Bangladesh: Cartoon Blashphemy?



  • Prothom Alo cartoon irks many Bangladeshi Muslims.
  • Cartoonist Arifur Rahman arrested by the police.
  • Alpin magazine editor Sumanta Aslam has been sacked.
  • Issue banned by the government.
  • Apology issued by Prothom Alo.
  • The cartoon can be viewed/read here.
  • [Rezwan, Germany.]

    Alpin is one satirical cartoon supplement of Prothom Alo, claimed to be the most popular Bangla Newspaper. In page 6 of its issue 431 a cartoon titled “name” was published (Monday, September 17, 2007) which created much controversy in Bangladesh.

    So what was in that cartoon? The controversy is not in the picture, rather in the text. The Bangla blogosphere took on this issue right from the start.

    The text of the cartoon is a conversation between a boy and an aged person. Sudharam Sadhu posts the texts in his blog:

    Boy, what is your name?

    My name is Babu.

    It is customary to add Mohammad before the name. What is your father’s name?

    Mohammad Abu.

    What’s this in your lap?

    Mohammad cat.

    This appears to satire the culture of the use of Mohammad in Muslim names and nothing to disgrace the prophet.

    [Photo: Naya Diganta.]

    However the Islamist political parties thought otherwise. Naya Diganta reports that Khelafot Andolon had protested this at Baitul Mokarram Mosque by burning copies of Prothom Alo. Its Ameer, Maulana Shah Ahmadullah Ashraf stated:

    (that) the cartoon indicates disgrace of the Muslim prophet by naming a cat ‘Muhammad’. Similar to the Danish Cartoon incident prophet Muhammad has been defamed in Muslim majority Bangladesh. He says Muslims use Muhammad in their names to pay the respect to the prophet. He demanded Prothom Alo to seek apology to the nation otherwise they demanded the Government to take strong action against this ness paper.

    No doubt this has instigated many people to react strongly against this newspaper. Check the comments section of Amar Desh report to get an idea about the outrage. You will also laugh at some stupid comments and I wonder how this newspaper approved them, probably they have a personal vendetta against this newspaper.

    Prothom Alo gave in to all this and published an apology today:

    We apologize and are extremely sorry

    …inadvertently an unedited, unapproved and unacceptable cartoon titled ‘Name’ was published… we are withdrawing the cartoon… and taking actions against the persons responsible for this.

    Wow! Note the emphasis [added], they just don’t want to face this and blame somebody else. They have removed the Monday’s publications from their archives. What an escapist move!

    However the Bangla Blogosphere is divided over this issue. Hasib comments on the above post:

    This is an innocent cartoon. It is evident that the target is not the prophet himself. The retarded ones should read the texts again.

    Tirondaz says:

    The protests against these cartoons show the opportunist intentions of the political Islam. I have no support for these kinds of protest

    While Ummu Abdullah says:

    Prothom Alo apologized, so the issue is over. The apology indicates they are also in doubt. This victory is for Bangladeshis. I welcome the protests.

    Ziner Badshah comments in this post:

    In our parts of the world people add Muhammad to their names to respect the prophet… there is nothing religious about it… even if it is it does not add any value to anyone… but defaming this culture is like the same as destroying the Bamian heritage in Afghanistan by the Talibans.

    And what a reaction it was from the caretaker government! reports that the government has banned the debated issue of Alpin and more worryingly detained Arifur Rahman, the cartoonist. The Press and Information Department (PID) said in a statement that the cartoon hurts the feeling of the citizens.

    Kowsheek Ahmed is outraged by this action of the Government:

    Arifur Rahman achieved many awards for his cartoon. This time for a innocuous cartoon he was made victim of self proclaimed defenders of religious feelings. Now a days satire cartoonists are prone to these kinds of attacks. But this is happening in this dire time when we are crying that we are being more tolerant, claiming all piece is embedded in this religion. The Alpin issue has been banned and the editor was suspended.

    How strange are our realizations. After the August 22 revolution the Government has become so narrow in their views that a cat has instilled fear in them.

    For more hot buzz on this issue please read the Bangla Blogging platforms “Bandh Bhanger Awaaj” and “Sachalayatan“.

    Update:International reactions:

    * Reports in IHT, Yahoo News, Press TV, Kuwait Times, Hindustan Times.

    * The folks at LGF has got something to cheer about.

