ucanews.com reporter, Dhaka
Updated: May 02, 2017 10:11 AM GMT
Two women walk near Nayabad Mosque in northern Dinajpur district in this 2011 file photo. There are about 300,000 mosques in Bangladesh, mostly privately run. The government plans to build 560 more with funding from Saudi Arabia. (ucanews.com photo)
The Bangladesh government plans to build hundreds of mosques with funding from Saudi Arabia, sparking fears among minority communities that they will be used to spread radicalism.
The government has approved a plan to construct 560 mosques, one in each town, with about US$1.07 billion from Saudi Arabia, a government minister said April 26.
The funding came in response to a request from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina during her visit to the to the oil-rich Gulf state in 2016, said Planning Minister Mustofa Kamal.
Jalal Ahmed, deputy secretary at state-run Islamic Foundation, told ucanews.com that "We need to build modern and model mosques in every sub-district of the country. Existing mosques can't properly accommodate large numbers of Muslim devotees."
These mosques will have modern services including research facilities, libraries, and separate sections for both male and female worshippers. The government is already monitoring mosques in the country to check for radicalism and will do so in the new ones, Ahmed said.
"We will work with the government so these mosques preach real Islam and not radicalism," he added.
Bangladesh currently has about 300,000 mosques, mostly run privately, according to the Islamic Foundation.
Muslim worshippers throng Baitul Mukarram National mosque in Dhaka for prayer in this 2013 file photo. Bangladesh government plans to build 560 mosques with funding from Saudi Arabia, sparking fears among minority communities about the spread of radicalism. (ucanews.com photo)
Bishop Gervas Rozario of Rajshahi said there are reasons to be suspicious about the plan.
"We have never seen Saudi Arabia fund development projects other than financing mosques, madrasas and promoting Islam. There are doubts about using them to spread radicalism as the country has been accused of spreading radical Islam globally," Bishop Rozario, chairman of Catholic bishops' Justice and Peace Commission told ucanews.com.
"The government must ensure modern mosques are monitored and they offer the modern, pacifist teachings of religion," the prelate added.
Minority communities see the move as the ruling Awami League Party's latest wooing of Islamists ahead of the 2019 national election and they fear the new mosques will preach the kind of radical Sunni Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia.
"There are tens of thousands of mosques in Bangladesh and there are religious and political motivations for building hundreds more. Saudi Arabia doesn't offer asylum to migrants but it funds mosque-building which shows it is the sole guardian, promoter and exporter of radical Islam," Govinda Chandra Pramanik, secretary of Bangladesh Hindu Grand Alliance told ucanews.com.
"The rise of Islamist radicalism and the government's wooing of radicals shows Bangladesh is slowly becoming an Islamic state and there will be no place for minorities unless they embrace and follow Islam," he added.
Hitherto known as a moderate Muslim country, radicalism has seen an upsurge Bangladesh in recent times.
The government ordered a crackdown on radicals after a spate of killings that saw 46 people — including atheist writers, publishers, liberal academics, foreigners, and members of religious and ethnic minorities — killed since 2013.
However, the government has also been accused of appeasing Islamists. It overlooked the recent Islamization of textbooks, announced that it would recognize degrees from hard-line madrasas and supported Islamist demands to remove a statue of Greek goddess Themis, a global symbol of justice and fairness, from the premises of the Supreme Court.