Leaving Islam




Sylhet’s Sufi shrine blast for the second time in five months does not bode well for Islamized Bangladesh

By A.H. Jaffor Ullah

On May 21, 2004, a powerful homemade bomb rocked the Sufi shrine of Hazrat Shahjalal in the northeast Sylhet of Bangladesh that resulted in the death of two local men. The bomb was either planted or hurled at devotees attending the Jumma prayer.

An estimated 50-60 people had received injuries from the blast. Among them was British High Commissioner Anwar Chowdhury, the newly appointed diplomat for United Kingdom to Bangladesh. Mr. Chowdhury is originally from Sunamganj, Bangladesh. His visit to the shrine was widely publicized. Therefore, there is ample reason to believe that the bomb was targeted for him.

It was Mr. Chowdhury’s lucky day; he came out all right after being hit by a splinter in the leg below his ankle. The doctors in Sylhet reported to newsmen that the ambassador’s injury is not serious enough. Nonetheless, the government took no chance as they flew him to Dhaka by a military helicopter. The British foreign secretary Mr. Jack Straw in a written statement said, “I am deeply shocked by news of this bomb and I extend my sympathies to all the victims and their families.”

The news of the blast received a wide coverage in the Internet. Most respected news agencies such as Reuters, AP, AFB, CNN, and even the New York Times have picked up the news of the blast. The reason being the newly appointed British High Commissioner to Bangladesh was amongst the ones injured in the blast. This has to be a source of embarrassment for Khaleda Zia Administration.

All the negative publicity associated with the news would mar the image of the nation that is now reeling from absolute lawlessness in the northwestern part of Bangladesh where an Islamic outfit seems to be in control.

The Islamists in close collaboration with the police are hunting the members of an outlawed political organization by the name Sarbahara. The leader of the vigilante Islamic group who goes by the nickname “Bangla Bhai” had attracted the attention of most newspapers in Bangladesh. The government of Khaleda Zia condones the activity of the roving bandits in northwestern districts of Bangladesh.

It is quite likely that the Islamists in Khaleda Zia Administration were instrumental in holding the arrest order for “Bangla Bhai.” It has been over a month that Bangladesh’s newspapers are reporting giving nauseating details of “Bangla Bhai” and his group’s (Jagroto Muslim Janata) atrocities against the villagers but the government has turned a deaf ear to all the complaints lodged against the radical Islamists. Under this backdrop, the news of the bomb blast in the nation’s sacred-most shrine in which a newly appointed diplomat was slightly injured would more than sure bring ignominy for the present government of Khaleda Zia.

There is more to the Sufi shrine blast than meets the eye. The blast is symptomatic of a nation becoming highly Islamized. Only in January 2004, another powerful bomb rocked the sleepy provincial town. There were casualties too. One of the very vocal Islamists by the name Maulana Delwar Hossain Saidee, a Jamaati-e-Islami politician, visited Sylhet town admonished the local Muslims for venerating the Sufi saint Shahjalal. Maulana Saidee had opined that Muslims should not venerate any other person excepting Allah. He lambasted the folks who visit Sufi shrine while calling naming it the “Mazar Culture.” No sooner had Maulana Saidee leave Sylhet town a powerful bomb was detonated.

It is too coincidental that Maulana Saidee’s clarion call for abolishing “Mazar Culture” was followed by the bomb blast. It goes without saying that these bomb blasts are the act of some virulent Islamic groups in Bangladesh who mutate their name all the time to confuse the law and order folks. They are, however, part of Wahhabi clan that preaches Islamic piety with a call for jihad and purification of indigenous Islam, which is prevalent in any nation where Sufi saints spread the religion.

Too much folklore abound Bangladesh concerning the deeds of Sufis. The village folks revere the dead Sufis and this is causing consternation amongst fundamentalists whose numbers are growing by the day. I think the powerful bomb blast for the second time in Sylhet was done with two purposes. One, it sent a powerful message to local people telling them to avoid visiting the Sufi shrine. Two, it warned the British government of Tony Blair not to mess around with the Muslims. Mr. Blair is a hated man amongst Muslims.

