'No party opposing independence survives'

Kamal Ahmed . London | Update:

Abdur Razzak in London on 17 February, 2019. Photo: Prothom Alo

Conflict has flared up within Jamaat-e-Islami once again over the issue of apologising for its role during the liberation war and also about dissolving the party.

Amid debate and discussions over the party, Jamaat’s assistant secretary general Abdur Razzak tendered in his resignation on Friday.

In an exclusive interview with Prothom Alo, Abdur Razzak spoke in detail to Prothom Alo in London about these issues.

Prothom Alo: The changes you wanted to bring about in Jamaat-e-Islami were for the party to apologise for its role in 1971 and also to bring about changes in the party’s political ideology. You have spoken about politics of social justice. Which of the two reasons compelled you to resign from the party?

Abdur Razzak: I would say both. But very frankly speaking, Jamaat was not accepted in 1971. It became the focus of hatred in the country. This was disturbing. Why should someone born in 1981, who wants to join the party, have to bear the brunt of this stigma? It was 1971 that compelled me to take this decision. If not, I may have stayed a little longer in the party, in an effort to bring about reforms. About 1971, I would say that no party opposing independence can come to power in any country of the world.

Prothom Alo: You have been with Jamaat politics for 30 years. So why did you join Jamaat after the country’s independence?
Abdur Razzak: Actually I am a Muslim democrat and I believe in Islamic values. But I feel that Islamic values have to be established within the secular framework. That was why I had thought Jamaat was the appropriate forum to spread these values.

Prothom Alo: When you joined Jamaat, didn’t you think that the onus of 1971 would be a burden?
Abdur Razzak: It wasn’t a burden at the time. In 1986 Jamaat carried out its movement alongside BNP and Awami League. BNP didn’t join the 1986 election, but Jamaat did, alongside Awami League. It wasn’t a big deal at the time. In 1990 I came to the conclusion that the 1971 issue needed to be cleared. In 1990 I went to attend a conference in China. Pakistan’s chief justice went there too. He was joined by another judge from that country, Nasim Hasan Shah. They stopped off at Dhaka on their way back home. Dr Kamal Hossain was president of the bar council at the time and Shahabuddin Ahmed was chief justice. These judges from Pakistan were staying at the state guest house. Nasim Hasan Shah gave me a phone call from there. They saw me as a rising lawyer. Justice Shah told me, unless you sort out the 1971 issue, the party will not be able to proceed very far.

Prothom Alo: From then till 2019, you mentioned five specific times, 2001, 2005, 2007-08, 2011, and 2016. You had, in writing, asked for reforms. Why did you wait for so long?
Abdur Razzak: When Ghulam Azam’s citizenship issue was sorted out in 1994, I had suggested that the apology be tendered. I brought the matter up in informal discussions too. But I made this recommendation more specifically in 2001. I took assistance from three university teachers, two of whom are living. I drew up a written draft. I had hoped it would happen on 16 December that year.

Prothom Alo: In your resignation letter you mentioned that you had tried to bring about reforms in the party for over three decades. You failed to do so and thus you have resigned. What reforms were you looking at?
Abdur Razzak: Firstly, I had wanted reforms in Jamaat’s structure. It was very inflexible and I wanted to see if it could be made more flexible. For example, there was no women’s representation in the leadership despite so many women within the party. They were not proportionately represented.

Prothom Alo: What was your objective? What changes did you want to bring to the party’s politics?
Abdur Razzak: If you want to represent a country, you have to understand the reality of that country. You are in politics, so you want to expand your representation in order to tackle others politically. For example, there was the Brotherhood in Egypt. But they managed to expand themselves significantly by changing this to Peace and Justice Party. Look at AK Parti in Turkey. Had they not changed, they wouldn’t have been able to come to power with absolute majority. I felt that Jamaat needed reforms too.

Once I met with certain French diplomats in the country. They had been given a publication made by women of the party. They said all the pictures in the publication were of men. There could have been women too, even if in niqaab. That was an important matter. Why will women be taken in quotas only? There are many educated and qualified women in Jamaat. I had spoken about all this.

Prothom Alo: Jamaat is said to have aimed at establishing radical Islam. What changes were you wanting there?
Abdur Razzak: Jamaat speaks about a social order. But it does not advocate radical Islam which denotes terrorism or extremism.

