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Bangladesh denunciates religious extremism and attacks on minorities

"Let us join our hands to resist such anti-Islamic activities. They must be punished so that others would not dare to do the same"

A Muslim imam and a Hindu priest shake hands during the first-ever religious harmony conference in Dhaka, April 28, 2016. Source: Benarnews

The heads of major religions in Bangladesh on Thursday told the country’s first conference on inter-faith harmony that they would carry on a dialogue to stop religious extremism and attacks on minorities by zealots.

Describing a spate of machete-killings “unacceptable,” speakers representing the majority Sunni Muslim and minority Shiite Muslim, Hindu, Christian and Buddhist communities said militants had to be eliminated from Bangladesh where a “marriage of all faiths” was a thousand-year tradition.

Convened by police and government officials, the conference in Dhaka sought to mobilize inter-faith support for secular writers, teachers, Christians, Hindus, Shiites and LGBT activists whose communities have been targeted in deadly attacks by suspected Islamic extremists over the past year.

In April, five people were killed in machete attacks carried out by suspected militants. The latest killings involved a double-homicide on Monday that claimed the lives of Xulhas Mannan, editor of the country’s first magazine devoted to coverage of LGBT issues, and dramatist K. Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy.

“This first-ever religious harmony conference passes a strong message to the extremists that the militants have no place in Bangladesh. We will hold such conferences at the division, district and the upazila levels to counter the threat of the militants,” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told the conference at the Krishibid Institution auditorium.

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He said Islam prohibited killings, lootings, destruction and torture.

“We will protect all citizens, irrespective of faiths,” said Khan, a top official in the government that has faced widespread criticism for failing to do enough to shield religious minorities, intellectuals, and secular activists from extremist attacks.

Radicalization blamed

Police Inspector-General A.K.M. Shahidul Haque, who presided over conference, told attendees that the perpetrators of 80 percent of the militant attacks had been arrested.

“And in most of the cases, the attackers confessed that they were brainwashed by the leaders. They are repentant now. We need your support to spread the peaceful message of Islam,” he said.

Speaker Maulana Farid Uddin Masud, an Islamic scholar, said those who radicalize followers should be blamed for the spate of machete attacks.

“An ordinary person is sure to kill anyone if I, as a religious leader, tell him that ‘you will go to heaven if you kill him.’ So, they are not the problem. The problem is those who radicalize them through misinterpretation of Islam,” Masud said.

He said that a campaign was under way to collect signatures of 100,000 Muslim scholars who denounce extremism, violence and attack on minorities.

“They are the greatest enemy of Islam. They have portrayed Islam as a religion of terror and barbarism. We have been nourishing religious harmony for thousands of years. It must be protected at any cost,” Masud said.

Different faiths, same beliefs

Satya Ranjan Baroi, president of International Society for Krishna Consciousness, told the audience that the Bangladeshi people should come forward to challenge violence against minorities.

For his part, Catholic Archbishop Patrick D’Rozario said the majority of Bangladeshis were peaceful and the recent attacks on minorities were like a “tiny black spot on a white sheet.”

“Everybody talks about the black spot without considering that the rest of sheet is white. And this is our problem. We have [had] strong religious harmony for thousands of years. We have to protect it,” D’Rozario said.

The archbishop recalled how he visited his home village 25 years ago and saw gates that had been erected within a two-mile stretch of the road leading to it.

“No Christian lived within those two miles,” D’Rozario said. “Who erected the gates for me? My Muslim brothers did it, my Hindu brothers did it.”

He added that more inter-faith dialogue at the grassroots would help maintain religious harmony.

Another speaker, Sanghanayaka Suddhananda Mahathero, echoed the archbishop’s call.

“We have to save the religious harmony we have been nurturing for thousands of years,” said Shudhananda, president of the Bangladesh Buddhist Kristi Prachar Federation.

“Let us talk among ourselves and then the distance will go,” he said, adding that all religions preached love, not hatred or violence.

Shiite leader Syed Ibrahim Khalil Razavi said the militants who carried out bomb attacks on a Shiite procession and Shiite mosque last year had tarnished the country’s image.

“Let us join our hands to resist such anti-Islamic activities. They must be punished so that others would not dare to do the same,” Razavi said. (Benarnews)

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Sri Lankan Muslims speak of tragedies back home

Sri Lankan Muslims and supporters protested outside the UN against the recent violence targeting their community

Sri Lankan Muslims and supporters protested outside the UN. IANS
Sri Lankan Muslims and supporters protested outside the UN. IANS

Sri Lankan Muslims and supporters protested outside the UN against the recent violence targeting their community, and for some of them it had been an intimate family tragedy.

While participating in the demonstration of about 250 people, on Wednesday, they narrated to IANS the harrowing moments they went through as they helplessly shared the trauma in real time over the phone with their families as the relatives were besieged by mobs during the riots.

Munir Salim’s parent’s home was destroyed and car set ablaze by a rampaging mob in Welekada Ambalateena near Kandy on March 7, and his elderly parents and his sister with her five children barely managed to survive only because the rioters could not break the main door.

Protest against violence and injustice. (VOA)

But they set fire to the second floor of the house, where his sister lived, said Salim, who is the president of the Sri Lanka Muslim Association of New Jersey. His sister fled downstairs with her children and survived with her parents, he added.

“I was feeling helpless talking to my parents when they first told me how they were throwing stones at our house and setting fire to the mosque and the shops in the area,” he said.

The rioters then moved away for a while seeking other targets, then returned to set the fire to the house and the properties as he was calling them back, he said.

The houses of two of his aunts nearby were also attacked and his cousin had to carry his paralysed mother as they fled for their lives, he said.

There were two deaths, injuries to dozens of people, hundreds of houses and businesses destroyed and several mosques damaged during the riots that started on February 26 and continued till March 10. Sri Lanka imposed a State of Emergency and deployed troops to quell the violence.

For Shihana Mohamed it was a heartbreak, listening over the phone as her family’s history of living harmoniously in the Kandy area for more than a thousand years, unraveled on March 6, she said.

She told IANS that her sister-in-law fractured her leg while fleeing the fury of the mob that attacked her brother’s house, destroying it and burning his car in Kengalla, also near Kandy.

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Her 83-year-old bedridden uncle’s house was also attacked, she said, and his family had to carry him to safety. As she was hearing about the attacks on her phone, she said that she wept and then desperately called diplomats asking for help. While the attacks were taking place, the security personnel stationed nearby did not intervene, she said.

Mohamed said that while the attackers were Sinhala extremists, there were other Sinhalas who came to the aid of Muslims at risk to themselves.

The Sinhala family next to her brother’s house tried to intervene, but the mob over-ran them, while a Sinhala neighbour stopped the rioters from burning down her house, even though they managed to break the windows, she said. Her uncle was protected initially by a Sinhala, she said. In another instance of communal amity, she said a Tamil family sheltered her sister-in-law, who had broken her leg.

For her family this was the second setback. During riots in 1989, which were not overtly communal but more political, her family’s properties were destroyed and they had to rebuild home and business.

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The Association of Sri Lankan Muslims in North America (Tasmina), which organised the protest, demanded that the UN intervene and hold the Sri Lankan government responsible for bringing the rioters to justice and protect minorities.

Ghazzali Wadood, who was one of the protesters, said, “It is the ultra-nationalists who are responsible for the attacks. The government should take action against the politicians behind the attacks.” IANS