How maulanas in Bangladesh use fatwas to oppress women

[Book extract] Though passing a fatwa was illegal as per the laws of the country, it was allowed within the tenets of Islam.

 |  6-minute read |   28-02-2018
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The state religion of Bangladesh was still Islam. Even though passing a fatwa was illegal as per the laws of the country, it was allowed within the tenets of Islam. Islam has certain punishments specified for certain crimes. If someone commits adultery, they are to be stoned and if one is accused of something that is not Islamic, then they are to be caned a hundred and one times. In my country, fundamentalism was on the rise and the winds were blowing in their favour. As usual, women were the first to fall victim to the fatwas issued by fatwaphilic maulanas in villages across the country.

In a village called Hathkachhra in Sylhet, Noorjahan had gotten married for the second time. Maulana Manna declared the marriage against Islamic tenets because she was yet to get a talaq from her first husband. The man in question had left her years ago and she had sent the relevant documents for a talaq to his address before her second marriage. Nevertheless, it was decreed that Noorjahan was to be stoned. A huge pit was dug in the courtyard of her house and she was made to stand in it. Then the maulanas stoned her in the name of Allah while the entire village stood around and watched without a word of protest. Bloodied, humiliated, Noorjahan climbed out of the pit, walked to her house and committed suicide by consuming poison.

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In Faridpur, another Noorjahan had gone on a trip with her lover despite having a husband. Adultery being a sin in Islam, the maulana declared a fatwa against her and Noorjahan was tied up and burnt alive. In Kalikapur, under the Kaligunje police station of Saatkhira, Khalek Mistry’s sixteen-year-old daughter Feroza used to catch tiny shrimps from the river to sell and help her father out. One day she met fisherman Haripada Mandal’s son Uday from the adjoining village of Bandakati and the two of them began a relationship. The chairman of the local council tried Feroza because of the grave offence and according to the sharia, she was tied to a post and struck with a broom a hundred and one times. After the ordeal, Feroza limped home on her sister’s shoulder and committed suicide soon. A punishment was decided for Uday, too, because he was a Hindu.

Not all such incidents of fatwas made it to the papers; it was not easy to find out about all the girls dying because of random fatwas declared on them in one of the 68,000 villages in Bangladesh. If an incident was to cause exceptional outrage, only then did it come on the radar of a local journalist. Besides, it also depended on the newspaper the journalist was from. Those belonging to the Inquilab faction never printed such news, unwilling to give the public any chance to complain about anything. Rather, if such news got published elsewhere and inspired criticism, they immediately jumped to the defence of the clerics and produced opaque arguments against the women in question to legitimise what had happened. Inquilab was the highest selling and most ghoulish newspaper of the country; it had surpassed Ittefaq, which used to enjoy the most circulation previously.

split_022718065324.jpgSplit, by Taslima Nasreen; Penguin Random House; Rs 599

When the news broke all of a sudden that fundamentalists had incinerated 112 schools for girls constructed by BRAC, an NGO, and also declared a fatwa against girls attending school, Inquilab took up the task of defending the perpetrators. They argued that the NGO schools had been trying to convert the girls to Christianity, since BRAC was primarily financed by Christian nations. Even the women of the villages who used to work for the NGO had fatwas slapped on them forbidding them to leave their houses, and if they were to disobey, then their husbands were going to be forced to give them talaq.

Not just fatwas, the village arbitration councils, too, were charting new heights of barbarism. Such councils had been a common feature in villages for centuries. In Badekusha of Sirajgunje, a council led by the imam of the mosque and the village elders ostracised thirty-five women because they had dared to follow family planning procedures. Family planning was against the tenets of Allah. So the axe of religion had fallen on their heads and the thirty-five were consigned to spend the rest of their lives as outcasts. They had to accept the judgement in silence, since religion had been reduced to a personal fiefdom of the maulanas. A long flowing robe, a fez cap, dark lines on the forehead from regularly reading the namaz, chanting the tasbih a few times, these had been enough for them to fashion religion into their own property. Using faith as a tool of fear, they were controlling the people. No one had ever heard of cases or complaints being lodged against a maulana, an imam or an elder and neither did any of them ever get punished for their crimes.

Jashne Julus processions marking the birth anniversary of Hazrat Muhammad were being organised across the city and trucks full of cap-wearing men could be seen everywhere in Dhaka. The entire city was gearing up for festivities. When the Hindus had taken out a Janmashtami procession, they had been attacked by the BNP’s stick-wielding goons; members of their Yuva Command had assaulted women, torn off their saris and cracked the skull of the boy who had been put on the float as Krishna. Ultimately the procession had dispersed and the police, standing at a distance as mute spectators, had not raised a finger during the whole episode.

While the fanatics were on a rampage across the country, in an unparalleled show of thoughtlessness the courts declared their leader Golam Azam innocent of all charges, paving way for his release from prison. The murderer walked out of jail and was publicly greeted with flowers and garlands. The traitor whose citizenship had once been revoked was set to get back his rights as a citizen of Bangladesh again. It seemed to me a strong possibility that soon the government was going to accord Golam Azam and his felon cronies — who had been responsible for the death of millions of Bengalis, who had set fire to millions of homes and raped countless Bengali women — the status of muktijoddhas.

Around the time Golam Azam was released, the people’s court of the Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee was vandalised, mikes were torn off and the police beat back the crowd with sticks, injuring numerous innocent people. It seemed the country did not belong to us any more — we, who were trying to hold on to the ideals represented by Rafiq, Salam, Barkat and Jabbar, the martyrs of the Language Movement in 1952, and the numerous muktijoddhas who had fought for the independence of Bangladesh. The country was gradually becoming Golam Azam’s and spinning out of control. The enemies of freedom defaced lines by Rabindranath, Jibanananda Das and Nazrul written on the wall beside the Sahid Minar, darkening the slogan “Banglar Hindu, Banglar Bouddho, Banglar Krishtan, Banglar Mussalman, Amra Sobai Bangali” (Hindus of Bengal, Buddhists of Bengal, Christians of Bengal, Muslims of Bengal, we are all Bengali). It seemed there was much more destruction in store for us, and I could not help but wish we went deaf or blind before anything else happened. 

(Excerpted with permissions of Penguin Random House from Split by Taslima Nasreen.)

Also read: Why middle class India hates NGOs

Writer

Taslima Nasreen Taslima Nasreen @taslimanasreen

The writer is a feminist, author and poet.

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