A constant “trickle” of conversions to Islam in Bangladesh

Police report a new trend, namely Hindu converts to violent Islam. Hindus have always been harassed by majority Muslims. Fundamentalists put pressure on weak and marginalised people. Saudi funds for madrasas and mosques are a source of disagreement. Even if they do not boost terrorism, Islamic centres may boost fundamentalism.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) – Increasingly, a number of Hindus have been converting to a violent and radical form of Islam, this according to a source that spoke to AsiaNews on condition of anonymity for security reason.

With a "steady trickle of converts from minority religions to Islam, especially among Hindus, it should not come as surprise that some new Muslims embrace the militant ideas of terrorism,” the source said.

This trend appeared in the wake of 1st July Dhaka café attack, which was followed by a crackdown by Bangladesh’s anti-terrorism forces.

During raids, police found Islamic militants who were making bombs in terrorist hideouts. However, what was new was the presence of “new believers”, i.e. adults who had led a seemingly comfortable life and changed religion. Not only that, these converts espoused Islam in its violent form. So far, no figures have been released.

“It is not unusual to see people converting to Islam,” the source said., and “the government is keen on saying that there are no forced conversions. However, this is something that is not discussed."

From police reports, one can “immediately infer that the converts are Hindu. None of this should come as surprise since Hindus are the largest minority and haves historically been the most victimised.”

According to the source, “They are also Bangla, physically closer to Muslims and can more easily assimilate, unlike tribals who are indigenous."

“Since partition between India and Pakistan in 1947, there has been a steady trickle of Hindus towards Islam pressured by fundamentalists, something made worse by the successive Indo-Pakistani wars.”

"The trickle is constant because Hindus are discriminated in the workplace and experience various forms of social harassment. Acts of violence like murder or land grabs are not uncommon. The latter are easier if the victim is a Hindu or a tribal.”

This "situation has not necessarily led to mass conversions, but has translated into a continuous exodus towards India or assimilation into the majority Muslim community."

Besides, conversion to Islam "is easy. It is quick with a simple statement of faith and a visit to a mosque. However, once made, there is no turning back; otherwise one is considered a traitor."

Converting, the source notes, tends to touch “weak people who already face discrimination and marginalisation, who are lured with promises of good jobs, better life, success and heroic deeds. For frustrated young people, this can be attractive.” This “transition to radicalism is quick because those who put pressure to convert are almost always radical."

According to another source, there is also concern over the "huge funding from Saudi Arabia to build madrasas and mosques across the country” (about US$ 12 billion to build 560 mosques and qurʾānic schools).

"Nobody knows what is taught in these schools," the source explained. In fact, "the government should exert tighter control over funding, teachers, and the kind of Islam that is taught." In fact, "banks are increasingly checking foreign money and how it is spent."

These centres can serve as a huge basin for Islamic groups given the number of young people studying there from an early age. And "the question remains: How can militants buy sophisticated and expensive weapons? Before, police only found a few rifles and guns in hideouts. Now, instead, they are finding the latest weapons.” What is more, “women are not exempt from radicalisation.”

As for Saudi money, the second source notes that “two trends are likely to clash. On the one hand, we have the Bangladesh government that wants to channel resources towards a tolerant and moderate Islam; on the other, we have those who provide the money who want to manage it on their own. This might not mean terrorism, but it will certainly mean more fundamentalism.”