After 100,000 Bangladeshi Islamic clerics and scholars issued a fatwa last week against religious extremism, the country’s religious affairs minister told parliament on Tuesday that tens of thousands of imams were already giving anti-militancy sermons.
Imams at 55,180 mosques which have enrolled in the government-sponsored Mosque-Based Child and Mass Literacy program were now delivering Islam’s “peaceful messages” and denouncing “all forms of unrest, terrorism and militant activities” in their sermons before prayers, Minister Motior Rahman told lawmakers in response to an MP’s question.
“This program has been progressing well. It has a huge positive impact on children who are prone to be the victims of the abusers of Islam, the militants. Anything you hear in childhood has a huge impact in future. When a child hears that militancy is prohibited in Islam, he will never be radicalized,” said Rahman, who sometimes volunteers as an imam is also a member of a parliamentary Standing Committee on Religious Affairs.
“We have [received] some allegations that some imams did not preach anti-militant messages. So, we at the standing committee’s meetings, asked the MPs to supervise whether the imams have been preaching those messages,” Rahman added.
The power of sermons
Through the program imams teach Arabic and Bengali to illiterate adults and children. The standing committee, which acts as a parliamentary watchdog on the ministry, has in the past called for the government to ensure transparency and accountability in the literacy program, according to committee member Abdul Awal.
“Considering the threat of militancy and extremism through misinterpretation of Islam, this government for the first time included anti-militancy sermons in the program. In addition to expanding education, the under-privileged children and people come to know about anti-militancy messages of Islam,” Awal told BenarNews.
Many of the imams working as part of the literacy program have been preaching against terrorism and militancy in the name of Islam, Maulana Farid Uddin Masud, president of Bangladesh Jamatul Ulema, which issued the fatwa, told BenarNews.
“This government has included anti-militancy component in the program. We will get the benefits in the future. If anti-militancy component was included before, we would not see the scourge of militant attacks in Bangladesh,” Masud said.
The organization that he heads issued the fatwa, or religious decree, after Bangladeshi authorities sought help from clerics at mosques across the country in using their influence as Islamic preachers to dissuade youths from becoming radicalized and turning to violent extremism.
“I have been preaching sermons against militancy and extremism for several years. Before every Friday prayer and at all religious gatherings, I preach that Islam in no way supports extremism and violence,” Muhammad Abul Kalam, the imam of a mosque in Jhalkathi district, told BenarNews.
As religious leaders, clerics have the responsibility to present the right message of Islam, he said.
‘It has an impact’
“Before every Friday prayer, our respected imam preaches peaceful messages of Islam and condemns the killing of people in the pretext of Islam. Of course, it has an impact because people believe the religious leaders,” Mahbubur Rahman, a member of a mosque in Ataikula, Pabna district, told BenarNews.
The world’s fourth-largest country with a Muslim population, Bangladesh has been gripped in recent years by a wave of killings carried out by suspected militants. At least 36 people, including secular bloggers, publishers, foreigners, gay-rights activists, religious minorities and others, have been killed in attacks by suspected Islamic radicals since February 2013, according to Bangladesh’s home ministry.