by Nazrul Islam in Dhaka,
Shah Ahmed Shafi, the leading figure in Bangladesh who campaigned for blasphemy law, has died of old age complications in a Dhaka hospital at the age of 102 .
Shafi was declared dead at Asgar Ali hospital hours after he was flown to Dhaka from a hospital in Chittagong where he had been undergoing treatment for few weeks, the hospital officials said on Friday.
He was the head of radical Islamist group Hefazat –e-Islami Bangladesh for long time and reportedly was linked with Pakistani elements during Bangladesh’s 1971 war of liberation.
Fueled by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led opposition alliance of Khaleda Zia, Shafi led a mass rally in Dhaka seven years ago to oust the Awami League-led government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina unless she accepts a 13-point charter of demands including introduction of blasphemy law in Bangladesh.
Hundreds of thousands of pious Muslims were brought to Dhaka in the name of saving Islam and the image of the Prophet Muhammad on May 5, 2013. They sat on the streets in Dhaka’s downtown Motijheel asking the government to step down or accept their demands. The Hefazat followers resorted to vandalism, arson attacks and beating of journalists before the commandos cleared them in a midnight operation.
The group had claimed that the lawmen killed hundreds of people on that night – a claim which the radical group could not establish. But they never withdrew the claim.
The group, being run from Hathazari madrsaas, however, patched up with the Awami League government, and was quiet about their demands since then.
Shafi, who was also the head of the group, fell ill following the vandalism by students at his madrasah on Thursday over handing of leadership to a successor.
He was rushed to Chattogram Medical College Hospital just after he resigned from the post of director general of the Hathazari madrasa in the evening. He served the position for more than 40 years. As his condition deteriorated, he was flown to Dhaka Friday.
Shafi, a diabetic, was suffering from high blood pressure and many other old age complications.
He was born at Pakhiartila village in Rangunia of Chattogram, and was educated at Sarafbhata Kanurhat Madrasah in Rangunia and later studied at Al-Jamiatul Arabiatul Islamiah at Patia. He also studied at Darul Ulum Moinul Islam Madrasah of Hathazari and Darul Uloom Deoband of India.
President Abdul Hamid and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina condoled the death of Shafi, who was criticized for his remarks about women and women education. He termed the women as tamarind a few years ago drawing criticism from the progressive quarters and free thinkers.
Awami League (AL) General Secretary and Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader and AL Joint General Secretary and Information Minister Hasan Mahmud expressed shock and sorrow at the death of Shafi.