Country Listing

Bangladesh Table of Contents



Religion and Society

Nearly 83 percent of the population of Bangladesh claimed Islam as its religion in the 1980s, giving the country one of the largest concentrations of Muslims in the world. Although initially Bangladesh 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 (see Constitution , ch. 4). In spite of a history of religious strife, Bangladeshi Muslims tended to be accommodating toward adherents of other religions. The Muslim community in the Bengal region developed independent of the dominant Islamic trends in India. The preservation of pre-Islamic cultural elements from Buddhist and Hindu periods made the commitment to Islam uniquely Bangladeshi. 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 (see table 8, Appendix).

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. Islamic fundamentalists, although a rather limited force in the past, had begun to gain a following, especially among the educated urban youth, by the 1980s.

Estimated to make up 18.5 percent of East Pakistan's population in 1961, the Hindu proportion of the population had shrunk to about 13.5 percent by 1971. Steady Hindu emigration to India and Burma throughout the 1960s accounted for most of the decline. Although the Hindu population increased in size after 1971 and had reached 10.6 million by 1981, its relative proportion of the total population continued to decrease. In 1987 Hindus represented nearly 16 percent of the population. Other minority religious groups counted in the 1981 census included approximately 538,000 Buddhists, about 275,000 Christians, and nearly 250,00 categorized as "others," probably members of tribal religions.

Data as of September 1988