Bangladesh Seeking Corporation of Saudi Arabia for ‘Model Islam’by Opinion Express November 20, 2018 0 comments
The syncretic Usman that is traditionally practised in Bangladesh is being undermined. This is because the country is embarking on a mosque-building project that is inspired by Saudi Arabia.
Bangladesh, in an ironical move, is seeking the cooperation of Saudi Arabia to popularise ‘model Islam’ amongst her population. The project will crystallise in the form of 560 ‘model mosques’ across the country built with Saudi funds. Paradoxically, in 1971, Saudi Arabia along with other Arab nations, had strongly opposed the independence of Bangladesh. Her war of liberation, actuated by Bangla nationalism, was perceived as anti-thetical to Islam. Even secular Turkey and progressive Egypt had chosen to side with Pakistan.
Tajuddin Ahmad (1925-1975), the Prime Minister of the wartime provisional Government of Bangladesh based in Mujibnagar (district Meherpur), had a tough time convincing the Arab nations that the Pakistani armed forces were not fighting a battle of Islamic righteousness in Bangladesh. They were rather indulging in “well-documented crimes of arson, loot, rape and murder.” Ahmad had to remind the Arabs how they had once to fight for their own independence from the Turkish Ottoman Empire albeit Turks were also fellow Muslims.
The professed aim of the ‘model mosque’ project is to salvage Islam from the hands of radicals and militants. Prime Minister Hasina feels that Islam, a religion of peace, has been usurped by these extreme elements. But how to be sure that the religion is in its pristine and peaceful state in Saudi Arabia? After all, 15 of the 19 citizens involved in the hijacking of airplanes used in 9/11 attacks were citizens of the kingdom.
Being starry-eyed about the project, Hasina has put Bangladeshi Taka 8,722 crore from the public exchequer into the initiative, not having received Saudi funds as yet. But what model of Islam is expected from Saudi Arabia? The desert kingdom is infamous for exporting Wahabism, a rigid and intolerant variant of Islam, worldwide. In September 2015 it had offered Germany to build 200 mosques — roughly one for each of the 100 refugees fleeing Syria.
Susane Schröter, Director, Frankfurt Research Centre for Global Islam, estimates that Riyadh has invested at least 76 billion Euros ($86 billion) in the last 50 years of oil boom to promote Wahabism across the globe. So, Sheikh Hasina should not complain if she finds Bangladesh drifting towards gender segregation, Sharia penal code and prohibition on the public practice of other religions and traditions.
Saudi Arabia could not be the model for Bangladesh, not merely because the former is a retrograde dynastic monarchy. The identity of the desert kingdom is defined merely through its religion. Islam historically originated in the territory of Saudi Arabia (formerly called Hejaz), thus the kingdom is to Islam what a shadow is to an object placed in the sun. But the same is not true of Bangladesh, which is placed in a different geographical, environmental and cultural zone. To make Bangladeshis ‘more Muslim’ is surely to foment internal trouble.
If, today, to believe Sheikh Hasina, Islam has gone into radical hands, the reason is not because any Government of Bangladesh deliberately promoted radical Islam. The reason is that every Government of Bangladesh has tried to infuse more and more Islam into Bangladeshi society. As a result, Bangladesh, by negating its foundational principles, is en route to becoming a mirror image of Pakistan.
Ironically, the initiative was started by Bangabandhu Mujibar Rehman, the absentee founder of Bangladesh (he was a prisoner in Mianwali Jail in Pakistan through the months of the Liberation War). Rahman as the first President (later Prime Minister) of Bangladesh prohibited horse racing, gambling and sale of liquor in Bangladesh in deference to Islamic traditions. Thus, activities that were permitted in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan became haram in secular Bangladesh.
The Pakistani Army, during the Liberation War, heavily damaged the ancient Ramna Kalibari, an iconic Dhaka structure; it also slaughtered most of its residents including the priest. It was expected that sovereign Bangladesh would prioritise rebuilding the temple as a symbol of its heritage and communal harmony. But to everybody’s surprise, Mujibur Rahman got the damaged temple disestablished brick-by-brick in 1972.
The huge cleared up space (along with the dismantled Race Course) was converted into a park viz Suhrawardy Uddyan named after Huseyn Shahid Suhrawardy, the architect of the Great Calcutta Killings (1946) who happened to be the mentor of Rahman during his early years in the Muslim League.
What is distinctive about Bangladesh is its language, Bengali. It was consistently seen with suspicion by the Pakistan authorities. They saw it as an impediment to true Islam. The people of Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) rebuffed attempts by Karachi to impose Urdu. The language agitation of February 21, 1952, that led to seven deaths in police firing, left an enduring legacy for Bangladesh.
The UNESCO has honoured the date by recognising February 21 as ‘International Mother Language Day’. The Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971 — as against popular misconception in India —was not prompted by the language issue. Yet the demolition of the Shaheed Minar (estd 1963) dedicated to the language martyrs of 1952 by the Pakistan Army during 1971 war created widespread hurt among Bengalis. It was rebuilt after the war and subsequently expanded it in 1983. It has attained the status of a pilgrimage centre in Bangladesh.
So, why has the Bengali language been exalted to a cult status in Bangladesh? This is because they would be bereft of their cultural moorings to their soil without it. Their religion, Islam, connects them with Arabia, in a psychological sense but it also alienates them from their ancestry, history, culture and environment. Hasina should introspect. Why is only an emphasis on Islam needed for course correction in an already Muslim majority state? Successive Governments have promoted only Islam in Bangladesh, whether out of piety or political expediency, but the result is the deracination of a large section of the population dependent on Islamic curriculum.
Until 1970, says Abul Barkat in his signal book, Political Economy of Madrasa Education in Bangladesh, there were 2,721 madrasas. But by 2008, their number had increased to 14,152. The net effect is that Bangladesh’s foundational legacy is under threat. The ‘model mosques’ project will only contribute to the deracination process.
(The writer is an independent researcher based in New Delhi. The views expressed herein are his personal)
Writer: Priyadarshini Dutta
Courtesy: The Pioneer