South Asia

Debate over Islam and politics, reignited by Bangladesh politician

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed
Islam will be dropped as Bangladesh’s state religion, according to one senior politician in the country highlighting the country’s long debate over the position of faith in its constitution.

Dr Abdur Razzak, presidium member of the ruling Awami League, is reported to have made the comments at a roundtable organised by SAARC Cultural Society at the national Press Club of Bangladesh on 12 November 2016, according to media reports.

BDNews24.com a bilingual Internet newspaper published from Bangladesh quoted the former food minister, “I have said it abroad and now I am saying it again that Islam will be dropped (as state religion) from Bangladesh’s Constitution when the time comes,”

Islam has been kept as the state religion for strategic reasons,” Dr Razzak reportedly told the media.

Politicians and journalists from India also participated in the SAARC roundtable entitled ‘Strong Unity of Masses of Bangladesh and India to Prevent Terrorism’

Dr Razzak underlined the importance of secularism for Bangladesh and said, “The force of secularism is in the people of Bangladesh. There is nothing called ‘minority’ in our country.”

After securing its independence from Pakistan in 1971, Bangladesh adopted Secularism in its constitution as one of its four basic principles when it was adopted in 1972. However in 1975, after Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founding leader of Bangladesh, was assassinated, the direction of the country started to change.

Ziaur Rahman, who captured power in 1977, replaced the term ‘Secularism’ with ‘Absolute trust and faith in the Almighty Allah’ in the constitution, and removed references to freedom of religion. Although he brought stability to the country, he was also responsible for using religion as a major factor in politics by forming the Bangladesh Nationalist Party that replace the secular Bengali nationalism with the more Islamic “Bangladeshi nationalism”.

Later military dictator Hussain Mohammad Ershad declared Islam as Bangladesh’s state religion in 1988. He also added “Bismillahi-r-Rahmani-r-Rahim” at the beginning of the constitution.

Since then there have been regular demands to bring back secularism and to drop Islam as the state religion and in 2011, Secularism was restored along with Nationalism, Socialism, and Democracy, as the four basic principles of the constitution of the country. However Islam continued to remain the state religion.

In March earlier this year, the Bangladesh Supreme Court rejected a 28-year-old petition to remove Islam as the state religion of the country.

Islam is the largest religion in Bangladesh, the country being the fourth largest Muslim country in the world with 150 million Muslims. The treatment of religious minorities in Bangladesh continues to be a cause of concern with frequent atrocities reported on the Christian and Hindu communities of the country.