Imams should be free to speak their mind

Imams (Muslim clerics) are getting arrested in Bangladesh for refusing to read government issued Khutba (sermon)!

I remember one Friday one of the directors of the Mosques in London where I lead Friday prayers requested that I should submit to him my sermon in advance. I arrived with the copy of my speech and gave it to him. He told me to wait while he checked through the text. He took a pen and crossed off various parts of my speech. He did not approve of all my points. When he had finished editing my speech he handed the pages back to me.

I told him that he could keep the speech as it was printed for him. I had the speech in my memory and I was planning to deliver it without the notes. I thanked him politely, greeted him nicely and I walked away from his office. As I was leaving the office I could see his face turning pale in disbelief, red in anger and then frowning with frustration.

I took up my position at the pulpit and delivered my sermon as I had planned originally. It didn’t please the management but it was an important message the congregation needed to hear. The purpose of Friday sermon is to address issues that concern people, provide spiritual and practical solutions to the problems and uplift people’s spirit with hope and aspirations.

The Imam should speak in the local language of the people so that they could understand. I have always believed that Imams should be free to speak their mind. I would simply resign if I were given a gagging order. As an Imam I am already given clear and defined parameters by God and His messenger and as long as I abide by those principles no human being should have the right to silence my right to free speech. That is what I have done for the last 25 years and I pray I can continue doing this until I breath my last breathe.

In today’s Bangladesh, the current secular fundamentalist government of Hasina is writing the religious speeches for the Friday prayer sermons to be read out by its many “scholars for dollars” across the country and if you dissent you risk being arrested, harassed and sacked from your job. If I were in Bangladesh I would have been arrested long time ago for speaking the truth. Under this monstrous government and its murderous party I would have been lynched.

These militant secular fundamentalists have no shame in Bangladesh. They are trying to spin a brilliant web of lies and deceit in the eyes of the international community by blaming the 95% of the population who are religiously minded as terrorists. If an Imam speaks his mind about the political murder and mayhem that has gripped the country he is labelled as a terrorist and anyone who opposes their foul status quo gets arrested, abducted, disappeared, tortured and even killed in the line of crossfire while the international community turns a blind eye.

These are the same tricks successive military junta and despots of Egypt and Algeria have used against its own people for decades. Bangladeshi government has simply borrowed the same subjugation techniques to terrorise its own citizens. However, in the mean time they have been awarded international aid, monetary incentives, red carpet welcome, access to intelligence, military hardware, security training and specialist consultancy by various western backed agencies and governments.

Freedom of Imams to think, speak and explore the deeper theological and philosophical issues of Islam is essential to its culture of organic contextualised jurisprudence. It is paramount to the development of knowledge and training of local people to become more conscientious citizens. Their role is vital is teaching people the need to becoming economically independent, to strive for excellence, to become more socially and spiritually productive and most importantly to become ambassadors of peace and justice in the world. True Imams play moderating role if given the freedom and resources.

Bangladeshi government, just like the Egyptian dictator Sisi, is afraid of people thinking for themselves. They are afraid of educated masses who also competent and confident with their faith. They are happy to have puppet Imams who would proliferate their political message of madness. They would rather have people immerse in deep ignorance of their religion and practice superstitious mumbo jumbo including veneration of saints, graves and relics.

Hasina has an army of Imams who would be happy to sell their soul for a bit of grace from their paymasters. She has cleverly trained enough secular Imams who would join her secular fundamentalist intellectuals to socially engineer religionless in Bangladesh. She wishes to create a secular paradise in Bangladesh and banish any religious sentiments to hell of her own making.

I have bad news for Hasina. Many foolish and arrogant people have tried to silence genuine Imams in the past, Islam, as a religion did not recede, if anything, the reverse happened. Today Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. Hasina and her cronies can create a smokescreen, arrest, and torture and execute as many Imams as her bloodthirsty heinous demand. The truth is Islam will remain a religion for peace and justice in the world and it will continue to grow attracting people who are truly looking for inner contentment and balance.