As an anti-militancy journalist and counterterrorism expert, I have always been warning politicians in Bangladesh about their romance with a pro-Caliphate group named Hefazat e Islam (HeI). But sadly, it seems to me that our politicians have gone rogue and they are rather over-enthusiastic in mixing with the element with the hope of getting support from the radical Muslim bloc in the country.
Taking full advantage of this favourable situation, HeI men are gradually becoming active and vocal in Bangladesh, clearly with the ulterior agenda of transforming a secular Bangladesh into a Caliphate. There is no ideological difference between Hefazat e Islam and Islamic State. Both are preachers of radical Islam, jihad and establishment of Caliphate. In their eyes, every non-Muslim, “apostate” and “infidels” are “enemies of Allah” and the only “remedy” these notorious groups have for those “enemies of Allah” is – killing in the name of “holy” jihad.
On January 11, 2019, head of Hefazat e Islam, Shah Ahmad Shafi, a 95-year-old radical Islamist, who also runs a madrassa named Al-Jamiatul Ahlia Darul Ulum Moinul Islam madrasa in Chattogram district, during a gathering of HeI had asked the guardians to refrain from sending their children to schools and colleges.
He said parents may let their daughters study up to grade five so that the girls can keep a tab on their husband’s finances and write letters to their husband.
HeI kingpin Shafi said, “Don’t send your daughters to school, college. You may let them study up to grade four or five so that they can keep track of their husband’s money and write letters to their husband.”
He further said, “But if you let your daughter study a lot, she will not be your daughter any more after some days. Someone else will take her away as you’ve seen in newspaper reports what happens to the girls who study grades [higher than grade V].”
He then made the audience make the promise of growing beard, forcing girls and women to put on hijab, niqab and burqa etc.
Shafi also is the head of the Al-Hiyatul Ulya Lil-Zami’atil Qawmiya Bangladesh, the highest organization of Dawra-e-Hadith of the Qawmi madrasa.
Hefazat e Islam made global headlines in 2013 when its members carried out mayhem in Dhaka city after calling a rally demanding the establishment of Caliphate in Bangladesh.
Ali Riaz a distinguished professor of political science at the Illinois State University, USA, commenting on Hefazat e Islam kingpin’s remarks wrote, “One can take comfort in the fact that this shocking plea will have no bearing on most of the citizens as they will continue to send their children to schools, and the government will not bother going down the road of changing its policy. But one should neither ignore what these kinds of positions imply nor be oblivious to the fact that there is a political dimension to it.”
He further wrote, “…There is another important aspect of this episode. These kinds of tacit demands, often outrageous, are raised as a bargaining chip. By triggering a particular segment of the population, these actors compel the government to meet other demands. The changes made in the school textbooks in 2017 are a case in point. In the backdrop of the demands of changes in the textbooks being met, Fayezullah, an HI [HeI] leader, told a New York Times reporter on January 22, 2017, that “The larger goal…goes far beyond textbooks. He hopes to push through a full separation of boys and girls beginning in the fifth grade. Mixing of sexes in the classroom, he said, results in young men and women who ‘prefer to live together, prefer to have physical relations before marriage.”
It should be mentioned here that, ruling Awami League maintains warm relations with Hefazat e Islam, which can only be interpreted as appeasement of Islamists and Caliphate-mongers by a party that has been always considered as a secularist. Awami League’s warm relations with Hefazat as well as Bangladesh’s main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party’s (BNP) affiliation with militancy-linked Jamaat e Islami (JI) would put the country at a huge risk of being hijacked by radical Islam.