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by Salah Choudhury


The Human Rights Watch has written about the harassment of the Ahmadiyya community in Bangladesh. Some of the report is excerpted here. The full report can be found at on to 7.html


The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community (the official name of the community) is a contemporary messianic movement founded in 1889 by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1839-1908), who was born in the small village of Qadian in Punjab, India. The Ahmadiyya community is also referred to derogatorily by some as the Qadiani (or Kadiyani) community, a term derived from the birthplace of the founder of the movement. In 1889, Ahmad declared that he had received divine revelation authorizing him to accept the baya'ah, or allegiance of the faithful. In 1891, he claimed to be the expected mahdi or messiah of the latter days, the "Awaited One" of the monotheist community of religions, and the messiah foretold by the Prophet Mohammed. Ahmad described his teachings, incorporating both Sufic and orthodox Islamic, Hindu, and Christian elements, as an attempt to revitalize Islam in the face of the British Raj, proselytizing Protestant Christianity, and resurgent Hinduism. Thus, the Ahmadiyya community believes that Ahmad conceived the community as a revivalist movement within Islam and not as a new religion.

Members of the Ahmadiyya community ("Ahmadis") profess to be Muslims. They contend that Ahmad meant to revive the true spirit and message of Islam that the Prophet Mohammed introduced and preached. Virtually all mainstream Muslim sects believe that Ahmad proclaimed himself as a prophet, thereby rejecting a fundamental tenet of Islam: Khatme Nabuwat (literally, the belief in the "finality of prophethood" -- that the Prophet Mohammed was the last of the line of prophets leading back through Jesus, Moses, and Abraham). Ahmadis respond that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was a non-law-bearing prophet subordinate in status to Prophet Mohammed; he came to illuminate and reform Islam, as predicted by Prophet Mohammed. For Ahmad and his followers, the Arabic Khatme Nabuwat does not refer to the finality of prophethood in a literal sense -- that is, to prophethood's chronological cessation -- but rather to its culmination and exemplification in the Prophet Mohammed. Ahmadis believe that "finality" in a chronological sense is a worldly concept, whereas "finality" in a metaphoric sense carries much more spiritual significance.

The exact size of the Ahmadiyya community worldwide is unclear, though there are concentrations of Ahmadis in India, Pakistan, Ghana, Burkina Faso, and Gambia.

Ahmadis have lived in what is present-day Bangladesh since the early 1900s. Roughly 100,000 Ahmadis live in Bangladesh today. Violence towards the Ahmadiyya community in Bangladesh has occurred for almost two decades. The recent upsurge in the persecution of the Ahmadis can be understood as part of a gradual trend in Bangladesh away from the country's secular roots toward more blending of religion and politics. This Islamization of government can be explained partially by examining the history of Bangladesh.

In 1971, Bangladesh, then East Pakistan, fought a liberation war to secede from its union with Pakistan, in order to protect its own Bengali language and culture. After a brutal nine-month war, the newly independent Bangladeshis created a constitution founded upon four guiding principles: nationalism, socialism, democracy, and secularism.

Starting with Prime Minister Mujibur Rahman in 1972, however, the role of Islam slowly began to increase in Bangladesh's civil society and state apparatus. In 1977, the government replaced Article 12 of the founding constitution, which provided that the principle of secularism should be realized by the elimination of communalism in all its forms, with the assertion that the Muslim faith would be one of the nation's guiding principles. In 1988, Bangladesh moved a step further away from its secular heritage when Islam officially became the state religion through an amendment to the constitution, Article 2-A, which reads: "The state religion of the Republic is Islam, but other religions may be practiced in peace and harmony in the Republic."

While these constitutional amendments have set the tone for Bangladeshi society, the reversal of the constitutional prohibition on religious parties allowed for the reemergence of the Jama'at-e-Islami and for the formation of extreme religious parties, such as the Islamic Okye Jyote (IOJ). The religious parties were able to return to power despite arguing that nationalism is un-Islamic and the secession from Pakistan was unwarranted.

Sporadic attacks and threats against Ahmadis became more systematic in the early 1990s as Bangladesh returned to parliamentary government. The attacks began in earnest during the BNP government (1991-96), continued through the period of Awami League rule (1996-2001), and acquired renewed vigor as the BNP returned to power in 2001, this time in coalition with the J.I. and OJI.

Between December 27-29, 1991, the Khatme Nabuwat (K.N.), an Islamist organization dedicated to safeguarding the sanctity of the finality of the Prophet Mohammed, held a conference to organize activities aimed at banning Ahmadi religious practice and identity in Bangladesh. As one Bangladeshi Ahmadi explained to Human Rights Watch, "the K.N. want the Ahmadis to leave Bangladesh. They have threatened that they would attack us if we do not surrender, if we continued to be Ahmadis." On February 5, 1992, Mahfuzur Rahman, the president of the Khilafat ("Caliphate") Student Movement -- an Islamist student group -- led a public protest in the Noakhali district demanding that the Ahmadi community be declared non-Muslim.

The anti-Ahmadi conferences held by Khatme Nabuwwat and the Khilafat Student Movement sparked fresh attacks on Ahmadis. On February 29, 1992, several hundred people under the leadership of the Imam Council, a group of Imams from the Helatala and Niral mosques in Khulna, attacked an Ahmadi mosque and mission house on the Nirala Housing Estate in the city. The group attempted to set fire to the buildings, stole and destroyed Ahmadi books, including Ahmadi copies of the Qur'an, and inflicted property damage on a charitable medical dispensary nearby. The police near Khulna arrested eight of the group's members, who had also planned to disrupt an Ahmadi congregation under the direction of a local imam. The imam and members of the Jama'at-e-Islami Bangladesh condemned the arrests.

