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Politique et religions en Asie du Sud

Christophe Jaffrelot
Aminah Mohammad-Arif

Panorama post-1947

Islam, islamization and politics in Bangladesh1

Islam, islamisation et politique au Bangladesh

Ali Riaz


Bien que le Bangladesh ait été fondé en 1971 sur la base de principes sécularistes, l’islam, dans les quatre dernières décennies, a émergé en tant qu’idéologie et les islamistes comme une formidable force politique. Une série d’amendements constitutionnels ont permis aux partis islamistes de représenter une part du paysage politique et ont fait de l’islam la religion d’État. En outre, le parti islamiste était au pouvoir en tant que membre de la coalition centre-droit entre 2001 et 2006. En dépit du rétablissement du sécularisme comme principe d’État, le 15e amendement de la Constitution a réaffirmé l’influence de l’islamisme. L’essor des islamistes a aussi influencé les institutions sociales et les pratiques traditionnelles. Cet article est une exploration de la cause et des conditions de ces changements dramatiques et de leur impact sur la société et la politique du Bangladesh. Cette contribution défend l’idée que des facteurs à la fois nationaux ou extérieurs sont responsables de ces changements. Il démontre que l’émergence de l’islamisme en tant qu’idéologie politique est intrinsèquement connectée à la crise des classes dirigeantes du Bangladesh, tandis que la subsistance des forces religieuses et politiques est une conséquence à la fois des changements globaux et de l’environnement politique intérieur.

Texte intégral

  • 1 This paper is an updated and revised version of “The politics of Islamization in Bangladesh”, publ. (...)
  • 2 “President signs into law charter’s 15th amendment”, Daily Independent (Dhaka), 3 July 2011, http:/ (...)

1The national parliament of Bangladesh passed the fifteenth amendment of the constitution on 30 June 2011, and three days later the President signed the new amendment into law.2 One of the key issues addressed in the amendment is the role of religion in Bangladeshi politics. The amendment retains the phrase “Bismillah-Ar-Rahman-Ar-Rahim (In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful)/ (In the name of the Creator, the Merciful)” in the preamble, it affirms Islam as the state religion (Article 2A) but also ensures “equal status” to all other religions. Somewhat in contradiction to Article 2A, the Constitution also asserts that the state will not grant political status in favor of any religion (Article 12). The amendment removed the sentence “Absolute Faith and Trust in Allah as the basis of all action” from the constitution. Secularism as a fundamental principle has been reinstated along with a prohibition on the “abuse of religion for political purposes” (Article 12). The amendment bill was in the making for almost 11 months, thus there was no surprise in terms of the proposals, but the warning of many observers came to pass: the end product was self-contradictory in regard to the role of religion in public life.

2The amendment was legislated by the ruling Awami League, which not only claims to be a secularist party, but also secured a historic mandate (three-fourths of the seats in parliament in the 2008 elections) to restore a secular Constitution and to curb the influence of Islamists in Bangladeshi politics. The mandate to the AL was the clearest rejection of its predecessor, an alliance of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI). The BNP, a right-of-center party and the JI, the largest Islamist party in Bangladesh ruled the country between 2001 and 2006. The rise of the JI to power in 2001 was a historic moment in the sense that the party opposed the independence of Bangladesh in 1971 and insisted on establishing an Islamic state. The reign of the BNP-JI combine was marked by the heightened role of [or a heightened role for] Islam in politics and social life, and the rise of clandestine Islamist militant groups, with tacit support from the state machinery. The AL criticised the BNP-JI alliance for taking the country in a direction contrary to the secularist spirit of the war of independence which cost millions of lives. The AL’s victory was credited by many analysts to the younger generation, who demanded that a new course be charted for the future of the nation.

  • 3 N.M. Harun, “Fifteenth Amendment introduces fusion of ideologies”,, http://opinion.bdn (...)
  • 4 Mozammel H. Khan, “A self-defeating amendment”, Daily Star, 26 Jul. 2011, 14.

3The amendment, described by some analysts as “a fusion of Islam and secularism”3 and by others as “self defeating”4 is indicative of how much influence religion, particularly Islam, has gained over the politics of Bangladesh. This is one of the milestones in the journey of a nation from its secularist aspirations in 1971 to its embracing of religion as an integral part of state identity. Other milestones have included the deletion of secularism as a principle in 1977 along with inclusion of the phrase of “Bismillah-Ar-Rahman-Ar-Rahim” in the preamble, the declaration of Islam as the state religion in 1988, and the elevation of the JI to a ruling coalition partner in 2001. The significance, however, lies in the fact that earlier constitutional changes were brought in by military rulers, while the 15th amendment was introduced by a political party which promised to nullify these changes, and had the popular mandate to do so.

4A cursory look at history reminds us that Bangladesh was founded in 1971 on the basis of secularist principles. The nationalist movement which led to its secession from Pakistan grew over decades opposing the use of religion in politics by the Pakistani rulers. The Pakistani military junta attempted to justify the genocidal war unleashed against the Bengali population on March 25, 1971 on the pretext of saving the Islamic ideals of the country. The emergence of Bangladesh as an independent state was, therefore, seen by the protagonists as a victory over the abominable use of religion. Bangladesh succeeded in circumventing the explosive mix of religion and politics, giving rise to the hope that secular Bengali nationalism had done away with this phenomenon for good. But within less than three and a half years of independence, the founder leaders were assassinated and the country changed course under the military rulers who usurped power through a violent coup d’État. These events initiated a dramatic transformation in the country’s political landscape and discursive practices. Secularism as the state principle was deleted from the Constitution and the state actively encouraged the role of Islam in public life. Constitutional restrictions on the establishment of religion-based political parties were removed by the military rulers and political parties with Islamist political objectives re-emerged, including those who opposed the independence movement. In 1988, Islam was declared the state religion. Islamists of various shades emerged from oblivion onto the political scene from 1977. Over the following three decades, these parties carved out a significant space in the political landscape of the country. In 2001, the largest Islamist party and some smaller groups became partners of a ruling coalition with the right-of-center mainstream party. The term of the center-right coalition not only saw the increased influence of the Islamists in politics but also in the social arena. The most disturbing development was the proliferation of Islamist militant groups who continue to demonstrate their strengths by conducting bomb attacks and suicide bombings. The 2008 election brought a secular alliance to power with the hope that it will address the Islamists’ growing influence. But as mentioned earlier, the alliance, led by a self-proclaimed secularist party, decided to amend the Constitution which included two conflicting messages in regard to the role of Islam.

