Young alem Altaf Hossain had told Prothom Alo last week that a situation might arise where Junaid Babunagari would leave Hefazat-e-Islam on his own accord. Although that did not happen exactly, all of a sudden on Sunday night Hefazat ameer Junaid Babunagari dissolved all the committees of the organisation.
The reason behind this sudden decision is unknown to many of the top leaders of Hefazat. Some of the leaders have also reacted on social media over this issue.
Altaf Hossain spoke to Prothom Alo on 19 April. He spoke to this correspondent again on Monday morning. "Didn't I tell? You might have thought that I was going crazy," he told Prothom Alo, referring to his previous statement.
Why did Junaid Babunagari have to dissolve the committee? In reply, Altaf Hossain said that he could not handle the pressure.
Altaf Hossain is a leader of Islami Oikkya Jote, an organisation of late Mufti Fazlul Haque Amini. He has good connections with certain quarters in the government. He was the assistant secretary general of Shah Ahmed Shafi’s committee of Hefazat. However, he was ousted from Junaid Babunagari’s committee. Altaf is also involved in the ongoing process of reorganising Hefazat-e-Islam with the supporters of Ahmad Shafi's son Anas Madani.
However, sources close to Junaid Babungari say that in addition to various administrative pressures, there was also pressure from a section of the organisation's leaders in Dhaka to dissolve the committees. Apart from this, a part of the leaders of Hathazari of the organisation also saw this as a way to avoid arrest. Added to this is the pressure of new cases filed against the members of Hefazat. Three more cases were filed with the Hathazari police station on Thursday in connection with the 26 March violence. Many committee members from Hathazari were accused. Babunagari was also accused in two of the cases.
However, one week ago, addressing the government Babunagari said, “Give me the name of the leaders, I will go to jail with them if needed.” Backtracking from his previous stance, he dissolved all the committees of Hefazat abruptly at 11.00pm on Sunday.
Within an hour, the opposite section of Junaid Babunagari said they will declare a new committee soon. Later at 02.30am, a convening committee was declared by the section led by Babunagari.
Earlier on Sunday afternoon, Al-Haiatul Ulya Lil-Jamiatil Qawmia Bangladesh said in a press release that all the students and teachers of qawmi madrasas will refrain from all sorts of political activities. The decision was made in a meeting of the standing committee of Al-Haiatul Ulya Lil-Jamiatil Qawmia at a madrasa in the capital’s Jatrabari. A three-member delegation went to meet the home minister to inform him about this decision on Monday night.
Concerned sources said that this decision of Haiatul Ulya had a big influence behind the dissolution of Hefazat’s central committee. Haiatul Ulya is mainly the governing body controlling the dawra-e-hadith examination, the highest level of qawmi madrasas. The principle of Jatrabari Madrasa is the chairman of this organisation.
On 13 April, he issued a letter to the government. In that letter, he greeted the prime minister and demanded for the release of innocent alems and Imams detained in various unspecified cases and reopening of the qawmi madrasas after Ramadan.
A responsible source of Hathazari Madrasa said the committee of Hefazat-e-Islam was dissolved on the behest of the government. Local MP Anisul Islam Mahmud and two influential leaders in the Hefazat’s committee also played a role in this. These two leaders were also in the list made by the police. They took shelter in the madrasa to avoid arrest. In the wake of the situation, they contacted the local MP for help and they also discussed about the dissolution of Hefazat’s central committee.
A source from Hefazat said there were indications of conducting drives in Hathazari Madrasa and taking over the madrasas under the control of Hefazat leaders including Hathazari Madrasa unless the committee was dissolved.
Speaking to Prothom Alo on Sunday, Anisul Islam Mahmud said, “Things were getting worse and so I did play a role in this development. Such incidents are not good for anyone in the long term.”
When asked about this, home minister Asaduzzaman Khan told Prothom Alo, “They have finally realised and now want to make an ad hoc committee dissolving the previous one. Local MP Anisul Islam Mahmud told me this. I just listened to what was said.”
Law enforcement was on high alert in Hathazari since noon on Sunday. Their activity increased after the evening. They left the madrasa area after Hefazat ameer dissolved the committee.
However, Hefazat-e-Islam ameer Junaid Babunagari mentioned that the committee had been dissolved “considering the overall situation in the country”. Nurul Islam Jihadi, the secretary general of the dissolved committee (member secretary of the current committee) also mentioned about the “special situation” when declaring the new convening committee.
When asked what this special situation is, Junaid Babunagari did not comment. In reply to the same question, Nurul Islam Jihadi said, “Babunagari will answer this question. I have only copied him.”
