Protecting religious freedom in BD calls for restoring conscience & humanity

Published : Tuesday, 29 October, 2019 at 12:00 AM

Bangladesh, being a Muslim-majority nation, holds secularism as its core principles while the freedom of religion is guaranteed by its constitution. Though Islam was included in the constitution as the state religion in 1980s secular principle of the 1972 constitution was reestablished later in 2010. It states that, other religions can be practiced in harmony and gives equal rights to all citizens irrespective of their religion. The major religion in Bangladesh is Islam (90 per cent), but a significant percentage of the population belongs to Hinduism (9 per cent).

Other religious groups include the Buddhists, Christians and Animists. Bangladesh is a country of religious harmony but due to some isolated incidents, the country’s principle of religious liberty was questioned again and again. The condition of minorities all over the world has demonstrated a pattern of unfairness and uncertainty. Bangladesh also seems to be of no exception. Violent attacks on religious minorities over small incidents have initiated strong protests at home and abroad.

Bangladesh ought to recognize the plurality of its culture and people. Undoubtedly, civil society has the major and the most important role to play in this respect. This situation is due to only a few incidents which are highly focused and creates panic among the minority groups. Majorly, the religious minorities live a very peaceful life in Bangladesh and most of the Muslim people do not treat them with inequality. But we have seen that, few miscreants always become successful to victimize them in a periodical manner.

Recently a Hindu youth posted a Facebook status defaming Prophet Muhammad (Sm) hurting the religious sensitivity of the Muslims at Bhola. He claimed from the very first hours that his Facebook ID was hacked and he was no way liable for that post. But the next morning, hundreds of Muslims gathered in southwestern Bhola district for a protest rally under the banner of ‘Muslim Tawhidi Janata’, demanding action against the Hindu man for his alleged social media posts. Four people were killed in police firing on hundreds of Muslims protesting that alleged blasphemous Facebook post by a Hindu man while several others were injured including policeman. Prime Minister Hasina later warned of stern actions against those inciting violence. She said her government had launched an investigation to identify the culprits.

According to the initial investigation, Prime Minister informed that, Hindu youth Biplop Chandra Baidya’s Facebook account was actually hacked by a Muslim man. She also informed that Baidya was being blackmailed to pay 20,000 Bangladeshi Taka (USD 235) or blasphemous content would be posted from his Facebook account. She, being the Prime Minister, informing so much detail to the media itself shows how serious the Bangladeshi government is to ensure the safety and security of the minorities in this country.

Unfortunately the incident took away four lives, injured hundreds and many Hindu houses were torched, damaged and looted. While the violent hooligans under the banner of Islam tried to vandalize the properties of the Hindus, a Muslim couple came forward to save their neighboring Hindu families risking their own lives raising huge hopes for humanity.

This type of violent incidents is not new in Bangladesh. On November 10, 2017 at least 30 Hindu homes were burnt to the ground by thousands of protesters, predominantly Muslims, after a local Hindu uploaded a ‘blasphemous Facebook posting’ insulting Islam and the Prophet in Rangpur. After initially seeing the posting, hundreds of Muslim locals began protesting and gave the authorities an ultimatum to arrest the man in question within 24 hours. Since the police failed to do so, the protesters were joined by around 8,000 people from surrounding villages and began burning houses in the village named Thakubari, a predominantly Hindu neighborhood.

The resultant fires and destruction have left dozens of Hindu families homeless and penniless. Similar atrocities have occurred in the past in other parts of the country. For instance, in November 2016, a Muslim mob armed with locally-made weapons demolished at least 10 temples to the ground and vandalized hundreds of houses of the Hindu community in Brahmanbaria’s Nasirnagar, similarly in response to a Facebook posting which is alleged to have insulted Islam.

A series of attacks were conducted on Buddhist monasteries, shrines and houses of Buddhist inhabitants in Ramu Upazila in Cox’s Bazar District by local mobs in 2012. The mobs destroyed 12 Buddhist temples and monasteries and 50 houses in reaction to a tagging of an image depicting the desecration of a Quran on the timeline of a fake Facebook account under a Buddhist male name. The actual posting of the photo was not done by the Buddhist who was falsely slandered.

