Thursday, January 15, 2004

The Ahmadiyya Conundrum: A Spiritual Eureka

What cannot be brushed aside is the timing and by that, we do not mean to insinuate the Government was in any great hurry. Banning "all books" of the Ahmadiyya sect seemed all part of a rhinoceros itch of mighty arbitrators in dim-witted house of power. The discovery that "all books" contained matters capable of "offending the religious sentiments" of the majority Muslims of Bangladesh is spiritual eureka that took something like eight years short of a CENTURY to bubble up to surface, and making matters worse: as of now the Government has failed to come up with a list of books - forget pointing the offending passages they contained, leaving us all to wonder, if the jazbah-ized Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) is somehow in the brink or has already committed political hara-kiri?

Fingers have been pointed at its uneasy alliance partner, the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and that the nationalist forces have capitulated to powerful lobby in the anti-Ahmadiyya campaign. The highly judgmental term 'bigot' has suddenly become fashionable in describing these elements, for clearly the hackneyed 'fundamentalist' has lost potent currency - presumably because Ahmadiyya's themselves are a closeted sect with high dosage of obscurantist 'fundamentals' that would leave anybody up to defend them, sorely surprised. More on that later.

On surface the demands to ban publications or declare Ahmadiyya's non-Muslim is neither new nor anything to be surprised about. The sect on its own admission say that these demands were first raised in 1992 and have been part of an, on-again-off-again, hate campaign perpetrated by zealots on what may be called "the lunatic fringe".

The popular misconception that the sect does not necessarily "believe" Muhammad (PBUH) was the last in the line of Allah's Prophet's, and are heretic's in the Islamic pantheon of faith, has been vehemently denied by their General Secretary here in Dhaka. The sect in a press release says it agrees to all canonical edicts confirming the finality of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in the Koran and Hadith, as also Sub Continental authorities on Islamic treatise in Deoband, India. Internet website of the sect testify to these claims

Without delving into the pedantic of theological verbosity's abounding, suffice to say that if we whittle things down, dissimilarities with Ahmadiyya's and the majority Sunni's in Bangladesh are marginal. The Ahmadiyya's for instance believe the Promised monotheistic Messiah (or Imam Mehdi) has come and gone - and he was none else but Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani (1835-1908) the founder of the sect. There appears to be no dispute in the ongoing controversy, on the premise of this fundamental "belief" - even though for the Sunnis' the Messiah is yet to arrive.

A matter of great chagrin however, is when Ahmadiyya's refer to an obscure passage in Tirmizi Sharif - Kitabul Iman to one of Muhammad prophesies that his followers would split to 73 different entities (firqas) after his death, and all but ONE, would perish in the fires of Hell, is the bone of severe contention. Some theologian's say the sect deliberately misrepresents the passage.

In the ultimate judgement, the Ahmadiyya's believe with some sense of certainty that they are the ONE, chosen, and purest of Pure Muslims, consigning the rest 72 firqas to status of kafirs or "Infidels" in the Islamic scheme of things. In some roundabout way - it is telling the majority Muslims in Bangladesh, that the "faith" they have lived with for hundreds of years is tainted, and impure. The division, unnecessary spilt and all the turmoil starts here, the reactions not unsurprising.

To the nuts and bolts and scope of the anti-Ahmadiyya agitators: First the trivia. What has been overlooked by many is their pre-dominance in the Nakhalpara suburbs of Dhaka, and in all fairness they are an "earshot" (if not a stone-throw) from the Prime Minister. Her office being more or less in the centre of where all the action and heat is: whether the 'book banning" decision was to ease pain to those exalted pair of ears, is yet unknown!

The umbrella body Amra Dhaka Bashi (Us Dhaka Dwellers) - basically a replication of our fashionable Civil Society, has as its primary components in the anti-Ahmadiyya agitators combine (Khatmay Nabuat Andolon) hard core activists from the Islami Okiya Jote (IOJ), Islami Shashontontro Andolon (ISA), Khilafat Andolon, and a host of devotees from the missionary Tablighi Jamaat who offer moral, if not political support,

They are NOT as ordinarily believed from the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) nor do they claim to have any connections. In character therefore, what sets these groups apart in Bangladesh politico-religious quarrels, are its stiff opposition (some say blatant hatred) for the mainstream Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), who they accuse of being Zionist agents, political opportunists, and among their many demands, included in this agitation but seldom heard: an imposition of a total ban on books by Syed Abul A'la Maududi (1903-1979), the ideologue and founder of JI!

The advantageous flip side in this grimy equation is clearly apparent.

For the half-baked chetonized Pro-Awami, Pro-Left line of 'secularist' thinking in Bangladesh, that denigrates every cap wearing mullah to ranks of Razakars or traitors of 1971, or acrimony towards the Jamaat-e-Islami for their murderous campaign in the Liberation War of the same year, absolves by quixotic default the Khatmay Nabuat Andolon as much as it does the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat from that period of historical infamy. It is therefore no surprise that the term 'bigot' has replaced 'fundamentalist' and more colorful expressions are forthcoming!

True to its opportunist character Jamaat-e-Islami meanwhile has publicly hijacked BNP's thunder by stating that demands to consign Ahmadiyya's to ranks of 'non-Muslim' whilst being their 'original idea' and one they have total support, they are not part of the ongoing agitation's, being in the Government?

