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Pak Tea House » Bangladesh, Islam, Travel » Monsoons, Mangoes and Mullahs

Monsoons, Mangoes and Mullahs

By Ghazala Akbar

 

Monsoon rains, mangoes and angry Mullahs — a visitor to Bangladesh in July / August, finds all three in profusion.  The first two are seasonal. Mullahs of the political kind are perennials. Currently those belonging to the Jamaat-e-Islami are under an ever darkening monsoon cloud, their future role and involvement in Bangladesh politics hanging by a thread. This should be of considerable interest to Pakistan. Yet it barely causes a ripple or comment. The reason is obvious. The trial and tribulations of the party are linked to the events of 1971, a year that Pakistan would dearly like to forget.

Bangladesh has neither forgot or forgiven yet. After forty-two years it is engaged in seeking belated justice, bringing to book those it considers ‘local collaborators’ many of whom, allegedly, committed treason by supporting the actions of the Pakistan Army in 1971. Activists of the Jamaat-e-Islami through the Peace Committees, and groups like the al Badar and al Shams are also accused of perpetrating ‘crimes against humanity.’ Three ailing and ageing senior Jamaat leaders including its Amir, Professor Ghulam Azam have been tried and convicted. Others are on the run having been sentenced in absentia. All deny any wrong-doing.

If that weren’t enough to enough to cripple the party, on August 1 came the double whammy. A Bangladesh High Court upheld a petition challenging the registration of the Jamaat as a political party. Its Charter they said violates the country’s secular Constitution. The sticking point?   The ownership of Sovereignty. The Jamaat, in its charter maintains, sovereignty belongs to Almighty God. In the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh it is reposed in the People. Checkmate.

Arguably discussions on abstract notions of Sovereignty, divine or earthly, seem quaintly irrelevant in the daily struggles of disempowered masses. Being ‘sovereign’ will not protect people from heavy monsoon downpours or makes mangoes ripen faster. It does not guarantee people jobs or make their workplaces safer.  However, what the court ruling does ensure is that the Jamaat-e-Islami as a political entity is temporary disabled. It cannot throw its hat in the electoral ring; it cannot campaign for votes or field candidates. It cannot print election manifestoes promising to enforce the Shariah. It has been delivered a serious technical knockout.

This is not the end by all means. The Jamaat-e-Islami can appeal and is seeking legal redress by appealing to the Bangladesh Supreme Court. It can amend its Charter and apply for re-registration. It can, and is advised to distance itself from disgraced leaders, apologise for past misdemeanours and open a new chapter. Or it can simply give politics a miss altogether, focusing solely on  spreading the light of spiritual knowledge, and fulfilling its  original and well-respected public-service role as a religious, charitable and welfare organization.

Will the party take this course? It is easier perhaps for an Ethiopian to change his skin, the tiger his stripes, or the leopard his spots. If the initial knee-jerk reaction of the party is any indication, it is an ominous pointer to its future plan of action. It has responded, in the time-honoured tradition of sub- continental politics, the good old-fashioned, all-encompassing 48 hour Hartal (Shutter down Strike). More are planned for the future including a non-cooperation movement. With all the attendant miseries and disruptions to economic life they cause, these street agitations are something the country can ill-afford.

These are hard times for a party that has been on the political spectrum in the South-Asian sub-continent since 1941. Yet it is not the first time it has courted controversy or been on the receiving end. The Party had initially opposed the creation of Pakistan arguing that a Muslim majority state did not necessarily mean an Islamic State. Thereafter, it set about trying to put the country on a path of pristine purity, putting the ‘Pak’ back into Pakistan. Its leader, Maulana Abul A’La Maududi received long periods of incarceration for his efforts, but his legacy is all too visible in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan today.

In 1953 the Jamaat was banned and Maududi, sentenced to death by a military tribunal for his role in the anti-Qadiani riots in the Punjab. The sentence was later commuted and Maududi released. The party was banned too in Bangladesh from 1972 to 1975 for opposing the creation of Bangladesh and its negative role in their War of Liberation. In both instances it was able to have restrictions lifted and make a comeback.

Internationally, the Jamaat-e-Islami has powerful allies in the pan-Islamic movement and considerable financial clout. Through its youth wings it has street power and muscle.  In April this year, a relatively unknown group called the Hefazat-e-Islam (Custodians of Islam) went on a long march through the streets of Dhaka in impressively large numbers. Most of the marchers were Madrassah students. Some supporters also set up a rival camp in Motijheel to counter the ‘sit-in’ of youth in the Shahbagh area.

