Religion in Bangladesh

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Religion in Bangladesh (2011)[1]

  Islam (90.4%)
  Hinduism (8.5%)
  Buddhism (0.6%)
  Christianity (0.4%)
  Others (0.1%)

Bangladesh is constitutionally a secular state, and secularism is one of the four fundamental principles of the Constitution of Bangladesh. Despite having Islam as the state religion, Bangladesh is mostly governed by secular laws set up during the times when the country was ruled by the British Crown.[2] The constitution also states that "the State shall ensure equal status and equal right in the practice of the Hindu, Buddhist, Christian and other religions".[3] "Freedom of religion" is its basic structure guaranteed by Bangladeshi constitution in which it calls for equal rights to all its citizens irrespective of their religious differences and it also bans discrimination on the grounds of religion in various platforms. Bangladesh is one of the few secular Muslim-majority nation and "proselytizing" i.e. conversions from one religion to another are generally accepted and is legalized by law.

A survey in late 2003 confirmed that religion is the first choice by a citizen for self-identification. The Constitution denominates Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, and Buddhism.[3]


Baitul Mukarram National Mosque of Bangladesh in Dhaka
Males from around the Barashalghar union of Comilla's Debidwar upazila can be seen attending Khutbah as part of the Eid-ul-Fitr prayers

The Muslim population in Bangladesh was over 146 million in 2011, which makes up 90 per cent percent of the population in the country. The Constitution of Bangladesh declares Islam as the state religion. Bangladesh is the fourth-largest Muslim-populated country.[1] Muslims are the predominant community of the country and they form the majority of the population in all eight divisions of Bangladesh. Overwhelming majority of Muslims in Bangladesh are Bengali Muslims at 88 per cent, but a small segment about 2 per cent of them are Bihari Muslims. Most Muslims in Bangladesh are Sunnis, but there is a small Shia community. Most of those who are Shia reside in urban areas. Although these Shias are few in number,[4] Shia observance commemorating the martyrdom of Muhammad's grandson, Husain ibn Ali, is widely observed by the nation's Sunnis.[5] Muslims celebrate Eid ul-Fitr, Eid ul-Adha, Muharram, Milad un Nabi, Shab-e-Barat and Chand Raat all across the country with much fanfare and grandeur. The annual Bishwa Ijtema is the largest and most notable congregation of Muslims in Bangladesh.

The Muslim community in the Bengal region i.e. (Bangladesh,West Bengal) developed independently of the dominant Islamic trends in India. Features of Bangladeshi Hinduism, which differed in some respects from Hinduism in other parts of South Asia, influenced both the practices and the social structure of the Bangladeshi Muslim community. In spite of the general personal commitment to Islam by the Muslims of Bangladesh, observance of Islamic rituals and tenets varies according to social position, locale, and personal considerations. In rural regions, some beliefs and practices tend to incorporate elements that differ from and often conflict with orthodox Islam. According to Aziz Ahmad, Arabic Islamic scholars have considered the form of Islam followed in Bengal i.e. (Bangladesh, West Bengal) to have some elements of Crypto-Hinduism in it.


Durga Puja celebrations in Dhakeshwari Temple, Dhaka
Shiva Temple in Puthia, Rajshahi

Hinduism is the second largest religious affiliation in Bangladesh, with around 12.49 million people identifying themselves as Hindus and making up about 8.5 per cent of the total population according to the 2011 census, down from 9.3 per cent as of the 2001 census.[1] In terms of population, Bangladesh is the third largest Hindu populated country of the world, just after India and Nepal.[6]

Hindu festival in Bangladesh

Bangladeshi Hindus are predominantly Bengali Hindus, but a distinct Hindu population also exists among the indigenous tribes like Garo, Khasi, Jaintia, Santhal, Bishnupriya Manipuri, Tripuri, Munda, Oraon, Dhanuk etc. Hindus are evenly distributed throughout all regions of Bangladesh, with significant concentrations in northern, southwestern and northeastern parts of the country. In nature, Bangladeshi Hinduism closely resembles the rituals and customs of Hinduism practised in the neighbouring Indian state of West Bengal, with which Bangladesh (at one time known as East Bengal) was united until the partition of India in 1947. Hindu festivals of Durga Puja, Rath Yatra and Janmashtami witness jubilant celebrations across various cities, towns and villages of Bangladesh.


