GROWING up in Bangladesh, Shadman Zaman was all too aware of the antisemitism endemic in the Muslim-majority country. Yet he was different.
Inspired by his grandfather, Mahbubul Alam Selim, and Professor Alan Dershowitz’s seminal book The Case for Israel, Shadman became a Zionist.
“Kids are taught to hate Jews and Israel in school, but my grandfather always told me not to judge people before you know them,” Shadman said.
“He introduced me to Zionism and the truth about Israel, which my culture denied.
“My grandfather told me of the dedication, courage and faith which inspired the perseverance of the Jewish people for self-determination in their homeland.”
And Shadman, a doctor in the A&E department at Blackpool’s Victoria Hospital, is converting to Orthodox Judaism.
“I have always been fascinated by Jews and their struggles, how they have always stood by their beliefs and overcome the toughest times in history,” he said.
“I want to be part of the Jewish people.”
The 25-year-old was raised in the cities of Chittagong and Dhaka in a secular Muslim family.
“Bangladesh is a very antisemitic country,” he explained. “The imams are 100 per cent antisemitic and most of my teachers were antisemitic.
“They teach that Jews are made in the image of Satan and people there cannot accept the idea of a Jewish state.”
After reading medicine in Bangladesh, where he also passed his British medical exams, Shadman moved to the UK to study for a master’s degree in public health and policy.
He began to debate Israel with people at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park, London.
Shadman recalled: “They had no problem with Pakistan being a Muslim state, but they had a problem with there being a state for the Jews.
“I told them that this was antisemitic.”
He became involved with Israel advocacy groups in London, too.
At Queen Mary, University of London, Shadman became the Jewish and Israel societies’ secretary.
But he was dismayed to discover the amount of anti-Zionism and antisemitism on campus.
“I wear a Magen David and a kippa, but have ‘dirty Jew’ shouted at me. The levels of antisemitism on university campuses here is shocking.
“But I recognise it is my moral duty to stand up for the truth about Israel, both on campus and in the community.”
Shadman realised his dream in February when he visited Israel.
He believes he is the first Bangladeshi national to go to the Jewish state.
In 2003, fellow Bangladeshi, journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, was convicted of “damaging national interests” with his writing and for his planned trip to Israel.
He is in jail in Bangladesh and won’t be released until at least 2022.
Shadman continued: “I went to the Israeli embassy in London — they had never seen a Bangladeshi passport before!
“I applied for a visa, but really didn’t expect to receive one.
“There was no problem when I arrived at Ben-Gurion airport, but when I was leaving, the chief security officer spoke with me.”
He described his week in Israel as “so beautiful and nothing like it is portrayed in the media”.
Shadman added: “I saw people of all religions. I saw Ethiopian and Muslim soldiers.
“In Bangladesh, they are taught to believe that Arabs are not allowed to vote in Israel, that they are refused entry to the al-Aqsa mosque and that they are not allowed to study at universities.
“I know that it is the Jews who are not allowed to pray at the Temple Mount.
“If the Israel-haters visited Israel, I believe they would change their minds.”
Shadman explained that his parents are supportive of him, but that he can never return to Bangladesh as his life would be in danger. He has received death threats on Facebook, too.
Shadman is planning to move to Prestwich, from where he would commute to Blackpool.