Professedly apolitical, the Hifazat-e-Islam submitted a long list of demands that makes the Jamaat-e-Islami seem relatively moderate in comparison. These included mandatory Islamic education from primary to higher secondary levels, an end to the infiltration of alien culture, a curb on the free mixing of males and females, a new blasphemy law with punishment of death for ‘atheist bloggers’ and a change in the nomenclature of Qadianis as non-Muslims.

Historically though, both in Pakistan and Bangladesh, the Jamaat-e-Islami has never been able to translate its street power into electoral success. In the current Bangladesh parliament of 300, it has a negligible two seats. In two previous elections it fared slightly better providing coalition support to the then ruling party, the BNP who rewarded the Jamaat with a few ministerial posts. In 1996 it even supported the Awami League’s bid for power.

Why then is the present AL government so keen to oust it from the political equation before the next General Election due to be held early next year. Partly perhaps as punishment to the Jamaat for its opposition to Bangladesh’s independence; and partly because it is determined to reclaim the secular foundations of the country and prevent fundamentalism from taking root in the country.

In the coming months it will be very interesting to see how  just how far Bangladesh succeeds in its quest to separate mosque and state and isolate electoral politics from  religious encroachment  “We do not want to become like Pakistan” is a common refrain heard in Bangladesh. Sadly, the religion-riddled politics of Pakistan and its bloody sectarian conflicts, its misogynistic laws, growing intolerance and persecution of minorities is rightly regarded as a yardstick for measuring political emasculation and failure.

Given the recent experience and example of ‘religiosity’ in Pakistani politics, is it any wonder why Bangladesh is eager to limit the role of the religious right in the business of the state: Only last month constitutional provisions regarding the date of the Presidential elections were hastily set aside and the election brought forward in order that legislators of the various Assemblies could fulfill their religious obligations in the last ten days of the holy month of Ramadan!  Clearly the Pakistani pitfall is one that Bangladesh does not want to fall into!

It must be recognized however that there are inherent dangers in the disqualification of a political party with an organized and motivated cadre   as the Jamaat-e-Islami.  Banished from the mainstream it may have no   recourse for political expression except agitation and violent street protest. Not unlike its ideological partner in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood (which was once banned by Gemal Abdul Nasser and is danger of being banned again) it may be compelled to go underground only to resurface again, stronger and even more strident.

Bangladesh will have to tread very carefully on the tightrope, keeping a fine balance. In trying to avoid being Pakistan, it must also avoid becoming another Egypt. Ironically, Egypt’s military rulers could also take lessons from Pakistan’s bitter experience in the erstwhile East Pakistan. In 1971election results were set aside, a mandate ignored, a political party banned and a people’s movement suppressed through brute force.  Those measures did not work. Political problems require political solutions. There is, as we know to our cost, no substitute for democracy, pluralism, political compromise, moderation and religious tolerance.

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33 Responses to "Monsoons, Mangoes and Mullahs"

  1. PMA United States Internet Explorer Windows says:

    No matter how much one dislikes Islamists, in a Muslim or a Muslim majority country some folks would be Islamists. Awami League wants both ways. It wants to be a Muslim majority country but do not want Islamists among it. After all what is the justification of East Bengal being a country separate from West Bengal. If not Islam then what is that is different between the state of Bangladesh and Indian state of West Bengal. In a democratic system there must be room for all political thoughts. Awami League is on a course of which hunt in Bangladesh. It must not ban Islamists or for that matter any other political party. Let the people decide through their vote.

  2. PMA United States Internet Explorer Windows says:

    Ghazala Akbar: Up until the late 1930s All India Muslim League and Islamists were moving in the same direction. It is only after when the Idea of a separate homeland for the Muslims of the British India was floated the Islamists organized as a political party in opposition to the All India Muslim League and its Pakistan Movement. But the Jama’at-e-Islami did not necessarily initially oppose creation of Pakistan on the argument that a Muslim majority state would not be an Islamic State. Their fear was that a three way division of the British Empire would divide their flock into three or at least into two and thus further weaken their position. In British India the maximum support for the Islamists came from the regions where Muslims were in numerical minority. Islamists opposed Pakistan for their own political preservation. Of course as the time has shown, the three ways division has weakened their ranks. The sum of their parts does not add up equal to their whole. And of course we know that after the creation of Pakistan the Islamists changed their strategy and tried to work within. One side note. The Jinnah-Qadiani alliance has more to do with Islamists-Qadiani animosity and Islamist-Jinnah opposition than with either Jinnah or the Qadianis. Jinnah was least of a religious person whereas both Islamists and Qadianis are deeply religious groups. The two fish from the same pool. Both groups are out there to make Muslims more Muslim. It was the Islamists’ opposition to Jinnah as well as to the Qadianis that brought Jinnah and Qadianis together. In post-independence Jinnah gave no role to the Islamists at the center and rewarded Qadianis for their support. On the provincial level in Punjab situation was reverse. There government supported Islamists against the Qadianis in a way to undermine the central government of first Liaqat Ali Khan and then Khawaja Nazim-ud-Din. The early 1950s anti-Qadianis riots must be seen with that backdrop.

