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Will High Court restore Secular status of Bangladesh?

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Dhaka, Bangladesh: A spirited debate is unfolding in Bangladesh as its Supreme Court prepares to hear a 28-year-old petition challenging the constitutionality of an amendment that made Islam the state’s religion.

The High Court division of the Supreme Court on March 27 is scheduled to hear the petition and set a future date for a ruling on the amendment, which was enacted under the dictatorship of Gen H M Ershad in 1988.

The country’s constitution guarantees secularism, but the legal move aimed at stripping Islam of its status as the official religion in predominantly Muslim but multi-religious Bangladesh has ruled Islamic groups and parties.

The writ petition was filed 28 years ago by 15 civil society leaders after Ershad’s Jatiya Party led parliament declared Islam as the state religion. But the Supreme Court never heard the case, Rana Dasgupta, one of the lawyers representing the petitioners, told reporters.

“Ten of the petitioners already died before any hearing took place. We firmly believe that the court will examine the documents and give a verdict without being influenced by the comments of others on the issue,” he said.

Dasgupta is also general secretary of the Bangladesh Hindu-Buddhist-Christian Oikya Parishad, an association representing religious minorities that have been targeted in recent and sometimes deadly attacks by suspected Islamic militants, amid a growing wave of fundamentalism.

He said some leaders of Islamic party publically were calling for retaining Islam as the state religion in order to influence the justices before the hearing.

Bangladesh’s original constitution, framed in 1972, adopted secularism as one of the four fundamental principles of the state, according to Dasgupta. However in 1976, the country’s first military ruler and founder of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), Gen Ziaur Rahman, removed the secular provision in the constitution and replaced it with “Faith in the Almighty Allah.”

Ershad, the second military ruler, 12 years later added another change that made Islam into the state religion.

Millions sacrificed in name of secularism

“In 1988, we formed a committee against autocracy and fundamentalism and filed the writ petition. … We sacrificed three million people in the 1971 war [of independence] against Pakistan for a secular country,” Professor Sirajul Islam Chowdhury, one of the 15 petitioners, told reporters.

“Mr Ershad made Islam as the state religion to cash in on common people’s sympathy with a view to prolonging his rule, not for passion for Islam,” he added.

Since 1971, Bangladesh has pursued secularism as a state policy, but the military rulers who usurped power following the August 1975 assassination of the country’s founding president, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Islamized the constitution in a way that went against the spirit of the independence war, Chowdhury said.

“The writ petition is going to be heard after 28 years,” he added, noting that the political atmosphere now was relatively better and more conducive to discussing this issue.

“[W]e think the issue of State religion should be settled now,” he said.

Defaming Islam?

Islamic parties and groups are resisting the legal move, with some leaders even threatened to stage protests over the upcoming court case, according to reports.

“We want Islam to retain [its status] as the State Religion of Bangladesh because the Muslims are the majority here. You will see state religions in many countries in the world,” Abdul Latif Nizami, president of the conservative Islami Oikya Jote party, told agencies.

Islami Oikya Jote is aligned with Bangladesh’s largest faith-based party, Jamaat-e-Islami, and the main opposition the BNP.

Nizami said the majority of Muslims in Bangladesh would not accept scrapping Islam as the state religion. But he declined to say whether the Islamic parties would stage street protests.

“And I hope the judiciary would consider the opinion of the majority of the people while delivering the judgment,” Nizami added.

But a report by Agence France-Presse (AFP) last week quoted Islamic Oikya Jote Secretary General Mufti Mohammad Faiz Ullah as saying that protests could happen.

“Any move to scrap Islam’s status will undermine and defame the religion,” Faiz Ullah told AFP.

“Obviously, the Islamic parties, general people and the clerics will resist the move by holding protests.”

Gauging how people might react

But according to Professor Nizam Uddin Ahmed, a political commentator and author of several books on Bangladeshi politics, the average citizen doesn’t really care about the issue of Islam’s official status in Bangladesh.

“The common people of Bangladesh have never been bothered whether Islam should be the state religion,” he told reporters.

“I personally think that the abrogation of Islam as the state religion would not heat up the country’s political situation because the Islamic parties are cautious about waging a street movement over the issue. Again, they are divided, too,” he added.