The Bush Administration was strongly supported by Mr. Blair vis-à-vis Iraq War. That is the reason one of the hard-core Islamic groups have targeted a British diplomat for assassination. Through the stroke of luck, the new British envoy, Mr. Anwar Chowdhury was able to escape the blast. He should be more careful in the future. The tiny nation of Bangladesh is fraught with danger and there is no telling when the next attack on him would come.

The other revealing thing about Bangladesh is the following: It is no longer a peaceful Muslim majority nation. We read accounts of violent attacks on Ahmadyya – a minority Muslim sect – by the dominant Sunni Muslims. Some of the Islamists in Khaleda Zia Administration would like to declare the Ahmadyya as non-Muslims. However, these Islamists were able to persuade the government to ban Ahmadyya literatures on the ground that these books create division amongst Muslims.

Despite all the problems mentioned above, the Khaleda Zia Administration would love to call the nation of 140 million impoverished people an Islamic Utopia. But time has changed, especially after 9-11 terrorist attacks in America. Messrs. Bertil Lintner and Alex Perry published two seminal journalistic works in 2002 in two different periodicals. Both had concluded that Bangladesh was on the way to become fundamentalist nation.

Although many newspaper editors in Bangladesh had severely admonished Lintner and Perry for their harshest criticism and claim that the peaceful nation has already been Islamized but the local newspaper editors were not able to see the sea change coming. I think the events of the last two years especially the treatment minorities in Bangladesh had received in the hands of Islamic goons, and the powerful bomb blasts in churches, temples, cinema halls, and now in Sufi shrine bear the testament that indeed the nation has become a Mecca for Islamists. There is this telltale sign everywhere in Bangladesh to indicate that the densely packed country has become a den of virulent Islamic fundamentalists. Under this backdrop, more bomb blasts would rock the country in near future.

So far, no foreigners were targeted for assassination by the Islamic bandits. The case of newly appointed High Commissioner of Britain, Mr. Anwar Chowdhury, is a complicated one. He was a born Bangladeshi who was schooled in England. The Islamists knew his ties with Bangladesh but that did not deter them from targeting him for assassination. I think beginning from today Bangladesh treads a different path. From now on, the foreign diplomats in Bangladesh especially the ones from western nations should be more careful where and whom they visit.

Now that Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, and a host of Islamic nations have lessened activities -- as far as the fundamentalists are concerned -- this however cannot be said for Bangladesh. This nation has come of age vis-à-vis Islamic fundamentalism. Gone are the days of 1950s, 60s, and so on, when people were more tolerant because the mainstream religion was Sufi brand of Islam. Thanks to Saudi Arabia for pumping petro-dollars and exporting age-old Wahhabi brand of Islam – the one that is non-tolerant to other Semitic and indigenous religions. I am afraid as Bangladesh become more entrenched into Islamic fundamentalism the nation will be left out to reap the benefit of liberal trade and economic development due to increased globalization and interconnectedness amongst various economies round the globe.

Sadly, Bangladesh is in no mood to imbibe secularism in her polity. As long as that does not happen, I am afraid, the nation would chart a course to become an underdeveloped nation a la some North African nations. Bangladesh’s main strength is her people. Give them skills that would last a lifetime. The earnings from educated and skilled citizens abroad would bring enough foreign currency to sustain Bangladesh’s moribund economy. Bangladesh’s neighbor, India, is just doing that where call centers, and a whole slues of service industries are migrating from the West. Therefore, for the good of the nation, bomb-blasting activities should be brought to a screeching halt and instead, schools, colleges, and universities should churn out skilled workers who could face the challenge of the brave New World.

In summary, it was wrenching to hear that a powerful blast had rocked the sleepy town of Sylhet that is home to a Sufi shrine. The holy place was hit twice in just 5-month period. This time around, the newly appointed High Commissioner of Britain, Mr. Anwar Chowdhury, was targeted for assassination; miraculously though, he survived the attack. All of these violent attacks are symptomatic of a nation that has become Islamized to a full tilt. Is there any way out of this quagmire? The respected members of the civil society should start a dialogue to figure out the real problems that is festering this incurable disease. The Islamization of Bangladesh, which is an anachronistic movement in any way one looks at, will be source of woes and if not removed right away will destroy whatever little progress is being made. Therefore, Caveat Emptor!
Dr. A.H. Jaffor Ullah, a researcher and columnist, writes from New Orleans, USA






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