Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, an extremist Islamic group with a controversial history, has recently re-emerged as a prominent player in the political landscape of Bangladesh. After years of being largely inactive due to a ban imposed by the ruling Awami League, the party led a massive rally in Dhaka, signaling its return to the forefront of Bangladeshi politics just ahead of the national election. The resurgence of Jamaat-e-Islami has sparked discussions and debates about its place in the country’s political sphere and the implications it may hold for the nation’s future.
Amidst growing discussions and debates surrounding the resurgence of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, this analysis aims to shed light on the intricacies of the party’s history, its current standing in the political arena, and the potential implications for the nation’s democratic process and stability.
History of Jamaat’s force of communalism and it’s activity in 1971
The Jamaat e-Islami is an Islamic revival movement founded by Abul A’ala Maududi in 1941. It rejected democracy and secularism and sought to reinstate Islamic rule. Initially hostile to the idea of Pakistan, Maududi eventually changed his mind and began working to Islamize society. With the creation of Pakistan and India as independent countries with different philosophies in 1947, the Jamaat-e-Islami’s dream of a single Indian State was destroyed. To advance its Islamic revolution, the Jamaat-e-Islami organized wings in both nations. While the Indian Jamaat focused more on democracy and secularism, the Pakistani Jamaat aimed to establish an Islamic state.
The role of the Jamaat-e-Islami in the independence struggle for Bangladesh in 1971 continues to be a tragic chapter in the history of the country. The Jamaat-e-Islami in Bangladesh sided with the Pakistani Army during this time, strongly promoting their goal of Muslim unification. The founder and head of the East-Pakistan Central Peace Committee, Ghulam Azam, the leader of the Jamaat, was crucial in aiding the West-Pakistani Government’s military actions against Bengali nationalists.
During the battle, the Jamaat-e-Islami, which founded and operated through organizations like Razakar, Al-Badr, Al-Shams, and peace committees, was actively implicated in horrendous war crimes. These organizations planned murders, rapes, abductions, and other acts of targeted violence against civilians, including non-combatants from East Pakistan, academics, medical professionals, and scientists. Under the military rule imposed by West-Pakistan, civilians in East-Pakistan were forbidden from organizing rallies or protests and from carrying weapons, except for the Shanti Committee, which operated under the influence of the Jamaat-e-Islami. Hundreds of thousands of non-combatants, including women and children, fell victim to their atrocities.
The kidnapping of hundreds of thousands of Bengali women and their imprisonment as hostages in military camps for the amusement of the Pakistani military was one of the most heinous atrocities performed by the Shanti Bahini. Approximately 200,000 to 400,000 women were affected by rape and sex slavery during the war, with nearly half of them being Muslim women. Three million East Pakistanis died during the liberation struggle, mostly at the hands of Jamaat-e-Islami and its affiliates but also other West Pakistani forces and allies.
Resurgence of Jamaat-e-Islami’s political violence and power through alliance
Father of the Nation, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman became the first Prime Minister of independent Bangladesh in 1972 and formulated the Constitution of Bangladesh based on secularism, nationalism, socialism, and democracy, with religious-based political parties, including Jamaat-e-Islami, being banned under Article 38. To address the crimes committed during the liberation war, the International Crimes Tribunal Act of 1973 was passed, empowering the state to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and other international law violations. This act aimed to hold accountable those involved in war crimes, including the combatant groups created by Jamaat-e-Islami.
Jamaat-e-Islami found an unexpected lifeline when Bangladesh witnessed a series of military coups after the assassination of Sheikh Mujib in August 1975. In 1977, Major General Ziaur Rahman assumed the presidency and brought about the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, reviving the opportunity for religious-based political parties to operate. Ziaur Rahman’s actions resurrected Jamaat-e-Islami as a functional political entity in independent Bangladesh. After his death, his wife Khaleda Zia continued this legacy, and during General Ershad’s reign, Jamaat-e-Islami maintained its alliance with the BNP, securing control over essential economic sectors like the NGO domain and Islami Bank. The BNP allied with Jamaat in 1999 and formed a four-party alliance ahead of the 2001 national election. Later, the alliance formed government after a landslide victory in the election and Jamaat’s former Ameer and secretary general were made ministers in the Khaleda Zia-led government. Using the state power, Jamaat then strengthened its organizational activities.
Throughout their alliance, BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami faced criticism for their governance. Minority communities and non-Muslims became vulnerable, witnessing frequent incidents of communal violence, which were reminiscent of the tragic events during the liberation war. Before the 2001 elections, violence and attacks on minorities escalated, with BNP-Jamaat terrorists threatening and intimidating families to prevent them from voting. Multiple newspapers reported that BNP and Jamaat leaders, along with Chhatra Dal-Shibir, systematically threatened minorities since the election campaign’s beginning. Families were warned not to go to polling stations, and armed terrorists threatened harm and property destruction if they voted. The victims’ families and activists tirelessly organized protests voicing Jamaat-e-Islami’s involvement in politics, voicing their disapproval of anti-liberation forces holding leadership positions in the country.