On October 30, 1992, a procession of more than 1,200 people launched a massive attack on the main Bahshkibazar Ahmadiyya complex in Dhaka. After ransacking rooms, burning hundreds of books, including many copies of the Qur'an, and looting the building of all valuables, the attackers detonated some thirty-five crude bombs in the building and set it on fire. At least twenty Ahmadis were injured in the attacks and a total of twelve people were admitted to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital with serious wounds. Police lobbed at least twenty-five tear gas canisters to drive the mob away from the burning complex. The Dhaka police held the student wing of Jama'at-e-Islami Bangladesh, Islami Chhatra Shibir, responsible for the attack. On November 27, 1992, a group of anti-Ahmadi protestors attacked and demolished an Ahmadi mosque under construction in Rajshani. The mob looted all construction materials, including sand and bricks. No police relief was provided for the Ahmadiyya community in Rajshani.

On December 24, 1993, K.N. Bangladesh held a conference in Dhaka to pressure the government officially to declare Ahmadis non-Muslims, to ban Ahmadi publications, and to remove Ahmadis from high-ranking government posts. Prior to the conference, Maulana Ubaidul Haq, spokesperson for the organization, informed media outlets of the forthcoming visit of several prominent Ulema (religious leaders) from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and India. He also indicated that Abdur Rahman Biswas, President of Bangladesh, would inaugurate the conference formally. Professor Golam Azam and Maulana Matiur Rahman Nizami (the incumbent State Minister for Industries), the President and the Secretary General of J.I. in Bangladesh at the time, formally expressed their support for the conference, stating their hope that the government would declare Ahmadis non-Muslims in order to show respect for the sentiments of the Muslim populations of Bangladesh.

The conference was held in two sessions with imams from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and India presiding over each session as scheduled, and representatives from J.I., the BNP, participating in the sessions. Leaders at the conference announced that January 1, 1994 would be "demand day" in Bangladesh whereby all conference participants would press the government to declare Ahmadis non-Muslim.

New anti-Ahmadi organizations emerged on the scene in 1994-95. On March 30, 1994, The Bangladesh Times reported that the Bangladesh Khilafat Andolen and Islami Shasantantra Andolen, two extremist Islamist organizations, had joined J.I. in supporting a four-hour sit-in demonstration organized by K.N. to take place in Dhaka. The demonstrators, many of them carrying placards and sticks, raised slogans against the Ahmadis, calling them kafirs (disbelievers).

In March 1995, a group of demonstrators attacked a central Ahmadi mosque in Dhaka. This time, secular activists and members of civil society strongly condemned the attacks.

While on tour in Bangladesh from Saudi Arabia, on February 28, 1997, the Chief Imam of the Masjid-e-Nabawi (the Prophet's Mosque) in Medina, Saudi Arabia, Allama Dr. Shaikh Ali Bin Abdur Rahman Al Huzaifi, condemned Mirza Ghulam Ahmad and his followers as "traitors ... misleading others by their self-made and false Quranic commentary." On May 22, 1997, the K.N. once again held a large-scale public meeting, this one at Children's Park in Dhaka. Participants reiterated their demand to declare Ahmadis non-Muslims. The meeting ended with a collective resolution making fresh demands on the government, including a ban on all uses of Qur'anic passages and Islamic terminology on Ahmadi mosques, a ban on the burial of Ahmadis in Muslim graveyards, and, for the first time, a ban on and confiscation of all Ahmadi publications, including Ahmadi copies of the Qur'an. On July 7, 1997, members of Khatme Nabuwwat marched to the Parliament House in Dhaka to submit a formal memorandum of these demands.

Violence against Ahmadis in major cities outside of Dhaka began to appear in the late 1990s. On July 23, 1998, members of Touhid Jonota, another anti-Ahmadi group, attacked and destroyed a new Ahmadi office building inaugurated by the local government in Zhinaigati. Three police officers were injured in the attacks. On January 7, 1999, the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, members of the Jama'at-e-Islami attacked an Ahmadi mosque in the Koldiar-Majdiar village of the Khushtia District. Over fifty Ahmadis were injured in the raid, eleven of them critically. Nearly a month after the Khushtia mosque attack, over a hundred Ahmadi families were forced to leave the surrounding villages after they were not allowed to pray in their mosque. The families did not return to their village in Kushtia for six months. The U.S. State Department reported that an Ahmadiyya mosque in Kushtia was forcibly occupied by Sunni extremists in 1999 and remained under police control for about three years, preventing Ahmadis from praying in it. In August 2002, the Ahmadiyya community regained control of the mosque.

On October 8, 1999, a bomb killed six Ahmadis and injured severely several others who were attending Friday prayers at their mosque in Khulna. In November 1999, Sunni Muslims ransacked an Ahmadiyya mosque near Natore, in western Bangladesh. In subsequent clashes between Ahmadis and Sunni, thirty-five people were injured. Ahmadis regained control of their mosque and filed a criminal case against thirtypeople allegedly responsible for the conflict. The case, however, was not pursued by local authorities.

On April 15, 2000, villagers at Kodda and Basudev, spurred by the twin attacks in Kushtia and Kulna, threatened to attack all Ahmadi homes in the area. Over fifty Ahmadis evacuated their homes and took refuge in the nearby Akhaura district after some thirty five Ahmadi homes were looted and vandalized. On April 25, 2000, anti-Ahmadi activists burned down several Ahmadi homes, destroyed crops of Ahmadi farmers, and threatened the lives of the remaining Ahmadis in the village. They also took over the Ahmadi mosque in the area, burning furniture and books, demolishing the structure, and flooding it with water as a symbolic gesture to "clean out the Ahmadis" from the village.