5The question then is: why and how has Islam emerged as a political ideology and the Islamists as formidable political force in Bangladesh? This paper is an exploration of the cause of and conditions for these dramatic changes, and their impact on the society and politics of Bangladesh. Comprehending these changes requires a broad understanding of Bangladesh, its political history and socio-economic trends with special emphasis on the ideological shift of the state and roles of the secularists. Examining the factors propelling the religio-political forces, especially the Islamist parties, to the center stage, I argue that both domestic and external factors are responsible. I demonstrate that the emergence of Islamism as a political ideology is intrinsically connected to the crisis of the ruling classes of Bangladesh; while the sustenance of religio-political forces is a consequence both of global changes and the domestic political environment.

State and religion

6The Bangladesh Constitution, as framed in 1972, declared secularism one of the fundamental principles of the state, but also protected the religious freedom of all communities. The rights of minorities have been protected under Article 41 on freedom of religion and the freedom of every religious community or denomination to establish, manage and maintain its religious institutions (subject to law, public order and morality).

7As mentioned previously, an amendment to the Constitution under President Ziaur Rahman in 1977 removed the principle of secularism, replacing it with “absolute trust and faith in Almighty Allah”. The Eighth Amendment of 1988 declared Islam the state religion: “the state religion of the Republic is Islam, but other religions may be practiced in peace and harmony in the republic.” Proselytizing is discouraged.

8The Fifteenth amendment, as discussed, reaffirmed the position of Islam as the state religion although it reinstated secularism as a state principle. In the current Constitution discrimination on grounds of religion is proscribed (Article 28), and equality of opportunity in public employment is ensured irrespective of religion (Article 29). Citizens are granted the right to form associations or unions, but are barred from forming any organization “for the purposes of destroying [the] religious… harmony among the citizens” (Article 38). Freedom of movement (Article 36), freedom of assembly (Article 37), freedom of thought and conscience, and of speech (Art. 39) applies equally to Muslim and non-Muslim alike.

9Resolution of issues related to family matters including marriage, succession, inheritance and maintenance is determined by religious law. The Muslim Personal Law Ordinance 1961 governs the application of Muslim laws to the Muslim community. Separate family laws are on the books for Hindus and Christians, based on their respective traditions with few significant differences. “Marriage rituals and proceedings [are] governed by the family law of the religion of the parties concerned; however, marriages were also registered with the state. Under the Muslim Family Ordinance, female heirs inherit less than male relatives, and wives have fewer divorce rights than husbands.”

10The state provides support to religious communities, although the Muslim community receives the lion’s share.

  • 5 The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, International Religious Freedom Report 2006: Bang (...)

The Ministry of Religious Affairs administered three funds for religious and cultural activities: the Islamic Foundation, the Hindu Welfare Trust, and the Buddhist Welfare Trust. According to the government, the Christian community requested that no similar organization be set up for their community; however, recently (2006) Christian leaders were informed that the state would establish a welfare trust for their community.… The Buddhist Welfare Trust, [was] founded in the 1980s.5

The political landscape

  • 6 Election Commission (EC) records show that in 1991 the commission allotted symbols to 75 parties pa (...)

11Despite the existence of a plethora of political parties,6 Bangladeshi politics is dominated by just two — the Awami League (AL) and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). The AL, founded in 1948, is one of the oldest political parties and until recently was the vanguard of secularist ideals. The BNP, established in 1978, is a right-of-center party in its orientation and strongly advocates the presence of Islam in public life. During the early years of independence leftist parties, for example the Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD, National Socialist Party, founded in 1972) and the Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB, established in 1921) enjoyed grassroots support, but failed to translate this into electoral success. Fifteen years of military rule engendered not only the BNP but also the Jatiya Party (JP, established in 1984) on the one hand and allowed the Islamist parties, for example the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) to re-emerge, on the other. During the pro-democracy movement of the 1980s three poles emerged: one led by the AL, another by the BNP, and the third comprised of smaller left parties; the JI maintained relationships with both the AL and the BNP-led alliances without joining either.

12The electorate, through the1991 election, in large measure endorsed the two-party system in Bangladesh. Almost 60 % of the popular vote was secured by them. Two subsequent elections, in 1996 and 2001, cemented this trend; in 2008, these two parties commanded the support of more than eighty percent of voters of the country (Table 1 and 2). But it also demonstrated that ideological cohesion among the rightist and Islamist political parties was strong, and that the center-right coalition was far better organized than their secularist counterparts.

13Between 1991 and 2006, the JI emerged as the kingmaker by switching sides at opportune moments; in 1991 it lent support to the BNP to form the government; in 1994 it joined the opposition to unseat the BNP; in 1998 the JI joined the BNP-led alliance and finally, became a partner of the BNP-led 4-party coalition which came to power through the 2001 election. The JI faced a setback in the election of 2008 as their seats were reduced to 2; a huge drop compared to 2001 when it secured 17 seats. (The share of their popular vote did not fall significantly as I will demonstrate in the later part of the paper).

Table 1: Election results, bangladesh 1991-2001

Table 1: Election results, bangladesh 1991-2001

Source: Bangladesh Election Commission.

Table 2: Election Results 2008




% of Popular Votes

Grand Alliance

Bangladesh Awami League
Jatiya Party
Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal
Workers Party of Bangladesh



Four Party Alliance

Bangladesh Nationalist Party
Bangladesh Jamaat-i-Islami
Bangladesh Jatiya Party-BJP
Islami Oikkya Jote



Liberal Democratic Party



Independents and others





Note: The results of 2008 election are presented separately to reflect the new political alliances and their performances. For example, The JP led by General Ershad, the JSD and the Workers Party joined the Grand Alliance led by the AL.

Religio-political parties and groups

  • 7 Shakhawat Liton, “Islamic parties boom after 1976 ban lifting”, Daily Star, 29 Aug. 2006, 1. The pa (...)

14In the last two decades, Bangladesh has seen a phenomenal rise of political parties and organizations with an Islamist agenda. According to one account, in 1970 Islamist parties (i.e. who utilize religion as a political ideology; and in some forms, “instrumentalize religion to pursue political objectives”, see Denœux 2002) numbered 11, while the total stands at 100 in 2006.7 Islamist parties participating in the elections show a steady growth since 1979. In that year, only 2 Islamist political parties contested the election, the number stayed the same in the 1986 election, but increased to 17 in 1991 and to 18 in 1996. The number declined slightly in 2001, to 11 (ibid.). Election commission records show that at least 35 political parties bearing names suggestive of an Islamist agenda participated in elections between 1979 and 2001 (Riaz 2008). Islamist parties can be broadly divided into five categories (Table 3).

15Of the 5 categories of Islamist parties, those which fall within the first four operate within mainstream politics while those in the fifth category are clandestine and some have been proscribed since 2005. The precise number of clandestine Islamist groups operating within Bangladesh is unknown. The estimated number varies between 29 and 53. The most prominent among them are listed in Table 3. The Harkatul Jihad Bangladesh (HuJiB), the Jaamatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), and the Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB) can be traced to a single network. On August 17, 2005, two proscribed militant Islamist organizations exploded more than 450 bombs within a one hour time span throughout Bangladesh. This was followed up with a bombing blitz including four incidents of suicide attacks over the next several months, killing at least thirty people and wounding 150 more. The previous regime (2001-2006) banned four Islamist militant organizations, and arrested and tried key leaders. Six militant leaders, convicted by a local court for their involvement in killing two judges in August 2005, were executed in March 2007.

