Bangladesh May Drop Islam As Official Religion In Light Of Recent ISIS Attacks [Video]

An attack on a Christian convert just a few days ago in Bangladesh has strengthened the decision by the Muslim country to drop Islam as the official religion, according to Christianity Today. The Catholic Herald reported the attack that killed 68-year-old Hussein Ali Sarkar, who was stabbed to death in Bangladesh. The Catholic Herald reported that SITE, which is a US-based intelligence group, had stated that ISIS claimed responsibility for the death of Sarkar, saying that a "security detachment" killed the "preacher" to be a "lesson to others." Sarkar had converted to Christianity in 1999 and was not a preacher, according to police.
Sarkar was on his morning walk on Thursday when three attackers stabbed him. After they killed Sarkar, they set off bombs in order "to create panic," said Kurigram district police chief Tobarak Ulla to Reuters. According to the Catholic Herald, ISIS had also claimed responsibility for an attack on a mosque of Ahmadi Muslims. ISIS regard the Ahmadi Muslims as polytheists.

The Catholic Herald also mentioned that the ISIS official magazine, Dabiq, had published an article, "The Revival of Jihad in Bengal," that celebrated the spread of the ISIS network into Bangladesh. Bangladesh has previously denied that ISIS has any presence in the country, according to CH. Police in Bangladesh said that a militant group, Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen, is responsible for recent violence in the country, including the death of Ali Surkar. Christians and minority religious groups aren't the only ones in danger in Bangladesh; nine atheist bloggers have also been murdered or injured in the country over the past three years.

The recent attack by Islam extremists on Sarkar was just one of the latest incidents to cause concern for the Muslim-majority country of Bangladesh. Christianity Today reported that on March 27, the highest court of Bangladesh would hear a petition for more distance for the country from Islam. Islam was added as the state religion in Bangladesh's constitution by military leaders in 1988. Soon after that, opponents filed an objection with the Supreme Court. Today, the court heard arguments that Bangladesh should return to a secular state such as it was when the country gained its independence from Pakistan in 1971. Ninety percent of Bangladesh's population is Muslim, with eight percent being Hindu, and the remaining two percent of the population being Christians and other religions.

The prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, tried to tone down the Islamic identity of Bangladesh in 2009, when she came to power. This included amending the constitution to say that the state couldn't grant "political status in favor of any religion," and to ban "the abuse of religion" and "any discrimination against, or persecution of, persons practicing a particular religion." However, the constitution still says that "the state religion of the republic is Islam," which is why the secular activists who appeared before the Supreme Court find it objectionable. The secular activists also say that the "Islamic designation has been used to rationalize recent violence against Christians and other non-Muslims."

Jubilee Campaign and Christian Solidarity Worldwide gave an oral statement to the United Nations this month which said, "Minority groups in Bangladesh continue to face discrimination in the law, in society and in treatment by enforcement agencies."
"Last year's multiple attacks on Shia mosques, Hindu temples and threats to Christian church leaders are reflective of the ongoing struggles for religious minorities in Bangladesh. Increasing number of violations on freedom of expression are also concerning, indicated by attacks on bloggers and publishers of secular material."
There have been many acts of violence on non-Muslim groups over the past few years in Bangladesh, and the country is number 35 on Open Doors' 2016 World Watch List which ranks where it's "hardest to be a Christian." Open Doors reported, "There are fatwas implemented all over the country, especially in rural areas, and there are demands to introduce Shari'ah law in order to show that the country belongs to the 'House of Islam.'"
"As the Christian minority is growing, it faces more and more restrictions and challenges. This pressure is not driven by the government, but by radical Islamic groups, local religious leaders, and families."
Islamist hardliners have threatened protests if the Supreme Court drops Islam as the official religion, but Christians and some moderate Muslims are welcoming the potential change, according to Christianity Today.

[Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images]