According to another report, Harkatul Jihad and Chhatra Shibir cadres with their weaponry have established strongholds in 11 Indian Chhitmahals of Panchagarh. They are attempting to enroll Qawmi Madrasah students from Panchagarh and the adjacent Nilfamari districts from these bases10.

A South African religious organization named Edera E Khoddamul Quran opened about 450 schools in the cluster villages across Bangladesh for Islamic instruction in primary level. There are allegations that arms instructions are provided in these institutions as well. The head of this organization, the South African named Ahammad Sadiq Ahammad is known as a Laden rebel11. According to reports, the majority of the foreign patrons of the Madrasah system subscribe to extremist religious views.

Among the local patrons, those who provide financial support are often not directly involved in the administration of the Madrasahs. Those who are, usually support religion-based politics. Some of these individuals are full time activists of some religious political party or support violent terrorist activities committed in the name of religion. It may be assumed that without the encouragement of the patrons, the students and teachers of the Madrasahs would not openly subscribe to extremist politics. A public meeting was held in the Paltan Fields on March 8, 2000 organized for teachers and students of the Madrasahs and Olama Mashayekhs. It was openly declared in the meeting to continue the movement with jihadi fervor until Talebani rule was imposed in this country. In the meeting, to which thousands of Madrasah students were brought from the remote corners of Bangladesh, it was announced that the Talebani revolution would be completed by 200012.

Teachers, students and patrons of Madrasahs are socially influential people in their own localities, especially in the rural areas, as country people possess an inherent religious sensibility. It is this naïve sensibility that gives birth to their respect for teachers and students of Madrasahs, who are commonly known as Maulana, Alem, Maulvi. As most of the Maulana, Alem, Maulvis also possess a political identity, it is easy for them to gain influential roles in the community. These individuals usually take advantage of these opportunities. They take on the role of a kind of custodian of the poor “lower class” rural inhabitant. This tradition works more in favor to his personal advantage as well as to the gain of his group or class. When they see anything happening within their spheres of influence which goes against their own gains, then they use the weapon of Fatwa with the help of the opportunistic local members, chairman, Imam•, etc. The victims of these Fatwas are usually the poor and women. The fortnightly supplement published by the Daily Janakantha in 2001 presented a selection of 69 cases of Fatwa from among the thousands that occurred during the 1991-2000 period to show the variety of ways that they have harmed women. Among the victims, some have died, some have been divorced, some have suffered terrible abuse.

The gradual rise of the fundamentalist factions has also resulted in Fatwas against NGOs and their employees involved in the development process, against civil society individuals who believe in the freedom of speech and freethinking. In addition to declaring a number of notable personalities Kafir or Murtad, they have destroyed the property of NGOs and persecuted women involved in the development process.

Caning or whipping, stoning to death, physically punishing someone by burying them in the earth waist down, ostracism, stop supply of drinking water, levying huge amounts of money as fines, declaring them Kafir or Murtad, prohibiting cultural activities, forcing people to “Hilla” marriages, forcing people to re-marry are methods through which they continue their persecution of women, financially vulnerable males, progressive writers, thinkers, development activists, workers and organizations and the very socio-cultural tradition and identity of the Bangalis. Every proclamation of a Fatwa involves one or another Alem or Maulana who has been Madrasah educated. According to Islamic terminology, these people act as Muftis. A Mufti must be an expert on the Quran, the Hadiths, Izma and Kiyas. However, in reality these so called Muftis are deficient in learning and understanding and their Fatwas frequently cause distressing situations. When they call the Freedom Fighters “Bastards”13 or Sheikh Mujibur Rahman a “Kafir”14, this becomes another disgrace for Bengalis as a nation.

