BANGLADESH: FATWA BAN ANGERS ISLAMIC EXTREMISTS; TURKMENISTAN AGAIN

Religious Liberty Prayer List - No. 103 - Wed 07 Feb 2001

-------------------------------------------------------------------
BANGLADESH: FATWA BAN ANGERS ISLAMIC EXTREMISTS; TURKMENISTAN AGAIN
-------------------------------------------------------------------

Present-day Bangladesh was part of British-ruled India until 1947.
After independence, the new state of Pakistan consisted of two
wings, West Pakistan and East Pakistan. East then suffered under
the colonial-style exploitation of the wealthier, more powerful but
less populated West Pakistan. Another devastating civil war brought
independence to East Pakistan in 1971, which became Bangladesh.
Although Bangladesh founded its new constitution on democracy and
secularism, Islam was declared the state religion in 1988 and is
strongly linked to the national identity.

On 31 December 2000, two high court judges handed down a verdict
banning any fatwa (a holy order which all Muslims must carry out)
or legal opinion, not delivered by a court. The judgment also asked
Parliament to enact a law to punish severely anybody issuing a
fatwa. A lawyer who was influential in the case rightly pointed out
that 'a fatwa is unconstitutional and against people's fundamental
human rights'. (In rural Bangladesh, Muslim clerics frequently
issue fatwas based on Sharia Law, and thus often victimise women in
issues such as marriage and divorce.)

The extremist Islamic Unity Alliance immediately denounced the
judges as apostates and threatened to launch a nationwide campaign
against the verdict. After clashes between Islamic and human rights
groups in Dhaka, the Supreme Court of Bangladesh issued a six-week
stay on the High Court verdict.

Now in February, protests and violence have escalated. Islami Oikyo
Jote, a radical Muslim coalition, declared a one-day general strike
and called for anyone supporting the ruling to be 'punished by
death'. When other protestors clashed with demonstrators who
supported the fatwa ban, one policeman was murdered and 15 others
were seriously injured by the pro-fatwa protesters beating them
with sticks. Elsewhere, protestors blocked a major highway. In
Dhaka, a pro-fatwa rally also demanded a ban on non-governmental
organisations, which it said violate the spirit of Islam.

The government is standing firm, vowing not to allow Islamic
fundamentalists to 'retard development and social justice' by
issuing 'provocative, undemocratic and unlawful' fatwas to 'achieve
their ulterior motives'. Bangladesh has a small Christian minority
of 0.4% with much growth amongst evangelicals in recent years.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY:

* for political stability in Bangladesh, that the government and
the judiciary will stand firm in their commitment to secularism
and human rights and not be intimidated by Islamic extremists.

* that the moderate Muslim population of Bangladesh would not be
swayed by radical Islamic nationalism and thus become a serious
threat to non-Muslims.

* for safety for Christians as Islamic fervour and ire amongst
Muslim extremists is stoked by the fatwa ban.

SUMMARY TO USE IN BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE:
------------------------------------------------------------
FATWA BAN ANGERS ISLAMIC EXTREMISTS IN BANGLADESH

Although Bangladesh has a secular government, Islam is the state
religion and is strongly aligned with national identity. Until
recently, Muslim clerics have been free to issue fatwas against
'sinners', usually women. (A fatwa is an Islamic holy order that
Muslims are required to carry out.) In December, the High Court
ruled that fatwas are unconstitutional and are to be banned.
Extremist Islamic groups in Bangladesh are violently protesting
this verdict saying it is anti-Islamic. They murdered one policeman
and severely injured 15 others in a violent attack during a
demonstration. The government is standing firm, supported by many
human rights bodies. Bangladesh has a 0.4% Christian minority. Pray
for stability and for Islamic fundamentalism to be kept at bay.

--------------------------------------------

TURKMENISTAN: URGENT PRAYER REQUEST

The violent oppression of believers in Turkmenistan has been
covered recently in RLPs 097,099,102 and the situation for several
of them is now critical. The believers who were being punished with
torture for possessing Turkmen language Jesus videos, Batir Nurov
(aged 23), Umit Koshkarov (25) and their pastor, Shokhrat Piriyev
(27), have gone into hiding and a massive manhunt is underway.
Nikolai Ognev, another believer, has been arrested and is being
interrogated about the whereabouts of the others. Also, Baptist lay
preacher Shagildy Atakov (38) is reportedly close to death in a
labour camp in Seydy. Pray for God to intervene, for a miracle.

The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. James 5:16b