Nation Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on 15th August 1975 the country had to encounter a number of menaces whose sole objective was to undo everything that Bangladesh stood for. First was the arrival of Martial Law, a practice which Pakistan adopted as a political culture. After the killing of Bangabandhu with his entire family, General Zia emerged as the first Martial Law ruler. In between, he used Khondakar Mostaq as his stooge. The rot began with Zia’s takeover as the military ruler. First he scrapped ‘secularism’ from the Constitution and allowed all anti-Bangladesh religion-based parties like Muslim League, Jamaat-e-Islam and Nezam-e-Islam to resume their political activities which was banned in the 1972 Constitution thus changing the basic character of the nation and the Constitution. Zia ruled for about six years and during his rule a number of active anti-Bangladeshi politicians were rehabilitated, some rewarded with prestigious positions. Shah Azizur Rahman, the man who represented Pakistan and lobbied in the United Nations against Bangladesh movement, was made the Prime Minister in Zia’s cabinet. Abdul Alim, another butcher of Joypurhat was made a minister. Islami Chhatra Shibir, along with its parent organization, resumed their activities. While all these were going on, Zia banned Bangladesh Awami League and banished the name of the Father of the Nation from public discourse.

After the killing of Zia himself on 30th May 1981, another military ruler, General Ershad took over with a brief interregnum by Justice Sattar, Zia’s Vice-President. Ershad only made things worse. He declared Islam as a state religion which was absolutely unnecessary as states do not need a religion. Bangladesh is a Muslim majority country anyway. After Ershad was removed in 1990 following a mass upsurge, people saw hope when Zia’s widow Begum Zia was elected to form a cabinet in 1991. Unfortunately she was not confident about her party BNP winning the election which made her enter into a covert alliance with Jamaat-e-Islam. Nothing changed during her five year rule (1991-96).  During Begum Zia’s 2001-2006 rule the killers of 1971 found berth in her cabinet and became desperate to turn Bangladesh into a breeding ground of militancy in the name of religion. They were financed allegedly by Pakistan’s infamous military intelligence service ISI to undo the remnants of Bangladesh and turn it into a mini Pakistan. They were led and guided by Begum Zia’s eldest son Tarique Rahman who is now absconding as a fugitive in London with his family.

Bangladesh Awami League’s victory in the election of December 2008 was a foregone conclusion. The misdeeds and sins committed by the previous rule of Begum Zia and her four party alliance was too big to ignore by the general voters,  even by those who did not have any political affiliation. No sooner had Sheikh Hasina formed her government 21 years after the killing of her father and virtually banishing Bangladesh Awami League from the political stage of Bangladesh, another menace in the name of Islam appeared in Chattogram’s Hathazari Madrasa (Al Jametul Ahlia Darul Uloom Moinul Islam). This time it was Hefazat-e-Islam (Protector of Islam) a Qawmi Madrasa based militant outfit, believed to be another radical version of Jamaat-e-Islami. It was established in 2010 with teachers of Qawmi Madrasa with Maulana Shafi, the Principal of the Hathazari Madrasa as its chief. He was in his nineties and even could not move properly. The formation was the outcome of the Government’s 2009 ‘Women Development Policy’. Hefazat never endorsed any development of women and publicly declared that women should not be educated beyond class six and should stay at home, raise children, cook for the family and give pleasure to their husbands. They also decried the government’s policy of banning use of religion in politics. They also wrongly perceived that the government was planning to ban madrasa education. The government just declared that they would reform the madrasa education so that the madrasa students get such education that will be useful for them in their real life. Currently Qawmi Madrasas turn out graduates who are just useless for any meaningful profession. Initially the founders of Hefazat declared they will just be a social organization and will not indulge in any political activities; but in course of time they turned out to be the most violent and irrational political party in Bangladesh tarnishing the image of the country to the outside world by their militant activities. Besides, the Hefazat being financed by ISI the London based weekly Economist disclosed that they are financed by doctrinaire Islamists in Saudi Arabia.

