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Photo: bdnews24.com
Photo: bdnews24.com

For the first time in history, our land is facing a threat of being permanently divided along the religious lines. While some progressives do squirm at the sight of tupee-daree and consider Muslim motifs unfit in our Bangalee expression, I feel that our polity by and large do not have any contradiction between the two motifs. We wear punjabee as comfortably for Eid as we do for Pahela Baishakh.

The fault line is a work in progress of the manipulators on the ignorance of both groups.

What Shahbag has taught us is that each of us hold a unique position about  the present situation. Each position has a different mix of ingredients. The primary attribute is not the previously assumed AL and anti AL division but a more fundamental one where our perception of our developing identity is at play.

The two poles are Bangalee and Muslim. All of us are a dot in  a different spot of the spectrum. I feel that a serious soul searching is needed to find where we are in order to understand how and why we differ. Expecting “Mukijuddhyer Chetona” is far from adequate to address the impending challenges.

In this fragmented time it should help to know where in our history the divide started.

Our history is riddled with examples of adoption of a strategy of divide at the time of a change of guard. The great Palas from the Eighth century were the first locals to have ruled our own polity.  During their reign they implemented Pali as the court language even when the Sanskrit flourished under the great Guptas. When the Senas took over, Sangskrit was reinstated as the court language and the populace were converted en mass to a caste centric brand of Hinduism that suited their South Indian religious preferences. Later in 14th century when the Sultanate of Bengal took over as the fist Muslim independent dynasty of Bengal, the court language again was changed and this time to our beloved Bangla.

Even though the rulers of the Muslim era all the way up to the Mughals showed great tolerance to the local religion, the ruling class however was almost entirely comprised of foreigners.  During the mid Mughal reign mass adoption to Islam took place due to the land reform measure enacted to increase the land revenue where mosque building as a part of the forest clearing programme worked as a great motivator.

By the time the English came to power Bengal was a majority Muslim province. This lend itself as a great opportunity for them to practice their ploy of divide and rule. They picked the marginalized Hindu religious elite to create a subservient class that could help them with their governance. To accentuate the divide the disgruntled Muslim elite went back to their Farsi text and rejected English. Eventually though when this Hindu elite started to assert themselves due to their western education the Raj decided to again turn the tables by partitioning Bengal based on religious lines. The Muslim leadership was pro partition and the entire Hindu community was against it. This was the start of the riots of Bengal.

The first riot took place in Comilla in March of 1907. The spark was, on the Muslim side a pamphlet that was distributed by Anjuman-e-Mufidul Islam which instructed Muslims to dissociate from the Hindus and on the Hindu side the adoption of Bande Mataram as the war cry of the Shodeshis glorifying Shivaji the Marathi tormentor of the Mughals. Later this riot moved to Jamalpur and became a frequent feature in different parts of Bengal but stopped after a few months. It returned with full vengeance in 1946 in Calcutta and caused havoc in places like Noakhali and Bihar.

During the Pakistan period riots were intermittent and often caused by retaliation of what was rumoured to happen across the border. Due to the religious conditioning of Pakistani Army, the liberation in 1971 meant complete disintegration of all Islamic parties. However all banned Fundamentalists came back with pomp when Ziaur Rahman called them back as his alternate power base vis-à-vis AL. The silenced middle class anguished while the fundamentalist expanded their power base. The anguish compounded as the fundamentalists continued to flaunt their presence and ultimately Shahbagh gave them the avenue to release their pressure.

In the analysis of our history then we find that two things happen at the change of guard

a.       Prevailing support base are marginalised

b.      Marginalised based is favoured to create a support base to sustain power

Analysis of the riots tells us that

a.   A subset of the community needs to feel some genuine grief

b.  A campaign from political leadership is needed  to instigate violence

At this moment I am sure that our children reading in madrassah feels marginalised in our society, when they see the glitter of consumerism flourishing around them. He knows that he is not a part of it and that he is not competitive. The fundamentalist leadership is in an existential threat therefore they feel the urgency to mobilise a line of defence and finds the madrassah student and low income clerics easy recruits in their cause. On the progressive side the anguish is partially coming from the unstoppable rehabilitation under the support of political equation and the unfinished chapter of justice for the war criminals of 71. A subliminal play spawning from global media to our own also works to agitate the middle class.

