The rise of Islamism in Bangladesh threatens to destroy the country's Bengali way of life

Written By: Rahad Abir WION
Delhi, India Published: May 31, 2017, 12.11 PM(IST)

In Bangladesh, children are being taught about religion at a much earlier stage (Source: Flickr) Photograph:( Others )

Story highlights

Education, has become a mushrooming business in Bangladesh. ||Inclusion of religion in the curriculum, no matter how young the children are, can make all the difference. ||School textbooks in Bangladesh have been changed to appease the Islamist groups, particularly Hefazat-e-Islam. ||

In addition to English and Bengali, my three-and-a-half-year-old son is learning Arabic in school. Even he has Islam as a subject in his playgroup class. 

Once, I happened to be in the school's sports room where children play with toys and listen to rhymes. The first rhyme they listened to was “Bismillah Bismillah in the name of Allah”.
 
Some days later, one evening, I found my son flipping through his school book and reading to himself some Arabic alphabets. My wife was impressed. Who wouldn’t be? In a country like Bangladesh, Arabic is not just a mere language but a symbol of Islam.  
 
I remember my school days when third grade onwards, we had mandatory religious studies. Muslim students would have to follow a curriculum in consonance with their religion while Hindus did likewise. The textbooks were akin to those studied in moral science lessons. The world is more advanced now. Probably, that is why children are being taught about religion at an earlier stage.
 
It’s not the same everywhere. Public schools follow a combined curriculum set by the government where religion is a compulsory subject from the third grade. But private schools, especially pre-schools, are at liberty to introduce it at earlier levels. Education, like many other things, has become a mushrooming business in Bangladesh. Inclusion of religion in the curriculum, no matter how young the children are, can make all the difference. This is done mainly to attract students, to persuade parents to send their wards to such schools. Ensuring proper education takes a backseat.   

 

Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore famously said, ‘‘First, know your own mother tongue, then English.’’ He had travelled extensively and had observed that no country could prosper sans its mother language
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Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore famously said, ‘‘First, know your own mother tongue, then English.’’ He had travelled extensively and had observed that no country could prosper sans its mother language. Since the creation of Bangladesh, the quality of education has been on a downward spiral. Constant leaks of examination question papers are a big problem. As pass rates of students have been going up, the standard of education has been going down.
 
The other day, a cousin of mine requested me to fill her bank account opening form which was in English. My cousin, who has a BA degree, cannot read the language. This brings us to an important question. What type of graduates is Bangladesh producing? 
 
As a result of the disastrous Bengali medium education system, a number of parents are sending their kids to English medium schools while the poor children have the madrasa education system only. The situation has come to such a head that Dhaka has given the Dawra degree of Qawami madrasa the same recognition that is accorded to a university master's degree. Bangladesh is one country, there is one language but there are four types of education systems.  

 

Our language and culture are in grave danger in these dark moments
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Few weeks ago, the ruling Awami League Party allegedly approved a project to build mosques and Islamic cultural centres in every district and sub-district across the country, with over $1 billion in funding from Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government has subsequently denied any such funding but it is known that the Kingdom, for long, has been known to fan Sunni extremism through these kind of donations around the globe.   
 
Also, earlier this year, school textbooks in Bangladesh were changed to appease the Islamist groups, particularly Hefazat-e-Islam. This is an excerpt published in New York Times on February 3, 2017 on the matter: ‘‘The Bengali letter “o”?used to stand for “ol,” a yam; now it stands for “orna,” a scarf worn by women for modesty. Texts by non-Muslim writers—including some revered as part of Bengali heritage, like the classical poet Gyandas or the contemporary novelist Sunil Gangopadhyay—have been removed. Also gone are a small excerpt from the Ramayana, a Hindu classic that Islamists reject as foreign to the Muslim canon, and songs of the Sufi icon Lalon Shah, whose syncretic faith is anathema to Muslim conservatives.’’  
 
This is not all. Removal of the statue of Lady Justice from the Supreme Court building also sent shockwaves through the secular sections of Bangladesh's people. Taking cue from this, now the Islamist groups want all statues in the country destroyed. 
 
Our language and culture are in grave danger in these dark moments. The celebration of the Bengali New Year did not go smoothly this year. Some fundamentalist groups protested against the celebrations, terming the festivities un-Islamic and a rub-off of Hindu culture.   
 
The consequences of this rampant Arabisation are everywhere — in thinking, and even in clothing. Over the last 20 years, there has been a remarkable increase in the number of women wearing hijab and burqa. On Dhaka’s streets, it is quite normal to spot a five or a six-year-old girl, walking on the streets, covered head to toe.      


 

 

 

Rahad Abir

Rahad Abir is a fiction writer from Bangladesh. He is the recipient of the Charles Pick Fellowship 2017-18.
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