Saudi-funded mosque building in Bangladesh raises concern about extremism

Following last year’s visit of Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to Saudi Arabia, the Saudi Kingdom has agreed to finance the building of 560 “model mosques,” evoking mixed feelings among Muslim groups who do not share the Saudi Wahhabi interpretation of Islam. Dhaka Tribune (April 20) reports that these mosques will be equipped with libraries and accommodation for foreign guests and are expected to provide primary education to more than 150,000 children. The estimated cost, for which Saudi Arabia will provide the lion’s share, should be more than $1 billion. The representative of a Sufi federation sees no need for new mosques and expressed concerns that they could primarily become channels for the propagation of Wahhabism, at the very time there are growing concerns in Bangladesh about the spread of extremist views of Islam.

This news comes after the Bangladeshi Prime Minister has conceded that the government would recognize degrees from madrassas (Islamic schools), thus paving the way for religious scholars to qualify for public service jobs. In an article published by La Croix International (April 29), Malo Tresca sees this move as the continuation of a strategy pursued over the past 50 years for spreading Wahhabism. Last year French researcher Pierre Conesa published a book on Saudi Arabia’s religious diplomacy, describing a combination of state institutions, private foundations, and Islamic universities engaged in religious soft power (Middle East Eye, March 16). Scholarships allow young people from many Islamic countries to train in Saudi Arabia and then to propagate Saudi religious views in different pars of the world.