Nasir Khan, November 16, 2016
In 1971, the people of East Pakistan achieved their political separation from West Pakistan at a very high cost. The country since then called Bangladesh like many Asian countries has been a traditional country where religions in the lives of its people have played an important part as a cohesive force. There are Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Buddhists and others living in this country.
It is good to see a state adhering to the principle of non-partisanship in matters of religion and treating the followers of all faiths as equal citizens where the followers of minority religions have no fears of discrimination and recriminations. Obviously, the role of state in modern times is much different from what it was in the middle ages.
In democracies, religion and state are separated. No person of sound mind any longer stands for a coercive state that imposes its own version of religion on its citizens. Only the misguided and indoctrinated people oppose the separation of state and religion. However, a democratic state remains neutral in matters of religion; it does not favour or patronise one section of the population over the others merely because of religion. This is the path of secularism in which state respects all religions without letting any religion dictate its political and social policies in any way. Under such a system, people can practise their religions and follow their religious traditions without any intervention from the state.
If Bangladesh follows the democratic model and allows the people to follow whatever religions they want to follow without patronising one religion as state religion then the country has taken a major step in the right direction. No doubt, conservative and retrogressive forces within the country will oppose any such democratic and humane path.
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Government officials in Bangladesh are considering dropping Islam as the country’s national religion after a senior politician claimed Bangladeshi people have embraced “a force of secularism”.
Dr Abdur Razzak, a leading member of Bangladesh’s ruling Awami League party, proposed the religion be withdrawn from the country’s constitution during a discussion at the National Press Club in the capital Dhaka.
“Bangladesh is a country of communal harmony. Here we live with people from all religions and Islam should not be accommodated as the state religion in the Bangladeshi constitution,” Dr Razzak said in his report.
“I have said it abroad and now I am saying it again that Islam will be dropped from Bangladesh’s constitution when the time comes.
“The force of secularism is within the people of Bangladesh. There is no such thing as a ‘minority’ in our country.”
Dr Razzak added he believed Islam had been maintained as the state religion for “strategic reasons”, but declined to elaborate on this during the discussion.
Islam is the largest religion in Bangladesh, with a practicing Muslim population of approximately 150 million – making it the fourth largest Muslim population in the world after India, Pakistan and Indonesia.
According to a national survey from 2003, religion was the primary way Bangladeshi citizens identified themselves, and atheism was found to be rare.
During a recent speech, Bangladeshi prime minister Sheikh Hasina highlighted the importance of “taking care” of those who follow minority religions.
“As a Muslim majority country it is the moral responsibility of the Bangladeshi citizens to take care of minorities,” she told a conference.
“Bangladesh is a country of communal harmony which should be maintained at any cost for development and brighten the country’s image.”
The prime minister also condemned the recent actions of the militant group Isis, who have carried out various violent attacks against religious minority communities this year.
“You have to remain careful so that no such incidents, which are taking place sporadically in different parts of the country, take place anywhere in the country,” she added