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Bangabandhu’s vision of secular Bangladesh abandoned after his demise

  • Published at 03:10 pm August 9th, 2021
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Courtesy

History books say from his childhood, Bangabandhu was a secular politician

Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, consistently a secular politician in his lifetime, did not impose any religious features in the constitution of independent Bangladesh. 

Following the assassination of Bangabandhu on August 15, 1975, Ziaur Rahman took charge of the nation after Khondaker Moshtaq Ahmad’s short-lived regime and added Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim at the beginning of the constitution through the fifth amendment, thus jettisoning  the principle of secularism.

Later, when Hussein Muhammad Ershad seized power, he declared Islam as the state religion and introduced Friday as the general holiday in line with the Jummah prayers offered on th day by Muslims.

Before that, Sunday was the weekly government holiday that had been the norm under the Pakistan regime and continued under Bangabandhu’s governance.

The history books note that from his childhood, Bangabandhu was a secular politician.

That is why in 1955, his party struck out the term “Muslim” from its original name of Awami Muslim League, formed in 1949.

As the constitution of Bangladesh was  being drafted in 1972, Bangabandhu expressed his secular views in parliament.

On October 12, 1972, while participating in a discussion in parliament on the draft constitution, Banagabandhu said: “We believe in secularism. Secularism does not mean the absence of religion. Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists --- everyone will perform their own religion. No one can interfere with others’ religious beliefs. The people of Bangladesh do not want interference in religion.”

“Religion cannot be used for political reasons. Religion will not be allowed to be used in Bangladesh for political purposes. I believe that if anyone does it, the people of Bengal will retaliate against them,” Bangabandhu added in his speech.

According to the book, “Sheikh Mujib in National Assembly (1972-1975)", edited by Sheikh Hasina and Baby Maudud, Bangabandhu again firmly talked about his position on religion in parliament on November 4, 1972.

The Father of the Nation said: “Muslims will practice their religion; no one has the right to stop them. Hindus will practice their religion; no one has the power to stop them. Buddhists will practice their religion; no one can interrupt them. Christians will practice their religion; nobody can stop them. We have only one concern --- that religion can never be used as a political arm.”

“For 25 years we have seen deception in the name of religion, exploitation in the name of religion, dishonesty in the name of religion, oppression in the name of religion, murder in the name of religion, and adultery in the name of religion - all these happened on the soil of Bangladesh. Religion is very sacred. It should not be used as a political tool,” Bangabandhu added in his speech.

Regarding religious rights enshrined in the 1972 constitution, Bangabandhu said: “If anyone says that religious rights have been violated, I would say that religious rights have not been violated. We have made arrangements to protect the religious rights of seven and a half crore people,”

However, Khondaker Moshtaq Ahmad was an extreme Islamist, which is why following the assassination of Bangabandhu, religion was again used as a political tool in Bangladesh during the regimes of Mostaq, Zia, Ershad and even later.

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