Bangladesh retains Islam as state religion

Bangladesh has rejected an attempt to drop Islam as its state religion.

The country's High Court dismissed the case on Monday after secular activists filed the bid to amend the religion's position as a state religion.

Muslims offer Friday prayers in front of Baitul Mukarram, Bangladesh's national mosque. Several Islamist groups had threatened strike action in protest at the writReuters

Bangladesh's 1971 constitution declared all religions were equal in the eyes of the state. However military ruler Hussain Mohammad Ershad amended it in 1988 to make Islam the state religion.

Ershad's action led a group of 12 citizens to file a writ with the High Court to overturn the amendment in 1988. The petitioners' lawyers argued the official recognition of Islam by the state contradicted the secular constitution.

But Shahriar Kabir, who convened the group, said the members decided not to go ahead with the case.

Twenty-eight years later, the same group filed a new writ that the court dismissed.

Subrata Chowdhury, the lawyer for the group, said the court did not even allow them a hearing. It did not give a reason for dismissing the case.

Several Islamist groups had called for a general strike on Monday in protest at the challenge. They withdrew their call for action after the court dismissed the case.

The government, led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, has amended the constitution to reinstate the principle of secularism but also reaffirmed Islam as the state religion.

Bangladesh has until recently been seen as a moderate Muslim country. However a spate of extremist violence has challenged that status. ISIS and Al Qaeda have gained a foothold and have claimed a series of attacks of atheists and religious minorities since September.

Additional reporting from Reuters.