Piety and Politics: Secularization and Islamization in Bangladesh

  • Md Nazrul Islam
  • Md Saidul IslamEmail author


This chapter analyzes state-sponsored secularization and Islamization in Bangladesh. Secularism interpreted by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (the founding president of Bangladesh) was the recognition rather than the rejection of religions. Nevertheless, Mujib proceeded to secularize the society and to that end, he took several measures in practice. But the gap between a secular state and a non-secular people was clearly evident, which forced Mujib to launch Islamization of the polity despite the fact that the state was still secular in ideology, albeit in written form. Sheikh Mujib gradually began the process of Islamization, which was later institutionalized by the military rulers. Both Generals Zia and Ershad successfully used religion as a tool for political legitimization. Subsequent rulers followed suit with the exception of Sheikh Hasina whose regime took the opportunity of the post-9/11 world and adopted strategies to emasculate the Islamic forces and their influence in the state. Secularism was restored in the constitution, again not on a consensual basis of the population, but as a “tactical guise” to win international supports. Aside from state actors, we will also critically analyze the role of other non-state actors or non-political organizations and institutions (e.g., Tablighi Jamaat, the Ahl-i-Hadith Andolan, and the Hefazat-e-Islam) that also made significant contributions to Islamization in Bangladesh


Islamization Secularization Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Ziaur Rahman Tablighi Jamaat Ahl-i-Hadith Andolan Hefazat-e-Islam Violent secularism 


  1. Ahad, Oli. 2012. Jatio Rajniti: 1945 Theke 75 [National Politics: 1945 to 75]. Dhaka: Bangladesh Co-operative Book Society.Google Scholar
  2. Ahamed, Emajuddin. 1983. “Current Trends of Islam in Bangladesh.” Economic and Political Weekly 18 (25): 1114–1119.Google Scholar
  3. Ahamed, Emajuddin, and D. R. Nazneen. 1990. “Islam in Bangladesh: Revivalism or Power Politics?” Asian Survey 30 (8): 795–808.Google Scholar
  4. Ahmad, Aziz. 1967. Islamic Modernism in India and Pakistan, 1857–1964. London: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Ahmad, Mumtaz. 1991. “Islamic Fundamentalism in South Asia: The Jamaat-i-Islami and the Tablighi Jamaat of South Asia.” In Fundamentalisms Observed, edited by Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby, 457–530. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  6. Ahmad, Mumtaz. 2008. “Islam, State, and Society in Bangladesh.” In Asian Islam in the 21st Century, edited by John L. Esposito, John O. Voll, and Osman Bakar, 49–80. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Ahmed, Moudud. 1979. Bangladesh: Constitutional Quest for Autonomy 1950–1971. Dhaka: University Press Limited.Google Scholar
  8. Ahmed, Salahuddin. 2004. Bangladesh: Past and Present. New Delhi: A.P.H. Publishing Corporation.Google Scholar
  9. Alam, A. M. Quamrul. 1993a. “The Nature of the Bangladesh State in the Post-1975 Period.” Contemporary South Asia 2 (3): 311–325.Google Scholar
  10. Alam, S. M. Shamsul. 1993b. “Islam, Ideology, and the State in Bangladesh.” Journal of Asian and African Studies 28 (1–2): 88–106.Google Scholar
  11. Ali, Jan A. 2003. “Islamic Revivalism: The Case of the Tablighi Jamaat.” Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 23 (1): 173–181.Google Scholar
  12. al-Ghalib, Muhammad Asadullah. 2005. Ahl-i-Hadis Andolan Ki O Keno? [What Is the Ahl-i-Hadith Movement and Why?]. Rajshahi: Hadith Foundation Bangladesh.Google Scholar
  13. al-Quraishi, Muhammad A. Kafi. 1992. Ahl-i-Hadis Parichiti [An Introduction to Ahl-i-Hadith]. Dhaka: Dr. Muhammad Abdul Bari.Google Scholar
  14. Baxter, Craig. 1971. “Pakistan Votes—1970.” Asian Survey 11 (3): 197–218.Google Scholar
  15. Baxter, Craig. 1991. “Bangladesh in 1990: Another New Beginning?” Asian Survey 31 (2): 146–152.Google Scholar
  16. Baxter, Craig. 1992. “Bangladesh in 1991: A Parliamentary System.” Asian Survey 32 (2): 162–167.Google Scholar
  17. Baxter, Craig, and Syedur Rahman. 1991a. “Bangladesh Military: Political Institutionalization and Economic Development.” Journal of Asian and African Studies 26 (1–2): 43–60.Google Scholar
  18. Baxter, Craig, and Syedur Rahman. 1991b. “Bangladesh Votes—1991: Building Democratic Institutions.” Asian Survey 31 (8): 683–693.Google Scholar
