On Friday, March 30, after Jumma prayer, thousands of Muslims in Bangladesh came out of the different masques in three towns and rushed to loot houses, then burn them down. Witness said several thousand people took part in the attacks, most of them students in Madrassahs [Islamic religious schools].
The apparent cause was a satiric play, "Huzur Kebla" ("Sacred Lord"), allegedly criticizing Mullahs, Imams and Pirs (religious sages), that had been presented by a group of high school students a few days before.
According to the leading English daily, The Daily Star, and the leading Bengali news daily, Prothom Alo, a massive number of men protested against the drama, accusing it of being humiliating to the prophet Mohammed. They demanded rigorous punishments, including death sentences, against the high school students who has performed it and the teachers who had put it on.
These sensitive Muslims were apparently not satisfied just with demonstrations. Several thousand of them then stormed and looted the houses of the accused teacher and assistant teacher, Mita Rani, a Hindu lady. They then burnt to ashes the houses of three brothers who were members of the school's managing committee.
In a planned way, they continued to attack the school area and vicinity, and eventually stormed and looted 27 houses belonging to members of the Hindu community.
A reliable news agency, The United News of Bangladesh, added that in the aftermath of these occurrences, there were three cases filed by the Kaliganj Police Station against the 1500 people allegedly involved in the incident. The Police filed one case against 1,000 unidentified people; one case against 37 identified people; and a resident of the village of Fatehpu lodged the third case against 5000 unidentified persons and 29 identified ones on charges of ransacking 15 houses.
Witnesses complained that the police took no action against the Islamists when they were looting and burning the school and the Hindu houses. Later, the offices of Superintendent of Police and that of an Officer in Charge of a Kaliganj subdivision were closed for having failed to maintain law and order.
The drama Huzur Kebla is the text of graduation course in Bangladesh. The play was written by the prominent Bengali littérateur, journalist and politician, Abul Mansur Ahmed (1898-1979), who had been an acting Prime Minister of erstwhile Pakistan; the father of two prominent newspaper editors in Bangladesh; and a vocal force against bigotry. Although most of his works are satiric, he never mentioned the name of the prophet.
Trouble has derived from dramas here before. The sensitive Muslims like to watch dramas as much as the cultural and progressive people love to play them. During the last Islamist-backed BNP-led government, a group staged Kotha Krishnakoli, showing a bearded incestuous man trying to rape a lady in darkness, and the lady crying, "No master, I identified you. Don't do that please." During a performance, one man stood up from the audience and started to shout, "They are humiliating our prophet!"
Because of this one man, hundreds of thousand Muslims proceeded to make the country completely chaotic as tens of thousands of people blocked the Capital, Dhaka. The government took the side of the Islamists. A court case was lodged against 26 actors, some of whom were arrested and tortured.
But one thing never was clear: why did the Muslims consider the bearded fictitious character the prophet Mohammed?