Muslims prepare for the final prayer of Biswha Ijtema, the second largest annual Islamic prayer gathering after Hajj, at Tongi near Dhaka on Jan. 1, 2015. (Photo by Stephan Uttom/ucanews.com)
The Bangladesh government has ordered madrasas to remove chapters on jihad from textbooks as part of an anti-militancy strategy in the Muslim-majority country which has seen a rise in radicalism.
The move comes after the state-run National Committee on Militancy Resistance and Prevention (NCMRP) made the recommendation last month.
The changes to the texts should be made in time for the distribution of books by the Bangladesh Aliya Madrasa Education Board in January 2018.
Since 1979, the textbooks for secondary school students published by the board have included chapters on jihad.
In the texts, jihad is defined as a "struggle or fight against the enemies of Islam."
"The government has directed us to remove the chapters on Jihad to curb controversy regarding the madrasa education system," an unnamed board official told the Dhaka Tribune on Oct. 26.
The NCMRP noted that the chapters on jihad contributed to "slow radicalization" of madrasa students and encouraged them to join jihadi groups at home and abroad to fight "enemies of Islam.”
Bangladesh has three types of madrasa education system — Alia, Qwomi and Hifz — offering Islamic education to millions of mostly rural, poor students. There are about 15,000 madrasas across the country, according to a 2011 study.
Theophil Norkek, secretary of Catholic Bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission welcomed the move.
"The government has taken a good decision and I guess it is intended to eradicate radicalism and to help students become moderate Muslims. The word 'jihad' is not bad itself but it has been widely misinterpreted to brainwash Muslims so they consider people of other faiths as enemies of Islam and do whatever needed to establish Islamic sharia-based society and state,” Nokrek told ucanews.com.
The Church official noted that removing jihad from textbooks was not enough on its own to curb militancy.
"You can remove jihad from textbooks, but you also need to ensure it’s gone from a person's heart. The government needs to initiate social programs to motivate Muslims to keep them away from so-called jihad," he added.
But one imam in Dhaka was angered by the move.
"Jihad is a word the comes from Allah, no one has the right to remove it. Jihad is a good word, which encourages Muslims to fight against terrorists and extremists, never against other religions," Mufti Ainul Islam, imam and preacher at Baitul Mamur Jamiah Mosque in Dhaka told ucanews.com.
"You cannot kill a person with cancer, at most you can remove the infected organ. You cannot curb radicalism unless you hold those people accountable who misinterpret Islam and jihad for their vested interests," he added.
Long known as moderate Muslim country, Bangladesh has seen a sharp rise in Islamic extremism since 2013.
Two banned militant outfits — Jamaatul Mujahedin Bangladesh (JMB) and Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) — killed about 50 people including atheist bloggers, writers, liberal academics, LGBT activists, religious minorities and foreigners.
The JMB pledges allegiance to so-called Islamic State jihadist group, while the ABT is loosely liked to Al-Qaeda in India Subcontinent.
Initially, the ruling Awami League blamed opposition and Islamist political parties for supporting homegrown militants and repeatedly denied the presence of transnational terrorist groups.
However, following the deadly cafe siege in Dhaka’s diplomatic zone on July 1 last year, which saw five militants armed with assault rifles, bombs and knives massacre 20 mostly foreign guests, government launched a massive anti-militancy crackdown.
Since then, about 70 top and mid-level militants from both groups have been killed, while hundreds of alleged militants have been arrested and are facing trial.