Islam in Bangladesh

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Bangladeshi Muslims
বাংলাদেশী মুসলমানগণ
Total population
c.152 million (90.4%)[1][2]
Regions with significant populations
Throughout Bangladesh
Predominantly Sunni
minority: non-denominational Muslims, Shia
Bengali, Sylheti, Chatgaiya, Urdu (Minority) and Arabic (Sacred)[3]

Bangladesh is a Muslim majority nation and Islam is the state religion of the People's Republic of Bangladesh.[4][5] The Muslim population was approximately 152 million, constituting 90.39% of the total population as of 2011 census[6][7] and making Bangladesh the third-largest Muslim majority nation in the world after Indonesia and Pakistan. The majority of Bangladeshis are Sunni. They follow the Hanafi Islamic jurisprudence, but there is also an increasing numbers of the Ahle Hadith. Religion has always been a strong part of Bangladeshi identity, but the specific identity has varied at different times. Bangladesh although a developing country is one of the few secular Muslim majority countries in the world.[8]

In the 9th century, Arab Muslims established commercial as well as religious contacts within the region before the conquest, mainly through the coastal regions as traders and primarily via the ports of Chittagong. Arab navigation in the region was the result of the Muslim reign over the Indus delta. Following the conquests of Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khalji and the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate, Indian Islamic missionaries achieved their greatest success in terms of successful dawah and number of converts to Islam in Bengal.[9][10][11] Shah Jalal is thought to have spread Islam in the north-eastern Bengal and Assam during the beginning of the 12th century. The Islamic Bengal Sultanate, a major trading nation in the world, was founded by Shamsuddin Ilyas Shah after its independence from the Tughlaq dynasty. Subsequently, Bengal was conquered by Babur, the founder of one of the gunpowder empires, but was also briefly occupied by the Suri Empire.

Akbar the Great's preaching of the syncretic Din-i Ilahi, was described as a blasphemy by the Qadi of Bengal, which caused huge controversies in South Asia. In the 17th century, under Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb's Islamic sharia-based rule,[12] the Bengal Subah, also known as The Paradise of the Nations,[13] was worth over 12% of global GDP and one of the world's leading manufacturing power, from which the Dutch East India Company hugely benefited.[14][15][16] Concepts of the Islamic economics's found in the Fatawa-e-Alamgiri delivered a significant direct contribution to the economy of Bengal, and the Proto-industrialization was signaled.[17]


Early explorers[edit]

Early Arab Muslims established commercial as well as religious contacts within the region before the conquest, mainly through the coastal regions as traders and primarily via the ports of Chittagong. Arab navigation in the region was the result of the Muslim reign over the Indus delta.[18] The activities of the Muslims were expanded along the entire coast of South Asia including the coasts of Bengal. The religion of Islam entered the region in many different ways, the Muslim traders, the Turkic conquest and, the missionary activities of the Muslim Sufis. One of the authentications of the Arab traders present in the region was the writings of Arab geographers, found on the Meghna River located near Sandwip on the Bay of Bengal. This evidence suggests that the Arab traders had arrived along the Bengal coast long before the Turkic conquest. The Arab writers also knew about the kingdoms of Samrup and Rumi, the latter being identified with the empire of Dharmapal of the Pala Empire. The earliest mosque in South Asia is possibly in Lalmonirhat, built during or just after the Prophet Muhammad's lifetime.[19]

Between the 8th and 12th centuries, the Buddhist dynasty known as the Pala Empire ruled Bengal. During that time, the majority of the population in Bengal were thought to be Buddhists. After the decline of the Pala dynasty, the Sena dynasty came to power.After this, a great sufi Shah Sultan Rumi came to Netrokona district of Bangladesh . Rumi came to Bangladesh during 11th century and he died in 1075 CE. Earlier documents reveal that Rumi arrived in Bengal in 1053 CE (445 Hijri) with his teacher Syed Shah Surkhul Antia and ten disciples. This was a century before the arrival of Muslim general Bakhtiyar Khalji and 250 years before Shah Jalal 's conquest of Sylhet in 1303 CE. Thus, Rumi arrived in Bengal even before the conquests.

