Contrary to all noble sentiments embodied in religion, it has often been associated with the worst form of wickedness, cunning, hypocrisy, murder, rape and unnatural vice. Since when religion came to be used as an ideal disguise for personal and political gain is difficult to say. But it can be reasonably assumed that abuse of religion has existed for centuries.
In his ‘Canterbury Tales’ Geoffrey Chaucer, who had a shrewd understanding of the human nature, introduced us, in a humorous vein though, to his Monk, Friar, Summoner and Pardoner, who loved luxury, wealth and wine, enjoyed company of women with questionable reputation and employed every conceivable trick to fleece the common people. Then you have Claudius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, whose face is no index of his mind, and who commits the foulest of crimes by killing his own brother and lives in sin with his brother’s wife without feeling the slightest bit of guilt and yet kneels in prayer as a matter of routine, still harboring viler intentions in mind. John Webster in his The Duchess of Malfi has given us a Cardinal, a worldly Bishop, who is thoroughly corrupt, crafty and immoral. We have a comparable character in Buro Shalikher ghare Roe by M M Dutt, named Bhokto Prashad, a devout Brahmin, who indulges over head and ears in erotic fantasies in most of his waking hours and has the names of Hindu gods Hari and Krishna rolling off his tongue most of the time. If you pause and reflect for a moment you would at once come to realize that our society has plenty of living counterparts who would only dwarf those fictitious literary characters.Over the past decades religions have bred more hatred than harmony and vitiated relationships among their followers. The worst barbarities of which the Nazi’s in Hitler’s Germany used to be accused were repeated and exceeded in Gaza in recent weeks. Some years ago Gujrat, Gandhi’s birth place, saw blood-curdling massacre in a string of riots in which several thousand people of both Hindu and Muslim communities were killed across India. Just think of the 9/11 tragedy which bears ample testimony to the blatant disregard for human lives and an unconcealed contempt for the human civilization. Passenger Planes had been crashed into the Twin Towers in New York in highly coordinated attacks allegedly by Al Qaeda terrorists. The accumulated result of all these is: we are doomed to exhaust whatever talent and resources we possess in war and conflict, in perpetual feuds which drain our life-blood away while millions in developing countries are under-nourished, ill-clad and a prey to disease, epidemic and famine. Plainly, all these acts of savagery have been committed and justified in the name of religion.
Religion can be used to catch somebody unawares. Consider the case of Pakistan. A Christian man entered into a heated argument with a Muslim and in a fit of anger threw the latter’s business card into a waste-paper basket. Now the owner of the card, whose name bore the Prophet’s name Mohammad as its first part, was cunning enough to accuse the Christian of insulting the Prophet by desecrating his name. The poor fellow who had not even the slightest intention of dishonoring the Prophet was charged with blasphemy and was sentenced to life by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. If this is not a mockery of justice then what is?
Well, contrast this with the case involving Jesus and you are struck with a growing perception that there is certain decency and forbearance in human conduct that go into laying the basis of civilized norms of life. Years ago a film titled 'The Last Temptation of Christ' was released in which Christianity and Jesus were ridiculed in the worst possible manner. The most blasphemous part of it was the portrayal of a scene where Jesus Christ supposedly spent a night with a woman (Mary Magdalene) in a brothel. Nevertheless, no western government ever banned the movie or no Christian did ever bother to protest.
If you have followed the recent trend in politics you can’t have missed the fact that now nearly all major political parties start their election campaign by offering prayer at Shahjalal’s shrine at Sylhet. Their Indian counterparts perform similar acts by touching the feet of spiritual gurus and seeking their blessings. If you are clueless about such rituals, you must come to terms with the fact that in politics not everything is susceptible of rational analysis.