On June 24, 2001, members of K.N. attacked an Ahmadi mosque under construction in Jamalpur. The mob destroyed the mosque's walls and foundation as well as the house of an Ahmadi next door. It then proceeded to attack the person who had sold the property upon which the Ahmadiyya mosque was being constructed. Police arrested three members of the mob. On October 15, 2002, a brawl broke out outside the Upazila Parishod courthouse in Gajipur where a case was being filed against members of the Ahmadiyya community. Twelve Ahmadis were arrested and questioned in the incident for allegedly distorting verses of the Qur'an and certain Hadith (sayings of the Prophet Mohammed) in the translation of their texts. Shortly after the arrest of the Ahmadis, a mob destroyed an Ahmadi house in the area.

On January 2, 2003, the K.N., led by its president, Maulana Ubaidul Haq, held another international conference in Dhaka. Prominent speakers from Egypt, India, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom introduced new fatwas calling for the excommunication of the Ahmadis in Bangladesh. Leaders of K.N. vowed to introduce a bill in Parliament to declare Ahmadis non-Muslims. One Libyan leader at the event, Dr. Abdur Razzak, accused Ahmadis of being part of a British colonial conspiracy.

Shortly after the conference, Bangladesh Khilafat Andolen organized a protest procession led by Maulana Jafrullah Khan, who demanded that Parliament declare Ahmadis to be non-Muslim or risk future litigation and disturbance. On February 1, 2003, the newspaper Doilik Inqilab reported that, at a gathering in Komina, Member of Parliament Maulana Delawar H. Saidee declared Ahmadis non-Muslims and called for a complete halt on all Ahmadi activities, describing the Ahmadiyya community as "satanic."

The recent ban on Ahmadiyya publications also has a lineage: since at least the 1970s, Bangladeshi governments have frequently banned publications deemed offensive to Muslims. Such determinations have usually been made to appease extremist groups. For instance, in 1985, the government issued an order banning a book published by the Ahmadiyya community on the basis that it contained passages highly offensive to Muslims, who believe that the Prophet Mohammed is the last prophet of Allah. The order was unsuccessfully challenged before the High Court in 1993. The Bangladesh government behaved similarly in the case of Salman Rushdie's book, Satanic Verses, banning it in 1989. It has also consistently banned books by the Bangladeshi feminist novelist Tasleema Nasreen. Also, in recent years, the government has banned several publications, including Radar and Satellite, which contained reports on human rights violations in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.


The Ahmadiyya community has long been persecuted in Pakistan. What has happened in Pakistan, of which Bangladesh was a part until 1971, is instructive in understanding the nature and potential objectives of those attacking the Ahmadiyya community in Bangladesh. The situation of Ahmadis in Bangladesh suggests a similar pattern of systematic persecution as in Pakistan and a similar trend toward the excommunication of all Ahmadis. Moreover, there exist clear and specific links between anti-Ahmadi organizations in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Since 1953, when the first post-independence anti-Ahmadiyya riots broke out, the relatively small Ahmadi community in Pakistan has endured persecution. Between 1953 and 1973, this persecution was sporadic but since that time it has been sustained. In 1974, a new wave of anti-Ahmadi disturbances spread across Pakistan. In response, Pakistan's parliament introduced amendments to the constitution which defined the term "Muslim" in the Pakistani context and listed groups that were, legally speaking, non-Muslim. Put into effect on September 6, 1974, the amendment explicitly deprived Ahmadis of their identity as Muslims.

In 1984, Pakistan's penal code was amended yet again. As a result of these amendments, five ordinances that explicitly targeted religious minorities acquired legal status: a law against blasphemy; a law punishing the defiling of the Qur'an; a prohibition against insulting the wives, family, or companions of the Prophet of Islam; and two laws specifically restricting the activities of Ahmadis. On April 26, 1984, General Ziaul Haq issued these last two laws as part of Martial Law Ordinance XX, which amended Pakistan's Penal Code, Sections 298-B and 298-C.

Ordinance XX undercut the activities of religious minorities generally, but struck at Ahmadis in particular by prohibiting them from "indirectly or directly posing as a Muslim." Ahmadis thus could no longer profess their faith, either orally or in writing. Pakistani police destroyed Ahmadi translations of and commentaries on the Qur'an and banned Ahmadi publications, the use of any Islamic terminology on Ahmadi wedding invitations, the offering of Ahmadi funeral prayers, and the displaying of the Kalima (the statement that "there is no god but Allah, Mohammed is Allah's prophet," the principal creed of Muslims) on Ahmadi gravestones. In addition, Ordinance XX prohibited Ahmadis from declaring their faith publicly, propagating their faith, building mosques, or making the call for Muslim prayer. In short, virtually any public act of worship or devotion by an Ahmadi could be treated as a criminal offense.

With the passage of the Criminal Law Act of 1986, parliament added Section 295-C to the Pakistan Penal Code. The "Blasphemy Law," as it came to be known, made the death penalty mandatory for blasphemy. General Ziaul Haq and the Pakistani government institutionalized the persecution of Ahmadis as well as other minorities in Pakistan with Section 295-C. The Ahmadi belief in the prophethood of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad is considered blasphemous insofar as it "defiled the name of Prophet Muhammad." Therefore, theoretically, Ahmadis could be sentenced to death for simply professing their faith.