Table 3: Taxonomy of Islamist Political Parties in Bangladesh

Distinguishable Traits

Name of the IPPs

Want to establish Islamic social order in society through the state, believe in “Islamic revolution”, participate in elections; support-base is wide-ranging

Bangladesh Jamaat-i-Islami (JI)

Idealist and Orthodox
Want a pure Islamic state; support base is largely within qwami madrassahs

Jamiyate Ulema-e-Islam, Khelafat Andolon, Ahle
Hadith, Islami Morcha, Khelafat Mojlish, Nejam-e-Islam (Some of the above political parties founded a seven-party combine called the Islami Oikkya
Jote – IOJ, the Islamic United Alliance)

Pir (Preacher of Islam) centric and Mazar (Shrines) based
Aim to establish a state based on traditional Islam and sharia; party organized around individuals; weak support-base

Zaker Party, Islami Shashontantra Andolon (Islamic
Constitution Movement, renamed Islami Andolon
Bangladesh), Bangladesh Tariqat Federation

Urban Elite-Centric
Want to establish Khelafat; internationally connected, highly educated middle class leadership, yet to take part in elections

Hizb ut-Tahrir Bangladesh

Militant Islamists who aim to establish an Islamic state in Bangladesh through “jihad.”

Harkat-ul-Jiahd al Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B),
Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB),
Hijbut Tawheed, Shahadat-e-Al Hikma

Analyzing the interplay of religion and politics

  • 8 For excellent interpretation of the advent and expansion of Islam in Bengal, see EATON (1993). On t (...)
  • 9 The role of religious identity of Bengalis in the Pakistan movement is examined in Taj Ul-Islam Has (...)

16For centuries, Islam has been an important part of the social milieu of Eastern Bengal, which later constituted Bangladesh. Historians differ as to the exact timing and causes of the expansion of Islam in the region, but agree that over time a syncretistic form of Islam, distinctly different from its birthplace, evolved in this region.8 One of the key features of this tradition is that Islam remained connected to personal lives and to social space, but was not a political ideology. Even during the movement for Pakistan, emphasizing a Muslim identity did not mean that Bengalis were favoring a heightened role of religion in politics.9 The rise of Bengali nationalism, not too long after the establishment of Pakistan, is testimony to the fact that Bengalis were uncomfortable with the linkage between national identity and religion. Discrimination, exploitation and marginalization in the name of Islam by the Pakistani rulers, strengthened the resolve of the majority of the Bengali population that a separation between religion and politics was a necessity. This paved the way for the inclusion of secularism in the Constitution of the country in 1972, although the concept of secularism was never a subject of public debate within the country.

17While support for the four principles of the state — secularism, nationalism, democracy and socialism — did not wane, the regime began losing support due to its failure to address issues related to daily lives (e.g. law and order) and its growing reliance on force to quell public discontent. Packaging these principles as Mujibism (named after Mujib) and the authoritarian tendency of the regime caused serious damage to its appeal. Additionally, in the face of challenges from the leftist political parties the regime attempted to court the support of the rightist elements of society. These helped the Islamist elements of the society regroup. Some of these also found a home within opposition political parties as they were trying to rally support against the Mujib regime.

18Although the abovementioned political developments were beneficial to the religio-political forces, they were far short of allowing them to be visible on the political scene. Moves by the military regime of Ziaur Rahman (1975-1981) produced the situation, which allowed them, both constitutionally and politically, to reemerge. A number of people with close ties to religious organizations became member of Zia’s cabinet and his close confidants. The lack of legitimacy of the Zia regime was the prime factor behind this reliance on the Islamists; but equally important was the desire to invent a political ideology distinctly different from the previous regime. The Political Parties Regulation of 1976 allowed organizations with an Islamist ideology to register with the government. The members of the Jamaat-i-Islami reorganized under a newly formed party called the Islamic Democratic League (IDL). The IDL became the fountainhead of a new Islamist movement in Bangladesh. When Zia founded his party in 1978, it was clearly stated in the party constitution that Islam has a pivotal role to play in public life, thus implying that it has a role in politics and public policy as well. The government provided funding for religious activities and encouraged socio-religious organizations to flourish. The state-controlled electronic media began broadcasting Islamic programs and devoting more time to religious issues. This trend gained momentum under the Ershad regime (1982-1990). The declaration of Islam as the state religion was one aspect of it, and frequent visits of Ershad to mosques, mazars (shrines), and pirs was another. Many important government decisions were announced at gatherings of religious scholars and supporters of socio-religious organizations. In the face of the pro-democracy movement launched by the political parties, Ershad frequently resorted to religious rhetoric to boost his Islamic credentials.

19The Islamists, particularly the JI, were opposed to the Ershad regime and became part of the pro-democracy movement. The opposition alliances, led by the AL and the BNP, befriended them. While the JI was not a member of either of these two alliances, it declared identical political programs and claimed to be participating in a “simultaneous” movement. Evidently, the BNP-led alliance was closer to the JI, but the AL-led alliance was not that far away. In the name of broadening the opposition camp against the military regime, these two alliances accorded the JI the political legitimacy it had lacked until then. Thus, within a decade of its reemergence as an organized political force the Islamists made their way into mainstream politics. Equally interesting is the change in political discourse. Religious idioms and icons were used not only by the government and JI (and its ilk) but also by the BNP and AL.

20It became evident after the downfall of the Ershad regime that befriending the Islamist political parties was not a tactical move on the part of the secularist parties for the purpose of the democracy movement. Instead, it heralded a new era where Islam became a political ideology and Islamic rhetoric an integral part of the political discourse. As for the Islamist parties, this marked a new beginning for them whereby they could play the two major parties one against another and reap the benefit. Driven by political expediency, both the AL and the BNP, especially the latter, began relying on the JI to challenge the other. Usage of Islamic jargon and religious verbiage by the Jamaat, the BNP, and like-minded parties was understandable, but the Awami League’s shift in this direction seemed to denote something more than political tokenism. At the beginning, especially in the early 1990s, this was described as a tactical move, but soon it graduated into a strategy, and by the end of the decade, it ostensibly became the ideological position of the party.

