Bangladeshi Cricketer Shakib Says Sorry: Will It ‘Help’ Extremism?

Bangladeshi cricketer Shakib recently apologised for attending a Hindu ceremony – which sent out a wrong message.

4 min read
Image of Bangladesh flag used for representational purposes.

Bangladeshi cricketer Shakib Al Hasan found himself in hot water after his recent participation in a puja ceremony in Kolkata, India. Shakib, the best-ever cricketer that Bangladesh has ever produced, along with scoring ample runs and taking many wickets on the field, he also always seems to be very good at courting controversy. But this time around, he fell prey to growing radicalism and intolerance in Bangladesh.

Shakib went to Kolkata for a short visit on 12 November. He attended a Diwali Opening Ceremony as an ‘Honourable Chief Guest’ and came back on 13 November.

This mere 24-hour-visit created unprecedented chaos on social media which was inundated with the news — Shakib had inaugurated a puja in Kolkata despite being a Muslim.

Hundreds of people started criticising Shakib for doing so. Some declared that Shakib was no more a Muslim. Some started changing Shakib’s name to ‘Sri Sri Shakib’ saying that he was now a Hindu. At one point, a man in his thirties from Sylhet, a city in eastern Bangladesh, streamed a live video on his social media profile with a machete in his hand and announced he would cut off Shakib’s head even if he needed to come to Dhaka having walked a hundred kilometres.

Concerns Over Growing Radicalism & Intolerance In Bangladesh

Shakib went completely silent after returning from Kolkata. But receiving a death threat made him speak up. On 16 November, he appeared on his YouTube channel and issued an apology for a ‘mistake’ he had never made. He claimed to be a ‘proud Muslim’, and surprisingly, denied what he had done in Kolkata.

Right after that, the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) had to appoint an armed guard to ensure his safety in his own country, where thousands of people chant his name in the stadiums.

This incident is a fresh example of growing radicalism and intolerance in Bangladesh, which is putting the founding principles of Bangladesh — democracy, nationalism, secularism and socialism — in a deep crisis.

In the last two decades, Bangladesh has seen many incidents of extremists killing rationalists like writers, bloggers and targeting other minorities. There have also been some fresh incidents of this nature which have taken place over the last two months.

On 29 October, a man was killed and his body was set on fire at Lalmonirhat district, situated at the northern border of Bangladesh, upon a false accusation of desecrating the Holy Quran. The police investigation revealed that the deceased, Shahidunnabi Jewel, was a practising Muslim. On 1 October, a video went viral on social media, which showed a mob attack on a few Hindu households at Muradnagar in Cumilla district. And on the eve of this year's Durga Puja, the biggest religious festival for Bangladeshi Hindus, there were reports of vandalising of Hindu idols in temples. So, the death threat of Shakib came as another incident of growing intolerance in Bangladesh.


A ‘Wrong’ Message Sent To The World

“I’m a proud Muslim, and I can’t inaugurate Puja,” Shakib said while seeking for an apology to the people who “might have been hurt for his doings”.

Shakib claimed that he “went to Kolkata to join a programme”, and that was not a Puja. He says: “I went to a programme on the invitation from Paresh da (Paresh Paul is an MLA in West Bengal), and people were performing Puja nearby. I needed to pass by that Puja because many roads were shut off due to the crowd. And, when I was passing, Paresh da requested to light a diya. I did that. Some people also came and took photos — that’s it. I didn’t inaugurate Puja, and I didn’t go there for that.”

But, an invitation card came to the fore which contains Shakib’s name as the ‘Honourable Chief Guest’ for the ‘Diwali opening ceremony’. But one understands that Shakib felt the need to issue a public apology due to fear of extremists.

A Missed Diplomatic Opportunity For India & Bangladesh

While Bangladesh and India’s governments always talk about strengthening social and cultural harmony, Shakib could have been an appropriate ambassador for this cause. It was his ideal chance to do so, but his apology and denying what he really did – after receiving death threats – has ruined this diplomatic opportunity.

A Dhaka-based journalist said, preferring anonymity:

“I don’t know what prompted Shakib to go there. Did he get a good amount of money to be presented there? I don’t find anything wrong even if he did so. I also don’t see anything wrong if Shakib inaugurates a Hindu ceremony. In Bangladesh, we often see Muslim politicians participate in Hindu festivals. If there is no problem, why do some people get hurt by Shakib’s participation in such programmes?”

“Intolerance is growing in Bangladesh. From now on, Muslims will think twice before participating in a Hindu ceremony in the country. While a celebrity like Shakib had to apologise for attending a Puja, what can happen for the random Muslims? Shakib’s apology sent a wrong message to society. The authorities should take stern action to tackle this challenge,” he added.

(The author Saif Hasnat is a Dhaka-based journalist. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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