Separatists Target Muslim Sect in Bangladesh
08 December 2003
DHAKA, Dec 8 (OneWorld) - A 150,000 strong Muslim minority sect in Bangladesh called the Ahmadiyyas is under attack from a separatist group in the country, which warns they will face dire consequences if the government does not declare them non-Muslims before Friday.
In the last two months, attacks on the Ahmadiyyas by Sunni Muslim separatist groups have intensified, especially in the southwestern district of Kustia and the northern districts of Rangpur and Jamalpur.
One member of the sect was killed in the southwestern district of Jessore.
Ninety percent of Bangladeshs 130 million population comprises Sunni Muslims.
Hailing from the central Bangladesh region of Brahmanbaria from 1912, the Ahmadiyyas follow the same rituals as the Sunnis, apart from their belief that Imam Mehdi, the last messenger of Prophet Muhammad, has already arrived to uphold Islam as it was preached 1400 years ago.
The Sunnis, on the other hand, believe Mehdi has not yet arrived.
Says Ahmadiyya spokesman Tarek Mobassher, Although we follow all other aspects of Islam they believe in, the militants refuse to accept our beliefs. Instead, they incite simple followers, terming our practices blasphemous, and alleging we do not follow the Prophet Mohammed.
In one of the largest anti-Ahmadiyya protests last Friday, more than 30,000 separatists under the banner of the Khatme Nabuat Movement Coordination Committee (KNMCC) laid seige to an Ahmadiyya mosque in Dhaka.
The attack was foiled by a deployment of 1000 policemen, but the separatists have sworn to storm the mosque again this Friday.
The KNMC has said they will stage demonstrations against the sect in the city every Friday throughout December.
Threatens KNMCC President and cleric, Mohammad Mahmudul Hasan Mamtaji, If the government ignores our demand, the anti-Ahmadiyya group would not be responsible for their fate.
Mamtaji, who led a group to attack the Nakhalpara Ahmadiyya Mosque on November 21 injuring about 100 people including 12 policemen, warns that, The Prime Ministers Office will be besieged if the government does not fulfil our demands. We dont want to take the law into our own hands, but we dont know what will happen to them.
The cleric stresses that if the Ahmadiyyas wish to continue offering prayers in the mosque, they should run it in line with the committees instructions.
They cannot claim to be Muslims as they do not believe in Prophet Mohammad, thunders demonstrator Khaled Hossain while comrade Salam chants slogans of jihad (holy war), asserting that, Nobody will stop us from eliminating the Ahmadiyyas.
The frightened Ahmadiyyas offered their Friday prayers under heavy police protection, vowing to save their mosque from attackers.
We have been offering prayers in this mosque since 1946. But no-one disturbed us before, cries Abdul Alim, the mosques custodian who figures on the hit-list of the separatists. But Alim has dug his heels in, asserting that, We will not bow to their pressure and leave the mosque.
Another separatist group has issued a similar ultimatum to Ahmadiyyas living in Sarishabari in Bangladeshs northern Jamalpur district.
Mobassher believes the current aggressive stance has spilled over from anti-Ahmadiyya clerics in Pakistan. Significantly, most of the anti-Ahmadiyya publications in Bangladesh are written by Pakistani clerics who are more militant than their Bangladeshi counterparts.
In the past, one of the worst attacks on the Ahmadiyyas occured in the southwestern port town of Khulna in October 1999, when a time bomb explosion in a mosque during Friday prayers killed seven Ahmadiyyas and injured 27 others.
Since the beginning of the Muslim month of Ramadan in October-November, some 13 Ahmadiyya families of Bhabanipur in the southwestern Kushtia district were confined without food and facilities. Similarly, separatists tortured members of the sect in a central Bangladesh town.
The government has currently deployed heavy police forces around the Ahmadiyya mosque in Dhakas Nakhalpara.
Says State Minister for Religious Affairs, Mosharef Hossain Shajahan, I am trying to resolve this matter through discussion with the concerned leaders. God has not given me any right to declare anyone non-Muslim. We cannot allow the disturbance of religious harmony.
According to the Prime Ministers Office, Prime Minister Khaleda Zia has directed law-enforcing agencies to take measures to prevent a communal clash from erupting.
For their part, the police emphasizes that the issue requires a political settlement.
We know for certain who is violating communal harmony and instigating others to attack. But first the tension should ease before we take any action against them, says Inspector General of Police, Shahudul Haque.
He maintains that, They (Ahmadiyyas) have the right to exercise their rituals according to their faith and any obstruction violates the law of the land. We will definitely ensure their safety.
But none of the attackers has so far been arrested.
Reportedly, the Islamic Oiyko Jote (Islamic Alliance) which is an alliance partner in the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party government tacitly supports the anti-Ahmadiyya movement.