  19. Bennett, Clinton. 2010. Muslim Women of Power: Gender, Politics and Culture in Islam. London: Continuum.Google Scholar
  20. Bose, Sarmila. 2005. “Anatomy of Violence: Analysis of Civil War in East Pakistan in 1971.” Economic and Political Weekly 40 (41): 8–14.Google Scholar
  21. Brasted, Howard V. 2005. “Islam and Identity in South Asia: At the Crossroads of Confusion and Confrontation?” In Islam in World Politics, edited by Nelly Lahoud and Anthony H. Johns, 105–126. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  22. Chakravarty, Pinak Ranjan. 2015. “Islamic Radicalism and Politics in Bangladesh.” In India’s National Security: Annual Review 2014, edited by Satish Kumar, 235–245. New Delhi: Routledge.Google Scholar
  23. Chowdhury, Mahfuzul H. 1993. “Popular Attitudes, Legal Institutions and Dispute Resolution in Contemporary Bangladesh.” Legal Studies Forum 17 (3): 291–300.Google Scholar
  24. Ghosh, Partha S. 1993. “Bangladesh at the Crossroads: Religion and Politics.” Asian Survey 33 (7): 697–710.Google Scholar
  25. Griffiths, Martin, and Mubashar Hasan. 2015. “Playing with Fire: Islamism and Politics in Bangladesh.” Asian Journal of Political Science 23 (2): 226–241.Google Scholar
  26. Haider, Zaglul. 2008. “State Ideology in Bangladesh: Secularism Versus Islam.” Paper Presented at the 49th ISA Annual Convention, ‘Bridging Multiple Divides’, Hilton San Francisco, USA, 26 March.Google Scholar
  27. Hakim, Muhammad A. 1998. “The Use of Islam as a Political Legitimization Tool: The Bangladesh Experience, 1972–1990.” Asian Journal of Political Science 6 (2): 98–117.Google Scholar
  28. Haq, M. Anwarul. 1972. The Faith Movement of Mawlana Muhammad Ilyas. London: Allen & Unwin.Google Scholar
  29. Hasan, Perween. 2007. Sultans and Mosques: The Early Muslim Architecture of Bangladesh. New York: I.B. Tauris.Google Scholar
  30. Hasan, Md Mahmudul. 2010. “Free Speech, Ban and ‘Fatwa’: A Study of the Taslima Nasrin Affair.” Journal of Postcolonial Writing 46 (5): 540–552.Google Scholar
  31. Hasan, Mubashar. 2011. “Democracy and Political Islam in Bangladesh.” South Asia Research 31 (2): 97–117.Google Scholar
  32. Hasan, Rakibul. 2015. “Rising Extremism in Bangladesh: A Voyage Towards Uncertainty.” Journal of South Asian Studies 3 (2): 143–153.Google Scholar
  33. Hashmi, Taj. 2004. “Islamic Resurgence in Bangladesh: Genesis, Dynamics and Implications.” In Religious Radicalism and Security in South Asia, edited by Satu P. Limaye, Robert G. Wirsing, and Mohan Malik, 35–72. Hawaii: Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies.Google Scholar
  34. Hashmi, Taj. 2011. “Islamism Beyond the Islamic Heartland: A Case Study of Bangladesh.” In The Politics of Religion in South and Southeast Asia, edited by Ishtiaq Ahmed, 26–44. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  35. Hossain, Akhtar. 2000. “Anatomy of Hartal Politics in Bangladesh.” Asian Survey 40 (3): 508–529.Google Scholar
  36. Hossain, Maneeza. 2006. The Road to a Sharia State? Cultural Radicalization in Bangladesh. Washington, DC: Hudson Institute.Google Scholar
  37. Hossain, Kamal. 2013. Bangladesh: Quest for Freedom and Justice. Dhaka: The University Press Limited.Google Scholar
  38. Huq, Abul Fazl. 1973. “Constitution-Making in Bangladesh.” Pacific Affairs 46 (1): 59–76.Google Scholar
  39. Huq, Samia. 2014. “Religious Learning Circles and Da’wa: The Modalities of Educated Bangladeshi Women Preaching Islam.” In Proselytizing and the Limits of Religious Pluralism in Contemporary Asia, edited by Juliana Finucane and R. Michael Feener, 81–101. Singapore: Springer.Google Scholar
  40. Huque, A. Shafiqul and M. Yeahia Akhter. 1987. “The Ubiquity of Islam: Religion and Society in Bangladesh.” Pacific Affairs 60 (2): 200–225.Google Scholar
  41. Husain, Syed Anwar. 1988. “Bangladesh and Islamic Countries, 1972–1983.” In Bangladesh: Global Politics, edited by S. R. Chakravarty and Virendra Narain, vol. 3, 121–151. New Delhi: South Asian Publishers.Google Scholar
  42. Husain, Syed Anwar. 1997. “Bangladesh Politics: From Secular to Islamic Trend.” In State, Development and Political Culture: Bangladesh and India, edited by Barun De and Ranabir Samaddar, 80–97. New Delhi: Har-Anand Publications.Google Scholar
  43. Hussain, Ahmede. 2006. “That One May Smile, and Smile, and Be a Villain …” Star Weekend Magazine, Vol. 5, Issue 108, 18 August. Dhaka. Accessed 28 December 2015.