21The Awami League’s shift reflects a trend within secularist politics and cultural activism in Bangladesh. As the politics of Islamism became a legitimate discourse and the religio-political force, with the patronage of the state, became considerably stronger, secularists were faced with a dilemma: how to confront them, both in the short and long term. The Awami League’s deliberate decision to join the bandwagon reveals either their lack of sincerity to engage the society in a debate on the role of religion in public life or an inclination to return to power at any cost. At any rate, it did not help the secularist cause. The shift of the AL was also guided by the electoral equation. The unexpected defeat in the 1991 election convinced them to move to the right, vacating their centrist position. The weakening of the left political forces in Bangladesh, due to the demise of the Soviet Union, the disarray in the left movement, and the rise of neo-liberal ideas worldwide created a void which the Islamists attempted to occupy.

Electoral politics and political expediency

22The domestic political changes, narrated above, beginning with military rule in 1975 paved the way for the rise of Islamist political parties. The reemergence of Islamist parties is directly tied to the democratic hiatus; but democratic competition did not change the course, thanks to short-termism and the politics of expediency of secularist political parties.

  • 10 The only exception was the 11-party alliance, a conglomeration of the left and liberal democratic p (...)

23In terms of the election manifestos of 2001 there seem to be no critical differences among the major political parties. The BNP’s election manifesto proclaimed that the party, if voted to power, “will not enact any law contrary to Islam.” The Jamaat-e-Islami, for understandable reasons, announced in unambiguous terms that the party, if voted to power, “will convert the Peoples’ Republic of Bangladesh into an Islamic Republic.” The AL, in an apparent race with the others, declared in its manifesto, “no law will be enacted, which will be inconsistent with the dictates of the Qur’an and Hadith.”10 The JP election manifesto stated that if the party was voted to power, “existing laws would be brought in line with the principles of the Quran and Sunnah, … laws contrary [to the] Quran and Sunnah shall be amended… Shariah laws would be followed as far as possible… special laws would be made for punishing those making derogatory remarks against the Prophet (sm) and the Shariah… religious education would be made compulsory at all levels.”

  • 11 “Khelafat Majilisher Shathe Panchdofa Chukti, Awami Leagu Khomotai gele Alemder Fatwar Odhikar Debe (...)
  • 12 Hasan Jahid Tushar, “2 ‘militants’ get AL tickets”, Daily Star, 27 Dec. 2006, 1.
  • 13 “AL says its Islamist allies to work for ‘secularism’”, Daily Star, 28 Dec. 2006, 1. The AL finally (...)
  • 14 “Chardoleyo Jote ke vote na diley Islam rakshya hobe na” (Islam wont be saved without the four-part (...)
  • 15 “Islami Shaktir Shohayota Chara Keu Khomotai Jete Parbe na: Aminee” (No one can attain power withou (...)

24In late 2006, leading up to the scheduled election in January 2007, these parties went beyond their manifestos and brought Islamists to their platform to achieve the immediate goal of securing victory. The AL, in its bid to form a broad alliance against the BNP-led 4 party combine, created “the Grand Alliance” comprised of General Ershad’s Jatiya Party, various breakaway factions of the BNP, and its usual allies such as the Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD). From the outset, the “Grand Alliance” was replete with strange-bedfellows. Any one willing to oppose the BNP-led alliance was welcomed to this new combine, even if they had been part of the four-party alliance until the day before or had benefited most from the five years of the Khaleda Zia regime. While there was no dearth of people to join the bandwagon, the Islamists in general, particularly the militant Islamists took advantage of the situation. The most conspicuous example was the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between the AL and the Bangladesh Khelafat Majlish (BKM) on 23 December 2006. Although the BKM was well-known for its radical views and the involvement of its leaders with militant groups such as the Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), the AL had no reservations about sharing a platform with them. The five-point MOU stipulated that if the “Grand Alliance” comes to power, the government will allow the certified ulama (Islamic clerics) the right to issue fatwas (religious edicts), impose a bar on enacting any law that goes against Q’uranic values, initiate steps for proper implementation of the initiative for government recognition of the degrees awarded by Qwami madrasahs, and ban criticism of the Prophet Muhammad, or in other words introduce a blasphemy law.11 As part of the deal the AL, on behalf of the Grand Alliance, nominated six Islamists in the election. These included Mufti Shahidul Islam and Muhammad Habibur Rahman – two veterans of the Afghan war,12 and another, Habibur Rahman, who had issued a fatwa against voting for the AL in the 2001 election because of its secularist credentials. Despite severe criticisms by allies and members of the civil society, the AL leaders insisted that the MOU and the nomination of the Islamists were consistent with the spirit of secularism.13 The BNP, on the other hand, insisted that the only way to save Islam was to vote for the four-party alliance.14 Pointing to this rat-race among the two alliances to cajole the Islamists, Fazlul Huq Aminee, the leader of the Islamic Oikya Jote (IOJ), gleefully declared that “no one can go to power without the support of the Islamic forces.”15

25The AL’s move came as a surprise to many observers on two counts; first from an ideological standpoint it was a decisive shift of the party which used to take pride in its secularist credentials. Although since the 1990s the party had worked closely with the Islamist parties including the JI, the cozying up to more radical Islamists was unexpected to many. Secondly, in terms of votes this was not a prudent move, because these Islamist parties do not command a large following among the electorate. The results of previous elections demonstrate that Islamists’ share of the popular votes, particularly those who joined the Grand Alliance, was very small (Table 4).

Table 4: Islamists’ Electoral Support, 1991-2001

Table 4: Islamists’ Electoral Support, 1991-2001

Source: Bangladesh Election Commission. Parliament Election Reports,​report.php3

26It is in the context of electoral politics that we need to further examine the results of the 2008 election to understand the strengths of the Islamist parties. The first reading of the results of 2008 election reveals that the Islamists did very poorly. The popular press in Bangladesh heralded the demise of the JI as a formidable political force in Bangladeshi politics. The number of seats secured by the JI gives credence to this argument: the Jamaat-i-Islami secured only 2 seats as opposed to 17 seats in 2001; this was even worse than their 1996 performance when they won 3 seats. The key leaders of the JI, including the party chief Motiur Rahman Nizami, Secretary General Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojahid and central leader Delwar Hossain Saydee — lawmakers in the last parliament — were defeated. No other Islamist party has succeeded in coming close in any seats where they fielded their candidates. The two Islami Oikkya Jote (IOJ) leaders who were previously elected lost. Fazlul Huq Aminee, the firebrand Islamist, who attracted international media attention because of his radical views and alleged connection with militants, was defeated by a Grand Alliance candidate with no national standing. While these facts indicate a complete routing of the JI and the Islamists, the details of the results show that it is too early to label the JI and the Islamists as a spent force. In fact, I argue that the results show that the Islamists’ base has not deserted the party but rather reflects the support base of the Islamists within Bangladeshi society.

