Why Bangladesh is executing Jamaat-e-Islami leaders. A short history

At the time of its foundation, the Jamaat was less of a political organisation seeking for participation in the government and more a social instrument attempting to alter society along Islamic lines.

Updated: May 12, 2016 2:03 pm

Motiur Rahman Nizami of the Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami was hanged to death on Wednesday morning. Nizami is the fourth Jamaat leader to be executed since 2013. Nizami had been convicted of rape, torture and genocide during the Bangladesh war of liberation in 1971. He is reported to have killed 480 people during the war.

Also Read: Bangladesh hangs Jamaat chief Motiur Rahman for 1971 war crimes 

We look at the Jamaat-e-Islami and its chequered history in Bangladesh.

What is the Jamaat-e-Islami?

The Jamaat-e-Islami has its origins in India. It was an Islamic organisation founded in 1941 by philosopher Abul Ala Maududi. At the time of its foundation, the Jamaat was less of a political organisation seeking for participation in the government and more a social instrument attempting to alter society along Islamic lines.

The Jamaat was against Partition as well as the Muslim League. They wanted to build a unified Indian state under Islamic lines and considered principles of secularism and democracy to be haram. Further, Maududi believed that Islamisation of society needs to be brought about from above, through education and government reforms.

After Partition, Maududi along with a large number of leaders of the Jamaat moved to Pakistan and the party headquarters was established in Lahore. A separate wing of the Jamaat was established in India with its headquarters in Delhi. In Pakistan, the Jamaat modified its ideology significantly and started taking active part in politics. It also embarked on bringing about an Islamic revolution in the newly formed state.

What was the role of the Jamaat in the Bangladesh Liberation War (1971)?

Since the inception of Pakistan, Bengali nationalists in East Pakistan were demanding a separate state because of geographical separation as well as the linguistic and cultural differences that existed between the two sides. This culminated in a nine-month war of liberation between west and east Pakistan in 1971. Following the war, Bangladesh split from Pakistan and established itself as a separate state.

The Jamaat was vehemently opposed to the separation of West and East Pakistan, since it meant a split in the Islamic community. So, allying with the Pakistan Army, which was mostly manned by soldiers from West Pakistan, the Jamaat carried out large scale atrocities against Bengali nationalists and those demanding liberation. Bangladeshi authorities estimate that approximately three million people died in the war of liberation, 200,000 women were raped and about 10 million were forced to flee the country.

What has been the response of the Bangladesh government to Jamaat since 1971?

Upon the creation of Bangladesh, the new government under the leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman of the Awami League made illegal any party that used religion for political purposes. The Jamaat therefore, stopped existing in Bangladesh.

In 1979, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) came to power under the leadership of General Ziaur Rahman. The BNP lifted the ban on religion based political parties and the Jamaat came back to life.

When the alliance led by the Bangladesh Awami League came to power in 2008, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced that those found guilty of war crimes in 1971 will be prosecuted. As part of her program, she established the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) of Bangladesh. The United Nations and the Western governments are not completely convinced to lend support to the ICT as there remains issues about the tribunal not following standard international procedures. However, since the ICT was established in 2008, four Jamaat leaders have been executed under convictions of genocide and other atrocities. Abdul Quader Molla was the first Jamaat leader to have been hanged to death in December 2013. He was followed by Mohommad Kamaruzzaman in April 2015, Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed in November 2015 and Motiur Rahman Nizami who was executed on Wednesday.

PM Sheikh Hasina has come under huge international pressure to stop executing war criminals. The death sentence of Nizami had been protested against by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Authorities have also raised questions about the political intentions of Sheikh Hasina to weaken the opposition under the cover of prosecuting war criminals.

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