Women should take care of furniture, bring up children and stay within the confines of their homes!
This is what Hefajate Islam Ameer Shah Ahmed Shafi thinks the conduct of women should be.
When today’s world hails the freedom of women and considers women’s participation a key to development everywhere, Shafi is dead against their liberty, education and employment.
In a video clip of his sermon, now available on Facebook and YouTube, the 93-year-old principal of the Chittagong-based Hathazari Madrasa is shown advising women thus, “You women should stay within the four walls of your houses.
“Sitting inside your husband’s home you should take care of your husband’s furniture and raise your children, your male kids. These are your jobs. Why do you have to go outside?”
Making suggestive remarks through an unabashed use of vulgar language, he compares women with tamarind, a fruit that any man would like to taste.
Shafi, who also heads a Qawmi Madrasa Education Board, asks those present in his audience: “Why are you sending your daughters to work in garment factories?”
And he goes on with his sweeping views on these poor, necessity-driven garment employees, “She goes to work after Fajr at 7/8:00am and does not come back even at 8/10/12 at night.”
The insinuation continues: “You do not know which man she is hanging out with. You do not know how much zina [unlawful sexual activity] she is getting involved in. Through zina, she is earning money, which does not bring prosperity [Barkat].”
The clip, which does not carry any date, provides a text: Islamic grand conference, venue: central Eidgah field, Hathazari, Chittagong.
Harun Izhar Chowdhury, research and training secretary of Hefajat, told The Daily Star on Tuesday that he had seen the video and that a group opposed to Hefajat in Chittagong had posted it online.
Shafi probably delivered this sermon this past winter or the one before, he said. “This was hujur’s [Shafi's] sermon for uneducated people considering the environment and culture of villages. His speech will be different for educated urban people.”
Harun claimed that preaching by the Hefajat supremo helped reduce violence against women. He added that Shafi was now in Saudi Arabia to perform umrah.
Shafi’s Hefajate Islam, a Chittagong-based organisation, was launched on January 10, 2010, to oppose the newly adopted education policy and the amendments brought to the constitution in line with the spirit of its original 1972 version.
The Islamist group took centre stage as a force opposed to the popular Shahbagh movement that began on February 5 to press for maximum punishment to war criminals.
Hefajat’s 13-point demand, announced at its April 6 rally in the capital, includes a ban on all foreign culture, free mingling of men and women and candlelight vigils.
The rally drew flak, and not only for these demands.
A group of Shafi’s followers intimidated Jakia Ahmed, a journalist of Banglanews24.com, while another group assaulted Ekushey television’s Nadia Sharmeen. The two had come to cover the rally at Shapla Chattar.
As they pounced on Nadia in cheer and zeal, the Hefajat men told her: “Don’t you know about our 13-point demand? Being a woman, why are you here? Just get out of here.”
In the video, the Hefajat chief, who studied at the historic Indian institution Darul Uloom Deoband, commonly known as Deoband Madrasa, says, “Women go to schools, colleges and universities; let them study up to class four or five. After marriage, keeping record of their husbands’ finances is enough for them.
“You are spending lakhs of taka for sending them to schools, colleges and universities. But, after a few days, your daughter will get a husband of her own, enter into a love marriage or a court marriage and elope. She will not remember her father.”
These comments by Shafi, who is considered by his followers to be a top Islamic cleric and their spiritual leader, comes at a time when girls’ education in the country needs an extra focus.
According to the 2011 survey of the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, female literacy rate (all ages) is still 45.54 percent. And not many of them have passed postgraduate, graduate, higher secondary and secondary levels.
Shafi is disturbed by the mobile phone. Terming these present times as an “age of mobile phone,” he says, “Students, both boys and girls, have mobile phones. The male students collect the phone numbers of female ones while female students go to schools and colleges and collect the phone numbers of male students. This is what is going on in the name of education.”
Shafi warns women: “Do not come out of your house. Do not roam naked on roads and at stations, markets and fields. Beware! Do not go shopping. Ask your husband and son to do the shopping. Why would you go? Ask your husband to bring this thing and that. You just sit and order your son. Why do you have to take the trouble?”
According to the 2010 BBS report, employed female population in the country is around 17 million, which was around 10 million in 2002-03. But still, women employment is less than half the male employment.
“These are all regressive remarks,” said Mustafizur Rahman, executive director of the non-government think-tank Centre for Policy Dialogue.
Citing examples, he said women are involved in 17 out of 23 types of work in the agricultural sector. Women are also contributing a lot in manufacturing and foreign export earning sectors.
According to an estimate, women make up 80 percent of the 3.5 million garment workers.
“They [women] are contributing a significant proportion to the GDP [gross domestic product] in Bangladesh,” he said, adding that women’s role in the country’s economy is not fully recognised and unpaid work remains uncounted.
Mustafizur believes it is not possible to make Bangladesh a middle-income country without the participation of women and without turning them into human resources through education.
About half the country’s 150 million population are women.
Comparing women with tamarind, Shafi says in the video clip, “If a small boy is sucking on a piece of tamarind…. when you walk beneath a tamarind tree… when you go by a tamarind shop in the market, it makes your mouth water; women are worse than that.”
The ameer of Hefajate Islam, which allied itself to BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia-led 18-party alliance and actively campaigned for the alliance-backed candidates in the recent polls to five city corporations, goes on: “Seeing women, your heart salivates in desire — desire to marry them, to enter into a love marriage or a court marriage.
“These women are like tamarinds. If you are studying with women day and night, your heart will not be able to control itself. You are walking on the streets and shaking hands [with women]; you will not be able to control your heart.
“No matter how pious you may be, if you shake hands with a woman, your heart will start having evil intentions. This is a Zina of the mind, Zina of the heart, and soon it will turn into a real Zina.
“If an elderly man tells me that he does not start having evil intentions when he sees a woman, then I will tell him: ‘Old man! You are suffering from impotency, your manhood has gone. That is why you do not get evil intentions when you see a woman.’”
In his sermon, Shafi strongly opposes family planning and birth control.
He suggests that men go for up to four marriages to increase the size of the Ummat [community of Muslims], mentioning that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) “had entered into 11 marriages”.