A Reflection on ‘Tetul Hujur’ and Hefazot’s Counter-movement

By M Ahmedullah

This is a slightly edited version of what I first posted on Facebook on 20 September 2020.

I was thinking about writing something on ‘Tetul Hujur’ (Shah Ahmed Shafi, the leader of Hefajat-e-Islam Bangladesh) after he died a few days ago. However, as I am quite busy right now, I cannot dedicate any focused time to re-reading some of the media reports and discussions that took place in 2013 needed to write something valuable. I will write something more substantial in a blog article when I have more time, but now I present a few points on what I think will be his enduring and significant legacy.

As far as I can judge, Tetul Hujur’s intervention in 2013 turned upside down the tide of the Shahbagh Movement’s excesses and their ‘moral’ fury of Bengali nationalism that was raging all around us and spreading and intensifying at lightning speed. I enclosed the term ‘moral’ in inverted commas for two contrasting and opposing reasons.

On the one hand, the participants of the ‘Shahbagh Movement’ felt, wrongly, in my view, that morality was on their side and that their fury of Bengali nationalism was not only morally justified but arrived at through moral reasonings – based on some delusions that I will explain later in my longer blog piece. But, on the other hand, singing and chanting slogans demanding the hanging of people without fair trial was, in my opinion, something immoral.

I have had a chance to observe, read and talk to a lot of people about ‘Tetul Hujur’ and the action of the Hefazot people in 2013 against the Shahbagh Movement. As a result, I have come to realise that there are both supporters and opponents of ‘Tetul Hujur’ and his movement. Some hate him and his movement intensely, while I believe a large number of people in Bangladesh and the Bangladeshi Diaspora – which may even be the majority – even though they do not agree with many of Hefazot’s policies and programmes, still admire the Hujur and Hefazot for what they have achieved regarding the Shahbagh Movement.

When the BNP and the Jamaat were trying to use the fury of Hefazot supporters and many in the wider country to deploy against the Awami League and their control of power in Bangladesh and unleash violence and revolution against them, ‘Tetul Hujur’ used his long experience and wisdom to distance himself and their movement from what the BNP and Jamaat were trying to achieve.

‘Tetul Hujur’ and Hefazot had particular aims and objectives, different from that of BNP and Jamaat. But, setting BNP and Jamaat aside, the struggle between Hefazot and Shahbagh Movement became a struggle for the identities, cultures and traditions of Bangladesh and the people of Bangladesh. For a long time, the Bengali nationalists in Bangladesh, through delusion and external influence, developed a very strange and wrong idea of what constitutes the culture and cultural identity of Bangladesh and the people of Bangladesh. It was evident from the slogans and activities of some participants of the Shahbagh Movement that – whether on the ground or writing from armchairs at home or abroad – many of them got thoroughly carried away.

Many people in Bangladesh felt and knew what the Shahbagh Movement people were up to, but they did not want to be used by the BNP and Jamaat for their political ends. However, the Hefazot’s counter-movement against the Shahbagh Movement, under the leadership of ‘Tetul Hujur’, caused a permanent and devastating blow to the aspirations of the Bengali nationalists in Bangladesh. It showed that the people of Bangladesh would fight for, protect and assert their real identity, cultures and traditions.

By not siding with the revolution that the BNP and Jamaat were trying to create against the Awami League’s control of the government in Bangladesh, ‘Tetul Hujur’ did a wise thing. If he had directed or sanctioned continued protest against the Awami League, there would have been many unnecessary deaths, property damaged, people crippled and houses and buildings burned. It is also likely that behind the scenes, extreme threats were also delivered against ‘Tetul Hujur’ and the Hefazot leadership, which may have influenced their decision to calm down after the heavy security forces action at the Motijeel Shapla roundabout against Hefazot supporters.

From the Hefazot’s counter-movement against the Shahbag Movement, we now know more about the real mood and feelings of the country. As such, this provides a good opportunity and a better chance for people from diverse ideological, political and religious backgrounds to develop better empathy concerning each other and negotiate mutually respectful spaces for diverse aspirations. But this will take time. One-sided domination of narratives about who we are, where we came from, etc., long-held by delusionary Bengali nationalists, came to an end due to the excesses of the Shahbagh Movement and the challenge created by the Hezaot’s counter-movement under the leadership of Shah Ahmed Shafi, the ‘Tetul Hujur’.