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Bangladesh court rejects scrapping Islam as state religion

Minorities wanting a secular charter accuse judges of bowing to pressure from Islamic groups

ucanews.com reporters, Dhaka

ucanews.com reporters, Dhaka

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Bangladesh court rejects scrapping Islam as state religion

Bangladeshi Islamist leaders flash victory signs after the Bangladesh Supreme Court rejected a petition challenging Islam as the state religion in Dhaka on March 28. (Photo by AFP)

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Bangladesh's Supreme Court dismissed a petition on March 28 calling for the removal of Islam as the state religion, following threats of violent protests by hard-line Islamic groups and much to the dismay of minorities.

A three-judge bench rejected the petition, which claimed Islam's status as the state religion was in conflict with the country's secular constitution, moments after the hearing opened and without examining any arguments.

The petition was originally filed in 1988 to challenge a constitutional amendment by the then-military government that made Islam the state religion of Muslim-majority Bangladesh.

Minorities said the amendment to the secular constitution, adopted after Bangladesh became independent from Pakistan in 1971, would lead to discrimination of minorities.

Although the ruling Awami League Party, reinstated secularism as a pillar of the constitution following a Supreme Court ruling in 2009 it kept Islam as the state religion out of fear of losing votes.

Minority groups criticized the court and expressed disappointment at the decision, accusing the court of bowing to Islamist pressure.

"Without providing an opportunity for arguments the court discharged the petition and questioned the legal basis to challenge the constitutional provision," said Subroto Chowdhury, a leading figure in the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council, a major interfaith forum.

"We are dismayed over the court decision, but we won't give up. We can still appeal the decision once we have a full copy of the verdict," he said.

Bishop Bejoy D'Cruze of Sylhet, chairman of the bishops' Christian Unity and Interreligious Dialogue Commission also expressed dismay at the court decision.

"Perhaps, threats of violence from Islamic groups have influenced the court. [The decision] will ultimately embolden religious extremists," the bishop said.

"When a nation has a state religion, it makes other religions inferior. However, we still hope the government will ensure equal rights for all minorities, so they are not abused and tortured by fundamentalists from the majority religion," he said.  

Many among minority communities believe the court caved in to pressure by militant groups.

Jamaat-e-Islami, the country's largest radical Islamic political party had called for a nationwide strike on March 28 to protest the court decision to review the case.

"Bangladesh is 90 percent Muslim. People will never accept any government move to remove Islam as the state religion in an effort to please a handful of anti-religious persons," Jamaat's acting secretary-general Shafiqur Rahman said in a March 26 statement.

Jamaat withdrew the strike threat immediately after the court rejected the petition.

About 90 percent of Bangladesh's population is Muslim, 8 percent are Hindus while the rest belong to other religions including Buddhism and Christianity.







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