The Shahbag protest
The Shahbag protests erupted when a significant Jamaat-e-Islami leader, Quader Molla, was initially sentenced to life imprisonment. The victims and families of the liberation war had relentlessly sought justice against anti-liberation forces, as the true history of Bangladesh’s independence was manipulated in textbooks and public narratives. The protesters demanded capital punishment for war criminals, along with a ban on Jamaat-e-Islami from politics. The Shahbag protests were peaceful demonstrations, but they outraged supporters of Jamaat-e-Islami who responded against the Shahbag protests with violent means. The irate supporters of Jamaat-e-Islami torched police cars, public vehicles, prayer mats in mosques, worship centres of religious minorities and tore the national flag of Bangladesh. Their violent response only made the Shahbag protest stronger, and peaceful nationwide protests continued amidst all the chaos.
Government’s stand against anti-liberation forces
It took decades of unwavering commitment and activism for justice to prevail, with the AL government finally taking significant steps to hold war criminals accountable. In 2008, Sheikh Hasina’s AL party made the promise to hold trials and punish war criminals, leading to the establishment of the International Crimes Tribunal in 2009. It was established to investigate and prosecute those responsible for genocide, war crimes and other international law violations during Bangladesh’s liberation war. To strengthen the Tribunal capabilities, the govt. amended the original International Tribunal Act 1973, making it applicable to organizations in addition to “individuals”. This critical amendment allowed for holding groups, including Jamaat-e-Islami accountable for their involvement in atrocities.
The trials aimed to unveil the truth behind the dark history of the Liberation War and to expose the perpetrators to legal consequences for their actions. Following the execution of Quader Molla, several other significant Jamaat-e-Islami leaders were tried and executed. They include Mohammad Kamaruzzaman on April 2015, Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed on November 2015, Motiur Rahman Nizami on 11 May, 2016 and Mir Quasem Ali on 3 September, 2016. Ghulam Azam was sentenced to 90 years of imprisonment on 15 July, 2013; He died of a stroke on 23 October, 2014.
Moreover, in 2013, Jamaat’s registration as a political party was declared illegal by the High Court. Acting on the verdict, the Election Commission cancelled its registration in October 2018.
Rising before election? Who’s backing the party?
Despite facing obstacles, Jamaat-e-Islami has quietly recovered over the past 15 years. It has adopted a dual policy for the upcoming national election, preparing a primary list of candidates and potential ministers for consideration based on the political situation. The party prioritizes selecting candidates with influence in their areas, such as businessmen, doctors, engineers, police, and former bureaucrats. They have started collecting election funds from members and plan to increase voters in constituencies where they have a strong base, mobilizing voters in towns and migrating pro-Jamaat voters from areas with slim chances of winning to their strongholds. Additionally, US agencies have partnerships and funding arrangements with groups affiliated with Jamaat, including domestic affiliates such as the Islamic Circle of North America, ICNA Relief, Helping Hand for Relief and Development, and the Muslim Ummah of North America. The organization is also expanding its reach abroad, contacting Muslim countries and Islamic organizations, branding the incumbent government as “anti-Islam.” Jamaat conducts its activities from rented houses since it has no specific office, holding meetings, spreading its ideology, and recruiting supporters through its student wing, Islami Chhatra Shibir.
On June 10, Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami held a rally in Dhaka with permission from the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) after around 14 years of absence from public politics and organizational activities. The return of Jamaat to the political scene sparked discussions within the political arena. Some Jamaat leaders think that their decision to restart public activities and restore closed party offices was influenced by Islami Andolan Bangladesh’s expansion during Jamaat’s absence.
The government’s decision to grant permission for the rally was influenced by intelligence reports indicating that Jamaat was prepared to hold the rally without permission. In order to protect public safety and maintain political stability, the government allowed the Engineers Institution in Ramna to host the gathering indoors instead of in a public space. Dr. Hasan Mahmud, Minister of Information and Broadcasting, explained that Jamaat-e-Islami is a political party and that they have been given permission to hold rallies.
Asaduzzaman Khan, the home minister, has stated that the government’s position on the Jamaat has not changed. Although Jamaat’s initial request for an open field for their demonstration was denied, they were given verbal approval by the commissioner of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police to hold the gathering indoors.
‘It does not suggest that we have shifted from our policy,’ he clarified.
The government’s decision to allow the rally indicates its commitment to political freedom and fair treatment of political opponents. The Awami League-led government has consistently focused on maintaining the country’s stability and ensuring the safety of its citizens while allowing political parties to engage in their activities within the framework of the law.