Buddha Dhatu Zadi, a Buddhist temple in Bandarban
Somapura Mahavihara is a World Heritage Site at Naogaon

About 1,000,000 people in Bangladesh adhere to the Theravada school of Buddhism. Buddhists form about 0.6 per cent of the population of Bangladesh.

In antiquity, the region of present-day Bangladesh was a center of Buddhism in Asia. Buddhist civilisation, including philosophies and architecture, traveled to Tibet, Southeast Asia and Indonesia from Bengal. The Buddhist architecture of Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand, including the Angkor Wat Temple and the Borobudur vihara, are believed to have been inspired by the ancient monasteries of Bangladesh such as the Somapura Mahavihara. Strange though it may now seem in such an overwhelmingly Muslim country, Buddhism has been no small player in the nation's history and culture.

Most of the followers of Buddhism in Bangladesh live in the Chittagong division. Here, Buddhism is practised by the Bengali-speaking Baruas, who are almost exclusively Buddhist and are concentrated heavily in the Chittagong area as well as few of the Barua Buddhists live in other parts of Bangladesh, such as Comilla, Mymensingh, Rangpur, Sylhet districts. Most of the followers of Buddhism in Bangladesh live in southeastern region, especially in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Chittagong and Comilla district. Most of the Buddhists of Chittagong Hill Tracts belong to the Chakma, Marma, Mru, Khumi, Bawm, Chak, Kuki, Murang, Tanchangya and Khiang tribes, who since time immemorial have practised Buddhism. Other tribal communities who practise animism, have come under some Buddhist influence. The beliefs and rituals of the Buddhist communities in this region are amalgamations of Buddhism and ancient animistic faiths. Buddha Purnima is the most widely observed festival among both Bengali Buddhists and Buddhist tribes.


Holy Rosary's Church (Est.1677) in Dhaka

Christianity arrived in what is now Bangladesh during the late sixteenth to early seventeenth centuries AD, through the Portuguese traders and missionaries. Christians account for approximately 0.4 per cent of the total population and they are mostly an urban community. Roman Catholicism is predominant among the Bengali Christians, while the remaining are mostly Baptist and others. Few followers of Christianity are also present among certain indigenous tribal communities such as Garo, Santal, Orao, Chakma, khasi, Lushei, Bawm, etc.

Other religions[edit]


Gurdwara Nanak Shahi at Dhaka

There are approximately 100,000 people adhering to the religion of Sikhism. The presence of this religion goes back to the visitation of Guru Nanak in 1506–07 with some of his followers to spread Sikhism in the region of the present-day Bangladesh. When some Bengali people accepted this faith, a Sikh community was born.[7] This community became bigger when almost 10,000 Sikhs came from India during the Bangladesh Liberation War. This community has made great progress in the country. Today there are almost 10 gurdwaras in Bangladesh.[8] Among them only 7 are well-known, especially the Gurdwara Nanak Shahi beside the University of Dhaka in Dhaka, which was built in 1830, the oldest gurdwara in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh has a small community of the Baháʼí Faith. Baháʼís have spiritual centres in Dhaka, Chittagong, Khulna, Rajshahi, Sylhet, Barisal, Rangpur, Mymensingh, Jessore, Rangamati and other places.

Bangladesh also has a tiny Brahmo Samaj community.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) and the Jehovah's Witnesses also exist in Bangladesh.

Law, religion, and religious freedom[edit]

Although Bangladesh initially opted for a secular nationalist ideology as embodied in its Constitution, the principle of secularism was subsequently replaced by a commitment to the Islamic way of life through a series of constitutional amendments and government proclamations between 1977 and 1988. During the eighties, the state was designated exclusively Islamic. However, in 2010, the secularism of the 1972 Constitution[9] was reaffirmed.[10] The Government generally respects this provision in practice; however, some members of the Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, and Ahmadiyya communities experience discrimination. The Government (2001-2006), led by an alliance of four parties (Bangladesh Nationalist Party, Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, Islami Oikya Jote and Bangladesh Jatiyo Party) banned the Ahmadiyya literature by an executive order.

Family laws concerning marriage, divorce, and adoption differ depending on the religion of the person involved. There are no legal restrictions on marriage between members of different faiths.

In 2010, secularism was restored, but Islam remains the nominal state religion per Article 12.[3]

Persecution of minorities[edit]

There have been several instances of violence against the religious minorities in Bangladesh. Hindus, Buddhists and Christians have come under widespread attacks by Islamist extremists during communal riots, elections and post-poll violence.