Qawmi Madrasas in Bangladesh receives millions of Taka as regular contribution and donations not only from people inside the country but also from expatriates. Ramadan is a good time for the Principals of these madrasas to collect Zakat and Fitra from countries like Saudi Arabia and UAE and our expatriate workers and some locals. The amount of money collected is never audited by any recognized auditors and bulk of the money so collected is allegedly misappropriated by Qawmi leaders. Most of them either purchase land or expensive apartments and cars. Some, like Maulana Mamunul Haque, spend the money on women whom they claim to be their wives. On last Thursday, a leading English daily published a devastating news headlined ‘Rapes in Madrasas -Breaking the silence’ (Dhaka Tribune). The feature reported how extensive child abuse in Bangladesh’s Madrasas is. According to the feature 626 children were raped from January 2020 December 2021 by teachers, principals and administrative staff. The figures came from a research done by ‘Manusher Jonno Foundation’. This may just be a tip of the iceberg as most such cases are hardly reported.

Qawmi Madrasas claim they are the followers of Darul Uloom Deoband Madrasa (now an Islamic University) situated in India. Darul Uloom was established in 1886 with the help of the British rulers. Before the establishment of Darul Uloom Deoband the Muslim clerics played a very important role in the Indian Independence Movement from till 1857. The British to appease the Muslim clerics agreed to finance the establishment of this seminary. Since its inception Darul Uloom Deoband was never accused of spreading violence either in India or anywhere else in the name of Islam. But unfortunately the Qawmi madrasas claiming to be followers of Deoband school of thought have become hub of training militants and preaching hatred. Darul Uloom Deoband has reformed their curriculum as and when needed but their followers in Bangladesh and elsewhere have refused to do so. Many of the original Deobandi’s who were involved in founding of Darul Uloom opposed the partition of India and even the creation of Muslim League. Some even joined Indian National Congress.

The 14,000 (official) Qawmi madrasas in Bangladesh with their approximately twenty lakh students went the other way. Their curriculum comprises of texts that includes intolerance, misinterpretation of Islam and hatred toward others. They demand that Bangladesh should be turned into Islamic Republic.

The Prophet of Islam Hazrat Mohammad (PbUH) was not only a prophet of Allah he was also a Head of Government of the City State Medina. He drafted the Charter of Medina the first written constitution and emphasized on tolerance and co-existence of people all faith. He never declared the state under his rule as an Islamic State and treated all people of the Holy City of Medina (also the Capital city during his time) and later the people of the Holy Mecca equally. His name and fame spread not in the Arab world but also beyond. He would regularly receive scholars from other religions, especially Jewish and Christian from North Africa and discuss with them matters relating to each religion. Today’s Qawmi Mullahs in Bangladesh will never teach their students about all these or the Golden age of Islam that spread from 8th to 13th century,  an era that produced such scholars as Abu al-Quasim al-Zahrawai,  “father of modern surgery”, Alhazen, “Father of modern optics”, Ibn Khaldun “Father of sociology”, Al-Biruni “Father of pharmacy”, As Khawarizmi renowned as “Father  of Algebra” and many other Islamic scholars whose knowledge enlightened the world when Europe was in the Dark Ages. Most Qawmi students are ignorant that once Cairo, Baghdad and Cordova in Spain were centres of knowledge all created during the Muslim rulers. Personally I have talked with students who graduated from Qawmi madrasas about Hazrat Ali (R.A) the ruler and found that they are ignorant. They only know about him being a Khalifa but never heard about his letter to the Governor of Egypt Malik al-Ashtar.

Hefazat’s most notorious deed in Bangladesh was staged on 5th May 2013  when they gathered at the centre of Dhaka City, in and around Motijheel,  to press home their so called thirteen point demand which virtually meant turning Bangladesh into a country like Afghanistan or Pakistan. Throughout 5th and 6th night Hefazati goons just played havoc in the entire area and they received moral and material support from BNP, JP and Jamaat. They even burnt the Holy Qur’an.  Virtually they were trying to stage a coup and dreamt of installing on 6th one of their leader Junaid Babunagari, Bangladeshi version of Mullah Omar as the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. Finally it was the determination of Sheikh Hasina and strong armed tactics of law enforcing agencies that Hefazati goons were on the run that night. Later it was known that thousands of young students of Qawmi Madrasa were brought to Dhaka telling them they were going to listen to Bara Hujoor (Allama Shafi).

