In the wake of repeated terror attacks against bloggers and activists in Bangladesh, a fatwa by 1,01,524 Islamic scholars and clerics was issued this June. http://indianexpress.com/article/world/world-news/over-1-lakh-bangladesh-clerics-issue-fatwa-against-extremism-2861497
This comes at a time in the history of Bangladesh when there are discussions taking place about making it a secular country.
While there are many activists working within the country, they have great support from North American Bangladeshis. In fact they could not continue their work against extremism, if this support was not there.
However very few people are globally aware of the changes taking place in this country of more than 60 million people with about 90% being Muslim.
One individual who has been involved in his country’s changing face is Hasan Mahmud, who is Secretary General for The Council For Muslims Facing Tomorrow, based in Canada and member of the Advisory Board for The World Muslim Congress.
With support from Muslims Facing Tomorrow and minimal funding for a core team of 26 activists on the ground in Bangladesh, Mahmud has managed to make 25 villages free of radicalization and is working on 80 more. The thrust of this project is to provide villagers audio-visual material in their own language that debunks the myths of sharia and allows them to ask key questions of their Imams.
How did this come about?
Born in Bangladesh with a Masters in Biochemistry, Hasan Mahmud moved to Abu Dhabi in 1975 and worked as lab technologist chief technologist in a hospital. Hasan authored a book and docu-movies on Sharia law to create awareness in Muslim societies about the deadly impact of political interpretation of Islam. Mahmud says that as a human Rights activist he was never comfortable with Muslim women having fewer rights than Muslim men in many areas of life. He says he became aware of the problems with man-made Sharia while he was growing up in Bangladesh where Family Laws of Sharia are observed, and later during his 15 years stay in the Middle East.
While has was still in Bangladesh, he lived through the 1971 crisis, as East Pakistanis were an oppressed Muslim nation that started the war of independence against West Pakistan. West Pakistan, also a Muslim nation inflicted one of the most heinous genocides and mass rapes in the history of mankind. For Mahmud, it was shocking to observe that all the other Muslim countries supported West Pakistan, the oppressor, and not the oppressed. He says he clearly felt that either Islam was wrong or Muslims were. That was the beginning of his quest. Mahmud started searching for root causes of violence in Muslim societies. When he noticed that “not all Sharia-supporters are necessarily violent but all violent Muslims are Sharia supporters”, he realized there must be a connection between violence and Sharia law.
So Mahmud made it his quest to study Sharia Law for its strengths and weaknesses. After decades of in-depth research he found out that one of the major roots of violence in Muslim societies is political interpretation of Islam by Sharia law.
In 2000, Mahmud presented his findings at a conference in Amsterdam. His speech, full of Anti-radical Islamic references was highly praised. After the conference he realized that these references compiled from works of progressive Islamic scholars and the outcome of his extensive research which is crucial to defeat the radical ideology of Islam was not reaching the common Muslim. He says “while the work of these intellectuals and scholars are encapsulated in universities, books, TV shows, and conferences, the mass Muslim societies of the world are still captive to the messages of radical clergies from Islamic institutions. Majority of the Muslims have grievances against their own failed governments and the genocides committed by West on Muslims. These clergies take advantage of these grievances and offer Sharia Law as a divine alternate.”
Through the process of analyzing thousands of Sharia laws, he claims that it was clear to him that defeating radical Islam means overcoming the misrepresentations of Islam. He found it is possible to prove that many of those laws are in conflict with the Quran and Prophet and human and women’s rights. “Almost none of the Sharia believing Muslims read the Sharia laws itself. I was convinced at that point that once these common people are exposed to these conflicts, they will learn to oppose to it. I strongly felt that we must convey the scholarly work of Muslim intellectuals to the mass Muslim people. Back home where the vast majority of the population is not literate, reading books is not an option for them. The only way to reach them is through audio visual medium. So I decided to make movies with romantic genre that will catch their attention. The main objective of these movies was to show them the real laws with references. In my movies I quoted some Sharia laws and references to show how they violate Quran and Prophet.”
Mahmud wrote a book about his findings “What Sharia Says and What We Do” in his native language (Bangla). The book is translated in English with the name “How Sharia Hijacked Islam”.
But he also realized that villagers are not educated. So he started using the visual medium. A true fusion of feature film and religious documentary, Mahmud’s movies are perhaps one of such few initiatives in the world today. When these films were shown at the grassroots level, the response was overwhelming. In Bangladesh the “Radical Free Village” movement of Muslims Facing Tomorrow exceeded his expectation. He felt that this movement is creating enlightened societies and villages where the peaceful interpretation of Islam reigns over violence and misinterpretation. The presentation of references through story-telling was so powerful that by now many Imams and Alims of village mosques are in support of the project. In some of the docu-dramas (as Mahmud calls them) Mahmud has acted himself and made on a shoe-string budget, he uses ordinary Bangladeshis who can speak the language. Mahmud truly believe, if it works in Bangladesh, it will work everywhere in the globe.
In Mahmud’s movies lots of Sharia law are quoted so that common Muslims, while they enjoy the romantic story, get educated about how Sharia law violates Human and Women Rights, the Quran and Prophet. Some of the movies, subtitled in Arabic, Turkish and Malay, are shown in Islamic conferences in Mumbai in India, Dallas in US, Oxford University campus in UK and at the International film festival in California.
Mahmud speaks about his research and claims “The institution of Sharia is very vast, deep and complicated. There are more than 6000 laws in each of Hanafi and Shafi manual. One needs to connect the important laws to related Hadeeth (in many cases there are too many, often contradictory) and Quranic verses. Next is to consult the voluminous Tarikh Al Tabari or Asbab E Najul to get the context and the purpose of those verses. Then there are contradictory “explanations: of different scholars/imams etc. Therefore, it is indeed difficult for common people to engage in such research.”
Mahmud finds that Muslims are made to believe that Sharia law is Allah’s Law created from Quran, Prophet’s Sunnah (Hadeeth), ijma (consensus of scholars) and Qiyas (personal reasoning of scholars). “However”, he says “the reality is, there were about 11 sources from where Sharia comes. Quran has about a dozen laws and Hadeeth, another few dozens. But, each of Hanafi and Shafi manual has 6000+ laws. Obviously, these are man-made laws. Most Muslims are not aware of this fact.”
Mahmud believes that people in the West know Islam through the behavior of the Muslims and not from the Islamic scriptures. Muslim’s brutal behavior over the years in the name of Islam on women, non-believers and Muslims is the root of West’s fear and disgust about Islam. So the push against Sharia law in the West is natural and inevitable. Moreover, the concern is not only some Sharia laws but also the spirit of global domination by the institution of Sharia law. It is almost impossible to change that spirit. The West is yet to develop a process of combating the institution of the Sharia law. In other words, they only diagnose the problem but do not have the prescription. This is why MFT’s project of “Radical Free Village” is so important to reach the West and the world.
The world’s is occupied by ‘Hot’ violence in the name of Islam such as beheading, suicide bombing, burning, enslaving, mass-murder (ISIS killed 250 Christian women in a day for refusing to be sex-slaves) etc. But the ‘Cold’ violence of Sharia law also must be realized and resisted. In ‘Cold’ violence of Sharia law there is hardly any bloodshed but it silently victimizes millions, mainly Muslim women.
Mahmud concludes “Faith in some laws destroy more than wars do”. Manu’s law in India and past atrocities by Christian churches in Europe are far worse than Sharia law. But for Muslims it’s essential that they know what Sharia law is and what it can do when mis-used for nefarious purposes.