Bangladesh govt compromises with Islamic bigots

The two latest major events may help to define how things are happening now in Bangladesh.

One of the country’s most dreaded militants, Mufti Abdul Hannan, who was chief of a faction of Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh, was hanged on the night of April 12 for carrying out a grenade attack on British High Commissioner in Bangladesh in 2004.

The militant was involved in plotting and carrying out all the terror attacks by Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh. He was held responsible for the killing of more than a hundred people in 13 militant attacks between 1999 and 2005.

His execution was completed only two days before Bangalis celebrated the first day of Bangla New Year 2024. His execution was significant and may be likened to the spirit of the celebration because the militant and his outfit were against the celebration which is a culture of Bangali. They termed the celebration against Islam, the religion of Muslim and they carried out a bomb attack on the celebration gathering in 2001 killing at least 10 people.

Former prime minister Khaleda Zia was seen talking to Ghulam Azam, who was chief of the anti-liberation Jamaat-e-Sialmi and was considered as a symbol of war criminals. Khaleda's BNP forged electoral alliance with Jamaat around one and a half decade ago. Ghulam Azam was also convicted for war crimes and died in jail.

Former prime minister Khaleda Zia was seen talking to Ghulam Azam, who was chief of the anti-liberation Jamaat-e-Sialmi and was considered as a symbol of war criminals. Khaleda’s BNP forged an electoral alliance with Jamaat around one and a half decade ago. Ghulam Azam was also convicted of war crimes and died in jail.

The other major incident took place the previous day. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at the night of April 11 announced that her government has decided to recognize Dawra degree of Qawmi madrasa as equivalent to master’s degree. The move has raised many eyebrows and drawn huge criticism.

Social media has been flooded by criticism. The critics have justified reasons to denounce the government’s decision. It is because Qawmi madrasa education still remains as the medieval education system. The government has no supervision and control over them. Yet, the highest degree offered by the Qawmi madrasas will be considered equivalent to master’s degree in Arabic and Islamic studies offered, say, by Dhaka University. And laws would be passed to make it happen.

Interestingly, what Hasina did now her archrival BNP chief Khaleda Zia did the same a decade ago. In August 2006, then prime minister Khaleda Zia had met the same band of people of Islamist of Qawmi madrasas. She announced that her government would recognize Dawra degree the status of master’s.

After the announcement, an Islamist leader Mufti Fazlul Haq Amini, also chief of Islami Oikya Jote, a component of the then BNP-led ruling alliance, announced that the BNP-led alliance would win a landslide in the next general election for the announcement. His statement made it clear that Khaleda did it keeping the general election in her mind. And it was a part of her electoral politics.

Her archrival Hasina did something more surprising at that time to counter Khaleda. In December 2006, Hasina’s Awami League signed a five-point deal with a fundamentalist group Khelafat Majlis. In the agreement, AL promised to recognize Qwami degree if it can go to power.

This is exactly what we may call politics of expediency where logic and saner thinking have no place. No matter how strange this promise sounds, yet it is repeated. The only goal is to get voters on board no matter how much that would hurt body politics.

In pandering to the Islamist, there seems to be no ambivalence between AL, some think to bear the torch of secularism, and BNP that thrives on religious sentiment.

When Khaleda made the promise, her party BNP was deeply linked to fundamentalists like Jamaat-e Islami and Islami Oikkyo Jote. No wonder that she might have some reasons to make her alliance partners happy.

But what is the urgency for Hasina for making a similar promise? These bigots are not of her cabinet and party alliance. Her party had shed the middle name of Muslim to become Awami League from Awami Muslim League in 1955. The party has a long heritage of fighting against religious hegemony and for a secular Bangladesh.

The top leader of the Qwami madrassa who met her day before yesterday is no other than Hefajat leader Shafi Ahmed.  Dhaka city dwellers have not forgotten the frightful night of May 5, 2013, when Shafi Ahmed marched into Dhaka with a few lakh Mullahs and announced from an open platform to topple the government. Khaleda Zia had hailed the bomb-carrying, weapon totting marauding crowd as she gleefully thought it will lead to the toppling of the Hasina government.

