BBangladesh Religion – Bangladesh of Communal Harmony. angladesh is a predominantly Muslim country, with Islam being the state religion. However, the Constitution of Bangladesh protects freedom of religion and the right to practice any faith. The major religions practiced in Bangladesh include Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity.
Islam is the largest and most dominant religion in Bangladesh, with over 90% of the population being Muslim. Most Muslims in Bangladesh are Sunni and follow the Hanafi school of jurisprudence. The vast majority adheres to moderate Sufi influences of the Barelvi school.
Islam came to Bengal through the missionary activities of Sufi saints and warriors. Arab navigation in the region was the prime factor that brought Islam to Arakan and Bengal. The first Muslim conquest of the Indian subcontinent took place in the 13th century. Islam arrived in Bangladesh in different ways through various missionary works and military incursions. One of the pioneers of Islam in Bengal was Sufi saint Shah Jalal. He arrived in Bangladesh in c. 1300 AD and used more of a peaceful approach to propagate Islam.
The Muslim population in Bangladesh generally adheres to moderate views and rejects religious extremism. However, there are some Islamist political parties and groups such as Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh and Hefazat-e-Islam who advocate for a greater role of Islam in governance and society.
The major Muslim festivals like Eid-ul-Fitr, Eid-ul-Adha and Muharram are national public holidays in Bangladesh. Mosques and Islamic institutions are present throughout the country and form an integral part of Muslim community life.
Hinduism is the second largest religious affiliation in Bangladesh, covering about 8% of the total population. Most Hindus reside in urban areas, particularly in the capital Dhaka. Major concentrations are also found in northern Bangladesh and the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
Hinduism has had a long and rich history in the region of Bengal. However, the percentage of Hindus has declined over the decades due to migration, conversion and displacement during historical events like partition.
The main Hindu festivals celebrated in Bangladesh include Durga Puja, Kali Puja, Saraswati Puja, Janmashtami, Rath Yatra, Lakshmi Puja and Holi. There are many historic, century-old temples scattered all over Bangladesh dedicated to various Hindu gods and goddesses. Some of the popular ones include Dhakeshwari Temple, Ramna Kali Temple, Puthia Temple Complex and Ramakrishna Mission in Dhaka.
The Hindu community has faced some discrimination and persecution in the past. A minority of Islamist extremists target Hindus through hate crimes and vandalism. The Awami League government has pledged to protect minorities and their places of worship.
Buddhism is the third largest religious affiliation in Bangladesh, comprising around 0.6% of the total population. Buddhists are mainly concentrated among the indigenous communities in Chittagong Hill Tracts. Theravada Buddhism is the predominant school, mixed with local tribal beliefs.
Buddhism has existed in the region for over 2000 years, but it saw a revival during the reign of the Pala Empire between 8th-12th century. After the Pala rule, Buddhism started declining. The Chakma, Marma, Tanchangya and Chak people are the Buddhist ethnic groups inhabiting the Chittagong Hill Tracts. They have retained their Buddhist heritage despite being surrounded by a Muslim-majority population.
There are several Buddhist temples, monasteries, meditation centers and archeological sites across the hilly districts of Bandarban, Rangamati and Khagrachari. Some key Buddhist places include the Rajban Bihar temple, Shailapadma Bihar, Vihara (Buddhist temples) among the Chakma community. The Pablakhali Temple is an important Buddhist monument dating back to the 8th century CE.
The Buddha Purnima festival marking the birth of Gautam Buddha is a public holiday in Bangladesh. The community also celebrates Kathin Chibar Dan Festival, Maghi Purnima and Sangha Dibosh.
Christians comprise around 0.4% of the population of Bangladesh. Roman Catholicism is the largest Christian denomination, constituting about half of all Christians. Other denominations include Church of Bangladesh (Anglican), Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian and evangelical groups.
Christianity arrived in Bengal with Portuguese traders and missionaries in the 16th century. It started gaining converts from lower caste Hindu communities. During the British rule, different Protestant missionaries spread Christianity in the region. Bangladesh has thousands of Catholic and Protestant churches across the country serving the Christian population.
Christmas and Easter are public holidays in Bangladesh. Christians generally enjoy religious freedom and live in harmony with the Muslim majority community. The share of Christians in the population has remained stagnant over the decades.
A small segment of Bangladesh’s population adheres to tribal faiths and animistic beliefs. This includes indigenous communities like the Garo, Santal, Munda etc. who fuse their ancestral traditions with Buddhism and Hinduism.
