Drive to secularism or fundamentalism?

Islam in Bangladesh




The wholesale conversion to Islam of the population of what was to become Bangladesh began in the thirteenth century and continued for hundreds of years. Conversion was generally collective rather than individual, although individual Hindus who became outcastes or who were ostracized for any reason often became Muslims. Islamic egalitarianism, especially the ideals of equality, brotherhood, and social justice, attracted numerous Buddhists and lower caste Hindus. Muslim missionaries and mystics, some of whom were subsequently regarded as saints (usually known as pirs in Bangladesh) and who wandered about in villages and towns, were responsible for many conversions.

The tradition of Islamic mysticism known as Sufism appeared very early in Islam and became essentially a popular movement emphasizing love of God rather than fear of God. Sufism stresses a direct, unstructured, personal devotion to God in place of the ritualistic, outward observance of the faith. An important belief in the Sufi tradition is that the average believer may use spiritual guides in his pursuit of the truth. These guides--friends of God or saints--are commonly called fakirs or pirs. In Bangladesh the term pir is more commonly used and combines the meanings of teacher and saint. In Islam there has been a perennial tension between the ulama--Muslim scholars--and the Sufis; each group advocates its method as the preferred path to salvation. There also have been periodic efforts to reconcile the two approaches. Throughout the centuries many gifted scholars and numerous poets have been inspired by Sufi ideas even though they were not actually adherents.

Sufi masters were the single most important factor in South Asian conversions to Islam, particularly in what is now Bangladesh. Most Bangladeshi Muslims are influenced to some degree by Sufism, although this influence often involves only occasional consultation or celebration rather than formal affiliation. Both fakirs and pirs are familiar figures on the village scene, and in some areas the shrines of saints almost outnumber the mosques.

Ever since Sufism became a popular movement, pious men of outstanding personality reputed to have gifts of miraculous powers have found disciples (murids) flocking to them. The disciple can be a kind of lay associate earning his living in secular occupations, consulting the pir or murshid at times, participating in religious ceremonies, and making contributions to the support of the murshid.

The members of the ulama include maulvis, imams, and mullahs. The first two titles are accorded to those who have received special training in Islamic theology and law. A maulvi has pursued higher studies in a madrasa, a school of religious education attached to a mosque. Additional study on the graduate level leads to the title maulana

Villagers call on the mullah for prayers, advice on points of religious practice, and performance of marriage and funeral ceremonies. More often they come to him for a variety of services far from the purview of orthodox Islam. The mullah may be a source for amulets, talismans, and charms for the remedying of everything from snakebite to sexual impotence

In Bangladesh, where a modified Anglo-Indian civil and criminal legal system operates, there are no official sharia courts.

When in June 1988 an "Islamic way of life" was proclaimed for Bangladesh by constitutional amendment, very little attention was paid outside the intellectual class to the meaning and impact of such an important national commitment. Most observers believed that the declaration of Islam as the state religion might have a significant impact on national life, however. Aside from arousing the suspicion of the non-Islamic minorities, it could accelerate the proliferation of religious parties at both the national and the local levels, thereby exacerbating tension and conflict between secular and religious politicians.

Akbar, the Great Mughal Emperor: The story of Islam in South Asia

akbarA little over four hundred years ago, a monarch ruled South Asia with an élan never seen before in these lands. His Empire was truly massive. It was larger than the famous Ottoman Empire; also larger than the neighbouring Safavid Empire. It was larger than Ashoka’s great empire, as it was than the empire of the mighty Guptas. While this monarch held sway, his armies pummeled English and French armies off the coasts of Hindustan. One must not forget that European presence in Indian lands was a threat long before the infamous East India Company set up shop in Bengal in 1757. But while this monarch was in power, European armies were no match for his. Such was his military prowess and confidence, the legend goes, that his soldiers, while stationed in front of enemy fortresses, instead of always bringing ready made cannons with themselves - would make them cannons from scratch. while stationed in front of enemy fortresses.

The monarch was also famous for his kindness and altruism. During his reign, religious harmony reached levels never known before. Although he was Muslim by birth just like his famous forefathers, Hindu Rajputs proliferated in his army and in the upper echelons of his administration. He also greatly loved and married a Rajput woman.

The monarch was none other than Akbar, the Great Mughal Emperor. The Mughals were originally Turkic tribes who came from what’s today Uzbekistan. The first great Mughal Emperor Babur summarily defeated the Afghani Lodis near Delhi in 1526. Thus started an empire that could surpass some of history’s best, in its size, statescraft, prosperity, intellectual endeavours and artistic feats. The magnificent Taj Mahal in Agra is a fitting archive of this great Empire. The story of Islam in South Asia was very different four hundred years ago, than the ones you or I could try to tell of our times. Fast forward about three hundred years: the year is 1857. The British had broken the back of most Indian and Muslim rulers of the subcontinent.

Bahadur Shah Zafar

The last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, a token ruler if there ever was one, yet the titular head of a great rebellion, was sent packing to Rangoon. The rebellion was sizable and spread all across North India. Bullets rained from British guns on the Indian rebels. Bullet holes on various edifices of the once great city, Lucknow, will bear testimony to the event’s tremendous violence. Soldiers, peasants, landlords, and a variety of other groups had united in trying to overthrow the British. Yet the British Empire did not fall. And in the aftermath, the wrath of the Empire came crashing on the Muslims of South Asia. Muslims, predictably or unpredictably, were seen as the chief architects of the event.

Muslims didn’t like being ruled by others and they yearned for days when they ruled South Asia, the British thought. Muslims were seen as perfidious and jihadis. Those weren’t heady days if you were a Muslim; they perhaps signaled the beginning of a fall. Fast forward now to the late 19th century: the year is 1895, give or take five years.

Hindu- Muslim tensions

Hindu- Muslim tensions had taken a turn for the worst. The census, an instrument seemingly innocuous, but greatly aiding British policies of divide and rule, had helped sharpen religious identities in South Asia. Thanks to the census, for the first time ever, it was possible for various caste and religious communities to think of themselves as monolithic aggregates that could compete for patronage from the colonial state. Then there were various reform movements within Indian Islam. The Deobandis of UP and the Aligarh School of Sir Sayyid Ahmed Khan tried to uplift the falling Muslims of South Asia, the first with more spiritual ends in mind, and the second more secular and political. Then there were the Urdu-Hindi language riots which often turned ugly. Slowly but surely, fault lines between the two communities -– which, come to think of it, were hardly all-pan-Indian wide communities before – started to deepen. The culmination perhaps was the Partition of Bengal in 1905 along religious lines with a Muslim majority East and a Hindu majority West - seen by many as a necessary precursor to the Partition of India itself about forty years later. Surely then, the All India Muslim League’s founding in Dhaka in 1906, to fight for an independent Muslim polity, must not have surprised anyone.

Seeds of a national awakening

Fast forward once again, to 1955. Less than a decade earlier, a momentous historical event, the Partition of the Indian subcontinent had resulted in a blood bath that uprooted 10 million from their homes and claimed at least a million lives. Women, with their bodies upheld as sites where nationalist paranoia could be sketched, paid a tragic price. The nation-states of India and Pakistan had been born. Within months, they were locked in war over the disputed territory of Kashmir. But by 1955, Kashmir was not the only region where Pakistan and India’s nationalist imaginations wrestled. The eastern wing of Pakistan, East Pakistan, sat uncomfortably, separated from the central government by a thousand miles of Indian territory. In 1952, the Language Movement of East Pakistan, ended with Bengalis experiencing martyrdom for the first time. Seeds of a national awakening were sown.

Exactly 36 years earlier, in 1971, the third partition of the Indian subcontinent witnessed the violent birth of Bangladesh. Muslim nationalism in South Asia had to re-imagine itself in only 24 years after it created Pakistan. Thereafter, under the hands of Zia-ul Huq, the Pakistani state not only reimagined its nationalist paradigms, aligning more with West Asia, than South Asia, it also took active part in the mujahideen resistance in Afghanistan to drive out the invading Soviets, culminating with the ISI becoming one of the foremost intelligence agency in the Third World. Pakistan had already gone nuclear in response to India’s own programme. Nuclear weapons promised to deter each state from attacking each other, and taken a step further, assumed to be a harbinger of status in the international community. But weapons of mass destruction would do precious little in the wake of September 11, as the Pakistani state, military and the ISI, had to turn their backs on the Afghan mujahideens and unconditionally aid America in its effort to root out Osama bin Laden. Of course, a general was in power yet again after a short democratic interregnum through Nawaz Sharif.

Muslims in India and Bangladesh did not have it much better. Indian Muslims confronted the wrath of the Hindutva, first in 1992 through the annihilation of the Babri Masjid and then in the pogroms in Gujarat in 2002, when Muslim homes were picked out and razed to the ground. In such moments, Partition appeared strangely necessary and at the same time unnecessary. To the east, the more demographically homogenuous Bangladeshi state continued to be ravaged by the war of its identity politics waged by the families of its founding fathers. And after shaky attempts at maintaining a democracy hard earned, the country once again, fell under military rule. Bangladesh, a part of undivided Bengal, more prosperous than Europe’s finest in the time of the Mughals, continued another war, a war against unending poverty. The nation also continued its unbroken run of topping Transparency Index’s list of corrupt nations. Meanwhile, Balochis and Sindhis continued their secessionist designs in Pakistan.

The story of Islam in South Asia has come a long way since the heady days of the Mughal Empire. No longer are South Asian Muslims setting standards in building stupendous monuments, producing powerful art, or setting standards in statecraft. They are battling corruption, dictatorships, poverty, nepotistic politics, or chauvinistic majoritarianism; to say nothing of their increasing limelight in the spectacle that is the war on terror. Akbar would have certainly been dismayed (Sajid Huq, June 1, 2007).

  • Mass Islamization occurred under the Mughals and followed by British Colonization

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    2. Madrasas mushroom with state favour

    Many religious Muslims of our country send their children to madrassahs as they can learn Deen-e-Elm. Islam is a complete code of life-- so it's impossible to comprehend the teaching of Islam without the teaching of social, political, geographical and scientific knowledge. In our madrassahs students are taught various Islamic books written in Arabic, Persian and Urdu but as they are deprived of the knowledge of their surroundings it's very natural for them to misinterpret Islam. As a result when their teachers or leaders show them the way of being a Mujaheed by killing innocent people or by creating anarchy in the society- it's hard for them to understand what is right.

    22.22pc growth of madrasas against 9.74pc of general educational institutions during 2001-05

    madrasaMadrasa education has received more state favour than general education in the last four years, leading to the significant growth of madrasas in Bangladesh. The number of general educational institutions, which receive government funds, has increased 9.74 percent against a 22.22 percent growth of madrasas from 2001 to 2005, Bangladesh Economic Review statistics show. The growth of madrasas got such a boost especially after the BNP-led coalition involving Jamaat-e-Islami, Islami Oikya Jote and Bangladesh Jatiya Party came to power in 2001.

    The picture was different during the 1996-2001 rule of Awami League (AL). In the first four years of the AL rule, the number of general educational institutions rose by 28 percent while that of madrasas by 17 percent. The number of madrasa teachers saw a significant rise in the last four years, compared to those in the general education. Teachers in the schools and colleges marked a 12.27 percent increase against 16.52 percent in the madrasas between 2001 and 2005. The number of students in general educational institutions rose 8.64 percent while the madrasas saw a 10.12 percent rise in enrolment during this period. But the number of students increased sharply during the AL period.