With the assistance of a few opportunistic Chairmen and members (of the local Union Council), and other influential community members, the Madrasah educated Maulana, Maulvi, Imams, Muezzins and other Fatwabaz (those who issue the Fatwa) continue to instigate an inhuman practice called “Hilla” marriage – a practice that is prohibited by the Muslim Marriage laws. Nevertheless, the Fatwabazs continue with this brutal practice, which results in broken homes for countless women. On January 1, 2001, citing one such case that occurred in Naogaon, two High Court Division Justices, Judge Golam Rabbani and Judge Nazmun Ara Sultana under the Bangladesh Supreme Court proposed a law to be enacted by the National Parliament declaring issuing of all Fatwas a punishable offence. In addition, this verdict proposes a number of actions. These include: instructing law and enforcement and judicial agencies to give priority to Fatwa cases; make a short course on Muslim Family Law compulsory in all schools and Madrasahs and instructing Imams to discuss these laws at the mosques during the Juma; creating a non-disparate mode of education as long term strategy; drafting laws in the light of section 410 of the constitution so that religious freedom as well as law and order is maintained; sending copies of this verdict to the Home Ministry, the Law Ministry, the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Religious Affairs. The violent activities undertaken by the teachers, students and patrons of Madrasahs to counter this landmark edict had a significant negative effect on the law and order situation. Their destructive behavior included acts such as killing of police personnel inside a mosque, digging up railway fishplates. As the situation steadily declined, in response to an appeal filed by the Fatwabaz faction opposing the verdict, the Appeals Court postponed the decision first for six weeks and then for three months.

In December 1999, Proshika, a national NGO, in collaboration with a number of local NGOs held a festival at Brahmanbaria to celebrate liberation and the ideals of the Liberation War. The violent actions of the Madrasah teachers and students to prevent the festival made headlines. A large number of grassroots development workers took part in the celebration held from December 7 to 11, 1998. At the instigation of the fundamentalist faction, several hundred local Madrasah students attacked the gathering with sticks, hatchets, axes, hockey sticks, shovels. Although the gathering included men and women, the primary target of the attack appeared to be the underprivileged women who were present. They assaulted the woman with brutal ferocity and after beating them up started yanking at their clothes. They actually pulled the clothes off of several women. Their attack was so vicious that they even forcibly disrobed a young girl who had come nearby to visit a doctor. Several courageous young men of the locality covered the girl in a burkha and helped her to return home15. These incidents are reminiscent of and sometimes surpass the barbaric actions of the Pakistani army and their collaborator Rajakar-Al Badr, Al Shams forces of 1971.

After attacking the meeting, on December 8 (the anniversary of the day that the town of Brahmanbaria had been liberated in 1971), the “Jihadi” forces attacked, ransacked and committed arson on the offices of NGOs and development organizations in the town as well as those located nearby. According to the Central Coordinator of Proshika, total damages done that day for ADAB and non-ADAB NGOs exceed the amount of Taka 100,000,000 (approximately US$1,724,137.9).16

These incidents prove that akin to many other areas, with the direct assistance of the fundamentalist forces, the Madrasah “people” have been able to attain a socially acceptable position in Brahmanbaria as well. In this incident, one of the driving forces was Maulana Sirajul Islam, the Principal of the Sirajul Ulum Islamia Madrasah, who is popularly known as Bara Huzoor. Also Maulana Nurullah, the Khatib of Kautali Masjid Maulana Md. Abdul Hafiz, a known collaborator of 1971 and Syed Md. Ahammad Miah also played important roles. Organizationally, the incident had a direct connection with the Jamiya Islamia Unusia madrasah. Almost all of the teachers and the students of this Madrasah took part in that day’s mayhem.17

10.    The Daily Janakantha, August 10, 2000, Pg. 4
11.    The Daily Inquilab, July 14, 2000
12.    The Daily Sangbad and the Daily Janakantha March 9 2000, Pg. 1
13.   This Fatwa was proclaimed by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad at a Tafsir Mehfil held in Chittagong. The History of Fatwa in Bangladesh, Dr. Muhammad Hannan, Pg. 79
14.    This Fatwa was proclaimed by the Khatib of Baitul Muqarram, the national mosque. The History of Fatwa in Bangladesh, Dr. Muhammad Hannan
15.    Grassroots Organizations Versus Fundamentalism: Brahmanbaria, A Report by the Bangladesh Charcha Kendra
16.    Ibid
17.    Ibid

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