I went to the West and saw Islam, but no Muslims; I got back to the East and saw Muslims, but not Islam.” That was what Muhammad Abduh, the Egyptian scholar and jurist, had to say about Islam in the early 19th Century. The essence of the statement is that while we claim to be Muslims we hardly reflect the religion in our actions or talks or behaviour. And I would venture to suggest that it could not apply more in the case of Bangladesh.
We are a Muslim majority country and many of us take pride in the fact that we were the second largest Muslim state, a fact that was not lost upon Bangabandhu, and he had made that known very soon after he landed on the free soil of Bangladesh. Many of us do not hesitate to flaunt our Muslim credentials, although in some instances they are very much seasonal, an act that is intensified during the election season in particular. And some politicians unhesitatingly try to show how better Muslims they are than their opponents by telling public the number of times they pray and the religious diktats they follow.
And in spite of secularism being one of the cornerstones of the constitution we take unending pride being described as a moderate Muslim state, even more the secularists among the politicians who, not being able to muster enough courage to do away with the preamble, are quite happy to live with Islam being the state religion. We are proud to say that the Muslims in Bangladesh are deeply religious without being bigoted, or being extreme in their outlook or behaviour. I do not know about bigotry but I wonder whether as 'deeply religious' Muslim Bengalis we reflect the essence of the religion in our behaviour.
Look at the way a Maulana denigrated women in his sermon recently. His comments, which would be most un-Islamic even to his most inveterate apologists, have not only given a sullied picture of Islam to those not fully conversant with what the religion says about women but are also likely to be used as a handy tool for the detractors to flay Islam.
Unlike in other Muslim countries which look upon the advent of the month of Ramadan with positive expectation, as a month to expiate for the past, to me personally the month comes with mixed feeling, a feeling of joy mixed with trepidation, because this is the month when prices will be pushed up inexplicably with the poor having to suffer the agony. And once the prices go up in Bangladesh they hardly assume the state of equilibrium. When in other countries, including non-Muslim countries, prices are controlled if not reduced during such occasions of festivity, it is perhaps only in Bangladesh that prices of some commodities that are consumed more than others in the month of Ramadan see a steep rise. Can anyone explain the reason why prices of chili got so hot to leap five times the normal price at which it was selling before the start of Ramadan this year? What had risen was not the demand for the item but our insatiable greed; even the Holy month could not restrain our excessive profit making proclivity. And we call our self “deeply religious Muslims.”
And how more un-Islamic can one get than calling for strikes in the month of Ramadan, and to indulge in destruction of private and public property. Such acts of violence are anathema in Islam, not to speak of it in the month of Ramadan. And this is being done by a party that is supposed to be the flag bearer of Islam in this country. Some flag bearer!
As for adulteration of food, we would perhaps be the envy of the wicked world of the base. We do not blink an eye while saying that without formalin the fruits and vegetables would not last the duration of their journey form one part of the country to another. We do this knowing fully well that we are slow-poisoning the nation. And instead of putting fresh and unadulterated milk into babies we even tamper with imported milk tins for enhancing profit. Good Muslims we are!
When the two major political parties never come together on any issue we saw the result of their 'teamwork' in the destruction of the Buddhist temples and other sites of its heritage in Cox's Bazaar last year. Good Muslims they were!
And the list goes on…..!
The writer is Editor, Oped and Defence & Strategic Affairs, The Daily Star.