    Experts believe madrasas have negligible contributions in creating skilled human resources in the country, still they received on average 11.5 percent of the total education budget in the last few years. Apart from about 9,000 government-registered madrasas, there are numerous other institutions across the country offering religious education without registration. The national databank on education compiled by Bangladesh Bureau of Education Information and Statistics (BANBEIS) does not have information about these madrasas. Madrasa Education Board controls the Ebtedayee madrasas, but Qawmi madrasas are totally out of government control, said Professor Iqbal Aziz Muttaki of the Institute of Education and Research at Dhaka University. The Qawmi madrasas have their own curriculum. Abdul Jabbar, secretary general of Bangladesh Qawmi Madrasa Education Board, a private board of these madrasas, told The Daily Star that they have a list of about 15,000 Qawmi madrasas. Jabbar, however, said there are many such madrasas which are not enlisted with the board.

    Moreover, Education Minister Osman Farruk told parliament recently that the government is considering giving Fazil and Kamil degrees of madrasas the status equivalent to graduation and master's degrees of general education. Asked, the minister ruled out any extra favour to madrasa education. "It is not true that the government is promoting madrasa education ignoring the mainstream education." "Percentage does not always reflect the real situation," Farruk said. He, however, assured that he will examine whether the general educational institutions are not being given due importance.

    The education minister, who is not happy with the existing quality of madrasa graduates, said, "It needs modernisation. I feel the madrasa students should learn the same core subjects that the general educational institutions teach up to the higher secondary level." About the government move to give the Fazil and Kamil degrees equal status of graduation and master's degree of the general education, the minister said, "It is under process." "We are not upgrading the Fazil and Kamil degrees, rather we will recommend what is needed to make the degrees equivalent to graduation and master's degree," he said. Opposing the government move, Prof Muttaki said: "Educational institutions are for creating human resources, but the madrasas have failed to do it." "Contribution of madrasa graduates at the national level is negligible despite some recent moves to update the course curricula of madrasas," he observed. "Most of the madrasa graduates usually become imams at mosques and a few of them receive general education from universities and colleges," he said.

    The researcher said madrasa education seems to be a sensitive issue for all governments who always face a dilemma in taking any drastic step to modernise the madrasa education system or merge it with the mainstream education. In the last four years, as many as 1,720 general educational institutions (schools and colleges up to the higher secondary level) were set up, raising the total to 19,370. On the other hand, a total of 1,618 new madrasas were established during the period. The number of madrasas across the country is now 8,897. The number of teachers in the general education has grown by 25,882 pushing the total to 2,36,813, while that in madrasas has increased by 18,167, taking the total to 1,28,084.

    Growth: madrasas vs general educational institutions(Source: Bangladesh Economic Review)

    1996-2000 2001-2005
    Institutions General 28%, Madrasa 17% General 10%, Madrasa 22%
    Teachers Teachers General 12%, Madrasa 17%
    Students General 33%, Madrasa 58% General 9%, Madrasa 10%

    madrasa studentsThe AL(Awami League) government formed in 1997 another Education Commission, headed by Prof Shamsul Haque, which found ‘madrassah education an integral part of the national education system’, while making no changes in its syllabi that produces in hundreds of poor young boys a mediaeval world outlook, plagued by a deep sense of intolerance for opposing ideologies — political or religious.

    One of the major political agenda of the government of Sheikh Hasina was to prove, by means of patronising, both politically and financially, various Islamic organisations/institutions that the party in no way lags behind BNP in terms of detesting secular ideals. Before the last general elections in 2001, the contending political parties had even shed the last string of secular ideals. The BNP’s election manifesto proclaimed that the party, if voted to power, ‘will not enact any law contrary to Islam’.

    The Jamaat-e-Islami announced in unambiguous terms that the party, if voted to power, ‘will convert the Peoples’ Republic of Bangladesh into an Islamic Republic’. Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League also decided not to lag behind, at least, the BNP. “If returned to power,” the AL announced in its election, “no law will be enacted, which will be inconsistent with the dictates of Qur’an and Hadith”. The AL’s announcement reminded many people, secular and anti-secular alike, of the historical fact that the party was born with the name of Awami Muslim League. Only the 11-party alliance, a conglomeration of the left and liberal democratic parties and groups, pledged that they, if voted to power, would work for restoring secular ideals.

    The number of students in schools and colleges rose to 89,28,227 with an increase of 7,10,531 in the last four years. On the other hand, the number of madrasa students rose by 3,30,899 during the period to stand at 35,97,453. During 1996-2000, the number of general educational institutions rose by 3,694 to reach 16,882 while that of madrasas reached 7,122 with an increase of 1,022 institutions. The number of teachers in the general education during the AL regime grew by 30,911 pushing the total to 1,98,521, while in madrasas, the number of teachers increased by 10,967, taking the total to 98,089. The number of students in general educational institutions rose by 19,54,316 to stand at 77,97,163 while in madrasas the number of students increased to 29,59,867 with an addition of 10,84,950 during 1996-2000 (Rejaul Karim Byron and Shameem Mahmud,Daily Star, August 4. 2005)..

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    3.Islamic parties boom after 1976 ban lifting

    Islamic political parties and organisations have mushroomed in the country since the constitutional ban on them was repealed in 1976, allowing formation and functioning of organisations based on religion. No one knows the number of such parties and other organisations floated since withdrawal of the ban as neither the government nor the Election Commission (EC) has any accurate figures on them. Government intelligence agencies' records however showed existence and activities of about 100 Islamic political parties and organisations since repeal of the ban while around 11 were active in between 1964 and 1971, sources said. Of the existing parties and organisations apparently based on Islam, some have been identified as militant outfits. And the government has banned four of them -- Shahadat-e- Al Hiqma, Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh, Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh and Harkat-Ul Jihad -- during 2003 to 2005. Some organisations were accused of patronising the militant groups.

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    4. Qawami madrasa degree gets master's status

    The government has decided to recognise Dawra degree of Qawami madrasa equivalent to master's degree in Islamic studies or Arabic literature Prime Minister Khaleda announced the decision at a function of Islamic thinkers and teachers of Qawami madrasas at the International Conference Centre (ICC) yesterday. After the announcement, "Marhava", "marhava" sound reverberated through the conference hall. The prime minister told the function that she asked the authorities concerned to constitute a committee to frame necessary rules and regulations and institutional framework to implement the decision. Within next one month, the prime minister said, the committee will submit necessary planning and strategy guidelines to the government.

    Monday afternoon modernisation of Bangladesh suffered a major setback when Prime Minister Khaleda Zia announced that the highest degree awarded by the orthodox Qawami madrasa would be equated with the master's degree. The ramifications of her announcement are so far reaching that many think it will forever change the intellectual superstructure of the Bangladesh society. In time, nothing will be the same as before, and everything will change be it economy, politics, culture, society, civil administration and law and order. And all this had been done with one tunnel vision -- to win votes in the upcoming elections.

    But Bangladesh's history of this plunge into the abysmal darkness has not been unbroken. Bangladesh was a society of cultural and religious harmony with a thriving progressive political front. Born out of a two-nation theory with the Hindus and Muslims living in separate homelands, Pakistan from which Bangladesh broke away in 1971 through a bloody war still offered the Bangalees the resilience to maintain the religious harmony. In fact, to throw off the yoke of the West Pakistani psyche of mixing Islam with everything and to get closer to the people of Bengal, the Awami Muslim League showed in the mid 50s the courage to drop the middle name to become Awami League.

    Against the repressive march of the West Pakistani rulers in the name of Islam, Bangalee culture and society thrived in its own way. And then finally the birth of Bangladesh came with the state standing on the pillar of secularism where fundamentalism, use of religion in politics and using religion as a part of state ideology had no place through constitutional guarantee.

    When democracy finally returned in 1990, it was thought that use of religion for political gain would end. But it did not. The BNP immediately formed an unofficial electoral alliance with Jamaat and religion was dragged to election campaigns with slogans like "If you vote for the scale (election symbol of Jamaat), Allah will be happy." Finally, the BNP formed the government with Jamaat's support.

    But then Jamaat broke ties with BNP on the point of condemning Israeli attack on Hebron mosque. Awami League, still regarded by many as a secular party, threw off its veil and jumped at the opportunity. It formed another unwritten alliance with Jamaat and drummed up movement against the ruling BNP. Of course, it was election time again and the hunger for power made the AL forget the constitution the party had written in 1972. Sheikh Hasina also learnt the trick fast and her picture with a headgear beamed from posters on the wall. She won the race this time.

    In its effort to up the ante against the BNP and win hearts of the fundamentalists, the AL government kept on increasing funds channeled to the madrasas while the general education level dipped. And it played the most devious role when the religious extremists attacked an Independence Day programme at Brahmanbaria. The police remained silent and took no action.

    Election time came again and body politic took another beating as the BNP formed the four-party alliance with Jamaat and another fundamentalist party Islami Oikya Jote (IOJ) as the major partners. The formation of the 'Islamic' axis yielded dividends again and the alliance came to power with an overwhelming majority. This opened the door for Jamaat, for the first time ever, to enter into the government. Now a part of the state mechanism was in control of the religious forces. 'Islamisation of the society' gathered steam. Militant organisations crept up and thrived under the blind eye of the government and Bangladesh saw an unprecedented level of militant activities. To send the society back even further, demands for declaring the Ahmadiyyas non-Muslims were echoed freely and the government even went to the extent of banning the religious book of the Ahmadiyyas.

    Now comes another election time and another dose of 'Islamisation' was shot in the arm of the body politic on Monday when Prime Minister Khaleda Zia equated the Qawami madrasa's Dawra degree with master's. She only made the announcement, leaving the onus of implementing it on the next government, whichever party may form it, or even on the caretaker government, which for many a reason will be under intense pressure unknown before. And what makes it distressing that all this 'Islamisation' was not done for the purpose of glorifying Islam as a great religion but for populism and bagging votes in elections.

    In a few years time, these Qawami students, whose curriculum are never under the government's control and of dubious quality due to lack of modern syllabus, will sit for civil service exams and qualify in greater numbers than the general students because of higher marks obtained in Arabic and Islamic studies. They will get into the police and armed forces. It is anybody's guess about the quality and direction of their policy decisions once they are in policymaking positions.

    Societies march ahead, on Monday afternoon Bangladesh walked backward. (Editorial, Daily Star, August 24, 2006)

    Different intelligence agencies launched investigations into the activities of the qoumi madrassahs after the countrywide series of bomb blasts on August 17, 2005, based on the information that these institutions provide guerrilla training to their students with the goal of establishing Islamic rule in Bangladesh.

    Rigorous investigation substantiated the information and the intelligence agencies marked out 323 qoumi madrassahs where militant training was taking place. The agencies also suggested that the government should monitor the activities of the madrassahs and trace the source of their funds. The government has recently imposed a ban on the enrolment of foreign students in qoumi madrassahs following allegations that there are about 1,000 foreign students involved in the training of militants (New Age, August 27, 2006).

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    5. Madrasas for Females Where life is under lock and key

    5. Madrasas for Females Where life is under lock and key

    studentIt is a privately-owned residential madrasa along with an orphanage for 306 girls aged between three and fifteen. It is a single-room bamboo-made house, where all the students are herd together to sleep, eat, play and study. In the centre of the crowded neighbourhood of Chantek in Demra, the madrasa is kept under lock and key round the clock. Inside, helpless children cram the handful of windows to wave to passers-by. Most children show visible signs of malnourishment and anxiety. Their only ambition is to learn how to read the Quran and become religion instructors. "We will do what Allah wishes," Sajeda, a 12-year-old girl said when she was asked about her plans on completion of her studies in the madrasa established in 1988.

    The Jamia Islamia Ashraful Ulam Mahila Madrasa teaches only Arabic. Students receive no education in Bengali, English, Science or Mathematics, which is contradictory to the national education policy.

    Other female Qawmi madrasas in Dhaka also offer similar 'education', not officially recognised. The head of the madrasa, Mohammad Abdur Rahman, explained the principle behind this kind of education and said it is based on gaining 'access to paradise' after death and not aimed at gaining anything earthly. "We teach children how to lead a religious life and gather maximum spiritual wealth for eternal life," the principal said. He, however, did not explain his failure to address the problems that include unhygienic conditions in the madrasa. Of the 25 teachers of the madrasa, most are males. The principal stressed that he maintained strict segregation between the male teachers and the students by installing a curtain between them during class.