While Ahmadis consider themselves Muslims, their persecution is wholly legalized, even encouraged, by the Pakistani government. Ahmadi mosques have been burned, their graves desecrated, and their very existence criminalized. Since 2000, 325 Ahmadis have been formally charged in criminal cases (including blasphemy) for professing their religion. Between 1999 and 2003, the government charged scores of Ahmadis with blasphemy; several have been convicted and face life imprisonment or death sentences pending appeal. The offenses charged included wearing an Islamic slogan on a shirt, planning to build an Ahmadi mosque in Lahore, and distributing Ahmadi literature in a public square.

As a result, thousands of Ahmadis have fled Pakistan to seek asylum abroad.


Two examples of discrimination and violence against the Ahmadiyya in late 2003 and early 2004

Killing of an imam, assault, and damage to a mosque in Jessore

On October 31, 2003 at about 2:15 p.m., a large armed group attacked members of the Ahmadiyya community at Raghunathpurbag under Jhikargachha sub-district in Jessore. Mohammed Shah Alam, president and local imam of the Ahmadiyya community in Jhikargachla, died from injuries received outside the Ahmadi mosque, which sustained considerable damage in the attack.

Mohammad Ataur Rehman, an Ahmadi and Raghunathpurbag local, witnessed the attack that led to the death of Shah Alam:

Imam Shah Alam became an Ahmadi in 1988 and brought me to the faith in 1993. On the morning of October 31, Maulana Aminur Rahman, a J.I. leader, brought us the newspaper and said "Qadianis [Ahmadis] in Uttar Bhabanipur are being taught a lesson. Now, nothing will happen to us if we beat and torture Qadianis." In the afternoon, after Friday prayers, Shah Alam, I and Abul Bashar were sitting together outside our mosque. It was the holy month of Ramadan and we were all fasting. A big crowd emerged from the neighboring [Sunni] mosque. The mob was led by Maulana Aminur Rahman and the most belligerent (who subsequently attacked us) were Aminur Rahman, Hobi, Salim, Shahid, and Tuzam. They first spoke to me directly. Hobi said to me that if I didn't leave the Ahmadi mosque and start praying in the Sunni mosque, my bones would be broken. I stood silently and said nothing in response. Hobi moved towards me and punched me in the face. Then he told Bashr the same thing and hit him. Then he turned towards Imam Shah Alam and said that we would all have to leave the Ahmadiyya Jama'at or they would isolate us and kill us. Shah Alam replied that we were content in our house and they should be in theirs. Upon hearing this they started beating us all indiscriminately.

Abul Bashr described what happened next:

They started hitting us with bamboo sticks. The beat us and beat us. We tried to escape but it was not possible. Shah Alam was being beaten particularly harshly by Aminur Rahman and Shahid. They continued hitting us with the bamboo sticks, particularly on the head. I could see that Shah Alam was getting badly injured. They beat his brain out of his head. I could see it. We asked them to stop as we could see Shah Alam was dying and had to be taken to hospital. But they did not. The entire incident lasted about thirty minutes. That is all I remember clearly. My memory has suffered as a result of what happened.

Shah Alam died the same day. While Rahman fled in the aftermath of the killing, his followers continued to threaten the Qadianis and Shah Alam's two sons went into hiding. Shah Alam's widow filed a police report immediately after the Jessore attack and identified sixteen people responsible for the murder of her husband, including Maulana Aminur Rahman.

One villager, Abdul Qadir, a Sunni Muslim, told Human Rights Watch that the incident occurred after Aminur Rahman, a local J.I. leader, called upon his followers to attack the Ahmadis, saying that Ahmadis were non-Muslim and to stand against them was a form of jihad.

I don't believe their [Ahmadis'] religion but I discussed religion with them often. A few days before the incident, I heard that Aminur Rahman was instigating people against the Qadianis and planning a big attack on them. On the day of the attack, I was in the mosque for Friday prayers and Aminur Rahman said in his sermon that if the believers beat the Qadianis, there will be no punishment. He then organized the mob. Shah Alam was killed only because he was an Ahmadi and it happened in front of me. There are so many religions in the world and no religion asks you to kill and bring people back forcibly to the faith. These people [the perpetrators] should be punished.

Justice K.M. Subhan, a former judge of the Bangladeshi Supreme Court and human rights activist, who visited the area immediately after the murder, told Human Rights Watch:

Shah Alam and his family had been harassed prior to the attack. Members of K.N. and J.I. had obstructed his path to work, destroyed water wells near his house to cut off the water supply to his family, and had harassed his children en route to school. Shah Alam's widow and daughter viewed the attack on Shah Alam from only a few meters away through the window of their home. Alam's daughter cried and ran towards her father as he was beaten to death. The idea was to kill Shah Alam brutally so family members will remember what it is to not be a member of the faith.

To date, Bangladeshi officials have not apprehended the alleged killer of Shah Alam, despite eyewitness accounts readily available from Shah Alam's wife, other witnesses and the press. The Bangladeshi government has not investigated the role in the a attack of the J.I. leader despite evidence of his involvement.

Discrimination, denial of education, and ill-treatment in Kushtia District

On October 21, 2003, in the village of Uttar Bhabanipur in the southwestern Kushtia District, a group of local Islamic leaders declared seventeen Ahmadi families "excommunicated: and held them virtual prisoner in their own village for twenty-five days. During this period, these families were forbidden from buying or selling goods, from sending their children to school or from harvesting crops. A local Ahmadi, Mohammad Shabbir Ali, told Human Rights Watch:

I was about to leave for Dhaka in mid-October when I first heard rumors that an attack was about to take place against Ahmadis in Uttar Bhabanipur and Ahmadis would be tortured. This attack was being planned by local extremist mullahs. I knew that Jalal, a local BNP leader, and Abdur Rajjak and Moulana Mojammel of the Jamaat-e-Islami were involved in the planning. I was very afraid when I heard this.

