A small group of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat community knows how it feels to be a persecuted minority in Bangladesh after reportedly being beaten at the hands of a local Awami League leader and the police, merely for practising their faith.
On March 30, Ahmadiyya followers from all over Jamalpur district gathered in a mosque in the village of Fularpar in Madarganj to attend Friday prayers.
Within minutes, villagers of Fularpar had converged on the mosque and began attacking them with sticks, injuring around 20 people and causing extensive damage to the newly-built mosque.
After some frantic phone calls, police arrived at the scene and took the Ahmadiyyas to Madarganj police station.
Their suffering did not end there, however.
The victims allege that the local Awami League leader who led the assault also accompanied them to the police station, where he and two senior officers continued the physical and verbal assault on the Ahmadiyyas before extracting a written promise from the visitors never to again return.
Madarganj police Officer-in-Charge Rafiqul Islam and the Awami League leader, Moneer Munshi, deny the allegations of violence.
The small community of Ahmadiyyas in the northern region of Bangladesh are frequently subjected to violence, threats and persecution because of their faith.
Also Read- Jamalpur’s Ahmadiyya community living in fear after mosque attack
In 2015 a suicide bomb attack claimed by the Islamic State killed 10 members of the community in Rajshahi, while in May 2017 an imam in Mymensingh named Mostafizur Rahman was hacked by three madrasa students.
Among the people attacked in Fularpar last month was Asaduzzaman Rajib, an imam who survived a bombing of his home in Sharishabari in February.
On a recent visit to Fularpar, the Dhaka Tribune was told by locals that the imam of the local mosque and Moneer, both leaders of the community, had told them the Ahmadiyyas were “deviants who were violating Islam”.
‘Beaten up at the police station’
The Ahmadiyya mosque in Fularpar was built only three months ago by Shahidul Islam, a local man who recently converted to the Ahmadiyya faith.
Constructed on his own property using corrugated iron sheets, around 10-12 families who had also converted were praying at the site, while the March 30 inauguration had drawn many more followers from across Jamalpur district.
The Dhaka Tribune spoke to several who were there that day, including Abul Hashem and Ruhul Amin; Faridul Islam, the president of the Sharishabari Ahmadiyya Jamaat; and Asaduzzaman Rajib, from Hosnabad village.
They recalled being “surrounded by hundreds of people” and said the mob tore up the mosque’s mehrab, or the imam’s seat, and then dragged the community members outside and began beating them up.
Local Awami League leader Moneer Munshi was in the lead of this mob, the victims said.
Police arrived some time later and escorted everyone attending the prayers to the Madarganj Police Station.
“The police started misbehaving with us on the way,” Asaduzzaman Rajib said. “At the station, Moneer shouted at us, and physically attacked Shahidul. The police hit him, too. They held us at the station until late that night.”
Asaduzzaman said Officer-in-Charge Rafiqul Islam and Madarganj circle ASP Samiul Haque were both present at the station.
“We were forced to sign papers saying that we only had a minor altercation and we have come to terms with them,” Asaduzzaman said. “They also extracted a written promise that we will never visit the village again.”
All of the Ahmadiyya followers were then allowed to leave except for Shahidul Islam, the man who built the mosque.
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The Ahmadiyya mosque in Fularpar was built only three months ago by Shahidul Islam, a local man who recently converted to the Ahmadiyya faith | Dhaka Tribune
Police said they found an outstanding warrant against him and have sent him to jail, although OC Rafiqul could not explain why the man was only now arrested in a two-year-old case.
Shahidul has not been contactable by the Dhaka Tribune. Members of the community said the mosque he built has remained shuttered since the incident on the order of police, although OC Rafiqul denied having issued such instructions.
‘They don’t belong here’
A week after the incident, Dhaka Tribune reporters sat down with Moneer Munshi and the local mosque’s imam, Saiful Islam.
It was after the Jumma prayers and many people, including the elders of the village, were gathered in Moneer’s front yard.
Moneer is the religious affairs secretary of Jurkhali union Awami League and is also a teacher at the Char Jamira Dakhil Madrasa.
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Moneer Munshi, local mosque’s imam and religious affairs secretary of Jurkhali union Awami League | Dhaka Tribune
The villagers gathered said Shahidul had been told repeatedly not to follow the Ahmadiyya faith, but was nevertheless converting other people to his way.
“Shahidul is like our brother (but) we have told him many times that this Ahmadiyya thing is wrong,” Moneer said.
“I told him our people are uneducated, they do not understand and they are easy to mislead, but he does not listen and he brings outsiders here to say prayers.”
Moneer said the villagers only went to Shahidul’s mosque on March 30 to talk to him. “There was no violence,” he claimed.
On the day in question, however, the imam Saiful Islam had declared before the Jumma prayers that the Ahmadiyyas had “deviated from Islam’s path” and that their faith was “wrong”.
The villagers said that after hearing this, the mob abandoned the prayers to take part in the attack.
Saiful Islam denied knowing what happened after he issued the edict against the minority group. Asked by the Dhaka Tribune if he had a religious explanation, he would only shift uncomfortably in silence.
Asked why they resorted to violence, the same angry response was heard from several villagers: “They don’t belong here.”
OC Rafiqul denied the allegations that further violence against the Ahmadiyya had occurred at the police station.
“We heard about the incident and went there to take immediate action,” he said. “People had gathered in that mosque from various places and we looked at whether there was any terrorist link there.
“Later we let those people go (but) Shahidul was arrested because there was a warrant against him.”