From: "Ishfaq Ilahi Choudhury" [ check author's page ]
To: [email protected]
Date: Sat Mar 12, 2005 9:48pm
Subject: Rebutting Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed : Article in the Daily Star

Dear Editor,

This article by me, although dated, may be relevant in your site. Thanks.


Vol. 5 Num 250 Mon. February 07, 2005  


Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed and The New York Times

I read with bemused interest the "Letter from America" by Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed that appeared in the Daily Star on January 31. In that column, Dr. Ahmed challenged the article written by Ms. Eliza Griswold in the New York Times in December 2004 on the threat of Islamic militancy in Bangladesh. While I appreciate the forthright stand taken by Dr. Ahmed on an issue that is of vital concern to all of us, I cannot but contradict a number of statements that he made and factual errors that he presented.

Dr. Ahmed does not agree with Ms. Griswold's statement: "In Bangla Bhai's patch of northwestern Bangladesh, poverty is so pervasive that, for many children in the region, privately subsidised madrassas are the only educational option." According to him, "those who go to madrassa choose to do so and in any case the numbers of students in the madrassa are negligible." Is it really so? Northwestern Bangladesh is indeed economically the most backward in the country -- poverty is endemic there and we are all too familiar with the annual monga or famine that visits the area. Indeed, dire poverty and destitution are boosting the extremist elements of all varieties in that area. Children are the first victims of poverty. Although successive governments have taken steps to encourage enrolment in mainstream schools, thousands of school-age children stay outside the net. Ms. Griswold is right when she says that for the very poor and destitute children, madrassas are often the only option open.

The number of madrassas in Bangladesh is increasing at a phenomenal pace and so is the number of students. According to government published sources (BANBEIS), during 1980-2000, the number of registered junior and high madrassas increased by 271 per cent compared to 185 per cent growth of secondary schools. During the same period, the number of students in junior and high madrassas increased by 818 per cent compared to only 317 per cent growth of secondary school students. Today, 30 per cent of all secondary level students are from madrassas and they are catching up fast. These statistics do not include thousands of unregistered "Quomi" madrassas all over the country, nor does it include English medium "Cadet Madrassas" that are sprouting up in urban areas. Therefore, Dr. Ahmed's claim that "the numbers of madrassa students are negligible" is not based on fact.

Dr. Ahmed states, "Because of their lack of formal education, no madrassa educated man holds any position of influence in the bureaucracy." This statement is also not based on fact. While the career choices of the students of traditional "Quomi" madrassas remain extremely limited, those from the government recognised ones are now streaming on to various disciplines. They are especially prominent in the education sector. Large numbers of madrassa students are getting into every cadre of administration and will soon be able to exercise significant influence in the statecraft. Successive governments encouraged the growth of madrassa education in the country. Over the last two decades, revenue expenditure per madrassa student was much more than for the students in secondary high schools.

I disagree with the assertion by Dr. Ahmed that there is nothing like "Deobandi Islam." Indeed, Sunni Islam in the sub-continent has many "Tariqas" such as Deobandi, Berlevi, Chistia, Quaderia, etc. These Tariqas vary significantly in their interpretation of religious doctrine. Contrary to Dr. Ahmed's assertion that the Deoband School was the result of "forward looking movement" and not reactionary, "Darul Ulum Deoband" was a reaction to the establishment of Anglo-Oriental College (later Aligarh Muslim University) in Aligarh by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. The Deobandis reject modern scientific and technical education and hope to push the clock back to the medieval days. They are an obscurantist brand for whom "Communicating in English, wearing of coat, trousers, shorts, tie, eating with knife and fork etc etc are haram (prohibited)." Deobandis believe all forms of music, songs, dances, TV, cinema, radio are unIslamic. They still follow the "Darse Nizamia" -- a syllabus prepared by Grand Vizier Nizaum-ud-dawla in Baghdad in the 11th century. Most of the "Quomi" madrassas in the sub-continent are run on the Deobandi line. A Deobandi madrassa at Akora Khattak in NWFP, Pakistan caught international attention in recent years. Most of the Taliban leadership in Afghanistan graduated from this, otherwise inconspicuous, madrassa. So, Deobandi Islam is there and still kicking.

Dr. Ahmed wanted to whitewash Maulana Maududi by quoting Karen Armstrong. We all know what the Maulana stood for. Maududi opposed Pakistan movement because in his vision the whole of India should have been Dar-ul Islam, not just a part of it. Once in Pakistan, he raised the issue of declaring Ahmadiyyas as non-Muslim that started a riot in Punjab in 1954. The government imposed martial law in Lahore to control the violence. A special tribunal sentenced Maududi to death for instigating rioting; the sentence was later commuted. It is true, Maududi was not a Deobandi, but he was the forerunner of what is now described as "political Islam." He founded the Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan, and actively collaborated with the military regime during the Bangladesh War in 1971. The rest is common knowledge.

I wonder how Dr. Ahmed came to the conclusion that "Over the last few decades, Bangladeshis in general have become more secular." The truth is to the contrary. Secularism as a state principle was dropped from the constitution. The constitution was amended more than once to enhance its Islamic character. Islam is now the state religion. On the political front, the Islamic parties are on the rise. Religious bigots are demanding that the Ahmadiyyas be declared non-Muslims, just as in Pakistan. On the societal level, many of the age-old Bengali cultures and traditions are now under threat. Bombs are hurled in the cinema halls, circus, and Jatra shows. After the recent spate of bombings of Jatra shows, government, instead of providing protection or nabbing the culprits, stopped all Jatra performance throughout the country. That was exactly what the religious extremists were demanding. Those who raise their voice are declared murtaad (heretic). Dr. Ahmed Sharif, Poet Shamsur Rahman, and Dr. Humayun Azad have each faced the brunt. Now it is the turn for Dr. Kamal Hossain. Are we becoming more secular?

Killing of Mr. SAMS Kibria has once again exposed the vulnerable law and order situation in the country. The whole civil society is under threat. We are indeed passing through a critical time. While we must vigorously defend Bangladesh abroad, we cannot be oblivious of the growing danger at home. In these days of Internet and global communications, we cannot hide our vulnerabilities. If we cannot deal with our situation, there will be others to take care of us. Look what happened to Sudan in Darfur affairs. Dr. Ahmed's quoting of the incidents of racial discrimination in the US will not help us. If we wish to live with dignity and honour, we must get our house in order.


  Replies Name/Email Date
23263 Re: Rebutting Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed : Article in the Daily Star Dr. Abdul Momen Mon  3/14/2005