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Bangladesh: Fundamentalist Backlash

By Sanchita Bhattacharya
A rash of Islamist fundamentalist violence has broken out across Bangladesh. On
April 3, 2011, Railway Madrassa students took out processions in Jessore. When t
he Police intercepted the procession, the madrassa (seminary) students attacked
the Policemen. In the retaliatory action, a madrassa student was shot dead and 3
0 people were injured.
On April 4, 2011, a dawn to dusk hartal (shut down) was observed across the coun
try. The hartal was called by Mufti Rashidul Hasan Fazlul Haq Amini, leader of t
he Islami Ain Bastabayan Committee (IABC, Islamic Law Implementation Committee).
The IABC is linked to the Islami Oikko Jote (IOJ), a political party which has
openly been vocal about its support for the Islamist militants, the Taliban and
the al-Qaeda. The IOJ is allied to the main opposition Bangladesh National Party
(BNP). The ruling Awami League's (AL) General Secretary, Syed Ashraful Islam cl
aimed the BNP and its ally Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) sponsored the hartal and Aminee
was used strategically to implement their political programme. He also alleged
that BNP-JeI were on the streets during the strike. Meanwhile, Amini, on April 1
5, had threatened to paralyse the country, declaring, "We can create an impasse
in the country by a one-hour notice as there are 20,000 madrassas which will res
pond to our call immediately."
Violence erupted in Dhaka, Chittagong, Chandpur, Barbaria, Faridpur, Feni, Moulv
ibazar and Khulna during the April 4 hartal. While, 250 people, including 16 Pol
icemen, were injured and another 200 people were detained, in the wake of mass a
ttacks on vehicles, public transport and Security Forces. In a fresh wave of vio
lence on May 1, hundreds of Islamic activists, belonging to Islami Andolan Bangl
adesh (IAB, Islamic Movement Bangladesh) wearing the traditional white Muslim dr
ess and sporting copies of the Quran, marched in Dhaka, where the Police had imp
osed a ban on political rallies. A Police spokesperson said nearly 200 protestor
s were wounded during clashes with riot-Police. An estimated 150 Islamic activis
ts were detained, whisked away in prison vans.
The apparent provocation of this unrest is the National Women's Development Poli
cy (NWDP) 2011, declared by the Government on March 7, 2011, which includes, amo
ng others, a provision of an equal share for women in property and opportunities
in employment and business. Shirin Sharmin Chowdhury, State Minister for Women
and Children's Affairs, stated, "The approval of the NWDP has created a great sc
ope for the advancement of women empowerment". Women's rights groups have also b
acked the Government, urging an early implementation of the policy.
Unsurprisingly, the NWDP has provoked the fundamentalists, who have rejected it
as 'anti-Islamic' and 'anti-Quran' , and have orchestrated mass agitations acros
s Bangladesh, demanding its withdrawal. An umbrella Islamist group, the Islamic
Law Implementation Committee (ILIC), further threatened to paralyse the country
if the Government did not scrap what it termed "anti-Islamic provisions" in the
The NWDP is a revival of the 1997 Women's Development Policy, and is the fulfill
ment of an Election (2009) pledge by the AL. The 1997 Policy was formulated duri
ng the previous tenure of the Sheikh Hasina Wajed led AL Government (1996-2001).
The Begum Khalida led BNP coalition Government (2001-2006), of which JeI was a
part, approved another Women's Development Policy in 2004, deleting crucial prov
isions, such as "equal right", "equal and full participation", "right to land",
"inheritance" and "property", or replacing them with "constitutional right", "pr
eference" and "greater participation".
Meanwhile, in 2008, the then Caretaker Government had announced another Women's
Development Policy, guaranteeing equal rights, including property rights for wom
en, which was also opposed by a section of Islamic clerics. As a result, the the
n Government had constituted a 20-member Ulema (Islamic experts) Committee on Ma
rch 27, 2008, to identify any potential "inconsistencies" in the Policy. On Apri
l 17, 2008, the Ulema Committee submitted its recommendations, strongly opposing
the grant of equal rights to women, recommending deletion of six sections of th
e policy and amending 15 others which, the Ulema claimed, "clash" with the provi
sions of the Quran and Sunnah (sayings and examples from the life of the Prophet
). Suggesting the inclusion of guidelines "in the light of the Quran and Sunnah"
while taking any decision regarding women's rights, the Ulema Committee recomme
nded abolishing the section that recommends steps to implement the UN Convention
on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. The Committee
also asked the Government to cancel the initiative to reserve one-third of parli
amentary seats for women and the application of comparable reservations to local
Hafez Maulana Ziaul Hasan, Chairman of Sammilito Islami Jote (United Islamic All
iance), a liberal Islamic organization, on April 28, 2011, however, noted, "The
review (Ulema) committee could not pinpoint any verse in the Quran that the Wome
n's Development Policy contradicts. It also failed to show any provision of the
policy that contradicted the Quran and Sunnah ."
Resistance to the hue and cry against the NWDP is significant. The leaders of Ga
usul Azam Maizbhandari Parishad [GAMP. Gausul Azam Maizbhandari Shah Sufi Moulan
a Syed Ahmadullah was a Sufi saint who started the Maizbhandari Sect. GAMP preac
hes his religious practices and works for the development of society], an Islami
c social organization, on April 12, 2011, criticized IABC for creating an 'anarc
