The state is for all – and religion for the individual

Source: Dhaka Tribune

By Saleem Samad, who is an independent journalist, media rights defender, and is a recipient of the Ashoka Fellow and Hellman-Hammett Award. He can be followed on Twitter @saleemsamad.

Is the state religion of Bangladesh only Islam?

A serious question posed by journalist Probir Sikdar, who lost a leg in 2001 while investigating a war criminal in Faridpur who, under a pseudonym, had rubbed shoulders in the corridors of power.

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, while speaking to a group of foreign journalists in January 1972 in London — just a day after he was released from captivity in Pakistan — asserted Bangladesh’s pledge to nationalism, democracy, secularism, and socialism.

Probir argues in a Facebook post: “Will it be wrong if I say the state religion is not only Islam but also other religions in the country, which includes Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians [which] are also included in state religion of the Republic of Bangladesh?”

If the constitution of Bangladesh is browsed, what does it say?

The preamble of the Constitution of Bangladesh also states: “Pledging that the high ideals of nationalism, socialism, democracy, and secularism, which inspired our heroic people to dedicate themselves to, and our brave martyrs to sacrifice their lives in the national liberation struggle, shall be the fundamental principles of the Constitution.”

In the first part of the constitution, the Republic of Bangladesh says: “The state religion of the Republic is Islam, but the State shall ensure equal status and equal right in the practice of the Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, and other religions.”

I sought help from fellow columnist and journalist Syed Badrul Ahsan and writer-researcher Mohiuddin Ahmad, seeking their opinions regarding Probir’s statement.

The two great minds think alike, it seems. They stated that a rational and logical approach should have been: “Religion for the individual, while the state is for all.”

For a decade and more, the issue of religion and state is being discussed in different platforms.

Because of the progressive media, politicians and the civil society now understand that secularism, religious freedom, and tolerance have been held hostage by the radicalized Muslims in the country.

Today, the basic tenet of the Liberation War has been made controversial by the “waz-mongers” and Islamists.

None can deny that the rise of radicalized Islamic evangelists had risen during the two military dictatorships of General Ziaur Rahman and General Hussain Muhammad Ershad for 14 years.

The military leaders who forcibly took charge of the country attempted to white-wash secularism, equality, and tolerance to create a new ideological space vis-a-vis the brutal birth of Bangladesh.

This new phenomenon of intolerance against faith minorities has been deliberately triggered by the politico-military regime to legitimize their illegal statesmanship. The mullahs did not hesitate to bark at the secularists and moderate Muslims too.

In a bid to oppose secularism and freedom of faith and belief, the junta encouraged the Islamic evangelists to take the stage to preach intolerance and spew hate-speech in the name of Islamic sermons.

Well, if not every week, every month there is breaking news of attacks and intimidation on minorities, including harassment towards the Muslim sect Ahmadiyya.

It is the responsibility of the state to ensure security to communities of other faith and belief. Obviously, the occurrences invited Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to issue global media statements.

It’s embarrassing when the international media seek comments on these incidents of intolerance and hate-speech which spark attacks on communities of other faiths and beliefs. Nevertheless, the language of the constitution has confirmed that all other religions in the country be given equal dignity and equal rights.

If other religions are not given equal status and dignity of state religion, then all other faiths and beliefs would be legally challenged with respect to the constitution and equal rights of all other religions in the country.

In light of this debate, it would not be an understatement to say that the state religion is not only Islam but also includes Hindu, Buddhist, and Christians as the state religion of the Republic of Bangladesh, concludes the staunch secularist Probir Sikdar.



Dr. Zia H Shah, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

Suggested reading by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

In Defense of the Secular Narrative of the Holy Quran

BBC Big Questions – Are Religions Unfair To Women?

Reason or Orthodoxy: Which One Should Rule?

Ghamidi’s Urdu Interview: Rationality Versus Orthodoxy in Islam?

‘Islamic Law’: A Myopic Reading of the Quran

Islamism — the Political Islam: The Challenge for the 21st Century

Some Argue Islamism from the Quran and others Secularism and Many argue Both on the Same Day

Kripkean Dogmatism: The Best Metaphor to Understand Religious and Political Debates

9 replies

  1. A excellent topic

    We all support Human Right, freedom of religion and expression— and justice for all—but remember as long as KSA where Islam was born, do not follow Human Rught and justice FOR ALL— non Islamic states have the Right to do the same!

    TO THOSE WHO who support Human Right in India, We ask you to support Human Right in KSA . Be fair—!!

  2. Al Quran is calling the discrimination against non Muslim as following:

    O you who believe, the Mushriks are impure indeed, so let them not approach Al-Masjid-ul-Haram after this year. 6 And if you apprehend poverty, then, Allah shall, if He wills, make you self-sufficient with His grace. 7 Surely, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise. Q.8:28—-

    KSA follows this commandment from God and Prophet Muhammad—-For me this is the old Islamic law, dose not fit to modern society anymore!

    What do you think Zia? Is this Verse is war time?
    Please your explanation Zia?

    Do not delate it Rafiq!

  3. Zia, I know that you have broad knowledge and also live in US, Christian country.

    Do you consider that Christians are unclean or najis or musrykun?

    As God says in Al Quran
    O you who believe, the Mushriks are impure indeed, so let them not approach Al-Masjid-ul-Haram after this year. 6 And if you apprehend poverty, then, Allah shall, if He wills, make you self-sufficient with His grace. 7 Surely, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise. (28)

    Please give us your interpretation of this verse. Thank you

  4. I am talking about equal human and women rights for the present day Hindus and Christians; so of course I do not find them unclean.

    Please move on from divisive paradigms those are unclean.

    • So you reject God’s law above??

      Please can you explain that verse above with Ahmadiyah interpretation ?

      Do you condemn KSA who discriminate against Jews abd Christians ?

      • In no way do I support the human rights violations of KSA. But just to point out: Even KSA does not restrict their visas to Jews, but to Israelis. You do not want to see the difference. Many American Jews visit KSA and even work there I suppose. Kushner is one of them.

    • Somi cannot ‘move on’. His/her complete DNA is only picking out what he/she thinks is negative. Positive thinking is not in his/her DNA

  5. Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

    Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

    (Matthew 22: 34-40)

    Jesus could not be trapped by bigoted teachers of law who were not in search of truth and were just playing word games.

    • Zia and Rafiq did not answer my question— both of then just play the word games

      My question is
      Why KSA do not allow Jews, Chridtians and Hindu enter the city of Mecca and Madinah— why Al Quran say that Jews and Christians are unclean or Najis ??

      Please answer honestly Zia?

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