By A.H. Jaffor
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
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
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
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