Most of these attacks target Hindus, the largest minority of the country, who are particularly vulnerable in a period of rising violence and extremism, whether motivated by religious, political or criminal factors, or some combination. Bangladesh has been rocked by several anti-Hindu riots in 1992, 2001, 2013 and 2014. These violences included attacking and killing Hindus, looting and burning of Hindu-owned properties and businesses, abduction and rape of women, desecrating and destroying Hindu temples by the extremist Muslim mobs. There are also alleged discrimination against Hindus by the administration in the form of Vested Property Act by which over 40 per cent of Hindu-owned lands and houses have been confiscated, intimidation during elections and revoking their names from electoral rolls. Since the rising of Islamist political parties during 1990s, large number of Hindu families have migrated from Bangladesh to India due to a sense of insecurity and economic necessity. These factors combined with lower birth rates of minorities have resulted in a dwindling Hindu population in the country.

The Bihari ethnic minority in Bangladesh has been subject to persecution during and after 1971 Liberation War. Due to their pro-Pakistan stance, many Biharis were forcefully repatriated to Pakistan and those who stayed back were not granted citizenship and voting rights by Bangladesh government.


Atheism is not common in Bangladesh.[11] A survey, commissioned by WIN-Gallup International, conducted from 5 November 2014, to 25 November 2014, found that fewer than one per cent of Bangladeshi's said they were "convinced Atheists.[12][13]

There have been multiple attacks and murders of atheist bloggers, academics and authors by Islamist militants since 2013, with the government accused of being unable or unwilling to provide protection – and in some cases even persecuting atheists and imprisoning them.

Further reading[edit]

  • Benkin, Richard L. (2014). A quiet case of ethnic cleansing: The murder of Bangladesh's Hindus. New Delhi: Akshaya Prakashan.
  • Dastidar, S. G. (2008). Empire's last casualty: Indian subcontinent's vanishing Hindu and other minorities. Kolkata: Firma KLM.
  • Kamra, A. J. (2000). The prolonged partition and its pogroms: Testimonies on violence against Hindus in East Bengal 1946–64.
  • Taslima Nasrin (2014). Lajja. Gurgaon, Haryana, India : Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd, 2014.
  • Rosser, Yvette Claire. (2004) Indoctrinating Minds: Politics of Education in Bangladesh, New Delhi: Rupa & Co. ISBN 8129104318.
  • Mukherji, S. (2000). Subjects, citizens, and refugees: Tragedy in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, 1947–1998. New Delhi: Indian Centre for the Study of Forced Migration.
  • Sarkar, Bidyut (1993). Bangladesh 1992: This is our home: Sample Document of the Plight of our Hindu, Buddhist, Christian and Tribal Minorities in our Islamized Homeland: Pogroms 1987–1992. Bangladesh Minority Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, (and Tribal) Unity Council of North America.


  1. ^ a b c "Population & Housing Census-2011: Union Statistics" (PDF). Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics. March 2014. p. xiii. Archived (PDF) from the original on 3 September 2017. Retrieved 17 April 2015.
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b c "The state religion". Retrieved 17 July 2015.
  4. ^ "One killed and scores wounded in attack at Shia site in Bangladesh capital". The Guardian. Agence France-Presse. 24 October 2015. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 27 March 2016.
  5. ^ "Islam in Bangladesh". OurBangla. Archived from the original on 10 February 2012.[self-published source]
  6. ^ "[Analysis] Are there any takeaways for Muslims from the Narendra Modi government?". DNA. 27 May 2014. Retrieved 31 May 2014.
  7. ^ "Bangladesh-Gurudwaras of World".
  8. ^ Mohanta, Sambaru Chandra (2012). "Gurdwara Nanak Shahi". In Islam, Sirajul; Jamal, Ahmed A. (eds.). Banglapedia:National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh (Second ed.). Asiatic Society of Bangladesh.
  9. ^ "Secularism and freedom of religion". Retrieved 27 March 2016.
  10. ^ "Verdict paves way for secular democracy". The Daily Star. 30 July 2010. Retrieved 22 August 2010.
  11. ^ Khan, Razib (13 May 2015). "Atheists in Bangladesh May Not be Totally Doomed".
  12. ^ "End of Year Survey 2014: Regional & Country Results". p. 10. Archived from the original on 15 November 2015.
  13. ^