What will happen to Hefazat now?

It has now been a major topic of discussion that what would be future of Darul Ulum Ahalia Mainul Islam Madrasa at Hathazari and Hefazat-e-Islam, an advocacy group of madrasa teachers, after the demise of their chief Allama Shah Ahmad Shafi. 

A many people are now asking who will become the head of the most influential religious educational institution and the teachers’ platform.

After a week-long tense situation, a big question has emerged whether Hefazat and Hathazari Madrasa will follow the policy of Maulana Shafi or take a new turn.

The tense situation at the madrasa in Chattogram, better known as Hathazari Madrasa, turned into a stream of mourning following the death of Ahmad Shafi on Friday.

Maulana Shafi was the principal of the madrasa since 1986. During this time, he made the madrasa the most powerful religious institution among several thousand madrasas in the country.

Several thousand madrasas in the country follow the syllabus, social and political guidelines of Hathazari Madrasa. Hefazat-e-Islam was formed in the madras in 2009 under the leadership of Ahmad Shafi by utilising loyalty of hundreds of thousands of Madrasa’s students and teachers.

Ahmad Shafi enjoyed a total control over the Hathazari Madrasa for long, but his influence came to an end just before his death.

Just a day before his death, Ahmad Shafi resigned from the top post of Hathazari Madrasa on Thursday night following protest of students who demanded the removal of Shafi's son Maulana Asad Madani, the education secretary and a teacher, from all posts of the madrasa. Shafi died in a hospital in Dhaka within 24 hours of his resignation.

Due to that tension, a large number of law enforcers, including personnel of Border Guard Bangladesh, were deployed during the funeral of Ahmad Shafi to avert any untoward incident.

Shafi was trying to strike a balance regarding his policies with a moderation in activities. Despite public support across the country, Ahmad Shafi kept Hefazat-e-Islam away from direct political activities and electoral contest.

He maintained a good relationship with the government following the clashes between his followers and government security forces at Shapla Square in the capital on the night of May 5, 2013.

He worked in agreement with the government on various issues. In 2018, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was formally honoured by Madrasa communities led by Ahmad Shafi at the Suharwardy Udyan in the capital for her contributions recognition of madrasa education.

For the last few days, there have been discussions of disputes between Ahmad Shafi and secretary general of Hefazat-e-Islami Junaid Babunagari, who also was assistant director of Hathazari Madrasa. In June last, Babunagari was removed from his post of the madrasa, but has remained as general secretary of Hefazat-e-Islami.

Instead of Babunagari, Maulana Sheikh Ahmad was appointed assistant director of the Hathazari Madrasa who was supposed to lead the madrasa in absence of the director as per the rules.

Although Shafi did not speak on the issue publicly, his younger son Asad Madani made statements on various occasions criticising Babunagari.

Madani alleged that Babunagari was allied with the anti-government BNP-Jamaat alliance and wanted to use Hefazat-e-Islam against the government. On the other hand, Babunagari and his supporters were saying that Asad Madani was taking a plenty of benefits from the government using the advantage of his father's influence.

Babunagari was also at the centre of the anti-Asad movement that led to the resignation of Ahmad Shafi from the top post of the Hathazari Madrasa.

On Saturday, before the Namaz-e Janaza for Ahmad Shafi, Junaid Babunagari told reporters that, “Ahmad Shafi was my teacher and mentor. We are shocked by the departure of our captain.” 

“Before his death, we discussed together how the madrasa will be run, Hujur [Shafi] asked the Sura committee [the supreme body], to manage the situation in absence of him,” Babunagari said.  

Responding to a question on what would happen now about Hefazat or who will be the chief, Babunagari said “There would be a council soon to elect an Amir.”

“We should follow his [Shafi] ideology to run the Madrasa and Hefazat-e-Islami and in settling all other issues,” Babunagari added.

Asad Madani, who was responsible for the tension at Hathazari Madrasa last week, was not seen in the front row during Ahmad Shafi’s funeral prayers on Saturday. 

On the contrary, Maulana Mohammad Yusuf, the eldest son of Shafi, appeared on the scene. Mohammad Yusuf led the prayers and on behalf of the family addressed thousands of fans of his father there. 

In his short speech, Mohammad Yusuf, who is chief of a mid-level Madrasa in Rangunia Upazila, completely avoided the issues and events that led to the last few days’ tension.