hic situation' in the country during protests against the women's development po
licy. Syed Saifuddin Ahmed Maizbhandari, Secretary General of the organization,
stated, "Creating anarchic situation and sufferings for people are considered as
the most heinous activities in Islam. Amini and his followers have done such he
inous activities on the hartal day (April 4)."
However, IABC's Amini has identified the policy's Section 23.5, which speaks abo
ut opportunity and participation in employment, wealth, market and business for
women, as 'un-Islamic'. Further, Section 25.2, which seeks to give women full co
ntrol over the wealth they accumulate through earning, inheritance, loans and ma
rket management, is also declared 'anti-Islamic'. Amini insists that the IABC wa
s not opposed to policies for the development of the women, but these must be fo
rmulated in the light of the holy Quran and Sunnah.
Various scholars have contested Amini's claims. Maulana Mohammad Ziaul Hasan, an
Islamic academic from the Islamic Foundation argues, "Any literate person will
understand that the word 'wealth' in Section 23.5 does not mean inherited wealth
. Similarly, the word 'inherit' in section 25.2 does not imply equal share of pr
operty to women." Noted educationist Prof. Sirajul Islam Chowdhury declared, on
April 18, "Amini's comments are very objectionable and tantamount to treason for
denial of the Constitution." Professor Chowdhury asserted that Amini had taken
a direct stand against the Constitution, which guarantees equal rights for all,
irrespective of gender. Besides, other scholars noted, the women's development p
olicy is not a law, but a guideline upholding the Constitution and existing laws
Rattled by the protests, however, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina sought to appease
the fundamentalists and announced, on April 20, 2011, that her Government had r
emoved all contradictions from the NWDP to make it 'confusion-free': "After goin
g through the Quran, especially Surah an-Nisa, we have removed contradictions fr
om the policy." Hasina reiterated, further, that AL would never enact any law or
adopt any policy which conflicted with the Quran or Sunnah. She added, further,
that the Government would also append to the policy, the religious and social r
eservations mentioned in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discr
imination against Women. At the same time, she asserted that vested political gr
oups were carrying out propaganda against the women and education policies in th
e name of religion and urged Islamic scholars to remain alert about such attempt
s. Again on April 26, the Prime Minister noted that a certain quarter "trading o
n religion" had been trying to mislead people by misinterpreting the NWDP, altho
ugh Islam as a religion never approves inequality between man and woman.
Significantly, on December 7, 2010, the AL Government had approved the National
Educational Policy (NEP) 2010, which prescribes a uniform curriculum and syllabu
s to be followed in general, madrassa and vocational education. Quami madrassa (
private seminary) administrations were asked to form a commission and determine
what they want to introduce in their institutions. All educational institutions
were required to register with the Government to gain legality.
The Islamists, who favour the implementation of the Sharia have clubbed both NWD
P and NEP together, and have opposed these measures as an unwarranted interferen
ce in their religious affairs.
The successful implementation of the NWDP and NEP could mark the beginning of a
new era for Bangladesh, where Democracy has been restored and carried forward by
two women Prime Ministers. Nevertheless, given the complex range of initiatives
that the Sheikh Hasina Government has introduced to curb the activities of Isla
mist terrorists, extremists and fundamentalists, a delicate balancing act will b
e necessary to ensure that the system, long perverted by dogma and extremist ide
ologies operating at the very centre of power, is not tipped over into a fundame
ntalist backlash that would wipe out the gains of the past year.
Sanchita Bhattacharya, is a Research Assistant with Institute for Conflict Manag
ement, New Delhi

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5/10/2011 4:00:59 PM Ghulam Mohiyuddin
Car313 says, "There is no Islamic nation today in which minorities (including mi
nority Muslim sects) can live without fear of sudden death or protracted misery.
Considering that you are a full time anti-Muslim hate propagandist, your comment
is no surprise. While Bangladesh is trying to deal with its problems, a crimina
l Chief Minister of an Indian state who directed an anti-Muslim pogrom nine year
s ago is still unpunished and still sitting in Chief Minister's seat. That does
not seem to bother you one whit!

5/10/2011 12:40:16 PM car313

To anyone who has been watching the gowth of Islamic countries this article is a
The surprise is that people pretend to be surprised. No country with a Muslim ma
jority has ever succeeded in governing according to the modern principles of sta
tecraft. Soon we will be reading similar articles except that they will be about
Indonesia and Malaysia.
By the statement of Sheik Hasina it is already evident that the battle has been
already conceded. But if the people really wanted to be ruled by Sharia, there i
s no point in whining. What the minorities will have to do is "see the Truth" an
d convert, or negotiate a Jizya under a Dhimmi Ordinance if they do not want to
end up pushing daisies.
There is no Islamic nation today in which minorities (including minority Muslim
sects) can live without fear of sudden death or protracted misery.