Sufis in Bangladesh now live in fear after several machete killings

Dhaka: Each time he hears of the latest deadly machete attack, Ashraful Islam can't help but think of his father's gruesome murder and fear his fellow Sufi Muslims will never be safe again in Bangladesh.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

"The killings are not declining, they're getting worse. And every one reminds me what happened to my father," said the 30-year-old medical student.

"I've no idea why they are doing this but if they aren't stopped then our future is doomed, we'll become another Pakistan."

Islamists have claimed responsibility for around 40 killings in the last three years of foreigners, secular bloggers, gay activists, Hindus and Christians. Many have been slaughtered with machetes.

But no group has suffered as much as Sufis, an offshoot of mainstream Islam whose followers are often denounced as "infidels" for their mystical traditions, including worshipping at shrines.

Fourteen have died since December 2014 in religiously motivated attacks, including Islam's father Khizir Khan.

More than 100,000 Sufis are expected in Dhaka on Friday to attend an annual congregation, which this year is both a celebration and an act of defiance.

It comes less than a month after local Sufi leader Mohammad Shahidullah was found hacked to death under a mango tree in the northwestern Rajshahi district.

The deep wounds in his neck echoed Khan's murder last October when he was killed by suspected members of banned Islamist militant group Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB).

Khan had around 2,000 followers, many of whom would turn up at weekly prayers at the family home in Dhaka.

On the night of his killing, he had arranged to meet prospective tenants for a vacant apartment underneath the family's own flat.

But he went downstairs to an ambush by a gang who cornered him in a bathroom and then hacked at his neck until he bled to death.

The killers then burst into the upstairs living-room, tying up Khan's family, who later managed to escape.

"It was my mother who discovered the body in the bathroom. The head was partially severed.

"It was such a shocking thing. Every now and then my mother still breaks down."

Police soon arrested five suspects who allegedly told investigators it was their "religious duty" to kill Khan.

No-one has yet to be convicted for the killing and there have been few arrests in the other murders.

Most have been claimed by the likes of JMB or international jihadists such as the Islamic State organisation or Al-Qaeda's South Asia wing.

While more than 90 percent of Bangladesh's 160 million population are Muslims, it is an avowedly secular state.

For most of the first four decades after winning the 1971 independence war with Pakistan, Bangladesh had a reputation for religious tolerance and Sufi Muslim services drew tens of millions of worshippers.

Updated Date: Jun 03, 2016 15:12 PM

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