Boys study at the Jamia Rahmania Arabia madrassa, where Mufti Jasim Uddin Rahmani, leader of the Islamist militant group the Ansarullah Bangla Team, used to teach. (March 2016)

In a move to curb the growth of Islamic extremism in Bangladesh, the government has ordered chapters on jihad to be removed from next year’s textbooks for madrasas (Islamic schools), reports UCAN.

According to the news agency, the National Committee on Militancy Resistance and Prevention, which advised the government on the matter, “noted that the chapters on jihad contributed to ‘slow radicalisation’ of madrasa students and encouraged them to join jihadi groups at home and abroad to fight ‘enemies of Islam’”.

Theophil Norkek, secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission, told UCAN he was in favour of the decision but said “removing jihad from textbooks was not enough on its own to curb militancy”.

“You can remove jihad from textbooks, but you also need to ensure it’s gone from a person’s heart,” he said. “The government needs to initiate social programs to motivate Muslims to keep them away from so-called jihad.”

An imam from Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital, said he disagreed with the new policy. “Jihad is a word that comes from Allah; no-one has the right to remove it,” Mufti Ainul Islam told UCAN. “Jihad is a good word, which encourages Muslims to fight against terrorists and extremists, never against other religions.”

In January this year changes to school textbooks apparently to accommodate conservative Muslim groups led to fears the country was moving away from its secular origins.

Bangladesh has long been known as a moderate Muslim nation, but that image has been threatened in recent years with the rise of attacks against religious and ethnic minorities.

In November last year, a report said the government had “singularly failed” to protect its Christian and other minority populations from increasingly frequent violent attacks by Islamic extremists linked to Al-Qaeda. The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for many of the attacks, but Bangladesh has repeatedly denied the group has a presence there.

Extremism in textbooks elsewhere

Following claims from Human Rights Watch that Saudi clerics have been “guilty of hate speech” against religious minorities and Saudi schoolbooks contain “hateful and incendiary language” towards other religious groups than Sunni Islam, Saudi Arabia promised earlier this month to monitor preachers and jurists’ use of Muhammad’s hadiths (sayings) “to prevent them being used to justify violence or extremism”.

World Watch Monitor also reported last year how textbooks used in schools in Pakistan included “religious hate material” and were “shaming of Christians” and how, more recently, in the Maldives, the image of a church was removed from schoolbooks.