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Bangladesh - Religion

Religion is an important part of community and cultural identity for Bangladeshis, including those who did not participate actively in prayers or services. 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.

According to the 2001 census, Sunni Muslims constitute 90 percent of the population and Hindus 9 percent. According to the 2011 census, Sunni Muslims constitute 90 percent of the population and Hindus make up 9.5 percent of a total population of 152.5 million. The remainder of the population is predominantly Christian (mostly Roman Catholic) and Theravada-Hinayana Buddhist. Ethnic and religious minority groups often overlap and are concentrated in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and northern districts.

The rest of the population is mainly Christian (mostly Roman Catholic) and Theravada-Hinayana Buddhist. Ethnic and religious minority communities often overlap and are concentrated in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and northern regions. Buddhists are predominantly found among the indigenous (non-Bengali) populations of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Bengali and ethnic minority Christians live in communities across the country, including Barisal City, Gournadi in Barisal District, Baniarchar in Gopalganj, Monipuripara in Dhaka, Christianpara in Mohakhal, Nagori in Gazipur, and Khulna City. There also are small populations of Shia Muslims, Sikhs, Bahais, animists, and Ahmadis. Estimates of their numbers varied from a few thousand to 100,000 adherents per group. There is no indigenous Jewish community and no significant immigrant Jewish population.

Sufi religious teachers succeeded in converting many Bengalis to Islam, even before the arrival of Muslim armies from the west. About 1200 AD, Muslim invaders established political control over the Bengal region. This political control also encouraged conversion to Islam. Since then, Islam has played a crucial role in the region's history and politics, with a Muslim majority emerging, particularly in the eastern region of Bengal.

Religion exerted a significant influence on politics, and the government was sensitive to the religious sentiments of most citizens. The constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom and, in practice, the government generally enforced these protections. The constitution provides for the right to profess, practice, or propagate all religions, subject to law, public order, and morality. It also states that every religious community or denomination has the right to establish, maintain, and manage its own religious institutions.

The constitution establishes Islam as the state religion. It provides for the right to profess, practice, or propagate all religions, subject to law, public order, and morality. In February 2010, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court ruled that the fifth amendment to the constitution was unconstitutional. Ratified in 1979, the fifth amendment overturned a previous law banning unions, associations, or parties based on religion and stating that all citizens have a right to form a union, association, or party for whatever purpose they desire. The ruling returned avowed secularism to the constitution and nominally banned Islamic political parties; however, officials have stated that the ban would not be strictly enforced.

Although the government publicly supported freedom of religion, attacks on religious and ethnic minorities continued to be a problem since religious minorities are often at the bottom of the social hierarchy and, therefore, have the least political recourse. There were reported attacks on institutions of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and there were isolated instances of harassment against them. Demands that Ahmadis be declared non-Muslims continued sporadically.

Citizens generally were free to practice the religion of their choice. Government officials, including police, nonetheless often were ineffective in upholding law and order, and sometimes they were slow to assist religious minority victims of harassment and violence. The government and many civil society leaders stated that violence against religious minorities normally had political or economic dimensions and could not be attributed solely to religious belief or affiliation.

Family laws concerning marriage, divorce, and adoption differed slightly depending on the religious beliefs of the persons involved. Each religious group has its own family laws. For example, Muslim men may marry as many as four wives; however, a Muslim man must get his first wife's signed permission before marrying an additional woman. Society strongly discouraged polygamy, and it was rarely practiced. In contrast, a Christian man may marry only one woman. Under Hindu law unlimited polygamy was permitted; although there was no provision for divorce and legal separation. Hindu widows could legally remarry. The family law on the religion of the two parties concerned governed marriage rituals and proceedings; however, marriages also were registered with the state. There were no legal restrictions on marriage between members of different religious groups.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs administered three funds for religious and cultural activities: the Islamic Foundation, the Hindu Welfare Trust, and the Buddhist Welfare Trust. The Christian community consistently rejected government involvement in its religious affairs. The Hindu Welfare Trust received 50 million taka ($735,294) from the government in the fiscal year ending June 2010; much of it was dedicated to temple-based literacy and religious programs. Of that money, 10 million taka ($147,059) was specifically allocated for religious worship and festivals. In addition the trust money aided in repairing temples, improving cremation pyres, and helping destitute Hindu families afford medical treatment.

The Buddhist Welfare Trust, founded in the 1980s, received three million taka ($44,118) from the government in the fiscal year ending June 2010. Approximately one million taka ($15,000) of that was for the celebration of Buddhist festivals and two million taka ($29,000) was for the restoration of Buddhist temples or other facilities. The trust used funds to repair monasteries, organize training programs for Buddhist monks, and celebrate the Buddhist festival Purnima. There was no public criticism of how the money was apportioned or distributed.

After Bangladesh won independence from Pakistan in 1971, it was declared a secular country. In 1988, military dictator Hussain Muhammad Ershad declared Islam the state religion in attempt to seek mass support during a campaign by major political parties to oust him from power. Although Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina re-introduced secularism as the political standard in the country in 2011, she let Islam remain the state religion.

The rejection on March 28, 2016 by Bangladeshs High Court of a 28-year-old petition in which some secular activists sought to scrap Islam as the state religion of the country sparked mixed reactions in the Muslim-majority South Asian nation. A three-judge panel threw out the petition as soon as the case opened, saying that, having never been registered with the authorities, the secular group has no right to file any such petition to the court. Leaders of the minority communities expressed disappointment after the court refused to hear the petition.





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Page last modified: 02-04-2016 16:56:33 ZULU