They said restraining a basic right like education is tantamount to thwarting the society and the country
The Hefazat-e-Islam Chief Shah Ahmad Shafi’s remarks against women’s education and empowerment are clearly contradictory to our constitution and state principles says the human rights activists, female leaders and constitution experts of the country. They said restraining a basic right like education is tantamount to thwarting the society and the country.
Female leaders and online activists believe that Shafi’s remarks were ill-motivated and directly on the odds with the government’s undertakings of women rights. Such remarks can induce fear and negative impact on our girls and their guardians and can jeopardize the women’s march towards education in long run. The female leaders and activists have voiced concern against such comments and urged the state to take legal action in stopping such negative propaganda.
On the other hand, the fundamentalist Islamist group Hefazat-e-Islam claimed that Shafi’s remarks were misrepresented by the media. Deputy Minister for Education Barrister Mohibul Hasan Chowdhury Nowfel has said that Shafi’s remarks, against sending girls to school, are his own personal opinions and will not affect the forward march of women’s education. However, many in the political arena have refused to comment on the matter.
While addressing in an annual waz mafil (religious gathering) as the chief guest at Al-Jamiatul Ahlia Darul Ulum Moinul Islam Madrasa, also known as Hathazari Madrasa, in Chittagong on Friday (January 11), Hefazat-e-Islam chief Shah Ahmad Shafi has made his audience promise to refrain girls from studying at schools and colleges.
Shafi, also the chairman of Befaqul Madarisil Arabia Bangladesh, the largest Qawmi Madrasa board in the country, said: “Do not let girls study at schools and colleges. At best, you can allow them to study up to fourth or fifth grade. If you let them study any more... You have seen in the newspapers that... If you educate your girl up to ninth, tenth, MA, BA levels then that girl will be out of your control.”
“If you educate your girls, other men will snatch away your girls. So, you will have to promise me that you will not let your girls study more,”Shafi said.
Later when his remarks made headlines on almost all major newspapers and media outlets, Hefazat-e-Islam leaders have claimed that media distorted Shafi’s remarks and that he did not advocate against women’s education but tried to promote it.
In response about the Shafi’s remarks, Hefazat-e-Islam Organizing Secretary Mainuddin Ruhi told Dhaka Tribune: “Preacher Shafi was speaking on the current affairs in the wazmahfil and he highlighted the harassments that women are going through in society. The matter of women’s education came up just as a context.”
He also said: “Huzur also said there is no problem with girls having primary education but in case of higher education women need separate schools, colleges and universities. Girls will be much protected that way and can avoid being victims of eve-teasing and other sexual violence. Huzur also said women can join in workplaces but with proper clothing such as hijab and barqa so that their dignity is secured.”
On the issue of Shafi making his audience promise to refrain girls from studying at schools and colleges, Mainuddin Ruhi said it was not a big deal like the media has presented. “Huzur only asked for pledges from the audience so that they follow his instructions. Huzur does that after every waz mahfil,” he added.
Concurring with Mainuddin’s comments, Abu Syed, a youth who was also present at Shafi’s mahfil, said: “Shafi Huzur spoke for nearly one and a half hours and he spoke about women’s education near the end. The reason he told girls not pursue higher education is to stop the unrestricted relationships between boys and girls that are going on in society.”
When asked whether anyone can advocate restricting women’s education in such open manner, constitution expert Barrister M Amir-ul-Islam told Dhaka Tribune, “I am saying this with due respect to Allama Shafi that education is a birth right of all human beings irrespective of their gender. Knowledge of religion is also a part of education. So there can be no disparity in achieving education. From the state’s point of view, ensuring religion and education to all citizens is imperative and none has the right to hold it back.”
He also said: “The right to education is protected by our constitution. Any attempt to thwart the right is equal to stifling the society and the state. That is why such remark by Shafi is utterly contradictory to our constitution and state principles.”
The women leaders of the country also believe that Shafi’s remarks are bigoted and go against the women rights.
Sultana Kamal, a distinguish human rights activist and former advisor of the caretaker government, said: “It is completely contrary to constitution. Such assertions oppose all the provisions and pledges that call for ensuring women’s rights. The current government came to power advocating for women’s empowerment and I hope the government will take legal action over the matter.”
Online activist Arif Jebtik said: “It is very frightening in a sense that such remarks will eventually incite the old repressive culture against women. That is why the state has a responsibility to stop such negative remarks from spreading. Shafi’s remarks will not undo the progress we have made so far, but it can surely influence rural society and scare people off from women’s march towards higher education. A stern intervention by the government is vital here.”
Zahid Hossain, a human rights activist, said: “As a father, Shafi’s remarks made me feel disturbed and deeply concerned. Islamists fundamentalists like Shafi have made such comments previously, but the important thing is that our girls are moving forward with confidence, and I believe all parents will not pay heed to such nonsense. I do not think such negative comments have long-lasting effects in society, but surely can cause cultural and national degradation.”
However, Maulana ANM Ahmed Ullah, publicity secretary of Hefazat-e-Islam Chittagong metropolitan unit, claimed that Allama Shafi had become the victim here and the media had intentionally misused his remarks.
“The main objective of Huzur Shafi’s speech was to bring everyone’s attention to the violence and harassment that women are suffering currently. He did not oppose education for girls but called for building separate classrooms to ensure their security.”
Mufti Mohammad Foyzulla, joint secretary of Hefazat-e-Islam, said Huzur Shafi’s remarks were only designed to ensure the dignity of women in modern society.
As Shafi’s comments drew widespread criticism on social media and other platforms, Deputy Minister for Education Barrister Mohibul Hasan Chowdhury Nowfel said Hefazat chief Shafi’s remarks against sending girls to school would not affect the forward march of women’s education.
He made the comment during a view-exchange meeting with journalists at his Chashma Hill residence in Chittagong on Saturday.
The deputy minister for education also said: “One person’s views would not have any effect on the onward march of women’s education.”
When contacted, several leaders and presidium members of the ruling Awami League refused to comment on the matter.