Bangladesh Hints at Removing Islam as State Religion

Murad Hassan, the State Minister for Information of Bangladesh, said that he would speak to Parliament to begin plans to revert to the 1972 constitution. Hassan's remarks were made during the 57th birthday celebration of Sheikh Russell, the youngest son of Bangladesh's founder Sheikh Mujib.

Hassan, speaking at the Engineers Institution of Bangladesh, announced that Bangladesh will not become a haven for religious fundamentalists. "We have to go back to the constitution of '72. I will speak in Parliament to go back to the constitution that Bangabandhu went through," Hassan said.

Hassan's remarks describe what appears to be the Bangladeshi government's plans to address the ongoing violent animosity between the Muslim-majority and the Hindu minority in the country. Bangladesh's Parliament is planning to dissipate religious tensions by amending the 1972 constitution.

Bangladesh's constitution was initially designed to make the country a secular nation with no state religion. Islam became the state religion through an amendment during Hussain Muhammad Ershad's presidency in 1988. 

This is not the first attempt at removing Islam as Bangladesh's state religion. In 2016, the Committee against Autocracy and Communalism's appeal to remove Islam as the state religion was denied by Bangladesh High Court.

The Parliament now seeks to remove Islam as a state religion through a constitutional amendment. The likelihood of this actually happening is another matter. Secular activists with an eye on Bangladeshi issues remain highly skeptical.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said, "Bangladesh is a secular country; people of all religions shall live together in Bangladesh." Hasina's Bangladesh Awami League controls 280 out of the 300 seats in Parliament. She's expecting this plan to go through smoothly. "Religion may be personal, but festivals are universal. And people in Bangladesh have always celebrated such festivals together," Hasina added.

Speaking at a press conference on October 16, Hassan expressed his confidence that the Parliament can pass the amendment with little opposition. "We will soon return to the 1972 secular Constitution that founding father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman gave to Bangladesh after Independence," he said.

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