  3. RajTOO Germany Google Chrome Windows says:

    PMA wrote:

    No matter how much one dislikes Islamists, in a Muslim or a Muslim majority country some folks would be Islamists. Awami League wants both ways. It wants to be a Muslim majority country but do not want Islamists among it.

    .
    As a Bangladesh party, Awami League is not going to ask for a dissolution of their country or merging with India. People of same ethnicity can can live in separate countries, e.g. Arabs are also spread over various states.
    .
    It is actually quite natural to think that Bangladesh does not want to go the Pakistani way, where Islamists have wrecked the country, just as Islamists have done everywhere without really providing any improvement in the living standards of the people, especially in places which lack mineral resources.
    .
    If the social structures break down in Bangladesh as they have done in Pakistan, the consequences for such a densely populated country can indeed be very grave.
    .
    There is no need to tolerate Islamists. Pakistan was built on Islam. Bangladesh was built on ethnicity.

  4. Ahmed United States Google Chrome Windows says:

    @Author

    For you last sentence. Everything is provided by Islam. If only you would know.

  5. Tariq Asaf Husain Pakistan Safari iPad says:

    An informative and well written article. The last two paragraphs say it all and with which I am in total agreement.

  6. no-communal United States Google Chrome Windows says:

    PMA
    .
    “After all what is the justification of East Bengal being a country separate from West Bengal. If not Islam then what is that is different between the state of Bangladesh and Indian state of West Bengal.”
    .
    PMA, the Hindu Muslim problem in pre-partition Bengal was primarily a class problem not religious. It got entangled with the religious identity politics of north India in the waning years. But up until the 40′s the major Muslim political party was the Krishok Proja Party (KPP). The KPP, as the name implies (Party of the Peasants), was secular and unlike AIML and the Hindu Mahasabha open for membership to people from all communities.
    .
    In the end the creation of Bangladesh has perhaps been good for the Bengali Muslims. In a united Bengal, without massive religion based reservation, they would have found it hard to compete with the Hindus. The emergence of a Bengali Muslim middle class has been substantially helped by the partition of Bengal. But religion based fanaticism has always been low among the Bengali Muslims and in this they are not dissimilar to their counterpart in India.
    .
    “In a democratic system there must be room for all political thoughts. Awami League is on a course of which hunt in Bangladesh.”
    .
    The decision about the Jamaat is a Supreme Court decision not Awami League’s. Be that as it may, as politics of a nation state is subordinate to the Constitution, is it not okay to debar a party, whose stated goal is to subvert the Constitution (and bring in Allah’s rule), from participating in politics?

  7. [...] Sharif Space Monsoons, Mangoes and Mullahs Mr. Prime Minister: Here is some advice Allama Asad? A new distortion in Pakistan’s history [...]

  8. PMA United States Internet Explorer Windows says:

    no-communal (August 28, 2013 at 1:33 am):
    I agree with you for the most parts. In united Bengal Muslims and poverty went together giving rise to Bengali Muslim Nationalism. It is a vast subject and enough has been said about it already. Creation of Pakistan and then Bangladesh, in balance, was good for the people of these two countries. A new Muslim middle class emerged where none existed before. Unfortunately that cannot be said about the Muslims of India. At the end it is all about economics. Isn’t it? About your last point. Islamists in Bangladesh are in no position to subvert the Constitution or for that matter defend themselves. Those being hounded there also happen to be non-Bengalis. As Ghazala has said; Bengalis have neither forgotten nor forgiven. Revenge never removes the scars. It only magnifies them.

  9. GA United Kingdom Safari iPad says:

    @PMA: The reasons for Maulana Maududi’s original antipathy towards the creation of Pakistan is well-
    documented.
    Please see: http://pakteahouse.net/2009/08/15/maulana-maududis-role-against-jinnahs-pakistan/

    I understand it was Maulana Abul Kalam Azad of the Congress Party who feared and predicted the
    weakening of the Indian Muslims and the fragmentation of Muslims into sects and ethnicities once
    Pakistan came into being. Be that as it may nuclear-armed and an economically-vibrant Bangladesh,
    both with a strong and growing middle class are not weaklings either.

