Why Bangladesh Should be a Secular State?


Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD

Bangladesh will retain Islam as the state religion in amendments the government is proposing to its constitution, a government minister said yesterday, Associated Press reported.

A former military ruler declared Islam the state religion in 1988 by amending the charter, but it barely affected Bangladesh’s secular legal system mainly based on British common law.

The government says the proposed changes won’t affect the legal system. Inheritance and other family laws already are based on religion.

The decision was made two days ago at a Cabinet meeting, the minister told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

A special government committee prepared proposals for the amendment, and the government will send those proposals to the parliament for passing as a law.

In 2009 the population of Bangladesh was estimated at 156 million. About 90% of Bangladeshis are Muslims and the remainder are mostly Hindus.  What about the Hindus if Bangladesh goes Islamic and which version of Islam?  Would it be Sunni Islam, Shia Islam or Ahmadiyya Islam?

Could this turn of events in Bangladesh be the slippery slope that is menacing Pakistan?

What if the neighboring India decides to be a Hindu State, while they have significant Muslim, Sikh and Christian minorities?

What if they start practicing Sati and the caste system and put the 170 million Muslims in India in the lowest scheduled caste?

Satī (Devanagari: सती, the feminine of sat “true”; also called suttee)[5] was a social funeral practice among some Indian communities in which a recently widowed woman would immolate herself on her husband’s funeral pyre.[1] The practice was banned several times, with the current ban dating to 1829 by the British.[2]

The term is derived from the original name of the goddess Sati, also known as Dakshayani, who self-immolated because she was unable to bear her father Daksha‘s humiliation of her (living) husband Shiva. The term may also be used to refer to the widow. The term sati is now sometimes interpreted as “chaste woman”. Sati appears in both Hindi and Sanskrit texts, where it is synonymous with “good wife”; the term suttee was commonly used by Anglo-Indian English writers.[3]

In India, the caste system is a system of division of labour and power in human society. It is a system of social stratification,[1] and a basis for affirmative action.[2][3] Historically, it defined communities into thousands of endogamous hereditary groups called Jātis.[4]

The Jātis were grouped by the Brahminical texts under the four well-known caste categories (the varnas): viz Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras. Certain people were excluded altogether, ostracized by all other castes and treated as untouchables.[5][6]

Although identified with Hinduism, caste systems have also been observed among other religions on the Indian subcontinent, including some groups of Muslims, Buddhists and Christians.[7][8][9] The latter are similar to the caste system reported in the Igbo-Osu Christian community in Africa.[10][11]

Caste is commonly thought of as an ancient fact of Hindu life, but various contemporary scholars have argued that the caste system was constructed by the British colonial regime.

Caste is neither unique to Hindu religion nor to India; caste systems have been observed in other parts of the world, for example, in the Muslim community of Yemen, Christian colonies of Spain, and Japan.[1][12][13]

What if the Christian countries retain their Christian character and start Spanish style inquisitions?

The Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition (Spanish: Tribunal del Santo Oficio de la Inquisición), commonly known as the Spanish Inquisition (Inquisición española), was a tribunal established in 1480 by Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. It was intended to maintain Catholic orthodoxy in their kingdoms, and to replace the Medieval Inquisition which was under Papal control. It became the most substantive of the three different manifestations of the wider Christian Inquisition along with the Roman Inquisition and Portuguese Inquisition.

The Inquisition was originally intended in large part to ensure the orthodoxy of those who converted from Judaism and Islam. This regulation of the faith of the newly converted was intensified after the royal decrees issued in 1492 and 1501 ordering Jews and Muslims to convert or leave.

Various motives have been proposed for the monarchs’ decision to fund the Inquisition such as increasing political authority, weakening opposition, suppressing conversos, profiting from confiscation of the property of convicted heretics, reducing social tensions and protecting the kingdom from the danger of a fifth column.

What if Israel takes a greater Jewish flavor and color?  To get a glimpse of that you may want to spend a few hours reading Deuteronomy and Leviticus cover to cover and if you do not have enough time at your disposal then settle for:

Violence in the Bible and Jihad in the Quran.

