By Anna Chiara Fillice
AsiaNews.it (29.11.2017) – http://bit.ly/2hZk05d – “We will deliver a letter to Pope Francis containing a fatwa against extremism signed by 100,000 imams” announces, Allamma Majharul Islam, Grand Khatib (great guardian) of Amber Shah Shahi Jami Mosque, in the Kawran Bazaar area in Dhaka speaking in an exclusive interview with AsiaNews.
We meet him in the mosque of which he is guardian in the evening, while the students of his madrassa (Koranic school) recite Islamic prayers (see photo). Over a cup of tea and a pastries prepared by the wife of an imam who accompanies him, he reflects on interreligious harmony, how to build peace in Bangladesh, Islamic fundamentalism. Above all, he emphasizes: “Islam does not allow any form of terrorism. As a preacher, I teach my students that Islam means peace, and to not offend anyone’s religious feelings.” Below our interview.
Grand Khatib, how will you welcome the Pope and what do you want to say to him?
We welcome Pope Francis with immense joy. He is a world leader. He comes to a small Islamic country. His visit honors us, because he is not only the head of Christians, but a leader of all the faithful. Each religion brings with it a message of peace, and the Holy Father promotes it in an appropriate manner. I will be one of the 500 Islamic religious people who will meet Pope Francis [during the interreligious and ecumenical rally for the peace on December 1st, in the archbishopric garden]. On that occasion we will hand him a letter containing a fatwa against Islamic extremism signed by 100,000 Muslim religious leaders.
What do you expect Pope Francis will say to Muslims?
The Holy Father will bring a message of love, especially for the Rohingya, and will help them solve their refugee problem. Surely his visit will lead to a rapid resolution of the crisis [Muslim refugees fleeing from Myanmar and camped in makeshift shelters in Cox’s Bazaar]. At the same time, as an Islamic leader, I believe that they should return to Myanmar because they have never been citizens of Bangladesh. And above all because everyone has the right to live in their own place of origin.
In your opinion, how can one encourage the harmony and coexistence between religions in Bangladesh? And among the Shiite, Sunni and Sufi Muslim faithful?
We have created the World Religious Forum (WRF), which brings together Muslim, Christian, Hindu and Buddhist religious leaders. I am the coordinator. With this forum we do not just want to build relations of brotherhood between Sunni and Shi’ite, but also among other religions. We organize programs for interreligious dialogue with those who practice the true religion that is peace. Also Card. Patrick D’Rozario [Dhaka’s Archbishop] is part of the group and is directly involved in the initiatives. We have also received numerous letters of thanks from the Vatican for our great contribution to the building of interreligious harmony.
Can you give us some concrete examples of coexistence and respect between religions?
In recent years, some comments on religious violence at Cox’s Bazar, or against Rongpur’s Christians, or that justified the murder of Sunil Gomes, a Catholic in Natore, were published on Facebook. We organized a march of protest, attended by 5,000 imams and faithful. It was the first time the WRF protested against sectarian attacks on the faithful of other religions. The interreligious program has also resonated in all the media and we have received appreciation from several sides.
You will have heard of the recent attack in Sinai, which left more than 300 people dead and targeted a Sufi Mosque. What are your feelings about it?
When I heard the news, I felt a deep pain in my heart. They are terrorists. We are against violence. We are saddened by all the atrocities that occur in the world, not only towards Muslims but also towards Christians, Buddhists and Hindus.
How can we ensure peace and social justice in your country?
We work to ensure social justice and in this we are supported by government policies. I maintain that everyone should enjoy their rights, including the Rohingya. We also support women’s development and help widows. To ensure peace, we work together with other religious leaders so that they enjoy the freedom to preach according to the values of their religion. No faith promotes religious violence. And as far as Islamic terrorism is concerned, no religion allows conflict and killing.
And how can we curb terrorism?
We have to start from education. We teach our values in the madrasse. We teach the students the true teachings of Islam. We motivate young people and tell them there is no place for weapons or attacks on other believers. I am proud to say that 90% of WRF members are Koranic students. Fundamentalism in this country is rooted in an incorrect education. Then we also have to be careful about the sermons. In Bangladesh there are about 300,000 mosques, of which 10,000 in Dhaka alone. In my mosque about 8,000 Muslims pray, including several government ministers. I am a consultant to the Minister of the Interior and I have the task of controlling the preaching, in order to prevent the imams from indulging in hate speech. If we realize that someone teaches the wrong lessons and encourages extremism, we must act against them.
If you want to be regularly informed about different violations of human rights in the world, click here for a free subscription to our newsletters!
HRWF database of news and information on over 70 countries: http://hrwf.eu/newsletters/forb/
List of hundreds of documented cases of believers of various faiths in 20 countries: http://hrwf.eu/forb/forb-and-blasphemy-prisoners-list/