    A commenter says:
    They got upset over that? Good lord, these people are idiots! It’s a mild cultural comment, it doesn’t involve religion at all.
    Idiots! Idiots! I’m falling into despair. Can no one in Bangladesh think?

    Update II: Reporters without borders picked up this story and demanded release of Arifur Rahman.

    Update III: This debate just got more interesting. The Bangla Blogosphere is just great, they dug out a similar cartoon published in Bangladesh by Chattra Shibir, the Student wing of the Islamist party Jamaat-E-Islami. Saleem Samad writes in E-Bangladesh.

    457 Responses to “Bangladesh: Cartoon Blashphemy?”

    1. Author Image


      While watching people burning copies of Alpin, I was wondering if that violates the SoE or not? And this comes just after the government issued a press note. I would like to ask Barrister Mainul: Is SoE applicable to IOJ and JI?

    2. Author Image


      This sort of censorship and reaction of certain so called islamists are outragous! Once again it reminds me how uneducated we are when it comes to Islam, our Prophet and this sort of extremist behaviours. There’s nothing wrong with this cartoon, this only reminds us how stupid we are when it comes to practicing our religion in very wrong ways.

    3. Author Image


      Have a look@the ZEENEWS coverage:

      Arrest warrant against cartoonist for `blasphemous` caricature

      Dhaka, Sept 18: Authorities in Bangladesh on Tuesday ordered the arrest of a cartoonist and confiscated copies of a major newspaper’s weekly supplement for publishing a “blasphemous” caricature. “The government has confiscated the issue as the cartoon hurt the religious sentiment of the people. Moreover an order was issued to arrest cartoonist Arifur Rahman,” an official statement said, referring to the weekly caricature supplement “Alpin” of the Prothom Alo newspaper. The mass-circulated daily, however, immediately apologised and announced withdrawal of the cartoon.

      A group of people torched copies of the paper after publication of the cartoon yesterday and several Islamic groups protested, saying the drawings ridiculed prophet Mohammad and his close aides. They demanded “exemplary punishment” of the paper’s editor and the cartoonist.

      Predominantly Muslim Bangladesh, however, does not have any blasphemy law although it was earlier demanded by the extreme right-wing Islamic groups. The government said it decided to hold talks with religious leaders on the matter and also urged restrain from the people. “The government expects all concerned to show restrain and play a responsible role in regard to the unexpected incident,” the statement said.

      Prothom Alo sources said security forces summoned the cartoonist but it was not yet clear if he has been formally arrested. Rahman had earlier won an award given by Berlin-based global corruption watchdog transparency international his for anti-graft caricature.

    4. Author Image

      Saleem Samad

      The recent detention of a cartoonist for blasphemy has outraged most secular and pro-democracy population living in Bangladesh and expatriates. As a press watchdog activist, I express my deep anguish and sock at the incident of arrest and detention of the cartoonist Arifur Rahman for his creative cartoon published in a pullout magazine of Prothom Alo. I have no other language but to strongly condemn the action of the government of FUA and MUA. It hurts the dignity of those who believes in religious tolerance and freedom. Alas it seems present Bangladesh run by FUA and MUA lacks the basic principles of tolerance and freedom.

    5. Author Image


      Thanks Afraid and no, there is nothing wrong with this cartoon. It only points out how most of the religious preachers/adults are teaching younger people Islam in a very wrong way. The little boy’s reaction to his cat’s identification is only outcome of such brain-washed results of such wrong-ful preaching.

    6. Author Image


      @Rezwan bhai/ Blog mod: Please edit the statement “Prothom Alo cartoon irks Bangladeshi Muslims. ” I am a muslim and so are many people around me and this cartoon DID NOT irk me. I think such statement generalise everyone… I think it would be more precise if it says “Prothom Alo cartoon irks some Bangladeshi Muslims and the army backed CTG !!!”

    7. Author Image


      Well, I can remember a similar joke from Birbal. In that joke, Birbal addressed a fish putting Muhammad before it. I think this cartoon is a rip-off of that joke. I never saw any protest over that from anyone. By the way, it’s a very popular joke even a TV series on Birbal has this on screen. It’s really unpredictable when the politicians make things up like this.

    8. Author Image


      This is beyond funny, will Islam ever enter the 21th century? Hell! By looking at this I would think if they made it into the 13th century I would be surprised.

