Criticism has been raised over comments by well known pro-Awami League columnist Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury at a function at New York where he made what many have perceived to be inappropriate comments, saying that the 99 names of Allah were the names of the ‘gods of Kafirs (unbelievers or pagans)’. He also made comments criticizing the Arabic language and the veil.
He made the comments at a seminar entitled, “Bangladesh: Past, Present and Future” at New York on the 3rd of July hosted by Bangladesh Permanent Mission to the UN. The comments have generated widespread criticism in the expatriate Bangladeshi community and amongst the online social media community as well.
Hosted by Dr. AK Abdul Momen, the Bangladesh Permanent Representative to the UN and the ambassador, Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury, a secular Bangladeshi columnist who writes regular columns and opinion pieces in favour of the ruling party the Awami League in Bangladesh, said, “The Arabic words we use today are all words which were used by the ‘Kuffar’, or the disbelievers before the advent of Islam, such as the 99 names of Allah- all were names of the gods of the ‘Kafirs’. Their language had words like Ar-Rahman, Gaffar, Gofur, et cetera. All these words were actually later adopted by Islam(!)”
Making derogatory remarks about the ‘burkha’ and the ‘hijab’ (traditional forms of veil worn by practicing Muslim women), he said, “This is the latest cultural involvement of the ‘Wahhabis’ in Bangladesh. I am surprised. They even expect class two girls to wear this! Can this be the teachings of a religion?”
He further said, “Muslim women and girls think that wearing the ‘burkha’ is the identity of Islam. Is this really true? Some wear the ‘burkha’ and still continue love affairs. Some even have affairs online. By donning the ‘burkha’ and yet aping Western practices, they are just fooling themselves.”
The pro-Awami columnist continued, “Times have changed. Many in Bangladesh are against wearing the veil. Social movements need to be raised against this blind religious practice.”
Confessing that he had a little early life education from a madrassah, he said,” There is a difference between Rasul (messenger) and Rasulullah (messenger of God) or Rasule-salam (messenger of peace). There are many who would call for my neck if I said that I was a Rasul (messenger). The collector of the largest number of Hadith, Abu Hurayra, means ‘Father of Cat’ and the name of Abu Bakr (one of the most revered of Companions and the first of Khulafaye-Rashidun) means ‘Father of Goat’. Those of the ‘Kafirs’ who converted later did not change their names.”
He made further remarks supporting Abdul Latif Siddiqui, the former Awami League Minister who had faced both nationwide and worldwide criticism for making derogatory remarks against Islam and the Prophet (pbuh), losing his job and being arrested temporarily as a result.
Gaffar Chowdhury, while making further comments on Islam in Bangladesh, said, “Wahhabism (fundamentalism) has made a lot of divisions between the Muslims. I believe that if Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had strongly curbed fundamentalism with a strong arm, Bangladesh would have been destroyed. Even if she may have hundreds of faults and errors, she is the true symbol of secularism in Bangladesh today.”
Many in the audience stated that they felt extremely uncomfortable at the detour of discussion to the sensitive topic of undue criticism of Islam and its tenets. When asked of his opinion, Abdul Mukit Chowdhury, the convener of the American branch of the Bangladesh Muktijoddha Sangsad, the freedom fighters association, and one of those present at the seminar, said, “The above issue is highly deplorable. Whichever platform or ideology we belong to, nobody should make such remarks about Allah (swt), the Prophet (pbuh), Islam and the veil.”