The mayhem that followed is unthinkable. A few dozens of government buses were torched in a parking lot. Buildings were put on fire. Banks were looted. Motijheel looked like a lost battleground.

Top leaders of Hefajat stand accused of the violence and arson cases filed thereafter. Unfortunately, these cases did not proceed for reasons easily fathomable.

Shafi is the one who had once likened the women to Tetul (tamarind). Like tamarind, women also make men salivate.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was seen talking to the Hefajat chief on April 11 when she met their demand and recognised Qawmi madrasa educaiton.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was seen talking to the Hefajat chief on April 11 when she met their demand and recognized Qawmi madrasa education.

Now the politics aside, let us look at the logic of recognizing Dawra as equivalent to master’s degree.

If Dawra is master’s degree which one is bachelor’s degree? Is it not making a fun to say you get university certificate but not the school certificate? It is like you have not learned to walk but you want to run. It trivializes the whole Qwami education.

Secondly, this Qwami education system is completely unmonitored and unsupervised. It is so cut off from the mainstream curriculum. The student’s minds are completely blocked from the rest of the world.

A professor of Hampton University’s political science Mumtaz Ahmad had reviewed the Qwami education system and published a book titled “Islamic Education in Bangladesh and Pakistan: Trends in tertiary institutions” in 2009 where he showed what the Qwami students are forced to learn.

“At the Hathazari Madrasa in Chittagong, students have to sign a sworn statement (written in Urdu) at the time of their madrasa admission. The sworn statement reads:

I will not read any newspapers or any books published by other institutions. I will also abstain from participating in any examinations held by any organization other than this madrasa.

While studying at this madrasa, I will abstain from reading magazines, watching television, or taking part in any extra-curricular activities and games and sports.

We were told by the Wafaq officials that many other Quomi madrasas require their students to sign a similar pledge at the time of their admission.”

The subjects the students are forced to study have no relevance to practical needs. In such a situation the Qwami system and its curriculum badly nneedto be upgraded so that these students can become efficient workforce and become part of the nation building. If efforts are not genuinely taken to care for the madrasa students, their certificate would remain a piece of paper worth no value.

But that piece of paper will badly dent the intellectual superstructure of the country. The quality of education in Bangladesh will come under question in the process.

Religion has always been used in politics in Bangladesh. But now the use of religion has reached to a new height with the government’s another announcement to consider the Islamists’ demand for removal of a sculpture from the premise of country’s Supreme Court. While addressing a meeting of the Alem and Ulema from Qawmi madrasas at the Gono Bhaban on April 11 from where she also announced to recognise Qawmi education said she did not like setting up the statue of Greek Goddess Themis on the Supreme Court premises.

“Why would the statue of Greek Themis be set up in Bangladesh? The Greeks had a certain type of costume, but here a statue has been built and it is wearing a sari. It’s a funny incident. I don’t know why such an incident happened,” she said.

Her speech apparently supported the Islamic religious leaders who recently demanded the authorities remove the statue from the SC premises.

The statue was erected a few months ago on the apex court premises. Themis is an ancient Greek Titaness. She is described as “the Lady of good counsel”, and is the personification of divine order, fairness, law, natural law and custom. Her symbols are the Scales of Justice, tools used to remain balanced and pragmatic. Her statue is seen in many Muslim countries too.

In 2013, the present government has however strongly defended the sculpture and rejected Islamic fundamentalist’s demand to this regard. Hefajat e Islam at that time demanded that the government stop  building sculptures at intersections, colleges and universities. In response, the government said it was the constitutional duty of the state to prevent disfigurement, damage or removal of all monuments, objects, and places and objects of special artistic interest or of historical importance. It also said the country would be isolated in the international arena if Bangladesh, a partner of various UN conventions on cultural heritage and also Unesco activities, accepts Hefajat’s demand and stops setting up sculptures at intersections, colleges and universities.

But after four years, things have changed. Many secular and progressive minded people, who are also known as pro-ruling AL, have been criticising the prime minister for her decision and announcement on Qawmi madrasa education and the statute. They have been accusing the government of surrendering it to the Islamist bigots. This is an ominous sign in politics of Bangladesh. #

* The writer is a Bangladeshi journalist. He can be reached at

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