Monday, December 19, 2005

The PROBE Interview: Moulana Muhiuddin Khan

PROBE: Moulana Muhiuddin Khan, senior politician, Islamic scholar, Senior Vice Chairman of Islami Oikya Jote and Editor of the monthly magazine Madina, has been hitting the headlines in recent times. He has been coming to the limelight as quite a controversial character. It is said that he had close ties with the Taliban Mujahideen back from Afghanistan. There are allegations of his involvement with the Islamic militants within the country. Similar rumours abound. He speaks to PROBE at length on these issues, as well as the recent spate of bomb blasts, the prevailing political crisis and more.

Interviewed by ANWAR PARVEZ HALIM

You are a veteran Islamic political leader. Why are there so many divisions among the Islamic political parties of the country?

This is most unfortunate. I say this is unfortunate because at present Muslims of the entire world are going through bad times. This is a critical period for Muslims globally. They are being given a bad name. Bangladesh is no exception. It was essential at this juncture in Bangladesh for Muslims to unite in order to defend themselves. However, instead of doing this, they are getting embroiled in conflict over insignificant issues, over issues of leadership. Over their small self-interests, the parties are not being able to tolerate one another.

I always feel that there are some vested quarters who are encouraging the conflicts and controversies of the Islamic parties.

So is the conflict ideological or a power struggle?

This is absolutely a matter of power; ideologies hardly enter the picture. Has the ideology been intact and strong, then the Islamic parties would not have got involved in such fracas. There is a lack of ideals and this has led to this situation. If Islamic ideals are followed, no one can be an extremist. They cannot be blinded by the lust for power. Islam never allows this.

The Islamic parties are demanding the implementation of the Shariah law, the rule of Quran. How far is this realistic in the context of Bangladesh?

Of course this is possible. Why won’t it be possible? We want to implement the Islamic law in keeping with democracy. Today the Islamic Bank is playing a role in the economy. Business is being carried out in accordance to Shariah laws. Interest-free banking is operating. Before no one could imagine banking in an Islamic way, but now this is a reality. In this manner, if Islamic rules are applied to the judiciary, gradually Islamic Shariah law can be implemented. However, I firmly believe that everything should be done in a democratic manner. Many say that if the Islamic rule is established, the minorities’ rights will be violated. But no, if Islamic rule is inducted in a democratic manner, the rights of the minority communities will not be hampered. There is no need to fear in this regard. The Islamic bank has many Hindu clients. They are not apprehensive.

You dream of Shariar law being implemented, but how far do the country’s Islamic parties themselves follow the Shariar law?

I don’t consider a single one of these to be Islamic parties. Had we been fully Islamic parties, why can’t we tolerate one another? We want Shariah, but till now we haven’t been able to explain to the people what this means. Do we have any initiative to explain to the people the real meaning of Shariah? Other than a few programmes for the sake of outward show, none of the parties actually have anything Islamic about them. The opposition is spreading fear among the minority about Islam. This is our failure. We have not been able to explain matters clearly to the minority.

Why is there so much conflict among the allies of the Islamic Oikya Jote? Why does the Oikya Jote go through so many rifts and splits?

It’s the same reason – power. There are some people who are extremely power hungry. They have entered Islami Oikya Jote in the hope of gaining power. They though that if they were part of the Oikya Jote, they would become ministers, be powerful. Not that they didn’t get that, they are squabbling among themselves. Trouble arises when their interests are not met. This is not just among the Islamic parties. This prevails in the other parties too.

Islam is a religion of peace, so how would you explain the worldwide violence being propagated in the name of Islam? In the past there hadn’t been bomb blasts in the name of Islam, but this is happening now. Why?

The question is, those who are carrying out all this violence in the name of Islam, are they really wanting to usher in Islam? Have they put forward any specific demand before the nation? I don’t see any demand of theirs.

Those who are carrying out the bomb blasts are very few in number. They are detached from Muslims. They are not connected to Islamic parties. They are not a part of the mainstream. I fear that some foreign conspirators are using them. They aim at disrupting order in the country and marginalising Muslims.

Why are the Islamic parties failing to explain the matter to the people and expose the aims and objectives of the conspirators?

Yes, we are failing in this regard. There are problems, there are many reasons behind this. But we have begun this task, in the name of Allah.

There are allegations of your close connections with fundamentalist terrorists, militants, Taliban mujahids back from Afghanistan.

That is a completely baseless allegation. It is a allegation based on personal jealousy. I have never condoned extremism. I am a liberal man. I have been to Pakistan many times, but not to Afghanistan. I never met an Afghan leaders, never expressed any desire to meet them. I never even issued any statement or comment about Afghanistan. I am an educated man and I remain busy with my studies. These things being said about me are simply malicious lies.

How do you know Mufti Hannan? There are pictures of you in meeting with him. He fought in Afghanistan.