It seems like social media and platforms like Facebook has appeared like a deathtrap for the minorities of Bangladesh. Islam is a religion which is founded on the concept of peace. The Prophet (Sm) himself remained away from anger and violence even when He was brutally attacked and He never behaved violently with the people from other religious beliefs but we, His followers who are often away from Islamic practices, often engage in such heinous acts.

These violent incidents over the minority religious groups are actually propaganda against Bangladesh. The anti-sovereignty forces against Bangladesh actually launched such attacks over and over to damage the face of Bangladesh in front of the world. Moreover, different groups for political benefits initiated and utilized such incidents. The religious leaders of Bangladesh who are far away from the actual teachings of Islam and lack farsightedness has acted like fools by participating and motivating the followers in participating in such heinous acts repeatedly.

By showing intolerance, they are vandalizing the name and image of both Bangladesh and Islam. In our neighboring country India, the Hindus are the majority though number of Muslims there is more than that of Bangladesh. While we do act violently against the Hindus in our country, we also put the fate of our Muslim brothers and sisters in jeopardy in our neighboring country. Our actions should not give anyone excuse or motivation to spread hatred against Islam.

Islam really does not deserve that. Throughout the world, Muslims are mostly fighting against each other like the Shiah-Sunni clashes in Iran, Yemen and among other clans in Syria, Afghanistan etc. Bangladesh is yet harmonious with no sudden bomb attacks, suicide bombers and everything else. This country is one of the most religiously peaceful countries of the world. But such heinous attacks on the minorities today will actually result in clashes among different Muslim groups one day as it was already evident through the fight between two groups of Tablighi Jamaat.

Different groups from around the world patronize religion based attacks in Bangladesh and it is to destroy the image of both Bangladesh and Islam. We need to use our conscience and morality before getting engaged in atrocities against the minorities today to avoid the internal clashes of the Muslims tomorrow. If we cannot stop such incidents immediately then all our development goals and progress will be under severe threat.

It is not a problem of religion. Islam is a religion of peace and these atrocities on minorities at least do not reflect upholding peace. Islam also encourages being respectful to the people of other religion. Hence, we should no longer remain passive in this kind of occurrences done in the name of Islam. We have to save humanity and for that, we should do whatever required. Everyone has a great role to play including the media.

Our media represents this sort of news in a very wrong way which actually contributes in igniting rage among the attackers. Later, the same media publishes news about minority molestation in Bangladesh with statistics. They do not show any respect for the image of the country. They never convey the message of peace in Islam during such attacks and they do so after the incident when the miscreants already completed the destruction.

The media also try to define the political identity of the criminals which often allows the safeguarding of the criminals from the law enforcement agencies. The crime and the criminal should be focused, not their identity. Our media need to learn how to inform the audience about such incidents with an intention to cool down the rage.

The real culprits behind these incidents are never revealed though they should be as we need to know who is trying to destroy humanity and also the country. Exemplary punishment should be served so that none gets encouraged to do so in the future. The religious leaders should get ashamed when they find the real criminal from their own religion. The leaders of the protests should also ask for forgiveness for their acts believing fake or misleading posts. Most importantly, everyone should practice patience and must follow the actual teachings of Islam.

Social media use should be controlled considering the context of Bangladesh where level of education is not up to the mark. Though it sounds awful but there is no other way. Social media accounts must be linked with national ID and social media miscreants should be publicly punished. We do not need any more incidents like Bhola, Nasirabad, Rangpur or Ramu in the future.

Bangladesh has tried to uphold its religiously neutral nature from its inception. For few years in between, the anti-sovereignty forces tried to destroy this characteristics but Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina during all her regimes tried to protect that communal and religious harmony and freedom for which she was also globally acclaimed. We should not fall into the traps of few miscreants as that will make us the criminals of humanity, Islam and also Bangladesh. We must all play our roles with sanctity and sensibility to protect our fellow countrymen irrespective of their religion and ethnicity as they will take Bangladesh a lot further.

The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and Vice-Chairman, Democracy Research Center (DRC)


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