Hifazat leaders trying to meet Hasina over their opposition to Bangabandhu statue

Hifazat-e Islam leaders are now seeking an audience with the prime minister to explain their opposition to construction of the sculpture of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, which has sparked intense debate in political and cultural arenas.

Mamunul Haque, joint secretary general of the Islamist group whose comments triggered the debate, revealed their efforts to meet Sheikh Hasina at a virtual discussion organised by London-based Runner Media on current affairs.

“Our discussions with the administration are ongoing. Our representatives contacted the home minster (Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal), but he could not give us time as he was busy,” said Mamunul.

“And no-one can talk to the prime minister all of a sudden. An administrative procedure needs to be followed. Those who coordinate with us on behalf of the government are advising us. We hope we will be able to talk to the highest level,” he added.

Hifazat and different other radical groups are opposed to the move to erect a statue of the Father of the Nation in Dhaka’s Dholairpar to mark his birth centenary.

Besides Mamunul, Hifazat's new chief Junaid Babunagari, and Islami Andolan Bangladesh’s Nayeb-e-Ameer Sayed Faizul Karim are among the Islamist leaders who have spoken against the statue in separate programmes recently.

Some Awami League leaders have reacted sharply to the position of the Islamists on the statue issue, but new State Minister for Religious Affairs Faridul Haque Khan hopes to talk them out of the hardline stance.

Many political and cultural groups have protested against the Islamists’ threat to tear down statues, and demanded arrest of Mamunul and others for their remarks on Bangabandhu’s statue.

On his part, Mamunul has alleged that the activists are trying to portray the issue as a confrontation between the “Islamic scholars” and Bangabandhu.

“We’ve made it clear time and again that we have full respect for Bangabandhu as a national leader,” he said.

“The issue has nothing to do with Bangabandhu, it's about statues. We’ve said it clearly that our position is against all the statues, no matter if it is of Ziaur Rahman, or my father, or even (Prophet Mohammad),” he added.

Mamunul backed Babunagari’s threat to tear down statues. “We’ve learnt words ‘pull down’ from the prime minister. These are political language. Our people might have picked these up from her,” he said.

He also explained his anti-government remarks at religious gatherings. “I have to address the government out of a sense of responsibility,” he said.

Criticising Shahriar Kabir, the president of Ekattorer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee who has raised voice against the objection to statues, Mamunul said, “He (Kabir) did not fight the Liberation War, but dupes the nation by posing as a freedom fighter. Kader Siddiqui has said this,” Mamunul said.

While criticising Prof Muhammed Zafar Iqbal, the Hifazat leader demanded that the government drop the theory of evolution by British scientist Charles Darwin from the curriculum.

“Zafar Iqbal wants the theory of Darwin in the textbooks. Those who believe in this theory are atheists,” Mamunul said.

He remained tight-lipped when another participant of the discussion, lawyer Nijhoom Majumder, pointed out that according to the Sharia law, Hifazat leaders do not have the authority to declare anyone atheist.

The Islamist leader left the discussion when the moderator spoke about plans to erect a statue of Bangabandhu in Muslim-majority Turkey.