Public Education and the Reproduction of Religious Intolerance: The Case of Bangladesh
Public education is the least understood subject in South Asia. The first thing to be made clear in this context is how different has been the birth of public education in South Asia from that of Europe or the West. Take the case of France, for instance, where the Third Republic, almost in contradistinction to the educational policies of the Church and the monarchist parties (the policies of which were incidentally mainly religious in context), established free, secular and compulsory education. In fact, laws were passed in June 1881 and March 1882 proclaiming the ‘inescapable duty’ of the state to provide education. But more fundamentally, as one critic pointed out, “public schools had to be independent of religion because the republican state was secular by definition.” In South Asia, particularly in Bangladesh, public education did not come in the wake of a conflict between the mosque and the state. On the contrary, the state came to aid the mosque so that the latter could render education to the public.
South Asia is not alone when it comes to the business of blending state and religion, although Mahatma Gandhi did try to make sense of the South Asian condition. According to Gandhi, “those who try to separate religion from politics, understands neither religion nor politics.” It is not surprising therefore that when ‘secularism’ came to impress upon the minds of the South Asians it differed considerably from the experience of the West. In the West, secularism heralded the separation of the Church from the affairs of the state. In South Asia, however, secularism began its journey by advocating equal rights of all religions to preach and practice, including having the hope that the state would aid all religions in their endeavour equally. But since the state is the condensed expression of power, any blind application of ‘equal access’ could end up reproducing the power of the powerful without even deliberately blocking the access of the disempowered. State’s flirtation with populism here cannot be ruled out, although its implications, as it has been the case with Bangladesh, remained ominous.
In Bangladesh, partly because of colonial experience and partly because of the precise nature of the elite, there is a simple equation of the otherwise complex political categories and that is: public = state = government = regime. Often the idiosyncrasies of the leadership could be added to this linear regression. But more profound and sinister is the governmentalization of the public and the state. An example will suffice here. Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, a governmental agency responsible for counting things at the national level, makes an interesting entry when indicating the type of educational institutions present in Bangladesh. And that entry is: ‘Government University,’ numbering 11. Since this makes Dhaka University a ‘Government University,’ the agency must be credited for projecting the practice than what the Statute of Dhaka University Order claims! But why should ‘autonomous body’ be referred to as a ‘government body’? In a highly governmentalized society the distinction between the two is fuzzy and meaningless. There is also the fact that nearly 94 percent of Dhaka University’s budget comes from the state coffers and the government of the day plays a critical role in channelizing that money. The politically composed financial dependence of the University on the government has been such that often a change in the national regime would stimulate a change in the administration of the University. But then, the governmentalization of the University often creates conditions for the power of the government to prevail over the wisdom of the University in the business of knowledge production at the tertiary level. There has been very little research as to why Dhaka University ended up with three ‘like-minded’ departments: Department of Islamic History, Department of Islamic Studies, and more recently, Department of World Religions.
But populism plays the most in the government’s handling of education at the primary level. Primary education was made compulsory through an Act only at the fag end of the highly militarized Ershad regime in 1990. And as expected, yet another government body was formed in 1992 called the Primary and Mass Education Department to work on the Act. A year later the Department, under pressure from the newly elected but no less populist government, declared that compulsory primary education has started in the whole country! But then, in keeping with populism, there have been concerted efforts on the part of the government to influence and shape school curricula. As Talukder Maniruzzaman pointed out, “The (state-owned) Textbook Board came under increasing pressure from different quarters to Islamize the books and subsequently more and more Islamic contents were introduced.” But these were more politically composed ‘Islamic contents’ than the age-old dharmic values of Islam, one that rested on toleration, peace and humble living. More frighteningly, however, once the politically composed ‘Islamic contents’ got introduced it became politically suicidal for any regime to change them or even suggest their reversals! The proposed paper would discuss this issue in some details.
