Bahá'í Faith in Bangladesh
The Bahá'í Faith in Bangladesh begins previous to its independence when it was part of India. The roots of the Bahá'í Faith in the region go back to the first days of the Bábí religion in 1844. During Bahá'u'lláh's lifetime, as founder of the religion, he encouraged some of his followers to move to India. And it may have been Jamál Effendi who was first sent and stopped in Dhaka more than once. The first Bahá'ís in the area that would later become Bangladesh was when a Bengali group from Chittagong accepted the religion while in Burma. By 1950 there were enough members of the religion to elect Bahá'í Local Spiritual Assemblies in Chittagong and Dacca. The community has contributed to the progress of the nation of Bangladesh individually and collectively and in 2005 the World Christian Encyclopedia estimated the Bahá'í population of Bangladesh about 10600.
The Bahá'í Faith in Bangladesh begins previous to its independence when it was part of India. The roots of the Bahá'í Faith in the region go back to the first days of the Bábí religion in 1844. Four Babis are known from India in this earliest period - it is not known from what sub-region they came from but at least some of them were known as Sufis and some termed Sayyid. The first was Shaykh Sa'id Hindi - one of the Letters of the Living who was from somwehre in what was then India. Additionally four other Indians are listed among the 318 Bábís who fought at the Battle of Fort Tabarsi.
Early Bahá'í period
During Bahá'u'lláh's lifetime, as founder of the religion, he encouraged some of his followers to move to India. In 1878, a Bahá'í moved through Chittagong and Dhaka, passing through on his way to Burma from Calcutta. This may have been Jamál Effendi, an early Bahá'í who traveled there. Regardless it is clear that Effendi undertook a second trip to south-east Asia in about 1884-5. Effendi was asked to return to the region by Bahá'u'lláh and this time accompanied by Sayyid Mustafá. They set off for India and eventually stopped in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh where they met some people including a professor of Arabic at Dhaka College. Much later - in the 1891 - Jamál Effendi was confused with a terrorist and reported on by British agents among the Indian population and those records have been found (though Indian government national archives.) Following the passing of Bahá'u'lláh, as the leadership of the religion fell to `Abdu'l-Bahá, he in turn sent further representatives in his stead - both Persian and American.
As early as 1910 the national community in India/Burma is being urged to visibly distinguish itself from Islam by Bahá'í institutions of America. National coordinated activities began and reached a peak with the December 1920, first All-India Bahá'í Convention, held in Bombay for three days. Representatives from India's major religious communities were present as well as Bahá'í delegates from throughout the country.
In 1923, still as part of India, a regional National Spiritual Assembly was formed for India and Burma which then included the area now part of Bangladesh as well as Pakistan. However the first Bahá'ís in the area that would later become Bangladesh was when a Bengali group from Chittagong accepted the religion while they were in Burma. In 1937, John Esslemont's Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era was translated and published in Bengali (Baha'u'llah o nab zug) in Chittagong under the authority of the National Spiritual Assembly of India and Burma.
In 1941, Enoch Olinga, later a prominent Bahá'í, was stationed in what was then East Pakistan as a member of the British military before he left the military and became a member of the religion. By 1950 there were enough members of the religion to begin setting up administrative bodies. These were Bahá'í Local Spiritual Assemblies and they were elected in Chittagong and Dacca. With independence as part of Pakistan in 1958, East and West Pakistan elected a separate national assembly from India. In 1959 Muhammad Mustafa traveled to Liberia and was commissioned to address some Muslim concerns about the Bahá'í Faith. This was ultimately published as Baha'u'llah: The Great Announcement of the Qur'an through the Bangladesh Bahá'í Publishing Trust. In 1960 there was a Teaching Conference of East Pakistan, at Dhaka. By 1963 there was an additional local assembly in Mymensingh and smaller groups between 1 and 9 adults in Jamalpur and Mirpur. Following the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, the national assembly of Bangladesh was also separately elected in 1971. 10 years later the national convention had 61 delegates. In 1974 Rúhíyyih Khanum visited the country, even to meeting with President Mohammad Ullah. In 1984 The Baha'i Fund: A Time for Sacrifice was published by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Bangladesh.
In more recent times
In 1996 the Universal House of Justice commented -
"The Bahá'í community of Bangladesh, flourishing in the midst of a Muslim society, is a source of joy to the entire Bahá'í world. In recent years and with astonishing rapidity, that community began to achieve extraordinary success in the teaching field, and throughout the Three Year Plan it has sustained consistently large-scale expansion. Its institutions have demonstrated their capacity to mobilize the human resources at their disposal, and those who have responded to the call for action have sacrificially and with the utmost devotion spread the Divine Teachings among the Muslim, Hindu and tribal populations of that country. The purity of their motives and the sincerity of their efforts to address the needs of society have won them recognition from government officials in the highest circles. Their exertions to promote love and unity among the majority Muslim and minority Hindu populations are bearing increasing fruit, a striking testimony to the potency of Bahá'u'lláh's Revelation."