As a strategy then we should be doing the following:

a.     Increasing the opportunity of our madrasah children and the clerics

b.      Wedging in a moderate Muslim leadership in the Fundamentalist camp

c.       Enforce zero tolerance to inflammatory communications on both sides of the isle

d.      Appease the progressives with some precedence of justice

e.      Increase understanding about our Islamic component of our identity

f.       Lead the vision for a prosperous future for the country

The leadership needs to work tirelessly on uniting the nation by focusing on places on agreements. And us citizens need to go beyond our hypothesis of differences and work on keeping the unity intact. It is a battle for a better future for our children therefore every one must do their part.

Syed Hasibuddin Hussain, an IT and telecommunication professional, runs an export oriented manufacturing unit in Dhaka.

20 Responses to “Unity in troubled times”

  1. Omar Zahid

    I know the above is only an opinion piece, but it is very badly written. It also contains multiple historical errors as stated in the above emails, so shall not go there.

    One thing which wasn’t clear was the use of the word ‘bangalee’ and its definition. Being born and brought in London, England I have always considered myself to be bengali, i.e a shortened form of Bangladeshi.

    However, in most literature the word mostly used is bangalee, which makes me wonder if its just a case of different spelling, or if it has a different meaning altogether.

    • gopal

      Being a Bangladeshi is a national identity, being a Bengali is a linguistic identity.A Bengali can be Hindu, Muslim, christian, Bouddha, and others who speak Bengali as their mother tongue.

      Long before Bangladesh was born, the people of Bangladesh was Bengali. The problem starts when we talk about Bengali culture. It cannot be denied that for whatever reasons that may be, Bengali culture is predominantly Hindu culture which some Bangladeshi people find difficult to accept. Hence the conflict.

      Bangladeshi women sports bindi which is a Hindu custom. But it makes the girls look beautiful and the girls know that. So you cannot stop that. Culture has its own flow and people will take whatever they like.

      There is a dilemma of religion and culture in the hearts of the people of Bangladesh. And it will not go any time soon.

  2. Rezaul Karim

    War criminals, corruption criminals, gangster criminals, politicians and the common men in Bangladesh were happily living together. One fine morning Awami League leadership decided to create a big divide in the country (Samaj ke bibhogto). How you see the divide and whether it is good or bad is your choice. In any case, this long drawn political chaos is very painful and financially ruinous. It should stop ASAP.

  3. Mohammad Zaman

    I love the effort of the scribe to put some historical context. But there seems to be some historical faults that I would like to point out. Although medicine is my forte, history always intrigues me!

    Comment #1
    Pali has nothing to do with the Pala Dynasty (750 AD – 1174 AD). This, in fact, was used and flourished as Buddhist canonical language before the birth of Christ and centuries before Gopala (founder of Plala Dyanasty) was elected (yes, elected) to end the “Mathsanaya” that befall on Bengal after the death of Sahashanka. During the 500+ years of Pala Empire, Proto-Bangla eventually evolved into Bangla.

    Comment #2
    “During their reign they implemented Pali as the court language even when the Sanskrit flourished under the great Guptas”

    This gives an impression that the Palas and Guptas are contemporary, but it is not. Gupta Dynasty (320 AD to 550 AD) ended more than two centuries before Gopla founded the Pala Dynasty.

    Comment #3
    Caste Centric Brand of Hinduism is an import from Aryan North India that insinuated South India slowly over centuries.

  4. icebergz

    Quoting from your article

    ‘The two poles are Bangalee and Muslim. All of us are a dot in a different spot of the spectrum. I feel that a serious soul searching is needed to find where we are in order to understand how and why we differ.’

    I have never understood this thought process.

    What is being a Bangalee ? What is being a Muslim for that matter. And how is the two at opposite poles as you mention ?

    I think one might argue there is no relation of inter dependency between the two. Its a nonsensical rhetoric used so many times that people repeat it without really thinking.

    Do being a good Muslim stop you from being a proper bangalee Or vice versa ? Where is the deciding criteria that you say puts us in different spots of the spectrum.

    If someone take lots of Hilsha fish and ‘ shutki ‘ varta on pohela boishakh will that somehow cleanse their inner self and make them more Bangalee ?

    Or just by eating lots of dates on Ramadan make you a better Muslim ?

    So to come to the middle point we should make some new recepies maybe? Superficial solutions for a superficial distraction from the problem.