Other minor religious groups include Sikhs, Bahais, Sherpas, Chinese religions, etc. together comprising less than 0.1% of the population. Although very small in number, these faith groups co-exist peacefully in Bangladesh.
Government Policies on Religion
Islam is recognized as the state religion per the 1972 constitution. However, the constitution also guarantees religious freedom and bars discrimination on religious grounds. It declares Bangladesh to be a secular democracy. There are restrictions on religious political parties.
The government designates religion on passports and family registries. It provides funding to registered religious institutions, including mosques, temples, churches etc. Muslims receive the largest share of funding. Major Muslim and Hindu festivals are public holidays.
Religious conversions are permitted as long as the convert is over 18 years old and signs a declaration affirming the voluntary nature of conversion. Blasphemy laws prohibiting criticism of religion are occasionally enforced and lead to arrests. Religious minorities report discrimination in government jobs and services.
The Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord recognized the rights of indigenous groups but has not been fully implemented. The Vested Property Act has in past been used unfairly to seize Hindu properties. The government has taken some steps to address these issues and promote communal harmony.
Radical Islamist groups and fatwas issued by local clerics remain a concern. Mob violence and attacks against minorities happen sporadically. The Awami League government has launched a zero-tolerance policy and crackdown on extremist groups accused of targeting minorities.
Role of Religion in Society
Religion continues to exert strong influence on the cultural traditions, festivals, rituals, cuisine, art and daily life of the people of Bangladesh. Most Bangladeshis adhere to moderate and folk Islam infused with Sufi practices. Rabindranath Tagore’s universal philosophy also greatly inspires the Bengali culture.
Islamic values shape personal laws governing marriage, inheritance and family affairs for Bangladeshi Muslims. Islamist groups and clerics seek to enforce Islamic code of conduct and morals on society. Issues like women’s rights, LGBT rights and freedom of speech are controversial.
In the political sphere, religion has not played a defining role in Bangladesh unlike neighboring Pakistan and India. Nationalism based on linguistic Bengali identity rather than faith defines the post-liberation politics. However, some radical Islamist parties remain a challenge to secularism.
The degree of public religiosity like veiling, mosque participation etc. has increased over the years. But most Bangladeshis absorb both cultural Islam and modern lifestyles. Attitudes differ based on education, income, region and social class. The youth overall holds fairly progressive and moderate outlooks.
Communal tensions flare up sporadically, but instances of large-scale religious violence are relatively rare. Extremism poses a threat but the strong cultural syncretism and tolerance helps maintain harmony. The government and civil society aim to curb fundamentalism and promote pluralism and freedom of all faiths.
Frequently Asked Questions on Bangladesh Religion
Here are some common queries on religion in Bangladesh:
What is the major religion in Bangladesh?
Islam is the predominant religion in Bangladesh, with over 90% of the population being Muslim. The majority are Sunni Muslims who follow moderate Sufi traditions.
What percentage of Bangladesh is Hindu?
Around 8% of the total population of Bangladesh are Hindus, making it the second largest religious group. Most Hindus reside in urban areas.
What are the main religions in Bangladesh?
Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity are the four major religions practiced in Bangladesh. Islam is followed by 90% of the people, Hinduism by 8%, Buddhism by 0.6% and Christianity by 0.4%.
Do they have religious freedom in Bangladesh?
The Constitution of Bangladesh provides for freedom of religion and right to practice any faith. However, Islam is the state religion and there are some restrictions on religious minority groups.
What is the Hindu population in Bangladesh?
As per the 2011 census, Hindus comprise around 8.5% of the total population in Bangladesh. The Hindu population was around 10% after independence and has declined over the decades.
Is Bangladesh a Muslim country?
Yes, Bangladesh is a Muslim majority country with over 90% of its population being adherents of Islam. However, it is officially a secular country per its constitution which guarantees freedom of religion.
What are the main festivals in Bangladesh?
The major Muslim festivals like Eid-ul-Fitr, Eid-ul-Azha and Muharram; the Hindu festivals like Durga Puja, Kali Puja, Saraswati Puja and Janmashtami; and Christian festivals like Christmas and Easter are celebrated across Bangladesh.
Is Bangladesh safe for Hindus?
Bangladesh is relatively safe for Hindus, but sporadic attacks, hate crimes and discrimination do occur against minority groups. The government provides some security and seeks to promote religious harmony.
What is the Buddhist population in Bangladesh?
Around 0.6% of Bangladesh’s population follows Buddhism. Buddhists are mainly found among the indigenous communities in Chittagong Hill Tracts who follow Theravada Buddhism.