Supreme Court Ruling
led by Ziaur Rehman’s widow, Khalida Zia, and the other by Jamaat-e-Islami, that challenged an August 2005 High Court decision declaring the Fifth Amendment illegal. The Court had earlier granted a stay order that was ultimately vacated on January 3, 2010. Resultantly, the original Article 38 of the Constitution, which protected secularism, became operative barring the use of religion or communal connotations in politics.
Such decisions always have long-term impacts on the social and political fabric of a country, as shown by the subsequent Dhaka High Court decision in which it held that nobody can be forced to wear burqa, cap, or dhoti. The Court held that Bangladesh is now a secular state since the original constitution of 1972 has been automatically restored following the Supreme Court judgment. It said that ‘in this secular state, everybody has religious freedom, and therefore no man, woman or child can be forced to wear religious attires.’ Similarly, it stated that ‘nobody could be prohibited from wearing religious attires if he or she wishes to wear those.’ The Court also directed the authorities to immediately issue a circular asking all educational institutions not to compel students to wear religious clothes.
The Supreme Court ruling by the six-member full bench headed by former Chief Justice Mohammad Tafazzul Islam, has laid the foundation for a process of reviving the secular spirit in Bangladesh. Secularism is looked down upon and associated with ladeeniat in Pakistan when all it stands for is negation of State level involvement in religious matters. It stands for separation of clergy from running of state affairs, which may not be such a bad thing to suggest for present-day Pakistan. Anees Jillani is an advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and a member of the Washington, DC Bar. He has been writing for various publications for more than 20 years and has authored several books.