I had heard that Mufti Hannan had fought in Afghanistan and won a name for himself. He returned and wanted to meet me. I gave him time and asked him now what he wanted to do. He said he wanted to teach in a madrassa. I said, “That is well and good, but simply teach in madrassas. Do not try to do here what you did in Afghanistan. It won’t be of any use.” That is all that we had discussed. We had a brief meeting and I am surprised to hear that there are photographs of this meeting, because no picture had been taken. My computer experts tell me it was computer-generated picture. So many people come to meet me here. Hannan was one of them. I never met him since. I have no contact with him.

Hannan is of the same circle as Abdur Rahman, Bangla Bhai. Do you have contact with them?

No. I never met Abdur Rahman or Bangla Bhai. I don’t know them. No one had heard the names of Abdur Rahman or Bangla Bhai before. They are of a very low level. They are not of any political grouping. There is no reason that I should be in contact with them.

But you do know Dr. Ghalib. Tell us something about him.

I still cannot believe that Dr. Ghalib can be involved in any sort of terrorism. He is an educated man, an academic. He can’t be involved in militancy. I feel he is victim of conflict within his organisation Ahle Hadith. I never heard of him being involved in any sort of terrorism. Those who are now involved in the bomb blasts, take Abdur Rahman for instance, he was very close to Dr. Ghalib. Later Rahman left. Rahman by birth is a member of Ahle Hadith. His father was of the Ahle Hadith group. I knew Dr. Ghalib to be a gentleman.

What about Abdur Rahman?

Rahman is of a low level, I never heard of him before. He has been spreading terror around the country and that is why people know him. He is not a politician. I have never seen him even, let alone know him.

Will you also deny the rumours that JMB has contacts with some of the Islami Oikya Jote leaders?

That is rubbish. But then, so much is being said about Islami Oikya Jote. I have no idea who is doing what. But Islami Oikya Jote has two main factions. One is under leadership of Amini, the other under Saikhul Hadith. I can assure you that neither of these factions have anything to do with JMB.

Hannan was involved in a bomb-related incident at Gopalganj during the Awami League rule. A case was filed in his name but he was not arrested at the time. What is your view of the matter?

I have heard that Hannan is related to the Sheikh family. They are of the same village. What more can I say?

There is a lot of controversy at home and abroad about Qawmi madrassas. What would you say about the allegations that militant training is imparted at these madrassas?

I personally never studied at a Qawmi madrassa. I was a student of an Aleya madrassa. But I do admire Qawmi madrassas because they positively uphold and serve true Islam. I don’t see any place in this educational system for terrorism or terrorists. Why would they take up terrorism? They would have to have some objective.

Some of JMB people have been apprehended from Qawmi madrassas. They admit that they studied at Qawmi madrassas,

JMB has no connection with Qawmi madrassas. It could be that some Qawmi madrassa dropouts who were unemployed were recruited by JMB.

How can Qawmi madrassas deal with the allegations brought against them?

We have contacted the Qawmi madrassas several times. We wanted to hear what the actual picture was, what they had to say. They told us that the doors of the Qawmi madrassa are open to all; anyone can come and visit. The moment any allegation against a madrassa is proven, they will shut down that particular madrassa immediately.

The country has democracy and a Constitution. How justified, then, is the threat to establish Islam through terrorism?

This is meaningless. If one is to usher in Islamic rule, one must go to the parliament. That is what Islami Oikya Jote believes. One cannot usher in Islam through militancy.

You say that the militants are very small in number. Jamaat and Islami Oikya Jote are allies of the government, yet you can’t control this militancy. Where is the problem?

We are trying. Even if it means using brutal force, we want to find out about this force of militancy.

Oikya Jote and Jamaat are allies of the four-party coalition government, yet you are engaged in conflict against each other. Why?

That was in the past. There is no conflict now. Some in the Oikya Jote may have felt they didn’t get a place in the cabinet because of Jamaat. Then some in Jamaat felt that they may face problems with an Islamic party Oikya Jote as an ally. There was some misunderstanding, but that has cleared up now. Hopefully there will be no such misunderstanding or conflict in the future.

Fazlul Huq Amini has accused Jamaat of involvement with the JMB bomb attacks. Both of you are in the same forum, so how do you view his statement?

I do not believe such allegations against Jamaat. And I myself have not heard Amini making such a comment.

Amini MP sometimes brings about allegations against BNP. There are allegations that he does this at the instigation of a foreign power. Doesn’t Islami Oikya Jote have to bear the brunt of his comments?

We are peeved somewhat with BNP. We have our grievances. But Oikya Jote is in no position to stand up against them. We do not have the strength. And allegations of connections with foreign powers are not true.

What could JMB’s aim be in targetting the courts?

The courts are extremely sensitive areas. They are considered sacred places. Their aim is to hurt people’s sentiments. So they have deliberately chosen these places. They want to destroy the judicial structure. They want to spread panic among the people.

Awami League has also accused Jamaat of being behind the bomb blasts. So does 14 Party. What do you think?