The large scale conversion to Islam began in the 13th century, during the rule of Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khalji, and continued for hundreds of years. The conversion was generally collective rather than an individual.[18]

Shah Jalal[edit]

Shah Jalal arrived in the region of Sylhet in 1303 with many other disciples to preach the religion to the people.[20][21] However, according to a 16th-century biography by Shaikh ‘Ali (d. 1562), a descendant of one of Shah Jalal's companions, Shah Jalal had been born in Turkestan, where he became a spiritual disciple of Saiyid Ahmad Yasawi, one of the founders of the Central Asian Sufi tradition.[22]

According to legend, Shah Jalal, came to Sylhet from Delhi with a band of 360 disciples to preach Islam and defeated the Raja Gour Gobinda in a dispute. As a result, Sylhet developed into a region that was home to numerous saints and Islamic shrines[23][better source needed] According to sources, his uncle, Sheikh Kabir, one day gave Shah Jalal a handful of earth and asked him to travel to Hindustan with the instruction that he should settle down at whichever place in Hindustan whose soil matched completely in smell and color, and devote his life for the propagation and establishment of Islam there.[24] Shah Jalal journeyed eastward and reached India in 1300, where he met with many great scholars and mystics. He arrived at Ajmer, where he met the great Sufi mystic and scholar, Khawaja Gharibnawaz Muinuddin Hasan Chisty, who is credited with much of the spread of Islam in India. In Delhi, he purportedly met with Nizamuddin Auliya, another major Sufi mystic and scholar.[24]

During the later stages of his life, Shah Jalal devoted himself to propagating Islam to the masses. Under his guidance, many thousands of Hindus and Buddhists converted to Islam. Shah Jalal become so renowned that even the famed Ibn Battuta, whilst in Chittagong, was asked to change his plans and go to Sylhet to visit him. On his way to Sylhet, Ibn Battuta was greeted by several of Shah Jalal's disciples who had come to assist him on his journey many days before he had arrived. On meeting Shah Jalal, Ibn Battuta described him as tall and lean, fair in complexion and lived by the mosque in a cave, where his only item of value was a goat from which he extracted milk, butter, and yogurt. He observed that the companions of Shah Jalal were foreigners and known for their strength and bravery.[25] Ibn Battuta also mentioned that many people would visit him and seek guidance.[26] Shah Jalal was therefore instrumental in the spread of Islam throughout north east India including Assam.[citation needed]

As independent Sultanate of Bengal[edit]

During the Sultanate period, a syncretic belief system arose due to mass conversions.[22] As a result, the Islamic concept of tawhid (the oneness of God) was diluted into the veneration of saints or pirs. Hindu deities such as Shitala (goddess of smallpox), Olabibi (goddess of cholera) and Manasa (goddess of snakes) became worshipped as pirs.[27]

Under Mughal Empire[edit]

In British India[edit]

The British East India Company was given the right to collect revenue from Bengal-Bihar by the treaty of Allahabad after defeating the combined armies of Nawab Mir Qasim of Bengal, Nawab of Awadh and Mughal emperor at the Battle of Buxar. They annexed Bengal in 1793 after abolishing local rule (Nizamat). The British looted the Bengal treasury, appropriating wealth valued at US$40 billion in modern-day prices.[28] Due to high colonial taxation, Bengali commerce shrank by 50% within 40 years, while at the same time British imports flooded the market. Spinners and weavers starved during famines and Bengal's once industrious cities became impoverished. The East India Company forced opium and indigo cultivation and the permanent settlement dismantled centuries of joint Muslim-Hindu political, military and feudal cooperation.[citation needed]

The Bengal Presidency was established in 1765. Rural eastern Bengal witnessed the earliest rebellions against British rule, including the Faraizi movement led by Haji Shariatullah and the activities of Titumir. The mutiny of 1857 engulfed much of northern India and Bengal, including in Dhaka and Chittagong.[29][30] Following the end of the mutiny the British Government took direct control of Bengal from the East India Company and instituted the British Raj. The influence of Christian missionaries increased in this period. To counter this trend, Reazuddin Ahmad Mashadi, Muhammad Reazuddin Ahmad[31] of the Sudhakar newspaper and Munshi Mohammad Meherullah played prominent roles.[32]