Around this time, a meeting was held by local BNP and J.I. leaders in Dharampur Bazar to discuss further actions to be taken against the Ahmadis. Afchar Ali, president of the Dharampur Union BNP, Moulana Abdur Rajjak, a local imam, and Moulana Mojammel presided over the meeting. At the meeting, a resolution was passed, demanding a total boycott of the Ahmadis. The boycott meant that from that day forward, Ahmadis would be able to travel only on their own lands and government roads, their children could not go to school, and other Muslims would not trade with them.

According to Shabbir Ali, local anti-Ahmadi leaders destroyed his crops in an effort to economically marginalize the Ahmadis:

My only family business was the paan [betel leaf] fields we owned. These people destroyed my fields. They claim others did it but we know it was them. When we discovered this, I returned and filed a complaint with the police. But the police told me that "We cannot disturb the entire village just for the sake of your fields. Why don't you move somewhere else?" I had no option but to bear the loss.

The anti-Ahmadiyya boycott and other discriminatory acts in Uttar Bhabanipur can be traced to familial resentment against relatives converting to another faith. The BNP, J.I., and other orthodox Islamist elements have fully exploited family tensions, not just in Uttar Bhabanipur but in other parts of Bangladesh, to fuel anti-Ahmadiyya sentiment. Mohammad Mominul Islam, known as Raqeeb, a twenty-seven-year-old resident of Uttar Bhabanipur who converted to the Ahmadiyya faith, described to Human Rights Watch the beatings and torture he underwent at the hands of the village (including from members of his family) in the run-up to the boycott:

Troubles first broke out between the Ahmadis and the rest in 1999. As I had good relations with the Ahmadis, I supplied them with food during this period. I was not an Ahmadi then. In October 2003, as the boycott of the Ahmadis got underway, I again decided to supply them with food and clothing. I was seen delivering food to the Ahmadis by other villagers. The next morning, I woke up because I heard a commotion outside my house. I saw that a large mob was coming towards my house. My father, Maulvi Abdul Rajjak, and Jalal, a local BNP leader, were leading the mob. They asked for me to come out of the house. I saw that they were all carrying bamboo sticks and were threatening to kill me or beat me severely. I ran through the crowd. A large number of people followed me and surrounded me. They tied me up and dragged me back to the larger crowd. Someone then ordered that I be untied. Someone asked me if I was a Qadiani or a Christian? I replied that in the name of the Prophet (Muhammad) and God, I was an Ahmadi.

Upon hearing Raqeeb's confession, the mob tied and beat him up again. Several hours later, he was set free by the villagers. He collected his belongings that had been thrown out on the street along with his wife and daughter, and moved his family and their personal effects to his in-laws' house. As he felt unsafe in the village, Raqeeb left the same day for Bheramara, a village about five kilometers away from his. When he arrived, he discovered that a missionary from the Ahmadiyya community was present in the village. Raqeeb took the formal oath of allegiance (Ba'ait) to the Ahmadiyya faith that day. Fifteen days later, he returned to his village.

As soon as I returned to the village, Mr. Jalal [the BNP leader] accused me of damaging the tube-wells that belonged to Mr. Wahab and Mr. Shabbir (two other Ahmadis). This was a total lie, of course. As I was talking to my cousin, I saw a large crowd wielding knives, sticks, and rods heading towards me. The crowd included my brother and father. They accused me of being a Christian and a Qadiani and asked me to repent immediately or I would be killed on the spot. I refused and told them it was the holy month of Ramadan, I was fasting and I could not lie. They tied a rope around my neck and took me to Mr. Jalal's house. They tied me to a tree outside his house.

When it was time to break the fast, I was not allowed any food or water. My mother tried to give me some water but my father snatched it away from her and beat her. Then they decided to drag me to the police station but stopped at a local Madrassa instead. The Maulana [religious teacher] there beat me severely as well with a stick and his hands, telling me to leave the Qadianis. I did not obey. So they dragged me back to Jalal's house where I was held captive. A few hours later the police came to the house but Jalal, my father, and others told the police I was not there. Hearing this I made a run for it. The policeman saw me and rescued me. They did this because my cousin Masoom had reported that I was being beaten and held forcibly.

Even the end of the boycott did not spell an end to Raqeeb's persecution at the hands of villagers. Trouble erupted again for him when he returned from an Ahmadi missionary training session on July 19, 2004. This time, the police, far from rescuing Raqeeb, joined in beating him.

Early in the morning, after the Fajr (dawn) prayers, a mob from the village surrounded my house, dragged me out, and tied me to a tree. Then they started beating me with sticks and rods. Then they carried me to the local market and beat me more, this time even more badly. Just when I thought I was going to die, local policemen came to the spot and took me to another house and then the policemen asked me to leave the Ahmadiyya faith. When I refused, the policemen started beating me. Then they took me to the police station and put me in the lock-up where they handcuffed me and beat me again. The next morning, at about 11 o'clock, the policemen took me to the district headquarters of the police and beat me again. Maulana Abdul Rajjak and others came to check what was going on. The Officer in-Charge informed them within earshot of me that they should not worry, the police would "deal" with me "properly." The police said that it was clever of the village people to register a robbery case against me and that they would use that as an excuse to beat a Qadiani.

Raqeeb remained in custody until he was granted bail on July 26, 2004, after legal proceedings were initiated by other members of the Ahmadiyya community to secure his release. A robbery case is pending against him and he has taken refuge in Dhaka and has not returned home.