Can Bangladesh choose to learn from the experience of Pakistan?  Despite the secular vision of her founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah, as the politicians chose to pander to the right wing and the Mullahs, after the creation of Pakistan, it gave footing to fundamentalism and extremism and rest is history.  To illustrate, what I mean, allow me to link two short articles:

Tracing hate: –The Slippery Slope for Pakistan After 1953 Anti Ahmadiyya Riots

If the moderates and the secular Muslims and the Hindus in Bangladesh are not yet convinced of the wisdom of this post, they may want to read about apostasy in medieval Islam in Wikipedia:

In medieval times, several Sunni schools of Islamic jurisprudence held that apostasy by a male Muslim is punishable by death, differing on whether to execute the apostate immediately or grant the apostate an initial opportunity to repent and thus avoid penalty. They also differentiated between harmful and harmless apostasy (also known as major and minor apostasy) in accepting repentance.[11] However, other scholars also held different views, such as that of Ibrahim al-Nakha’i (d. 715) and Sufyan al-Thawri and their followers, who rejected the death penalty and prescribed indefinite imprisonment until repentance. The hanafi jurist Sarakhsi also called for different punishments between the non-seditious religious apostasy and that of seditious and political nature, or high treason.[12][13]

Medieval Islamic scholars also differed on the punishment of a female apostate: death, enslavement, or imprisonment until repentance. Abu Hanifa and his followers refused the death penalty for female apostates, supporting imprisonment until they re-embrace Islam. Hanafi scholars maintain that a female apostate should not be killed because it was forbidden to kill women by the Islamic prophet Muhammad, and because women are unlikely to take up arms and endanger the community.[13]

In modern times, some Islamic scholars, including Wael Hallaq, state that apostasy laws are not derived from the Qur’an.[14] Several modern scholars oppose any penalty for apostasy, including Gamal Al-Banna,[6][15] Taha Jabir Alalwani,[16] Ahmad Kutty of the Islamic Institute of Toronto[7]and Shabir Ally.[17] Quran Alone Muslims do not support the apostasy penalty, citing verses from Qur’an which advocate free will.[18]

Others believe that the death penalty can only be applied when apostasy is coupled with attempts to “harm” the Muslim community, rejecting the death penalty in other cases. These include,[1][19][20] Ahmad Shafaat,[21] Jamal Badawi,[11] Yusuf Estes,[22] Javed Ahmad Ghamidi,[23] andMaliki jurist Abu al-Walid al-Baji.

Indian preacher Zakir Naik stated that if a former Muslim speaks against Islam then that is considered as treason and punishable by death in a country ruled by Islamic law. He also stated that he does not know of any country which is ruled by 100% Islamic law.[citation needed] However, in a 2011 address to the Oxford Union he stated that death is not the “standard punishment” for apostasy.[24][25][26][27] The former view is held by other contemporary Islamic scholars such as Bilal Philips,[28] and Yusuf al-Qaradawi,[29] the latter reduces the punishment to imprisonment till repentance in the case of an apostate who did not proclaim apostasy,[30] whereas the judgement which is still widely adopted advocates death for every ex-Muslim, for instance, Muhammad Al-Munajid the owner, writer and administrator for the popular islam-qa.com site advocates that judgement stating that leaving them alive “may encourage others to forsake the truth”.[31]

In the above quote, between the lines one can read that the concern of the jurists was more of a political issue of treason, rather than a purely religious issue, based on the realities of their times.

Incidentally, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, on the other hand, argues, based on the Holy Quran and early Islam that there is no physical punishment for apostasy in Islam, even though political crimes like treachery and mutiny are punishable.  Here I link two booklets on the issue of apostasy from the Ahmadiyya perspective:

The Truth About The Alleged Punishment for Apostasy in Islam

Punishment of Apostasy in Islam

I believe every country of the world should learn from the successful experience of USA, in terms of Human Rights within the country and their constitution should start with the second paragraph from the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

This would not only be a salute to any and every successful human experience, in history, but also to human rights, to USA, to Islam and the Holy Prophet Muhammad.  Settling for anything less than this is insult to Islam, its universal message and a slander and a blasphemy to the loving and compassionate prophet, the Holy Prophet Muhammad, who was sent as mercy to the whole of mankind. (Al Quran 21: 108)

Constitution of every country could also include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which they are signatory to anyways.

“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 10. 1948,” said the first Foreign Minister of Pakistan,  Sir Zafrulla Khan, “embodies the broadest consensus of contemporary civilization on the subject of Human Rights.  This booklet (Islam and Human Rights) attempts a comparative study of Islam and The Declaration.”

Additional Readings

Solomonic wisdom needed to establish Separation of Mosque-Church-Synagogue and State

Alislam-eGazette publishes another landmark volume about ‘Separation of Mosque-Church and State‏’

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Islam!


3 replies

  1. The word “secular” has been misinterpreted all over the muslim countries. The mullah has indoctrined the masses into thinking that secular means “no religion” or “lamazhab”. Secularism allows everyone to practice their religion without any hindrance from the State or the Government. In the secular system, the church & the mosque should be paying taxes.

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