  10. PMA United States Internet Explorer Windows says:

    Thanks GA for your August 28, 2013 at 8:39 pm response. I was not speaking of the well-known objections of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad of the Congress Party and about the Muslims of India at that time. I was specifically referring to the Islamists like Moulana Abu Ala Moudodi and his Jam’at-e-Islami. Their fear was that a three way division of the British Empire would divide their flock into three or at least into two and thus further weaken their position. The three ways division has weakened their ranks as the sum of their parts does not add up equal to their whole. The link provided by you on the subject is not a good source. The writer has his own biases.

  11. Mustafa Canada Internet Explorer Windows says:

    Ideologies and political opinions aside, how can one support the massive killing and jailing of peaceful protesters and activists. the JI in Bangladesh are not violent and the government is simply cracking down on them without mercy. This is against the principles of humanity and democracy! Who has the right to deny a group of people to participate in the political process and express their views? Is the author or anyone else entitled to do that?

  12. Mustafa Canada Internet Explorer Windows says:

    Also from the article , I can tell the author embraces the false Indian narrative on the events of East Pakistan in 71. If only people could see the real history.

    @PMA: There was not ”Jinnah-Qadianni” alliance. Muhammad Ali Jinnah was an inclusive Muslim who believed that all muslims and non-muslims as equals and have a right to participate in the Pakistan Movement. The Pakistan Movement had included ALL MUSLIM SECTS and all Non Muslim minorities, this is due to Quid E Azam’s modern Islamic thinking which was inclusive and secular.

  13. tajender United Arab Emirates Internet Explorer Windows says:

    RajTOO says:
    August 27, 2013 at 9:43 pm
    PMA wrote:

    No matter how much one dislikes Islamists, in a Muslim or a Muslim majority country some folks would be Islamists. Awami League wants both ways. It wants to be a Muslim majority country but do not want Islamists among it.

    rajtoo reason for sepration of east bengal from west bengal was economic.there was no middle class among muslims.sepration brought prosperity to region.under brhmnsm no body can come up.

  14. RajTOO Germany Google Chrome Windows says:

    tajender,
    how much of the middle class in India is “Brahmins”? Get out of your Madrassa and get some fresh air!

  15. no-communal United States Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Mustafa
    .
    What is it they are protesting? That finally some Al Badr/Al Shams people with blood on their hands are getting their due? Also, let us hear the real history of 1971 from you. I hope it’s different from Pakistan’s own Hamoodur Rahman Commission report.

  16. tajender United Arab Emirates Internet Explorer Windows says:

    RajTOO says:
    August 29, 2013 at 9:51 am
    tajender,
    how much of the middle class in India is “Brahmins”? Get out of your Madrassa and get some fresh air

    RAJTOO U HAVE NOT TO BE BRHMN TO BE BRHMNST.ADVANI IS NOT BRHMN BUT HE WAS INVOLVE IN NEARLY ALL EVIL ACT.

  17. tajender United Arab Emirates Internet Explorer Windows says:

    NO COMMUNAL.
    CAN U SUBMIT OR anyboby submit the list of those bengalees who were killed.bangladesh regime of hasina wajid or sheikh mujeeb failed to provide anything.no mass grave or list of areas where people were killed.this was all propaganda.most of the victims were biharis and pak supported bengalees.one mrs bose has recently a book on this.i work with bengalees nobody could say name of those killed in his village or any mass grave.this is like 6 million jews.how could they commit mascare when they were on run in last 3 months of war.

  18. Amin United Kingdom Safari iPad says:

    If Mrs. Wajed’s Government were also to try those who
    committed atrocities against non-Bengalis, the Trials
    would have more credibility and not appear as a witch
    hunt or victor’s justice. Crimes against humanity were
    committed on both sides.
    It is perhaps time for Pakistan and Bangladesh together
    to come clean on just how many were killed and to draw
    a line over the whole affair.

  19. no-communal United States Google Chrome Windows says:

    tajender, the Hamoodur Rahman Report did that already. Here is how the Pakistani website Story of Pakistan describes it, “The Report’s findings accuse the Pakistani Army of carrying out senseless and wanton arson, killings in the countryside, killing of intellectuals and professionals and burying them in mass graves, killing of Bengali Officers and soldiers on the pretense of quelling their rebellion, killing East Pakistani civilian officers, businessmen and industrialists, raping a large number of East Pakistani women as a deliberate act of revenge, retaliation and torture, and deliberate killing of members of the Hindu minority.”

