'Taliban do not represent Islam,' says top Bangladeshi sufi leader Syed Tayabul Bashar Maizbhandary

New Delhi, IndiaWritten By: Sidhant SibalUpdated: Aug 27, 2021, 06:03 PM IST


Story highlights

Syed Tayabul Bashar Maizbhandary is the joint secretary general of Bangladesh's tariqat federation, a Sufi political party that is also part of the ruling alliance

Top Bangladeshi Sufi leader Syed Tayabul Bashar Maizbhandary has said that "Taliban doesn't represents Islam" and "scholars need to make it loud and clear".

Speaking exclusively to WION's Principal Diplomatic Correspondent, Sidhant Sibal, Maizbhandary said, "anyone who sees what is happening in Afghanistan and rise of Taliban as revival of Islam, they are absolutely wrong, perspective is wrong and nothing to do with Islam."

Syed Tayabul Bashar Maizbhandary is the joint secretary general of Bangladesh's tariqat federation, a Sufi political party that is also part of the ruling alliance.

He is a member of the Maizbhandar Shariff, which is the largest Sufi group in Bangladesh.

His father is the chief of the sufi group, which has millions of followers not only in Bangladesh but across the world.

During the conversation, he said, "Taliban is a radical of the impacts is in terms of security, on youth. It's a cause of concern for subcontinent, not just Bangladesh or India."


Here is the full interview.

WION: The economy of Bangladesh has seen continuous growth in recent years. On social indicators also, Bangladesh is a star performer. But 50 years ago, during the birth of Bangladesh, the country and its people faced tremendous odds, wide-spread massacres, atrocities on minority communities, intellectuals, etc. How did Bangladesh overcome the challenges posed by those against the spirit of the Liberation War of 1971?

Syed Tayabul Bashar Maizbhandary: We are celebrating 50 years of Independence, and under the current government and the current leadership of Bangladeshi Awami league, leadership of PM Shiekh Hasina, Bangladesh has grown tremendously in terms of economy and overall development of the country. It has gone far and as you have seen from international organisations, Bangladesh is emerging a tiger in terms of economy. Country is faring much better and will continue to grow under the current leadership.

WION: The situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated rapidly in the last few days and Taliban has declared the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. In the context of what we know about the previous Taliban regime, how do you see the evolving situation?

Syed Tayabul Bashar Maizbhandary: We have to go a little bit back in history, in the subcontinent, and Bangladesh. We see the anti-liberation forces, supported by Pakistan and trying to do something or other against Bangladesh or value of Bangladesh. Although the country is developing fast, we are a growing in economy, there is the anti-liberation forces, houses of Jamaat, who are coming with ill motive. It seems to be nurtured by international forces, there is always of possibility of forces, as you said the Taliban which has come up. This will not only have impact on Bangladesh, but overall subcontinent, due to the radical mentality and it's a fact that Taliban is a radical organisation. What we have seen in past, and seeing now, and one impact will be security on local population in Afghanistan and impact on subcontinent in terms of security, on youth. It's a cause of concern for subcontinent, not just Bangladesh or India.

WION:  Taliban is known to adhere to a rigid, extreme and fundamentalist idea of Islam. Whereas, religious life in the subcontinent, and in Bangladesh, is deeply rooted in the concept of tolerance, brotherhood and spirituality. As the head of a Sufi order yourself, do you feel that the philosophy propounded by Taliban so far is at odds with the prevailing belief system of the subcontinent and also Bangladesh?

Syed Tayabul Bashar Maizbhandary: My father is the chairman of the Tariqat federation, Maizbhabdar sharif. So we will be working on his footsteps. Two ways of looking into the development: what Taliban stands for, who they are, what their belief and ideology. As a student of counter-terrorism, we look into the whole picture from a different perspective, and make it clear: Taliban does not represent Islam. We have to make it clear. Scholars sometimes get scared to say this because of death threats, but this is a fact that the Taliban do not represent Islam. And anyone who sees what is happening in Afghanistan and the rise of the Taliban as a revival of Islam, they are absolutely wrong, perspective is wrong and nothing to do with Islam. Basically, what the Taliban is teaching is their own ideology of what they understand of Sharia. Basically, something of their own.

Nowhere it can be seen that they represent Islam or represent Muslim society. The message has to go loud and clear, that what is happening in Afghanistan and its impact on the subcontinent will be harsh because, apart from governments, civil society has to play a big role, important in terms of how things should shape up. The impact of the Taliban should be looked into in various manner, impact on youth and how the education system is nurturing and how people are seeing Taliban.

