Radical Islamist platform Hefazat-e-Islam is facing an internal feud over contesting the looming parliamentary elections and its now-dimmed movement to realise the 13-point demands that include death penalty for atheists and a ban on free mixing of men and women.
According to its leaders, the group has split in two with one faction led by the pro-opposition quarter and another pushing for political neutrality.
Even though Hefazat as a whole claims to be non-political, its secretary general and most of the central and district-level leaders hold posts in different Islamist parties linked with the BNP-led opposition alliance.
With the support of the opposition alliance and Jatiya Party, an ally of the ruling Awami League, Hefazat staged two major showdowns in Dhaka on April 6 and May 5 over the 13-point demands. Its leaders and activists also campaigned for the opposition-backed candidates in the five city corporation elections, where the ruling party-endorsed candidates were defeated.
The BNP-led alliance includes several Islamist parties whose leaders hold top positions in Hefazat, like Islami Oikya Jote (IOJ), Bangladesh Khelafat Majlish, and Jamiat-e-Ulama-e-Islam.
Islami Andolon Bangladesh (IAB), led by Mufti Syed Muhammad Rezaul Karim (Pir Shaheb of Charmonai), and ruling party ally Bangladesh Islami Oikya Jote, led by Misbahur Rahman Chowdhury, did not support Hefazat’s 13-point demands.
Irked by the feud within Hefazat, its chief Shah Ahmed Shafi said: “Some people are actively trying to break up our unity which is a very bad practice.”
Forewarning the leaders and activists, he said: “Everyone needs to be alert about those who are trying to divide the group.” He also urged all members to inform him about any irregularity in the organisation.
“If anyone wants to clash with us, even if it is an organisation, we will take action against them,” he said in a statement.
Hefazat Secretary General Junaid Babunagari told the Dhaka Tribune: “Hefazat is the biggest non-political organisation in the country. It is true that there were some disagreements over strengthening the movement to realise the 13-point demands. But it is not too big a matter. Our chief’s decision regarding any issue is final.”
The Hathazari-based organisation comprises Qawmi madrasa teachers and students. It was formed in 2010 when its supporters took to the streets demanding cancellation of the education and women development policies.
They resurfaced in February after youths at Shahbagh intersection launched non-stop movement demanding death penalty for all the razakars (collaborators) who sided with the Pakistani occupation forces during the 1971 Liberation War, and a ban on the politics of Jamaat-e-Islami.
Several senior Hefazat leaders told this reporter that the pro-BNP leaders want Hefazat to move with them in the polls’ campaigns and resume its 13-point demands, which also include “Absolute trust and faith in Almighty Allah” and the scrapping of all laws deemed “anti-Islamic”.
They said if Hefazat resumed the movement now, it would benefit the opposition alliance.
According to Hefazat sources, its Secretary General Junaid Babunagari wants to contest the general elections under the banner of IOJ and using the Hefazat image. At the same time, more than a dozen of its central and district committee leaders also want nomination from the BNP alliance to cash in on the Hefazat sentiments.
The leaders also told the Dhaka Tribune that a proposal by HM Ershad-led Jatiya Party to form an alliance had been endorsed by the neutral wing of the organisation but that the pro-BNP quarter in Hefazat had flatly rejected the idea.
Hefazat Dhaka unit Joint Convener and IOJ Secretary General Mufti Fayez Ullah told the Dhaka Tribune that Jatiya Party is a ruling government ally while “Ershad has no backbone to do politics...and he had been a military dictator”, adding that Hefazat is a non-political organisation.
Mufti Harun Izhar, publicity secretary of Hefazat, Friday told the Dhaka tribune that the leaders and activists of the party were working in a tie and there was no disarray among activists.“We will not help anyone to ascend to power,” he said.
Jatiya Party Secretary General ABM Ruhul Amin Howlader told the Dhaka Tribune that they had communicated with several top leaders of Hefazat over the alliance proposal.