Ernest Gellner once suggested provocatively that it is the monopoly of legitimate education, rather than the monopoly of legitimate violence, that best defines the modern state. Battles over the control of schools and curricula certainly preoccupy governments and citizens around the world. Some of the sharpest conflicts have concerned the relationship between religion and education. In some cases secularists strive to purge schools of any religious content; in others, evangelical Christians or Islamists work to ensure that classrooms are infused with religious ethics, even governed by religious laws. Well-known contemporary disputes include those about the application of Shari’ah in Afghanistan and Iraq, the right to veil in French public schools, and the place of prayer in American schools.
By contrast, Beijing’s contention with various populations over religious belief and practice is little known beyond China’s borders. This paper will examine particular Chinese policies governing Islamic belief and practice in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, an area where Muslims predominate. Those policies – a combination of codified and informal state practices – seek to avert religious influence on education, a goal commonly found in many parts of the world. Yet when examined in detail, Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang prove much more ambitious than their counterparts in other secularist states, as they extend the zone of “protection” around students far beyond school walls. Students are not only forbidden to pray at school but warned against doing so anywhere else, and are prohibited as well from entering mosques or participating in informal religious study groups. At the same time, students must attend classes in atheism from middle school through university. This set of prohibitions and compulsory classes appears to aim at a striking goal: ending the social transmission of Islamic belief and practice among Uyghurs. The paper will explain how and why the relationship of Islam and education in Xinjiang has become so contentious.
Majlis: A Discourse Analysis of a Shiite Ritual in Pakistan
Reforming Kyrgyz Islam: Nomadic Customs vs. Islamic Shari’a
Islam among the nomadic Kyrgyz and Kazakhs has always been a controversial issue in Central Asian religious history and scholarship. The Kazakhs and the Kyrgyz have been called nominal Muslims for they do not fully practice and follow Islamic customs and law, Shari’a. Upon adopting Islam, the nomadic Kyrgyz and Kazakhs incorporated some of the basic beliefs and practices of this new religion rooted in sedentary culture into their own system of beliefs, which are based on nomadic socio-cultural values and worldview. Today, radical Islamic groups and organizations such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir, whose goal is to restore the Caliphate in the Islamic world, including Central Asia, are opposing many local customs and traditions which do not correspond to Shari’a. In other words, they want to reform or purify Kyrgyz Islam. This is, however, causing many problems in the society by dividing families because the great majority of Kyrgyz still have strong feelings about their centuries-old traditional customs and rituals which they inherited from their nomadic past. Using materials from fieldwork in southern Kyrgyzstan in 2002-2003, I will discuss this current religious conflict in contemporary Kyrgyz society and address the issue of banning or maintaining Kyrgyz nomadic traditions and customs, especially those associated with funerals.
How Does the March 2005 Revolution in Kyrgyzstan Transform the Discussion of Islam for the Historians of Central Asia?
At the end of March 2005, Kyrgyz opposition toppled the fourteen year-old government of President Askar Akaev. This revolution will change the ways in which we talk about popular uprising in Central Asia. The official media of the neighboring states such as Uzbekistan carefully censored the dissemination of the news regarding this revolution. One of the reasons for the repression of the news might be the existence of a significant Uzbek population in Kyrgyzstan. A more powerful neighbor of Kyrgyz Republic, China, on the other hand, covered the revolution moment by moment. The state-sponsored Chinese media, however, portrayed the Kyrgyz revolution as a chaotic event. Undoubtedly, Chinese government was concerned about its own Kyrgyz, Kazakh and Uighur populations who live across the border from Kyrgyzstan. Such tight control on public discourse is not new in Central Asia. Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Chinese and the Central Asian governments have been anxious about the possibility of nationalist, separatist or Islamist movements. The official rhetoric on this perceived threat has always blurred the lines between the nationalist, separatist and Islamist identities.
