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Bangladesh Supreme Court upheld Islam as State religion

The original constitution of Bangladesh explicitly specified secularism as one of the four fundamental principles. However, in 1988, Islam was declared as the state religion by the 8th amendment to the constitution.

Mar 29, 2016 18:40 IST
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The Supreme Court of Bangladesh on 28 March 2016 upheld the status of Islam as the State religion. The ruling was given by the High Court Division of the court while dismissing a petition filed by Samendra Nath Goswami.

Goswami challenged the legality of the constitutional provision of Islam as the state religion (8th Constitutional Amendment, 1988) despite revival of secularism as a fundamental state policy under a 2011 amendment to the Constitution.

Background

• Bangladesh was formed out of Pakistan as a Muslim majority country in 1971. As per the 2011 census, around 87 percent are Muslims and 12 percent are Hindus.

• The original 1972 constitution of Bangladesh explicitly specified secularism as one of the four fundamental principles that govern the polity of the nation.

• However, the secularism principle was removed from the constitution in 1977 by the 5th amendment by Ziaur Rahman-led Government.

• Subsequently, Islam was declared as the state religion by the 8th amendment to the constitution in 1988.

• In 2010, the Supreme Court restored secularism as one of the basic tenets of the constitution and declared the 5th amendment as illegal. However, the provision relating to Islam as the State religion remains untouched.

• In 2011, Sheikh Hasina-led Government, through the 15th constitutional amendment, restored the Article 12 of the constitution that declares secularism as a governing principle.

Comment

Politics in Bangladesh has long been split over the question of religion. The Khaleda Zia-led Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), now in opposition, supporta the provision of Islam as the official religion.

The BNP argues that the status of Islam as the state religion reflectes the heritage of the vast majority of the population.

On the other side, the incumbent Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League is in favour of secularism and brought in the Article 12 of the constitution.

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