The targeting of minorities by Islamists anywhere in the Muslim world must be denounced by religious and political leaders in our country
Image: Star/ Focus Bangla
Hundreds of people ransacked temples and vandalized homes of the Hindu minority in the Brahmanbairs district of eastern Bangladesh. Over 100 Hindu homes and 17 temples were vandalised and looted since October 30 in Nasirnagar upazila, Bangladesh. According to media reports, this violence was unleashed by an angry mob over an alleged Facebook post ‘insulting the Ka’aba’—the house of Allah.
Hindus made up 13.5 per cent of the total population in Bangladesh in the 1970s. Regrettably, the population of the religious minority has been steadily shrinking. From an earlier 13.5 per cent, they are reduced to an estimated 8.5 per cent now. The recent brutal attack on an already frightened religious minority in Bangladesh shows the miserable failure of the government to combat the growing Islamist communalism in the country. The Bangladeshi journalist Julfikar Ali Manik has rightly noted that “attacks on Hindus are not unusual in Bangladesh, but it is rare to see multiple crowds targeting temples in an organized way as they did on Sunday and Monday”.
As the country’s human rights commission has initiated an inquiry into the massacre, scores of human rights activists have taken out protests. At a rally recently held in front of National Press Club in Dhaka, Syed Abu Zafar Ahmed, general secretary, Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB) strongly stated: “The government has failed to protect Hindus and other minorities for which, radicalised and communal groups succeeded attacking them for several times”, as reported in Dhaka Tribune.
Certainly, the attack is not justifiable by any stretch of imagination. However, it’s important to discern the fanatics’ argument to better fathom the extremist minds. They buttress that it was tenable to vandalise Hindu temples after they saw on Facebook an edited photo of a Hindu deity inside the Ka’aba. It was something they took as a punishable offense against the holiest site of Islam — Makkah (Mecca).
Makkah is, indeed, the most sacred place in Islam. Millions of Muslims from across the world gather in Makkah to perform the annual Islamic pilgrimage of Hajj. Though Makkah consists of Najd, Taif, Jadda among other historic cities, however, when we say “Makkah”, we generally refer to the Ka’aba. Ka’ba is also the Qibla — the the direction that Muslims face when they offer the five-time prayers (Salah or Namaz). Given this religious significance and sanctity any insult intended against the holiest Islamic site is indeed untenable.
One wonders where these extremist Islamists were when Makkah was recently attacked by a ballistic missile. Let alone the soft-core Islamists, even the hardcore Islamists of Bangladesh kept silent over the recent ballistic missile attack at Makkah. Wasn’t it an utterly shameful and offensive act? Why did they overlook the fact that it was no less a denigration of the holiest site in Islam?
A similar silence was also maintained when another holy site of Islam, Medina was under terror attack only a few months ago. No influential Muslim leader questioned as to how some Pakistani terrorists backed by the Saudi militants carried out the attack on Medina, which is under the utmost custody of the Saudi Kingdom.
But the accused Hindu fisherman, even after he has denied posting on Facebook any content offensive to Makkah, is seen as an ‘obstinate enemy of Islam’. Even after he has been arrested by the Bangladeshi police, the country’s religious zealots wantonly attacked the innocent members of the Hindu religious minority. Clearly, this is a brazen violation of law and order in the country. What the Bangladeshi radical Islamists have done in their self-styled defense of Makkah, is out-an-out religious extremism.
More regrettably, we have heard no strong opposition of this sick-mindedness from Muslim leaders and politicians in India. No protest against the fresh attacks on Bangladeshi Hindu minority. What does this ‘deafening silence’ of the Indian Muslim religio-politicians reveal?
It is noteworthy that majority of the Hindu community in India shows an avowed support to the Muslim minority in all cases where they are seen as ‘victims’. Be it the cow vigilantes lynching Akhlaq Ahmad or Najeeb Ahmad missing from JNU, Muslims in India have a huge support from non-Muslims, particularly secular and progressive Hindu members of the Indian society. Only two days ago, around 500 students from JNU, Delhi University and other central universities came out protesting for Najeeb Ahmad.
Close to 300 students took part in the sit-in, 'Light A Ray Of Hope For Najeeb', to express their solidarity with Ahmed and his grieving family. Over 250 of them have even been taken to the police station. So an avid support of non-Muslims towards their Muslim brethren in India is clearly seen in every incident of significance.