  44. Hye, Maulana Abdul. 2014. Sotto Islam ebong Khareji-Wahhabi Fitna [True Islam and the Kharijite-Wahhabite Fitna]. Dhaka: Maulana Abdul Hye, Khadem, Biswa Zaker Manjil.Google Scholar
  45. Islam, Syed Serajul. 1984. “The State in Bangladesh Under Zia (1975–81).” Asian Survey 24 (5): 556–573.Google Scholar
  46. Islam, Syed Serajul. 1997. “Islam in Bangladesh: A Dichotomy of ‘Bengali’ and ‘Muslim’ Identities.” Islamic Quarterly 41 (3): 218–231.Google Scholar
  47. Islam, Syed Serajul. 2001. “The Politics of Islam in Bangladesh.” In Religious Fundamentalism in Developing Countries, edited by Santosh C. Saha and Thomas K. Carr, 167–184. London: Greenwood Press.Google Scholar
  48. Islam, Md Saidul. 2011a. “‘Minority Islam’ in Muslim Majority Bangladesh: The Violent Road to a New Brand of Secularism.” Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 31 (1): 125–141.Google Scholar
  49. Islam, Md Saidul. 2011b. “Trampling Democracy: Islamism, Violent Secularism, and Human Rights Violations in Bangladesh.” Muslim World Journal of Human Rights 8 (1): 1–33.Google Scholar
  50. Islam, M. Nazrul, and M. Saidul Islam. 2018a. “Islam, Politics and Secularism in Bangladesh: Contesting the Dominant Narratives.” Social Sciences 7 (37): 1–18.Google Scholar
  51. Islam, M. Nazrul, and M. Saidul Islam. 2018b. “Politics and Islamic Revivalism in Bangladesh: The Role of State and Non-state/Non-political Actors.” Politics, Religion & Ideology 9 (3): 326–353.Google Scholar
  52. Islam, Ishrat, and Allen Noble. 1998. “Mosque Architecture in Bangladesh: The Archetype and Its Changing Morphology.” Journal of Cultural Geography 17 (2): 5–25.Google Scholar
  53. Jahan, Rounaq. 1973. “Bangladesh in 1972: Nation Building in a New State.” Asian Survey 13 (2): 199–210.Google Scholar
  54. Jahan, Rounaq. 2013. “Genocide in Bangladesh.” In Centuries of Genocide: Essays and Eyewitness Accounts, edited by Samuel Totten and William S. Parsons, 249–276. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  55. Jahan, Ferdous, and Asif M. Shahan. 2014. “Power and Influence of Islam-Based Political Parties in Bangladesh: Perception Versus Reality.” Journal of Asian and African Studies 49 (4): 426–441.Google Scholar
  56. Kabir, M. G. 1987. “Religion, Language and Nationalism in Bangladesh.” Journal of Contemporary Asia 17 (4): 473–487.Google Scholar
  57. Kabir, Humayun. 2015. “Beyond Jamaat-e-Islami: The Political Rise of the Deobandis, the Mystic Leaders, and Islamism in Bangladesh.” In Religion and Representation: Islam and Democracy, edited by Ingrid Mattson, Paul Nesbitt-Larking, and Nawaz Tahir, 50–77. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.Google Scholar
  58. Kershen, Anne J. 2005. Strangers, Aliens and Asians: Huguenots, Jews and Bangladeshis in Spitalfields 1660–2000. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  59. Keyman, E. Fuat. 2010. “Assertive Secularism in Crisis: Modernity, Democracy and Islam in Turkey.” In Comparative Secularism in a Global Age, edited by Linell E. Cady and Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, 143–158. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  60. Khan, Zillur R. 1972. “March Movement of Bangladesh: Bengali Struggle for Political Power.” The Indian Journal of Political Science 33 (3): 291–322.Google Scholar
