Gariwo: the gardens of the Righteous

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A Garden of the Righteous in Dhaka

by Emilio Barbarani

The memorial stone dedicated to Faraaz Hossain in the Garden of the Righteous of Tunis

The memorial stone dedicated to Faraaz Hossain in the Garden of the Righteous of Tunis

A few days ago GARIWO came to Dhaka to join the celebrations for the 18th anniversary of the main local daily newspaper, Prothom Alo (over 5,5 million copies sold every day, and a twice as much of online subscribers), and – above all – to honour the memory of a Righteous, the young Muslim student who, on past 1st July in Dhaka, during the terror attack to the sadly known Holey Artisan Bakery restaurant, had chosen to sacrifice his own life to remain on the side of his two young girl friends. .

Faraaz' family, co-owner of the newspaper, meant to express its gratitude to GARIWO and its Chairman, Gabriele Nissim, for honouring Faraaz, a few days after the attack, by welcoming his tree in the new Garden of the Righteous created inside Italy's Embassy in Tunis.
Actually, considering the absolutely extraordinary character of Faraaz Hossein's conduct during the assault - in which many Italians lost their lives -, I had come to Dhaka as an ambassador of GARIWO also to negotiate the opening of a local Garden of the Righteous, in which to honour also the young martyr in the first place.

Esteem and gratitude have been expressed to GARIWO in many private and public ways, from the family of Faraaz, which is well-known in the country, for welcoming their boy among the Righteous. Very moving were the expressions of young Zaraif, the victim's brother, his mother Simeen, great in her grief, of his grandfather, Latifur Rahman, influential local "patriarch". I have never noticed any wish of revenge, not even deeply concealed, in their words or on their faces.I have only hinted the presence of an endless suffering. 

With them, with the numerous people I came in touch with, I was invited to reason on the nature of the Righteous and our Gardens and the meaning of Faraaz' sacrifice. Uneasy themes, if we consider the still prevalent dismay among his friends, both boys and girls, that I have seen cry more than once.

“Who are hence the Righteous you accept in your Gardens?” – I was asked many times. I started explaining very often the Righteous appear when the established authority falls short of its duties, is absent, lacks resolve to help the weak, whenever there is a deficit in legality, or -worse -when it undertakes perilous paths. Then the figures of the Righteous may appear.

The Righteous appears as animated by a strong sense of justice, pity, courage, solidarity, by an "instinct for Good" that urges him to act in an extraordinary, often unpredictable way. He seems to be somehow inspired, he finds in himself unexpected courage and strength.

It is not easy to understand what happened in the heart and mind of Faraaz, because that would take us into the irrational. It is likely that the young martyr acted in those tragic times "unreasonably", without a concrete interest, without any precise motivations, except for his sense of friendship, his love for his neighbour and justice, and he was urged by the “instinct for Good". Faraaz could have saved his life. He had proven his executioners he belonged to the Muslim faith, he had recited the Koran, they had pardoned him and invited him to leave. He chose to remain in place not to leave his young girl friends, Abinta and Tarishi, in the ultimate test and die with them. Magnificent is the figure of this 20 years old, brightly rising in its tragic simplicity, urging us to ask ourselves once again: what is a Righteous?

The Gardens of the Righteous mean to put names to the unknown people - and there are many! - who on different fronts, over the past century until now, have stepped in to the defence of the persecuted, in favour of dialogue, acceptance, and inclusion and fighting against fanaticism, destruction and death. In these difficult moments, in which the old forms of hooliganism, on the right and on the left, seems to unearth its weapons,the Righteous figures can become eloquent examples to be followed. 

This concept of the Righteous and the Gardens of the Righteous was shared in Dhaka by a charming character, a "pure madman", idealistic and visionary, who when he was a young boy, despite belonging to a well-off family, had taken part in the war of independence of the country, fighting in the jungle for seven months against the regular army. Today he is the person in charge of the creation and preservation in Bangladesh of the "places of memory" remembering the victims of violence and repression in the homeland and the killing fields scattered all around the world, including Europe. Akku Chowdhury, in love with GARIWO and its philosophy, aware that today all over our planet there is an ongoing cultural battle, not always overt, on the founding principles of civil coexistance, is a convinced supporter of the usefulness of keeping the memory of the Righteous alive, proposing them to the new generations as examples to emulate, and persuaded in affirming that the countries that share a democratic "worldview" must activate to control the growing forces that tend to oppose it.

A deep kind of reason seem to inspire and unite the Righteous' conduct - Akku observed -, in particular of those who have recently risked their lives to protect those who belong to ethnic-social group that are considered as "diverse", comprising also those who still nowadays act in the defence of the political, religious and social persecuted. The Righteous always appeared as animated by a sacred principle: the respect of human beings. They are persuaded that reciprocal respect can generate Justice, and along with it, Peace.

By planting a tree in honour of Faraaz Hossein, a Muslim - I made clear - in the Garden inaugurated in our Embassy in Tunis, my country meant to honour his memory and example. A historic clash has been configurating and it is necessary to defuse it if we wish to ensure the survival and strengthening of our "worldview", which today is imperiled by different forms of fanaticism that are rearing their ugly heads again. We must recall our children to return to believe in a world founded on justice, peace, beauty and love. The regret for the loss of Faraaz must not lead us to forget that there are young boys and girl who represent an alternative to the resurfacing visions, stemming from old forms of fanaticism and totalitarianism. "Today we have sought to remember and honour Faraaz Ayaaz Hossain, a Muslim Righteous. GARIWO express the wish that very soon, as the conditions of internal politics of Bangladesh make it possible, it is possible to open in Dhaka a Garden of the Righteous, with the first tree dedicated to him.”

Analysis by H.E. Emilio Barbarani, former Ambassador of Italy to Santiago del Chile

21 November 2016

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Amina Wadud

professor of Islamic studies in the Philosophy and Religious Studies Department of Virginia Commonwealth University, USA