In Bangladesh the Bahá'ís have had the right to hold their public meetings, establish academic centers, teach their faith, and elect their administrative councils. However the government of Bangladesh voted against the United Nations resolution Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran in 19 December 2001 raised in response to the Persecution of Bahá'ís in Iran. Regardless, Bahá'ís in Bangladesh have been able to coordinate and act in groups. About 150 gathered for a summer school in 1977 and about 300 attended the winter school held February 1978. Zena Sorabjee of the Bahá'í International Community, shared a platform with Pope John Paul II in 1999 and the meeting was aired through satellite television. It is reported that Bahá'ís in a number of countries, including Bangladesh, viewed the broadcast. In 2008 about 30 out of 200 Bahá'ís managed to get passports and visas and travel from Bangladesh to a regional conference called for by the Universal House of Justice in Kolkata, India, although many more of their fellow believers weren't able to make the trip. The Bahá'ís went in groups to request their travel documents, with many of them waiting up to three days even to reach the door. In the end, most were turned away without the visa.
Since its inception the religion has had involvement in socio-economic development beginning by giving greater freedom to women, promulgating the promotion of female education as a priority concern, and that involvement was given practical expression by creating schools, agricultural coops, and clinics. The religion entered a new phase of activity when a message of the Universal House of Justice dated 20 October 1983 was released. Bahá'ís were urged to seek out ways, compatible with the Bahá'í teachings, in which they could become involved in the social and economic development of the communities in which they lived. Worldwide in 1979 there were 129 officially recognized Bahá'í socio-economic development projects. For the International Year of the Child Bangladesh Bahá'ís established tutorial schools in three villages. By 1987, the number of officially recognized development projects had increased to 1482. The Bahá'ís in Bangladesh work to promote their interests and contributions to Bangladesh. Even early on there were village level schools run by the local assembly in the Jessore area. In 1981 the second Bangladesh National Baha'i Women's Conference took place attracting Bahá'í women from Bangladesh, India, Iran, Malaysia and Italy. In 1995 three national newspapers published articles on a public meeting sponsored by the local spiritual assembly of Khulna to mark the founding of the United Nations. Tents on the grounds of the Bahá'í Center there were filled with 50 Bahá'ís and 200 guests who listened to speeches and then enjoyed the performance of songs written by Bahá'í youth on the theme of unity and amity among the nations and races of the earth. Some of the students of the New Era Development Institute, an educational NGO in India run by the Bahá'ís, have come from the Bangladesh Bahá'í community in 1997. In 1988 Bahá'í doctors setup free treatment camps. In addition to work in groups, some individuals have become well known for their contributions to Bangladesh society. Bahá'í Samarendra Nath Goswami, is well known in Bangladesh as Secretary General of the Bangladesh Minority Lawyers Association and senior advocate of Bangladesh Supreme Court and contributed to founding a law journal and two law schools. In 1994, he edited The Principles of Bahá'í Personal Law which was published by the Bangladesh Law Times. In the early 1990s, Baha'i law was included in the law curriculum of Dhaka University. Payam Akhavan, Bahá'í and a renowned human rights lawyer represented Sheikh Hasina (a once and again Prime Minister of Bangladesh).
The Bahá'ís of Bangladesh have participated in various efforts affecting society in Bangladesh. Representatives of the Bahá'ís of Bangladesh were among those present for a 19 December 2003 conference entitled "Education: The Right of Every Girl and Boy," which was organized by the Bahá'í International Community with the support of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the government of Bangladesh among other institutions. Representatives of the Bahá'í International Community were among the speakers at the "Conference on Interfaith Cooperation for Peace," which was held on 22 June 2005 with the government of Bangladesh among the co-sponsors. In September 2002, a slide show on preventing the spread of Dengue fever was presented at the National Bahá'í Center in Shantinagar. December 2007, the Centre for Advance Research in Humanities of Dhaka University organized a seminar on "The Baha'i Faith and World Peace" at the lecture theater of the university presided over by Prof Kazi Nazrul Islam,(not the famous Bengali individual of the same name who died in 1977) Director of the center. Mazhgan Bahar, Professor of English Department of American International University-Bangladesh, presented the keynote paper at the seminar, while Prof Dr Rawshan Ara of Philosophy Department, Prof Shahid Hussain, Secretary General of International Association for Religious Freedom and Prof Jahangir Alam of the world religion Department, among others, were present.
It is not known how many organized communities of Bahá'ís there are in Bangladesh. In 2005 the World Christian Encyclopedia estimated the Bahá'í population of Bangladesh at about 10600. There are reports of many conversions from November 1988 to September 1989 including many Munda and Arakan people.
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