    9. Author Image


      Thing is.. I think it’s nothing but to avoid some violence.. Government took the right action. I have not read the paper yet. Yeah thanks you people. Through you all I have got some idea. May be there was nothing… Or may be something… But the real thing is the politicians are not getting any issue… You all have seen the DU violence… So I think you all can guess why the government took the action.

    10. Author Image


      The CTG is nothing but a government composed of mullahs in khaki with the only difference they believe in neo-liberal economics. If you will a “Made in USA via Saudi Arabia kind of Islam.” Appeasement and groveling will only embolden the fundos!

    11. Author Image


      Its a transgression by so called intellectual people to instigate intentionally political uproar.

    12. Author Image


      This government is already paranoid. The only solution they envision is use of intimidation and force. And then they have Moinul Hosein to do their bidding on TV! General Matin, I guess, has realized that his delirious comments were paving the way for his “impeachment” when this military regime would be “kicked” away by the people. Now you don’t see him making any statements any more. Get ready Jolpais, the end is coming. Learn from Pakistan’s Musharraf-force works only for so long. Release the Prothom Alo cartoonist and resist from caving in to the demands of so-called Islamists.

    13. Author Image

      Qutub Uddin Ahmed

      If you can, just respect and love prophet more than your life. But don

    14. Author Image


      This is absolutely stupid to fight aginst this cartoon. This proves that as a nation how far are we from the modern world. In USA every Bangladeshi has the same name Mohammed, which is so riddiculas. Why cant we use our real name and get out of this stupid too much religious fights and be real Muslims.

    15. Author Image


      Stupid fools they be — creating nothing but an absolute mess on this. Shunted too long they have been, found a chance, and screamed and broke the emergency-law-hassle. Personally, I found the small cartoon funny and witty, rather being serious. Its a cartoon after all, and Unmad and Alpin are known for these sort of cartoons from ages. Suckers.

    16. Author Image


      Another thing, please… Tell me personally, didn’t you find this one funny 😀

    17. Author Image

      Iconus Clustus

      Proms… no one made any issue out of the Prothom Alo cartoon. No one. CTG almost out of the blue did what they did, and only then ulemas took it to the street… well mosque. Only then there was burning of the paper and so on. I guess, this wouldn’t count as going against the State of Emergency or anything of that nature, right? And what about the DU incident? What are you trying to insinuate? Rethink and then come back to us.

    18. Author Image


      Iconus Clustus: Well,in DU it was nothing but a small issue and that got a huge size later. However I am also a student. I can understand the pain of the students. But you know there were not enough issues to result in such a huge violence. So well it’s my opinion that the govt (MUA & FUA) took the right action. They just cut the tree it grew up. But I feel sorry for Arifur Rahman. It’s very sad… Well can we really say we are free? Are we as a nation totally independent?

    19. Author Image


      Proms: I guess you have some misconceptions with the status of university teachers. They are called the spirit of the nation. Beating teachers is nothing but a barbarian practice. The way current administration is behaving it has simply no compatibility with the norms of a civilized society. Such blanket comments only reflect how much you guys are detached from the root.

    20. Author Image


      Well you people may be misunderstanding me. Thing is I pointed at the thing that was the main trigger. And that small thing resulted in huge violence… Also includes beating the VC. People why don’t you understand we all know the students of Bangladesh gave us freedom… So absolutely no misconception…

    21. Author Image


      The random naming convention in Bangladesh is very real and confuses a lot of people. Most people do not realize that they have no authority over someone else

    22. Author Image


      Lau bolo, bilai bolo,
      Kichuei robe na re!
      Sob shalara bhaisa jabe,
      Jamaat shibirer tufane!

    23. Author Image


      I think we are making a small issue into a big one. For a cartoon we should not do that. See in Europe, India, Western countries, no one bother this. I think our Muslim leaders are thinking they are the only true Muslims. If a cartoonist committed a wrong, Allah will punish him, not us.

    24. Author Image


      The duty officer of Tejgaon police station told the reporter that Arifur Rahman was arrested under section 54 Code of Criminal Procedure. HR NGO Odhikar has a publication on how Section 54 has been abused by the law enforcers in Bangladesh.

      According to Section 54 of CrPC, individuals may be arrested under suspicion of criminal activity without any order from a magistrate or a warrant. According to the section, there are nine specific reasons for which the police may arrest someone under this law. These reasons are summarized below:

      [Note how many time the phrase reasonable suspicion appears and how many vague terms like cognizable offence or credible information you can find.]

