Published: Thursday, July 25, 2013


A land of many Muslims but little of Islam

I went to the West and saw Islam, but no Muslims; I got back to the East and saw Muslims, but not Islam.” That was what Muhammad Abduh, the Egyptian scholar and jurist, had to say about Islam in the early 19th Century. The essence of the statement is that while we claim to be Muslims we hardly reflect the religion in our actions or talks or behaviour. And I would venture to suggest that it could not apply more in the case of Bangladesh.
We are a Muslim majority country and many of us take pride in the fact that we were the second largest Muslim state, a fact that was not lost upon Bangabandhu, and he had made that known very soon after he landed on the free soil of Bangladesh. Many of us do not hesitate to flaunt our Muslim credentials, although in some instances they are very much seasonal, an act that is intensified during the election season in particular. And some politicians unhesitatingly try to show how better Muslims they are than their opponents by telling public the number of times they pray and the religious diktats they follow.
And in spite of secularism being one of the cornerstones of the constitution we take unending pride being described as a moderate Muslim state, even more the secularists among the politicians who, not being able to muster enough courage to do away with the preamble, are quite happy to live with Islam being the state religion. We are proud to say that the Muslims in Bangladesh are deeply religious without being bigoted, or being extreme in their outlook or behaviour. I do not know about bigotry but I wonder whether as ‘deeply religious’ Muslim Bengalis we reflect the essence of the religion in our behaviour.
Look at the way a Maulana denigrated women in his sermon recently. His comments, which would be most un-Islamic even to his most inveterate apologists, have not only given a sullied picture of Islam to those not fully conversant with what the religion says about women but are also likely to be used as a handy tool for the detractors to flay Islam.
Unlike in other Muslim countries which look upon the advent of the month of Ramadan with positive expectation, as a month to expiate for the past, to me personally the month comes with mixed feeling, a feeling of joy mixed with trepidation, because this is the month when prices will be pushed up inexplicably with the poor having to suffer the agony. And once the prices go up in Bangladesh they hardly assume the state of equilibrium. When in other countries, including non-Muslim countries, prices are controlled if not reduced during such occasions of festivity, it is perhaps only in Bangladesh that prices of some commodities that are consumed more than others in the month of Ramadan see a steep rise. Can anyone explain the reason why prices of chili got so hot to leap five times the normal price at which it was selling before the start of Ramadan this year? What had risen was not the demand for the item but our insatiable greed; even the Holy month could not restrain our excessive profit making proclivity. And we call our self “deeply religious Muslims.”
And how more un-Islamic can one get than calling for strikes in the month of Ramadan, and to indulge in destruction of private and public property. Such acts of violence are anathema in Islam, not to speak of it in the month of Ramadan. And this is being done by a party that is supposed to be the flag bearer of Islam in this country. Some flag bearer!
As for adulteration of food, we would perhaps be the envy of the wicked world of the base. We do not blink an eye while saying that without formalin the fruits and vegetables would not last the duration of their journey form one part of the country to another. We do this knowing fully well that we are slow-poisoning the nation. And instead of putting fresh and unadulterated milk into babies we even tamper with imported milk tins for enhancing profit. Good Muslims we are!
When the two major political parties never come together on any issue we saw the result of their ‘teamwork’ in the destruction of the Buddhist temples and other sites of its heritage in Cox’s Bazaar last year. Good Muslims they were!
And the list goes on…..!

The writer is Editor, Oped and Defence & Strategic Affairs, The Daily Star.

  • Sara

    using religion for personal gain is nothing new or specific to Bangladesh… people all over the world do it… for many religions… and hav been doing so for centuries… for eg the crusades

    it is a better idea to be skeptical of the people who show off their religious dedication…

    also, there is much to improve in the treatment of minorities in the country, but still, ramu and post-shahbagh attacks were isolated incidents …. they do not represent the full picture…

  • Zahir Karna

    mrdingdong’s comment is in my opinion not productive.

    But the author’s article raises very good points. And, you do not need to read just one single source to educate masses about religion. Real problem is people misunderstanding one single source. May be useful for many people if they look at more than one source.

  • nds

    How this most objective and impartial critique of the abuse and misuse of religion in this society can be seen in parallel to ruling party propaganda is really beyond my comprehension. Does even religious principles allow such opinionated and self serving interpretation of an innocuous observation. Simply not fair.

  • Islam Pakhtoon

    lol i skimmed through the article but most of the points are so true, if the leader is righteous the people will be righteous. Its a shame no good leaders exist, most of the leaders are curropt or westernised. You do not see them leading the people in prayer or anything, they all hiding away from there enemies. And most have a good reason to have so many enemies. Shame land of Islam doesn’t exist and even if it did I probably wouldn’t be able to go there anyway due to the language barrier and even if we have the land and no language barrier the west will go into angry man mode and chuck ten nuclear bombs because its uncomfortable living in society of sin when there is a society of piety and truth next door. So the only method is to wipe that nation out is the solution of west. if i was sinning I would feel uncomfortable if there was a pious person around but wouldn’t go as far as what the west does which would be to wipe out the person. The west is a nation of murderers, taliban was an elected innocent government as well as alqaeda or whatever. There might have been oppression but never to the level of oppression the west has commited and the amount of civilians they have killed. But you right muslims have a lot of curroption and they oppress a lot as well. They are muslims without islam.