Bangladesh (MNN) — In ten days, Bangladesh’s High Court will hear a petition seeking to remove Islam as the state religion. Bruce Allen of Forgotten Missionaries International (FMI) says they’re helping national Christian leaders prepare for whatever lies ahead.
“Even last week there were hard-line Muslims who were saying, ‘If the court removes Islam as the state religion, there will be violence in the streets. We will provoke a national outcry against this.'”
While this case has upset the followers of radical Islam, some believers are excited about the possibilities it holds.
“If the government decides to remove official support for Islam from the constitution, many Christians may become more willing to share the Gospel with their non-Christian friends and family members,” a Bangladeshi pastor helped by FMI stated recently via e-mail.
“Some Muslims may also be more open to listening to Gospel presentations and learn about Jesus Christ, especially in rural areas.”
Why the state religion change matters
Although Bangladesh’s state religion change is gaining traction among international news outlets, there’s not much word on the street.
“Some Muslims said, ‘Yeah, I heard the Court was considering something like that,’ and they actually thought it was a good idea,” Allen says. He adds that most “moderate” Muslims feel a Muslim-dominate population can coexist with secular laws.
“They didn’t see any threat to removing Islam as a Constitutionally-protected state religion.”
As explained here, Islam has been the state religion of Bangladesh since 1988. However, the nation’s ruling document–its Constitution–classifies secularism as a founding principle.
“It’s kind of dicey because the Constitution gets rather vague,” Allen notes. “The Constitution says that [Bangladesh] is a secular state, it is not an Islamic state…but then, there’s another clause that says Islam is the state religion.”
Approximately 90% of Bangladesh’s population follows Islam, making it the world’s third-largest Muslim-majority nation. Though most are what Allen calls “moderate” Muslims, the siren call of ISIS does attract some dedicated followers.
In the past year, the number of attacks perpetrated by Islamic radicals has notably risen. ISIS claimed responsibility for the murder of a Muslim man earlier this week, though local police offer a different story.
This is one of many instances where Bangladesh’s government downplayed the reality of ISIS activity within their borders. Officials often place the blame for violent attacks on Jama’at ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), a terror group active in Bangladesh and India.
At the end of 2015, ISIS said JMB was its affiliate in South Asia.
“[The government is] trying to clamp down [on terrorism]; I think that’s why the Court is willing to hear this case,” says Allen. “For the third-largest Muslim-dominant country in the world to even consider hearing that sort of petition is news.”
Bangladesh would be the second country in South Asia to make such a move if, after reviewing the petition, the High Court decides to alter the Constitution.
In September 2015, India began a months-long blockade against neighboring Nepal, simply because the former Hindu kingdom voted in a secular constitution. Even though the blockade ended earlier this month, it left believers and the economy in serious recovery-mode.
How believers are responding
As the clock ticks down to the March 27 state religion hearing, pastors supported by FMI are making plans, just in case Muslim radicals carry out their threat to “provoke a national outcry.”
Allen recently urged leaders to “look down the road. Let’s see where your culture’s heading; know what’s going to be happening in your country and your own communities.”
Above all else, leaders will need to “know how to respond effectively so that ministry goes forward, regardless of external circumstances.”
Ask the Lord to embolden believers in Bangladesh, and pray for their protection.
“There are doors open…but there is opposition as well; those two things go hand-in-hand,” Allen notes. “We need to be smart and savvy in how we do ministry in a country that is resistant to Christianity, but also full of hope because the Lord is opening people’s hearts.”
Through FMI, you can help national pastors stand strong in their faith and make Christ known. Click here to learn more about pastor sponsorship.
“There are five pastors ‘in the pipeline’ who are working, but we’re looking for individuals to commit [to partnering with them].”