        1. If the person arrested has been concerned in any cognizable offence or if there has been credible information against him or the police have reasonable suspicion to think so;
        2. If the person has in his possession any implement of housebreaking and cannot give a lawful excuse for doing do;
        3. If a person has been proclaimed under this or any other code, or by government order, to be an offender;
        4. If there is reasonable suspicion to believe that the person possesses stolen property;
        5. If the person obstructs a police officer on duty; or if he has or attempts to escape from lawful custody;
        6. If the person is a deserter from the armed forces of Bangladesh;
        7. If the person has been concerned in; or if there is credible information of his being so involved in; or there is reasonable suspicion that he is concerned in committing any act abroad which would have been a punishable offence in Bangladesh (if committed in this country). He would be detained under custody in Bangladesh under the Fugitive Offenders Act 1881 or under extradition laws.
        8. If the person is a released convict, he can be arrested if he does not notify the sentencing judge of his change in address or absence from residence;
        9. If the arrest of a specific person for a specific crime has been made by another police officer by requisition.
    25. Author Image


      Cartoon blasphemy… what’s next? It will go on and on. Think what the CTG is going to do? How they are doing? A fair election is impossible under this government. In last five years, the reign of terror BNP and Jamaat has manufactured a 100% corrupted adminstration. Now army is reusing this administration to suppress democracy to protect the interests of Pakistan and Jamaat. To create a level playing field for Jamaat and an anti-people puppet government is the aim of this CTG. We have to stop it. But how?

    26. Author Image

      Dragonlady too

      No wonder your country is in poverty and your children are starving — you allow EVIL to use your energies on stupid things like cartoons — anything to keep you from actually working to solve your problems. I’ll pray for you and marvel at the constant state of outrage your religion keeps you in. You are being used to keep EVIL in power — wake up!

    27. Author Image


      Dragonlady too @#37, you are just as ill-informed and clueless as the fanatics who are up in arms about the cartoon. With folks like you on one side and the Islamists on the other, you could have a nice hateful tea party.

    28. Author Image

      Dragonlady too

      Mash — please explain it to me — I wish to have no “hateful tea party” — and freely admit that I don’t understand but am fearful that what I do know of Islam will take over my country too.

    29. Author Image


      Dragonlady too: if you don’t understand you probably should not have said:

      No wonder your country is in poverty and your children are starving — you allow EVIL to use your energies on stupid things like cartoons — anything to keep you from actually working to solve your problems.

      The above statement was not only ill-informed but the kind of rhetoric the Islamists spew when they talk hatefully about the West. You painted a country of 150 million people with a rather broad brush based on what you now say is very limited understanding. If you want to have a meaningful dialogue, I welcome it. But if you want to throw around hollow rhetoric and hateful generalizations, your best bet is to engage the Islamists — they will speak a similar language.

    30. Author Image


      This is the most disgusting thing I have heard since October 28, 2006. How come people can exploit religion like this! Certain group of people are creating chaos for no reason in the name of Islam. Millions of Bangladeshis are named Muhammad, so calling their name is calling our prophet (SW)?! That is ridiculous! There are hundreds of criminals, rapists, killers are in Bangladesh named Muhammad. If the name “Muhammad” holds so much respect then, none of those criminals should be kept in prison, None of them should be punished. Those fundamentalists do not hold any respect for Islam… They practice certain things which are strictly forbidden by Prophet Muhammad (SW) like milaad, worshiping mazar, dowry etc. They never speak against these practices as these are kind of source of income for many of them.. I condemn this kind of silly protest in the name of Islam.

    31. Author Image


      Please show the world that we believe in peace , harmony ,tolerance , freedom of speech,forgiveness ,love and respect to individuals community, other religion and society as a whole.
      No hatred and agression and violence please we are seeing it all the time . Make our country a better place to live . Let every one take responsilibity to protect our country from anarcy and division and make it a beautiful and livable place so that we can be proud of ourself as a nation .We can tell the world that we are civilised and modern ,respectful to law and order and real democratic. wish everyone all the best

    32. Author Image

      Muhamad [peace be upon me]

      My dear ubs,
      it’s refreshing to see a response like yours.
      Having said that, I think you might have something of a skewered notion of ‘anarcy’. 🙂

      If British law allowed me to change my name on my birth certificate, I’d gladly do it.

      What’s so superior about the Arab and Arabic language?

