03/08/2016, 13.57
BANGLADESH

Bangladesh Supreme Court to discuss abandoning Islam as State religion

Sumon Corraya

The judges will have to decide on legitimacy of constitutional eighth amendment, added in 1988, which defines Islam as the state religion. Islamic radicals "justifying" violence against minorities in the name of Islam. Catholic community welcomes the initiative, Muslims divided.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) – Bangladesh’s Supreme Court has begun hearings to decide whether to eliminate Islam as the State religion. The initiative stems from a petition submitted by writers, educators and activists, with the goal of reducing violence by Islamic radicals against religious minorities.

The Christian community has welcomed the overall proposal. The Muslim community is instead divided between those who believe it legitimate in a country where Muslims account for 90% of the population, and who believes that the state should "represent all citizens equally".

In 1988 with the eighth amendment, the military authorities in Bangladesh inscribed Islam as the official religion in the Constitution. In the first basic charter of 1971, drafted upon independence from Pakistan, the confessional element was absent.

According to the petitioners in recent months, the Islamic religion has been used to "justify" a series of violent acts and discrimination against Christians, Hindus and Shiites. Minorities are the target of ruthless fundamentalists attacking Christians private property, churches and Hindu priests, as well as bloggers, writers and activists guilty of being "atheists".

The minorities feel like "third class citizens, abandoned by the authorities." This is why they decided to challenge the legality of the eighth amendment. Speaking to AsiaNews, Rosaline Costa, Catholic activist and coordinator of Hotline Human Rights Bangladesh, says: "In a State one religion should not prevail. I believe there should be equal rights for all faiths. If the High Court is considering whether to eliminate Islam in the Constitution, this means that we can all ask the Government for the same rights".

"Our people - she adds - can no longer be attacked by Islamic radicals and justice will be done more easily, because in that case we will be regarded as victims of crimes".

The Muslim world is divided on the issue. Mahammad Hasan, a university student, says: "I would not welcome the elimination of Islam as the state religion. 90% of the population is Muslim, and so it is right that Islam is the religion of our state".

Yousuf Rahman is of a different opinion. He tells AsiaNews: "I believe that there should not be no state religion, because people with different faiths live in the country. It is a country for all its citizens. I would be pleased if the Supreme Court delivers a verdict against Islam as the official religion".

Rosaline Costa concludes: "No progressive nation has an official religion. If a state belongs to one confession, this creates barriers to harmony between its communities".

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