Bangladeshi newspapers that covered the October 2003 events in Kushtia also reported that three Ahmadis from Dhaka had come to the area for three days to provide food secretly and to attempt to resolve the conflict, but were forced to leave after being confronted by a group of angry Sunni Muslims. According to press reports, when one of the Ahmadis from Dhaka, Shamsudain Ahmed Masoom, attempted to explain to the boycotting Sunnis why Ahmadis are Muslims, the Sunnis threatened to kill him.

Ahmadi children in the district were also prevented from attending school. Some school teachers were complicit in enforcing the boycott. The boycott of Ahmadi schoolchildren centered around the Dharampur Intermediate Middle School. Human Rights Watch interviewed not only the victims of the boycott but also non-Ahmadi students of the school. One of the latter, who preferred not to be named, told Human Rights Watch:

I am one of the students here. The school and the school committee decided not to allow Ahmadis into the school and to strictly boycott them. So, our instructions from our teachers and parents were clear: if the Ahmadis go to the school, we will not. We are now going to school with them but we do not want to.

Shabbir Ali is the father of three daughters who attended the Daharampur School. He was told by the leaders of the boycott that if his daughters continued to attend the school, he and they would be killed:

When I returned to the police with this complaint, they told me: "We cannot run the school just for your three girls. It would be better if you establish a separate school for them."

Shireen, a thirteen-year old Ahmadi girl described her experience of the boycott to Human Rights Watch:

On October 25, I went to school as usual. When I got there I was informed by another student that students had been told that Qadianis should be boycotted and not allowed to come to school. Then the local village leader Jalal told us: "If you come to this school, nobody other than Qadianis will be allowed to attend here. So it would be better if you just left the school. So why don't you take a few days off."

Shireen returned to school thirteen days later on November 7, 2003. She described what happened:

When I returned to school, Jalal was very harsh and told me to go back home immediately. Another teacher, Mr. Jaffar said: "If Qadiani girls come to school, we will not teach them anything or even talk to them." Mr. Razaul Islam, the Bengali Language teacher said the same thing. He also said: "If you persist in coming to school, we will tell the boys to tease you and do other terrible things to you." After this, we did not go to school and one Ahmadi girl moved away from the village in fear.

Bilquis Akhtar, another thirteen-year-old female student at the same school described her experience:

The Jamaat-e-Islami leader, Abdul Rajjak, came to my house and told my family and me that if I dared go to school, my parents would have to deal with the consequences. He told us that I would suffer in unspeakable ways if I went to school again.

Other students who faced the boycott reported similar experiences.

On October 27, members of the Ahmadiyya community filed a petition with the police, alleging deprivation of their fundamental human rights. One Ahmadi also filed a separate petition, alleging that he had been taken forcibly from his home and made to attend a Sunni mosque in an attempt to make him relinquish his Ahmadi faith. The Bangladeshi press widely reported that other Ahmadis were forced to sign papers stating that they had voluntarily returned to the Islamic Sunni faith. On October 28, 2003, the District Police Superintendent, Abdul Salam, visited the area and stated that he hoped the economic and social boycott would be resolved over time since both parties belonged to the Muslim faith. Ahmadi Missionary Abdul Awwal told Human Rights Watch, however, that it took the murder of Ahmadi Imam Shah Alam a few days later in Jessore to induce the government to act decisively. At that point, the Home Minister Altaf Hossain Chowdury intervened and ordered the police to use their influence to end the boycott, which they did successfully.

The government ban on Ahmadi publications

On January 8, 2004, the government of Bangladesh authorized a ban on all publications of the Ahmadiyya community, one day prior to the deadline given by Islamist groups, led by the IOJ and the KNA, to declare the Ahmadis non-Muslim. The ban, enforcement of which subsequently was suspended by the courts pending further deliberations, violates Bangladesh's obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to uphold the rights to freedom of religion and of expression. The Home Ministry's press release stated that:

The government has banned the sale, publication, distribution and retention of all books and booklets on Islam published by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama'at Bangladesh, which includes the Bengali or any other translation (with explanation) of the Qur'an Majid. The ban has been imposed in view of objectionable materials in such (Ahmadiyya) publications which hurt or may hurt the sentiments of the majority Muslim population of Bangladesh.

A day before the ban was announced, key government officials including State Minister for Religious Affairs, Mosharef Hossain Shahjahan, and State Minister for Home Affairs, Lutfozzaman Babar met with K.N. leader Mamtazi as well as several other KNA leaders. Ahmadiyya community leaders were not invited. At the meeting, the government agreed to institute a ban on Ahmadiyya publications. It also agreed that the two cases filed against the anti-Ahmadiyya group charged with assaulting policemen guarding the Nakhalpara mosque on December 5, 2003, would be dropped.

By March 2004, twenty Ahmadi publications to be banned had been listed in an official circular. This indicated that the ban had been sent to the government's official press for publication in the official gazette, which is required for the ban to have legal effect.

The decision to ban the books came as a surprise given a statement made by State Minister Shahjahan on December 8,2003, in which he had asserted that "only God had the right to declare someone a non-Muslim." Minister Shahjahan explained that the government's sudden shift in position should be understood as a compromise necessary to prevent further campaigns and violence against the Ahmadiyya community. He said he took a chance and announced the ban "to save the minority groups from killing and to prevent the destruction of mosques." He further explained that if the government had used the police and applied sanctions, the situation would only have deteriorated.

Mahfuz Anam, the editor-in-chief of The Daily Star, told Human Rights Watch:

The government has allowed this issue to go too far. At first, there were just a few hundred people in the streets. But then it rose to eight or nine thousand. Why did they allow that?

