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Bangladesh mass mosque-building programme condemned

South Asia

Bangladesh mass mosque-building programme condemned

Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh. Photo credit: Wiki Commons.

Christians and other religions minorities have spoken outhave spoken out against a US $1 billion mosque-building programme launched by the Bangladesh government.

Authorities plan to build 560 “model mosques” across the country. Speaking at the inauguration of the project, Bangladesh’s Prime Minister claimed the programme will “combat extremism” because the state-funded mosques will counter extremist ideology, adding “We want a good image of our holy religion to be upheld.”

Christian leaders have countered the claims. Theophil Nokrek, secretary of the Catholic Bishop’s Justice and Peace commission, said, “If the government was really enthusiastic about fighting extremism, it should have fixed mosques accused of spreading radical Islam and also promoted education and awareness against militancy … Building hundreds of mosques with state funds …  is a kind of discrimination against other religions.”

It is understood the programme will at least be partly funded by the Saudi Arabian government, which has historically promoted radical Wahabbi Islam through the building of mosques in other countries.

Bangladesh’s population is 90% Muslim, with Christians making up 1% and Hindus 9%. Although Bangladeshi Christians enjoy greater freedom than in many other Muslim-majority contexts, converts from Muslim backgrounds face discrimination and sometimes violence, especially in rural areas.

Islam is the state religion and legal efforts by secular groups to overturn its status have been blocked by the High Court. However, the country’s constitution grants religious minorities the right to practise and share their faith.

The decision by the government to embark upon a massive mosque-building programme goes against the spirit of Bangladesh’s constitution, which prohibits discrimination against any particular religion, including actions by the State that would grant any religion political status (Article 12).