Translating Terrorism in Bangladesh

Terrorism in Bangladesh is not a new fact. But how do you explain or translate terrorism in Bangladesh? Many interpretations are there. One I’ve noticed recently in a TV interview.

Born and bred in Bangladesh, young, educated, well-off ISIS supporters brutally killed 22 people in an upscale café in Dhaka. The question was asked how come these affluent, privileged, all smiling young could do such barbarian terrorist act? One of the attackers was identified as a son of a business executive, Meer Hayet Kabir. Shocked at the news, Mr. Kabir was wondering what went wrong with son? … His son’s mental growth was slow and he was always interested in religion. Mr. Kabir advised him to use the right sources for learning about the subject when he gave him an English version of the Qur’an.

In a CNN interview, the father has mentioned his own torment, son’s loving disposition, disappearance, and showed the Qur’an he gave to his son to understand Islam ‘unfiltered and unwarped‘.

The father of a Dhaka shooting attack suspect speaks about his son

The Qur’an he gave to his son was the “Interpretation of the meaning of the Noble Qur’an”, translated by Muhammad Muhsin Khan and Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din Al-Hilali. It is a Wahhabi interpretation of Islam and the book is freely distributed by the Saudi Government all over the world. (Most of the Bangladeshis are Sunni Muslim, not Wahhabi and there is a difference between them.) This Saudi translation was intended to replace the translation of Abdullah Yusuf Ali — the most popular English version among Muslims since its publication in 1938.

Saudi version of Qur’an was given to Bangladeshi terrorist

There are many English translations of the Qur’an. Out of all the translations, the Khan and Hilali interpretation is the most controversial. The translation was funded by the Saudi royal family who follows, patronizes and propagates rigid Wahhabi branch of Islam, quashing alternate interpretations that do not fit their specific views. The translation gives a supremacist Muslim point of view and infused with modish political belief. The most tendentious translation was done for the first and most important chapter of the Qur’an — Al-Fatiha (The Opening). Out of numerous translations of the Qur’an, only in the Khan and Hilali version Surah Al-Fatiha’s last sentence (1:7) was translated as:

“The Way of those on whom You have bestowed Your Grace, not (the way) of those who earned Your Anger (such as the Jews), nor of those who went astray (such as the Christians).”

English translation of Surah Al-Fatiah by different translators (verse 1:7)

This is perhaps the only English translation of the Qur’an that explicitly mentioned Jews and Christians as an example of Allah’s anger and astray! There is nothing to indicate to the uninformed reader that these interpolations, printed in parentheses, are absent from the Arabic. Any person encountering Islam for the first time, as well as the Muslim already indoctrinated in Wahhabism, is led to believe that the Qur’an denounces all Jews and Christians, which it does not.

Then there are other areas of disputable interpretation. Another example from Surah Al-Baqarah (2:216), where other translators use the word fighting, the Wahhabi translation of the verse used the word Jihad with specific focus and direction:

“Jihad (holy fighting in Allah’s Cause) is ordained for you (Muslims) though you dislike it, and it may be that you dislike a thing which is good for you and that you like a thing which is bad for you. Allah knows but you do not know.”

In Surah Al-Ma’idah (5:21), where a geographical name was inserted in

“O my people! Enter the holy land (Palestine) which Allah has assigned to you, and turn not back (in flight) for then you will be returned as losers.

Now what the translation or interpretation issue has anything to do with terrorism in Bangladesh? Well, perhaps a lot. It is not only the translation, it is how the translations are translated again and again, by international and local actors, very narrowly, extremely targeted at a granular level until they achieve the desired action from their listeners. The interpretation of a word, a book, a theme, an event can make or break a person.

Mr. Meer Hayet Kabir gave his son the Wahhabi rendition of Qur’an to understand Islam but son’s comprehension of Islam ended up in translating Jihad as terrorism! Sure, the son was assisted by distorted explanation, selective view of the internet, added provocation, suicidal preparation and being discreet. But it perhaps started with some misaligned translation of a great book. Therefore, merely passing a translation of a religious book did not help produce a “loving boy, humanly boy, caring boy, family boy”. ISIS’s interpretation of Islam via online activities made Mr. Kabir’s loving boy a dead boy.

Religion is important in the daily life of Bangladeshi people. However, when that practice is mindless, meaningless, manipulative and mere robotic routine then it should raise questions. Religion could be practiced to expand the humane qualities of a person. Do people of Bangladesh perceive religion, into their core, as a companion to establish a peaceful, progressive society? Seems like many people in Bangladesh have an ever growing unconsciously distorted view of religion. Remember the campaign in Bangladesh to stop public urination by using Arabic words instead of Bangla? Even the campaign was somewhat effective, it was derogatory to Bangladeshi people. People do not understand Bangla sign “এখানে প্রস্রাব করিবেন না/Do Not Urinate Here” socially (when it comes pee time), they understand Arabic (is the language of Qur’an), then they really do not understand (that not everything in Arabic is scared like “لا التبول هنا/Do Not Urinate Here”). Again, Bangladeshi people’s fearful/respectful sentiment towards the Arabic words were used to quasi-solve a civic problem.

Meer Hayet Kabir’s confusion is not personal, it is national. He is baffled by why his child turned into a terrorist? Why would they have become militants? The Prime Minister of Bangladesh does not understand what kind of Muslims they are, can not acknowledge the extent of religious fundamentalist who can translate a Bangladeshi young into a terrorist Made-in-Bangladesh remotely. The Home Minister of Bangladesh, Asaduzzaman Khan thinks “it has become a fashion” to be a terrorist! Really?

The translators of a book or a reality or a phenomenon can bend the vulnerable minds of the Bangladeshis youth if certain conditions are met — no matter whether they are rich, poor, educated, illiterate, online, off-line, smiley or grumpy! Just wondering what is the future of terrorism in Bangladesh if translation goes in a predefined way rather than follow its natural path!

Originally published at on July 9, 2016.