    In March 2002, seven students were burnt alive and a hundred others injured inside this madrasa as it was under lock and key when the fire occurred.

    The thatched house was burnt to ashes. Most of the students could not come out during the fire as the principal kept the key. "The bodies were so severely burnt that they could not be identified," said a student who was injured in the fire. "I am an orphan, where will I go? The madrasa at least offers me shelter," the girl said. The situation in Rashidia Ibrahimia Mahila Madrasa at Shanir Akhra about 500 metres away from this madrasa is more or less the same. With 210 students crammed inside two floors of a six-storey building, the children are confined to rooms under lock and key. On July 13, when the Star City correspondent visited the Rashidia Ibrahimia Mahila Madrasa established four years ago, the third floor was found to be opened, while the fourth floor was locked. Around 50 juveniles on the third floor surrounded the correspondent to meet her. "We rarely meet new people. The entrance and exit to this place are restricted," said eight-year-old Tania. "I was admitted here one and a half years ago and never had the opportunity to see outsiders." As Tania talked to the correspondent, a boy around 13 screamed seeing a female visitor inside the madrasa. He rebuked the correspondent and also the students for entertaining an 'outsider'. "You will be punished later," the boy threatened, locking the door (Morshed Ali Khan and Sultana Rahman, Daily Star, July 25, 2005)..

    The Shariah, Mullah and Muslims in Bangladesh

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    6. Democratic Intervention

    The construction, and perpetuation, of a secular democratic society calls for a series of simultaneous politically conscious actions at different levels, especially including education and culture — not to mention the obvious need for organising perpetual protests, at the political level, against formulation and implementation of non-secular policies and programmes by the communal elite.

    As regards democratic intervention at the cultural and ideological level, fighting for formulation and implementation of secular democratic curricula remains one of the most important responsibilities. Because a secular and scientific education generates among the children, or the future citizens for that matter, a sense of demystification of the universe, which automatically encourages the students to constantly question and review all structures, processes, institutions and situations of the society from the point of view of democratic ideologies.

    Still, the lesson of the history of the civilisations is that the forces of regression get eventually defeated by the forces of progress. So now is the time for the democratic forces to take up the difficult task of fighting back the non-secular social, political and cultural adversaries to defend the sense of dignity of the members of the country’s minority communities, and thus virtually restore the human dignity of the members of the majority community.

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    7. Blasts rock every corner of country , August 17, 2005

    terrorists, leaflets, booksOn April 14, 2001, a powerful bomb exploded at Chhayanaut’s traditional Pahela Baishakh programme killing 10 people and injuring more than 30 others. The deadly explosion sent panic-stricken men, women and children running and screaming. The announcer said the programme would continue despite the explosion. But the dreadful scene of death brought the programme to an abrupt end. It was the first attack on a Bangla New Year’s Day celebration programme and the third such blast at rallies in the capital within three months of each other.. Some 400 small bombs exploded almost simultaneously in 63 of the 64 districts in the country Wednesday morning, killing at least two persons and injuring more than 150 people. The attackers also clearly took encouragement from subsequent governments’ absolute failure in identifying the perpetrators of so many bomb attacks that have gone unpunished in the past six-odd years. Regardless of whether self-styled Islamists were behind Wednesday’s attacks or not, the government has to take responsibility for its refusal to address the Islamist threat.

    The banned Islamist outfit Jamaatul Mujaheedin Bangladesh has apparently circulated leaflets near each blast site, although they have stopped short of actually claiming responsibility. This was not the real attack. This was merely a loud statement — of how wide their network spreads, of how coordinated their handiwork is, of how close-knit and tight-lipped their members are, and of how strong their will is to defy and destruct all that we hold dear in the form of laws and values in the land that is Bangladesh.

    Widespread corruption, political appointment and incompetence and lack of professionalism are responsible for the failure of the intelligence agencies to forewarn and unearth any ploy relating to national security, according to experts and retired intelligence officials. Failure of the agencies to warn the authorities of Wednesday’s massive bombings that seriously undermined the national security has also raised question whether they have ability to do the jobs they are assigned for.

    Holding responsible the National Security Intelligence and the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence for Wednesday’s blasts, experts said the two agencies failed systematically because of ‘inadequate manpower, training facilities and budgetary allocation, and politicisation on the whole’.

    The government on Thursday confirmed the involvement of the banned Islamist outfit Jamaatul Mujaheedin in the August 17 countrywide blasts that left two people killed and more than 150 injured. Mohammad Mohsin, joint secretary (political) of the home ministry, at an investigation update, said the clues detected by the investigators following the statements of the suspects detained and quizzed proved the outlawed Islamist group was responsible for the blasts (New Age, August 26, 2005).

    Most of the arrested JMB or JMJB cadres who have confessed their participation in the 17/8 bomb blasts have said they did so at the call of Abdur Rahman, their leader, while some others have named Bangla Bhai, another top notch leader of the JMB. Another name that has come up time and again from the confessors is Ataur Rahman, who is also known to his fellow militants as Hasan and Sunny. "But that's all they seem to know, the name of their top leaders Abdur Rahman, Bangla Bhai and his brother Ataur Rahman. The arrested are giving information about activists of their ranks and level, but they do not appear to have any knowledge about the activities and whereabouts of JMB leaders of the higher echelons (Daily Star, September 16, 2005).

    bomb makingThe police in its hunt for militants involved in the August 17 series of blasts raided a suspected den, the house of a leader of Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, a coalition partner of the government, in northwest Rajshahi on Friday and seized arms and explosive. The police in the raid also arrested two suspected militants of the banned Islamist outfit Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh from the house at Tanore in the district. The law enforcers found a huge amount of bomb-making materials, including detonators, four firearms and books on jihad and bomb-making, in the pre-dawn raid of the house, owned by Nasirullah, a local Jamaat leader (New Age, September 17, 2005).

    A huge cache of bomb-making materials were seized by police from two houses in the city's Goran and Basabo area on September 8, only three weeks into the countrywide bomb blastsMeanwhile, the investigation into the near-simultaneous bomb blasts across the country is going on fairly well. The list of arrestees is growing almost every day; intense -- at times coercive -- interrogation is yielding more and more 'significant leads' and using them, various agencies are raiding different places, recovering arms, ammunition, bombs and rounding up more sus-pected militants almost on a daily basis. They have also had a prized catch in Abdur Rahman's brother, Moulana Obaidur Rahman Ibne Fazle recently, and a DB team discovered a lathe-machine factory in Old Dhaka where tools for making bomb-heads, dies and a sack of green raw materials were found.

    But, the fact remains that the masterminds of these organised attacks have still managed to elude arrest and the progress so far made will be tantamount to zero if the real culprits and their heinous intentions remain undiscovered. And there is every reason to believe that it's not going to be easy.

    Brig General Shakhawat Hussain, a security expert and columnist, sheds more light on the matter: "Those who have so far been arrested are the foot soldiers, the field level operatives, who only know their top leader, that too perhaps only by name. It is very likely that those who have named Abdur Rahman as their leader have never actually seen him, perhaps saw only his photographs." The real challenge for the investigators is to find the missing links and tie the loose ends. Again, catching Bangla Bhai or Abdur Rahman may not mean the investigation is over, as many experts and analysts are of the opinion that a stronger power, national or probably international, is plotting these attacks and using the JMB just as their pawn.

    Lack of coordination between various intelligence and law enforcement agencies is seriously hampering the drive to trace and arrest Jamaatul Mujahideen chief Abdur Rahman and his close aide Bangla Bhai. ‘Each of the law enforcing units is now desperately aiming to gain government’s trust by arresting the two chiefs and so they are not exchanging information with each other, let alone coordinating their activities,’ said an intelligence agency official. ‘In fact, each of the agencies is mapping out its own strategy to nab Abdur Rahman and Bangla Bhai, so there is no central control to ensure the necessary coordination between the various agencies,’ he told New Age on Saturday. ‘Each agency is using its own informers and is not revealing any information it has gathered to its sister bodies,’(New Age, September 18, 2005).

    To establish a Taliban-like rule

    When the government arrested Galib in February 2005 and banned the JMB and JMJB, a government press note read, "The government notices with concern that two organisations called Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh and Jama'atul Mujahideen have been carrying out a series of murders, robberies, bomb attacks, threats and various kinds of terrorist acts causing deaths to peace-loving people and destruction of property."

    asadullah al galib(left) and bangla bhai.Chief of the JMB, Asadullah-al-Galib, a teacher at the Rajshahi University, is now in jail. One of the handbills procured from the Rajshahi city reads: we want to earn Almighty's satisfaction by establishing Khalis Tauhid (pure monotheism) by putting an end to bida't and want to make the people happy in the world here and hereafter. The leaflet says the JMB urged the government twice earlier to establish Islamic Hukumat (Islamic order), but every time the government arrested their workers. However, JMB did not resort to any retaliation.

  • In February 13, 2003, a JMB militant named Badal was killed in an explosion while making bombs in a house in Dinajpur town. Two arms and explosives cases were filed and seven were arrested. But all of them were released later.
  • In August 2003, the JMB, Bangla Bhai and JMB's top leader Shaikh Abdur Rahman were locked in a clash at a secret training camp with the police at Khetlal of Joypurhat. Most of the militants managed to escape leaving behind huge documents showing their subversive plans. Eighteen militants were arrested, including Rahman's brother. But a few days later, they were not only released, but the government transferred several police officials involved in the Khetlal operation.

    "We don't believe in the present political trend. We want to build a society based on the Islamic model laid out in the Holy Qur'an and the Hadith," Bangla Bhai told The Daily Star in an interview in May last year. The leaflets found yesterday at the blast sites echoed the same message. Bangla Bhai also said he wanted to establish a Taliban-like rule. His party has been active underground since 1998 and had three tiers of workers until last year. The party spent Tk 7 lakh per month for 10,000 full-time JMB workers across the country, while the total number of its activists is no less than a lakh, he claimed.

    At different times, all the confessions made by the arrested militants spelt out the names of Bangla Bhai, Abdur Rahman, Asadullah Al Galib and some other leaders. Earlier this year, they also stated that an explosion in Jamalpur was orchestrated by Abdur Rahman himself. Abdur Rahman's father late Moulana Abdullah Ibne Fazal was a member of Jamiatul Ahle Hadith which is now led by Galib. Moulana Fazal is accused of collaborating with the Pakistani forces in 1971. Shafiqullah, nabbed on January 17 for bombing a folk-drama programme in Lakkhikhola village, said the JMB has its separate bombing squads spread across the country. It has its separate working forces in the bomb squads and the tasks of every group are well defined, he said during his remand (Julfikar Ali Manik, August 18, 2005).

    "We're the soldiers of Allah. We've taken up arms for the implementation of Allah's law the way Prophet, Sahabis and heroic Mujahideen have done for centuries," the so-called Islamist outfit said in the leaflets circulated at the bombing sites.

  • Although leaflets of banned Islamist militant organisation Jama'atul Mujaheedin, Bangladesh (JMB) were found at all the explosion sites yesterday, State Minister for Home Lutfozzaman Babar refrained from putting blame on the militant organisation for the act that sent a chill of horror through the bones of the countrymen.

    As newspapers carried a series of reports on Islamist militancy over the last two years, the government kept on denying the existence of the militants, terming Bangla Bhai's Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB) and other militant organisations as a creation of media. The government banned the JMJB and JMB on February 23 accusing them of series of bomb attacks and killings to create anarchy, eating its own words of denial of their existence. Newspapers investigations found links of both Bangla Bhai and his religious mentor, Abdur Rahman, both of whom are also involved with the JMB, with al-Qaeda and other Taliban leaders and the two told newspapers that they wanted to establish Taliban-like rule in Bangladesh.

    A senior Jamaatul Mujahidin leader, Moniruzzaman Munna, was arrested in Satkhira and reportedly confessed later that he had organised the bomb attack in the south-western district headquarters. The police arrested Munna from Itagachha area in Satkhira town early Thursday on the basis of a statement of Nasiruddin, another Mujaheedin activist. The police arrested Nasiruddin Wednesday afternoon and he had reportedly named Munna as the mastermind of the blast in the district town. Nasiruddin also confessed that he was responsible for the blasts at the Satkhira district judge court.

    Al-Haramain trained militants on how to make, use bombs

    mullahThe banned Islamic charity group, Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, has trained about 500 militants of Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh in the manufacture and use of bombs at an isolated place in Gazipur. Two intelligence agencies, while investigating an orphanage belonging to the organisation after the August 17 chain-bombing, found evidences of training and use of explosives on the soil around the centre. The intelligence agencies reported that a Sudanese national was in control of the centre located inside a forest near Pangshail village of Bhawal Mirzaur. The centre was closed down in November last year following a worldwide ban on the Riyadh-based charity group in 2004 on suspicion of funding the al-Qaeda. The report reveals that the head of the centre, who married a Bangladeshi girl, stayed in the village till the unprecedented chain-bombing throughout the country that left three persons dead and 150 wounded .

    It says that the centre was set amidst groves of trees to hide their activities from nearby people. Though the centre was closed down its building, where the Sudanese used stay with his wife and a few other persons, is still there. The investigators have found out that officials from Revival of Islamic Heritage Society used to visit the centre frequently. The Kuwait-based Islamic organisation is now hurriedly wrapping up after it was discovered that it had funded different Islamist extremist outfits for the cause of Jihad in Bangladesh.

    The report said seven experts on explosives — two each from Sudan and Yemen and three from Pakistan — used to assist the Sudanese to train militants to make various kinds of bombs. ‘The seven persons, who had fought in the Afghan war, left the country on the day of bombing,’ it added.

    Al-Haramain has spent crores of takas for establishing numerous madrassahs and orphanage centres throughout the country after it started working among the Rohingyas of Cox’s Bazar in 1992. Though its area of activity was centred in Cox’s Bazar in the beginning, it gradually spread all over the country before being banned by the government at the end of last year, following a request from the United States and Saudi Arabia. Intelligence agencies said many officials of the charity group are under cover, still working in different Islamic NGOs in Bangladesh, who should be traced out and apprehended to stop their illicit activities (New Age, September 15, 2005).

    The extremist Islamist group, Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh, has been able to set up its explosive wing that is capable of manufacturing a certain type of grenade, which is not as destructive as other sophisticated grenades but is quite deadly. The country’s explosive experts, after examining the recovered bomb-making materials and tools of the workshops, are convinced that a good number of such grenades are already in the hands of the militant group. The grenade, similar to the Austrian-made Arges brand, is being produced by the trained experts of the militant outfit by assembling local and smuggled materials and equipment.

    The militant group, as per its long-standing plan, picked up intelligent youths from different institutions over the years and had them trained in making various kinds of bombs. It provided them all kinds of facilities, from money to materials to well-equipped workshops. Police and intelligence agency sources said that the youths had been sent to India in small groups to be trained. Some experts also came from outside to help them develop their expertise. ‘But it was their determination, passion and above all pressure from the leaders which made them attain a certain level of expertise,’ (New Age. September 21, 2005).

    Jamaatul Mujaheedin Bangladesh

    terroristsJamaatul Mujaheedin Bangladesh, an extremist Islamist organisation banned in February, has warned the government of counteraction if any Muslim is arrested for campaigning for the establishment of Islamic laws in Bangladesh. The warnings came in handbills, attributed to the organisation, which were found at every site of explosion across the country on Wednesday. A series of explosions rocked all the 64 district headquarters.

  • Jamaatul Mujaheedin rejects the existing constitution, the judiciary, and the so-called electoral process that are contradictory to the laws of Allah,’ reads the handbill.
  • ‘People who are against Allah are now running the country. The process, under which the head of the state and other officials are elected, is not in accordance with the Islamic rule.
  • 'Neither the Qur’an nor the Hadith approves democracy or socialism, formulated by Kafirs [non-believers] and Mushriks [pagans].’
  • It calls upon the government, the political parties in treasury and opposition benches in the parliament, the bureaucrats and the judges to ‘establish the rules of Allah on His land’.
  • The US president, George W Bush, the British prime minister, Tony Blair, and their followers ‘will not be safe anywhere in the world if repression on Muslim continues’.
  • The handbill also contains a warning for ‘anti-Islamic NGOs’. ‘Stop anti-Islamic activities in Muslim countries; otherwise, you will be annihilated.’
  • ‘It is the third call for the government to implement Islamic laws. If the government does no implement and arrests any Muslim for campaigning for Islamic laws or unleashes repression on Islamic scholars, Jamaatul Mujaheedin will retaliate,’ says the handbill. ‘Implement Allah’s laws, we will help you. We do not want power; rather, we want divine laws, instead of temporal rule,’ it adds. ‘Otherwise, the organisation will resort to “kittal” [all-out war] for the establishment of the rules of Allah on His land.’ The organisation urged people not to go to existing ‘temporal’ judiciary and go to Islamic scholars for judgement as per the rules of Allah.
  • Those who want to institutionalise democracy in the country are enemies of Islam. The system, formulated by non-believers, divides a nation into government and opposition parties and allows the political parties to harm the people through hartal, strikes, and siege programmes.’
  • The organisation called upon the Islamic Ummah (community) to force every government into establishing Islamic laws in their lands. ‘Establish Islamic government ousting the temporal rulers from the Muslim countries through armed jihad.’

    The bombers are fighting to violently overthrow our entire democratic system of government, which they termed as evil and against Islam. In the accompanying leaflet, the terrorists have clearly stated that they reject the Constitution and all the laws formed under it. The fact that in each district administrative offices and courts were bombed makes it abundantly clear that their target is the very foundation of the state.

    Each one of us in the country -- government, opposition, or neutral -- must today unite behind our common purpose to root out the terrorists and defend our democracy from this unprecedented assault (Editorial, Daily Star, August 18, 2005).

    The joint interrogation cell, meanwhile, started quizzing 32 suspects out of 123, most of them belonging to the Islamist group, at two JIC centres in Baridhara and Uttara on Saturday. Six of them were arrested from Dhaka and 26 from other districts after the wave of blasts. Two of the Mujaheedin activists — Moniruzzaman Munna and Nasiruddin Dafadar — confessed to planting the bombs, claimed the police. They said some other arrested Mujaheedin activists had also made confessions that they had carried out the blasts at the directive of the organisation chief, Shaikh Abdur Rahman, who has been on the run for more than a year (New Age, August 21, 2005).

    RAW behind blasts, claims Nizami

    The Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh amir, Motiur Rahman Nizami, on Saturday accused by name the Research and Analyses Wing of the Indian intelligence of setting up Jamaatul Mujaheedin Bangladesh to unleash militant activities to fit its propaganda offensive against Bangladesh and destabilise the polity. Nizami, a top leader of the BNP-led four-party ruling alliance, also blamed the main opposition Awami League for patronising the little-known Jamaatul Mujaheedin, which was banned along with Jagrata Muslim Janata in February. ‘The Indian intelligence agency RAW created Jamaatul Mujaheedin, which was primarily blamed for conducting the August 17 bomb blasts in Bangladesh,’ Nizami, also the industries minister, told a news conference at his party’s central office in Dhaka. ‘The Awami League is patronising the organisation.’ Nizami also criticised the Indian high commissioner in Dhaka, Veena Sikri, who had told Indian TV channel NDTV that the Islamic organisations, which wanted to rule Bangladesh, had conducted the August 17 blasts (New Age, August 21, 2005).

    Jamaat MP brokered Sarbahara involvement

    A Jamaat-e-Islami lawmaker who is known as the spiritual leader of the party used his ‘good relations’ with a family having both Jamaat and Sarbahara links to involve an outlawed party in the August 17 chain-bombings, intelligence sources claim. Sources close to NSI investigators working on the hunt for militants claimed the agency found that the family had opposed the country’s independence during the liberation war and some of its members later got involved with the outlawed party. Moulana Abdul Wahab had worked as a Razakar — an abettor of Pakistani war crimes — during the war. He was later named Bulbul-e-Bangladesh for the Islamic lectures he delivered across the country after independence (New Age, September 22, 2005).

    Link of Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh with different Islamist militant organisations is becoming evident with the arrest of militants in connection with the attacks on different NGOs in northern districts in February and August 17 countrywide serial bomb blasts. While the Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) leaflets found at all the August 17 bomb blast spots demanded establishment of Islamic rule in the country, the Jamaat chief earlier openly declared that "Islamic rule will be established soon." Jamaat chief and Industries Minister Matiur Rahman Nizami on February 25 told his followers at a public rally at Jaldhaka in Nilphamari, "Wait and see…get ready for directive." A number of arrested militants confessed to having close ties with Jamaat and its front organisations. Moreover, Jamaat, a key constituent of the ruling coalition, has at times worked for the release of many such arrestees, which also prove its connections with the militant groups. Jamaat's intervention and success to free the militants also clearly show that the Islamist party is enjoying administrative support and using government machinery to achieve its target (Daily Star, September 22, 2005).

    Bangla Bhai, head of the killing squad of the banned Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB), had been an active Shibir member until 1995. JMB chief Abdur Rahman and his father were also Jamaat workers. Many in the JMB leadership joined the organisation on special assignments from Jamaat and Shibir. Moreover, statements of the arrestees prove that Jamaat is involved with the JMB one way or the other. Nasiruddin, whom police arrested in Satkhira on August 17 and who first confessed that the JMB carried out the countrywide bomb attacks, told the police that he was a Jamaat worker until 1995.

    The police on Sunday (28.08. 05) raided a suspected training centre of the banned Islamist outfit Jamaatul Mujaheedin Bangladesh at Delduar in Tangail and arrested seven alleged militants. In Jessore, the police recovered a live bomb from a madrassah in the Noapara industrial town Sunday. Police sources said the Islamist militants now started regrouping themselves at different places, particularly in the northern part of the country, following the countrywide blasts on August 17 and subsequently the massive raids by police (New Age, September 29, 2005).

    Jamaat: the enemy within

    The poisonous weed of Jamaat-e-Islami is now threatening to strangle the very vitals of the BNP's banyan tree and getting increasingly bolder with its theocratic and other medieval political and social agenda. While the BNP looked the other way and allowed the Jamaat a free run of the critical areas of the state machine and superstructure and continued to slide into wild West accumulation at all levels, the Jamaat and its cadre organisations have scrupulously ascended to a moral high ground among all the ruling classes, past and present.

    It thought, in the course, that its umbilical cord with religious extremism, its medieval pursuit of a Shariah-based Islamic state and its violence-driven cadre warfare, now clearly directed on the campuses against the BNP's Chhatra Dal's dominance (in Rajshahi and Chittagong in particular) will somehow go unnoticed amid the usual outpourings and shadow-boxing between the BNP and the unrepentant Awami League. And in between the sound and fury, the Jamaat can advance its scheme of blue murder without arousing much suspicion.

    Recent home ministry press notices, appearing almost everyday, are identifying the August 17 bombers or the Jagrata Muslim Janata as closet members of the Jamaat. The extent of the JMJ's or Bangla Bhai's operations of Islamic vigilante terrorism till recent times would not have been possible without the organisational networks of these fringe terrorists both within and outside the government. The sheer spectacularity of the August 17 synchronised bombings in all district headquarters except one was the function of one such network within and inside the state apparatus, and now by evidence the Jamaat's organisational hierarchy. The cabal of the militants of the Jamaat variants is allowed to stay secure in the Jamaat's elaborate organisational closets - unleashed at the time of its choosing of an Islamic revolution, or for killer purposes or for pushing ahead with the strategic plan of back to the era of darkness. It must ask the Jamaat leadership to explain its organisational involvement in Islamist terror. There is no other organisation on the Islamic side which can provide a safe haven to the JMJ-JMB-Bangla Bhai elements. Why blame India or the United States when the enemy lurks within? ( Enayetullah Khan, Holiday, September 22, 2005).

    JMB leaflets call for agitation to free activists

    Jmaatul Mujahidin Bangladesh (JMB), an outlawed outfit of religious zealots, is now sending leaflets to schools, colleges, madrashas, Imams of mosques and others in Daulatpur, calling for launching agitation to free three of its activists, arrested after the August 17 serial bomb blasts. The arrested persons are Shamsul Alam, Akbar and Nizam Uddin Inu, all hailing from Kishorinagar village in Daulatpur upazila. Of them, Shamsul was a 'regional leader' of the outfit and directly involved in the August 17 bomb explosions in Kushtia district, according to police.

    arrested bgm - member"Why the people of Daulatpur are silent while three of your brothers struggling to establish an Islamic state are passing inhuman life in jail?", the leaflets said. It also called upon the people to send their children to madrasas instead of 'modern schools and colleges' so that they can take lesson only on Islam. The leaflets also urged teachers of educational institutions to teach students about Islam. The distribution of leaflets has created panic in the area because it is widely believed by local people that a large number of JMB activists are active in the area. The activists had earlier asked local people to join them, sources there said (Daily Star, August 31, 2005).

    Agency reports militant camps in Sundarbans Combing operation begins; 16 more held

    location-mangrove forestLaw enforcers have started a combing operation in the Sundarbans to find out the hideouts of Islamist militants after intelligence reports revealed that militants were trained up in several training camps in deep forest. Meanwhile, 16 more suspects of the August 17 countrywide serial bomb blasts, including Abdul Mannan, a convicted fugitive leader of the banned militant outfit Harkatul Jihad (Huji), and Waliullah, a prime coordinator of the August 17 bomb attacks, were arrested in the last 24 hours ending at 1:00pm yesterday. Our staff correspondent from Khulna informs quoting intelligence sources that some top Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) leaders used to visit the training camps in the Sundarbans. One Major (retd) Jainul Abedin in the guise of a fisherman used to give military training to JMB activists at these camps in the deep forest (Daily Star, August 31, 2005).

    Inside the Militant Groups - Trained in foreign lands, they spread inland

    A deep pocket filled by oil rich hands, virtually unrelenting access to arms, an insidious nexus with mainstream political parties and the government's blind eye to them -- the deadly concoction that have made it possible for the religious terrorist groups to thrive in Bangladesh. The Daily Star investigation spread over several months has found over 30 religious militant organisations have set up their network across the country since 1989 with the central objective of establishing an Islamic state. Many of them have given armed training to their members to conduct jihad.

    These militant organisations are Harkatul Jihad, Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), Jagrata Muslim Janata, Bangladesh (JMJB), Islami Biplobi Parishad, Shahadat Al Hiqma, Hizbut Towhid, Hizb-ut-Tahrir, Ahle Hadith Andolon, Towhidi Janata, Bishwa Islami Front, Juma'atul Sadat, Al Jomiatul Islamia, Iqra Islami Jote, Allahr Dal, Al Khidmat Bahini, Al Mujhid, Jama'ati Yahia Al Turag, Jihadi Party, Al Harkat al Islamia, Al Mahfuz Al Islami, Jama'atul Faladia, Shahadat-e-Nabuwat, Joish-e-Mostafa, Tahfize Haramaine Parishad, Hizbul Mojahedeen, Duranta Kafela and Muslim Guerrilla. Many of their activists are Afghanistan and Palestinian war veterans who fought there after receiving training in Pakistan, Libya and Palestine. After returning to Bangladesh, these militants scattered over the country and started militant activities since the early 1990s.

    According to intelligence agencies, about 7,000 members from different organisations including the Freedom Party were trained in Libya in the early 1980s and 1990s. Sources said over 200 Bangladeshi Jihadis were killed and 500 wounded in battles in Afghanistan, Lebanon and Palestine.

    When they returned from foreign frontiers, a number of them set up madrasas as cover, mainly toeing the Qwami line, which is the more orthodox system of Islamic education and needs no government registration. They chose the forests of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, mosques and the Qwami madrasas mainly in the north to train their activists. They also set up their network in Dhaka, starting from Kamrangir-char, and later spreading to Kafrul, Adabar, Shekhertek, Basila and Demra.

    Operating under different names, the groups maintain close contact with each other. Although the intelligence agencies had made various reports on these militant groups and recommended their bans, the government remained mysteriously silent since 2002. Rather, some militants arrested at various places with evidence of subversive activities got free as the cases against them were not properly pursued.

    Although the government did not admit the existence of any extremist organisations, it banned Shahadat Al Hiqma on February 9, 2003, and Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB) and Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) on February 23 this year.


    In the wake of the recent bomb blasts, The Daily Star investigation found most JMB and JMJB leaders were in the past members of the Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS), the student front of ruling coalition partner Jamaat-e-Islami Bangla-desh. Sources said the militants hide their identity by using the names of different organisations. Many have joined the Tablig Jamaat, the religious movement supposed to be non-violent and non-political. Whenever the militant groups come under police suspicion, they quickly change name to continue their activities. The JMB is a case in point that has so far changed names 18 times, intelligence sources said.

    By their own claims, the militant groups have some 10 lakh members across the country. An intelligence report says about 80,000 of them took training in arms and explosives. Only the JMB has 10,000 full-timers, 1 lakh part-timers and 10 lakh trainees. JMJB leader Bangla Bhai on May 12 last year claimed in an interview with The Daily Star that he has over 30,000 activists working in 57 districts. Hizbut Towhid boasts of 1 lakh members while Al Hiqma Chairman Syed Kawsar Hossain Siddiki on February 8, 2003 claimed he has over 36,000 trained members. Harkat-ul Jihad (Huji) has over 25,000 trained activists, according to some Huji men. But intelligence source says the claim is exaggerated and the organisation has around 15,000 members who are now working for different Islamic parties after crackdown on the group in 1999.

    The militant members come from a varied spectrum -- several teachers of Dhaka University, Rajshahi University, Chittagong University, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet), Kushtia Islamic University, North South University, and Victoria University are involved with these militant groups, mainly looking after finances, public relations, and foreign connections. Each group has various wings -- the largest looking after publicity and recruitment, the wing that takes armed training is comparatively small. Another branch works as 'intelligence wing', mixing up with the common people and activists of other parties and attending political and cultural programmes (Zayadul Ahsan, Daily Star, Augst 21, 2005).

    Extremists get trained in armed combat

    On January 22, 2001, Chittagong police held Salumullah Selim, a 45-year-old man, from a residence in the port city. On interrogation, they learned the true nature of his identity -- he is the army chief of an Arakan militant outfit called Arakan Rogingya National Organisation (ARNO). Records showed he was previously arrested in 2000. More quizzing brought out further startling information. He admitted to police that he trained local madrasa students in armed combat. According to him, more trainers from African and Middle Eastern countries frequently visit Bangladesh to train local Islamist militants. Away in the forest of Bandarban, police followed a narrow trail through rows of betel nut trees. The forest, about 25km from the town, was dense and dark. One had to walk for two and a half hours and cross two streams and hillocks to reach a thatched structure.

    The hut is a madrasa. Boys take religious lessons during the day; night turns it into a militant camp to train the same madrasa students in arms and explosives. This was one of the many madrasas that militants use as training centres. Three of them were sealed by the government after police raids found dummy rifles for training. They have mustered enough capability to create a dangerous situation, a Special Branch report in 2003 warned. A more revealing comment came from Sayed Kawsar Husain Siddiki, chairman of now banned militant group Shahadat Al Hiqma. On February 8, 2003, he said in a press conference in Rajshahi that Hiqma arranges arms training to its members. "Our commando fighters can conduct an attack at any place in 24 hours," Kawsar boasted. He was later arrested in a sedition case for making the comments.

    Intelligence agencies have reported the presence of militant camps in Ramu, Ukhia, Mongkhola, Dalujhiri, Chhagalnaiya and Jarulchhari. In the northern districts, such training is given at night along different rivers. Another militant, Abdur Rouf, arrested at Boalmari in Faridpur on September 19, 2003, also admitted taking training from Pakistan and working as a trainer at a madrasa at Bhaluka in Mymesingh. He was later released on bail.

    Modes of training

    Police arrested 11 suspected Islamic militants, including an infamous adherent of Bangla Bhai's Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB), and two Rajshahi University (RU) students at a training camp some 15km off Rajshahi city on July 19. Police seized diaries from their possession that detailed training methods, descriptions of sophisticated arms and also contained revolutionary Islamic slogans and songs, some of them anti-US. The descriptions included the operations of the AK-47 rifle, how it works, its target range, the distances from which it can kill and injure a man. Police described the revelations as 'a scary matter for the investigators'.

    The diaries also described different types of detonators, their construction and operation, and where the bomb-making materials can be found. The notes also mentioned commonly used arms in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Russia. "Such lessons are not even given to police and the BDR [Bangladesh Rifles]," commented a highly placed source in the law enforcement agencies. One of the songs says: "

    Mother, I will die for Allah (in Jihad).
    I will kill and I will die.
    I will not listen to anyone.
    I must attack US dens repeatedly."

    Another said: "Awami League and BNP are two snakes and they are the same. Supporting them is a foolish act." According to police, the militants are trained in crossing war fields, and instructed what to do when they are shot or taken for police interrogation.

    "They are even taught to sense the presence of other persons in their sleep. They have instructions not to possess unnecessary information about colleagues to avoid chain arrests," said a police source. Arms and supplies. That the claims of the seized diaries are not empty was proven when police recovered both arms and explosives from militants at different places. The arrestees also admitted having links with international arms dealers and smugglers.

    On March 11, 2003, police recovered time bombs, detonators, petrol bombs, high-powered RDX explosives, bomb manufacturing equipment, audio recorders, mobile phones, cameras, several hundred cassettes, books on the operations of 200 militant groups and their donation receipts, and electronic wires from a Chapainawabganj house of a Jamaat leader rented by five Jama'atul Muhahideen Bangladesh (JMB) members. The recovery also included some books written by Maulana Masud Azahar, a close associate of Laden. On November 11 last year, 24 bombs made of gelatin and over 100 detonators were seized from 3 militants at Gaibandha.

    When Rogingya militant Salimullah Selim was arrested, he admitted to bringing in a cache of 200 AK-47s through Maheshkhali in 1994. A police case report said he gave the arms to criminals, including the cadres of Jamaat and Shibir. The JMB fought an overnight gun battle with police on August 14, 2003 when the law enforcers raided a militant training camp. The militants overpowered the police and took away three rifles and a wireless set from the law enforcers. According to intelligence reports, the militants buy arms from rebel groups in India, Myanmar, Pakistan, Thailand and China, which then come to Bangladesh by road and sea routes (Z. Ahsan, Daily Star, august 23, 2005).


    What is moderate Islam? The answer to that is there is no such thing, because accepting that terminology would also mean accepting the notion of ‘immoderate Islam’ or ‘terrorist Islam’. It would have been fair if the Americans had looked at ‘moderate Hinduism’ or ‘moderate Zionism’, but since that is not the case the arguments and logic for ‘moderate Islam’ are no longer relevant. What the Americans don’t know in their ignorance is that Islam is Islam, and the various connotations of Islam serve a purpose which has got more to do with US domestic and foreign policy and their multifarious dimensions rather than understanding its ‘new enemy’ Islam, again an overblown hate agenda of its Free Masonic media.

    Those arguing the daylight out of the ‘Talibanization’ of Bangladesh haven’t the foggiest notion about the country’s pluralistic society, and neither do they have any idea of insurrection, guerrilla warfare or revolution. The Talibans could only ride out of the rough-hewn villages in Afghanistan to capture State power because they had the solid backing of Pakistan, and to a large degree the US media that was fed up with the failures of the American backed ‘jihad’ that saw warlords at the helm of affairs. They also had the support of their Islamic neighbours.

    The conditions in Bangladesh are quite unfavourable for a Taliban-like uprising because the essence of guerrilla warfare is to ensure both internal and external supply and support bases. With a ‘fundamentalist Hindu’ India and Buddhist Myanmar on both flanks, the Muslims of Bangladesh, while being demographically a ‘majority community’ in Bangladesh, are actually a minority who will get no external assistance and no over-the-border bases.

    The ‘geographical minority’ of the subcontinent, the Muslims of Bangladesh, are thankfully not so naïve, neither do they believe that the Jamaat-e-Islam are the ‘sole agents’ for Allah or Islam, as the AL is no sole agent for the ‘War of Liberation’, and as the BNP is no ‘sole agent’ for Bangladeshi Nationalism (Maqsoodul Haque, Hoiliday, 2005).

    Where Is The Mastermind?

    What is it about Bangladesh that bombs explode without leaving any clues? The only rational explanation can be that the administration does not want to know. Ignorance is bliss, as they say. So far the government response has been lukewarm. There cannot be any doubt that Islamic fundamentalists with an agenda to promote Islamic revolution in the country were behind the blasts. They should be the prime suspects as the accompanying leaflets say so. Assuming that those leaflets were planted would be second hunch. By emphasizing the lesser chance the administration is trying to shield the real culprits. This will make the government an accessory to the crime. Is that what the government wants?

    To say that the more than five hundred near-simultaneous bombings were a case of intelligence failure will be an understatement given the enormity of the incidents that involved all but one of the sixty-four districts of the country. It was a failure of epic proportions that cannot admit of any excuse. The government will have to take the entirety of the blame for this failure.

    We are horrified, flabbergasted, awestruck and confounded by the utter incompetence and failures of our security apparatus. It will not be an exaggeration to suggest that those that are entrusted to ensure our security jeopardized it. We are similarly worried to see the operational proficiency of the perpetrators of the 17 Aug bombings, nearly five hundred of whom managed to evade the eyes of the SB, NSI, DGFI, local police intelligence, and other intelligence apparatuses in Bangladesh, and carry out the attacks. The fact that almost five hundred bombings were carried out must have involved very thorough and laborious logistics and planning. This was not planned overnight, certainly not in seven days. This must have also involved no less than five hundred ground operators, not to speak of the many that were involved in the planning and preparation stages. The whole operations involved movement of men and material over many days to almost five hundred different places and set off in very precisely synchronised a manner.

    Only last year there was the biggest arms haul in our country, which still remains a mystery, insofar as its destination, source and the brain behind the operation were concerned. August 21 grenade attacks, where 21 people were killed, remain unsolved. Apparently, no action beyond a so-called judicial inquiry has been taken in this regard. Given this background, the failure of our intelligence agencies to get a wind of the operation is as puzzling as deserving a thorough inquest into the affairs of our intelligence apparatus (Daily Star, August 19, 2005).

    Nobody wants the end of constitutional rule in this country but one cannot afford to have people harboring criminals. This way the government is not only endangering itself but also the state. If the government cannot do anything which is credible evidence of tracking the criminals it will be responsible for abetting crime. A mature political system must have the self-correcting mechanism of purging those who transgress the law however powerful they are. If it does not only anarchy will prevail. The near simultaneity of the explosions throughout the country would indicate a sophisticated organization of those who were behind the blasts. It is unimaginable that teenage madrassa students carried out the carnage without any help from more sophisticated people. The level of expertise indicates that they are professionals wherever they were trained. There cannot be many people with that kind of background in this country and the government cannot claim that they do not know.

    It is incredible. The most likely possibility is that they do not want to know and they want to pass on the buck to somebody else. This will not work this time. The whole world has taken note of the existence of such a militant outfit and nobody will leave it there as the implications reach beyond our borders (The Bangladesh Observer, August 19. 2005).

    Background of JMB

    Abdur Rahman's name came up in the media on quite a few occasions. He is believed to have been to Pakistan and Afghanistan, where he took military training. JMB, when established in 1998 in Jamalpur, had a different name. Its name was Kitaal. The name was, however, changed and the new name Al-Jamaatul Jihad remained intact until 2000. Towards the end of 2000 it took the name of Jamaatul Mujahidden. By 2001, JMB spread its network across a vast area under Joypur, Dinajpur, Bogura, Gaibandha, Natore, Thakurgaon, Rangpur and Jamalpur districts. Its militant activities were operated very clandestinely but still common people of these areas got to know about this organisation. Abdur Rahman is the son of Abdullah Ibne Fazal of Charshi village under Jamalpur Sadar Upazila. Fazal was a renowned leader of Ahle Hadith and until his death he was against his son's creating a militant organisation. Dr. Asadullah Al Galib, a professor at RU, who is in jail now, is also believed to be the spiritual leader of Ahle Hadith. Bangla Bhai alias Siddiqur Rahman is the operation commander of Ahle Hadith's North Bengal chapter. In fact in April, Bangla Bhai launched his operations in Rajshahi's Bagmara and Naoga's Raninagar and Aatrai where more than 50 people were brutally beaten to death under the name of Jamaatul Mujahidden. But after around a week the name was changed to Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB). Both JMB and JMJB were banned on February 23 this year.

    10 Islamist NGOs funding militancy

    Intelligence agencies have identified 10 Islamist non-government organisations that are channelling funds to various Islamist extremist outfits and fuelling Islamic militancy in Bangladesh. A report of the intelligence agencies, submitted to the home ministry a week after the August 17 chain-bombing, suggested vigilant monitoring of the activities of these organisations and taking strict action against them. The organisations are Revival of the Islamic Heritage Society, Rabita Al Alam Al Islami, Society of Social Reforms, Qatar Charitable Society, Al Muntada Al Islami, Islamic Relief Agency, Al Forkan Foundation, International Relief Organisation, Kuwait Joint Relief Committee and the Muslim Aid Bangladesh.

    All these organisations are based in different Middle Eastern countries and have been active in Bangladesh for years. The report recommended immediate banning of the Revival of Islamic Heritage Society. The report was prepared by three intelligence agencies — the National Security Intelligence, the Special Branch of police and the Defence Forces Intelligence — after a six-month investigation of the Islamic NGOs working in Bangladesh.

    The investigators found that more than 100 foreigners, from different Middle East and African countries, have been working in the organisations illegally. ‘They came to Bangladesh with tourist visas and joined the organisations without getting work permits,’ said the report. The report said that no government agencies, not even the Bureau of NGO Affairs, were aware of the illegal foreigners who had been staying in the country for years (New Age, September 08, 2005)

    Islamic NGOs withdrew huge cash from banks before Aug 17, 2005

    The Detective Branch (DB) of police has detected more than fifty bank accounts belonging to different local and foreign Islamic NGOs, madrasas and found personal accounts of some Islamic leaders of different political parties, from which a huge amount of money were transacted during May and June this year, a highly placed source said . Intelligence agencies suspect that the money, which was withdrawn from the bank accounts, might have been used in August 17 countrywide bombings.

    Following the confessional statements of arrested militants the members of intelligence agencies with the help of some bank officials found the bank accounts, sources said. During the interrogation some militants of Tangail, Satkhira, Khulna, Jamalpur, Rajshahi, Chittagong, Feni, Khagrachhari, Bandarban and Gazipur in Dhaka, told the interrogators that they received training on how to handle sophisticated arms from different madrasas, sources added. According to sources, the militants also disclosed some names of their leaders who were involved with different Islamic NGOs and Madrasas in the city and elsewhere in the country.

    During the thorough search in different banks they found some accounts from which a huge amount of money was transacted during the last six months which they called abnormal transaction. The intelligence agencies are keeping strong vigilance in the activities of the local and foreign NGOs and Madrasas and also the activities of the leaders (The Independent, September 17, 2005).

    Banned Harkatul Jihad still active

    The detailed report of the activities of Harkatul Jihad, a religious extremist organisation, published in the local print media the other day, is not only alarming but also raises serious questions. Apparently an organisation that had been operating in the country for as long as 17 years was banned by the administration about four months back, and yet it continues to carry on with its activities freely. That many of the local religious schol-ars have openly declared their affiliation with this or-ganisation makes us feel more concerned. Whereas the present administration is high with its claims of raging a war against the extremists, it is not understandable why it seems indifferent towards Harkatul Jihad. Such attitude raises suspicion.

    One might ask with regard to the relative successes of the government in catching the JMB top rankers and its proud declaration, whether or not it was diverting pub-lic attention at gaining the much needed support for itself at this juncture of politics.

    The government simply must realise certain facts: that the kind of religious ter-rorism we are facing is part of the worldwide phenome-non; that the battle against this scourge is a continuous one; that it is an issue if left unattended may turn to the regime itself whenever there is an opportunity. People who run such organisations have a distinct agenda of their own backed by their highest level of commitment and absolute dedication. They are no ordinary crimi-nals in the traditional sense of the term. Mere rhetoric on honest intentions and so-called successes achieved here and there will not either scare or drive them away. In that we fail to understand how a banned organisa-tion is allowed to continue its recruitment, training and despatch of personnel to places abroad.

    It is our impression that two things are evidently missing in the administration's efforts with regard to dealing with the religious terrorists; first it has not dealt the matter at organisational level and secondly it has not probed the source and free flow of their funding. The administration must be mindful of such serious flaws so that it does not fail to stem the rot, (Editorial, Daily Star, June 24, 2006).

    'Top Bangladeshi militant' held

    Islam had been sentenced to 40 years in prison in absentia Security officials in Bangladesh say they have arrested a top Islamic militant leader after a gun battle in a northern district. Siddiqul Islam, alias Bangla Bhai, of the outlawed Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen (JMB) was captured at his hideout in Mymensingh district, the police said. Last week, JMB leader Abdur Rahman surrendered to police in north-eastern Sylhet district. Officials blame the group for a wave of bombings that have left many dead.

    The BBC's Roland Buerk says Bangla Bhai came into prominence in 2004 when his group, Jagrata Muslim Janata (Vigilant Muslim Citizens), launched a reign of terror in the north of the country. He and the local authorities allegedly fought the Maoist rebels and imposed a strict interpretation of Islamic law - forcing women to wear burqas and men to grow beards. Recently the government said Islam was the second most important leader in the JMB. In February, a Bangladeshi court sentenced Islam, Rahman and two others accused of Islamic militancy to 40 years in prison in absentia for a bomb attack that killed two judges last year.

    Last August,2005, some 500 bombs were set off in all but one of Bangladesh's 64 districts in the space of an hour. Three people were killed and about 100 injured. A number of subsequent bomb attacks have targeted judges and court rooms. More than 100 cases have been filed against alleged members of the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen in connection with the bombing campaign. The militant group has been demanding the introduction of Sharia law in the country (BBC, Monday, 6 March 2006, 10:09 GMT).

    After Abdur Rahman was arrested, Bangla Bhai was labeled the "next target" of the Bangladeshi government's crackdown on Islamist terrorists. Abdur Rahman and Bangla Bhai are believed to be the masterminds behind the well-coordinated bombing attacks across Bangladesh in 2005, where hundreds of bombs detonated within one hour of each other in all of Bangladesh's administrative districts save one. The attacks appear to have waken up the people of Bangladesh to the threat of Islamist extremism in their country, and the government of Bangladesh, while often accused of being blind to the threat, has made two very important arrests in the span of a week.