The colonial capital Calcutta, where Bengali Muslims formed the second largest community, became the second largest city in the British Empire after London. The late 19th and early 20th-century Indian Renaissance brought dramatic social and political change. The introduction of Western law, government and education introduced modern enlightenment values which created a new politically conscious middle class and a new generation of leaders in science, politics and the arts. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan pioneered English education among British Indian Muslims, with many Bengali Muslims enrolling in Aligarh Muslim University. The First Partition of Bengal incubated the broader anti-colonial struggle and in 1906 the All India Muslim League was formed during the Muhammadan Education Conference in Dhaka. During this period a Muslim middle class emerged[33] and the University of Dhaka played a role at the beginning of the emancipation of Bengali Muslim society, which was also marked by the emergence progressive groups like the Freedom of Intellect Movement and the Muslim Literary Society.[citation needed] Bengali Muslims were at the forefront of the Indian Independence Movement, including the Pakistan Movement for the rights of minorities.[citation needed]

Bangladesh War of Independence[edit]

Islamic sentiments powered the definition of nationhood in the 1940s when Bengalis united with Muslims in other parts of the subcontinent to form Pakistan. Defining themselves first as Muslims they envisaged a society based on Islamic principles. However, by the beginning of the 1970s the Bengalis were more swayed by regional feelings, in which they defined themselves foremost as Bengalis before being Muslims. The society they then envisioned was based on western principles such as secularism and democracy. While Islam was still a part of faith and culture, it no longer informed national identity.[34]

The phenomenon both before and after the independence of Bangladesh was that the concept of an Islamic state received more support from West Pakistanis than from East Pakistanis. Bangladesh was established as a secular state[35] and the Bangladeshi constitution enshrined secular and democratic principles.[36]


Muslims in Bangladesh[37]
religion percent
Sunni Muslim
Shia Muslim
Nondenominational Muslim
Other Muslim
Kakrail Mosque, Dhaka. The Tablighi Jamaat movement in Bangladesh is mostly based here.

The majority of Muslims in Bangladesh are Sunni, although other Muslim demographics within Bangladesh include Shiites, Quranists, Mahdavia, Ahmadis and non-denominational Muslims.


As with the rest of the Indian subcontinent, the majority of Muslims in Bangladesh are traditional Sunni, who mainly follow the Hanafi school of jurisprudence (madh'hab) and consequently the Maturidi school of theology.[38][39] The majority of them are Deobandi along with Tabligh (51%)[citation needed] and Barelvi or Sufi (26%); the Deobandi, in the form of Qawmi institutions, own the vast majority of private Islamic seminaries and produce the majority of the ulema in Bangladesh. Among Sunnis who are not traditional Hanafi, the Salafi-influenced Ahle Hadith and the Jamaat e Islami (19%) have a substantial following.

Small minorities[edit]

There are also few Shi'a Muslims, particularly belonging to the Bihari community. The Shi'a observance commemorating the martyrdom of Ali's sons, Hasan and Husayn, are still widely observed by the nation's Sunnis, even though there are small numbers of Shi'as.[40] Among the Shias, the Dawoodi Bohra community is concentrated in Chittagong.[41]

Muslims who reject the authority of hadith, known as Quranists, are present in Bangladesh, though having not expressed publicly but are active virtually due to fear of gruesome persecution considering the present political situation. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, which is widely considered to be non-Muslim by mainstream Muslim leaders, is estimated to be around 100,000, the community has faced discrimination because of their beliefs and have been persecuted in some areas.[42] There is a very small community of Bangladeshis whom are adherents to the Mahdavia creed.[43]


