The debate over B’desh Islamists’ demands

Mostafa Kamal MajumderThe demands made by the Hefazat-e-Islam from their grand rally in Dhaka on Saturday last have been interpreted as (a) ‘mediaeval that would take the country backward,’ (b) a plea to establish Taliban rule, and even (c) as a charter of ‘real diaster’ by different quarters. Some diplomats have termed those reflection of militancy. The Prime Minister has ruled out the possibility of the enactment of a stringent blasphemy law, but has hinted at having talks with the leader of Hefazat on their demands. Women’s rights activists have taken certain demands as threat of infringement of their freedom and some others have vowed to organise a women’s grand rally in Dhaka city to counter the demands voiced from Hefazat’s grand rally. Some government loyalists have termed Hefazat-e-Islam as ‘Hefazat-e-Jamaat,’ although the Jamaat was not a party to the coalition.
Fact remains that the Hefazat-Islam, coalition of Islamists, stunned its critics by managing a huge assemblage of supporters in their grand rally in Dhaka city on April 6. Estimates of the size of the audience – restricted because of the call of hartal and stoppage of the plying of motor vehicles, inland water transports, and even suspension of 10 Dhaka-bound trains – have run into a million according to some overseas media.
A scrutiny of their thirteen demands shows that seven of those call for stoppage of blasphemous propaganda by ‘atheist bloggers,’ intrusion of alien culture, removal of barriers to activities of the ulema, madrasah students, imams of mosques, stoppage of firing and mass killing, withdrawal of cases filed against them, and stoppage of activities ridiculing Islam and practitioners of the faith, and of restrictions to the performance of namaj in mosques including the Baitul Muqarram National Mosque.
Six other demands stand for a stringent blasphemy law providing for maximum death penalty, and restoration of ‘absolute trust and faith in Allah’ in the Constitution, repeal of the Woman Development Policy, the Education Policy; declaration of Qadianis as non-Muslims, stopping installation of statues, stopping activities of NGOs engaged in anti-Islam activities and Christian missionaries involved in conversion.
One can differ with the ulema on the demands they have made from the grand rally. But those cannot be brushed aside at will. It is to be noted that the ulema, especially of the Qawmi madrasahs, have been pressing their demand for restoration of ‘absolute trust and faith in Allah’ since this phrase was deleted from the Constitution through the 15th Amendment Act. They voiced the demands also to amend the women development and education policies from their own separate forums, but never vowed to work for any political change based on those. They were incited to be more vocal recently by some blasphemous utterances, Internet postings and angered by demands voiced by some activists to ban religion-based political parties.
Then again they found in some demands raised from different platforms challenges to their rights to profess the ideas they consider indispensable to protect religious values and practices. It is to be noted that former general secretary of the ruling Bangladesh Awami League, Abdul Jalil (who passed away recently), had signed an agreement with the Khelafat Majlis in the first half of the last decade accepting the right of the Ulema to give fatwa (decisions on religious matters) and making commitment to recognise the Qawmi madrasahs and the academic certificates issued by them.
Those who run the administration know better than some well-wishers of the government about how much sweat they had to shed to contain the size of Saturday’s grand rally through stoppage of the movement of all modes of transport towards Dhaka from the night before.
It is up to the government to decide how they would deal with Hefazat’s demands. But one should not lose sight of the fact that the Hefazat platform covers followers of many eminent religious preachers including the Pir Shahebs of Hathazari, Charmonai, Kamrangir Char. Outright rejection of their demands or neglect of those might not be a wise option, because their grand rally of April 6 proved they are an influential part of the society to be reckoned with. The Dhaka blockade called for May 5 might lead to an even bigger show if the differences with them remain unresolved.

English rendering of the 13 demands made by the Hefazat-e-Islam are:
”1. Restore absolute faith and trust in Allah in the Constitution and repeal all laws repugnant to the holy Quran and the Sunnah.
”2. Enact law in Parliament providing for maximum death penalty for blasphemy against Allah, Prophet (pbuh) and Islam, and slandering of Muslims.
”3. Stop all vicious propaganda of the Islam-haters, self-proclaimed atheists-non-believers who led the so-called Shahbagh movement, and who spread heinous ills against the beloved Prophet and give them rigorous punishment.
”4. Stop the intrusion of alien culture including shamelessness, indecency, promiscuity, unrestrained free-mixing in the open in the name of human rights and freedom of expression and the lighting of candles.
”5. Repeal the anti-Islam Woman policy, the Education policy which is devoid of religion, and make Islamic religious education compulsory from the primary to the higher secondary level.
”6. Officially declare Qadianis as non-Muslims and stop their propaganda including unholy conspiratorial activities.
”7. Stop turning the Dhaka city of mosques into a city of Idols, and the installation of statues in the name of sculptures at street intersections, colleges and universities.
”8. Remove barriers and restrictions to freely performing namaj (worship) by Musallis (devotees) in all mosques including the Baitul Muqarram national mosque, and stop obstructing ‘waz-nasihat’ (religious meeting-teaching) and other religious activities.
”9. Stop unholy efforts made to sow seeds of hate against Islam in the minds the young generation by ridiculing beard, cap, Islami culture and practices in different media including radio and television, and by putting people wearing religious dresses and gears in villain and negative roles of plays and cinemas.
”10. Stop the unholy activities of NGOs that are involved in anti-Islam activities in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and the rest of the country, and the Christian missionaries engaged in conversion.
”11. Stop attacks and repressions on Prophet-loving ulema, madrasah students and the and protesting religious masses; indiscriminate firing, and mass killings.
”12. Stop all conspiracies including rebuff, snub, threat and intimidation against teachers and students of qawmi madsasahs, ulema-mashayekhs and Imam-Khatibs of mosques.
”13. Immediately release all arrested ulema, madsasah students, religious masses, withdraw all concocted cases, compensate for the dead and the injured, give rigorous punishment to conspirators by bringing them to justice.”

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