Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Bangladesh likely to make U-turn from secularism to Islamic hegemony

SALEEM SAMAD

BANGLADESH, A Sunni Muslim majority country in a dramatic u-turn from secularism will adopt Islam as state religion and allow religion-based political parties to function.

Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina on Tuesday has expressed herself in favor of retaining Islam as the state religion, moving away from the secular provisions in the constitution that were incorporated when country gained independence in 1971, writes Indo Asian News Service.
The poorest nation of 150 million is the world’s third largest Muslim country. While Hindus is nine percent and rest are 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 neighboring India and Muslims into Pakistan.

Pro-secularist advocates argue that the rural population and urban middle-class are largely moderate Muslim and practices tolerant Sufi Islamic philosophy. The moderate Muslims will be tormented by the Islamist political groups, which have an upper hand in state polity.

The rights groups and the independent press vigorously debated the summersault of the ruling Awami League, which is champion of secular politics for decades.


After a bloody war of Bangladesh independence from Islamic Pakistan, the new nation adopted secularism and enshrined in the constitution drafted under the founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, incidentally father of Hasina, the prime minister.

Subsequent military juntas’ after Rahman was assassinated in August 1975 doctored the constitution and incorporated religious expressions between 1975 and 1990.

Critics argue that such decision 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 new departure from the 1972 constitution, Hasina said that the Arabic phrase Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim will remain above the preamble of the constitution ‘Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim’ or In the name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate.


Sheikh Hasina told a special parliamentary committee formed to study amendment in the constitution in the light of supreme court verdicts that she would also like to see religion-based political parties to function.

Earlier, Hasina stated in the parliament that her government would keep Islam as the state religion, ignoring the emotions of the overwhelming secular population. However, her aides explained that the ethos of the majority of the population could not be tampered.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and politics. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com