BANGLADESH: Fanatic tempers run high against Ahmadiyyas; Attack on sect's HQ on Aug 27 planned

Religious sect banned from producing pamphlets, publications that could "offend" Muslim majority

The Daily Star
Wednesday, August 18, 2004

By Shamim Ashraf

Religious bigots encouraged apparently by the ban on Ahmadiyya publications intensified aggression to the religious minority sect in a desperate bid to force the government to declare the Ahmadiyyas non-Muslim.

The religious affairs and home ministries and the police shifted the responsibility onto others of stopping repression of 1 lakh Ahmadiyyas in Bangladesh since October last year.

The Islami Oikya Jote (IOJ), part of the ruling alliance, spearheaded the so-called anti-Ahmadiyya movement. The government sees a few religious bigots as an 'irresistible mass' who are pressing their demands, including a ban on Islamic terms for Ahmadiyyas and their burial at Muslim graveyards and removal of the members of the sect from government offices.

Fanatics are set to attack the sect's headquarters in Bakshibazar on August 27, according to a decision of Aamra Dhakabashi, a cultural organisation that threw its weight behind other religious outfits.

When the zealots went to drive away Ahmadiyyas from their mosques in Patuakhali on May 12, Chittagong on May 28 and Khulna on August 13, law enforcers led them to hang signboards that branded the mosques as 'Kadiani (Ahmadiyya) Places of Worship'.

"It (resisting the zealots) is not concern of my ministry. The home ministry is to act on this," State Minister for Religious Affairs Mosharef Hossain Shajahan told The Daily Star.

But State Minister for Home Lutfozzaman Babar said on Sunday he did not have details about the issue and asked the correspondent to contact the police.

But Inspector General of Police (IGP) Shahudul Haque said: "Police had no option but to allow anti-Ahmadiyya groups to hang the signboards as several thousands went there."

The Ahmadiyyas follow the same rituals as Sunnis who are 90 percent of Bangladeshi Muslims, apart from their belief that Imam Mehdi, the last messenger of Prophet Muhammad, has already arrived to uphold Islam as it was preached 1400 years ago. But the Sunnis believe Mehdi is yet to come.

Trampling Ahmadiyyas' fundamental rights, the government on January 8 banned their publications for what it said was "objectionable material which hurt or might hurt the sentiments of the majority Muslim population of Bangladesh".

The same day, the government issued an official circular to central, divisional and district officers naming 20 Ahmadiyya books, booklets and leaflets as banned.

The government tried to justify the ban saying it did so to save the Ahmadiyyas from the wrath of agitating zealots. "The home ministry suggested the ban and I agreed. I feared the situation might take a violent turn," Mosharef said.

The order was not published in the official gazette until yesterday and Foreign Minister Morshed Khan tried to defend the government in a BBC Radio interview, saying no gazette notification was made.

But the police have reportedly been instructed to remove the Ahmadiyya publications in a drive that they carried out in parts of the country.

"We cannot go for legal steps against the ban as the government is yet to inform us nor did it publish the order in official gazette," Ahmadiyya spokesman Tareq Mobasher told The Daily Star.

The Islami Shashantantra Andolon, International Majlishe Tahaffuze Khatme Nabuwat, International Khatme Nabuwat Movement Bangladesh, Hifazate Khatme Nabuwat Andolon, Khatme Nabuwat Committee Bangladesh and Khatme Nabuwat Andolon Parishad Bangladesh (KNAPB) also intensified torture, including killing, beating, excommunicating and house arrest of the Ahmadiyyas living in Bangladesh since 1912.

At least eight people of the community were killed in Bangladesh since independence, with a preacher murdered in Jessore on October 31 last year as the latest victim.

The bigots raided several Ahmadiyya mosques across the country, including one in Nakhalpara in the capital and seized Ahmadiyya publications.

"We will make it an issue in the next general election if the government does not declare the Ahmadiyyas non-Muslim," a KNAPB leader threatened at a press conference Sunday, claiming that Jamaat-e-Islami, a ruling coalition partner, is supporting them.

Abdul Awal, missionary of Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Bangladesh, told The Daily Star: "The government caved in to the bigots, making them stronger."

"This is not what Bangladesh and its constitution stands for. It is the total failure of the government to uphold citizens' rights," he said.

"We have seen an ugly display of Talibanism over the last 11 months," he said, asking all to unite against it.

Civil society, political parties, rights organisations, including the United Nations Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International and US State Department called on the government to lift the ban, ensure safety of Ahmadiyyas, uphold their fundamental rights and try their attackers.

Admitting that the ban restricts Ahmadiyyas' fundamental rights, Mosharef said it might have prompted the anti-Ahmadiyya groups to move further for declaration of Ahmadiyyas non-Muslim.

But he is against lifting the ban and resisting zealots from going to Ahmadiyya mosques at this moment. "A fanatic group is there to add fuel to anti-Ahmadiyya groups' wrath." On the signboards, he said, "We may remove them later."

The IGP suggested: "A decision should come from the higher authorities and the civil society must raise their voice against the anti-Ahmadiyya move."