06/08/2011, 00.00
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Bangladeshi Premier to keep Islam as state religion

by Nozrul Islam
Sheikh Hasina wants to keep the 2007 amendment to the original secular constitution, deemed illegal by the Supreme Court. The Islamic parties most concerned about a return to the Charter of 1972, which bans parties based on religion.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) – The Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina wants to keep Islam the state religion, thus preserving the illegal changes to the Constitution, made in 2007 by the provisional government. In a statement yesterday the prime minister responded to those calls for the restoration of the original secular constitution, as established by the Supreme Court in July 2010. But the most radical Muslims support the Hasina’s position: If the decision of the Court were to prevail, the parties based on religion – which are all Islamic – would have to quit government.

Under the old Constitution it was forbidden for any party to refer to religious principles. With the 2007 amendment, however, several Islamic parties, including the United Islamic Front – currently in opposition, but of significant political - were created. Sheikh Hasina does not want shari'a (instead the United Islamic Front would, ed), but still wants to retain those elements brought into the Constitution following the assassination of her father.

The original Constitution of Bangladesh was written in 1972, the year of the country split from Pakistan, and was based on four fundamental principles: secularism, nationalism, democracy and socialism. The first great champion of the Charter was Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, leader of the Awami League (the majority coalition), the first premier of the State and the Hasina’s father. With the formation of a caretaker government backed by the military, the Constitution changes were made: in the preamble it reads "Bismillahi Rahmani Rahim" (In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful, most Compassionate "), Islam is declared the State religion and political parties of a religious foundation can be voted to parliament.

Bangladesh is a predominantly Muslim country. With a population of 150 million people, it is one of the poorest nations in the world, but the third largest Islamic state in the world. Hindus are about 9% of the population, Buddhists and Christians, a tiny minority.

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