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Loneliness and isolation drive one family to suicide

ICC Note: This tragic story only serves to highlight the deep isolation Christian converts feel in a Muslim-dominated country.

by Nozrul Islam
7/17/07 Bangladesh (AsiaNews) – Although a daughter denies it, probably because she was far away, everything suggests that the group suicide of a Bangladeshi family was due harassment, threats and isolation that followed their conversion to Christianity. On July 11 in fact all nine of them jumped under a speeding train near Mymensingh, a town about 130 kilometres north of Dhaka.

They were Christians but members of a small group unaffiliated to any of the major Protestant denominations or to the Catholic Church. But their one surviving elder daughter Merajun Nahar Mobi denies even that. Although initially thought to be among the dead, she came forth after learning of the tragedy, accusing her maternal uncles of killing off the entire family out of greed.

AsiaNews gathered various threads from different sources and put together a story which began when the father Anwar Hosein died in Dhaka in 2000. He was held in high regard in his community, even venerated by some as a pir or Sufi spiritual master. At the funeral his family insisted that his body be buried along an East-West alignment out of respect for his dying wishes. Muslims objected to this choice, arguing that they violated Muslim customs which required that bodies be buried pointing in the direction of Makkah. To justify their demands the family claimed that their father had become a Christian. But when informed no local Protestant clergyman and even the parish priest at Mymensingh’s Catholic cathedral said they had had any contacts with the deceased or his family. In the end Anwar was buried according to Muslim custom in Kalibari Road Musim Cemetery. As strange as it might seem, it was the first step in a process that led to the family’s isolation.

Two years later the eldest son, a university professor, was himself killed in Dhaka. The family again that demanded that he be buried as a Christian but again since no one could back their claim he, like his father, was buried in the same Muslim cemetery.

With the eldest male gone, the family turned further inward and became even more isolated as relations with their neighbours came to a complete end.

The family as a whole felt they were treated as inferior, ostracised by everyone. And perhaps this might why three diaries were found, each one telling their stories.

Two days before they died, someone erected a bamboo fence around their home almost as a sign to warn them off, telling them not to come out of their circle.

Two factors seem to have played a major role in the tragedy. One goes back to before the conversion and has to do with the fact that Anwar, the head of the family, was a Sufi mystic and spiritual master. Like in many Sufi groups he and the family gave great importance to dreams. After the master’s death the family members came under the spell of the dreams they had of him. It appears that in one dream he forewarned: “Do not fear, if the situation becomes intolerable you can come where I am.” Did he mean Heaven? Who knows?

The second key factor lies in their “conversion” to Christianity. In Bangladesh there have been reports about groups of Muslim of undefined origin or nature “spontaneously” starting to live according to the Gospel. In Anwar’s case it appears that he might have come into contact with some kind of NGO, although it is unclear whether it was a religious sect or a real NGO. But what is clear is that among the rules new Christians must respect there is a requirement to pray five times a day like Muslims, using Qur’anic language, but reciting Christian prayers. The main reason ostensibly would be to avoid having to confess or say that one is Christian. But the net effect of this is to isolate them even from their fellow Christians.

With such tragic loneliness and isolation getting worse over the years, it is no wonder that the family saw no other way out but the one they chose.