Then take the example of H M Ershad whose piety had all the ingredients of dubiousness about it. The military ruler, faced with tremendous mass upsurge, played his last trump card and that was to suddenly declare Islam as the state religion. For the time being the trick worked well for him but a permanent damage was done. It was our constitution that was shorn of one of its basic principle that is secularism. Again it is around this time that religiosity became more a matter of display on BTV than a solemn private practice. The military dictator, as all of us know well, was a follower of the Atrashi pir and would often visit the Biswa Zaker Manjil at Faridpur on Fridays to say juma prayer there, for which elaborate security measures were taken well ahead of the day of his visit. Then Ershad would turn up with a huge media crew at the scheduled time and would gleefully announce to the congregation that he had dreamt just the previous night of his visiting the place and arrived there according to the divine scheme of things. We had reasons to laugh a lot as it left no doubt in our mind that his piety was nothing but a pose, calculated to make an impression than being imbued with a genuine conviction.
There are people who are immensely capable of dissembling. A candidate for the parliamentary election, who was a left winger and a rank atheist, played the wildest prank by deciding never to be without a panjabi and a cap, fingering prayer beads and punctiliously attending all congregational prayers when he got the nomination from a key political party. A turncoat that he was, he unashamedly disposed of his disguise as soon as the election was over.If there are certain values that go into building the foundation of human civilization, respect for female sex is definitely one. This is also said to be enshrined in Islam. But Allama Shafi, a withered old man, who had his own scale of values, astounded us by putting forward his skewed logic that women, like tamarind, had the egregious power to allure men to adultery and that is, in his view, a good enough reason for not allowing women to work outside home. This is, at any rate, only a perverse way of honoring the edicts of religion. Another leader of his party, whose morality came under serious suspicion, puzzled us the other day by developing a theory that limited degree of lying is permitted in religion to keep one’s wife in the dark about a secret relationship. These are the people, as all of us will clearly remember, who made sure that no tree stood alive on the road divider at Motijheel resulting from an act of vandalism that has no parallel in recent history.
Piety and perversity have complemented each other for centuries. Only recently the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church at Vatican has apologized for the numerous cases of child sexual abuse. But their counterparts in madrashas in our country, who have so far swept all similar accusations under the carpet, are yet to confess themselves.
Criminality can be masked with a show of religiosity. An attempt to burn Nusrat Jahan Rafi to death, which was ordered by the Principal of her madrasha at Feni, because she filed a sexual harassment complaint against him, is a glaring example. It exposes before us the fact that many such institutions are manned at their helms by predators who freely operate under the camouflage of religion as protectors. Nusrat’s case is only the tip of the iceberg. In another incident last week you must have seen police nabbing the ex-Chairman of Tarikat Federation, an Islamist outfit, an ex-lawmaker and a real estate business man, who employs dozens of paid goons for grabbing land. The video of two men chopping another man to death in full view of camera is a doubtless proof that anyone who stands on his way of material gain has to pay a price with life. Who would ever suspect that under the cool, composed and quiet outward appearance this apparent holy man had so much of blood lust in him?
There are swindlers masquerading as the Samaritans. Not long ago Bismillah Group, a private entrepreneur, allegedly swindled over one thousand crore taka from five commercial banks showing fake documents. This deception only strengthens the notion that if one wants to throw the dust into unsuspecting eyes, religion can be an ideal mask. Who has ever heard of bank robbery, that too in broad daylight, to finance militancy? But, no matter how incredible it might sound, that is what was done at Ashulia by Islamic militants in which a guard on duty of Bangladesh Commerce Bank was killed. This monster, euphemistically called militancy, had its powerful patrons in the past. How can you forget the brusque manner with which a minister of the BNP Jamaat alliance dismissed the existence of militants claiming that Bangla bhai was solely a creation of the media? Nothing could be farther from truth.
By now you are probably well aware of the clever mixing of religion and marketing. Once some business people were quick to arrive at the intuition that the concept of Halal and Haram was so deeply ingrained in the psyche of a sizable portion of Bangladeshi people, regardless of their class and education, that a simple trick of stirring up their religious sentiment could be a sure way of digging a big hole into their purse. The result was the coming of 100% Halal Soap on the market. Sure enough, they made a stupendous fortune.
With so many sins committed in the name of religion all you can do as an ordinary citizen of the country is endure them with Chaucer’s patience.
The writer teaches English at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, Sylhet. He can be reached at: [email protected]