Later Sheikh Hasina with all her good intentions stretched out an olive branch to Hefazat and wanted to bring thousands of students who graduate from Madrasa to mainstream job market and decided to give equivalence to Dawra-e-Hadith to Master’s Degree in Islamic Studies. Unfortunately the Hefazati leaders mistook this good gesture of the Prime Minister as her weakness. To make things even worse there began an internal feuding and rift amongst the Hefazat leaders after the death of their Amir Maulana Shafi. Today Hefazat stands divided.

The current Hefazati programmes were planned to disrupt the celebrations of Mujib’s Birth Centenary and Golden Jubilee of Bangladesh’s Independence. Elaborate programmes were planned by the government to celebrate these two occasions but had to be curtailed because of sudden outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic. The government, however, planned to have a ten long closing ceremony from 17th March (101st Birth Day of Bangabandhu) to 26th Mach (50th year of Bangladesh). It invited Heads of States or Governments of five SAARC countries, excluding Pakistan and Afghanistan in the closing programmes with select invitees to attend the ceremony.  Amongst those invited was India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Modi also visited Bangladesh in 2015. This time, however, Hefazat-e-Islam declared that they would not allow Modi to land in Dhaka as he is accused of instigating a communal riot in Gujarat in 2002 during Modi’s tenure as the Chief Minister of Gujarat. A two member judicial enquiry commission was formed with Justice G T Nanavati a retired judge of Supreme Court of India and Justice Akshay H Mehta of Gujarat High Court to enquire into the incident. The Commission after long investigation and hearing submitted their report in September 2008 clearing Modi of any connection with the riot. Though many questioned the fairness of the Commission the fact remains that Modi was subsequently elected the Prime Minister of India. Bangladesh did not invite one Mr. Modi but invited the Prime Minister of India. Whoever would be the Prime Minister would have been invited considering the extraordinary help that the people of Bangladesh received during our Liberation War in 1971 from the people and government of India. Ironically when Modi visited Bangladesh in 2015 those who were opposing the visit of Modi to Bangladesh all, including the Chairperson of BNP, the Hefazat leaders met Modi in person seemingly to complain about the current government. The same Hefazat and BNP this time declared Modi’s visit to Bangladesh unwarranted and said they would resist his coming to Dhaka. Hefazat along with Jamaat began their mission by attacking a village of religious minority in Shalla in Sylhet on17th March the birthday of Bangabandhu. The administration in Shalla not only failed to prevent this attack, they also seemed to be paralyzed when the Hefazati goons staged a mayhem in Hathazari and Brahmanbaria on 26th and 27th March when Bangladesh was celebrating its Golden Jubilee of Independence and Indian  Prime Minister was in Bangladesh. The Hefazati mayhem created in these two places were unprecedented where they set fire to public property and even had the audacity to erect a brick wall in Hathazari to prevent the movement of traffic to Nazirhat and Khagrachhari. To restore law and order the law enforcing authorities had to fire on unruly mobs which killed 17 people. In the meantime Indian Prime Minister came, attended all the pre-arranged programmes and left for his country on 27th March.

Modi’s visit to Bangladesh exposed Hefazat’s extremist agenda to destabilize the political stability in Bangladesh and make it known to the world the possible emergence of another militant extremist group in Bangladesh actively supported by Jamaat-e-Islami and BNP. In subsequent events it also exposed the moral degradation of some of its top leaders.  Hefazat’s recent activities have been extensively reported in the international media and damaged the image of Bangladesh. The neighbouring state of India, Paschimbanga is in the midst of State Parliament election. Some political parties have used the Hefazat mayhem in posters wrongly terming it as a communal violence.

The government has been quite soft in dealing with Hefazat in the recent past. Now, it is time to act, bring each and every one responsible for the recent mayhem to justice and, if necessary, to consider the limit the activities of Hefazat-e-Islami or consider banning it completely. Virtually all the Qawmi madrasas have become dens of different sorts of immoral activities, corruption and training centres of hatred and intolerance. Their accounts should be regularly audited and curriculum revised so that the system can produce people with knowledge and skills. The country has lots of menace and it cannot afford to have another one. The arm of the law should be long enough to leash the anti-people activities of Hefazat. The gains the country made in last fifty years should not be lost to the activities of a bunch of irrational people.

The writer is an analyst and a commentator.