    VIP Treatment For Shaikh, Bangla Bhai

    America learns of Bangla Bhai by Author: Kanchan Gupta
    The Next Islamist Revolution? By ELIZA GRISWOLD Published in New York Times: January 23, 2005

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    8. Govt fears further JMB attacks Law enforcers alerted about militants' regrouping

    The government has alerted law enforcement and intelligence agencies to step up vigilance across the country following information that Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) militants are reorganising themselves under different banners. According to the alert buzz, operatives of the banned Islamist outfit JMB, which shook the whole nation with waves of bomb attacks since August last year, might go for further attacks at any place anytime.

    Reports from of our correspondents said the militants are trying to regroup in haor and beel areas of northern and north-eastern regions after a downturn in their activities due to arrest of most of their top leaders. Sources said the government move for extra alert came after it received reports from intelligence agencies that JMB operatives are reorganising themselves at different places in the country.

    The information itself appeared a wake up call for the government as it claimed credit on many occasions through statements at home and abroad that it has successfully tackled the militancy menace. The home ministry early this week sent urgent cyber message (coded message) to all deputy commissioners (DCs) and superintendents of police (SPs) to strengthen intelligence activities to track down where the militants are regrouping.

    The DCs and SPs then sat with the upazila nirbahi officers, officials of District Special Branch and Detective Branch and officers-in-charge of police stations in their areas, and asked them to trace militant activities. In the wake the August 17 countrywide bomb attacks last year, the people, just as the law enforcers, wanted capture of the militants, especially the top ones, as militancy appeared to be the most dangerous menace.

    The panic climaxed as JMB suicide bombers carried out blasts in different districts to destroy the existing democratic order and to publicise their vendetta. The people had a sigh of relief as the law enforcers captured JMB chief Abdur Rahman, the other top leader Siddiqul Islam alias Bangla Bhai and five other members of Majlish-e-Shura, the highest policy-making body of the militant outfit.

    But many other top JMB leaders, Ehsars (who are recruited on full time basis and act at the directives of their superiors), Gayeri Ehsars (part-timers), members of the suicide squads and their district level leaders are still outside the security dragnet.

    Sources said these JMB men are now reorganising their workers across the country, especially in the northern and north-eastern regions (The Daily Star, July 27, 2006).

    Concern over rapid growth of NGO sector

    A World Bank report on non-government organisations (NGO) of the country has expresses concern over the rapid growth and diversification of the NGO sector. The Bank in the report that was made public on Thursday, also stressed the need for ensuring accountability and transparency of the NGOs.

    It also reveals that around 70 per cent of private charitable contributions in Bangladesh go to religious institutions, with educational establishments (15 per cent), a distant second followed by recreational events.

    "Most NGO advocacy focuses on issues affecting the poor, and is seen as fully legitimate (e.g. violence against women, dowry, land rights, access to justice, housing, education). However, recently a few NGOs were accused of stretching their advocacy work into partisan political activity and electioneering, and funding for their service delivery programmes was sequestered as a result. As Government funding for NGO services grows in importance, NGOs are less likely to want to antagonise Government," the report said.

    Hence the more prominent advocacy-oriented NGOs tend to be involved only slightly in direct service activities, and large, multi-activity NGOs tend to avoid issues that could seriously antagonise government. Nevertheless even without taking on contentious issues such as human rights and electoral reform, there are plenty of low-key advocacy activities that multi-activity NGOs engage in that are of significant benefit to the poor (e.g. RDRS’s campaigns on violence against women and promoting access to resources by the poor).

    It is quite ironic that at the same time that it has been exercising such strict control over non-religiously affiliated NGOs, that the government has been so lax in its oversight of the religiously affiliated NGOs -- specifically Islamic NGOs. As a result, these entities have been given a virtual free pass, and have been able to run with only minimal governmental oversight and supervision. There are 34 Islamic NGOs currently registered with the NGO bureau and funded from abroad. However, the oversight over these entities remains negligible. In addition, there are several hundred NGOs that are registered with the social welfare department, which has neither the resources nor the inclination to keep a tab on their activities. These NGOs are barely scrutinised, and little or no record of their activities is maintained. In light of recent events, now is the time for a comprehensive policy to regulate such NGOs. There is no justification for the fact that they are subject to less scrutiny than regular NGOs. This type of scrutiny should have been undertaken long ago. Better late than never ( Daily Star, September 01, 2005).

    Bangladesh better remain an example for Islamic world'

    The United States has said that it would like to see Bangladesh remain a moderate democratic country as an example for the rest of the Islamic world. Talking with leaders of Indian industry here Thursday on the situation in South Asia, US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Christina Rocca said, "In Bangladesh, we seek a country that overcomes poverty and consistently remains a moderate democratic Muslim polity as an example for the rest of the Islamic world."

    She recalled US Secretary of State Colin Powell's words that "Bangladesh's democracy, Bangladesh's economic progress, Bangladesh's friendship and Bangladeshi people -- all matter to us" and said "I know India also shares that view." Rocca also touched on the situation in Pakistan, Nepal and Afghanistan and saw a joint role for India and the United States to help Nepal ward away threats of Maoist violence and re-establish democratic institutions in the Himalayan Kingdom. (Pallab Bhattacharya, New Delhi, The Daily Star, Sept 13, 2003).

    The US government has described Bangladesh as “a valued partner” in the “war on terror”. “With the fourth largest Muslim population in the world, Bangladesh is a valued partner in the war on terror, a moderate voice in regional and international fora, and a leading contributor to UN peacekeeping missions,” Assistant secretary of state Christina Rocca told the US House of Representatives committee on international relations on June 22. “Yet political rivalries and one of the most significant corruption problems in the world threaten democratic stability and impede economic growth” in Bangladesh, she said. (New Age, 24. 06. 04)

    Charge d’ Affaires of the US embassy Judith Chammas yesterday termed Bangladesh a moderate and tolerant society which has the potential for taking a leading role in South Asia as the country is pre-dominantly Muslim. The US diplomat was speaking at a seminar on "America’s Role in Asia" jointly organised by The Asia Foundation and Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI) (The Independent, November 24, 2004).

    Prophetic Traditions

    Muslims were encouraged to seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave. Here below are some Prophetic Traditions regarding the importance of learning:

  • To seek knowledge is a religious duty for every Muslim man and woman.
  • The best treasure is the pursuit of knowledge, the prayers of worthy men, and the friendship of agreeable brothers.
  • Knowledge of God is my capital. Reason is the root of my faith.
  • Knowledge is a treasure house whose keys are queries.
  • One who treads a path in search of knowledge has his path to Paradise made easy by Allah thereby.
  • A person who goes (out of his house) in search of knowledge, he is on Allah’s way and he remains so till he returns.
  • To seek knowledge for one hour at night is better than keeping it (night) awake.
  • A Muslim is never satiated in his quest for good (knowledge) till it ends in paradise.
  • A learned person is superior to a worshipper as the full moon is superior to all the stars. The scholars are heirs of the prophets and the prophets do not leave any inheritance in the shape of dirhams and dinars (wealth), but they do leave knowledge as their legacy. As such a person who acquires knowledge acquires his full share.
  • A scholar who is asked about something (about the religion) and he conceals it, such a person will be bridled on the Day of Judgment with a bridle of fire
  • The word of wisdom is [like] the lost property of a wise man. So wherever he finds it, he is entitled to it.

    When the prophetic mission of Muhammad (S) started, there were only a handful of Arabs who could read and write. But within a short period of time, following the Prophetic encouragement, many Arabs became literate. (The educated prisoners of wars from the opposing camp could buy their freedom from imprisonment by educating Muslim children.) The caliphs that followed were all literate men, some even literary men of distinction, who were munificent patrons of education. The process did not stop there, it continued even during the Umayyad and Abbasid periods and then to those who came later, ending with the Ottomans. To believe otherwise would only reflect one’s prejudice or ignorance.

    The Qur’an, as we submitted above, gave a great impetus to learning, especially in the field of natural science; and if, as some scholars have declared, the inductive method, to which all the practical modern discoveries are primarily owing, can be traced to it, then it may be called the foundation of modern scientific and material progress. The Prophet of Islam, to whom the Qur’an was revealed, was a great patron of learning and so were those Muslims who ruled later the vast territories of Islam. Islam, the religion of free thought, is not against science nor against progress. It cannot be blamed for the current pitiable state of Muslim nation-states. The causes for decline lie elsewhere (Dr. Habib Siddiqui, West Chester, Pennsylvania, USA, 2005).

    The Bengalis became muslim through liberal sufi muslims

    Bangladesh is one of the poorest and most densely populated (750 person per sq. km) countries of the world, and one of the most prone to natural disasters, which accounts for hundreds of thousands of deaths and billion dollars of crop and property damage. It is a country little larger than England, contains at present about 114 million people and expected to grow to 342 million by the year 2150 (FAO, 1990). Per capita annual income in Bangladesh is about US $184. The majority of the population is living below the poverty line. Bangladesh is caught in a vicious cycle of poverty, resource and environmental depletion and ill health. Three-quarters of the population, especially women and children, are ill and malnourished. The status of women is very low in Bangladesh. It is only one of four countries of the world where more girls than boys die below the age of five. High levels of chronic disability and severe malnutrition are common in Bangladesh. Per-capita public expenditure on education and health services are amongst the lowest in the world .

    This poor agro-based small country has developed over the centuries an excellent social situation based on humanism and secular thought. In 1986 Prof. Alan Dundes of the University of California, Berkeley wrote: "Bangladesh may be one of the poorest nations on the face of the earth, but I can tell you from the folklorist's perspective, it is clearly one of the richest."

    Quality Of Life

    As the country's focus is on the political turmoil, most of us have chosen not to promote—or are forced to do so—the issues that should have been the centrepiece of our national attention. Misplaced priorities have brought in some artificial and skewed affluence but the overwhelming large majority of the population have been deprived of the amenities needed for a decent living. Both national politics and global economy have been inimical to the poor and the down-trodden. The Social Watch, a network of citizens from different countries across the world, confirms the fact in its latest report released on Saturday. According to the report, Bangladesh ranks 164th among the 173 countries under scrutiny and fifth in South Asia on the Quality of Life Index (QLI).

    Economic and social justice is a challenging task for all governments but it is specially so for the developing countries. If a country like Bangladesh did have the right leadership and politicians who did not keep them busy only with building their own fortunes, the prospect of the majority would not have come to a dead end. One of the reasons why the country has failed to live up to its expectation is the failure of the politicians to plan with its human resources. Investment in the population for fulfilling its needs and also contributing to the task of nation-building has been extremely low (Editorial; The Bangladesh Observer,October 4, 2004).

    Patently, the Islamist militants in Bangladesh are a political, and not a religious, outfit bent upon making a profession of gathering money and power. And like many other entities in this country, they are a poor and miserable lot drawn from the particularly backward segments of the community, bereft of sophistication in respect of both ideology and organisation. These militants have been operating with covert political support from powers that be and thriving on the backwardness of the society.

    Ideologically, the state of Bangladesh came into being through a struggle for national liberation, which was essentially secular in character. Discarding the two-nation theory based on religion, the liberation movement accepted language as the primary basis of nationalism. This failure to give Bengali the status and function so very necessary for us in our onward journey of progress and prosperity has contributed to the recession in our secular national pride and patriotism. Language goes beyond the divides of class and religion; and the fact that Bengali is not being used in all spheres and levels of national life is a clear indication of the persistence of, indeed of the rise in, class separation between the rich and the poor. And this separation also helps Islamist militancy in its growth -- the militants are poor and they take pride in calling themselves Muslims, downgrading their Bengali identity.