      We must refuse to word-worship the Arab’s since we have our historically rich Bengali language. Arabic words/language is overrated.

      Must we apologize on the cartoonist’s behalf? Must we apologize for his creative and artistic activities, thought processes? Why?

      Don’t give in to these closet pedosceles!


    33. Author Image

      Adnan Hakim

      oh dear…..this is so rediculous….even our caretaker government finds it intentional….I feel sorry for the cartoonist…….bangladesh will always be on the backfoot for these mollas……

    34. Author Image


      1. bak sadinota mane ki amar jake icca tar birudde kotha bolar sadinota?

      2. bangladeshe bak sadinota nai…world r kon deshe bak sadinota ase?

      3. amaericai ki ami jekono kisur birudde kotha bolte parbo?

      4. freethinker mane ki sudu islam k galagali kora..onno religion gula ki 100% correct je ogula k galagali korar kisu nai?

      5. freethinker ra asole kiser theke free…sudu religion theke free holei ki freethinker hoya r je rules gula ase..segula r vitore theke tara free thinking koren kemne? naki tara family/society/country/world r baire bas koren??

      6. bangali culture bad dia onno culture follow korlei ki amar bangali jati sotta ami muche falte parbo?

      7. onno culture follow korle ki amra jate ute jabo..? onno culture r lokgula amader ki tader culture r lok mone korbe naki tokono amader akjon bangali hisabei dekbe?

      ami ai question gular answer dilam na————-tomra nijerai ai question gular answer khuje nao………

    35. Author Image


      Zaman # 45,

      Let me try and respond to your questions sir. Before I embark on the formidable task of doing so, let me tell you right on the onset, I do find your questions quiet relevant and also important for all of us to ponder. It will help us realize what it is that we are really talking about. So, thanks for putting these questions up for discussion. However, let me also make a request in this regard – though you haven’t given your response to the questions you posed, please don’t refrain from doing so even after hearing other people’s responses (how else would we have a conversation if you do not put in your two cents in it, right?)

      1. bak sadinota mane ki amar jake icca tar birudde kotha bolar sadinota?

      Ans 1. Basically yes – freedom of speech, bakshadhinota, is the freedom to say and/or write whatever it is that one feels like. The idea is that the freedom is the rule, while any restrictions on it will be exception to the rule and should require a great degree of consideration before imposing one.

      Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

      “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

      By way of implication, this freedom includes what we might think of as stupid and insensitive. If such stupid and insensitive ideas are not allowed and forcefully suppressed, then it calls for a time when proclaimers of such stupid and insensitive ideas will forcefully suppress ideas that we think are good and beneficial for humanity.

      After all, speech is speech. It is not like someone is beating someone up. In order for people to be hearing God’s voice, it is necessary that space is left open for the Devil’s voice as well. Then it remains up to the individuals which way they would turn.

      2. bangladeshe bak sadinota nai

    36. Author Image


      Assalam Walaikum….
      In the name of Allah most gracious most merciful….
      brothers n sisters…i have observed the comments of people regarding the “cartoon” subject. And i have carefully analyzed the cartoon with the knowledge Allah has given me. It is true that we have many Illiterate people in our country and it is also true that we have Muslims in our country by name only who don’t practice Islam and have very little or no knowledge about Islam.
      According to me, Bangladeshis who label this as “just nothing or no insult” falls under the group which has little or no knowledge about Islam or they are not practicing Muslim and i advice them to read those texts again and give me a valid reason of calling that cat as “Mohammad cat” and finishing the conversation at that. To me, the Cartoon was designed very carefully to leave doubts in people minds. Calling the cat “Mohammad cat” and ending the conversation indicates many insulting messages, such as indicating the “cat as Mohammad” and labeling the scholars of Islam as if they have no knowledge about Islam. If someone would argue that this is not the case, then please answer to me what was the purpose of this publication?…i know the purpose was to make people laugh but wasn’t the publisher aware that his target market(reader) is Muslim..then, why did he chose to publish this which can be easily misunderstood by people and has no meanings?
      I don’t support physical protest like what was carried out nor i do support the way the people have dealt with this insult towards Islam. But i am 100% sure the publication(cartoon) has messages which are insulting towards Islam. And the people responsible should be called for account.

      May Allah gives all of us knowledge to walk on the right path….Ameen

    37. Author Image


      i found this cartoon funny coz when i was a kid i did the same thing. exactly the same thing.

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