Islamic scholars and clerics in Bangladesh said Thursday they were planning to issue a fatwa against extremists who mislead young people to undertake violent attacks through misinterpretation of the Quran.
The Muslim leaders, including those of very conservative Qwami madrassas, agreed to gather signatures needed for a fatwa, or religious decree, after meeting with police officials in Dhaka. Critics have alleged that Qwami madrassas breed terrorists, but their leaders reject such allegations.
“The IGP (Inspector general of police) has adopted my proposal to use a fatwa against militancy and extremism. We will collect signatures of 100,000 ulamas and mashayekhs (Islamic scholars and leaders) in favor of the fatwa,” Maulana Farid Uddin Masud, president of the Bangladesh Jamatul Ulema, told BenarNews after attending Thursday’s meeting at police headquarters.
Quoting from the Quran, he said the ulamas of the Qwami madrassas had been suggesting that their students were not involved in militancy, because Islam never condoned extremism or violence in any form.
During Friday prayers, the maulanas will give anti-militancy sermons to make people aware of the militants’ misinterpretation of Islam and the Quran, Masud said.
“His proposal is a good. We have accepted it,” Police Inspector Gen. A.K.M. Shahidul Hoque told reporters after the meeting.
The officials attending the meeting quoted Maulana Ruhul Amin, who leads a large madrassa – or Islamic school – in Dhaka’s Uttara area, as saying that the Qwami madrassas were blamed whenever militants were arrested, but most of the suspects were educated in universities.
“The police and the ulamas should work closely to counter terrorism and militancy. We will extend our support to counter the militants,” Amin told BenarNews.
The announcement by the Islamic leaders came at the end of a year that has seen four secular bloggers and a publisher of secular books hacked to death in separate machete attacks by suspected Islamists.
Since late September, a wave of militant Islamist attacks has also claimed the lives of two foreigners and three members of Bangladesh’s minority Shiite community, among other violent incidents. The Islamic State (IS) extremist group has claimed some of these attacks, but government officials have blamed them on home-grown militants, saying IS has no foothold in the country.
Controversy around fatwas
Mainstream Muslims in Bangladesh trust that the maulanas can positively influence people, Muhammad Shafiq Ahmad, a professor of Islamic Studies at Dhaka University, told BenarNews in commenting on Thursday’s announcement.
“So, using fatwa may work as counter-terrorism measure if the ulamas continue to preach the peaceful message in religious gatherings,” he said.
The fatwa, however, is controversially used by religious zealots against women in rural areas.
In 1993, Islamic zealots issued a fatwa against a woman, Noorjahan, for un-Islamic behavior after her second marriage was declared illegal. She was buried up to her waist and stoned to death, creating a sensation across the country.
Non-government organizations working for women’s empowerment fought a legal battle which ended with the nation’s high court, on Jan. 1, 2001, declaring fatwas unauthorized and illegal – a decision that angered many Islamic clerics.