Crowds attend an Islamic gathering near Dhaka in this 2015 photo. A senior police official said on Jan. 19 that popular Islamic gatherings will be censored to curb provocative sermons. (Photo: UCA News)
Minority leaders including a Catholic Church official have welcomed a decision by Bangladeshi police to censor popular Islamic gatherings in order to stop radical clerics from delivering inflammatory and indecent speeches.
A senior police official said on Jan. 19 that they will keep an eye on waz mahfils (Islamic gatherings) to identify clerics and take action over radical, provocative and hate speech in sermons.
"We have noticed that recently some speakers in waz mahfils are giving political and indecent speeches about mothers and sisters rather than discussing the five pillars of Islam," Monirul Islam, chief of the police's Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) unit, told a conference of Islamic leaders in capital Dhaka, the English-language Daily Star reported.
Islamic scholars can make people aware of militancy and drugs by making statements at different times. The role of scholars is to give the correct interpretation of Islam to the people and to make people aware as they listen to scholars attentively, the official said.
On the same day, Muslim Supreme Court lawyer Mahmudul Hasan issued a legal notice to secretaries of the ministries of religious affairs, home and education, and the director-general of the Islamic Foundation, seeking directives to bar Islamic clerics and speakers from delivering speeches containing anti-state or fictional rhetoric at waz mahfils and ensuring that the speeches are not made without textual references to the Quran and Hadith.
The lawyer said he will file a writ petition with the apex court if no measure is taken within 30 days.
For years, Islamic clerics have been accused of making defamatory remarks about various people and groups including women, secularists, liberals and minority communities during sermons.
In 2019, the Home Ministry issued a letter to state bodies with six recommendations aimed at monitoring and controlling clerics accused of delivering hateful sermons to Muslim devotees. It is unknown whether the letter had any visible impact on radical preaching.
Minority leaders welcomed the police statement and said that provocative speeches by Islamic clerics have offended groups such as women and minorities for too long.
“Many times I have heard Islamic preachers saying that women are only for enjoyment and work, and equal rights for them is impossible. During waz mahfils, many Islamic leaders declare that Islam is the only true religion and the rest are infidels,” Father Anthony Sen, convener of the Justice and Peace Commission in Dinajpur Catholic Diocese, told UCA News.
“Those who make such statements know little about Islam. And because of this kind of rhetoric, religiously motivated violence against women and minorities is on the rise. This must be stopped.”
Hindu leaders say that due to various forms violence against the community, including those fueled by hate speeches by radical preachers, the proportion of Hindus in Bangladesh has decreased from about 15 percent in 1971 to around 9 percent today.
Gobinda Chandra Pramanik, president of the Bangladesh National Hindu Grand Alliance, said many Islamic preachers continue to refer to the teachings of Islamic heretics that are against the true spirit of Islam.
“Islamic holy books have been exploited by radical preachers to defame other faiths and even women. While modern Muslims defy radical preaching, others hate liberalism. There is a conflict within Islam. As long as radical interpretations of holy books continue, change is not possible,” Pramanik told UCA News.
About 90 percent of Bangladesh’s more than 160 million population are Sunni Muslims. Hindus, the largest minority group, account for 9 percent and the rest belong to other faiths including Buddhism and Christianity.
Widely known as a moderate Muslim country, Bangladesh has seen a sharp rise in Islamic militancy since 2013, leading to the brutal murders of 50 people including atheist bloggers, liberals, religious minorities and foreigners.