Mukul Seikh prays in front of the grave of his mother, sex worker Hamida Begum, in Daulatdia in Bangladesh's Rajbari district on Feb. 8. Daulatdia has one of about 12 legal brothel areas in the country. (Photo: AFP)
A Muslim cleric who made history by leading the first Islamic funeral for a sex worker in Bangladesh has vowed not to do it again following a backlash from local Muslims.
Golam Mostafa, an imam at Daulatdia Railway Station Mosque in Rajbari district, broke a social taboo to perform final rites for Hamida Begum, a sex worker from Daulatdia brothel, the largest in the country, on Feb. 6.
Although prostitution is legal in Bangladesh as a legacy from the British colonial era, it is considered an immoral profession and a cause for social ostracism in the largely conservative Muslim-majority country.
Mostafa performed the funeral rites after a request from a group of sex workers and the local police chief.
Rights activists and media hailed his action and saw it as a start to ending social ostracism and the ghetto-like miserable lives of sex workers. However, local villagers, mostly Muslims, heavily criticized the imam.
“I did it at the request of the police. Since then, villagers and shopkeepers have been discussing it and criticizing me. They are asking why I have done it as it has never happened before,” BBC Bengali Service reported Mostafa as saying on Feb. 18.
“I have talked to some alems (Islamic clerics) and they forbade me from doing it again. Any villager or imam can do it, but I won’t do it anymore.”
Moalana Amzad Hossain, a cleric from southeastern Chittagong city, expressed frustration at the turn of events over the funeral.
“There is no connection between the work of a person and a janaza (funeral). A person with faith in Allah and Namaz (Islamic prayer) deserves a proper Islamic burial after death. There is no barrier for a proper funeral for a sex worker, and I will do it if anyone comes to me with such a request,” Hossain told UCA News.
If a person commits a sin, only Allah can judge and punish on the final day, he noted.
“The state has legalized sex work, so it must either shut down the profession or take measures to break the social ostracism of sex workers and ensure their rights including funeral rites,” he added.
Holy Cross Father Liton H. Gomes had similar sentiments.
“It does not matter what religion a person belongs to or what were his or her actions in their lifetime. Death frees all from worldly connections, and only the Supreme Being can judge and evaluate the actions of a person. We see convicted criminals get a proper burial after hanging, and a sex worker duly deserves a proper burial,” Father Gomes told UCA News
“The state and society have allowed prostitution to exist, so they cannot escape the duties to ensure the rights of sex workers.”
It is hypocritical of a society that created sex workers and sustained them for pleasure for decades to deny their basic human rights, said Khushi Kabir, a Muslim and human rights defender based in capital Dhaka.
“Nothing exists in society that has no demand. People who go to sex workers for pleasure, and those who make business from brothels, enjoy all the benefits of life and rights, but poor and powerless sex workers are denied. This is hypocritical and ridiculous,” Kabir told UCA News.
“From the top level of the state to grassroots levels of the society, we need to change our mindset about sex workers and treat them as equal human beings. If anti-socials like bloodsucker money lenders, corrupt businessmen and criminals can enjoy rights and funeral rites, sex workers are even more eligible.”