By Stephan Uttom and Rock Ronald Rozario
A prominent hard-line Sunni cleric’s call for authorities in Bangladesh to officially declare adherents of the Ahmadi sect as “non-Muslims” has triggered a barrage of criticism.
Maolana Shah Ahmed Shafi, head of Hefazat-e-Islam (Protectors of Islam), an umbrella organization of radical Islamist groups, made the call during a rally organized by a hard-line group in northern Bangladesh on April 18.
“Qadianis [Ahmadis] should be officially declared non-Muslims. They are non-Muslims and those who call them Muslims are also non-Muslims,” said Shafi, using another term to refer to Ahmadi Muslims
“Qadianis don’t recognize the Prophet Muhammad as the last prophet, so they are kafirs [heretics]. Those who don’t consider them kafirs are also kafirs,” a reportedly unwell Shafi said in a speech read out in his presence at the rally in Panchagarh district by his son Anas Madani.
“No good Muslim should marry a Qadiani because they are not Muslims. They should not be buried in Muslim graveyards, and no one should lend them any support,” according to Shafi.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina should take steps to declare Qadianis non-Muslims, he added. Shafi also attacked several other Islamic sects as well as Christian missionaries for allegedly luring Muslims to covert. Jafar Ahmed, an Ahmadi preacher from the southeastern port city of Chittagong, condemned Shafi’s comments.
“Shafi is a prominent cleric and we didn’t expect such cheap words from him. His comments violate our constitution that stipulates religious freedom. I don’t think our government will take his speech seriously, but we demand action against him for spreading religious hatred and bigotry,” Ahmed told ucanews.com.
Jalal Ahmed, deputy secretary of the Islamic Foundation Bangladesh, a state body under the Ministry of Religious Affairs, said the state cannot pay heed to a random call to declare a group non-Muslim.
“We have a fatwa [religious edict] committee, which can consider declaring a group non-Muslim after a written case is filed and the committee probes the merit of the case,” he said. “It is a significant and sensitive issue, so there must be through discussions and investigations before a decision is made.”
A senior Catholic Church official in northern Bangladesh, who asked not to be named, called the cleric’s demands unacceptable and frustrating.
“We have followers of the Ahmadi Islamic sect and they are good people. Yet Sunni hardliners have been persecuting them for years — not allowing them to go to their mosques and socially ostracizing them,” the official told ucanews.com.
“Bangladesh has a long tradition of religious harmony and tolerance, so a call to declare Ahmadis non-Muslims goes against our secular constitution and against the spirit of Bangladesh.”
Ahmadiyya is an Islamic sect founded through a revival movement in the Punjab region of India in the late 19th century during British colonial rule.
The movement followed the teachings of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908), an Indian religious leader who claimed to be a divinely appointed prophet as both messiah (savior) and mahdi (guided one) to bring fulfilment to Islam’s prophecies. Adherents see him as a prophet and don’t consider Hazarat Muhammad the final prophet of Islam. Some five million Ahmadis are officially declared non-Muslims in Pakistan and are subjected to harsh persecution.
There are about 100 Ahmadi mosques and several thousand followers in Bangladesh who have also faced sporadic cases of violence from hard-line Sunni Muslims in past years.
Since 2013, Bangladesh has seen a sharp rise in Islamic militancy that has seen Ahmadi mosques attacked with bombs and followers shot at.