- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Islam and democracy

Abdur Razzaqcomes across as a soft-spoken Bangladeshi lawyer who practiced in London and insists there is no contradiction between Islam and democracy. He is the assistant secretary-general of the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, the third largest political party in the South Asian nation.

Critics and some independent analysts fear his movement is determined to impose a theocracy on a country that has prided itself as a secular democracy.

However, he insisted yesterday over lunch at The Washington Times that his party supports a government that will protect civil rights, advance the role of women, protect children from abuse and guarantee religious rights of non-Muslims. He denounced terrorists who commit violence in the name of Islam.

“Islam by definition is a moderate tradition,” Mr. Razzaq said. “Those who are not moderate have deviated. Islam believes in democracy, human rights. … Islam does not believe in extremism.”

He said that Bangladeshis have routinely rejected terrorism and noted that the leaders of terrorist bombings in 2005, who have been executed, failed to incite further violence.

Mr. Razzaq rejected criticism of his party as an extremist organization. Although his party’s 2001 election platform described Jamaat as an “Islamic and socio-political organization [created] to establish the rule of Allah,” Mr. Razzaq said his party rejects the type of Shariah law as practiced in some Islamic nations.

“Shariah law is misinterpreted. It is not about chopping off hands and stoning adulterers to death,” he said. “It is about fighting poverty, establishing social justice and ensuring the rule of law.”

Critics, however, fear Jamaat would impose a harsh religious government if it came to power.

Abul Barkat, an economist at Bangladesh’s Dhaka University, is suspicious of the party’s growing financial clout, fueled by an estimated $200 million in annual profit from businesses connected to Jamaat members.

“Their central vision is to capture state power,” he told the Christian Science Monitor in an interview in September. “They are an economy within an economy.”

Other analysts have cited connections between some Bangladeshis arrested for terrorism and the youth wing of the party. The American Jewish Committee, in a review of Bangladesh politics, accused Jamaat of seeking the “theocratization of Bangladesh.”

Mr. Razzaq’s Jamaat party entered a coalition government with the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) in 2001 and held 17 seats in the 300-member parliament until the government ended its term in October.

Political violence soon erupted largely between supporters of the BNP and the rival Awami League, which accused the BNP of trying to rig elections that were originally scheduled in January. A military-backed caretaker government, which was supposed to have governed only long enough to prepare for the elections, declared a state of emergency and suspended civil and political rights.

“Political parties were fighting in the street,” Mr. Razzaq said.

He said the caretaker government is expected to hold new parliamentary elections by December 2008. On his weeklong visit in Washington, Mr. Razzaq is scheduled to meet with State Department officials and members of Congress.

c Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@ washingtontimes.com.

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