Thursday, March 31, 2016

High Court Verdict: Islam As State Religion in Bangladesh Will Stay

Bangladesh Supreme Court building, where the High Court is housed, in Dhaka
Photo courtesy: AFP

Bangladesh High Court on March 28, 2016, rejected a writ petition that was submitted for removing Islam as the state religion in the 90%-Muslim-majority country. It means that Islam as the state religion of Bangladesh will continue.

A 15-member secularist activist group – having lawyers, university professors, writers and journalists – had filed the petition in 1988 challenging the status of Islam as the state religion in the country, which in December of 1971 had emerged as an independent but secular country from Islam-oriented Pakistan. They argued that the state religion conflicted with the Bangladesh’s secular character and discriminated against religious minorities. 

Only in June, 2011 did the court take up the case when the petitioners filled a supplementary plea challenging the status. The court then asked the government why the special status of Islam should not be scrapped. But the decision was further adjourned and the verdict was given on March 28 this year. In the same year of 2011, Sheikh Hasina’s government amended the country’s constitution and added “secularism” in it but retained Islam as the state religion. 

It is to be noted that military ruler President Ziaur Rahman came to power in the mid-1970s. To appease Muslim countries like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Libya and some others, he allowed important leaders of the banned Jamaat-i-Islam party  to return to the country from Pakistan and participate in politics. In 1977, with an amendment, he erased secularism from the country’s constitution. Another military ruler and President, Hussain Muhammad Ershad, made Islam as the state religion bringing a constitutional amendment.

In 1988, when the Ershad government was preparing to make Islam as the state religion, religious minorities, including Christians, were apprehensive of the outcomes and repercussions on them because of their second-class status after enjoying equal status with the Muslims since the 1971 independence. 

At the latest verdict of March 28, the religious minorities feel let down in the face of increasing deadly attacks on them (Protestant pastor Rev. Luke Sarker in Pabna District, Italian Catholic priestFather Piero Parolari in Dinajpur Town, and Hindu priest Jogeswar Roy in Panchagarh District) in the recent past. 

‘Secularism’ (which means religious freedom for all religions and no state interference in any one) and ‘Islam as the state religion’ (which means the direct intervention of the state regarding Islam) are two opposites that dilute the consistency in the Constitution of Bangladesh.

To learn more on the writ-petition and background information on the state religion, please read the following:

 (To be updated)

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