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Most Bangladeshi Muslims are just cultural Muslims observing Islamic rituals

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Most of the Bangladeshi Muslims are all converted Muslims from Hinduism. As a result, the Muslims of Bangladesh are not as strict Muslims as people from the Middle East or even Pakistan. Although present-day Bangladeshi’s ancestors were Pakistanis at one time in history, the people couldn’t remain Pakistani because of political and cultural clashes with the rest of Pakistanis. A typical Bangladeshi Muslim doesn’t know how to read Arabic. For a Bangladeshi Muslim culture of India or Hindu centric culture is more familiar and attracts him more than Arab culture.

It’s a secular country with a Muslim majority of 90.3% of the country population. Minorities are 8.2% of Bangladesh population. Bangladesh is a Democratic country as per its constitution. The constitution of Bangladesh recognized secularism as a fundamental right for the welfare of the country’s citizens. But Bangladesh has declared Islam as the official religion of the nation.

Bangladesh is functionally a Muslim country, even if its Constitution pays lip service to secularism. The original Constitution of Bangladesh, written in 1972, enshrined secularism as one of the four pillars of the newly-formed People’s Republic of Bangladesh and defined the word “Bengali” as a demonym for its citizens. However, beginning in the mid-1970s, a wave of Islamization swept over the country. The political forces which had been opposed to the Liberation from Pakistan regrouped under the banner of the Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, Jamaat Shibir and other groups.

Weak governance under Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the consequent civil unrest propelled General Ziaur Rahman to power in a military coup in 1975. By 1977, after a series of additional coups and counter-coups, he became head of the armed forces and eventually became President. In 1978, Rahman and others founded the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which espoused an ideology of Islamism and Bangladeshi nationalism

In 1977, the principle of secularism was removed from the Constitution through the 5th Amendment, as were references to freedom of religion for minorities, and was replaced with the statement: “absolute trust and faith in Almighty Allah”. In 1988, the government of Muhammad Ershad passed the National Religion Bill in the Jatiyo Sangsad Bhaban (Parliament of Bangladesh), declaring Islam as the state religion.

By 1991, the hardline Muslim conservatives had already amassed enough power and influence to come to power and form a government (thanks, in part, to generous foreign funding from the Gulf, as well as a widespread system of madrassahs which were constructed starting in the 1970s, creating a pronounced religious-nationalist zeal in the public).

In 1997, the opening words ‘bismillah-ar-rahman-ar rahim’ (In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful) was added to the Constitution. In 2005, the High Court of Bangladesh ruled that the 5th Amendment (1977) was illegal and unconstitutional, and restored a constitution “in the spirit of the constitution of 1972”, which restored secularism as a key principle, but which retained some of the language introduced in 1977 and 1997, namely “absolute trust and faith in Almighty Allah” (1977) and ‘bismillah-ar-rahman-ar rahim’ (1997).

In 2010, the Supreme Court of Bangladesh upheld the 2005 decision of the High Court, but some of the changes from 1977, as well as the 1997 insertion, still remain. The Court also decided to let Islam remain as the state religion. In August 2015, a petition was filed in the High Court challenging the constitutional provision of Islam as the state religion in light of the constitution’s commitment to secularism, but in March 2016 the High Court rejected the petition and retained Islam as the state religion.

Bangladeshis are by ancestry originally descendants of low caste Hindus and Buddhists who just some centuries ago converted to Islam. Due to Bangladeshis being relatively newly converted Muslims the culture is extremely different from mainstream Islamic culture which is seen in the middle east or even Pakistan. Their culture is a mix of Islam and Hinduism where Hinduism has a strong presence in traditional culture, attires, food habits etc. One side has Islam as religion and another side has Hindu-Buddhist culture. Bangladeshis love Islam but the majority are not five times Namazi.

A Bangladeshi carry both Indian and Pakistani legacy. Every Bangladeshi was Indian before 1947 and Pakistani before 1971. India and Pakistan both gave birth to Bangladesh. So, there are people who carry Indian sentiments and there are people who carry Pakistani sentiments.

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Vaidehi Taman
Vaidehi Taman
Vaidehi Taman an Accredited Journalist from Maharashtra is bestowed with three Honourary Doctorate in Journalism. Vaidehi has been an active journalist for the past 21 years, and is also the founding editor of an English daily tabloid – Afternoon Voice, a Marathi web portal – Mumbai Manoos, and The Democracy digital video news portal is her brain child. Vaidehi has three books in her name, "Sikhism vs Sickism", "Life Beyond Complications" and "Vedanti". She is an EC Council Certified Ethical Hacker, OSCP offensive securities, Certified Security Analyst and Licensed Penetration Tester that caters to her freelance jobs.
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