Bangladesh’s High Court on Monday summarily rejected a 28-year-old writ petition seeking the removal of Islam as the state religion of the Muslim-majority country.
Former military dictator HM Ershad declared Islam the state religion through a constitutional amendment in 1988 to win popular support in the face of a campaign by major political parties to oust him from power.
On Monday, a bench of three judges made the decision on the ground that the committee under which the petition was filed in 1988 had no legitimacy as it was not a registered body, said Murad Reza, an additional attorney general who opposed the petition on behalf of the government.
Also, almost half of the group of 15 eminent citizens who filed the petition have died, and Islamist groups have at various times described the petitioners as “atheists”.
The decision means Islam will stay as the state religion in the nation’s charter, which also speaks of equal rights for other religious minorities, Reza said.
“The writ petition was filed by the Autocracy and Communalism Resistance Committee but this committee was never registered with the government. The citizens filed the petition under this committee’s banner, they did not sign it individually. So I think the rejection was rightly done,” Reza said after the court gave its ruling.
In 2011, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina brought back secularism as a pillar of the Constitution, but retained Islam as the state religion, understandably because of its popular support in a country where more than 90% of the population is Muslim.
Subrata Chowdhury, the lead lawyer for the petitioners, said he had no clear idea why his petition was rejected.
“We will be able to talk about this in detail after seeing the full observation of the court,” Chowdhury said. “We have to wait for that.”
Hefajat-e-Islam, a major Islamist group, welcomed the court’s decision. “This is the victory of the Muslim ummah,” said Mujibur Rahman Hamidi, a leader of the group.
Fazlul Karim Kashemy, another leader of the group, said non-Muslims’ rights will not be affected by the decision.
“We have been living together for long, we will stay like this. Our co-existence will not be affected,” he said as his supporters surrounded him outside the court.