27The main Islamist party, Bangladesh Jamaat-i-Islami, a partner of the BNP-led alliance, fielded 40 candidates. The number of seats contested in 2001 was 31. The total votes received by JI candidates in 2001 were 2.38 million, a 4.28 % share of the total 55.73 million votes cast nationally. The total number of votes the JI received in the 2008 election was slightly higher: 3.16 million. The number of votes cast in this election increased significantly, 70.51 million in total. The share of the JI, by this account increased, to 4.48 %. It is necessary to take into account the fact that the number of candidates of the JI in 2008 was greater than the previous election (2001) and that about 15 million new voters cast ballots. Taking these factors into consideration we can tentatively conclude that the small increase in the votes of the JI is negligible and that the increase proportionally was smaller than the increase of total voters, which means that the party is failing to keep pace with new voters. Despite an increase of about 15 % in cast votes, the JI’s vote remained almost static, growing by only 0.2 %.

28But discussion of the Islamists’ performance should not be limited to the JI’s electoral results; instead we should take into account how Islamist parties performed in the election. Among them, the most well-known Islami Oikkya Jote (IOJ, Islamic United Front; a member of the 4-party alliance) suffered badly, but like the JI managed to hold on to its base support. For example, Fazlul Huq Aminee secured 94,273 votes. This represents 30 % of total votes cast, which was not sufficient to carry him through as his opponent bagged 143,672 votes (59 %). But the total number is almost equal to his 99,804 votes in 2001. Among the Islamists, the Islamic Andolon Bangladesh (Islamic Movement of Bangladesh, IMB, previously known as the Islamic Constitution Movement) fielded the largest numbers of candidates. The IMB registered 166 candidates. It is one of the 25 small political parties who together fielded 716 candidates but did not win any seats. However, it is the only such party which succeeded in securing more than 1 % of the popular vote. These parties together won 2.38 % — 1.65 million — of which the IMB’s share is 1.05 % (733,969). The share of the other Islamist parties is far lower (Table 5).

Table 5: Islamist’ Performance in 2008 Election


Number of Candidates

Votes Secured

% of Cast Votes

Bangladesh Jamaat-i-Islam




Islami Andolan Bangladesh




Jamiate Ulamaye Islam Bangladesh




Zaker Party




Islami Oikyo Jote




Bangladesh Islami Front




Bangladesh Khelafat Majlish




Bangladesh Tarikat Federation




Bangladesh Khelafat Andolan






Source: “25 small parties get 2pc votes in total”, Daily Star, 2 January 2009, 1.

  • 16 For details see Daily Star, 21 November 2008: (...)

29The share of all Islamist parties together amounted to 6.27 % of the total votes cast on 29 December. The number is very important in understanding the political landscape of the country. This is equal to the number of respondents who chose the Islamic form of government in a pre-election survey conducted by the Daily Star and Nielsen in November 2008.16 In response to a question as to which form of the government he/she likes, 7 % of the respondents favored Islamic as opposed to 81 % who chose [parliamentary] democratic. 6 % chose a caretaker form of government, 3 % chose the Presidential form, and 3 % chose martial law. The concurrence of these two numbers reveals that the Islamists have an unwavering base of 7 % within the population of Bangladesh.

Beyond electoral politics

  • 17 “Women will have equal rights in properties”, Prothom Alo, 9 March 2008, 1: http://www.prothom-alo. (...)
  • 18 The government, in August 2007, came down hard on student demonstrations and arrested students and (...)

30The inauguration of the military-backed caretaker government in January 2007 raised hopes among the secularists that the caretaker government would address the issue of growing Islamization and rein in the Islamists. The nonpartisan nature of the government was the main factor which engendered such hope. It was expected that with no political ambitions the members of the government would not have to give in to political expediency. Some observers, however, pointed to the history of the country and insisted that military rule has brought good fortune for the Islamists. As the government launched its anti-corruption drive key leaders of the AL and the BNP including Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia were incarcerated and faced a number of charges; however only a small number of JI leaders were arrested; none of national stature. However, the most telling test for the government came in March-April 2008. On 8 March 2008 the government set aside one-third of parliamentary seats for women and suggested arrangements for direct election to the reserved seats. It also suggested appointment of an adequate number of women, if necessary, under the related section of the Constitution to the highest-level of Cabinet Division and the policymaking level of the administration. The policy provided equal rights to women on inherited properties.17 Islamists immediately launched violent protests against the policy and forced the government to set up a review committee dominated by clerics and Islamic scholars. Despite the state of emergency, which prohibits demonstrations, the activists were allowed to congregate at the national mosque at the Capital, conduct processions, and even attack the police.18 Finally the government backtracked and decided not to implement the policy.

31These domestic developments should also be juxtaposed with the government’s foreign policy, and changes in global politics and the global economy. Among these two deserve highlighting: the emergence of political Islam on the global scene, and Bangladesh’s connection with Middle Eastern and Gulf countries.

32Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s decision to attend the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) in 1973 indicated that the country was not ready to completely align itself against the Muslim world although very few had extended official recognition to the new country. The close relationship forged with the then Soviet Union, in 1971 and founded upon its support for the independence war, had to be balanced with courting the United States, which sided with Pakistan in 1971 and had yet to warmly embrace Bangladesh. This move also stemmed from the need for aid and assistance in rebuilding the war-ravaged country. Post-1975, the country aligned with the USA and cultivated close relationships with Middle Eastern countries.

  • 19 Mahmood Mamdani, “Inventing political violence”, Global Agenda: (...)

33Throughout the 1980s, Islamists not only gained global prominence but have also acquired power and achieved legitimacy, thanks to two events in 1979 — the Iranian revolution, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan followed by the emergence of the Mujahideen (Holy Warriors). The Iranian Revolution demonstrated that Islam can be seen as a political ideology rather than merely a religious or theological construct. This line of argument had earlier been advanced by Hasan al-Banna (1906-1949) and Abul Ala Mawdudi (1903-1979) and debated within activist circles. Nevertheless, the Iranian Revolution proved that it could be translated into a reality. The Afghan example was even more compelling, especially due to the involvement of the United States. Mahmood Mamdani noted that the Afghan war was important on two counts; first, the ideologization of the war as a “religious war” as opposed to a national liberation war, and secondly, the privatization of the war, i.e., allowing the recruitment, training and organizing of a global network of fighters through Islamic charities, and their training through militarized madrassahs. Mamdani insists, “Before the Afghan jihad, right-wing political Islam was an ideological tendency with little organization and muscle on the ground. The Afghan jihad gave it numbers, organization, skills, reach, confidence and a coherent objective.”19

  • 20 Studies have shown that the contribution of migrant worker remittances to Bangladesh’s GDP has rise (...)

