Debate over ‘un-Islamic’ rally overshadows Bangla New Year celebrations
Dhaka, Apr 14 (EFE).- Bangladeshis welcomed Bengali New Year Friday amid security concerns and debate over an alleged “un-Islamic” annual rally.
The highlight of festivity on Pahela Baishakh, the first day of the Bengali calendar, is Mangal Shobhajatra, an annual rally taken out since 1989.
People carry replicas of birds, fish, and animals, organized by the fine arts students of Dhaka University for the rally, considered a symbol of unity, peace, and the Bangla secular identity.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) selected the rally as an intangible cultural heritage in 2016.
However, a legal notice served to authorities on Apr.9 called for its halt, saying the rally “hurts the beliefs of Muslim people,” and was a “visible representation of the insult to the religion Islam.”
The authorities were initially unmoved as the country’s education ministry on Apr.11 ordered all the schools and colleges to organize similar New Year celebration rallies.
Similar instructions were also given to Islamic seminaries.
A guardian of a student at a Dhaka school challenged the order at the Dhaka High Court on Thursday, though the court did not issue any ruling over the matter and kept it for hearing next week.
“Islamic scholars are saying that this rally conflicts with Islam… Moreover, our constitution guarantees freedom of religion. No one can be forced to follow a religion. We said in our petition that this order is also in conflict with our constitution,” lawyer Azim Uddin Patwary, representing the petitioner, told EFE.
In the face of resistance, the government on Thursday rescinded its order and instead asked schools to start the celebration with a rendition of a popular song by Bengali Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, “Esho hey Baisakh esho esho” (Come o Baisakh Come).
Islamic seminary students were told to start the festivities with the national anthem and recitation of the holy Quran verses.
However, deputy education minister Mohibul Hasan Chowdhury told EFE that the rally was canceled for students due to a prevailing heat wave and not because of a legal challenge or the fear of Islamists.
“Due to the heat wave, in the month of Ramadan, while fasting, if children join a rally, there is a chance of them suffering from heat stroke. This is why the rally was canceled,” Chowdhury said.
Mufti Imran Mazhari, the head of an Islamic school, termed the rally “un-Islamic.”
“I have never gone to Mangal Sobhajatra, It is un-Islamic,” Mazhari told EFE.
Cultural activists in the country protested the move to make the rally controversial.
“Those who are opposing Mangal Shobhajatra want to bring religion and culture face to face for their political gain. They are misinterpreting the religion,” Ghulam Quddus, president of the Sammilita Sangskritik Jote cultural group, told EFE.
Despite the controversy, the event on the Dhaka University campus went as planned, with hundreds joining it amid tight security.
Alongside the rally, people of all ages, religions, and ethnicities joined the New Year celebrations with songs, poetry recitations, fairs, and many cultural programs that began at dawn. EFE