From a counter-terror point of view, if a percentage of population looking into Taliban as revival of Islam or representative of Islam is large, then there is a problem. Narrative has to go out, by proper Islamic scholar, like look that if you have nothing to be excited about and Taliban do not represent Islam and their belief of Islam and in general no mazhab or ideology, in general Muslim or Islam don't go by their teaching. The message has to go loud and clear, so that impact is not the way we are thinking it to be. To come up with security impact which will be there, since there is worry about the current situation, the situation is one big problem, and policy level of ideology, and we need to safeguard younger generation from this ideology, which will be the biggest challenge. How do we safeguard our younger generation, against this radical organisation, known for brutality, for killing, their linkage with other terror organisations, important to safeguard from them.

WION: You have pointed out correctly that the liberal sufi values of Islam are deeply ingrained in the subcontinent. But yet, we have seen that extreme ideologies attract youth from around the world. Bangladesh has also had to tackle the phenomenon of misguided youth getting influenced by radical religious thoughts and traveling to fight for so-called jihad. Do you see that the current context may lead to a recurrence of this phenomenon and if so, how will it impact Bangladesh?

Syed Tayabul Bashar Maizbhandary: This has to be the most important question for India and Bangladesh, and for everyone and the world. Youth is the future of any country. We need to know, we don't have to go to challenge the govt that what India is doing, or Bangladesh government is doing. It's not always the role of the government. It's the cumulative role of the government, of the civil society, and different organisations to safeguard.

Bangladesh and India government are doing extremely well in terms of bringing the youth upfront and I have respect for both governments. The largest youth population belongs to Asia-- India and Bangladesh. We have to go beyond the capacity of governments, what you and I are going, what our parents are teaching, school systems, and role of social media, its impact on youth. For example, the govt of Bangladesh has done a lot of youth from digital Bangladesh to empowering of youth at the policy level, to job creation. Youth of Bangladesh has been given lot of preference but governments have limits. Religion is a very sensitive subject, you have to take lot of caution. Current Bangladesh government has always focused on inter-religious harmony and we are the country were Hindus, Buddhism, Christians and Muslims are living together. Anti-liberation forces like Jamaat are always up to something, trying to dismantle the society, dismantle the youth and raise question about our independence.

WION: Bangladesh, like India is a country that is home to many faiths. Fundamentalist ideologies erode the fabric of society and upend inter-religious harmony. How is Bangladesh tackling the issue of influence of fundamentalist ideologies on society?

Syed Tayabul Bashar Maizbhandary: To understand the impact of the Taliban, you need to understand your own culture and population. Bangladesh is a diverse country. There have been issues about radicalism in Bangladesh and government has come hard on them. Government has curbed hardliners and radical entities were arrested, NGOs supported by jamaat are up to no good, calling them pious Muslims.  Government is doing a good job, but it's up to the civil society and those working under counter-terrorism and religion to come forward. Hate speech is an issue. There is a lot of religious organisations that have come up with a lot of money. These are hardline ideologies trying to find ground and government has come hard on it. But government has limits, and these organisations cover themselves quite well. Overall, government is doing a great job in terms of counter-terror. Governments need to empower the right organisations and think tanks. Government doesn't preach religion but empower organisations that speak to university students. Impact of Taliban on youth by government will be looked in a security perspective but govt cant go in ways organisations or religious gurus who have to go forwards, so they need to be empowered.

WION: You strongly believe in the ideals of liberal, progressive Bangladesh. You have taken several initiatives to strengthen this thought in Bangladesh society. You have also supported modernisation of Madrasa education in Bangladesh. Please tell us more about your efforts in his regard.

Syed Tayabul Bashar Maizbhandary: If we look into the context of Afghanistan, one of the major policy faults was the education system. We don't take into fact how impact education line is for the next generation. Education is not just teaching you alphabets, it's teaching morality, social studies, and guides the next leaders of the country. Education is the most important, and the ways it is being nurtured and if there is a leakage, Afghanistan will happen.

In terms of Bangladesh, the tariqat federation has welcomed government move to modernise madrasas. Current govt believes that if we don't make madrasa at par with English or Bengali medium, then after they graduate, they will not be in line with what society wants.

That is why modernisation of madrasa is important and it brings in science, history, language and education system is at par with other circular as well... its a rightful decision and good way to start. Hiccups will be there, but anti-liberation forces are always after the history of the country. Students need to be equal.