Mosque Apartheid in Bhasan Char
Segregation in Islamic Worship
On Bhasan Char island, a curious but not unexpected example of religious segregation has emerged, calling into question the principles of inclusivity and unity central to Islam.
The island is home to just one purpose-built mosque. While it's understood that this single mosque may not have the capacity to accommodate the entire island's population, the issue at hand is not about space but access. The mosque's doors are selectively open, exclusively to the Bengali populace, including NGO workers and Navy staff. This leaves the Rohingya refugees entirely excluded from this place of worship. Consequently, they are compelled to perform their prayers in the confined spaces of the ground floors in their residential areas.
According to Mukta Dinwiddie MacLaren Architects' web site, their construction portfolio includes “3 Shelter Stations modified as mosques and 1 mosque in the BN area.” However, in practice, these 3 shelter stations are not functioning as mosques. Consequently, the only operational mosque is the one utilised by the Navy and NGO staff.
Thus, the refugees find themselves praying in areas that are multipurpose rather than sacred. These spaces serve as makeshift prayer grounds only during designated times; at other moments, they transform back into functional areas for meetings, distributions, and other NGO activities. The visual evidence is telling: the floor mats, laid out for prayers, are promptly rolled up and stored away once the prayer time concludes. There exists no dedicated, tranquil space where a refugee can engage in prayer or quiet reflection outside these designated times – a stark contrast to the permanence and sanctity of a dedicated place of worship. There is no place to perform ablutions. There is no space for women whether inside or outside of prayer times.
This practice of excluding refugees from joint worship deviates from the fundamental Islamic principle of unity and equality among believers. In Islam, every follower is considered equal in the eyes of God, transcending divisions of ethnicity, social status, gender, or nationality. By segregating the Rohingya refugees, preventing their participation in communal worship, this principle is not just overlooked, but actively contradicted. Such exclusion not only erodes the communal and egalitarian essence of Islamic worship but also mirrors a wider societal divide. It raises important questions about the extent to which religious practices are being shaped and dictated by social and political hierarchies.