Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina today announced that her government will construct 560 model mosques and an Islamic university with the Saudi assistance, in an attempt to woo hardline Islamists ahead of the parliamentary elections scheduled next month.
Speaking at an Islamic clerics rally in Dhaka, Ms Hasina urged the clerics not to be agitated by anti-Islam propaganda on social media, saying her government has enacted tougher laws to expose to justice perpetrators of any malicious campaign regarding the religion.
“I know that a lot of propaganda spreads on social media…do not pay any heed to them,” she said.
The premier said that her government has introduced tough cyber-crime laws to deal with such malicious campaigns and “anyone who spreads such false information would be exposed to justice.”
She said the Saudi government will assist her government in building the mosques and the Islamic university, the Dhaka Tribune reported.
Ms Hasina’s Awami League party is considered as the secular party while her rival Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) is close to hardliners.
Her move to build hundreds of mosques is seen as an attempt to woo Islamist voters who have been traditionally voting for Zia’s BNP and her ally Jamaat-e-Islami, say to experts.
The rally was organised by Al-Hiyatul Ulya Lil-Zami’atil Qawmiya Bangladesh, the highest organisation of Dawra-e-Hadith of Qawmi madrasa, to honour the PM following her government’s recognition of certifications offered by non-government madrasas as equivalent to postgraduate degrees.
Thousands of students and teachers of Qawmi madrasas attended the rally.
In a rare instance, the government earlier deferred Sunday’s public exams to allow teachers and students of the Islamic seminaries to attend the rally.
On September 18, parliament passed a bill to recognise the Dawra-e-Hadith degree as equivalent to a post-graduate degree in Islamic Studies and Arabic.
A large number of students are enrolled in Qawami madrasas in Muslim majority Bangladesh and the government’s recognition to its highest degree appeared as a step to woo the Islamic clerics ahead of general elections.
At the rally, Qawmi leaders expressed their desire to see the prime minister in power for a third consecutive term.
“Since Sheikh Hasina has recognised (the top Qawmi madrasa degree) we want her to come to power again, so that she can fulfil the rest of our demands,” Qawmi leader Fazlul Karim said.
The speakers said “there is a change in Bangladesh now, and Qawmi leaders were not able to receive a prime minister before, with such warmth, because none had listened to their demands.”