Tens of thousands of people gathered to mourn the leader of Bangladesh’s largest Islamist group as his funeral was held Saturday, September 19, in a rural southeastern town, police said.
Allama Shah Ahmad Shafi, who had led the hard-line Hefazat-e-Islam group since it was formed in 2010, died of age-related complications Friday in the capital Dhaka. He was believed to be more than 100 years old.
His death came a day after an unprecedented revolt involving thousands of students at his highly influential madrasa, or Islamic school, forced him to resign after three decades as its chair.
Shafi made his mark in national politics when he marched tens of thousands of his followers into central Dhaka in May 2013, demanding harsh blasphemy laws and the execution of atheist bloggers.
The rally ended in violence when police evicted his followers from the capital’s main commercial center. About 50 people were killed in clashes with security forces, most of them shot, in some of the worst political violence the country had ever seen.
On Saturday, after Shafi’s body was brought back to his school in Hathazari outside the port city of Chittagong, vast crowds of his followers rushed to pay their respects.
Bangladesh is 90% Muslim and Shafi drew on support from seminaries at the tens of thousands of Islamic schools in the conservative nation of 168 million people.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina praised Shafi’s contribution to the expansion of Islamic education in the country in a statement.