Islam in Bangladesh

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Muslims constitute 88.3 percent [1] of the population of Bangladesh, most of them Sunnis. The remainder of the population follow Hinduism (11%), Buddhism and Christianity. There are also small populations of Sikhs, Bahá'ís, animists and Ahmadis. Religion has always been a strong part of identity, but this has varied at different times. A survey in late 2003 confirmed that religion is the first choice by a citizen for self-identification; atheism is extremely rare. [3]


[edit] Islam in Bangladeshi Society

Baitul Mukarram National Mosque in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, was built in 1962. The structure resembles the Kaaba in Mecca
Baitul Mukarram National Mosque in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, was built in 1962. The structure resembles the Kaaba in Mecca

From 8th to 12th century, Buddhist dynasty called Pala empire ruled Bengal. During that time, majority of the population in Bengal were thought to be Buddhists. After Pala dynasty fell, Sena Dynasty came to power. Sena rulers were considered "militant" Hindus that imposed Hinduism and the caste system rigidly [2]. When the Islamic invaders came, many Buddhists and lower caste Hindus welcomed the invaders and accepted Islam.

The large scale conversion to Islam of the population of what was to become Bangladesh began in the thirteenth century and continued for hundreds of years. Conversion was generally collective rather than individual. Islam, attracted numerous Buddhists, and Hindus. Muslim missionaries were responsible for most conversions.

According to W.W.Hunter in his The Indian Mussalmans, [3] "the greater part of the peasant population throughout Eastern Bengal is Mohammadan. In those districts of overwhelming rivers and boundless swamps, the respectable Hindu community never admitted the aboriginies into their fold. The Aryan migration southwards had not penetrated in sufficient strength into the seaboard and Deltaic tracts to thoroughly pound down in the Brahminical mortar the earlier people of the soil. They accordingly remained outside the pale of Hinduism, outcastes fishing in their remote estuaries, and reaping hazardous rice crops from their flooded lands, without social status and religious rights. So impure are they that a Brahmin cannot settle amongst them without a taint…The Mohammadans recognised no such distinctions. They came down upon the country, sometimes as military colonists, sometimes as heads of great reclamation enterprises in the Deltaic Districts… wherever they went they spread their faith, partly by the sword, but chiefly by a bold appeal to the two great instincts of the popular heart. The Hindus had never admitted the amphibious population of the Delta within the pale of their community. The Mohammadans offered the plenary pledges of Islam to Brahman and outcaste alike: ‘Down on your knees, every one of you’, preached the fierce missionaries, before the Almighty, in whose sight all men are equal, all created beings as the dust of the earth. There is no God but the one God, and His messenger is Muhammad’. The battle-cry of the warrior became, as soon as the conquest was over, the text of the Divine."

According to Abdul Karim in his Social History of Muslims in Bengal, [4] "Islam which added a new but strong factor into the socio-religious life of Bengal, came in the wake of Turkish conquest towards the beginning of the 13th century… The Muslim kingdom in Bengal attracted many foreign Muslims who migrated to this newly conquered possession to seek fortune… Later, the Muslim society was fed by two other indigenous elements – the local converts and the children of mixed marriage… The proselytising effect of Islam was deeper in Bengal than in other parts of the sub-continent as proved by the swelling of Muslim population in this deltaic region. Probably the problem was not so difficult for Islam in Bengal, because, (i) there has always been a preponderance of non-Aryan element in this region and (ii) Buddhism which was uprooted from the land of its birth, i.e. North-India, had been a great competitor of Hinduism in Bengal at the advent of Islam. The non-Aryan elements had somehow identified themselves with the degraded Buddhism of the pre-Muslim period."

Most Muslims in Bangladesh are Sunnis, but there is a small Shi'a community. Most of those who are Shi'a reside in urban areas. Although these Shi'as are few in number, Shi'a observance commemorating the martyrdom of Ali's sons, Hasan and Husayn, is widely observed by the nation's Sunnis where very few Shi'as also join. This is a contrasting tradition from Muslim populated regions of Arab,western India and Pakistan.

The tradition of Islamic mysticism known as Sufism appeared very early in Islam and became essentially a popular movement emphasizing love of God rather than fear of God. Sufism stresses a direct, unstructured, personal devotion to God in place of the ritualistic, outward observance of the faith. An important belief in the Sufi tradition is that the average believer may use spiritual guides in his pursuit of the truth. In Islam there has been a perennial tension between the ulama--Muslim scholars--and the Sufis; each group advocates its method as the preferred path to salvation. There also have been periodic efforts to reconcile the two approaches. Throughout the centuries many gifted scholars and numerous poets have been inspired by Sufi ideas even though they were not actually adherents.