    No intention of disrespect towards your writing , I just can not understand the validity of this statement above I have heard many times before.

  5. pothik

    What the Madrasa education transforms the minds of the children of mostly low socio-economic background? Currently about 4 million students are studying in the quami madrasa. What they are going to do with their knowledge in this modern world? What is their future for productive work for the society? For a developing nation, we should think about this if we want a strong Bangladesh in this modern era.

    • gopal

      Years ago, there was a survey conducted by an Indian Bengali Muslim journalist Mr. Abul Bashar (ANANDABAZAR GROUP. He did it in his own village. He said that thirty years ago, there were few maulavis and they had enough earnings from the community. But now the number of maulvis had grown five fold, and the population did not grow in the same ratio. So the maulvis had problems to earn their livelihood.

  6. Golam Arshad

    Hasib: Great piece! Why we divide lest we UNITE ?? The oppression of the Middle Class!! The Great Money-Power Divide! Triggered Politics of Confrontation. Violence and Vengeance! Take a DEEP PAUSE!! And bring PEACE where needed. Good job

  7. KMAK

    It is amusing that the author paints anti-religious secularists who cringe at Islamic expressions as “progressives” thereby giving the impression that those who are not secular and are passionate about Islam are not progressives but backwards. In any case, I’m surprised no one has brought up the recent PEW survey of the Muslim world. According to this survey, 80% of Bangladeshi Muslims believe that Shariah should be the law of the land. If we take this at face value, then going by the author’s logic, 80% of Bangladeshis are an existential threat to his vision of Bangladesh.

    What about his suggestions regarding the containment of this imaginary existential threat? He seems to think that the primary reason why Madrassah students and clerics feel detached from society is due to the limited access they have to economic opportunities. Probably. A more likely factor maybe the erosion of traditional conservative values brought about by the Indian media and globalization (Westernization really). I am not a Madrassah student or a cleric. As a conservative youth hailing from a middle class, I too do not like the lack of modesty and impiety that is characteristic of Dhaka these days.

    As for wedging in a moderate Muslim leadership, whatever that means, what exactly is a moderate Muslim according to the author? The kind that anti-religious, secularist, progressives approve of? The kind that welcomes vilification of the Prophet(saw)? The kind that welcomes the prohibition of religion based political parties?

    • Sumit Mazumdar

      A moderate Muslim is someone who does not insist on bringing religion into politics, who is willing to give equal opportunities and freedom to women and to non-Muslims, and who agrees that even if he/she disapproves of the “impiety” practiced by the nonreligious, they have the right to lead their lives according to their ideas.

      • icebergz

        Here is the catch 22 situation. Before i get ‘branded’ for my views below , let me say my own religious views are too complex to be captioned in a few words on a comment box.

        ‘A moderate Muslim’ … I do not like the combination of words . It sounds like a ‘ A moderate Alchoholic’ ‘ A moderate smoker ‘ etc. By definition you are discriminating against Muslims , as if something is wrong just being Muslim which needs moderation.

        Rather on focusing on being a muslim you could have
        focused on any ideology / belief / thinking. All of which have a tendency to become excessive . moderation is not something that comes to human nature easily.

        What part of your or any human’s life is outside politics ? Who determines the concept of what how and in which cases a woman is free or oppressed . Is it a concept as per their own perception / interpretation of her beliefs / ideology . Or is it something force fed her by the collective social , political , media machine ?

        I agree with you that your freedom in living your life the way you want is a must and that very freedom stops when you enforce others to live their lives the way you prefer. Directly or indirectly.

        You see how the same argument can work both ways ? Flip side of the same logic can work both ways . It is not a case of one side being right and the other wrong. To me both arguments when of both sides being wrong.

      • KMAK

        Judging by your name, I assume you are a non-Muslim? My question to you is, have you provided your definition of a moderate Muslim or have you provided the Islamic definition of a moderate Muslim? Suppose I agree with all aspects of your definition except the separation of religion and politics. Would you deem me a non-moderate then? How about if I also oppose state recognition of homosexuality, alcohol consumption and pornography? Would I be a radical?

      • icebergz

        What is the Islamic definition of Moderate Muslim?
        As you have put it.

        You seem to be misunderstanding my point. What defines ‘ moderation ‘, such a generic term to use int the first place .

