11/17/2014, 00.00
BANGLADESH

Rajshahi: Islamists kill university professor for banning burka in classroom

by Nozrul Islam
Shafiul Islam, 48, was hacked to death on his way home. An extremist group claims responsibility for his murder on Facebook. The professor was known for his liberal views and for belonging to Baul, a syncretistic spiritual group.

Rajshahi (AsiaNews) - A group of men attacked Shafiul Islam, a sociology professor at Bangladesh's Rajshahi University (RU), as he went home, hacking him to death because he was not afraid to speak to his students about his liberal outlook in opposition to more conservative views of  Islam. The killers struck him on the head and shoulders. He died later in hospital.

The victim was a Baul, a group of mystic minstrels from a variety of religious traditions, mostly Sufi Muslims and Hindus who celebrate celestial love through music, transcending differences of belief.

Around five hours after the murder, a fundamentalist group called Ansar al-Islam Bangladesh-2 opened a Facebook account claiming responsibility for the act.

The page read, "Our Mujahideens (fighters) executed a 'Murtad' (apostate) today in Rajshahi who had prohibited female students in his department to wear 'Burka' (veil)."

It also quoted a local news report from 2010 saying the professor had forced female students to remove their veils before entering his classroom or before taking exams.

However, "He moved to ban full-face veils from the classrooms and examination halls" because "full-face veils could be used to cheat in the examinations,' a colleague said.

The page also shows a picture of the slain teacher with a red X-mark on it. In Bangla, is says, "AKM Shafiul Islam (file closed)/Offence: Apr, 2010/ Punishment: Nov, 2014."

This is followed by a statement in English - "We don't forget. Insha'Allah we will not forget others" - and the names of these 'others'.

Three of them are Shafiul Islam, murdered blogger Rajib Haider, and one Ashraful Islam. They are marked with red 'X' marks, and captioned: 'finished'.

The other two pictures are of bloggers Asif Mohiuddin and Rakib Mamun. The caption for them says, "First attempt: completed; second attempt: coming soon."

Speaking to AsiaNews, a local source, anonymous for security reasons, said that Shafiul Islam's "murder is not so much about the burka affair; it is something deeper."

Open-minded, the slain professor "had been receiving threats for a while, but also thanks to his work, he was not afraid of expressing his more open and tolerant views."

Shafiul Islam taught in fact at Rajshahi University, Bangladesh's main hotspot because it is a stronghold of Jamaat-e-Islami, the country's most right-wing party.

"In terms of internal structures, Jamaat has been undermined by the Awami League's youth movement," the source said, "but it is still present and makes its presence felt during clashes, sometimes violently, with various groups." The Awami League is a secularist party, currently in power in Bangladesh.

At the same time, "many Bangladeshi Muslims are resisting fundamentalism: people like Shafiul Islam, who knew that he was in danger, but still went ahead with his ideas."

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