Shah Ahmed Shafi, chief of Bangladesh Islamist group Hifazat-e Islam, dies

He passed away at Asgar Ali Hospital at 6:40pm on Friday, said Maulana Abdur Rauf Yusufi, a leader of the organisation’s Dhaka metropolitan unit.

President Md Abdul Hamid and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina have mourned Shafi, remembering his efforts to spread the teachings of Islam in the country and abroad, and in the progress of Qawmi madrasa education.

Maulana Azizul Haque Islamabadi, the organising secretary of Hifazat, said a Namaz-e-Janaza for Shafi will be held on the madrasa premises after Zuhr prayers on Saturday.

Salahuddin Nanupuri, a member of the madrasa’s governing council Shura Committee, said they initially decided to bury Shafi at the institution’s graveyard.

Shafi, said to be 103, was suffering from weakness due to old age, diabetes, high blood pressure and respiratory distress for a long time.

He was airlifted to Dhaka from Chattogram in the afternoon when his health condition worsened.

He was taken to a hospital in the port city immediately after he was forced to resign from his position as director general of Bangladesh’s largest Islamic school in a meeting of its governing council on Thursday night following two days of student protests.

Hundreds of students demonstrated demanding the removal of his son Anas Madani as an assistant director of the institution.

Besides Anas, the council also sacked teacher Maulana Nurul Islam, a Shafi loyalist.

The government shut the madrasa down on Thursday amid tensions after the demonstration.

Tension rose in the Hathazari madrasa in recent months over a leadership struggle as Shafi had fallen ill several times.

The protest for the removal of Anas followed a row between Shafi’s followers and the supporters of former assistant director Junayed Babunagri.

The dispute came out in the open when the Shura Committee replaced Babunagri with Sheikh Ahmed in June.

Al Jamiatul Ahlia Darul Uloom Moinul Islam, known as the Hathazari Baro Madrasa, has more than 7,000 students who learn lessons on the basis of the principles of Deoband school of Islam.

Shafi, the Muhtamim or director general of the madrasa, was also president of Bangladesh Qawmi Madrasa Board – Befaqul Madrisil Arabia Bangladesh.

Called the ‘Baro Hujur’ by Qawmi madrasa students, he was regarded by a section of Muslims as one of the top Islamic scholars in Bangladesh.

His radical views on some issues such as secular bloggers, statues and of women, however, had drawn criticism and angst on a number of occasions.

Born in Chattogram’s Rangunia, Shafi left behind two sons and three daughters.

His son Anas is publicity secretary of Hifazat. The other son, Mohammad Yusuf, is a director of Pakhiartila Qawmi Madrasa in Rangunia.

Shafi went to madrasas in Rangunia and Potia before attending the Hathazari madrasa in 1940.

He travelled to India in 1950 and studied in the Darul Uloom Deoband Madrasa for four years.

He became director general of the Hathazari madrasa in 1986 and held the post until the resignation.

Shafi has penned 19 books – 13 in Bangla and nine in Urdu.

He came into prominence after Hifazat opposed the Ganajagaran Mancha, which came into being in 2013 to push for trial of crimes against humanity committed during the 1971 Liberation War.