34Bangladesh’s interaction with countries in the Persian Gulf region and the Middle East has been mediated through its migrant workers. Since 1976, exporting unskilled, semi-skilled and skilled labor to these countries has become one of the main sources of Bangladesh’s foreign revenue. Labor migration has impacted positively on the nation’s economy in at least two ways: firstly, it has kept the unemployment rate low, and secondly, it has brought a flow of remittances, often in the face of dwindling exports.20 The social cost, however, has been quite high. Migrant workers have been exposed to a set of retrogressive social values, and a less tolerant version of “Islam” in the host countries. This has nurtured the idea that Islam practiced in its birthplace is more authentic than that practiced anywhere else. Thus upon returning home the migrants try to emulate the lifestyle and values they have been exposed to and share them with their communities. In poorer rural communities, the returnees also assume a social status that allows them to become authority figures. This has contributed to the deepening of social conservatism in the name of Islam and has played a crucial role in the Islamization process. To maintain the newly earned social status of the returnee migrants these values and norms needed to be reproduced in the society. This has led to the use of traditional social institutions and practices as tools of political Islam in Bangladesh.

  • 21 For three concrete instances, see RIAZ (2004: 89-132).

35It is well to bear in mind that the Islamists faced opposition from the civil society in various forms and on many occasions; but success was limited, at best.21 The impact of the heightened role of Islamists has been manifold — at societal level and at political level.

36At the societal level, the country has witnessed the transformation of many traditional social practices and institutions. For example, two traditional practices/institutions have taken on new meanings since the 1990s. These are salish (village arbitration), and fatwa (religious edicts).

37Salish is an age-old traditional mode of arbitration in rural areas in Bangladesh. Generally speaking, in rural areas, salish used to represent a forum where various forms of conflict between neighbors (e.g., over land, cattle, or small properties), and at times between couples and siblings, were resolved through mediation. Bangladeshi laws dealing with arbitration do not acknowledge the authority of any salish and give no legitimacy to this traditional form of arbitration. Furthermore, the Constitution only allows the courts to deal with arbitration, adjudication etc. The salish, therefore, remained a traditional institution without legal standing, and its resolutions are nonbinding to any parties involved in the mediation process. Since this mode has been used to resolve minor conflicts they were always local, with no standing format, were established case by case through agreement of the parties involved, and involvement of members from religious institutions (i.e. Mosque or madrassah) were not a requirement. Political or religious matters never fell under the jurisdiction of salish.

38But in the 1990s, in various parts of the country, particularly in rural areas the salish became a common practice with a very prominent role for the local religious leader/cleric (primarily the mullah of the local mosque) who was often close to a religio-political party. A clear trend of these salish emerged, although they were organized locally and were dealing with apparently minor issues, a political message was evident in their verdicts which were then enforced by the local cleric. Women and development organizations, which were under fire from the Islamist parties for their alleged non-Islamic acts, were the primary targets of these salish. These salishs were intended to establish a local cleric as the custodian of a moral order and the source of “knowledge”, emphasize the sharia as an alternative to the existing civil laws, and present a challenge to the local authorities.

  • 22 In February 1984, Maulana Mohammad Ullah, popularly known as Haffezi Huzzur, issued a fatwa that Ge (...)

39In similar vein, fatwa (religious edicts) were being issued by clerics regularly on various matters. Although fatwa, a legally non-binding opinion of a mufti (legal consultant) or quadi (religious judge) on important issues especially on something more than an individual’s behavior or acts, has its origin in Islamic jurisprudence, it has never been a common practice in post-colonial Pakistan and Bangladesh. During the Pakistan period (1947-1971), religious leaders and politicians have issued fatwa on several occasions and on various issues. However, these so-called fatwas were nothing more than opinions of the persons concerned and were not targeted against any individual. Also noteworthy is that these pronouncements generally did not contain any threat of harm and that hardly any evidence can be found that anyone attempted to implement them. As such, the fatwa never featured prominently in the public discourse. In post-independence Bangladesh, except for an isolated incident in 1984,22 fatwa remained nonexistent in the political discourse. In the urban social sphere, fatwa seems to have been an alien idea altogether. Within the rural community, one may find sporadic instances of fatwa being issued on local matters, but they did not merit national attention and definitely did not have any specific pattern. Nevertheless, in the 1980s and 1990s, there were many instances of the issuing of fatwa by local clerics, who neither had any legal standing nor possessed the necessary religious scholarship.

40These fatwas were almost exclusively issued against specific individuals, primarily women, and were backed up by actions — either locally through utilizing traditional social institutions, such as salish, or nationally through organized mobilization. Of further significance was a gradual expansion of the jurisdiction of the fatwas: from local to national and from victimizing individuals for “offences” against the moral code of conduct to persecuting individuals for “objectionable opinions” or challenging organizations for their “unacceptable programs”.

  • 23 “Now Delwar Hossain Sayedee’s Fatwa”, Daily Janakantha, 5 Jan. 2002, 16.
  • 24 “Alliance MPs’ Vow to Uphold Fatwa”, Daily Star, 7 Mar. 2003, 1.

41These practices of salish and fatwa not only received moral support from the Islamists, but were also backed up with effective political mobilization when the highest court attempted to confront these practices and make the fatwa illegal in early 2001. The Islamists took to the streets, forcing the state to retreat. Subsequently the Islamist political leaders insisted that fatwa should supersede the constitutionally appointed Courts. Delwar Hossain Sayedee, then a member of Parliament and an influential leader of the JI, announced on 4 January 2002, in the presence of three members of the cabinet and a number of MPs at a religious gathering near Dhaka that “courts won’t be allowed to control fatwas, instead fatwas would control the courts.”23 In March 2003, two Parliament members belonging to the then ruling coalition called upon the government to enforce fatwa saying, “fatwa was in the past, exists now and will continue in future. Only fatwa will be the constitution.”24

42The dramatic rise of fatwa and abuse of salish, in the 1980s and 1990s show that their roles have been redefined by the Islamists and their beneficiaries. These institutions have been recast as guardians of orthodoxy and propagators of a certain version of Islam akin to the Wahabbism of Saudi Arabia.

  • 25 For details see RIAZ (2004) and RAFI (2006).
  • 26 “Harrowing Tales of Depravity: Fear and Insecurity Still Haunt Them”, Daily Star, 11 Nov. 2001, 1.
  • 27 The Bangladesh High Court temporarily suspended the order on 21 December 2004 after a number of hum (...)

43The interplay of religion and politics has impacted upon the political scene and has not only changed mainstream politics but also created an environment within which religious-inspired violence and militancy has grown remarkably. Since the 1980s, religious minorities in Bangladesh have faced organized violence, while sectarianism, previously non-existent in Bangladesh, has been promoted. After the elections of 2001, Hindus in Bangladesh faced unprecedented persecution while the state machinery was either complicit in the violence or remained a silent spectator.25 The extent of the atrocities can be understood from a news report published in early November 2001: “from Bhola to Pirojpur, from Laxmipur to Jessore to Bagerhat, … all the Hindus had to say was how they had been subjected to looting, harassment, assault and, in some cases, rape. It was quite clear that the attackers were after the valuables and lands of the Hindus. And, in the process, the Hindu women were an easy prey.”26 Since 2002 the Ahmadiyyas, a small Muslim community of less than 150,000, who have been living in Bangladesh since the 1900s, have come under virulent attack from the Khatme Nabuwat (KN), an umbrella organization of Islamist groups dedicated to the preservation of the “finality of the prophethood” of Muhammad. They have begun a campaign to declare Ahamadiyyas “non-Muslims”. The government, instead of clamping down on the perpetrators of these attacks, succumbed to their pressure and banned all Ahmadiyya publications on 8 January 2004.27

  • 28 Probe News, “Banning religion-based democratic parties will push them to militancy”, Interview of M (...)