According to an estimate approximately 26% of Bangladeshi Muslims identify themselves with a Sufi order, almost half of whom adhere to the Chishti order.[44] During the Sultanate period, syncrestic Sufis emerged[22] and formed khanqahs and dargahs that serves as the nerve center of local communities[45] The tradition of Islamic mysticism known as Sufism appeared very early in Sunni Islam and became essentially a popular movement emphasizing worship out of a love of Allah.[46] Sufism stresses a direct, unstructured, personal devotion to God in place of the ritualistic, outward observance of the faith and "a Sufi aims to attain spiritual union with God through love"[46] An important belief in the Sufi tradition is that the average believer may use spiritual guides in his pursuit of the truth. Throughout the centuries many gifted scholars and numerous poets have been inspired by Sufi ideas.[47][48]

The Qadiri, Maizbhandaria, Naqshbandi, Chishti, Mujaddid, Ahmadi, Mohammadi, Soharwardi and Rifai orders were among the most widespread Sufi orders in Bangladesh in the late 1980s.[49]

According to FirstPost, Sufis have suffered from religious sectarianism, with fourteen Sufis murdered by Islamist extremists from December 2014 to June 2016.[50]


The influence of conservative Sunni Islam 'revivalism' has been noted by some. On 5 May 2013 a demonstration organized by the Hefazat-e-Islam movement paralyzed the city of Dhaka when half a million people demanded the institution of a conservative religious program, to include a ban on mixing of men and women in public places, the removal of sculptures and demands for the retention of "absolute trust and faith in Almighty Allah" in the preamble of the constitution of Bangladesh.[51] In 2017 author K. Anis Ahmed complained that attacks on and killings of liberal bloggers, academics and religious minorities,[52] had been brought about by "a significant shift ... in the past few decades" up to 2017 in attitudes towards religion in Bangladesh.

During my school years in the 1980s, religion was a matter of personal choice. No one batted an eyelid if you chose not to fast during Ramadan. Today, eat in public during the holiday and you may be chided by strangers. Thanks to shows on cable TV, social media and group meetings, Islamists have succeeded to an alarming degree in painting secularism as a threat to Islam.[52]

Ahmed and others also attacked the deletion of non-Muslim writers in the new 2017 primary school textbooks,[52] alleging they were dropped "per the demand" of Hefajat-e Islam and the Awami Olema League who had demanded "the exclusion of some of the poems written by `Hindus and atheists`".[53] These changes, as well as such erros as spelling mistakes and the incorrect arrangement of paragraphs, triggered newspaper neadlines and protests on social media.[53][54] According to Prof. Akhtaruzzaman, head of the textbook committee, the omissions happened "mainly because the NCTB did the job in such a hurry that the authors and the editors got little time to go through the texts." The Primary and Mass Education Minister Mostafizur Rahman has promised the errors will be corrected.[54]

Muslim population by decades and district[edit]

Muslim women, wearing hijab which is a version of modest Islamic clothing, can be seen shopping at a department store in Comilla, Bangladesh.
Entrance of the Shah Jalal Mazar in Sylhet
An urban congregation for Eid-ul-Adha prayers in Dhaka.
Historical Muslim Population
1901 19,113,561—    
1911 21,202,767+10.9%
1921 22,646,298+6.8%
1931 24,731,915+9.2%
1941 29,509,817+19.3%
1951 32,227,686+9.2%
1961 40,890,172+26.9%
1974 61,039,514+49.3%
1981 75,487,913+23.7%
1991 93,881,726+24.4%
2001 110,406,654+17.6%
2011 134,831,428+22.1%
Source: God Willing: The Politics of Islamism in Bangladesh by Ali Riaz, p. 63
Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS)[8][55]

According to Pew research center, Muslim population of Bangladesh will reach 182.36 million by the year of 2050 and will constitute 91.7% of the country's population and thus making the country 5th largest Muslim populated around that time.[56]

