Years after it was made into an Islamic nation, Bangladeshi leaders have officially announced that the nation will move to become a secular state.

Formerly known as East Pakistan, Muslim majority Bangladesh is set to embrace secularism completely by dropping Islam as its state religion. Top Bangladeshi leaders feel that having Islam as the state religion is not right as the country has people from different religions, living together in harmony. As such, there is a movement for the nation to drop its official religious identity to instead become secular.

Bangladesh, just like Pakistan, was once part of India. Post-independence, both these regions separated themselves from India into one Muslim-majority nation, separated geographically by India. With the separation, some Hindus and Christians who were originally inhabitants of Bangladesh became Bangladeshi citizens. However, the country was officially known as a Muslim-nation until now.

Dr. Abdur Razzak, the leader of Bangladesh’s ruling party, Awami League, believes that the people of Bangladesh have secularism ingrained in them because they stem from a culture that has been receptive to differing ways of life, as such, Razzak says “Islam should not be accommodated as the state religion in the Bangladeshi constitution.”

Razzak now believes that the concepts of majority and minority should be dropped forever and that the Bangladeshi people should be united as one people, irrespective of religion, sect, or ethnicity. At a National Press Club event in Dhaka last Sunday, he even indicated that amendments would be made in the Bangladeshi Constitution to officially remove Islam as the state religion.

Bangladesh gained Independence from Pakistan in 1972, and the concept of secularism was part of the nation at that time. However, under Zia-ur-Rahman, the concept of secularism was replaced with “Absolute trust and faith in the Almighty Allah,” which signified that the country had entered into an era of having Islam as its state religion. This was confirmed when military leader HM Ershad officially declared that Bangladesh was a Muslim nation. A constitutional amendment in 2011 restored secularism, however, it also kept Islam as the state religion.

Religious minorities like the Hindus have been made the target of communal violence, spiking protests Bangladesh’s religious identity. Many Bangladeshi leaders, including the Awami party and the president, Sheikh Hasina, have often condemned these incidents and insisted that the Muslims in Bangladesh have a duty to protect people from minority groups. Top leaders have often indicated that secularism is the way to go for Bangladesh’s future.

This announcement was made by Dr. Razzak at the roundtable conference arranged by SAARC Cultural society. Politicians and journalists from the neighboring country India too were present at the event.

Bangladesh has approximately 150 million Muslims, the fourth largest Muslim population in the world.

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