  20. cloud United States Internet Explorer Windows says:

    mullahs are agents and quislings of arab ethnofascists and imperialists.
    they want that all muslims should be like them and most muslims agree to that.

  21. sabina United Kingdom Google Chrome Mac OS says:

    Democracy is about political parties, and not the one party state that Mrs Hasina Wazed has in mind. She will larn soon.

  22. abel United States Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    to sabina

    democracy can function only when fascist parties like the islam-glorifying , india-hating party of begum zia are rejected. bangalis are learning this.

    when will muslims like you who are indoctrinated into islamic fascism learn this?

  23. Hasan Pakistan Google Chrome Windows says:

    Seculars and liberals become aware that Democracy can make Same Sex marriage legal as also eating pork can be forced on you plus many such unwanted legalities of Natural and Divine Laws.

    In democracies too there must be Parameters set on every subject; a FREE FOR ALL never provides Peace of Mind.

    Final RETURN is to the ONE who Created everyone and everything.

  24. Hasan Pakistan Google Chrome Windows says:

    Please delete the entire comment I made above and substitute as follows:

    Seculars and liberals become aware that Democracy can make Same-sex marriage legal and laws can be passed to force you to eat pork. They will also disallow Divine and Natural Laws to make this world unlivable and value-less, much worse than “Dog eat Dog”.

    Parameters are a must in all talk and action in any polity, if we are to maintain some sense of decency and tolerance besides enjoying Peace of Mind.

  25. Mohan United Arab Emirates Google Chrome Windows says:

    Hasan

    ” Seculars and liberals become aware that Democracy can make Same-sex marriage legal and laws can be passed to force you to eat pork.”
    -
    Is there any democratic country which forces you to do anything ?
    Like eating pork ?

  26. Proletarian Pakistan Internet Explorer Windows says:

    @Hasan
    The source of your argument is your belief in divinity. Your superstition
    .
    If your can prove that divinity is a reality only then is your demand justified. If not then you need to stand stand in line with those UFO believers and the rest of the loon squad.

    “They will also disallow Divine and Natural Laws”

    All natural and divine “laws” are merely jusfications of an existing status quo. Change the status-quo and the the “natural law” also changes and the self-appointed guardians of “natural law” are left yapping uselessly. Eventually they too adapt to the new situation.
    .
    And in my opinon humanity will one day free itself of natural limitations. We are slowly getting to that stage.

    @Mohan
    “Is there any democratic country which forces you to do anything ?”

    There are democracies which punish people for wearing headscarves. There are also democracies that punish people for blasphemy, deny equal rights to non-muslims and declare entire sects heretics such as my own dear land of the pure.
    .
    Democaracy is only as good as the people practicing it. Its not perfect. The solution is not just democracy, the solution is democracy PLUS a progressive humanist mindset.

  27. shiva United Arab Emirates Internet Explorer Windows says:

    Is there any democratic country which forces you to do anything ?”

    There are democracies which punish people for wearing headscarves. There are also democracies that punish people for blasphemy, deny equal rights to non-muslims and declare entire sects heretics such as my own dear land of the pure

    france punish people for wearing headscarf.hitler germany was democracy in america mosques has been declared terrorist organization.

    proletarian u are ill inform youth.pakistan is developing democracy.

    like communism democracies are also failing.in american democracy,entire local population was exterminated.church helped their uprooting.entire non christian population was murderd or force to accept christianity in europe.only under muslim turkey u can find
    church mosque and sunogogue side by side.where atheist communist came
    they crushed the religion by foece.uzbekistan the great seat of islam and muslims had 4 mosques but thousands of communist party offices.
    in america u will find religious seminaries at every corner.
    atheist means u can attack anybody as others know very little about u.
    but i know a lot about these zoinist shaitans.

  28. ahem United States Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    to tajender

    you don’t know the islamic shaitan controlling and misusing you. he is in your mind and body like a cancer.

  29. shiva United Arab Emirates Internet Explorer Windows says:

    i know the result i find muslims best,

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oUppu2OHVTY

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    driving distance and time

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    But what will happen to your pets if you suddenly became unable to care for individuals who have attained the age of 75.

    But it got a lot rougher than expected when his flight was hit by a worse than expected recessionSome 500, 000 will pay 176 a month
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