Date: Mon, 12 Jul 1999 09:24:51 -0500 (CDT)
From: (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: BANGLADESH: Rural Women Suffer ‘Fatwa’ Tyranny
Article: 69196
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <>

/** headlines: 191.0 **/
** Topic: BANGLADESH: Rural Women Suffer ‘Fatwa’ Tyranny **
** Written 2:39 AM Jul 8, 1999 by mmason in cdp:headlines **
/* Written 9:06 PM Jun 28, 1999 by in ips.english */
/* ————— “RIGHTS-BANGLADESH: Rural Women Suff” ————— */

Rural Women Suffer ‘Fatwa’ Tyranny

By Tabibul Islam, InterPress Service, 28 June 1999

DHAKA, Jun 28 (IPS)—Teenager Badoi Begum died in her village home in Sylhet district, some 250-km east of the Bangladesh capital, late last month after she was publicly caned on the order of the ‘fatwabaj’ or local morality minders.

Her fault was that she had become pregnant as a result of a relationship with a young man from the same village, and the fatwabaj decreed that her crime constituted adultery and she should be given 101 lashes in public.

The ‘fatwa’ or edict issued was carried out immediately, and the unfortunate girl died the next day from excessive bleeding and shock.

Police have arrested three people in this connection and an investigation is underway, but the local people are certain the ’fatwabaj’ will be set free because they are influential and have money.

All across this mainly Muslim country these religious upholders of social morality increasingly wield considerable influence among the largely illiterate and poor rural population.

’Fatwabaj’ themselves are not conversant with the various aspects of the ‘Shariah’, the Islamic laws, because of their own poor education. Yet their frequently aired ‘fatwas' are heeded by villagers.

More than two dozen cases of women being publicly lashed and thrown out from villages were reported in the last two years. But the actual number is probably much higher, since ‘mullahs' or clerics are the law in the remoter rural areas.

Rural women are the main victims of the ‘fatwa’ tyranny. The ’fatwabaj’ have also got after the influential non-governmental organisations (NGOs) of Bangladesh.

Shamsul Huq, director of the Association of Development Agencies in Bangladesh (ADAB), an apex body of NGOs, said the recent activities of some fundamentalist political organisations and religious groups have become a cause for worry.

’Fatwabaj’ have identified NGOs as their principal target for trying to make rural women educated and self-reliant, he said.

Attacks on women's gatherings, NGO-run schools, NGO offices and even the felling of trees planted at the initiative of voluntary groups have been carried out, he said, in response to inflammatory proclamations by mullahs and fatwabaj.

Their anti-people activities must be countered with public awareness raising campaigns before it starts to damage the progress made in Bangladesh, he said.

Bangladesh has suddenly been witness to a gradual emergence of extremist groups like Hirkatul Zihad al Islami and Kamaat-e-Tola led by leaders who are working covertly and overtly to bring about a Taliban-style Islamic revolution in the country.

The attempt on the life of the celebrated liberal poet, Shamsur Rahman, by members of Hirkatul Zihad in January this year revealed the extent to which these groups were prepared to go. The group has a hit-list of some prominent Bangladeshis who are known for their progressive views.

Police investigations into the assassination attempt are pointing to a link between the members of the Hirkatul Zihad and Saudi-political fugitive Osama bin Laden, now living incognito in Afghanistan.

It is also estimated that since the Hirkatul Zihad was set up in 1992, it has trained some 25,000 recruits mainly students from ’madrashas' (religious schools) who are indoctrinated in an ideology that glorifies martyrdom. Most recruits have been boys who are either orphans or from very poor families.

Intelligence agencies say the Hirkatul Zihad has links with ’terrorist’ groups in the Middle East, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Burma, and receive up to half a million dollars every year to carry out their activities to make Bangladesh a fundamentalist Islamic state.

Leaders of the pro-Islamic political organisations have issued ’fatwas' denying women the right to be leaders, despite both Bangladesh's most important leaders being women.

Former president and chairman of the Jatiya Party, Hussain Mohamad Ershad, has been quoted saying in public that only male leaders can make Bangladesh a great country. In his opinion, the “days of woman leadership is over.”

Syed Fazlul Karim, a religious leader and head of the Islamic Constitution Movement, said “Islam does not recognise woman leadership. A country led by a woman can never make progress. A country with a woman leader is the result of sins.”

And Mufti Fazlul Huq Amini, a top leader of the Islamic Unity Alliance, who says he is a supporter of Osama bin Laden, has urged Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed to establish Islamic rule. Otherwise her government would be toppled, he has warned.

Ordinary people however, have shown they are not swept away by religious dogma. At the last general election in 1996, only three members of the right-wing Jamaat-e-Islamic won, compared to the party's strength of 18 in the previous Bangladesh parliament.

Religious fundamentalism in Bangladesh has been losing ground, says Abdur Rahman of the left-leaning Workers Party.