Christians, Other Religious Minority Groups Protest the Establishment of Islam as State Religion in Bangladesh

Christians joined other religious minority groups in Bangladesh recently as part of the annual “Black Day” protest against the 1988 constitutional amendments that established Islam as the official state religion.

A petition against the amendment was originally filed in 1988 after the then President Lieutenant General Hussain Muhammad Ershad declared Islam as the state religion in a symbolic bid to win popular support while major political parties campaigned to oust him from power.

He resigned amid mass protests in 1990.

“We filed the petition then because Bangladesh was founded as a secular state, and having a state religion contradicts the basic structure of the constitution,” Professor Anisuzzaman, one of the leaders of the petitioning organisation, told Al Jazeera.

“The founding fathers of the country wanted to have a secular nation, and all of us during our liberation war subscribed to that and Bangladesh was founded on that basis.”

Bangladesh became independent from the Islamic state of Pakistan after a nine-month war in 1971 which resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths, with the government claiming as many as three million.

Further impetus to challenge the constitutional provision came in 2011 when the current Awami League government further amended the constitution by adding new provisions which retained the wording on state religion, though at the same time emphasised “secularism” and the “equal status” of other religions.

Religious minority groups say the establishment of the amendments has led to persecution against non-Muslims in the country. The march was held on June 9.