On what basis do they make these accusations? Logically speaking, why would Jamaat do this? They are in power now. They have the best deal. I see no reason why they will want to destabilise the government, destabilise the country. As for Awami League, Islam and Shariah is an allergy to them. They are allergic to the very mention of Islam and Shariah. They have targetted Muslims and Islam. Muslims all over the world are being oppressed today.

What measures are to be taken in the interests of the nation to resist militancy? Why aren’t the Islamic parties coming forward in this regard?

The most important thing is motivation. A negative idea about the militants must be spread among the people. If the people can understand the bad consequences of militancy, they will go all out to resist them. The terrorists will not be able to proceed much then.

Do you suspect any Islamic party to be involved in the bomb blasts?

Bangla Bhai and Abdur Rahman broke away from the main Ahle Hadith. They formed JMB. Those who have been caught are all followers of these two. From that point of view, it looks like the faction which broke away from the main Ahle Hadith may have connections with these incidents.

Those who are opposed to the government at present may also be involved. Abdur Rahman is the brother-in-law of Jubo League leader Mirza Azam. This should be taken into consideration. Those who go abroad to speak against this country, those who call it a dysfunctional state, how do we know they aren’t involved? The force behind the scenes must be exposed first. They are using JMB. The offshoot faction of Ahle Hadith is involved in the bomb blasts, not any other Islamic party

Your Madina building is said to be the centre of militant activities. It is alleged that you gathered all the militants together in the guise of the Tipaimukh long march. How would you respond to that?

First of all, the Madina building is no secret place. Madina Bhaban is open to all. Anyone can come here. So if there were any militant preparations going on here, everyone would know. Everyone would see the militancy. So how can this be such a centre?

Secondly, Madina Bhaban was accused of militancy because of the Tipaimukh long march. This long march created such a response in Sylhet that it made India uncomfortable. About 14 or 15 small parties, including Bhasani NAP, Muslim League and others took part in this long march. If this was a preparatory programme for militant activities, let them say what other action was taken up after that. We had no programme after the long march. I do not understand why the militant issue is being connected to this.

BNP is having to face a tirade of criticism because of the allied Islamic parties. It is said that BNP is encumbered with Jamaat. What do you say?

I am not a Jamaat man. I am not involved in Jamaat’s politics. Even now it is not that I like Jamaat very much. But even so I will say that Jamaat hasn’t done anything to face such an accusation. It is those who want to gain political benefits point to Jamaat in this regard. They are opposing for the sake of opposition. They want to use this issue to create a rift in the four-party alliance.

Jamaat is a well-organised party. They have a strong position even at the grassroots. BNP used this in the last election. Inshallah they will use it in the next election too. But if this can be broken, the 14 Party stands to gain. But I do not think they will be able to break the unity of the four-party alliance. The four-party alliance will contest in the next election together again. There is no alternative to this. If the opposing group comes to power, there will be bloodshed. They will beat people to death on the streets. The four-party alliance must remain united to resist this force. The government should identify those carrying out the bomb blasts and the forces behind them and expose them to the people, along with proof.

Where is the country heading?

Towards destruction. If the country carries on like this, it will face destruction. Bomb blasts are taking place here and there. The people are being harmed. They are alarmed. If this continues, the people will be forced to take to the streets with sticks and stones. Everyone, regardless of party affiliation, must identify this as a national problem. The people must hate the persons who cause the bomb blasts. Public opinion must be mobilised. The people must be involved. There is no time to waste. The more the delay, the worse the damage to the country.

Awami League has rejected the government’s offer for talks. What else can the government do to bring Awami League to dialogue?

When they have managed to create such a crisis in the country, how can you expect Awami League to come to talks? They are waiting for a chance. Even so, the government can’t give up their efforts. They must maintain continued effort with the opposition. They must continue to try and bring them to dialogue.

The opposition has said that they will not sit for talks unless Jamaat is dropped...

That is an unjustified demand. When you can’t indict someone, what is the use to simply blaming them? Islamic parties control 25 percent of this country’s votes. This will increase. The government doesn’t have to give in to Awami League’s illogical demands. Jamaat has come to the parliament on the votes of the people. This isn’t in violation of the Constitution. On the contrary, Awami League’s demands have no legal basis. They simply make the demands forcefully.

How many seats will Oikya Jote want in the next election?

At the most 10 to 15. But let me make this clear – even if Oikya Jote is not given a single seat, we will remain in the four-party alliance. We will not leave the alliance.

Can you offer any solution to the prevailing political crisis?

Only a united effort can resolve this problem. This is a national crisis. This must be tackled nationally.

Then we must see, where are the bombs coming from? You will note that the police are often arresting people in possession of bombs in Sylhet. The source of the bombs are on the other side of the border, that is India. So the source must first be identified. If the bombs can be stopped at the source, if the supply can be halted, this will bear good results. The number of militants is not much as yet. They must be hit hard and uprooted. This calls for national consensus. All differences must be put aside to resolve this matter on a national basis.

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