Mixed reaction over the dissolution of the committee
This abrupt dissolution of the committee has sparked mixed reaction within Hefazat-e-Islam. Mainuddin Ruhi, who was ousted from the committee after the death of organisation's founder ameer Shah Ahmad Shafi, welcomed the decision to dissolve the committee. On the contrary, nayeb-e-ameer of the dissolved committee, Abdur Rob Yusufi has questioned the quality of the leadership over the declaration of the dissolution of the central committee.
Abdur Rob Yusufi wrote on Facebook on Sunday, “With due respect to Allama Junaid Babunagari’s knowledge, practice and faith, I want to say a number of Hefazat leaders are on remand at the moment, more than 500 leaders and activists are in prison and hundreds of them are in constant fear of arrest. In this situation, by dissolving the central committee, Allama Junaid Babunagari has lost his quality as a leader. However, this consequence is common in the case of abruptly emerging leadership.”
The convening committee
Nurul Islam Jihadi announced the convening committee at 2:30am on Monday. He said at the time that all the activities of Hefazat would be conducted smoothly through this convening committee.
Junaid Babunagari is the convener and Nurul Islam Jihadi is the member secretary of this committee. Among the remaining three, Muhibullah Babunagari had been appointed as the chief advisor, and Salahuddin Nanupuri and principal Mizanur Rahman Chowdhury as the members of the committee. Among them, all except Mizanur Rahman Chowdhury are related to each other.
Mainuddin Ruhi, known as the follower of Shafi and former joint secretary general of Hefazat, told Prothom Alo on Sunday, “This is not a convening committee, rather, it is a committee of Fatikchhari as four of the members of the committee are from there and all of them are relatives.”
However, before the announcement of the convening committee, Maniuddin Ruhi welcomed the decision to dissolve the committee in a video message around 12.00am. He said, “Soon, we will adopt the ideology of Allama Ahmad Shafi. Hefazat-e-Islam will work non-politically for the development, prosperity and as the guardian of independence of the country.”
Concerned sources said after this declaration by Mainuddin Ruhi, the Hefazat leadership declared the convening committee on the same night. Salahuddin Nanupuri and Mizanur Rahman Chowdhury were included later. Nurul Islam Jihadi termed them as “non-political and acceptable persons”. However, Mizanur Rahaman, known as “Deonar Pir”, is said to have connections with the government. He was also present in the meeting with the home minister.
Strictness of government and different opinions in Hefazat
Hefazat leaders believe that there had been attempts to take control of the Hefazat from the government in past too. However, the government has become strict this time in the wake of violence during the protest against Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Bangladesh.
Hefazat leaders claim that the programme of 26 March was not declared by them. But things would not get this far if the procession started from Baitul Mukarram after the jumma prayer was not attacked. The leaders are skeptical whether a third party was involved in this or not.
Regarding this issue, Nurul Islam said in a statement on Friday, “If any third party has taken a chance in any of the programmes of Hefazat, then the government should catch them. In this case, we will cooperate with the government.”
Hefazat came into limelight on 5 May 2013, staging a demonstration against Ganajagaran Mancha in the capital’s Shapla Chattar area.
A section of the policy makers of the government and Awami League thinks that there is no alternative than to put pressure on Hefazat. After the violence in Shapla Chattar, Hefazat retreated in the face of operations conducted by the law enforcement agencies. After that, the government succeeded to take control over a section of Hefazat leadership.
The government also accepted several demands of Hefazat. On 20 September, the government passed a law giving dawra-e-hadith, the highest level of qawmi madrasas, the same recognition as Honours. In return, on 4 November, 2018, Al-Haiatul Ulya Lil-Jamiatil Qawmia Bangladesh arranged a “shokrana mahfil” (thanksgiving ceremony) and prime minister Sheikh Hasina was given the title of “qawmi janani”. The prime minister was the chief guest of that programme.
But after the death of Shah Ahmad Shafi, the leaders close to the government were ousted from the committee. After that, Hefazat's behind- the-scene communication with the government deteriorated gradually. Hefazat then created a stir with its anti-sculpture stance, but quickly moved away from this. The government also emphasised on dialogue instead of coming hard on Hefazat to resolve the issue.
However, the government took a stern stance against Hefazat after the violence during the protest against Narendra Modi’s visit last month. It is assumed that although this pressure will not give the government complete control over Hefazat, it will divide Hefazat. It is learned that attempts are also being made to bring the persons relatively liberal and close to government to the leadership of Hefazat.
*This report appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu