The political commentator was speaking at a seminar organised at the Dhaka University on Tuesday to discuss the changing nature of Jamaat. The party founded in 1941 has tweaked its position on the state, nationalism, democracy and capital many times to suit preferences.
Jamaat had opposed the Pakistan movement but most of its leaders moved to the newly formed Islamic state after the bloody Partition in 1947, said Mamun Al Mostofa, assistant professor for political science at the Dhaka University.
He was presenting his essay– ‘When confessional parties compromise ideology: A comparative study of Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan, Bangladesh and India’. Prof Salimullah, who discussed his research, said
Jamaat should not be trusted if it one day adopts secularism.
Pakistan Muslim League was not Muslim enough in the eyes of Jamaat, said Mostofa as he discussed the beginning days of Pakistan. Its goal then was get the people’s votes by emerging as the party for ‘genuine Muslims’.
As the struggle for Bangladesh began, Jamaat joined hands with Pakistan Army to form auxiliary militia groups to viciously suppress liberation seekers by genocide, murders, rape and torture, for which it has been termed a criminal organisation by the court trying Jamaat’s top leaders decades after the 1971 Liberation War.
“They stood against female leadership, even minority groups. Jamaat’s goal was to establish Hakomat-e-Ilahi or thearchy.”
But the BNP, now headed by Khaleda Zia, is among the right-wing parties that are Jamaat’s tested friends, he said.
The ruling Awami League, which started the trial of war criminals, had once shared ties with the party. In Pakistan, they formed alliances with all parties except the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) but became friendly with it in 1971.
The seminar, an initiative by the Centre for Advanced Research in Social Sciences, was presided over by its director Dr Sadeqa Halim.
‘Enemies of Jamaat’
Jamaat leaders in Bangladesh and Pakistan have condemned the proponents of secularism branding them as ‘atheists and untrustworthy’. “Ghulam Azam had written a book on secularism. It’s not just mere talk,” said Mostofa.
Abdul Quader Molla, the top Jamaat leader known as the ‘Butcher of Mirpur’, termed secularists their enemies in a letter written from jail before his execution in December 2013, he added. “A man faced with death speaks his mind.”
But the original Jamaat in India differs on this view; it says secularism is ‘a blessing from God’, according to a speech made by a party spokesperson in 1996, he said. The party led by controversial Islamic theorist Syed Abdul A’la Maududi was twice banned in Pakistan in 1959 and 1964 on charges of seditious activities.
A newly liberated Bangladesh had also banned its activities in 1972 until it re-emerged during the military regime of General Ziaur Rahman that followed the 1975 assassination of the nation’s founding father Bangbandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
To find Jamaat’s persona in the subcontinent, Mostofa said, “Jamaat still uses Maududi’s writings to recruit workers. It feels these are still relevant. But changes have been adopted in the policy structure and the process for taking a decision.”
“It’s difficult to analyse Jamaat just on its ideals. But seeing its leader as opportunists lets us see more.” Its politics has evolved mostly in India, slightly in Bangladesh and the least in Pakistan, according to the teacher. “It barely changes in a favourable environment. Faced with ideal and gain, it has chosen gain over and over again.”
Prof Salimullah Khan said Islam has a revolutionary legacy, but it also had a reactionary persona. “There are many legacies. Jamaat was born out of a rightwing reactionary legacy.”
“Jamaat took the opportunity to contest from vacant Awami League seats. In the same way, it had the chance to fight for Bangladesh’s liberation,” he said. “They have always made the wrong choices. Jamaat is changing. And they will continue to be on the wrong side because they are in a wrong structure.”
“Why was this party formed when colonial rule was reaching its end in India?” he asked. “The British had put the Hindu-Muslim divide at the centre of its policies. They started a new election system based on that division.”
As for female leadership, Jamaat has not been speaking up against it because people in Bangladesh now accept it, said Dhaka University economics professor MA Akash. “But they will address it when once the people are convinced.”