DHAKA: A madrassa in Bangladesh said on Tuesday that it confiscated hundreds of cell phones and burned them in a bonfire because they distracted the students from their learning.

Students at the seminar in southeastern Bangladesh were ordered to hand over their cell phones to school administrators on Sundays, who then threw the devices en masse to a fire in a nearby field.

“These devices are ruining their character,” said Azizul Hoque, a spokesman for madrasa Darul Ulum Moinul Islam, or Islamic seminary.

“The students use the Internet (on their phones) throughout the night and then doze during the classes the next morning, their parents are worried.”
Hoque said the seminar, a 123-year-old institution with 14,000 registered students, was not against technology “but the negative results of mobile phones far outweigh its positive aspects.”

“We are inundated with letters seeking fatwas (Islamic edicts) from Muslims against the use of mobile phones, as many complained that the devices were frequently used for extramarital affairs.”

The Muslim majority in Bangladesh is officially secular, but Muslim clerics have enormous influence, especially in the more socially conservative rural areas of the country.

The madrasah in Hathazari, on the outskirts of the port city of Chittagong, is led by Ahmad Shafi, the head of the radical group Hefazat-e-Islam.

The movement has become a political force in recent years that shakes the Islamic government in the country of 160 million. The campaign has put him in conflict with the secular government of Bangladesh.

Hundreds of thousands of Hefazat supporters marched to the capital Dhaka in 2013 to demand the implementation of religious laws, including the criminalization of blasphemy and gender segregation in the workplace.

The protests sparked widespread violence and left almost 50 people dead while police evicted protesters from Dhaka’s commercial center.

More recently, the movement reached an agreement with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who agreed to recognize the academic qualifications of the seminars, allowing his students to run for government jobs.