44Concurrently, the country experienced the rise of Islamist militant groups. As noted in the previous section, the exact number of such groups is difficult to ascertain. They do not command any significant popular support, but undoubtedly they are a threat to the democratic future of the country and their existence is made possible due to their connections with mainstream Islamist politics. Reports published in the local press and intelligence reports have documented that many militants have been members of the JI or IOJ. Profiles of militant leaders show that their political careers often began with political activism in the JI (Riaz 2008, Appendix: 124-129). At the local level, these militants have received support from the leaders of the mainstream Islamist parties. The connections have been used by the Islamists to their benefit. In 2007 the secretary general of the JI, reacting to a growing popular demand that the JI leaders be tried for war crimes perpetrated in 1971 and the party banned, argued that “banning religion-based democratic parties will push them to militancy”, clearly a tacit admission of their connections.28


45The foregoing discussion on the interplay of religion and politics in Bangladesh demonstrates that the rise of Islam as a political ideology and Islamists as prominent political actors have taken place at a steady pace since 1975. The Islamization process has its roots in the legitimacy crisis of the military rulers of the country who usurped power in 1975; but the acquiescence of the secularist parties has allowed this process to continue during and after military rule. The constitutional legitimacy of the Islamists, who opposed the independence of the country and were banned until 1977, was achieved during military rule. Their political legitimacy, on the other hand, was won during the pro-democracy movement, thanks to two major parties of the country. Similarly, taking advantage of the acrimonious relationship between these two parties and their belligerent posturing during the era of representative democracy Islamists emerged as the kingmaker. The desire to be in power at any cost and the small difference in popular support are the main causes of this politically naïve move by the BNP and the AL. Interestingly, the share of popular votes of the Islamists is small, clearly sending the message that personal religiosity aside Bangladeshis are not comfortable with the mix of politics and Islam. This is also reflected in the fact that Islamist militants receive little sympathy and support from the common people. Notwithstanding these positive aspects, Islamization has seriously impacted upon society and politics; the religious minorities, including the minority sect of Islam, have been subjected to violence; traditional practices and institutions have been transformed and are being used as tools of political objectives.

46These developments have taken place and are taking place in a global context wherein political Islam is appealing to many Muslims throughout the globe. Economic imperatives and globalization necessitate the country’s interactions with Muslim countries in the Middle East and the Gulf; but there seem to be social and political costs to this relationship. The relationship will remain strong in coming years, but how the negative socio-political impact of this relationship can be minimized is an issue which deserves attention. The blurring of mainstream Islamists and the Islamist militants is an ominous sign and does not bode well for the future of the country, especially at a time when political parties with Islamist agendas are on the rise.

47The future trajectory of Islamist politics, at least in the short term, is essentially tied to the course of mainstream political developments in Bangladesh. If Bangladeshi politics returns to a confrontational course, which is likely after the passing of the fifteenth amendment because the BNP has declared that it will not participate in the next election without a caretaker government, Islamists will remain key players. For example, the JI, as a partner of the BNP, will continue to be an important force; smaller Islamist parties will seize the opportunity to exercise influence greater than their organizational strengths. The BNP will need all of these to swell the rank of its support against the government. Reaffirmation of the state religion in the Constitution or retention of Islamic phrases in the preamble will provide very little impetus for them to switch sides to the AL. The AL, on the other hand, has weakened its appeal to the secular liberal forces by these moves, in addition to its failure to deliver on other bread and butter issues. As one analyst has opined, “With the Awami League, which has been publicly championing secularism since it embraced the principle in 1956 and at the initiative of which secularism was made a fundamental principle of state policy in the newly-independent Bangladesh, now deciding to experiment with secularism-with-Islam, the cause of secularism has suffered a setback. The fight for secularism will now enter a new phase.”

  • 29 For JI’s arguments see the website “Free Jammat Leaders” ( (...)
  • 30 US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues, Stephen J. Rapp visited twice in 2011 and offered US (...)

48The unknown factor, in this equation, is the success of the war crimes trial. The trial is important as it affects the JI more than any other party. The key leaders of the party, Motiur Rahman Nizami, Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid, Muhammad Kamaruzzaman, Abdul Quader Mollah and Delwar Hossain Sayedi, are now under trial and the organization is on the back foot. It has never faced such an adverse situation since its reemergence in 1977. The JI is trying to portray the trial as vengeance instead of justice.29 The government’s handling of the trial process has raised some concerns internationally,30 but the demand for the trial of those who perpetrated war crimes in 1971 is popular. An acceptable and transparent trial will undermine the JI’s standing in politics and create a dent in the leadership. This may unleash new dynamics within Islamist politics and influence Bangladeshi politics enormously.



Denœux, G. (2002), “The Forgotten Swamp: Navigating Political Islam”, The Journal of Middle East Policy, IX.

Eaton, R.M. (1993), The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204-1760, Berkeley, University of California Press.

Rafi, M. (2006), Can We Get Along? An Account Of Communal Relationship In Bangladesh, Dhaka, Panjeree Publications Ltd.

Riaz, A. (2004), God Willing: The Politics of Islamism in Bangladesh, Lanham, MD, Rowman & Littlefield, pp. 89-132.

Riaz, A. (2008), Islamist Militancy in Bangladesh: A Complex Web, London/ New York, Routledge.

Riaz, A., ed. (2010), Religion and Politics in Bangladesh, London/New York, Routledge.

Roy, A. (1984), The Islamic Syncretistic Tradition in Bengal, Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press.

Taj Ul-Islam Hashmi (1992), Pakistan as a Peasant UTopia: The Communalization of Class Politics in East Bengal, 1920-1947, Boulder, Co., Westview Press.


1 This paper is an updated and revised version of “The politics of Islamization in Bangladesh”, publ. in A. Riaz, ed., ReligionandPoliticsinBangladesh, New York/London, Routledge, 2010, pp. 45-70. The author gratefully acknowledges the permission of the publisher for the reprint.

