Prof Zafar Iqbal has been a staunch supporter of science, education, an ardent advocate of humanist, and secular values. And he is never afraid to stand for a cause.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that on Saturday’s knife attack on Zafar Iqbal should not have come as a surprise. He and Prof Hasan Azizul Haque of Rajshahi University were branded atheists and enemies of Islam by Islami Chhatra Shibir as far back as 2006 for advocating for rationalism and secularism. He also complained about receiving death threats over phone and email in that year.
Another death threat by radical Islamist outfit Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) was issued against Zafar Iqbal and his wife Dr Yasmeen Haque in 2016. Yasmeen Haque, a physics teacher of SUST, received the threat via an SMS on October 12, which read: “Welcome to our new top list! Your breath may stop at anytime. Abt.”
Later on the same day, Prof Zafar Iqbal also received an SMS that stated: “Hi unbeliever! We will strangle you soon.”
Needless to mention, Zafar Iqbal is known for his strong opposition of Jamaat-Shibir for their role in the Liberation War of 1971. He expressed solidarity with the activists of Gonojagoron Moncho in February 2013 when they raised demands to ensure the punishment of all the crimes against humanity committed in 1971 and ban Jamaat-Shibir.
Gonojagoron’s movement became complicated as some activists and bloggers involved in it were branded as atheists and blasphemers by religious groups, including Hefajat-e-Islam Bangladesh.
Several bloggers and writers branded as atheists and blasphemers were killed from 2013 onwards.
Zafar defied all attempts at intimidation and continued to demand justice.
He even went as far as blaming the government for its incompetence in stopping the killing of bloggers.
His acerbic critiques have not targeted only anti-liberation forces and the fundamentalist groups. He made enemies among a section of locals in Sylhet for opposing their demand for a 50% quota for the people of Sylhet in the SUST admission test.
And may it be the issue of question leaks in public exams and job recruitment exams, or ragging of freshers at universities, Zafar finds it hard not to speak against injustice.
It was just on Friday when Zafar came down hard on the students involved in ragging at SUST, saying: “I beg forgiveness from the nation that the students of my university can do such a thing.”