It was a two-day student rebellion which forced Allama Shafi to resign from his director general post at Hathazari Madrasa
Shah Ahmad Shafi, the chief of Hefazat-e-Islam Bangladesh, died amid an ongoing leadership struggle on Friday — just a day after he stepped down as the director general of Al-Jamiatul Ahlia Darul Ulum Moinul Islam, popularly known as Hathazari Madrasa in Chittagong.
Called ‘Boro Hujur’ by Qawmi madrasa students, Shafi was considered one of the top Islamic scholars in Bangladesh by many Muslims of the country. His public statements regularly made headlines.
However, his views on secular bloggers, statues, and women’s clothing drew criticism from different quarters.
It was only a two-day student rebellion which forced Shah Ahmad Shafi to resign from his director general post at Hathazari Madrasa.
The Hefazat-e-Islam chief’s resignation became the talk of the town as the control of Hathazari Madrasa usually determine who will lead the Qawmi madrasa-based organization Hefazat.
Shafi’s downfall marks the end of the dominance of a controversial figure who was respected and hated in equal measures by his followers and detractors.
He held such power that whatever he uttered always became the last word in the Qawmi arena, and this is why his downfall is still a matter of wonder for many.
Shafi was highly influential in the Qawmi arena as he was also the chairman of Befaqul Madarisil Arabia Bangladesh, the largest Qawmi madrasa education board in the country.
Hefazat-e-Islam Bangladesh, led by Shafi, has been in existence for many years but it came under the spotlight for the first time in 2013 after it mobilized a massive opposition to the Gonojagoron Moncho movement which started in February that year.
It was also then that the controversial group issued their infamous 13-point charter of demands, which included a ban on free mixing of men and women, and capital punishment for atheists.
On May 5, 2013, they unleashed daylong mayhem in Dhaka's Motijheel, Paltan, and adjacent areas.
Later, Hefazat backtracked on the movement after an alleged negotiation with Awami League leaders.
Hefazat came under the spotlight several other times over the years after that.
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In 2017, the group, under the leadership of Allama Shafi, demanded the removal of the Lady Justice statue from Supreme Court premises. They triumphed when Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina went along with their demand and the statue was removed from there in April that year.
It was another victory for the organization when top Qawmi madrasa degree, Dawrah-e-Hadith, was recognised as equivalent to postgraduate degrees, attracting protests from many secular-learning organizations and individuals.
Rise of conflicts
Conflicts over the difference of opinions among Hefazat leaders was nothing new but most leaders failed to voice their demands due to Shafi’s acceptability among all.
Insiders were expecting a changeover as Shafi was slowly losing control over the organization and facing resistance from some former central leaders for a couple of years now.
But Shafi tried to suppress those different voices by expelling numerous leaders because of internal feuds.
After May of 2013, many leaders of the organization, including Secretary General Junayed Babunagari, wanted to continue their movement but Shafi and his son, Anas Madani, did not show any interest in that.
When Allama Shafi and Babunagari protested in Motijheel alongside each other, it was the former who skipped the Hefazat rally in May 2013 and went to Chittagong with his son Anas, while Babunagari was arrested from Dhaka that day.
In late 2018, a rift was seen in Hefazat leadership when the platform decided to host a public reception for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for recognizing top Qawmi degree — Dawra-e-Hadith — as an equivalent to a master’s degree in Islamic studies and Arabic.
Many Hefazat leaders were against the idea because of the government’s role during the movement on May 5, 2013.
The group’s senior Nayeb-e-Ameer Mohibullah Babunagari resigned from his position in October 2018 as he resented the organization’s failure to realize its demands.
At the time, he told the media that Hefazat had shifted away from their 13-point demands placed to the government during their movement in 2013 and even forgot to pay respect to the group’s supporters killed on May 5 and 6 in 2013.
A reception titled ‘Shokrana Mahfil’ was hosted in November that year to express gratitude to the Prime Minister. Organized by Al-Hiyatul Ulya Lil-Zami’atil Qawmiya Bangladesh, a combination of the Qawmi education boards, the reception was chaired by Hefazat-e-Islam chief Shah Ahmad Shafi.
Many leaders were also against Shafi as Hefazat was getting close to Awami League and the government, and receiving various benefits, including land.
The leaders alleged that Shafi and his son made a deal with the government to get the benefits. Those who publicly defied Shafi and Anas and tried to continue the movement were all expelled from Hefazat.
But insiders were expecting protests when Majlis-e-Shura of the Hathazari Madrasa on June 17 this year announced to keep Hefazat-e-Islam's Amir Allama Shah Ahmad Shafi as the rector of the Madrasa till his death.
The committee also relieved Allama Junayed Babungari, the assistant director of the madrasa and the secretary general of Hefazat-e-Islam, from all responsibilities of the madrasa.
Allama Sheikh Ahmed was made successor to Allama Shafi.
The Madani factor
Many leaders claimed that Anas Madani was making all organizational decisions in compliance with instructions from the government and many of those had his father’s support.
The Hefazat chief, via the Shura committee, made his elder son Anas Madani the assistant director of the educational institution, which was one of the major issues that fueled rage among students.
On Wednesday, students launched protests inside the Hathazari Madrasa to press home their six-point demand including the removal of Anas Madani, also the publicity secretary of Hefazat-e-Islam.
This protest is the continuation of the rift between Hefazat Secretary General Junayed Babunagari and Anas Madani. The situation turned so bad that the Majlis-e-Shura committee initially agreed to expel Madani from the madrasa on the same night.
Half of the six demands by students were related to Anas Madani. They demanded his expulsion, honorable resignation of Shafi from the madrasa’s director general post, bringing back the teachers and staff who were sacked by Anas from the madrasa, and the cancellation of the appointment of teachers and staff appointed by Anas.
They also demanded an end to all harassment and oppression faced by the students.
In the last few years, some Awami League leaders went to the Hathazari Madrasa to meet Shafi and the Hefazat leadership, and many believe Madani was behind this.