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Bangladesh Considers Abandoning Official State Religion of Islam after Violence Escalates

Bangladesh Considers Abandoning Official State Religion of Islam after Violence Escalates

The country of Bangladesh will hear petitions this weekend in favor of designating the country as a secular state rather than an Islamic one.

Christianity Today reports that the petitions will be heard after escalating violence in the country raised concerns over the government’s ties to Islam. 

Yesterday, ISIS claimed responsibility for stabbing a Christian man to death. The terrorist group said the killing should be a “lesson to others.”

Islam has been the official religion of Bangladesh since it was added to the constitution in 1988. Before that, Bangladesh had been declared a secular state when it gained independence from Pakistan in 1971.

Opponents to Islam as the official state religion filed an objection with Bangladesh’s Supreme Court in 1988, but gave up their effort when they realized “that the bench would not be favorable to us,” said petition organizer Shahriar Kabir.

Although Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is in favor of decreasing Bangladesh’s Islamic identity and led the effort to amend the constitution to say the country could not grant “political status in favor of any religion,” and also banned “the abuse of religion,” not much has actually changed in practice, and Bangladesh remains an officially Islamic country.

“Minority groups in Bangladesh continue to face discrimination in the law, in society and in treatment by enforcement agencies,” stated Jubilee Campaign and Christian Solidarity Worldwide in a statement to the United Nations this month. “Last year’s multiple attacks on Shia mosques, Hindu temples and threats to Christian church leaders are reflective of the ongoing struggles for religious minorities in Bangladesh. Increasing number of violations on freedom of expression are also concerning, indicated by attacks on bloggers and publishers of secular material.”

Bangladesh is also Number 35 on Open Doors’ 2016 World Watch List of places where Christians face the severest persecution.

“There are fatwas implemented all over the country, especially in rural areas, and there are demands to introduce Shari’ah law in order to show that the country belongs to the ‘House of Islam,’” Open Doors reports. “As the Christian minority is growing, it faces more and more restrictions and challenges. This pressure is not driven by the government, but by radical Islamic groups, local religious leaders, and families.”

However, ninety percent of the country is Muslim, eight percent Hindu, and only two percent Christian and other minorities, so the opposition to making Bangladesh a secular state is sizeable. 

Radical Islamists threatened protests if the Supreme Court rules in favor of abandoning the country’s Islamic affiliation.

Publication date: March 24, 2016