In his view, the constitutional amendments passed by the regimes of generals Rahman and Ershad no longer are legitimate because, in 2010, the Supreme Court declared their regimes as illegal.

“In line with the court order, the [ruling] Awami League restored the original 1972 constitution, but they did not risk removing Islam as the state religion of Bangladesh, fearing tough street agitation. Now, both the Islamic parties and the opposition are at bay; the government has established a tight grip,” Ahmed said.

However, another commentator warned that doing away with the provision in the amendment that established Islam as the state religion might worsen the country’s current political climate.

“The hardline Islamic parties and the militant outfit would preach it (replacing Islam with secularism in the constitution) as an anti-Islamic act. Every possibility is there that the militants may mislead the people about secularism,” Brig Gen Shahedul Anma Khan, a security analyst and columnist, told reporters.

(Published with permission from BenarNews)

  • Annesha Das Gupta

    It is not anti-Islam or anti anything. It is just pro liberalism. And high time it should be. There should be mutual respect for every cultural and religious diversity.

Next Story

Rampant Sexual Harassment of Children & Women in Islam

Muslims consider Mecca in Saudi Arabia as their most sacred pilgrimage site. A woman named Sabica Khan took to Facebook to share her #MeToo moment at the aforesaid place

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MUSLIM MAN
How safe are Muslim women? Wikimedia

Gaurav Tyagi

  • Sexual harassment of women and children is a serious problem in Pakistan
  • Kidnapping of girl child is also very common
  • It is not only a problem in Pakistan but in all countries where Islam prevails

Khaled Ahmed a senior Pakistani journalist and the consulting editor of ‘Newsweek Pakistan’ stated that raping and killing of children is a serious problem in Pakistan.

According to him three incidents were reported on January 28 from different districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. A girl child was also kidnapped, raped and killed in Quetta, Balochistan.

1300 applicants after the new rule came in. Wikimedia commons
Muslim women and children are subject to rampant sexual harassment. Wikimedia Commons

A 24 year old man was arrested for raping and killing seven year old girl, Zainab in a city called Kasur, which lies south of Lahore in the Punjab province. This pervert is a religious person and sings songs praising the so called holy prophet of Muslims for a living. He killed seven girls before sexually assaulting Zainab for four days then killing and throwing her dead body in a rubbish dump on January 9.

Police treated her abduction as a routine matter. As per an official count ten children, five of them girls were sexually assaulted and murdered in Kasur within a short span of time.

The first of such incident was reported way back in 2015. This reveals the incompetence of Police and administration in Kasur. Khalid says these sort of unfortunate incidents are rapidly rising all over Pakistan.

Also Reading: Muslim women can now travel for Haj without Mahram

Eight boys were murdered after criminal assaults in 2017. In Sargodha, the body of a violated 15 year old girl was dumped in the fields on January 11. In Pattoki, an 11 year old boy was strangled after being sexually assaulted. In Sheikhupura another eight year old girl was abducted, raped and strangled to death before being thrown in a dustbin.

In Kasur, the Police registered cases against the Plaintiffs for reporting the crime instead of arresting the offenders. The local judge incarcerated the poor parents.

The victims of a gang of rapists even went to Lahore and protested in front of the assembly, after which the Chief Minister, Shahbaz Sharif heard their grievances for four hours. He promised to help the victims with lawyers and transportation but ultimately Sharif didn’t provide any assistance. (1)

Muslim women
Muslim women are being exploited in the name of religion.

‘Bacha bazi’ an old tradition of Afghanistan has been documented in the award winning film ‘The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan’ featuring journalist Najibullah Quraishi. The film depicts accounts of Afghan boys subjected to sexual slavery.

According to ‘The Guardian’; “The bacha (child) dancers are often abused children, whose families have rejected them. Their owners or masters can be single or married men, who keep them in a form of sexual slavery as concubines.”

An Afghan boy Omid says that he is paid approximately $2 for the night and often gang-raped. He mentioned that he cannot go to police for help because the perpetrators are powerful and rich men. The police cannot do anything against them.