  61. Khan, Zillur R. 1982. “Bangladesh in 1981: Change, Stability, and Leadership.” Asian Survey 22 (2): 163–170.Google Scholar
  62. Khan, Zillur R. 1985. “Islam and Bengali Nationalism.” Asian Survey 25 (8): 834–851.Google Scholar
  63. Khanna, S. K., and K. N. Sudarshan. 1998. Encyclopaedia of South Asia: Bangladesh. New Delhi: A.P.H. Publishing Corporation.Google Scholar
  64. Khondker, Habibul Haque. 2010a. “The Curious Case of Secularism in Bangladesh: What Is the Relevance for the Muslim Majority Democracies?” Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions 11 (2): 185–201.Google Scholar
  65. Khondker, Habibul Haque. 2010b. “State and Secularism in Bangladesh.” In State and Secularism: Perspectives from Asia, edited by Michael Heng Siam-Heng and Ten Chin Liew, 213–234. London: World Scientific Publishing Co.Google Scholar
  66. Kissinger, Henry. 1979. The White House Years. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.Google Scholar
  67. Kuru, Ahmet T. 2007. “Passive and Assertive Secularism: Historical Conditions, Ideological Struggles, and State Policies toward Religion.” World Politics 59 (4): 568–594.Google Scholar
  68. Kuru, Ahmet T. 2009. Secularism and State Policies Toward Religion: The United States, France, and Turkey. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  69. LaPorte, Robert, Jr. 1972. “Pakistan in 1971: The Disintegration of a Nation.” Asian Survey 12 (2): 97–108.Google Scholar
  70. Lintner, Bertil. 2015. Great Game East: India, China, and the Struggle for Asia’s Most Volatile Frontier. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  71. Linton, Suzannah. 2010. “Completing the Circle: Accountability for the Crimes of the 1971 Bangladesh War of Liberation.” Criminal Law Forum 21: 191–311.Google Scholar
  72. Maniruzzaman, Talukder. 1975. “Bangladesh in 1974: Economic Crisis and Political Polarization.” Asian Survey 15 (2): 117–128.Google Scholar
  73. Maniruzzaman, Talukder. 1976. “Bangladesh in 1975: The Fall of the Mujib Regime and Its Aftermath.” Asian Survey 16 (2): 119–129.Google Scholar
  74. Maniruzzaman, Talukder. 1980. The Bangladesh Revolution and Its Aftermath. Dhaka: University Press Limited.Google Scholar
  75. Maniruzzaman, Talukder. 1990. “Bangladesh Politics: Secular and Islamic Trends.” In Religion, Nationalism and Politics in Bangladesh, edited by Rafiuddin Ahmed, 63–93. New Delhi: South Asian Publishers.Google Scholar
  76. Maniruzzaman, Talukder. 1992. “The Fall of the Military Dictator: 1991 Elections and the Prospect of Civilian Rule in Bangladesh.” Pacific Affairs 65 (2): 203–224.Google Scholar
  77. Metcalf, Barbara D. 1996. “New Medinas: The Tablighi Jama’at in America and Europe.” In Making Muslim Space in North America and Europe, edited by Barbara Daly Metcalf, 110–127. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  78. Miah, Sajahan. 2009. “University of Dhaka.” In Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh. Dhaka: Asiatic Society of Bangladesh. Accessed 21 December 2015.
