Bangladesh, in a dramatic U-turn from secularism, will adopt Islam as the state religion and allow religion-based political parties to function.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Tuesday came out in favour of retaining Islam as the state religion, moving away from/flouting the secular provisions in the constitution that were incorporated when the country gained independence in 1971.
Bangladesh is a Sunni Muslim majority country. With a population of 150 million, it is the poorest nation in the world and the world’s third largest Muslim country. Hindus account for 9 percent of the population, with the rest being Buddhists and Christians.
For centuries the minority religious communities faced persecution. The worst political-genocide bled the nation when India and Pakistan partitioned in 1947, triggering mass migration of Hindus to neighbouring India and Muslims into Pakistan.
Pro-secularist advocates argue that the rural population and urban middle-class are largely moderate Muslim and practices a tolerant Sufi Islamic philosophy. Opponents of the change say moderate Muslims will be tormented by Islamist political groups, which have an upper hand in state polity.
The ruling Awami League, which Hasina leads, has been a champion of secular politics for decades. Hasina’s father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the country’s founding prime minister, enshrined secularism in the constitution adopted in 1972.
Critics argue that Hasina’s decision is tantamount to defiance of the highest court’s landmark judgment in July last year. The court asked the government to restore the principles of secularism in the constitution.
Taking a departure from the 1972 constitution, Hasina said that the Arabic phrase “Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim” (“In the name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate”) will remain above the preamble of the constitution.