An influential Islamic scholars’ group in Bangladesh says it has gathered 100,000 signatures on a fatwa condemning killings of religious minorities and secular writers by suspected extremists, and will disseminate the document publicly on Saturday.
Maulana Farid Uddin Masud, president of the Bangladesh Jamatul Ulema, said he led fellow Islamic clerics and scholars in the group’s campaign to gather signatures and compile the 62-page fatwa, or religious decree, so as to use their influence among Bangladeshi Muslims to help authorities prevent more acts of violent extremism nationwide.
“We have collected signatures of 100,000 Islamic scholars who have unanimously extended their support to our fatwa against militancy and violent extremism, in the light of the Quran and Hadith. We will distribute the fatwa among the religious leaders to spread the peaceful message of Islam,” Masud, the former imam of Bangladesh’s largest Eid congregation, told BenarNews.
In a spate of attacks dating to February 2013, at least 36 people including religious minorities, secular bloggers, gay-rights activists and intellectuals have been killed by suspected Islamic militants, according to the Home Ministry.
Last week, the Bangladeshi authorities launched a crackdown against suspected militants and criminals that, as of Wednesday, had netted arrests of some 15,000 people, officials said.
Islam prohibits the taking of a person’s life because of their faith, whatever it may be, Masud said.
“Islam has not allowed any individual to judge others activities," he said.
“The fatwa unequivocally said these killings of non-Muslims, minorities and secular activists are forbidden in Islam,” Masud told Agence France-Presse.
In Dhaka on Wednesday, activists and bloggers protested in front of the National Museum, demanding that authorities apprehend and punish suspected Islamic militants who had killed seven secular writers and a publish of secular literature during the past three years, six of whom were killed since February 2015 alone.
Alliance by religious leaders, law enforcement
“Unless we can change their distorted thought process, counterterrorism efforts are unlikely to be successful,” Maulana Masud told Benar, referring to radicals who are “brainwashed” into thinking that they will be surrounded by beautiful women in heaven after carrying out suicide missions.
“Islam never permits violence, killings, arson, torture, minority repression and other violent acts. The militants misguide the good faith of young people through partial interpretation of the Holy Quran,” he said, adding the fatwa would help guide imams in giving sermons against militancy.
He said he would hand over copies of the fatwa to President Abdul Hamid and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, and send another copy to the United Nations.
According to analysts, the government’s counter-terrorist efforts can only succeed and be effective with the help of clerics and scholars.
“The common people will not listen to the political leaders on religious issues. An imam’s sermon against extremism and militancy in the Islamic jalsa [conference] and during prayers can positively influence common people and even groups targeted the by militant leaders,” Shahedul Anam Khan, a retired brigadier and counter-terrorism analyst, told BenarNews.
The issuing of the fatwa comes nearly two months after Maulana Farid Uddin Masud and leaders of Bangladesh’s major religions – Islam, Hinduism Christianity and Buddhism – took part in the country’s first conference on inter-faith harmony, during which they declared that they would pursue a dialogue for ending religious extremism and attacks on minorities.
The April 28 meeting in Dhaka was organized by government officials and police.
“We have sought the support of the religious leaders and imam who can influence the opinion of the people. They can counter the militants’ misinterpretation of the peaceful religion Islam. Islam promotes peaceful accommodation of all faiths. I am happy that the Islamic scholars have extended their support to our counter-terrorism efforts,” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told BenarNews.