        While we are at it can any one explain by using the same argument if the terms make any sense to you ….
        ‘ moderate democratic society ‘ , ‘ moderate Feminist ‘ , ‘ moderate christian / jew / Hindu ‘ , ‘ moderate progressive ‘ , ‘moderate capitalist / socialist ‘ .

      • Sumit Mazumdar

        KMAK: I am responding to your comment after a month – and it would be an interesting experience if I reach you.

        Yes I am a non-Muslim, and yes I am giving my opinion about “moderate Muslim”. What is important is that (based on conversations alone) this opinion is shared by all non-Muslims whether you care of or not (you should, see below).

        I will not consider you a radical if you oppose state recognition of homosexuality, alcohol consumption and pornogrpahy. I would consider you a radical if you believe that that entitles you to ostracize or even kill me if I believe in any or all of those. I do expect a moderate to accept whatever the nation as a whole agrees to, however painful this is to you.

        It is not enough in such cases to say Islam is an all-encompassing belief, because hiding behind this statement are the people who believe that non-Muslims can only be second class citizens in a Muslim-majority country. Once someone who makes alcohol consumption illegal by diktat comes to power (a “moderate” Muslim like you) in the next election he will be pushed aside by someone more pious who is worried about homw many Hindus are giving “uludhwoni”. There is no example in world history where a “moderate Muslim” as defined by you is able to hold on to political power. He/she will _always_ be replaced by the orthodox. Just look at Turkey today.

        As to why a Muslim should heed to definition of “moderate Muslim” by a non-Muslim – it should be already clear. We are the “moderate non-Muslims” who are not anti-Muslim. It is us – or the hard core anti-Muslim you will have to deal with. Better us than them.

    • Humaira

      Dear KMAK,

      Can you please provide the link of the PEW study that you are talking about. Or any reference to it, so that i can read the study.

      • KMAK


        “In South Asia, high percentages in all the countries surveyed support making sharia the official law, including nearly universal support among Muslims in Afghanistan (99%). More than eight-in-ten Muslims in Pakistan (84%) and Bangladesh (82%) also hold this view. The percentage of Muslims who say they favor making Islamic law the official law in their country is nearly as high across the Southeast Asian countries surveyed (86% in Malaysia, 77% in Thailand and 72% in Indonesia)”


    • Syed Hussain

      Dear KMAK
      Thank you for pointing to the PEW research. It is quite an eye opener. We live in a world of complacence on what our gut says. However these numbers should pull us out of our slumber to question the make up of our polity.

      Now for the usage of “moderate Islam”: I am sharing my frame of thought behind using the word. A moderate muslim in my view is some one who is in the middle of orthodox and liberal muslim. An orthodox muslim in my view lives a life of rituals. Whereas a liberal muslim cares little about rituals but feels affinity with Islam. A moderate muslim is a practicing muslim but doesn’t make a big fuss about it. The moderate muslim leader however needs to be a scholar in lieu with the tradition of Islam where we see all the great masters of Islam having competence on a wide range of topics.

      As my need for moderate muslim stems directly from the threat of the politically motivated branch of the orthodox Islam I feel I need to explain my concern. I feel threatened by the call of Jihad of orthodox Islam because I feel there can be no compulsion in religion. I feel terrible when the leadership of orthodoxy demonstrates complete lack of grasp on the development of human knowledge over the centuries since the Khalifat. In fact they stand in contradiction to the illumination of the Dar-us-salam of the thirteenth century. Most of all I feel disgust for the utter disregard for human life they show based on an ideology when serving the good of humanity is what religion is all about.

      Broadly my “approval” goes to a large spectrum of Islam as long as it shows compassion to humanity and does not impinge upon the practice of others.


      Syed Hussain

      • KMAK

        Thanks for your reply. All I have to say is, given the absence of a Muslim pope (at least in Sunni Islam), any one person’s opinion on what constitutes moderation in Islam is just that-an opinion. To you, a moderate is one who is between a liberal and an orthodox; yet, to many orthodox, such a person would be considered a liberal whereas to many liberals, he would be orthodox. Hence it is pointless playing the moderate Muslim card since there is no agreement on who is a moderate in the first place.

    • gopal

      Probably. A more likely factor maybe the erosion of traditional conservative values brought about by the Indian media and globalization (Westernization really) – …..

      Ban the women from watching those channels, better still, ban the channels altogether as the boys will be attracted. We then can have more KMAK in Bangladesh.

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