Prothom Alo: But the party slogans calling for Allah’s law, or for Allah’s sovereignty to be included in the constitution, all point to radical Islam.
Abdur Razzak: Radical means terrorism. Jamaat-e-Islami’s practises politics of moderate Islam. This has been adopted in other Muslim countries too. Jamaat of 1947, of 1971 and of 2019 are not one and the same. Changes have been brought about in other countries too. When Congress as formed in 1880, its leader had been a Scottish man. Later came Subhas Bose, Jawaharlal Nehru and then Indira Gandhi. The party underwent changes under each of these leaders. Muslim League was formed in 1906 and Sir Salimullah Khan was its leader. Salimullah’s Muslim League and Jinnah’s Muslim League were very different. Changes have to be made in keeping with the reality on ground.

Prothom Alo: If your old associates in the party say that your decision at this critical time has damaged the party and that you have some other motives, how would you respond?
Abdur Razzak: That would be a wrong allegation. The party was at its height in 2001 to 2015 and we were partners in the government at the time. I had raised these issues then. I now realise that I have nothing more to give Jamaat. And Jamaat’s critical times have eased. It went through its worst time during the trial and hanging of five of its leaders. I knew it would not be easy in a third world country to defend the accused.

Prothom Alo: If they say you have left the party for a certain motive?
Abdur Razzak: I have left the party from high moral ground. I will not join active politics. I will not form a new party not join any existing one.

Prothom Alo: The party’s majlis-e-sura did not accept the central working council’s recommendation to give the party a new name. It is clear that the party is divided. If one fraction breaks away like AK Part to form a new party, will you not join it?

Prothom Alo: I am not making any new party or joining any party. Politics in Bangladesh has become toxic. I will be able to do nothing for the country from within any political party. I may try to do something from within civil society.

In today’s politics, you don’t just defeat your opponent, you remove them physically. It is here where civil society needs to take a stand. I was talking to BNP’s Moudud Ahmed and an Awami League minister at a programme of the US embassy. The minister was saying with regret when he was getting ready to go to attend the janaza of a BNP leader who had passed away, he received a phone call prohibiting him from going. Things are even worse now. For someone like me to do anything for the country, it has to be from within the civil society.

Prothom Alo: But in Bangladesh the civil society is under pressure too.
Abdur Razzak: Yes, it is under pressure, but its main problem is politicisation. That must be addressed.

Prothom Alo: Jamaat had been implicated in militant activities of Bangla Bhai and JMB. Matiur Rahman Nizami had even dismissed Bangla Bhai as a creation of the media.
Abdur Razzak: He had referred to Bangla Bhai as a creation of the media in the context of the extent of media coverage concerning him.
It is common knowledge that Jamaat is not involved in terrorism. Terrorism goes against Jamaat’s philosophy. Those who didn’t support this, left Jamaat. This proves that Jamaat is opposed to terrorism.

Prothom Alo: There are also questions about Jamaat’s role in the 21 August grenade attack on Awami League president Sheikh Hasina.
Abdur Razzak: That was long ago and I do not remember what happened. But I am no longer with Jamaat. However, Jamaat always believes in democracy and is always against terrorism. So it would be wrong to make such allegations.

Prothom Alo: After the sentence against Delwar Hossain Sayedee was announced and after the results of the 2014 election, buildings and buses were set on fire in an outbreak of violence. Will Jamaat bear blame for this?
Abdur Razzak: Violence is an old issue in politics. But Jamaat’s stand is again violence. If any activist of Jamaat is fund involved in such activities, action is taken. But are there any circumstances for justice existing in Bangladesh?

Prothom Alo: What is the future of Islamic politics in Bangladesh?
Abdur Razzak: The trend which has emerged in countries of the Muslim world is essential in Bangladesh’s politics too. I feel the youth will come forward like AK Party and Ennahda Party (Tunisia). But as I said in writing, there can be no compromise about 1971.

Prothom Alo: So that would mean an offshoot of Jamaat?
Abdur Razzak: This is simply the call of the day. I see the need and the potential for a moderate Muslim democratic party under a secular constitution.

Prothom Alo: So what is the future for Jamaat? The majlis-e-sura is not in favour of reforms.
Abdur Razzak: It is not that the majlis-e-sura is absolutely against reforms. They have taken certain good decisions recently. If they accept the two proposals I made, they will have a good chance in the future. There still are persons with liberal viewpoints within the party. I do not want to name them, as they are few in number. But they may succeed.

*The report, originally appeared in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir

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