Literacy class in Bangladesh; March 2014
Literacy class in Bangladesh; March 2014 (World Watch Monitor)

Hundreds of extremist Islamists attacked a Christian school in Bangladesh, which welcomes children of all faiths, in response to locals who were outraged by rumors stating the school was forcing Muslim children to convert to Christianity.

On the morning of November 5, an Islamist mob attacked the South Korean funded Steve Kim Mission School located in Konabari town. Speaking with World Watch Monitor, an authority from Love Bangladesh Mission said the mob comprised about 200 people.

The students were not physically injured, but 12 of its 14 members of staff were beaten. Sumitra Kunda, 25, a female teacher endured a serious head injury. Another teacher, John Prokash Sarker, said that he managed to run away from six madrasa students, armed with knives and machetes, after being forced out of his classroom.

Bangladeshi madrasas

Millions of Bangladeshi students attend madrasas. The schools were established in the 1970’s, soon after Bangladesh became independent from Pakistan, and there are two kinds: private Quomi madrasas and state-sponsored Alia madrasas.

According to the Guardian, madrasas are hidden in secrecy and viewed with suspicion for their links with militant Islam.

The furious mob’s ‘most wanted’ was Michael Robin Mondol, who is in charge of both the school and church, they were calling his name loudly, but the staff managed to hide him.

Local officials told World Watch Monitor that they were unable to verify any truth behind the rumors of the school implementing ‘forced conversions’ that allegedly sparked the violence.

The school authority filed a case against 25 people in local police station after the incident

“We have arrested 17 people including three madrasa teachers,” police officer Khandoker Rezaul Hasan told World Watch Monitor.

Wave of ‘panic’ & destruction

The attackers vandalized classrooms, destroyed the bakery and stole several items including computers and projectors.

They also torched the library, burnt Bibles, hymnals and chairs; then proceeded to cut the electricity lines of the school and destroyed a generator.

Mondol told World Watch Monitor that the vandalism lasted for about an hour and a half, and during that time, “A wave of panic swept through the school and traumatized everyone. Many students became sick in the following days.”

“Some madrasa teachers wanted us to stop our education program. But we are helping the poor children. We teach the students what other schools teach in the area, except madrasas. We do not teach them Christian religion in the classes,” said Mondol.

Details surrounding the rumours

Teachers of two local madrasas stirred up the discontent by going door to door stating that the school was converting the impoverished Muslim students to Christianity.

They distributed leaflets stating that those who allowed their children to study at Steve Kim Mission School are not good citizens and condemned them and to eternal damnation.

Gazipur district administrative chief, Deputy Commissioner Nurul Islam told World Watch Monitor that the allegation of converting the Muslim students to Christianity in the school was false and baseless.

“I talked to many local people and I did not find the veracity of the allegation claimed by the Madrasa teachers that the school is converting the poor students to Christianity,” said Islam.

“It transpired that some Madrasa teachers did not like that Christians setup a missionary school in the locality,” said Islam.

Mondol told World Watch Monitor that some of the rumours included members of our school ‘putting the Quran, Islam’s holy book, under the children’s feet’ and that all of the ‘food we provided is made up of pork.’

“Many guardians of the students asked several times if we are converting them to Christianity,” he said, and madrasa’s threatened to evict the parents of the Muslim students unless they removed their children from our school.

Christian schools historically welcome

According to Asia News, despite 90% of students not being Christian, Christian schools and colleges are considered the best option in Bangladesh. The Catholic Church has about 600 institutions (from primary school to high school), 10 colleges and a university.

The Steve Kim Mission School is new to the area and situated in in Gazipur district, a sprawling industrial area of garment factories, around 50 kilometers north of the capital city Dhaka.

Since its inception on April 1 of this year it has enrolled around 200 Muslim students. It provides mainstream education from the first to fourth grade.

One of its ambitions has been to provide for local impoverished children, whose parents are mostly garment factory workers, by offering free education, school uniforms, books, pencils and meals.

Of Bangladesh’s 154 million people, Sunni Muslims constitute 90% and Hindus 9% (2001 census). The remaining 1% is mainly Christian and Buddhist.