Bangladesh Considers Abandoning Islam as State Religion, Thousands of Radical Muslims Threaten Bloodshed

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Tanveer Hreydoy)Muslim worshipers participate in Friday prayers at the Baitul Mukarram, the national mosque of Bangladesh, in Dhaka in this undated photo.

Bangladesh's highest court will weigh this weekend whether Islam should be abandoned as the official state religion, leading thousands of Muslims to take to the streets in protest and threaten violence.

On Sunday, the Bangladesh Supreme Court will hear a petition to remove Islam as the official religion and make the 90 percent-Muslim nation a secular state for the first time in 28 years.

Although Bangladesh was originally formed as a secular state in 1971 when it won its independence from Pakistan, the nation's Constitution was amended in 1988 under the pressure of dictator H.M. Ershad to declare Islam as Bangladesh's official religion in order to help him win support over political enemies that attempted to oust him.

"The religion of the republic is Islam, but other religions may be practiced in peace and harmony in the republic," the amendment says.

On Friday, thousands of hardline Muslims took to the streets to wage a number of protests in major cities across Bangladesh to speak out against the hearing.

AFP reports that over 7,000 Muslims protested outside of the national mosque in Dhaka and chanted anti-government slogans with banners that spoke out against the Supreme Court hearing.

"We will save our religion even at the price of our blood," shouted activists of the hardline group Hefazat-e-Islam.

Radical Muslim leaders also incited protesters to take up extremist violence should the high court decide to rule in favor of the petition.

"If Islam gets scrapped as our official religion, we will unleash an all-out movement even if blood is needed to be shed," Noor Hossain Quashemi, a leader of the radical groups, told protesters outside the Dhaka mosque. "Sixty countries in the world have state religions — why is there a problem for us to have one?"

Rana Dasgupta, a government prosecutor, told Reuters that it will take quite a while after Sunday's hearing for the court to reach an opinion on the matter.

"It will take long time to get any decision,"Dasgupta said. "The nature of the case is time-consuming. The high court will continue to hear from both parties and then will deliver its verdict."

This is not the first time that religious minority leaders have challenged the legality of Islam's official declaration as a state religion.

After the passing of the 1988 amendment, 12 citizens filed a petition to the Supreme Court but later dropped their effort when they realized that the court would probably not rule in their favor.

"After filing the case, we realized that the bench would not be favorable for us, so we did not move further," the petition's organizer, Shahriar Kabir, told Reuters.

Although the 1988 amendment states that religious minorities are to be free to practice their religion in "harmony," Christians and other religious minorities have not been able to live in peace without the fear of extremist violence against them.

And even though the government denies that there is any IS (also known as ISIS or ISIL) involvement in the country, the militant group has claimed a number of attacks on Christian converts, Shiite Muslims and Hindus.

There have also been a series of attacks on mosques and Hindu temples in recent months, and IS has claimed responsibility for some of the attacks against Hindus, including the killing of a Hindu priest.

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