04/15/2016, 13.53
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Bengali New Year: prime minister calls for respect of all religions

by Sumon Corraya

Yesterday, Bangladesh celebrated the New Year of 1423. Celebrated with songs, music and dances, ‘Pahela Baishakh’ is the most popular secular festivity in the country. Even churches held special services. Sheikh Hasina condemned recent episodes of Islamic extremism, but also warned bloggers against making “offensive statements against the faith”.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) – Millions of people yesterday celebrated ‘Pahela Baishakh’, the Bengali New Year, which brings together people from different cultures, religions, castes and creeds, to celebrate harmony and being together in peace and serenity.

This year's New Year's Eve has taken on a special connotation, given recent episodes of Islamic extremism that have left a trail of blood across the country. For this reason, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina addressed the nation, urging her fellow Bangladeshis to respect all religions.

"Islam,” she said, “teaches us that everyone should practice his or her own religion. Islam does not teach to hurt other people’s faith. So we shouldn’t hurt other people in their religion feeling.”

Yesterday was the first day of the year 1423 in the Bengali calendar. Celebrations began at dawn, in the streets, with singing, dancing and music. Even the country’s churches organised special services to mark the event.

This is Bangladesh’ main secular celebration, with no religious or ethnic connotations. It was introduced for the first time in 1556 by the Mughal Emperor Akbar, who wanted to simplify the collection of taxes in the ‘Subah Bangla’, a region that included areas now part of neighbouring India. The calendar combines both lunar and solar year.

Yesterday’s celebrations also focused on security and national harmony.

After the recent murder of a blogger in Dhaka, the fifth such incident since 2015, the prime minister noted that some radical Islamists are going down the wrong path killing in the name of religion. "They are dishonouring Islam," she said.

Hasina also slammed attempts by some extremist groups to disrupt New Year celebrations, questioning their knowledge of Islam.

"The Bengali New Yea is a universal celebration,” she explained. “People dress in traditional attire to express their love for our country. I cannot understand why some are opposed to this big event in the name of religion."

Ms Hasina also warned "bloggers and atheist intellectuals not to hurt the religious sentiments of others in the name of freedom of thought".

"It has become fashionable to pass as 'free thought' offensive statements against the faith. I do not consider them free thought, but filth. Why must so much muck be written?”

As a Muslim, she went on to say, “I believe in my religion. Any piece of writing that slanders someone I consider my Prophet is not acceptable to us. Similarly, it would not be acceptable if anyone writes such things about other religions."

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