The ‘New York Times’ wrote that American soldiers are ordered to ignore the screaming cries of young boys sexually abused by their Afghan allies. The Americans are told to turn a deaf ear to this aspect of ‘Afghan culture’.

‘Pakistan’s Hidden Shame’, a documentary directed by Mohammed Naqvi and produced by Jamie Doran tells deeply distressing stories of vulnerable children from Peshawar.

These unfortunate kids try to ease the pain of their lives by using narcotics or resorting to self-harm by cutting themselves. They get regularly raped as well as gang raped.

Children are being kidnapped and raped on almost daily basis.

According to one man, “Once there was a boy on the bus and everyone had sex with him”. This pervert boastfully admitted to raping 12 different children during his career as a bus conductor. (2)

More than 150 women filed criminal complaints, three quarters of them for sexual assault. Two cases of rape were reported in the infamous mass sex assault by Muslim asylum seekers on girls and women in the German city of Cologne on New Years Eve of 2016. (5)

David Spicer led a review in the wake of ‘Operation Sanctuary’, which saw 18 people jailed for the sexual abuse of young women groomed in Newcastle, U.K.

The exploitation was not recognized in adults. This operation identified approximately 700 victims across the Northumbria Police area, 108 in Newcastle.

Also Read: Muslim women can now travel for Haj without Mahram

Mr. Spicer carried out the serious case review for the Newcastle Safeguarding Adults and Children Boards. He said that “adults were being targeted, groomed and exploited besides children” but the authorities did not have the powers to intervene with adults to stop them from ‘making bad choices’ or forming ‘inappropriate relationships’.

The report also examined the exploitation of boys and men but said it was complex as well as hidden and operated differently to female victims.

Mr. Spicer stated, “The low incidence of identified cases is likely to be a significant under-representation of the abuse occurring”

One of Spicer’s 33 recommendations includes a need for research into the cultural background of abusers, majority of which are from a ‘predominantly Asian or British minority ethnic culture or background’.

Muslim women and children deserve greater justice. Wikimedia Commons

Most of these abusers are British born but came from Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian, Iraqi, Iranian and Turkish Muslim communities.

The Quillam Foundation think tank, which focuses on counter-extremism said 84% of the 264 convicted offenders of gang grooming between 2005 and 2017 were of South Asian Muslim heritage.

David Spicer mentioned that the perpetrators he spoke to ‘displayed no regret and spoke in a derogatory manner about lack of morals in British girls”. (3)

Muslims consider Mecca in Saudi Arabia as their most sacred pilgrimage site. A woman named Sabica Khan took to Facebook to share her #MeToo moment at the aforesaid place.

Sabica says; “It’s sad to say that you are not even safe at holy places. I’ve been harassed, not once, not twice, but thrice. My entire experience at the holy city is overshadowed by this horrible incident”

As soon as Sabica’s post went viral on social media, a large number of Muslim women started sharing their sad experiences of sexual molestation at religious places with the hashtag #MosqueMeToo.

“Each time my mom and her sisters went to Hajj, they were groped-disgusting ppl w/no morals. Toxic patriarchy; keep doing what you’re doing, Mona”- Hassan Saleh.

Muslim
Muslim women are not safe even in the place of their worship. Twitter

“Had to stop going for Taraweeh and Qiyam one Ramadan because of some gentlemen. Stayed mum because I thought no one’d believe me, or I’d be accused of having an overactive imagination. #MosqueMeToo is our skeleton in the closet”- Kali. (4)

It is quite clear from the above mentioned ghastly criminal acts that Islam has a chronic problem regarding sexual abuse of children and women.

Sources;

  1. http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/unsafe-spaces-5057826/
  2. https://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/29547/the-filthy-culture-of-bacha-bazi-in-afghanistan/
  3. http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-tyne-43153556
  4. http://indianexpress.com/article/trending/trending-globally/muslim-women-sharing-their-sexual-harassment-incidents-at-hajj-has-shaken-up-netizens-metoo-5058222/
  5. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/germany/12086473/Suspects-in-Cologne-sex-attacks-claimed-to-be-Syrian-refugees.html

(The author, Gaurav Tyagi, is a Master Degree holder in International Tourism & Leisure Studies from Netherlands and is based in China.)