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     Volume 4 Issue 74 | December 9, 2005 |

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The Beauty of Truth

Aasha Mehreen Amin

For any ordinary citizen of Bangladesh, the latest spate of bomb attacks in Gazipur and Chittagong has been enough reason to feel petrified and helpless, which is precisely what these terrorists want. The ability to evoke fear is the basis of their power. It is lawyers now, it could be shopping complexes next. Or English medium schools. Or women not wearing the hijab. Or couples holding hands. It could be anybody who does not fit into their version of moral uprightness. With the images of mutilated bodies blown up by bombs and maimed victims writhing in the hospitals, is there any reason to feel hopeful?

But wait. There is hope even if it is a glimmer and shrouded by political manipulations. On Friday December 2, it was BTV, the least popular Bangla channel that gave the sliver of a hope. A special programme was being aired showing well-known religious leaders during the Friday Jumma prayers. What was interesting about the sermon of the Imams was that they were categorically condemning the recent bombings and the terrorists who are carrying out the deadly deeds. The religious stalwarts (one of them appears regularly on TV) stated that these individuals were enemies of Islam, that Islam condemned the killing of innocents and even the act of taking one's own life itself. One of the religious leaders went as far as saying that these acts would take the terrorists straight to hell.

Interestingly, the religious scholar stated that it was the duty of each individual to stand up against these terrorists even if it meant losing their own life in the process. At the same time he pointed out that Islam cannot be forced upon a person through fear, it is only by demonstrating the beauty of Islam that one can convince people to embrace it.

Finally, it seems, religious leaders were speaking out against the insanity of some individuals who were carrying out the most heinous of crimes in the name of Islam. Of course even the Prime Minister has given the same message loud and clear which was certainly a pleasant surprise. Her ministers have dutifully echoed her condemnations. But

when Imams at mosque congregations say the same words the effect is bound to be tremendous. Ordinary people trust religious leaders a lot more than politicians (even a recent survey found that Imams were the most respected citizens in Bangladesh). Thus the influence of Imams is very strong, stronger than any election campaigning, stronger than any political propaganda. It could very well be stronger than the fear evoked by the terrorists who rely on intimidation of helpless citizens. If Imams of all mosques, all over the country, in the Jumma prayers or during various religious congregations, spoke like this, it would act as the most potent antidote to the poison of extremist terror.

Recently a seminar titled "Terrorists versus Islam" was held at the Osmani Hall. It was organised by Masjid Council for Community Advancement'. Minister for Religious Affairs, Musharraf Hussain Shahjahan, as chief guest of the seminar, stated that this was a national crisis and appealed to all citizens from political, social, and professional fields to solve it. Religious leaders attending the seminar supported the minister and emphasised that these terrorists were enemies of Islam and were trying to tarnish the image of Islam in the world. But not everything these religious leaders echoed the government stand.

Moulana Obaidul Haque, for example, criticised the random police raids and arrests of madrasa students and teachers. He questioned the right of the police, whom he termed as corrupt, to carry out such raids. The maulana stated that if individuals at madrasas

It is important for true religious scholars to condemn the terrorist attacks carried out in the name of religion

were suspected then they should be called and the matter can be 'discussed'. If this was not done the maulana warned that an anti-government movement might begin.

This is of course not the most desirable stance to make. At present, whatever one feels about the inefficiency of the government to combat terrorism, getting confrontational with the government at a time of crisis can only bring more woe. It is important to keep in perspective the task at hand. Unless all citizens of this country, regardless of political affiliations or religious indoctrinations, unite against these evil forces there is every possibility of our losing the basic liberties that this country's constitution guarantees.

Unfortunately for us, religion in this country has been monopolised by groups of individuals who claim to have superior knowledge of what God wants us to do or not. This leaves the majority of people out in the cold and at the mercy of evangelists. While many of our religious leaders are educated and have a thorough understanding of Islam and therefore preach accordingly, there are far too many uneducated so-called religious leaders who preach their own version. The latter group is dangerous because even though they are not properly qualified to teach, they do have the power to influence people's thoughts and actions.

It is hard to come up with one solution for a crisis that is the result of innumerable and complex foul-ups. This includes consecutive governments turning a blind eye to extremist forces that have allowed to flourish as well the society's reluctance to protest anything that remotely has a religious overtone. One important step would be to make sure that only scholars of Islam, those who have intensive knowledge of the Holy Quran, have the authority to preach it. At the same time it is the responsibility of those who are educated and claim to be Muslims to read the holy book for themselves so that they can discern the false claims of certain individuals who wear the hat of spiritual authority, who in their ignorance or to justify their position, mislead their followers to be bigoted and oppressive, and sometimes to commit acts against humanity. It is time that we find the beauty of truth on our own.


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