But when similar situation arises in Muslim countries in an attack against the religious minorities, one wonders why we Muslims show no spirited support of the victims, and no vehement opposition to the religious fanatics. One finds a note of introspection on part of us Muslims completely missing in such situations. It’s time we muster courage of conviction to speak for the rights of religious minorities in the Muslim world.
In fact, the violent attacks on the Hindu religious minority in Bangladesh should have evoked strong protest among us. But it is quite distressing to note that the attacks on Christians and Shias in Pakistan and on Hindus in Bangladesh have gone unchallenged by the Indian Muslims. Only a few processions were taken out by the progressive Muslim activists, students and youths without any strong participation of the leading Muslim organisations.
In 2013, when similar attacks on Shias and Hindus occurred in Pakistan and Bangladesh, a group of Muslim youths held a candle light vigil and peace march registering their protest. They raised slogans against the government of Pakistan and Bangladesh holding placards which said “Stop Genocide of Hindus”.
A student of Jamia Millia Islamia had courage of conviction to say: “Muslims in India are quite concerned about what is happening in Pakistan and Bangladesh. We condemn the attacks in the strongest possible terms and demand that the governments of the two countries bring the perpetrators to book and ensure that the minorities remain safe and secured.”
The reason for the fresh vicious attacks on Hindu minority in Bangladesh, as the radical Islamists claim, was the local fisherman’s Facebook post which allegedly ‘denigrated the Ka’aba — the holist Islamic place of worship. Though the fisherman denied sharing the post and the police immediately arrested him for ‘hurting religious sentiment’, the religious goons were going haywire brazenly violating law and order in the country. While a few Muslims stopped at holding protests against the posting, the extremist herd in Bangladesh went berserk in its religious zeal, attacking the innocent members of the minority community. The unruly mob of religious fanatics pulled down over a dozen temples looting more than a hundred houses in Brahmanbaria.
One might ask how Indian Muslims would react if someone in India indulged in an offensive remark against Islam or Muslims. Obviously, they could only hold a protest demonstration demanding penal action, as they did in the recent case of Kamlesh Tiwari, who was accused of circulating pamphlets against Islam and the Muslims.
Tiwari has been in a Lucknow jail since his arrest last December under the National Security Act (NSA) — a tough 1980 law that makes securing bail difficult for an accused. His arrest occurred after students of Islamic seminary Darul Uloom Deoband and other members of the Muslim community staged a protest. Though a few fanatic Islamist clerics under Maulana Anwarul Haq Sadiq of Bijnor offered 51 lakh rupees to behead Tiwari for ‘denigrating Islam’ and thus take the law in hand, no Indian Muslim got carried away to indulge in such an unlawful act.
But what is happening in neighbouring Muslim countries is completely distressing. Not long ago, Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab was assassinated for advocating reforms in Pakistan's blasphemy laws. He was killed by his own commando Malik Mumtaz Qadri, who believed Taseer had committed blasphemy.
Of late, the ‘Ahle Sunnat Wal Jama’at’, one of the largest Islamic movements in Bangladesh whose members in Brahmanbarhia organised a rally protesting against ‘the anti-Islamic post’ has denied being involved in the hate attacks on the religious minority. The leaders of the Ahle Sunnat have rightly stated that “the attacks were aimed to disrupt the communal harmony”. Mosaheb Uddin Bakhtiar, member secretary of the Islamic movement says that there was no instance of extremist violence perpetrated by the Ahle Sunnat — an apex body of Sunni Muslims in Bangladesh. “We observed a peaceful shutdown on April 20 this year. No one can say Ahle- Sunnat unleashed violence”, he said briefing the media.
It is gratifying that, in the wake of this anti-Hindu terror attack, the Ahle Sunnat has planned an anti-militancy rally in Dhaka slated for November 12. It might heal the broken hearts of the Hindu victims in the country. But it will be of little help if the Bangladeshi Muslims merely denounce the attackers and don’t combat the Islamist communalism deeply-entrenched in the country. It’s time mainstream Muslims in Bangladesh curb the very ideological stimulus which has caused the rising scale of violence against the religious minorities, particularly Hindus, for decades.
(A regular New Age Islam columnist, Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is a scholar of Comparative Religion, Classical Arabic and Islamic sciences, cultural analyst and researcher in Media and Communication Studies).
(This article was first published on New Age Islam).