Amid ISIS Attacks, Muslim Country of Bangladesh Considers Dropping Islam as Official Religion

Shaeekh Shuvro / Flickr Prayers at a mosque in Dhaka, capital of Bangladesh.
Shaeekh Shuvro / Flickr
Prayers at a mosque in Dhaka, capital of Bangladesh.
Bangladesh’s Supreme Court will hear challenge to 28-year-old constitutional amendment.

ISIS claimed credit today for stabbing to death a Christian convert in Bangladesh as a “lesson to others.”

The attack by Islamist extremists was the latest incident to raise concerns over the Muslim-majority South Asian nation’s official relationship to Islam. This weekend, its highest court will hear a petition for more distance.

When military leaders added Islam as the state religion in Bangladesh’s constitution in 1988, opponents promptly filed an objection with the country’s Supreme Court.

On March 27, the court will finally hear arguments that Bangladesh should return to the secular state it was when it gained independence from Pakistan in 1971. The country is about 90 percent Muslim and 8 percent Hindu, with Christians and other religions filling the remaining 2 percent.

The original 1988 filing was dropped when it was realized “that the bench would not be favorable to us,” petition organizer Shahriar Kabir told Reuters.

When prime minister Sheikh Hasina came to power in 2009, she led efforts to tone down Bangladesh’s Islamic identity. The constitution was amended to declare that the state couldn’t grant “political status in favor of any religion,” as well as to ban “the abuse of religion” and “any discrimination against, or persecution of, persons practicing a particular religion.”

But the constitution still declares that “the state religion of the republic is Islam,” which is what the secular activists now before the Supreme Court find objectionable.

In addition, they argue that the Islamic designation has been used to rationalize recent violence against Christians and other non-Muslims.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra