What does it stand for?
Al-Ma’arri was an Arabic poet, philosopher, and writer who lived (December 973 – May 1057) during the Islamic Golden Age under the Abbasid era in Aleppo, which is in modern Syria.
In 2019, Al-Ma’arri statue was vandalized in Syria by the al-Nusra Front, about a thousand years after his lifetime, because Al-Ma’arri was a rationalist, someone we might call a “nastik” (atheist) in Bangladesh. According to some accounts, he was a deist. He questioned Islam and its practises; at the same time he was critical of Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism. He was an ethical vegetarian who was also an antinatalist.
Despite his critical views on religion, he was not harassed or harmed during his lifetime. He lived in the centre of the Abbasid Caliphate and yet he did not fear to speak his mind. He lived when Islam was at its zenith and it represented the most advanced civilization in the world. Muslim cities were centres of culture while European cities had a barely functioning sewage system. This was a civilization at the peak of its development, filled with optimism and confidence.
Hefazat-e-Islam would like to see a revival of the Golden Age but it does not understand the Golden Age. The ideology it represents is a reactionary one. It is the ideology of Abul A’la Maududi, the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Taliban, and Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. It is a reactionary ideology rooted in fear and humiliation.
It is an ideology that is born from the humiliation of colonialism when almost the entire Islamic world found itself under European (Christian) colonial rule. The fear resulted in a world view that sees Islam in danger everywhere and it continues even after the end of colonialism.
Despite Bangladesh being a Muslim-majority country where Muslims are free to practice, and Islam is the state religion, Hefazat feels the need to protect Islam. They feel that Islam is in danger but from what?
The Islamic Golden Age was an open civilization that encouraged and supported the study of medicine, science, philosophy, and mathematics. People of many faiths and beliefs lived freely in the Islamic word. It lasted from 900–1300 CE, and ended with the sacking of Baghdad by the Mongol horde.
The Taliban regime that briefly ruled Afghanistan did not create a society that looked like the Islamic Golden Age and Hefazat-e-Islam’s vision does not look much different from the Taliban rule. In this year alone, Hefazat activists attacked Hindu temples in Brahmanbaria and Hindu homes and temples in Sylhet. They are not protecting anything, rather they are carrying out violent attacks on religious minorities.
They seek to destroy our culture and replace it with a clone of the Taliban state in Afghanistan, where women are prisoners in their homes. Hefazat, like the Taliban, seeks to turn women into second-class citizens and reverse all the gains women have made in this country.
In Europe, Protestants and Catholics fought for hundreds of years and it took a secular state to achieve peace. The Thirty Year’s War was a war between Catholic and Protestant states in Central Europe in the 17th century in which 4.5 to 8 million died. By some estimates, the war had resulted in the death of one third of the population of Germany.
It was necessary for European governments to adopt secular laws to prevent the recurrence of such war and deaths. The Islamic world is seeing something similar in Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iraq, and Pakistan in the conflict between Sunni and Shia sects. These wars are of course not entirely religion based; they are also shaped by the geopolitical rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Hefazat, like the Taliban or the Islamic State, is not fighting for Muslims; instead, it is fighting fellow Muslims for practising Islam differently. The amount of energy, resources, and lives wasted in these fights are harming the development of Bangladesh and the Islamic world.
The state needs to be a secular institute that favours no religion or sect; a neutral referee that protects the rights of all citizens irrespective of their beliefs. Bangladesh needs to return to the original spirit of the constitution that made secularism a pillar of our nation. That would mean creating a Uniform Civil Code that will apply to all citizens of Bangladesh, irrespective of their religion. It would mean abolishing the family laws based on religion established by the British Raj.
There is no love in the hearts of Hefazat leaders like Mamunul Haque. These people are motivated by their hate for others. This hate is transferred to their supporters. Look at the abuse they direct at the critics of Hefazat in the holy month of Ramadan. There is no spirituality or love in their words or actions but only blind hatred.
They act as if attacking Hefazat is equivalent to attacking Islam; it is not. Hefazat does not represent Islam but the selfish interests of their leaders. Mamunul Haque who has a verified page and millions of views online makes a comfortable living off social media. It is comfortable enough for him to travel the country in his helicopter.
I am reminded of the Hefazat rampage in Brahmanbaria. I was left wondering why they attacked a music school and a Hindu temple. I understand why they would attack government buildings and Awami League offices because their grievance is with this Awami League led government.
Why the music school and temple? I am reminded of the time Hefazat leaders burned the phones of students at Hathazari Madrasa after finding music and dancing clips in them. I refer to a comment left by a Hefazat supporter on my Facebook page: “Bangladesh is a Muslim state, we shouldn’t allow Hinduism to be practised in our country.”
Hefazat knows what it wants and is willing to do whatever it can to get it. We need to make a stand for the Bangladesh we grew up in where people of all faith lived in harmony. We need to take a stand for the rights of all citizens of Bangladesh or we risk becoming a failed Taliban state. We risk losing all our economic and social development made since our independence.
Mahir Abrar is a Lecturer at American International University-Bangladesh.