Muslim Population across Bangladesh according to 2011 census[citation needed]
District Percentage (%)
Barguna 91.01%
Barisal 86.19%
Bhola 93.42%
Jhalokati 93.31%
Patuakhali 91.45%
Pirojpur 83.17%
Dhaka 92.00%
Faridpur 88.00%
Gazipur 91.90%
Gopalganj 68.67%
Jamalpur 97.74%
Kishoreganj 92.10%
Madaripur 85.67%
Manikganj 87.00%
Munshiganj 90.78%
Mymensingh 94.73%
Narayanganj 92.59%
Narsingdi 93.28%
Netrakona 83.00%
Rajbari 86.73%
Shariatpur 95.54%
Sherpur 95.00%
Tangail 91.52%
Chandpur 92.55%
Chittagong 83.92%
Comilla 93.85%
Cox's Bazar 92.13%
Feni 92.80%
Lakshmipur 95.31%
Noahkhali 93.41%
Brahmanbaria 90.73%
Bagerhat 81.02%
Chuadanga 96.73%
Jessore 85.50%
Jhenaidah 88.07%
Khulna 76.63%
Kushtia 95.72%
Magura 82.01%
Meherpur 97.50%
Narail 81.28%
Satkhira 81.86%
Bogra 91.00%
Joypurhat 88.18%
Naogaon 84.51%
Natore 90.47%
Chapinwabganj 94.27%
Pabna 95.12%
Rajshahi 93.00%
Sirajganj 92.00%
Dinajpur 78.02%
Kurigram 91.65%
Lalmonirhat 83.20%
Nilphamari 82.64%
Panchagarh 81.79%
Rangpur 89.60%
Thakurgaon 76.7%
Habiganj 80.23%
Moulvibazar 74.29%
Sunamganj 83.62%
Sylhet 96.01%
Khagrachari 44.67%
Bandarban 50.75%
Rangamati 35.28%
Bangladesh 90.2%

Percentage of Muslims in Bangladesh by decades[55]

Year Percent Increase
1901 66.1% -
1911 67.2%


1921 68.1%


1931 69.5%


1941 70.3%


1951 76.9%


1961 80.4% +3.5%
1971 85.4% +5%
1981 86.7% +1.3%
1991 88.3% +1.6%
2001 89.6% +1.3%
2011 90.4% +0.8%

Islamic culture in Bangladesh[edit]

Bishwa Ijtema held in Dhaka by Tablighi Jamat
Muslim males can be seen attending Khutbah as part of the Eid-ul-Adha prayers. Photo taken at Barashalghar union of Comilla's Debidwar upazila.

Although Islam played a significant role in the life and culture of the people, religion did not dominate national politics because Islam was not the central component of national identity. When in June 1988 an "Islamic way of life" was proclaimed for Bangladesh by constitutional amendment, very little attention was paid outside the intellectual class to the meaning and impact of such an important national commitment. However, most observers believed that the declaration of Islam as the state religion might have a significant impact on national life. Aside from arousing the suspicion of the non-Islamic minorities, it could accelerate the proliferation of religious parties at both the national and the local levels, thereby exacerbating tension and conflict between secular and religious politicians. Unrest of this nature was reported on some college campuses soon after the amendment was promulgated.[57]

Islamic architecture in Bangladesh[edit]

Khan Mohammad Mirdha's Mosque in Dhaka, built in 1706 (18th century old mosque).


Bangladesh has a vast amount of historic mosques with its own Islamic architecture.

Modern mosques[edit]

Tombs and mausoleums[edit]

Lalbagh Fort-1664

Law and politics[edit]

Muslim students rally in Dhaka, protesting closures of madrasas

Legal issues[edit]

In Bangladesh, where a modified Anglo-Indian civil and criminal legal system operates, there are no official sharia courts. Most Muslim marriages, however, are presided over by the qazi, a traditional Muslim judge whose advice is also sought on matters of personal law, such as inheritance, divorce, and the administration of religious endowments.[60]