While Minister Shahjahan told our researchers that he passed the ban to prevent further violence, he himself recognized that the ban was "not a good thing and a hindrance to human rights." Notwithstanding this, he argued that the ban would lead to a decrease in violence. He further noted that he anticipates the eventual repeal of the ban. Minister Shahjahan's views were not shared by many of those Human Rights Watch interviewed. Journalist Mahfuz Anam explained: "The government will wait again until it becomes an unmanageable issue. There will be one concession after another."

Minister Shahjahan himself indicated that further concessions would depend upon whether there is further violence, stating in a BBC interview, "I am not sure that the demand will come to pass. We are observing the situation. If the situation is peaceful, the demand will not be necessary." The implication appeared to be that if the situation did not remain peaceful, the government might capitulate again to further demands of the Islamist groups.

The ban began to be "implemented" shortly after it was announced, often at the instigation of K.N. mobs. On April 6, in Shalkiri village (Ponchogorh district), the leader of the local chapter of K.N., Maulana Abdul Karim, arrived at Ahmadiyya houses in a police jeep and conducted searches for publications.Under the Penal Code, searches of homes may only be conducted pursuant to a magistrate's warrant and require the presence of a police officer at the level of sub-inspector or higher. Central Ahmadi Missionary Abdul Awwal informed Human Rights Watch that the local Ahmadis asked the police if they had a warrant; they did not. The police officer, who was only of Assistant sub-inspector rank, told them he would come back. The Ahmadi missionary posted in Ponchogorh met with Deputy Commissioner Chowdhury on March 24, who told him that Ahmadis still have all their citizen rights, but that the police would go house to house to search for the publications.

On April 16, 2004, approximately two thousand K.N. demonstrators gathered again in front of the Nakhalpara Ahmadiyya mosque in Dhaka. Although the police had been guarding the mosque for several months, they permitted some of the demonstrators into the mosque to seize Ahmaddiya publications that were listed in the ban. Indeed, instead of protecting the Ahmadis, the police entered the mosque along with protestors and seized the Qur'an and the Bukhari Sharif, a Hadith collection. The police then reportedly handed the books over to the protesting Sunni clergy.

On December 21, 2004, while not in session, Bangladesh's High Court temporarily suspended the order of January 8, 2004 banning the Ahmadiyya publications in response to a legal challenge launched by human rights groups in the country. The court issued an interim stay order suspending the ban pending the reopening of the High Court. It also directed that the ban not be notified in the official Bangladesh gazette. In January 2005, the High Court extended the stay order and it remained in effect at this writing.

Two examples of Discrimination and violence against the Ahmadiyya in 2004

Incitement to anti-Ahmadiyya violence and destruction of religious property in Dhaka

On March 26, 2004, a local group of thirty to fifty people in the Taltola area of Dhaka entered onto the land of Arman Ali and his wife, Anhar Ali, shouting anti-Ahmadi slogans and attacked their religious property. Five or six Ahmadi families live in the immediate vicinity of the Ali house. Arman Ali is considered the unofficial imam for the Ahmadi families in the area. At the time Human Rights Watch conducted its research there, he was building a mosque on the land behind his home and the Ahmadis were housing their religious books in a tin shed on the corner of his property.

Arman Ali and his wife, Anhar Parveen Begum, told Human Rights Watch that on March 26, a Friday, a crowd led by local mullahs gathered in the field outside Ali's house and a few entered onto his property. According to neighbors who were present, the crowd chanted slogans such as "You belong to the Bush community," "You are the pimps of the United States," "You are not Muslim," "If you want to live in our community, you have to do prayers the way we do." They also shouted, "Qadianis won't be able to build the mosque" and "We will burn your mosque." Reportedly, one person in the crowd picked up a stick from the wood being used to build the mosque and tapped on the house, yelling, "Why are you scared? Come outside the house." At the time, however, no one was at home since most of the family was away from the city and Anhar Ali had gone to another mosque in Dhaka. People in the crowd then took some of the Ahmadi religious books from the tin shed and threw them onto the roof of the Alis' house.

Four days after this incident, Anwar Ali received veiled threats from two local Muslim leaders concerning the construction of the mosque. The two leaders informed Ali that they were under pressure from 'external quarters' to tell him not to build the mosque. They also indicated that if the mosque were built, despite the fact that they were neighbors and friends, they would not be able to do anything if something were to happen to the mosque. While Ali informed Ahmadi religious leaders of the incident, he did not report it to the police.

In an another incident, members of the K.N. from Barisal district in south-central Bangladesh, declared on May 6, 2004 that the some twenty-seven thousand Ahmadis in the Barisal and Patuakhali districts would be forcibly evicted by May 12, and those in Chittagong by May 28. At a press conference, K.N. leader Mamtazi detailed the eviction program.1 The Islamic Constitution Movement and the IKNM ointly organized a "mass contact" mobilization drive in Patuakhali district from May 9 to May 11. The organizations also circulated leaflets urging the government to declare the Ahmadiyyas "non-Muslim" and ban their activities. On May 12, police in the Patuakhali district were able to block the eviction plans of the IKNM.170 Police nonetheless seized copies of the Qur'an and books of Hadith from the Ahmadiyya mosque in Patuakhali, and the local commissioner posted a signboard asking people not to mistake the structure for a mosque.

On August 27, 2004, the Dhaka police stopped an attempt by supporters of the K.N. to take over the Ahmadiyya headquarters in Bakshibazar, Dhaka.

On October 29, 2004, a mob of at least three hundred members of the K.N. launched an attack on an Ahmadi mosque in Brahmanbaria, seventy-five kilometers northeast of Dhaka. The axe-wielding mob pelted Ahmadi worshippers with stones as they congregated to offer Friday prayers. Subsequently, the mob broke the doors of the mosque down with axes and attacked the worshippers with the same weapons. At least forty-five minutes elapsed before the police intervened to restore order. Eleven members of the Ahmadiyya sect were seriously injured in the attack.

