Bangladesh is located in the eastern part of the Bengal region in South Asia. It was partitioned from India, and later from Pakistan, after the Indian subcontinent attained its independence from Great Britain. The nation is only behind Indonesia, Pakistan, and India in global Muslim population. Most Bangladeshis are Sunni Muslims, while Hindus are the largest religious minority in the country.
Islam is the dominant religion in Bangladesh, and its adherents constitute 83.4% of the total population. The introduction of Islam in the Bengal region dates to as early as the 13th Century. Arab and Persian missionaries and merchants were responsible for the conversions to Islam. Hindus and Buddhists were attracted to Islam mainly due to the foundation of equality, especially those who had been frustrated by the caste system. The arrivals of Muslim Pirs, who were knowledgeable on matters of Islam, further enabled the conversion process. Sunni Muslims live across the country and mainly adhere to the Hanafi school of thought. Islam influences the life of Muslim Bangladeshis as seen in their religious practices and festivals such as Eid ul Fitr and Eid-e-Miladunnabi. Islam is the state religion in Bangladesh although freedom of religion is provided. Islam does exert a level of influence in the political affairs of Bangladesh although Sharia Law is not officially instituted. Legal matters between Muslim parties such as marriage and divorces are overseen by the Qazi, who is a traditional Muslim judge. Muslims in Bangladesh are mostly tolerant of other religions except for instances of Islamic extremism.
Hinduism has a 10.3% share of the population in Bangladesh. Hinduism thrived in the ancient Bengal region. After the partition of India, there was a significant population of Hindus in newly created Bangladesh. There exists a similarity between the rituals of Bangladeshi Hindus and Hindus in the state of West Bengal in India.The Hindu population is present in most of the country but is mainly concentrated in areas such as Khulna, Barisal and Faridpur. Hindus worship in the numerous temples in the country. They celebrate festivals such as Rath Yatra and Durga Puja as per Hindu doctrines. Hinduism in Bangladesh is tolerant of other religions.
Shia and Ahmadiyya Islam
Alongside Sunni Islam are Shia and Ahmadiyya Islam, collectively represented by 5.3% of the total population in Bangladesh. Shia Muslims in Bangladesh commemorate the death of Hazrat Ali’s sons, Hassan and Husayn, who are revered as Islamic martyrs. Most Shia Muslims in the nation are concentrated in the urban areas. The Ahmadiyya Muslims are subjected to intolerance from other Muslim communities due to their beliefs.
Buddhism in Bangladesh accounts for 0.6% of the population. Buddhism prospered in the region while Bangladesh was still part of India. The religion is mainly concentrated in the Chittagong Hills. The inhabitants of these areas have blended Buddhism principles with tribal practices. Many of the Buddhists in Bangladesh subscribe to the Theravada school of Buddhism. There are Buddhist temples across the country, built in Buddhist architecture, which contribute to the country’s cultural and historical heritage.
Christianity in Bangladesh was introduced by Portuguese merchants and missionaries between the 16th and 17th Centuries. The religion accounts for 0.3% of Bangladeshis and over 200,000 churches across the nation. The religion is a minority and exerts little influence in the affairs of the state. Perhaps the most notable attack on Roman Catholics was in 2001 when a bomb exploded in a Bangladesh Church. Attacks on adherents of the religion have however occurred severally in the recent years, raising concerns over religious intolerance in the country.
Other Faiths in Bangladesh
Sikhism, Protestant Christianity, and other beliefs account for around only 0.1% of the total Bangladeshi population. Bangladesh has long been a moderate country regarding religious tolerance. Islamic extremism has, however, inspired attacks and discrimination against minority groups. Islam is still projected to be the country’s leading religion by 2050.