For any state, secularism remains important to instil the idea of development at all tiers. On different occasions, we have seen the violation of this widely used concept in Bangladesh. Not only our country but also most of the countries of the world can be accused of destroying secularism on different contexts. Here the prime idea is to ensure and protect the growth of a nation keeping the religion and caste aside. Recently, with the issue of Bangabandhu sculpture, we have found misuse of secularism for personal interests. This trend can be fierce in the upcoming future as we need to uphold secularism as well as nationalism for the interest of Bangladesh keeping self-interests aside.
Secularism has a broad range of meaning while its definition can be commonly contained as the separation of religion from civic affairs and the state. In simple words, the concept is to allow everyone to perform their own religious rituals while not violating others’ religious rights. But in a country of 89% Muslims, unfortunately religious values were hurt on multiple occasions.
Bangabandhu introduced and included the idea of secularism in the constitution of Bangladesh. His political journey from Muslim League to Awami Muslim League to Awami League itself was an example of upholding the concept of secularism in Bangladesh. In his long political career and so many movements, he never portrayed anti-Muslim or pro-Muslim attitude though personally he was a pious man. He always kept the welfare of his people as his utmost priority and truly separated religion from the state – the real concept of secularism.
There is a saying: “religion for own; festival for everyone”. This is a message of communal harmony and the true definition of Bangladeshi secularism. This particular message can be exemplary for the whole world.
Recently, the creation of several sculptures of the greatest Bengali of all time, the father of the nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was opposed by the Islamic leaders and activists for the sake of religion. This specific group also played vocal roles in removing the statue of Greek goddess from the Supreme Court premise adjacent to the National Eidgah. Placing a Greek goddess statue in front of the National Eidgah will definitely ignite the sentiments of the Muslims. Making such moves can only be intended to hurt religious values and to provide the extremists a tool to create chaos. This statue was a great attack on secularism. Ultimately the statue was relocated after so much debate and drama.
Our culture is not defined by the statues or sculptures like; Greece, Italy or Egypt. Hence, opposing creation of a statue is not an attack on our national culture. But a group stepped up in protest for the sake of culture, secularism and modernization though their own faith cannot truly align with anything except their own interests.
Notably, few of the Islamic leaders and activists tried to take advantage of this Bangabandhu sculpture debate jointly with some anti-liberation forces. Their main objective was to destabilize the country and foil the development of Bangladesh, which has taken place under the glorious leadership of Bangabandhu’s capable daughter Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. For the sake of Bangladesh’s progress, it is a must to trace out these criminals with hostile interests influenced by ill forces maybe from both inside and outside the border.
But we believe, the majority of these Islamic leaders were opposing the sculpture only to uphold Islamic values and never intended politicization of the issue as they can never forget PM Sheikh Hasina’s contribution towards Islamic education, institutions and welfare of the religious leaders at all levels like the Imams of even rural mosques.
The people who are protesting against the Islamic leaders create incertitude in our minds. Unbelievably most of them are Muslims by birth though they are actually atheist or believe in modern lifestyle which does not have much space for religion. They seem to be in a confusion related to the concept of secularism, modernization and culture. Regrettably, we do not find these people much vocal on the nationally constructive issues. As much as we blame few Islamic leaders to violate the stability of the country, the same is applicable for this open-minded groups and intellectuals too.
These protesters are continuously violating the honor of the religious leaders, who have presented their view for the sake of Islam. They are deliberately trying to pull in Bangabandhu in this debate. They are actually not interested in upholding communal harmony or religious stability. All that matters to them is to come into the limelight, which will serve their own interests better and will achieve a better place for them in a materialistic society. This sort of activities brings grave results and creates scope for religion-based leadership like; in India and Myanmar for example.
Integrity in character is required for both the groups who stand for and against the sculpture. Bangladesh, from its inception, was a religiously unbiased country and Bangabandhu always protected that characteristic of this nation.
The secularism principle was removed from the constitution in 1977 by ZiaurRahman, replaced with a statement of “absolute trust and faith in Almighty Allah”. In 1988, the country’s second military ruler Hussain Muhammad Ershad declared Islam as the state religion in Bangladesh. He pushed the parliament to make Islam the state religion in 1989, in a sharp departure from Bangladesh’s original secular constitution. But he was not at all Islamic minded in his works and activities. The same is true about Begum Khaleda Zia, the topmost leader of the country’s greatest opposition party, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).
These top leaders, staying far away from religion, took shelter of religion-based ill forces on several instances. They were merely satisfying their own needs and few Islamic leaders as well as most modern-minded changemakers of the society are following their steps.
Unfortunately, today we are lacking nationalistic approach to a great extent. Banking on secularism only is becoming a trend. Both the modern-minded and the religious-minded groups and individuals are far away from nationalism. If the welfare of the nation and the fellow countrymen is not the priority, then the development of Bangladesh will be under threats.
We are quickly going far away from healthy cultural practices. Today there are so many TV channels, newspapers, magazines as well as so many writers, artists, publishers but constructive cultural practices are under complete threat. When we had only BTV, the content and programs were highly appreciable but now, with so many channels, we are promoting ill cultures. The personal characteristics of our cultural personalities are not up to the mark. When these people talk about secularism, it does not reach the mass rather promotes the opportunist ill forces.
Political commitment is highly required to instill nationalism. But very few leaders keep national progress as their priority and hence, phenomenon like corruption remains present at every tier of the public administration. A political leader or activist should dedicate his life for the welfare of the country or society only. But almost everyone has made politics the easy passage to attain personal benefits and it is reflected in the huge institutional crimes at our country.
As Bangladeshi citizens, we only want development and progress of our nation. If nationalism is strongly present in our faith and practices, then none can halt our progress as well as disrupt the secularism. The people of Bangladesh have put their faith again and again on Bangabandhu’s daughter Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and we hope her visionary leadership will take us much forward as she truly remains an example of keeping nationalism at the core.
The writer is chief editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and chief patron, Bangabandhu Shishu Kishore Mela