Leaving aside all the opposing viewpoints in the controversy and the extremely high decibel rhetoric's by anti-Ahmadiyya agitators, the banning of their publications which is unconstitutional and petty by all accounts - what cannot be overlooked is the absolute secrecy by which the sect operates in Bangladesh as elsewhere in the world, and appears to be the predominant reason for their persecution.

Ignoring for the time being all the unconstitutional and undemocratic demands of the agitators, what does portend as highly unusual is the Ahmadiyya refusal to permit anybody other then registered members of their sect to offer prayers in their mosque's. The demonstrations and provocation's over the last eight-weeks, had the fanatics odd-balling this particular demand. Basically pleading for a 'democratic' right (if we may) to pray in an Ahmadiyya mosque?

The dogged refusal by the sect to permit anybody in, other then its co-religionist, therefore made the demands to declare their mosque as 'temples" at the outset, grudgingly acceptable in the public domain. The situation was further aggravated in public insinuation's by Ahmadiyya's that they indeed represent the "purest among pure Muslims", and others were infidels, making things all the more hazardous.

But the question really is - could the BNP have done without bowing to demands by the rag-tag Islamist, not in the mainstream? The answers may not be anything but a dereliction of ifs and BUT's, and all said and done the more hyperbolic noise the so-called 'liberal's' but indisciplined lot make in the periphery, the more opportunities we create for a complete theocratic takeover of Bangladesh.

What we have failed to do in our blatant ineptitude over the years of unnecessary bickering, over who did what in 1971, is take a serious look at how a new, highly disciplined and motivated force denied the luxury of "media exposure" has gathered momentum, and importantly has a STRATEGY to fight all of us, and one we are sadly lack.

Disciplined forces have always overtaken indisciplined forces, is a lesson from history we have conveniently ignored all the while, as we fostered an organized anarchy called Democracy? Over the years while many of us heroically thought we were fighting 'fundamentalism' - what we were really doing was shadowbox our own images into oblivion. In our pseudo-posturing on 'history' we went blind to events as the unfolded with dexterity in and around us. With tall talks of Mukti Joddha's and Razakars and what have we - we have contributed to creating a DEMON we can no longer control.

As much as we continue bantering the present Government as being a "BNP-Jamaat" axis, we conveniently forget, that it was none else but so-called secular parties who paved the fine road of "acceptability" among the masses, the demons of 1971, by having them as 'partners' in an agitation in 1996 to "overthrow" the same BNP who are in power today. Either party has not been left any smarter flirting with the Jamaat-e- Islami, regardless of whether or not we shared power with them.

What is not lost to anyone however, are developments that our political heavy weights gloating for shameless bids to power by threats of 'overthrowing' the Government have probably not bargained for - is a disquiet among the young radicals, specially the "Made in Bangladesh" (i.e. those. born after 16th December 1971) version of the pro-Government student's front in the JCD.

Several incidents of their bloody confrontations in the last three months against Islami Chattra Shibir, the student front of Jamaat-e-Islami indicate that at the grass root level, where cliché phrase and terminology's of a populist media is inconsequential, the hearts of the young are pulsating to an altogether different beat.

These are clear signals of HOPE and while our mainstream political parties get marginalized thanks to their innate greed for power - the young in Bangladesh are evolving as a massive catalyst for change in the not too far a foreseeable offing. The move by the BNP is perhaps to steer clear from the many machinations of the Jamaat-e-Islami, the more recent being: alleged covert moves to do a 1996 jointly with the Awami League, at the peril of ordinary citizens of the country in 2004?

The cultural inadequacy and failure of both the BNP and Awami League, in honing a version of 'political' Islam acceptable to the common man who constitute an Allah fearing majority, based on our long traditions of tolerance through the many strains of Buddhism, Vaishnavites, Sufi's that makes for a multi-cultural society we have truly inherited, as opposed to the zero centric Talibanist culture of desert Bedouins all in the name of Islam, or the Brahminist precept of 'celestial supremacy' propounded in the so-called 'Bengalee culture' of the secularist, the end result will be a capitulation to forces we know nothing about, nor have the resource, talent or capability to confront.

Meantime on the Ahmadiyya issue, what will happen next is so predictable.

The matter will inevitably move to Court, and a stay on the banning order of Ahmadiyya publications is forthcoming. That however should not stop the anti-Ahmadiyya agitators to continue what they have started, and become more belligerent, more militant. Fringe elements such as these who do not believe in a Court other than one constituted by Allah, are not obliged to accept anything a Court of mere humans, may or may not rule!

The spiral down (or UP) process will mean more demands that "popular mandates" from Mosque and Minarets will herald, and who knows there may come a time when we will be left to debate - if women leadership is permitted by Allah?

Let us not delude ourselves of any first, second or THIRD forces coming to bail us out. For every man, women and child out there - the demand of the day should be an end to this politico-cultural hypocrisy, and policies that serve anybody's interest but those of the people.

We may say our respective prayers and hope that Allah, Iswar, Bhagwan or plain God up in Heaven may have Mercy on us.


First Published 15th January 2004

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