Adelaide, May 14, 2014 (Alochonaa): An inevitable question may have been raised from many spheres of the Islamic society is: where is Islam in relation to a Muslim identity in the global perspective? This question however, becomes more evident when a political party tries to integrate religion into secular ideology by distinguishing religion between private and public spheres. A country like Bangladesh in where a secular political party has initiated to bring this country into independence by fighting with either a single which is an Islamic or multiples which are Islamic, secular and feudal ideologies. This ideological position by the political party has not been successfully reached to a destination without any further challenges. Therefore, a nationalist inspiration has grown up in the midst of politicians, and those similarly who have not been successful on political hierarchy since the independence of Bangladesh. Furthermore, a balance between religion and secularism has created tension among certain people who fought for an independent country in 1971. This tension has led to greater challenges for many people including youths and people with diverse identities. As a result, a country which holds the fourth largest Muslim population in the world has faced a question where is Muslim/Islam now?
In this discussion I do not ignore the presence of Muslims in Bangladesh, rather, I intend to raise a question, as all political parties in Bangladesh have been using religion both in the private and the public spheres as their tools to stay in power since many years, where are Muslims now? Does Muslim identity become integrated as a part of a political game of different political parties in Bangladesh? Alternatively, people are more able to place religion into a safer place by considering the importance of separation between the public and the private sphere completely. If my above second argument brings an acceptable condition, confusion still remains on the point between people who support youth movements in Bangladesh, particularly the Gonojagoron Moncho and people who do not. By considering the above position, I intend to clear my arguments by explaining religious and secular identity from a post-structural context.
In a post-structural context, identity can be formed on the basis of a relationship with others. Moreover, identity is a relational and arbitrary condition, and it is obviously a negative condition in the same system. In a game of chess for instance, movement of a single piece of chess is determined by the relationship with others in the same game. Therefore, in a discussion of the Muslim question in Bangladesh, it may come to the forefront easily that some Muslims want to see religion as a center of both political and social orders. On the other hand, other Muslims similarly want to see secularism as the center of all social and political orders. Now the question may immediately emerge, if someone intends to see himself or herself as a secular or a religious human being, don’t they have every right to assert their identity as a Muslim? Does Islam not permit using the secular idea among Muslim communities? In relation to those questions, I do not have any short answer but what I have tried here is that I have put forward different ways to show how people may think about possible ways to get rid of this challenge in Bangladesh.
Before I demonstrate different ways, it would be easier to explain those ways by considering the ideological positions of political parties in Bangladesh. On the basis of a secular nationalist and an ethnic ideology – Bangladesh Awami League (AL) including leftist political parties, and a religious nationalist ideology – Jammat-I-Islami Bangladesh including other Islamic alliances, and finally the secular religious and an ethnic ideology – Bangladesh Nationalist Party, all of them mostly carry on their own ideological positions by using religion in both the private and public sphere. But it is very difficult to accommodate Bangladesh Jatiya Party (JP) into these three ideologies. However, based on the current political alliances broadly all political parties can be divided into two groups: the secular nationalist with religion (all religious belief) and the secular nationalist with Islam. These two partisans are using religion in politics by refereeing either a Medina charter or the continuous political narratives by Islamic thinkers and Imam. But it is very interesting to see that there is no particular position of Islam itself independently among these discussions. Therefore, my fundamental question is that where is Islam in Bangladesh now?
At the end, I have a suspicion on people who become resistant to keep their identity integral. There is an obvious concern within the above categories of people as the world is going towards a transnational or a sub-national identity or a banal nationalism. In a globalized world, it appears to be much more sensible to keep people on their own identity alive by respecting others whether that identity may or may not directly contradict with each others. The best example at this moment would be France, where ‘Islamopobia’ plays an important part among other religious people and this phobia is increasingly alive among people of France particularly since 9/11. Therefore, making a partisan between political parties based on secular or religious ideology is obviously a big challenge and equally impossible now in Bangladesh considering the current political landscapes.
* Abdul Wohab is a PhD candidate at the International Centre for Muslims and non-Muslim Understanding, University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia. He is also a faculty at the Brac University, Dhaka, Bangladesh
** To Download Bibliography Click —– Wohab-biblio
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Categories: Bangladesh politics
From what I could absorb, this was a very good post. Thank you.
In mid-read, I had the feeling that a 2-line examination of ‘where Islam had been’ – would’ve lent more latitude to the exposition. In (Muslim countries like) Bangladesh, transnational identities have existed for long e.g. the concept of an Islamic ummah. Though no scholar myself, it has been my assumption that we derive a large part of our identity from the civilizational level – as a part of the (so-called) Islamic World. This identity, in turn, is perpetuated by clergymen and cultural rituals passed off as religious ones (e.g. milad mahfil, shab-e-barat). A large part of this identity, therefore, may well be derived from the remnants of a Caliphate; a perceived, unified Empire of Faith.
Our political parties – barring their manifestoes, rhetorics and briefings – seem neither Islamic nor Secular. Mostly, they seem to have adopted a strategy of ‘avoidance’: avoiding discussing or passing judgment on the core issues of Islam (or for that matter, Secularism). They seem happy to push the rhetoric during elections / turmoil – and then quickly retreat to their comfort zone. To what extent, would you say, is such a strategy contributing to the national identity or the place of Islam in Bangladesh? Is it, at all?
Thanks a lot for your comments and complements….
I do agree with you the way you connect transnational identities with the concept of Islamic Ummah.
But it is interesting and similarly surprising, although not for many people, that in the formation of a national identity in Bangladesh the cultural influences on religion has never been overlooked, and I am certainly not overlooking it. However, the difficulty lies here is that, the expectation of a separation between ‘secular identity’ and ‘religious identity’ in the course of a plural identity which is also a combination of different cultural aspects. Then the question would be- where is an essence of religion in Bangladesh? Looking for an answer of this expectation, I think it requires a genealogical or a histographic analysis of the formation of identity in this region; otherwise, it would be a never-ending debate.
I think the last line of your second paragraph could initiate another interesting conversation, for me this is a game of political elites, and the perception the elites is carrying out till now ( also in the last four centuries and more) is a continuation of colonial power and knowledge. I think the essence of Islam in Bangladesh has always been a game of political elites, and interestingly that game is still going on with the support of the political elites, and this game will continue as long as the colonial power and knowledge will dominate political, cultural and economic situations/conditions of Bangladesh.
yes it is a quite tricky situation in Bangladesh. Secularists trying to make the society secular but at the same time they pray to God regularly. they should study and analyse religion and politics before they make a decision and mix up islamic ideology with wrong kind of politics.
Thanks for your comment, actually the way you have meant secular person actually they are not, but rather the way they have been identified themselves as secular it’s a Eurocentric or Western ideology. But it is simply impossible in the case of cultural domination over religion in Bangladesh and even in India.The essence of religion has been influenced by the culture and practices of different regions in the islamicate society…since long long times. Your last line, however, implies an interesting point, if someone argues on religion and politics in Bangladesh based on a orientalist notion of the West that argument might not be as effective as we expect. That is why, I always expect to stop the representation of religion by the west…