    In accordance to the ideology of Muktijuddho (freedom war), Bangladesh ought to be a secular democratic state. However, looking at the political landscape today, it is difficult to declare Bangladesh as a secular democratic state, rather Bangladesh seems to swing right, with all our politicians using varying degrees of religious sentiments in order to meet political imperatives

    We need to go back to the history of medieval Bengal to understand the complicated and collaborative interaction between Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism in the region to understand the unique brand Perso-Turk Islam that had spread in this region. It is in accordance with a historical understanding of Islam in this region that we have to condemn and fight the religious extremists of today. It is this understanding of Islam that has to be given a historical space as one of the elements of our national identity in order to resist the political forces of today which are attempting to establish a very specific, restrictive, and exclusionary understanding of Islam as the ruling ideology of our nation (R. Hossain, 2006).

    Death Sentence

    A Barisal court on May 29 awarded death sentence to JMB chief Abdur Rahman, his deputy Siddiqul Islam alias Bangla Bhai and five other militants and acquitted one in the sensational Jhalakathi judges' killing case. The others to walk the gallows are JMB Majlish-e-Shura members Ataur Rahman Sunny, Abdul Awal and Khaled Saifullah, suicide bom- bers Iftekhar Hasan Al Mamun and Asadur Rahman Arif. Of them, Arif is still at large. Immediately after the lower court's verdict, the government took steps for quick disposal of the militants' death reference case as over 500 cases still await paper book (History of the case) preparation and death reference hearing in the HC.

    Currently, paper books are being prepared for the cases of 2003. If the paper book for the Jhalakathi case were prepared in the usual manner, HC hearing on death sentences of the militants would not be held before 2009. According to the government instructions, the attorney general's office in June petitioned the HC to give priority to preparation of the paper book for the death reference case. The HC granted the prayer on June 15. After completion of the paper book, the government moved to the death reference bench for hearing of the case.

    JMB Leaders' Death Sentence Execution possible in last 72 hours of govt

    arrested JMB leaders

    The five Islamist militants can be executed in the last 72 hours before the present government hands over power to the caretaker government on October 28, prisons officials said despite the law minister's speech that the execution will not be done during the Ramadan. The prisons authorities said the execution is possible during the present government's tenure if the militants do not appeal against the verdict or seek mercy from the president. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court (SC) registrar in a letter yesterday asked the jail authorities to stay the execution of Iftekhar Mamun following his jail appeal against the High Court's death penalty.

    The High Court had upheld the death sentence delivered by the lower court against seven militants of Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) for their involvement in Jhalakathi judges killing. Of the seven, one has been absconding, while others are in jail. Law Minister Moudud Ahmed, who on Monday said the death sentence cannot be executed during the Ramadan, also said yesterday they are examining whether the government order circulated in this connection in 1982 is still in effect.

    However, prisons sources said only the jail authorities have the jurisdiction to fix the date for execution of the convicts (Daily Star, 27 September, 2006).

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    9. Drive against Jihadi terrorists succeeds

    The anti-terrorist drive in Bangladesh has earned another feather in its cap. Earlier successes of the drive include the arrest and conviction of the kingpins of 17th August serial bombings; the arrest of Mufti Hannan who planted a bomb at a meeting place where the then Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was scheduled to make a public appearance; the busting of Mufti Rouf?s terrorist training outfit in Bhaluka; the arrest and confession of some of the grenade-throwers in the August 21 deadly blasts in the Awami League rally in front of its head office (the main culprits are sheltered and freely moving in Kolkata, India); and the prosecution of the planners of Kibria murder.

    Now the anti-terrorist operators have succeeded in apprehending four culprits directly involved in grenade throwing on the person of the British High Commissioner in Bangladesh, His Excellency Anwar Chowdhury, in Sylhet. One of them was also a grenade thrower on the person of assassinated Awami League leader SAMS Kibria. This group was involved in other grenade-throwing incidents in Sylhet, including failed attempts on the life on the Mayor of Sylhet.

    According to reports disclosed to the media, the group was planning to make more attempts on the persons of some Awami League leaders during the coming hustings under the caretaker government. Their arrest (hot pursuit is going on to pin down their accomplices and crush the network) comes as a welcome news of assurance before the general elections. Safety-conditions for free and fair conduct of polls under the caretaker government have been greatly improved.

    Interrogation of the culprits, according reports disclosed, has clarified the motive behind the attack on the British High Commissioner. It was not family enmity or local politics, as rumoured in Sylhet. Nor was it an attack on the shrine of Shahjalal, the rituals of which are detested by Salafi (Ahle-Hadis) militants. The motive is said to be impersonal blood-for-blood bid to avenge the killing of Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq by the ?occupying? armies of U.K. and U.S.A.

    The ring leader Bipul, who has confessed to getting grenade supplies from Mufti Hannan?s agents, was born in Chandpur two years after the independence of Bangladesh (Hoöiday, Sept. 8, 2006).

    The main body of Afghan war veterans did not agree with the terrorist plans of Mufti Hannan, as they considered themselves warriors not saboteurs and also considered Bangladesh Dar-ul-Islam or land of peace, where there was no foreign occupation to fight against. The body dissolved their association Huji, B in 1998 and the veterans kept themselves busy in social work. But as the intelligence agencies found out that Mufti Hannan has continued his own subversive activities under that name, the government slapped a ban on Huji, B.

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    There can be no real peace without justice.
    by Arundhuti Roy

    10. Will the whimper of the minority sink into
    the thunder of the majority?

    We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people The time is always ripe to do right...Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.
    Martin Luther King Jr. ,Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963

    After the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, the peoples aspiration for a secular democracy apparently found adequate expression in the Constitution of the newly emerged state, formulated in 1972. It rightly proclaimed secularism as a fundamental principle of the state and prohibited any political party based on religious ideals.

    - no person shall have the right to form or be a member or otherwise take part in the activities of any communal or other association or union which in the name or on the basis of any religion has for its object, or pursues, a political purpose, said the proviso of Article 38 of the original Constitution.

    But soon it proved to be a false dawn. Because, the government of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, as it practically appeared, rather introduced a multi-theocracy in the name of secularism, both at the political and ideological levels, in running the affairs of the state. It adopted the policy of equal opportunity for all religions and ordered citations from the holy books of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity at the start of the broadcasts by the state-run electronic media.

    Bangladesh's first Education Commission, headed by Dr. Kudrat-e-Khuda, recommended, in the beginning, that instead of creating blind allegiance to the external aspects and formal rituals of religion, the curricula and textbooks should inculcate in the students a refined and well integrated system of secular ethics to produce a new generation of citizens for secular Bangladesh. The recommendation was absolutely compatible with the idea of secular democracy. Secularism is inherent in the concept of democracy, since democracy as an original idea had emerged in the West through political struggles against feudalism backed by religious ideologies. That which is not secular is not democratic. But Dr. Khuda was to be disappointed, thanks primarily to the countrys non-secular elite.

    As many as 2,869 persons responded, and 74.69 per cent of the respondents said that religious education should be an integral part of general education.

    The Khuda Commission gave up its secular approach, while the government of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman gave in to the desire of the non-secular elite, leaving behind the democratic aspirations of the millions who had brought about the nations independence for, along with other things, a secular society and state. Subsequently, the kind of religious syllabi that the Pakistani rulers had adopted for the Muslim students in the primary and secondary education, with a political view to perpetuating Islamic cultural hegemony in the society, remained almost intact, and with that remained the religious syllabi for the Hindu students. Besides, the government adopted the policy of financially sponsoring hundreds of madrassahs the educational institutions that go on producing and reproducing a religious world-view, which is bound to ideologically strengthen, and perpetuate as well, a political culture devoid of secularism. Thus, the cultural stage for the pervasive growth of a non-secular political culture in the society was set in the early days of Bangladeshs independence.

    The government of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was overthrown by a military putsch in 1975, and all governments that followed his, excepting the one headed by Sheikh Hasina between 1996 and 2001, harshly criticised Mujibur Rahman for his various undemocratic actions. But all the successive governments, this time including that of Sheikh Hasina, religiously followed, rather carried forward vigorously, Mujibs non-secular programmes, giving a fillip to the process of backward movement of the society in general.

    The Jamaat-e-Islami announced in unambiguous terms that the party, if voted to power, will convert the Peoples Republic of Bangladesh into an Islamic Republic. Sheikh Hasinas Awami League also decided not to lag behind, at least, the BNP. If returned to power, the AL announced in its election, no law will be enacted, which will be inconsistent with the dictates of Quran and Hadith. The ALs announcement reminded many people, secular and anti-secular alike, of the historical fact that the party was born with the name of Awami Muslim League.

    The criminal involvement of all the major political parties, especially when in power, was quite evident in the findings of a methodical Inquiry into Causes and Consequences of Deprivation of Hindu Minorities in Bangladesh through the Vested Property Act in 1997. The study, done by a group of professional researchers led by Professor Abul Barkat of Dhaka University, reveals that as many as 925,050 Hindu households, which is 40 per cent of the total number of Hindu households of the country, have been adversely affected by the unjust enemy property law of the Pakistan era, which continues to exist in independent Bangladesh under a different nomenclature Vested Property Law.

    The total amount of dispossessed land of the Hindu households due to the VPA has been estimated at 1.64 million acres, which is equivalent to 53 per cent of the total land owned by the Hindu community and 5.3 per cent of the total land area of Bangladesh. To whom have the dispossessed lands of the Hindu community gone As of 1997, the study reveals, 44.2 per cent of the individual beneficiaries of the dispossessed Hindu property belong to Awami League, 31.7 per cent to the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, 5.8 per cent to Jatiya Party, 4.8 per cent to the Jamaat-e-Islami and one per cent to other political parties, while the researchers found it difficult to ascertain the political identity of the rest 10.6 per cent of the beneficiaries. Clearly, the political parties like Awami League, BNP, Jatiya Party or Jamaat-e-Islami, who have so far ruled the country, find that perpetuation of communal disparity yields material dividends.

    As regards democratic intervention at the cultural and ideological level, fighting for formulation and implementation of secular democratic curricula remains one of the most important responsibilities. Because a secular and scientific education generates among the children, or the future citizens for that matter, a sense of demystification of the universe, which automatically encourages the students to constantly question and review all structures, processes, institutions and situations of the society from the point of view of democratic ideologies.

    Still, the lesson of the history of the civilisations is that the forces of regression get eventually defeated by the forces of progress. There are people, even among the liberal democrats, who believe these days, especially in the context of the United States and France the motherlands of secular classical democracies, turning to be fundamentalists, that secular democracy is a political utopia in this age! This is absolutely nonsense. Utopias are often only premature truth, as Lamartine put it long ago. Todays utopia may well become the reality of tomorrow. So now is the time for the democratic forces to take up the difficult task of fighting back the non-secular social, political and cultural adversaries to defend the sense of dignity of the members of the countrys minority communities, and thus virtually restore the human dignity of the members of the majority community.


      1.Constitution of the Peoples Republic of Bangladesh
      2.Prreliminary Report of the Bangladesh Education Commission, 1973
      3.Report of the Bangladesh Education Commission, 1974
      4.Report of the Bangladesh National Syllabi and Curricula Committee, 1977
      5.Natinal Education Policy, 2000
      6.Report of the Education Reforms Expert Committee, 2002
      7. Report of the Education Commission, 1998
      8.Inquiry into Causes and Consequences of Deprivation of Hindu Minorities in Bangladesh through the Vested Property, 1998, edited by Prof. Abul Barkat
      9.Election Manifesto of Bangladesh Nationalist Party, 2001
      10. Election Manifesto of Awami League, 2001
      11. Election Manifesto of Jatiya Party, 2001
      12. Election Manifesto of Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh, 2001
      13. New Age, Dhaka
      14.The Daily Star, Dhaka
      15.Janakhantha, Dhaka
      16.Bhorer Kagoj, Dhaka

    The Shariah, Mullah and Muslims in Bangladesh

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    Last Modified;June 17, 2013