Satkhira attack

One of the worst attacks on Ahmadis took place on April 17, 2005, when a mob led by the K.N. attacked members of the Ahmadiyya community, injuring at least twenty-five people. The attack took place in Joytidrianagar, a remote village in the southwestern Satkhira district.

Witnesses reported that thousands of K.N. members brandishing sticks, machetes, and darts started marching towards the Sundarban Bazar. The K.N. activists sought to place a signboard on the Ahmadi mosque in the area which stated: "This is a place of worship for Kadianis, no Muslim should mistake it for a mosque."

As the K.N. activists reached the Ahmadiyya mosque at Sundarban Bazar, Abdul Awwal Khan Chowdury tried to prevent the incident from taking place. Incensed at the resistance, the K.N. followers started throwing stones at them and injured dozens of people, some seriously. The police, instead of preventing the incident from occurring, sought to contain the situation by taking possession of the sign-board and hanging it themselves on the Ahmadi mosque. Awwal Chowdury told Human Rights Watch:

Thousands of K.N. members armed with sticks and machetes started marching towards the Sundarban Bazar at about 1:00 p.m. K.N. Deputy Leader Mufti Nur Hossain Nurani and central leader Mohammed Muntasir Ahmed led the procession. As it reached near the Ahmadiyya mosque at Sundarban Bazar in Jotindryanagar, sixty-five kilometers off the Satkhira district headquarters, we tried to keep the bigots from hanging the signboard by trying to prevent them moving forward. The K.N. followers started throwing stones at us.

At one stage, the police stationed in the area fired blanks in the air. Ahmadiyya community members moved backwards and the K.N. members stepped forward to hang the signboard. At the request of police, the K.N. leaders handed the signboard to them, which the police then hung in the presence of the Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Sohrab Hossain, superintendent of police in Satkhira, Abdur Rahim, and Magistrate Mina Masuduzzaman.

Immediately afterwards, K.N. activists went on a rampage, looting nearby Ahmadi homes and injuring many Ahmadis in the process, including women, who were beaten with sticks and sustained serious injuries. During the attack and for three days afterwards, alleged K.N. activists looted at least ten Ahmadi houses at Sundarban Bazar in the village.

About twenty K.N. activists armed with sticks and bricks attacked the house of Abdul Majeed Sardar, leader of the Sundarban Ahmadiyya Jamaat, who has a house in the 1.3 acre complex containing the mosque. The complex is surrounded by Ahmadi houses and an Ahmadi-founded school.

Six women from the house and surrounding areas sustained head injuries and broken bones in the attack. They include Salina Islam, twenty-five, a mother of two; Rahima Begum, thirty-six; Firdausi Begum, thirty-two; Farida Begum, thirty two; and Mrs. Naseer Sardar, fifty-five. The injured were moved, under police guard, to Shyamnagar health center for treatment and two were sent to Dhaka for further treatment in light of the seriousness of the head injuries sustained. The following day, members of the Ahmadiyya community lodged a case with the police at Shaymnagar police station. The police have not taken any action to date. Rahima Begum informed Human Rights Watch:

I was in the house when five men wielding sticks forcibly entered and started destroying things. When I raised a hue and cry and tried to resist, they stated beating me with sticks. I fell to the ground and there was blood gushing out of my head, which seemed to have been split open. They were busy looting and also attacking other women who intervened.

Cash, ornaments and other valuables were looted from the houses of G.M. Sabbir, G.M. Mobarak Ahmed, S.M. Wahid, Abdul Mazid Sardar, S.M. Matiar Rahman, G.M. Abu Daud, G.M. Rois Ahmed and others.


Bangladeshi law states that "every citizen has the right to profess, practice or propagate any religion," and that "every religious community or denomination has the right to establish, maintain and manage its religious institutions." The failure of the prime minister and many other leaders to invoke these provisions and denounce religiously partisan threats and assaults on Ahmadis is explained at least in part by the reality of Bangladeshi political arithmetic. As noted above, the ruling BNP government holds power as part of a four party coalition. The BNP holds 191 seats, the J.I. has eighteen seats, the IOJ has two seats, and the Jatiya party has four seats. In the most recent election in 2001, the BNP-led coalition won by a very close margin of 46 percent to 42 percent over the Awami League. The J.I.-IOJ alliance with the BNP determines if the BNP remains in power, and consequently, the BNP appears to be conceding to the pressure of the anti-Ahmadiyya while attempting to minimize bloodshed.

If the BNP's political strategy is to give in to some extremist demands, thereby retaining J.I. and IOJ support, while simultaneously working to maintain the greater peace, the policy is not only dangerous, it appears to be failing. The Bogra and Satkhira incidents and other cases documented in this report indicate that anti-Ahmadiyya activity continues and that conflicting signals from the government are emboldening extremists.

While the Amadiyya Community in Bangladesh numbers only some one hundred thousand, many of those Human Rights Watch spoke with believe the government's failure to act decisively against anti-Ahmadi movements is indicative of a larger problem in Bangladesh. While the BNP claims it is not a communal party that is instigating attacks on minorities, it has failed to demand that its coalition partners desist from any role in aiding or abetting attacks and restrictions on religious minorities, it has not aggressively punished perpetrators, and it has not revoked the ill-considered ban on Ahmadiyya publications.

The writer is a journalist, columnist, author, amd editor of "Weekly Blitz" in Bangladesh. In 2003, he was arrested in the airport on his way to Israel to attend the Hebrew Writers Association conference and was imprisoned for 17 months (He writes of the experience in Email him at

This article was submitted November 10, 2005.

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