  79. Mills, Samuel Landell. 1998. “The Hardware of Sanctity: Anthropomorphic Objects in Bangladesh Sufism.” In Embodying Charisma: Modernity, Locality and the Performance of Emotion in Sufi Cults, edited by Pnina Werbner and Helene Basu, 31–54. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  80. Mohsin, K. M. 1990. “The Ahl-i-Hadis Movement in Bangladesh.” In Religion, Nationalism and Politics in Bangladesh, edited by Rafiuddin Ahmed, 178–185. New Delhi: South Asian Publishers.Google Scholar
  81. Mohsin, Amena A. 2004. “Religion, Politics and Security: The Case of Bangladesh.” In Religious Radicalism and Security in South Asia, edited by Satu P. Limaye, Robert G. Wirsing, and Mohan Malik, 467–488. Hawaii: Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies.Google Scholar
  82. Murshid, Tazeen M. 1995. “Democracy in Bangladesh: Illusion or Reality.” Contemporary South Asia 4 (2): 193–214.Google Scholar
  83. Murshid, Tazeen M. 1997. “State, Nation, Identity: The Quest for Legitimacy in Bangladesh.” South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies 20 (2): 1–34.Google Scholar
  84. Nadwi, Abul Hasan A. 1978. Life and Mission of Maulana Mohammad Ilyas. Lucknow: Academy of Islamic Research and Publications.Google Scholar
  85. Nesarabadi, Muhammad A. Rahman. 2011. Ahlle Sunnat Wal-Jamaater Porichoy O Aqayed [The Introduction and Doctrinal Beliefs of Ahle Sunnat Wal-Jamaat]. Jhalakati: Nesarabad Hijbullah Daruttasnif.Google Scholar
  86. O’Connell, Joseph T. 1976. “Dilemmas of Secularism in Bangladesh.” Journal of Asian and African Studies 11 (1–2): 64–81.Google Scholar
  87. Pattanaik, Smruti S. 2009. “Ascendancy of the Religious Right in Bangladesh Politics: A Study of Jamaat Islami.” Strategic Analysis 33 (2): 273–276.Google Scholar
  88. Pattanaik, Smruti S. 2013. “Majoritarian State and the Marginalized Minorities: The Hindus in Bangladesh.” Strategic Analysis 37 (4): 411–429.Google Scholar
  89. Rahim, Aminur. 2007. “Communalism and Nationalism in Bangladesh.” Journal of Asian and African Studies 42 (6): 551–572.Google Scholar
  90. Rahman, Md Ataur. 1983. “Bangladesh in 1982: Beginnings of the Second Decade.” Asian Survey 23 (2): 149–157.Google Scholar
  91. Rahman, Sayyed Tayyeb-ur. 1985. Global Geo-Strategy of Bangladesh, OIC and Islamic Ummah. Dhaka: Islamic Foundation Bangladesh.Google Scholar
  92. Rashiduzzaman, M. 1978. “Bangladesh in 1977: Dilemmas of the Military Rulers.” Asian Survey 18 (2): 126–134.Google Scholar
  93. Riaz, Ali. 2004. God Willing: The Politics of Islamism in Bangladesh. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  94. Riaz, Ali. 2005. “Traditional Institutions as Tools of Political Islam in Bangladesh.” Journal of Asian and African Studies 40 (3): 171–196.Google Scholar
  95. Riaz, Ali. 2008. Faithful Education: Madrassahs in South Asia. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  96. Riaz, Ali. 2014. “Bangladesh’s Failed Election.” Journal of Democracy 25 (2): 119–130.Google Scholar
  97. Riaz, Ali, and Md Abu Naser. 2011. “Islamist Politics and Popular Culture.” In Political Islam and Governance in Bangladesh, edited by Ali Riaz and C. Christine Fair, 136–152. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  98. Rozario, Santi. 2006. “The New Burqa in Bangladesh: Empowerment or Violation of Women’s Rights?” Women’s Studies International Forum 29 (4): 368–380.Google Scholar
  99. Salehin, Mohammad Musfequs. 2013. “Democracy and Islam: A Tale of Democratic Struggle in a Muslim Majority State.” Sociology of Islam 1 (1–2): 88–114.Google Scholar
  100. Shehabuddin, Elora. 2008. Reshaping the Holy: Democracy, Development, and Muslim Women in Bangladesh. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  101. Sikand, Yoginder S. 1999. “The Tablighi Jama’at in Bangladesh.” South Asia 22 (1): 101–123.Google Scholar
  102. Sikand, Yoginder S. 2006. “The Tablighi Jamaat and Politics: A Critical Re-appraisal.” The Muslim World 96 (1): 175–195.Google Scholar
  103. Tayyeb, Muhammed A. 1978. “Bangladesh: The Dilemmas of Independence.” Asian Affairs 5 (3): 165–179.Google Scholar
  104. Titus, Murray T. 1930. Indian Islam: A Religious History of Islam in India. London: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  105. Yasmin, Lailufar. 2010. “Politics of Secularism in Bangladesh.” In Peace and Justice, edited by Zakia Soman and Jimmy Dabhi, 46–54. New Delhi: Longman.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political StudiesShahjalal University of Science and TechnologySylhetBangladesh
  2. 2.Division of SociologyNanyang Technological UniversityJurongSingapore

Personalised recommendations