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.
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.
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)