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February 15 2004 

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Can democracy protect minority rights?

I would like to share some of my reflections on the article by Sheikh Hafizur Rahman Karzon, "Ban on Ahmadiyya Publications - Constitutionality of the Decision" published on 1 February.

One of the subtle issues that resonates in the article is that of secularism and religion in politics. The author points out that the efficacy of democracy can be assessed by testing how the ability of the system to protect the rights of minority. This, in modern times would then indicate that the rights of minority are not being met in any 'democratic' country. I speak regarding the French and Germans and the ban they are facing on turbans and hijabs. I speak about the Muslim minorities in the 'democratic' countries who are not allowed to have a separate court of law to practice their own chosen form of law. Thus, one can argue that the minorities' rights to live as they wish are not met by democratic ideology.

Mr Karzon equates the Madina Pact with secularism, failing to clarify how the pact indicates that the prophet permitted secularism in running the state. In fact, Islamic Caliphate always protected the rights of the minorities by allowing them to have their own courts so they can live by their own laws. They received benefits from the state and were protected by the Muslim army against their enemies. This is what the Madina Pact was about, and far from being a secular principle, it was an important Islamic principle. It was the Muslim caliphs who showed the world how to treat the minorities in the proper way, and they did it for the sake of Allah and not for any political ideology. Such a system is yet to be demonstrated by the 'democratic' entities that exists today.

I very much agree with the author that the government has sent out mixed and confusing messages, and I believe this reflects how little thought they give to the impact of their decisions. However, I find absurd the authors suggestion that the prophet (SM) despite being under divine guidance was following secularism - which by definition rejects any form of religion! On the contrary, he was following divine guidance, and everything he did was according to the Qur'an.

Sharif Hussain,
President, MuslimMedics Society,
Imperial College School of Medicine, London, UK


Fearless journalist, free press

Free press commands non-interference and freedom i.e. freedom from all sorts of impediments. Freedom of press ensures the right to information. This imperative for breathing life into democracy. And so it is vital for the advancement of democratic society. Our country is a democratic one where press freedom has been ensured by the Constitution. Despite of having provisions relating to freedom of speech, thought, conscience and expression, the provision of freedom of the press has rightly been inserted in our Constitution simply to underscore the importance of free press. However it does not mean literal freedom. Rather, added something more than the freedom itself. It also includes a sound environment free from violence and intimidation. In other words, it empowers the journalists to work freely without any pressure. But taking the prevailing situation into consideration, one can conclude that our journalists are acting independently but not freely and fearlessly. According to newspaper reports at least 11 journalists were killed only in southern region in the last five years. The latest addition is the killing of Manik Chandra Saha, who sacrificed his life for his uncompromising and fearless journalism. So, to ensure freedom of the press and to save our democracy it is necessary to take appropriate security measure for our journalists.

Md.Kamal Hossain Meahzi
Ll.B (Hons), University Of Chittagong.

Corresponding Law Desk
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