2 “President signs into law charter’s 15th amendment”, Daily Independent (Dhaka), 3 July 2011, 15th-amendment.html

3 N.M. Harun, “Fifteenth Amendment introduces fusion of ideologies”,,

4 Mozammel H. Khan, “A self-defeating amendment”, Daily Star, 26 Jul. 2011, 14.

5 The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, International Religious Freedom Report 2006: Bangladesh, US Department of State,

6 Election Commission (EC) records show that in 1991 the commission allotted symbols to 75 parties participating in the election, in 1996 the number was 119, and in 2001 the number was 95 (For 2001 list see: Earlier figures are drawn from Dalem Ch. Barman, M. Golam Rahman and Tasneem Siddiqui, “Democracy Report for Bangladesh”, International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), n.d. (2001).

7 Shakhawat Liton, “Islamic parties boom after 1976 ban lifting”, Daily Star, 29 Aug. 2006, 1. The parties that existed in 1970 were: Nezam-e-Islam, Jamaat-i-Islami, Muslim Affairs, Jamiyat-e-Ulama-e-Islam, Jamiat-e-Ahle Hadith, Islami Darodi Sangha, United Islamic Front, Islami Sangram Parishad, Islami Durmuz Party, Jatiya Mujaheed Sangha and Jamayat-e-Tabligue-e-Deen.

8 For excellent interpretation of the advent and expansion of Islam in Bengal, see EATON (1993). On the syncretistic tradition of Islam in Bengal see Roy (1984).

9 The role of religious identity of Bengalis in the Pakistan movement is examined in Taj Ul-Islam Hashmi (1992).

10 The only exception was the 11-party alliance, a conglomeration of the left and liberal democratic parties and groups. They pledged that if voted to power, they would work towards restoration of secular ideals.

11 “Khelafat Majilisher Shathe Panchdofa Chukti, Awami Leagu Khomotai gele Alemder Fatwar Odhikar Debe” (Five Point Agreement with Khelafat Majlish: If Elected to Power, Awami League Will Allow Alims to Issue Fatwa, in Bengali), Prothom Alo, 24 Dec. 2006, 1.

12 Hasan Jahid Tushar, “2 ‘militants’ get AL tickets”, Daily Star, 27 Dec. 2006, 1.

13 “AL says its Islamist allies to work for ‘secularism’”, Daily Star, 28 Dec. 2006, 1. The AL finally scrapped the deal on 17 February 2007 more than a month after the election was cancelled.

14 “Chardoleyo Jote ke vote na diley Islam rakshya hobe na” (Islam wont be saved without the four-party alliance voted to power, in Bengali), Shamokal, 26 Dec. 2006, 1.

15 “Islami Shaktir Shohayota Chara Keu Khomotai Jete Parbe na: Aminee” (No one can attain power without the support of the Islamic forces: Aminee, in Bengali), Ittefaq, 26 Dec. 2006, 1.

16 For details see Daily Star, 21 November 2008:

17 “Women will have equal rights in properties”, Prothom Alo, 9 March 2008, 1:

18 The government, in August 2007, came down hard on student demonstrations and arrested students and faculty. The day the police allowed the Islamists to demonstrate, a small gathering of left political parties against price hikes was dispersed by force.

19 Mahmood Mamdani, “Inventing political violence”, Global Agenda:

20 Studies have shown that the contribution of migrant worker remittances to Bangladesh’s GDP has risen from 1 % in 1977-78 to 5 % in 1982-83. In the 1990s, the rate continued at the level of 4 %. Data from the Bureau of Manpower Employment and Training (BMET), a government agency in Bangladesh, show that between 1976 and January 2002 the number of Bangladeshis who migrated on short-term employment contracts was about 3 million. Although Bangladesh also exports migrant workers to some Southeast Asian countries, 8 Middle Eastern and North African countries have been the main destinations. They account for more than 82 % of migrant workers from Bangladesh. These countries are Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Iraq, Libya, Bahrain, and Oman. Saudi Arabia alone accounts for half of the workers who migrated from Bangladesh during this period. These workers are mostly male and young, overwhelmingly unskilled with little education, and are drawn from rural areas. Usually the length of their stay abroad is about 4 years.

21 For three concrete instances, see RIAZ (2004: 89-132).

22 In February 1984, Maulana Mohammad Ullah, popularly known as Haffezi Huzzur, issued a fatwa that General Ershad’s rule was un-Islamic, as he did not follow the Quran and Sunnah and that it was also illegitimate because he did not come to power with the consent of the people.

23 “Now Delwar Hossain Sayedee’s Fatwa”, Daily Janakantha, 5 Jan. 2002, 16.

24 “Alliance MPs’ Vow to Uphold Fatwa”, Daily Star, 7 Mar. 2003, 1.

25 For details see RIAZ (2004) and RAFI (2006).

26 “Harrowing Tales of Depravity: Fear and Insecurity Still Haunt Them”, Daily Star, 11 Nov. 2001, 1.

27 The Bangladesh High Court temporarily suspended the order on 21 December 2004 after a number of human rights groups launched a legal challenge. However, the activists of the KM insisted that they would not abide by the High Court rulings. “We will violate any orders of the High Court (about the Ahmadiyyas) and follow the laws of Allah” declared Mohiuddin Rabbani, publicity secretary of the International Majlis-e Tahaffuz-e Khatme Nabuwat Bangladesh (IMTKNB) in Mar. 2005.

28 Probe News, “Banning religion-based democratic parties will push them to militancy”, Interview of Matiur Rahman Nizami, Probenewsmagazine,

29 For JI’s arguments see the website “Free Jammat Leaders” (, of particular relevance is the pamphlet entitled, “Allegations of War Crimes against the Leaders of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami — A Travesty of Truth” reprinted in the website under 23 Nov. 2011).

30 US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues, Stephen J. Rapp visited twice in 2011 and offered US help in conducting the trial consistent with international standards. Concerns have been expressed by the International Centre for Transitional Justice in March 2011. Human Rights Watch, a New York based international organization, called upon the PM in May 2011 to amend the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act 1973 to ensure a credible and fair tribunal. The tribunal brought some changes in rules of procedure in late June 2011.

Table des illustrations

Titre Table 1: Election results, bangladesh 1991-2001
Crédits Source: Bangladesh Election Commission.
Fichier image/jpeg, 40k
Titre Table 4: Islamists’ Electoral Support, 1991-2001
Crédits Source: Bangladesh Election Commission. Parliament Election Reports,​report.php3
Fichier image/jpeg, 19k


He is Professor and Chair of the Department of Politics and Government at Illinois State University. He has previously taught at universities in South Carolina, England, and Bangladesh. He also worked as Broadcast Journalist in the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) World Service in London.

Publications : 

– 2008 Faithful Education : Madrassahs in South Asia, New Brunswick, N.J., Rutgers University Press.
– 2008 Islamist Militancy in Bangladesh : A Complex Web, London/New York, Routledge.
– 2010 ed., Religion and Politics in South Asia, London/New York, Routledge.

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