The Awami Olama League claims to be affiliated with the Awami League, but its recent statements and activities go against the ruling party's stated ideals of democracy and secularism and also against the government's major policies and decisions.
Split into three factions, the organisation uses a floor of the AL central office on Bangabandhu Avenue and often has AL leaders as speakers at its programmes.
Lately, a faction of the Olama League has accused the administration of “favouring the Hindus” and demanded that the government revoke the minimum marriage age for girls, make a law with a provision of death penalty for demeaning Islam, ban the CHT Commission, and take all Indian TV channels in Bangladesh off the air.
It has also raised voice for cancellation of “anti-Islamic” education policy and confiscation of textbooks containing write-ups of “anti-Islamic and atheist” writers Humayun Azad, Rudra Mohammad Shahidullah, Selina Hossain, Sanjida Khatun and Kabir Chowdhury.
The Olama League regularly organises rallies, processions and human chains to press home these demands that stand in stark contrast to AL's fundamental principles.
According to the AL charter, the party is committed to ensure religious freedom and fundamental human rights irrespective of religion, caste, sex, community and ethnic identity, and to eradicate all shades of communalism. It is also committed to stop oppression against women, protect women's rights as well as dignity and empower them by ensuring female participation in all spheres of the state and social life.
Talking to The Daily Star, two AL leaders said the party has no organisational ties with the Olama League. But one of them described it as a “like-minded organisation” and “pro-liberation force.”
Sources in the AL said a number of its leaders were spotted at programmes of the Olama League, whose headquarters is at the AL central office.
Several AL leaders maintain close relations with Olama League leaders and patronise the organisation that started its journey in 1996 on the directives of AL President Sheikh Hasina, said the sources.
Some Olama League leaders claimed that they work on instructions of the AL high command.
They said the participation of senior AL leaders, including Mohammad Nasim, Mofazzal Hossain Chowdhury Maya, Mahbub-ul-Alam Hanif, Hasan Mahmud and Abdus Sobhan Golap, in their programmes was a proof of their affiliation with the ruling party.
According to the sources, the Olama League factions run their activities separately and use different monograms. But they all use the same address for their head office -- 23 Bangabandhu Avenue where the AL central office is located.
When The Daily Star went to the address on August 9, it found Olama League's office on the second floor. A person there identified himself as Muaz Eabney Mudasser and claimed to be its office secretary.
The day before, one of the three factions along with 12 like-minded organisations formed a human chain in front of the Jatiya Press Club in the capital.
With a set of 17 demands, it later sent to different media houses a press release signed by Abdul Hasan Sheikh Shariatpuri who claimed to be Olama League general secretary.
One of the demands was that the government scrap the minimum marriage age of 18 for girls. It said the Sharia law doesn't mention any age limit for girls to get married.
It also described the current education policy as “anti-Islamic”, and said the policy was formulated in 2010 to “turn Bangladesh into an atheist country”.
“The education policy must be declared void and replaced by an Islamic education policy.”
It branded Pahela Baishakh programmes as “Haram”, and called for introducing a provision of death penalty for demeaning Islam, echoing the view of Hefajat-e-Islam that came up with the proposition after Gonojagoron Mancha launched its campaign for the maximum punishment to all war criminals.
However, Ismail Hossain Bin Helali, president of another faction of Olama League, told The Daily Star that he was against Shariatpuri's demands and labelled Shariatpuri as a paid agent of Jamaat-e-Islami.
"He [Shariatpuri] is nobody in Olama League. We are the real people and we are doing politics under Sheikh Hasina's leadership," he said.
Asked why he didn't take action against Shariatpuri, Helali said it was the AL high-command that should make the move.
Shariatpuri, however, said he was “the real man” of the Olama League and was discharging duties on the directives of AL high command.
Accusing Helali of committing war crimes in 1971, Shariatpuri said Helali was an “illiterate man” and had no right to be a part of the Olama League.
"Sheikh Hasina sent me to Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj, made me a Kazi [marriage registrar] and invited me to several programmes," he claimed.
Asked about his faction's demands that go against AL's principles and government decisions, he said their demands were valid and they would hold talks with the AL and government high-ups on the issue.
Moulana Ismail Hossain of Barisal used to lead the other faction of the Olama League, but it is now inactive.
Talking to The Daily Star, AL Religious Affairs Secretary Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah said there were “four or five factions” in the Olama League and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina directed him to stop the activities of the Olama League.
He, however, would not say when the PM had given him the directives.
Abdullah said the AL would have to take responsibility for Olama League and take action against it immediately.
"Once, I took an initiative to reconstitute the Olama League, but I gave up due to its internal feud," he added.
AL Office Secretary Abdus Sobhan Golap said they had no organisational ties with the Olama League.
Asked why the organisation was using AL's name and its central office address, he said the Olama League was a pro-liberation force. "It is not an associate organisation of the Awami League, but a like-minded organisation."
AL Organising Secretary Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury said the Olama League was not affiliated with the AL.
“The Awami League always believes in secularism. If any organisation hurts religious sentiment of any community using the party's name, we will take legal action against it,” he added.