The inheritance rights of Muslim in Bangladesh are governed by The Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act (1937)[61] and The Muslim Family Laws Ordinance(1961).[62] Article 2 of The Muslim Personal Law Application Act provides that questions related to succession and inheritance are governed by Muslim Personal Law (Shariat).[61][63] Article 2 proclaims: "any custom or usage to the contrary, in all questions (save questions relating to agricultural land) regarding intestate succession, special property of females, including personal property inherited or obtained under contract or gift or any other provision of Personal Law, marriage, dissolution of marriage, including talaq, ila, zihar, lian, khula and mubaraat, maintenance, dower, guardianship, gifts, trusts and trust properties, and waqfs (other than charities and charitable institutions and charitable and religious endowments) the rule of decision in cases where the parties are Muslims shall be the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat)."[61]

Political issues[edit]

Post-1971 regimes sought to increase the role of the government in the religious life of the people. The Ministry of Religious Affairs provided support, financial assistance, and endowments to religious institutions, including mosques and community prayer grounds (idgahs). The organization of annual pilgrimages to Mecca also came under the auspices of the ministry because of limits on the number of pilgrims admitted by the government of Saudi Arabia and the restrictive foreign exchange regulations of the government of Bangladesh. The ministry also directed the policy and the program of the Islamic Foundation Bangladesh, which was responsible for organizing and supporting research and publications on Islamic subjects. The foundation also maintains the Baitul Mukarram (National Mosque), and organized the training of imams. Some 18,000 imams were scheduled for training once the government completed establishment of a national network of Islamic cultural centers and mosque libraries. Under the patronage of the Islamic Foundation, an encyclopedia of Islam in the Bengali language was being compiled in the late 1980s.[64]

Another step toward further government involvement in religious life was taken in 1984 when the semiofficial Zakat Fund Committee was established under the chairmanship of the president of Bangladesh. The committee solicited annual zakat contributions on a voluntary basis. The revenue so generated was to be spent on orphanages, schools, children's hospitals, and other charitable institutions and projects. Commercial banks and other financial institutions were encouraged to contribute to the fund. Through these measures the government sought closer ties with religious establishments within the country and with Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.[64]

Leaders and organizations[edit]

The members of the Ulama include Mawlānā, Imams, Ulama and Muftis. The first two titles are accorded to those who have received special training in Islamic theology and law. A maulvi has pursued higher studies in a madrassa, a school of religious education attached to a mosque. Additional study on the graduate level leads to the title Mawlānā. The madrassas are also ideologically divided in two mainstreams.The Ali'a Madrassa which has its roots in Aligarh Movement of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan Bahadur and the other one is Qawmi Madarassa. Junaid Babunagari, Amir of Hefazat-e-Islam Bangladesh, is the Supreme religious leader of Bangladesh.[65]

Religious Leaders[edit]

Educational institutions[edit]

Modern institutions[edit]

Traditional institutions[edit]

Religious organizations[edit]

Religious political parties[edit]

Status of religious freedom[edit]

Friday prayer for Muslims in Dhaka

The Constitution establishes Islam as the state religion but upholds the right to practice—subject to law, public order, and morality—the religion of one's choice.[68] The Government generally respects this provision in practice. The Government (2001–2006) led by an alliance of four parties Bangladesh Nationalist Party, Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, Islami Oikya Jote and Bangladesh Jatiyo Party banned Ahmadiya literature by an executive order. However, the present government, led by Bangladesh Awami League strongly propagates secularism and respect towards other religions. Despite all Bangladeshis saying that religion is an important part of their daily lives, Bangladesh's Awami League won a landslide victory in 2008 on a platform of secularism, reform, and a suppression of radical Islamist groups. According to a Gallup poll conducted in 2009, simultaneous strong support of the secular Awami League and the near unanimous importance of religion in daily life suggests that while religion is vital in Bangladeshis' daily lives, they appear comfortable with its lack of influence in government.[69]

In Bangladesh, the International Crimes Tribunal tried and convicted several leaders of the Islamic Razakar militias, as well as Bangladesh Muslim Awami league (Forid Uddin Mausood), of war crimes committed against Hindus during the 1971 Bangladesh genocide. The charges included forced conversion of Bengali Hindus to Islam.[70][71][72]

See also[edit]


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 This article incorporates public domain material from the Library of Congress Country Studies website

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