CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 17 August 2019

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Bangladesh to curb Islamic hate speech

Dhaka (UCAN) The government of Bangladesh moved to stem inflammatory public speeches by radical Islamist clerics.
 
In a recent letter to various state bodies, the Home Ministry made six recommendations aimed at monitoring and controlling clerics accused of delivering hateful sermons to Muslim devotees.
 
The letter also asked revenue officials to determine whether militant Islamic gatherings known as waz mahfils should be subject to taxation provisions.
 
A wing of the Home Ministry recently issued a report listing 15 Islamic preachers allegedly advocating undemocratic religious communalism and stances detrimental to the interests of women.
 
The Bangladesh Islamic Foundation, a government organisation under the Ministry of Religious Affairs, confirmed circulation of the letter.
 
“We received a letter from the Home Ministry with recommendations on March 28, but we have yet to decide our course of action,” foundation deputy secretary, Muhammad Jalal Ahmad, said on April 2.
 
The Home Ministry report excludes Shah Ahmed Shafi, one of the nation’s most radical Islamist clerics and chief of Hefazat-e-Islam (Protectors of Islam), an umbrella organisation for Islamic madrasas (seminaries).
 
Shafi and his group have vehemently opposed policies aimed at enhancing the welfare of women, including in relation to education for girls.
 
In 2013, Shafi described women as a “mouth-watering fruit like tamarind” and he argues that the Quran suggests that women should stay at home to take care of the family and children.
 
The same year, Shafi’s group organised a mass rally in capital Dhaka to demand a blasphemy law as well as the execution of atheist bloggers for insulting Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. At least 50 people were killed and scores injured in clashes with security personnel.
 
In January this year, Shafi sparked a public and media outcry after he asked parents of madrasa students not to send their daughters to schools after grade four or five stating that otherwise, they might become disobedient and elope with men.
 
Liberal Islamists and Church officials welcomed the moves to monitor and control radical clerics but expressed some concerns.
 
Maolana Fariduddin Masoud, president of the Bangladesh Jamiatul Ulama (Council of Clerics), said that Bangladesh has existing laws to take action against those promoting hate speech anywhere.
 
He said specifying waz mahfils, including the option of taxing them, could backfire among Muslim devotees who see such religious gatherings as holy.
 
The cleric also alleged that excluding Shafi and other Hefazat leaders from the list of radical preachers was deliberate. “It seems the government is afraid of Shafi and Hezafat as they have large followings,” he said.
 
Bishop Gervas Rozario of Rajshahi, vice-president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Bangladesh, said no religious leaders had a right to preach anything that undermined public order.
 
“It is true preachers in waz mahfils deliver inflammatory speeches and the government must sustain peace and harmony,” he said.
 
“The idea of taxation is good as we too pay taxes when our pastoral centres are used by various groups and organisations.”
 
The bishop said he believed that the government had refrained from citing some specific preachers such as Shafi in order not to spark negative religious sentiments among Muslims.
 
Long known as a liberal Muslim-majority country, Bangladesh has seen a sharp rise in Islamic radicalism since 2013.
 
Since then, home-grown Islamic militants have killed about 50 people including atheist bloggers, writers, publishers, liberal academics, gay activists, religious minorities and foreigners.   
 
In response, the government launched a crackdown that has resulted in dozens of militants being killed and many more arrested.

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