Renowned economist and scholar Dr Akbar Ali Khan yesterday said that for establishing a democratic system, the country will need to tolerate dissent.
“Pluralism is not only needed for secularism. It is also the foundation of democracy,” he said while chairing a lecture on “Religious Pluralism in Bengal: Pre-Colonial Period” oragnised by the Gyantapas Abdur Razzaq Foundation.
Former Dhaka University History Professor and Asiatic Society of Bangladesh fellow Abdul Momin Chowdhury delivered the lecture, as part of the “Gyantapas Abdur Razzaq Distinguished Lecture Series” at Dhaka University.
“Bangladesh follows secularism. We want to establish a secular society. For that, we need religious pluralism,” Akbar Ali Khan said.
“Pluralism teaches us that the ideology we believe in is not the only ideology. There are so many people who can differ with our opinions and have other ideologies. We need to tolerate other beliefs. They will also tolerate our ideology,” he said.
The former cabinet secretary said discussion on pluralism is important, as Bangladesh is going through a sociopolitical crisis.
He also said distortion of history is rampant in the country, and that is a big problem.
Abdul Momin Chowdhury in his lecture said religious harmony among believers of different faiths was present in ancient and middle ages.
Chowdhury said Bengalis, coming into contact with different religions in their long journey, had formed social behaviour and customs that match the contemporary concept of religious pluralism.
He gave many examples of religious harmony and coexistence in ancient and medieval Bengal. In Ancient Bengal, Hinduism and Buddhism were result of action and reaction of Brahmanism. Coexistence of these two religions is characteristic of the era, he said.
Tradition of religious coexistence and tolerance was created in the socio-religious culture in early middle age, said Chowdhury, adding that even rulers of Buddhist Pala empires sponsored many believers of Brahmanism.
During the 200 year-rule by the independent Sultans of Bengal, numerous examples of tolerance and religious coexistence are available. Bengali translations of Ramayana and Mahabharata, Bengali and Sanskrit versions of Vaishnav and Mangal Kabya, were patronised by Muslim rulers.
During the Mughal period, Subahdars of Bengal took liberal policy towards people of other religions, he observed.
National Professor Anisuzzaman, former finance minister M Syeduzzaman, Bengal Foundation Chairman Abul Khair and several Dhaka university teachers were present at the lecture. Director General of Gyantapas Abdur Razzaq Foundation Prof Ahrar Ahmad gave introductory address.