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Mosques project rapped as discrimatory political gimmick

DHAKA (UCAN): Minority leaders in Bangladesh, including Theophil Nokrek, secretary of the Justice and Peace Commission, have condemned a US$ 1.07 billion ($8.35 billiion) mosque building project initiated by the government, calling it a blatant attempt to win over Muslim voters ahead of national elections at the end of the year.
The prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, inaugurated the project on May 3, which is supposed to be partly funded by Saudi Arabia—though funds have yet to be released. The government has claimed it is a bid to combat extremism was expected to float tenders for the building of 560 model mosques across the country in mid-May, local media reported.
The government has taken this initiative so that people can receive the real teaching of Islam and exercise Islamic culture properly, United News of Bangladesh reported Hasina as saying.
“We want a good image of our holy religion to be upheld. Islam is a religion of peace and we want peace to prevail,” Hasina said, adding that Islam is being defamed by the killing of innocent people and the carrying out of militant and terrorist acts in the name of religion.
Each mosque will cost 150 million Taka ($13.9 million), according to Shamim Afzal, head of the state-run Islamic Foundation, which is tasked with overseeing the project.
“Unlike the 300,000 existing mosques, the model mosques will include libraries and Islamic cultural centres. They would preach against distorted Islamic philosophy of radical groups and political parties,” Afzal explained.
Nokrek, said the initiative was unfair to adherents of other faiths.
“Usually, a community, wealthy Muslim businessman and organisations take up initiatives to build mosques in respective communities, but not the government. Building hundreds of mosques with state funds or a grant is a kind of discrimination against other religions,” Nokrek said.
“The question is whether the government could have released such a huge amount for the welfare of other faiths,” he wondered.
Nokrek said it is an attempt by the ruling semi-secular Awami League, which has been in power since 2008, to win over rural Muslim voters.
“It wants to win Muslim votes in relatively conservative areas, where it traditionally performs poorly. If the government was really enthusiastic about fighting extremism, it should have fixed mosques accused of spreading radical Islam and also promoted education and awareness against militancy,” Nokrek said.
Govinda Chandra Pramanik, president of Bangladesh National Hindu Grand Alliance said the new mosque scheme is unnecessary.
“Our constitution advocates equal treatment of all faiths. In that sense it is a biased and unjust project to benefit the faith of the majority. In reality, this scheme is a tool to secure Muslim votes for the ruling party,” Pramanik, a Supreme Court lawyer, explained.
Bangladesh has long been known as a moderate, albeit fragile, secular democracy.
The counbtry has suffered badly in recent years with a rise in Islamic militancy that has seen up to 50 people including so-called atheist bloggers, religious minorities, gay rights advocares and foreigners murdered by militants.

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