Bangladesh, as a newborn country that emerged in the late 20th century, holds a good reputation for religious harmony. Individuals from diverse religious backgrounds banded together to fight for independence against the Pakistani forces, ultimately defeating them.
However, the country has gone through a fundamental political and social transformation over the past few decades. The recent outbreak of violent activities in the name of religion within the country has been a serious worry for the civilians.
The attack on religious minorities some months ago at Shalla of Sunamganj District stands contradictory to the spirit of nationalism of the country. It is to be kept in mind that the assailants manipulate the commoners' state of mind to adopt violence.
Anyway, these activities have no connection with any religion in the true sense. Precisely speaking, no religion in the world promotes violence and terrorism. Every religion promotes eternal peace and universal brotherhood.
Today we commemorate the National Poet of Bangladesh, Kazi Nazrul Islam on his 122nd birth anniversary, who will remain forever one of the torchbearers of interfaith harmony in the Indian subcontinent.
His cosmopolitan humanism makes him extremely relevant in the discussion of religious harmony in Bangladesh, even after hundred years he had started to write.
Nazrul, throughout all his life, was highly inspired by the famous classical Sufi saying, "Man 'arafa nafsahu faqad 'arafa Rabbahu" which means, he who knows himself, knows his Lord. He invoked God through the unalloyed devotion of the heart.
In his poem 'Samyavadi' (The Egalitarian) he compared the human heart to all the holy places like Neelachal, Kashi, Mathura, Vrindavan, Budh-Gaya, Jerusalem, Medina, Ka'aba, etc. where the great emancipators of mankind have found the Truth.
He tried to unify the Hindu-Muslim community focusing on the identity of "Human Being". He wanted to bridge the gap that was created between the Hindus and the Muslims due to the "Divide and Rule" policy of the British administration. Nazrul declared in one of his songs:
"We are two flowers on the same stem- Hindu-Mussulman.
Muslim, its pearl of the eye, Hindu, its life!"
In a letter to veteran academic Principal Ibrahim Khan, Nazrul affirmed that he believed in the full unity of Hindus and Muslims. He is often honoured as the only Poet to use both Hindu and Muslim traditions with equal expertise and excellence in the history of Bengali Literature.
He believed that Hindu and Muslim traditions were two complementary forces, not contradictory. He is regarded as one of the finest composers of 'Shyama Sangeet', a genre of the hymn written in praise of goddess Kali of Hinduism.
Still, now, he remains the best writer of Bengali 'Hamd and Nat' i,e, Islamic couplets written in the glory of the Almighty Allah (SWT) and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). He was truly a successful assimilationist.
Sadly, Nazrul was criticised by the religious extremists as a heathen, 'Yavan' (Heretic), 'Kafir' (Infidel), etc. at some points of his life. He did, however, strongly condemn those who, without understanding the essence of religion, divided people in its name.
Those who have made religion a commercial entity and instilled communal hatred, he labeled them as hypocrites and illiterates. In his poem 'Ishwar' (God) he asked everyone not to be intimidated by them, as they were not the "Private secretaries" of God.
He opined hopefully in the article 'Mandir O Masjid' (Temple and Mosque) that one day they would perish as they have not perceived the 'Truth' of religion, rather have drunk the 'alcohol' of religious fanaticism. He was of the opinion that religion never makes people blind. Rather, it enlightens them by opening their "Third Eye".
He declared himself to be a universal citizen. In the reply to the recognition of Honour addressed to him in Kolkata he wrote:
"The fact that I was born in this country does not imply that I belong to his land only... I am of all ages, all people."
The life, works, and ideals of Nazrul can provide a ray of hope in the face of ongoing religious violence in Bangladesh. His teachings of universal love, compassion, and philosophy of universal tolerance should be spread in all important sectors of human affairs to stop radical manipulation. His teachings of universal love, compassion, and philosophy of universal tolerance should be spread in all important sectors of human affairs to stop radical manipulation.
Government can arrange monthly seminars, more awareness programmes at district levels promoting Nazrul's anti-communal sentiments and his profoundly developed religiosity. The teachers at schools should teach the students the art of thinking critically so that they learn how to separate rational ideas from violent ones.
Several research centers, clubs at University levels should come forward and arrange interfaith dialogue. Media can play an instrumental role by portraying instances of religious harmony by personalities like Nazrul, who fought for the unity of mankind.
People of all ages, classes, and communities should unite and work together to strengthen religious harmony, bearing in mind Nazrul's eternal line, "Say Valiant! High is my Head!"
Debashis Das is a student of the Department of World Religions and Culture at the University of Dhaka. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.