Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | August 4, 2010

On Books and Beatings

Dhaka, Bangladesh

The congested streets of Dhaka provide a steady supply of customers for street vendors and hawkers. These individuals skillfully navigate through slow-moving traffic while balancing arms full of merchandise. The moment that traffic comes to a stop, these savvy vendors kick into aggressive sales mode and go from car to car. These guys offer everything from house-wares, maps, popcorn, varieties of candy, and books – lots of cheap knock-offs of famous and not so famous titles. If you enjoy reading and have plenty of room in your suitcase, you can buy books at better than bargain-basement prices on the streets of Dhaka. I took a photo of one of the many book hawkers who approached our vehicle. Every book hawker on every street corner was peddling the same titles, and every one of these guys that I spoke with was a skillful negotiator. Although the adult literacy rate is estimated to be about 54% of the population, these guys sell lots of books.

We met a young man named Zia yesterday who shared with us the story of how he became a Christian. His story begins with a book. When he was a teenager, a man offered him a free copy of the Gospel According to Luke. As a devout Muslim, Zia was offended and slapped the man in anger. But, Zia kept and later read the book. He was so moved by what he read that he decided to become a follower of Jesus. He eventually met other believers and began to grow in his faith. A few years later he decided that he would do for others what the Christian man had done for him – he decided to give copies of the book of Luke to others in his village. Now, if had Zia hawked any other books, things would have been fine. But, because he was giving away copies of Luke’s Gospel, the chairman of his village and an angry mob confronted Zia. And then, the worst happened. The village chairman, a man elected to keep the peace, struck Zia across the forehead with a machete.

Zia said that the last thing he remembered was falling to the ground and losing consciousness. When the mob dispersed, someone carried Zia to a hospital where he lay in a coma for one month. He spent an additional month recovering from the wound to his head as well as wounds to other parts of his body. The district newspaper reported the story of this young man who had been struck down because he was giving away free copies of a book about Jesus. No one held the village chairman accountable for assaulting Zia. It seemed that the chairman had acted with impunity. However, ironically, three months after the village chairman struck Zia with a machete, thieves broke into the chairman’s home and killed him in the process of the robbery. The local newspaper reported the story of the chairman’s death.

Samuel Zwemer was a missionary to the Muslim world who became known as the Apostle to Islam. Zwemer believed in the value of distributing copies of God’s Word in the Muslim world. Like the Psalmist, he believed that “The entrance of your words gives light” (Ps. 119:130). Zwemer wrote, “No agency can penetrate Islam so deeply, abide so persistently, witness so daringly and influence so irresistibly as the printed page.” The only thing that stopped Zwemer from distributing Arabic leaflets and Bibles was confiscation. Today, young Muslim-background believers like Zia continue to faithfully distribute copies of the book – God’s Book. They understand the power of the printed page. Zia is one among many Christ-followers in Bangladesh who has suffered persecution because of his faith in Christ. But, Zia is determined to continue distributing his free books. He understands better than most that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword.


  1. Hi Omar,

    Glad to catch up with your blogs. We are on hollday in Wales .Amazing stuff.

    We remember the work of AG in Dhaka and the outreach to the poor.

    Every blessing
    Praying for you
    Paul & Sarah Beniston

    • Paul and Sarah,

      Thanks for your prayers. AG folks are certainly doing good work here. Love the people of Bangladesh.


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