‘Purity’ (jie) and the Muslim Body Politic: Women’s Mosques, Gate-Keeping and Gender Equality in Central China’s Hui Muslim Communities
The presentation will be based on interpretations from on-going fieldwork in central Chinese religious communities on women’s sites of faith, voice and change, conceptualized as duiying kongjian (complementary space, a context-specific theorization developed from Lefebvre’s ‘counter-space’).Relevant to the theme of the conference, the institution of qingzhen nüsi or nüxue (women’s mosque or women’s [Koranic] school), with its gendered architecture and ground-rules, its boundaries of inclusion and exclusion, will be explored for important symbolic and historical delineations of Chinese Muslim women’s notions of selfhood, sexuality and spiritual aspiration. The presentation will link related concepts of equality, justice and self-determination to the paradigmatic, if contested, concept defining of local female Islamic culture: jie, jiejing or ganjing (purity). Its historical trajectory from feminine paradigm to legitimization of women’s own religious space is the trajectory, it is argued, from essentialized feminine submissiveness to women’s claims to rightful status and participation.
Gender, Bodies, and Deference: Reproducing Hierarchy in Central Asia
This paper pursues a topic that has long interested me: the expression of deference and heirarchy through situating the body spatially. In Uzbekistan and more broadly in Central Asia, gender and age hierarchies both shape social interactions. Whether in settings where men and women mix, or in gender-segregated gatherings, Uzbeks (who will be the subject of this paper, though I have observed the same rituals among Tajiks, Kazakhs and Kyrgyz) enact deference to elders and “superiors” in the ways that they choose a place to sit, as well as through a series of expected gestures and expressions. Some 750 years ago, when the Arab traveller Ibn Battuta visited Uzbak Khan, he observed the design of social placement and gesture as women expressed deference to husbands through pouring drink, and as wives of the khan expressed their superiority to the khan’s sons through seating arrangements. Changing social roles, gender mixing, and women’s rise to positions of power in Uzbekistan in the 20th century brought about an adaptation of body placement and gesture to express deference to new hierarchies in new settings.
‘Moderate’ and ‘Extreme’ Islam in Southeast Asia: Origins and Contemporary Relevance
Indonesia has been challenged in recent years. For decades, and as I shall argue for centuries, scholars, travellers and observers of the Malay-Indonesian world have claimed that the Muslims found in this region are the less fanatical siblings of their West Asian “brethren” – namely Arabs. Arabisation a hundred years ago, and today, refers to the corruption of these “less fanatical” – or “moderate” in today’s language – Indonesians. Arabisation is the flip side of extremism. Quite simply, it produces “extremists” who are antithetical to “moderates.” Especially after the October 2002 bombings in Bali we hear an almost nostalgic regret for Indonesia’s lost innocence as many lament the disruption of the country’s one-time status as a haven for moderate Islam. The bombings were a sign that moderate Indonesian Muslims as well were becoming extremists. Let there be no misunderstanding, I believe the bombings in Bali were historic and signified a precipitous rise in the scale and nature of political violence in Indonesia, and in contemporary politics globally. I am interested, however, with how one locates and describes the attacks and, therefore, how one understands them. I suggest that the dichotomy between moderate and extremist as applied to Islam in the Malay-Indonesian world is unhelpful towards understanding the ascendancy of political extremism and violence. What is it then which makes it possible for many contemporary observers to speak of a moderate versus an extreme Islam in Southeast Asia? I would like to offer a tentative answer to the question by turning to the past.
Ulama, Women's Rights, Muslim Laws and the Islamic State in Malaysia
The Islamic fundamentalist or political Islamist movements in Malaysia are no different, either in their ideological constructs or in their social or political aspirations, from most other Islamic movements in the Arab and/or Middle-Eastern countries. These movements strive to “Islamise” society by imposing a collective enforcement of Islamic public morals. They seek to organize (or re-organize) the practices of social life, including the minute details of family life, through the implementation of what they deem as ‘truly Islamic’ or ‘authentic Islamic values’
Muslim Masculinity in post-Soviet Space after 9/11: Money, State, War and Masculinity
This paper argues that Muslim masculinity is a heterogeneous category which is shaped in the interface of three major processes: 1) the neo-liberal reforms and the ways these reforms polarize men in term of wealth and dispossess women. As money is becoming an increasing factor of hegemonic masculinity, the new dramatic wealth differentiation has reshaped masculinity. 2) The further criminalization of Muslim masculinities in Russia. Such a criminalization which has its roots in the Soviet and pre-Soviet eras has increased under the influence of the war in Chechnya and the rise of slamic movements in Central Asia. Muslims, particularly Chechen men are uspected of being terrorists. However, criminalization goes beyond errorist suspicions, Muslim men in Moscow and St Petersburg are conceived s deviants in general. The USA responses to 9/11 have provided new impetus and legitimation for this criminalization. 3) The local and historical understanding of Muslims themselves, articularly Muslim men, of their masculinity. I consider the gender relations within Muslim communities and the ways masculinity is construed within such relations. The paper analyses these three major aspects through the prism of daily life and day to day interactions, exploring the role of state and media in creating particular stereotypes of Muslim masculinity.
