An unscheduled demonstration by hundreds of members of the Islamic movement named Tabligh Jamaat and some Qawmi madrassa Alems [clerics] brought the traffic on Airport Road in Dhaka to a standstill on Wednesday.
The demonstrators positioned themselves near the airport bus stand around 10am yesterday, chanting slogans against the arrival of a preacher from the Indian chapter of the movement, Maulana Muhammad Saad Kandhalvi, who came to join the Biswa Ijtema scheduled to kick off tomorrow in Tongi.
According to witnesses, the main message of the slogans was that the Bangladesh authorities should not allow the beleaguered preacher to enter the country.
Airport police station OC Noor Azam Siddiqui said the protesters were holding their peaceful program opposite the airport intersection.
Later, the demonstrators blocked the Airport Road, causing immense traffic congestion on Dhaka-Mymensingh highway and different connecting roads in the capital.
Many passengers were seen getting off buses and starting to walk to their destinations as buses remained stranded for hours on highways. The traffic tailback later extended to the National University.
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Residents of Uttara suffered the most from the traffic congestion, as the gridlock spread to all the roads and arteries in the residential area, said Monir Hossain Ontu, a commuter who was bound for Motijheel from Uttara.
Netizens took the social media networks by storm, raising objections over allowing the members of the non-political Islamic movement to stage demonstrations on one of the busiest roads in the city, creating acute public suffering.
Sarowar Alam, a private job holder, wrote: “An issue which can be solved in a room created havoc for us today on the roads. If they [protesters] wanted, they could have organized protest rallies at any ground in the city.”
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Many passengers were seen getting off buses and starting to walk to their destinations as buses remained stranded for hours on highways. The traffic tailback later extended to the National University Focus Bangla
Some of the protesters said Tabligh Jamaat members in India and Bangladesh have been opposing the visit of Maulana Saad Kandhalvi as Darul Uloom Deoband, the movement’s central seminary, has been maintaining a state of non-cooperation with him.
Maulana Saad Kandhalvi, however, is also a religious leader known for making controversial statements which have caused uproar in India on several occasions.
Despite the protest, Saad Kandhalvi reached the local Tabligh headquarters without hindrance.
Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) Ramna Zone Deputy Commissioner Maruf Hossain Sarder said: “Maulana Saad reached Kakrail’s Tabligh Shura Office around 3:45pm.”
Customs and Armed Police Battalion officials from Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport said he arrived at the airport around 12:30pm by Thai Airways and left the airport around 2:45pm for Kakrail after completing all formalities.
Darul Uloom Deoband issued a fatwa (decree) against Kandhalvi in December 2016, accusing him of “misinterpreting Islamic shariah and insulting prophets and messengers of the Almighty.”
According to sources, the demonstrators are under orders from Hefazat-e-Islam Bangladesh leader Shah Ahmed Shafi, who is a follower of Deoband school of thought and does not want the Indian preacher and his followers to attend this year’s Ijtema.
However, sources also said Tabligh’s Shura [executive] members Syed Wasiful Islam, Mohammad Khan Shahabuddin Nasim, Professor Yunus Shikder and Maulana Mosharraf Hossain are in favour of Saad’s visit to Bangladesh.
Three of the top seven leaders of Bangladesh Tabligh Jamaat – Maulana Muhammad Jubayer, Maulana Rabiul Haque and Maulana Omar Faruq – have protested Saad’s visit, the sources said.
“A meeting was held on January 7 in Jamiya Islamia Darul Ulum Madaniya Madrasa in Jatrabari, Dhaka in presence of 21 people, including Tabligh’s Shura [executive] members and a visiting delegation from India, where everyone present voiced their opinion against Maulana Saad’s visit during Ijtema. They agreed that his visit will create conflict within the Tabligh,” said a demonstrator named Shahriar.
According to a Dhaka Tribune special report on November 15 last year, the leadership of Bangladesh chapter Tabligh Jamaat has been at odds since last year over Maulana Saad Kandhalvi’s visit.
He received harsh criticism for speaking against taking money for religious teachings and claiming that prayers cannot be offered if the devotee carries a mobile phone with a camera.
Qawmi Alems of Hefazat-e-Islam have also demanded cancellation of Maulana Saad’s visit.
Parts of this article was first published on Bangla Tribune