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June 11, 1999
Bangladeshis Denounce Activist As 'Hindu Agent'
Alysha Sideman in New York
Mina Saha Farah, a Bangladeshi dentist and businesswoman, has been causing constant irritants to conservative Bangladeshi Muslims. About a month ago, when a Bangladeshi imam was arrested for allegedly sexually molesting two young boys, Farah posed a question: If the imam is found guilty, would be stoned in public as per the Islamic law (shurya)? And now with the imminent publication of her book, God On Trial she is causing a bigger uproar among fellow Bangladeshis. There are about 20,000 people from Bangladesh living in and around New York City.
To the supporters of the imam -- including two Bengali weeklies with over 8,000 readers -- Farah is a trouble-maker, who writes extensively in New York Bengali papers about the plight of women and related issues, just to embarrass Islam.
"She is a Hindu, she was born a Hindu and she could be an agent of India," said one Bangladeshi businessman, speaking anonymously. "She has no business to talk about the imam -- or about Islam for that matter."
"Could she have said all this in her own country?" he said, quickly adding, "I mean Bangladesh."
"There are too many enemies of Islam in America -- and she will be of help to them."
Farah says she is a believer in one God, and does not follow any religion but being a Bangladeshi, she says she has a right to discuss about issues that affect people from her country.
The conservative Bangladeshis are upset by the publicity she received recently with an article in The New York Times about her book, criticizing Islam and other religions for not respecting women. Though copies of her book -- with English and Bengali text -- have been circulating for several weeks, many of her critics have not read the book. But some have been quick to dub her as Salman Rushdie's "sister."
"Has she also written a novel like that... (expletive deleted)?" asked a Bangladeshi cabbie, adding that if the book contained "serious" and "false" attacks on Islam, not just the Bangladeshi Muslims but the "entire" Muslim community will protest.
Farah has widely spoken on issues that anger the conservatives. She is a firm supporter of Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen, an outspoken critic of Islam, who was forced to flee her country.
'Mina Farah should spend her money and her talents to help her community, not to divide it,' Showkat Ali, the president of the Bangladesh Journalists Association of North America, told The Times. 'We all have a responsibility to our culture.' Farah agrees fully with Ali's sentiments and says she is doing precisely that -- exposing the negative aspects of the culture.
Farah says she is not daunted by threats -- mostly telephone calls including obscene messages. Threats have also been made against her husband and children. Some callers have said they know she has family members in Bangladesh.
''People should have the freedom to speak and to think,'' she says. ' Is it not unfortunate that as we are entering the 21st century, we are becoming more of a mosque-based society rather than a free-minded society.''
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