Whither the Umma? Community, Identity, and Empire: The Muslims of Late Imperial Russia.
The goal of this paper is to investigate the dynamics of identity construction among the Muslims of late imperial Russia by focusing on the organized systems of meaning that produced them. What I suggest in this paper is a shift from the texts produced by imperial bureaucrats( secular and religious) to the indigenous discourses and practices of the Muslims themselves. I regard these discourses as valuable texts for understanding the formation of consciousness. I privilege the discursive practices of the Muslims of Russia and challenge the tradition/modernity paradigm upon which conventional studies of Islam were founded. In doing so, I approach these discourses as both a canvas of thoughts and an avenue to understanding those thoughts. Hence, in trying to place the social identity of the Muslims in the broad imperial context, I seek to examine the ways in which Muslims constructed their identities of SELF by investigating how Muslims situated themselves in the broad imperial Russian context, as well as that of the Turkic community, and the community of believers - the umma.
Modern States, Governance and Crisis of Muslim Masculinity in Southwestern and Central Asia.
The production of Futuwatnama
(Book of Masculine Virtues/Attributes), similar to the Siyasatnama
(Book of Kings/Rulership)genre, has a long history in Muslim Southwestern and Central Asia
, both among Persian and Turki speakers. Such vernacular texts while heavily influenced by Islamic moral precepts are also reflective of local cultural values. They are widely read, told and re-told throughout the region. This paper will examine the impact of person-centered sovereignty-based rules of governance in ideologically driven (nationalist, Marxist, Islamist, secular modernist, etc.) centralizing post-colonial nation-states of the twentieth century upon the traditional ideals of mardaanagi/jawaan mardlik
(virtuous manliness) among the subjects of such states in Muslim southwestern and Central Asia
. The impact of state failure/collapse and consequent civil/proxy wars, population displacements, international interventions, and perpetuation of conditions of subject-hood producing crisis of masculinity will be also discussed.
Historians of Central Asia have been attempting to deconstruct the ways in which Central Asians define their “identities.” Scholarly attempts at defining Central Asian identities, however, shifted their focus after September 11, 2001. Now, scholars are faced with the reality that although Islam has always been an essential component of any discussion on Central Asian cultures, it has taken on more of a menacing characteristic. My paper explores the new challenges that confront the historians of the region when they discuss so-called transformation of Central Asian cultures during the post-9/11 era. As a cultural historian of Soviet Central Asia, I suggest that the scholars of Central Asian cultures are presently grappling with the resilience of Islam in the region. By examining Kyrgyz Houses of Culture of the 1920s and 1930s, I argue that many Central Asians viewed Islam as an articulation of a cultural community rather than as a strict expression of religious identity.
Their targets for this project of “Islamisation” are first and foremost women—women’s rights and status in the family and society--and woman’s body. The Islamist party PAS in Malaysia, for example, has not clearly or succinctly made public their “Islamic state” blueprint/manifesto but judging from their policies in government and the implementation of their conception of Hudud laws in Kelantan and Terengganu thus far it does not give us—modern Malaysian Muslims--any encouragement to expect that their idea of an “Islamic state” will be so benign as to promote gender equality or women’s rights. Neither should one also expect that the kind of ‘Islamic state’ that they plan to establish should they come to power in federal government to be sensitive to issues of fundamental liberties and the democratic rights of other religious communities.