Bagerhat Shat Gambuj Masjid (60 dome mosque), built by Khan Jahan Ali
Bagerhat Shat Gambuj Masjid (60 dome mosque), built by Khan Jahan Ali

Sufi masters were the single most important factor in South Asian conversions to Islam, particularly in what is now Bangladesh. Most Bangladeshi Muslims are influenced to some degree by Sufism, although this influence often involves only occasional consultation or celebration rather than formal affiliation. The influence of Ulema who were stressing upon strict observance of Sharia and Muslim rituals according to tenets of Qur'an revived in India after the defeat of the Sepoy Mutiny in the form of political movements having influences of Hanafi, Wahabi or Salafi movements.

The Qadiri, Naqshbandi, and Chishti orders were among the most widespread Sufi orders in Bangladesh in the late 1980s. The beliefs and practices of the first two are quite close to those of orthodox Islam; the third, founded in Ajmer, India, is peculiar to the subcontinent and has a number of unorthodox practices, such as the use of music in its liturgy. Its ranks have included many musicians and poets.

Although a formal organization of ordained priests has no basis in Islam, a variety of functionaries perform many of the duties conventionally associated with a clergy and serve, in effect, as priests. One group, known collectively as the Ulama, has traditionally provided the orthodox leadership of the community. The Ulama unofficially interpret and administer religious law. Their authority rests on their knowledge of Sharia (Islamic Law), the corpus of Islamic jurisprudence that grew up in the centuries following the Prophet's death.

The members of the Ulama include Maulvis, Imams, and Mullahs. 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 maulana. 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 Quomi Madarassa which is very close to Deobandi schools in India and Pakistan founded by Haji Muhammad Abid of Deoband, India. This means the Ulamas are also not in full agreement about their interpretation of Islam, of its theology and law.

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 (waqfs).

In the late 1980s, the ulama of Bangladesh still perceived their function as that of teaching and preserving the Islamic way of life in the face of outside challenges, especially from modern sociopolitical ideas based on Christianity or communism. Any effort at modernization was perceived as a threat to core religious values and institutions; therefore, the ulama as a class was opposed to any compromise in matters of sharia. Many members of the ulama favored the establishment of an Islamic theocracy in Bangladesh and were deeply involved in political activism through several political parties. Most members of the ulama were also engaged in carrying on the tabliqh (preaching movement), an effort that focuses on the true sociopolitical ideals of Islam and unequivocally discards all un-Islamic accretions. Tablighi Jamaat attracted many college and university graduates, who found the movement emotionally fulfilling and a practical way to deal with Bangladesh's endemic sociopolitical malaise.

[edit] Muslim among Various Ethnic Groups in Bangladesh

Source: link re slav* Bengali, Chittagonian (16,758,337)

  • Sylhetti (7,143,266)
  • Bihari, Bhojpuri (2,288,661)
  • Urdu (907,957)
  • Arab (43,489)
  • Gujerati (28,992)
  • Bihari, Sadri (23,637)
  • Hindi (22,889)
  • Eurasian, Anglo-Indian (15,259)
  • Tippera (13,907)
  • Manipuri (10,463)
  • Burmese (9,156)
  • Baluchi (7,263)
  • Rajbangsi (4,576)
  • Eurasian, Anglo-Bengali (4,120)
  • Assamese (3,650)
  • Bishnupriya (1,526)
  • Orissan (884)
  • Telugu (415)
  • Riang (58)
  • Others (13,733)

[edit] Politicized Islam

Muslim students rally in Dhaka, protesting closures of radical madrasas
Muslim students rally in Dhaka, protesting closures of radical madrasas

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, which was responsible for organizing and supporting research and publications on Islamic subjects. The foundation also maintained the Bayt al 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 Bangla language was being compiled in the late 1980s.

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.

Islam being the central component of national identit plays a significant role in the politics, life and culture of the people. Secular parties such as Awami League also mention "Allah is Great" as a slogan in their banners. 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. Most observers believed that the declaration of Islam as the state religion might have a significant impact on national life, however. 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.

[edit] Status of Religious Freedom

The Constitution establishes Islam as the state religion but provides for the right to practice--subject to law, public order, and morality--the religion of one's choice. The Government generally respects this provision in practice; however, some members of the Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, and Ahmadiya communities experience discrimination. The Government (2001-2006) led by an alliance of four parties [Bangladesh Nationalist Party, Jamat-e-Islami Bangladesh, Islami Oikya Jote and Bangladesh Jatiyo Party] banned the Ahmadiya literatures by an executive order.

Family laws concerning marriage, divorce, and adoption differ depending on the religion of the person involved. There is also, Anglo-Indian Civil Law in some of these regards in parallel. There are no legal restrictions on marriage between members of different faiths but to get marriage registered under Muslim religious laws, the bride and the bride-groom must be Muslims by birth or by conversion.

Under the Muslim Family Ordinance, female heirs inherit usually half of that inherited by male relatives, and wives have fewer divorce rights than husbands. Men are permitted to have up to four wives, although society strongly discourages polygamy, and it is practiced rarely. Laws provide some protection for women against arbitrary divorce and the taking of additional wives by husbands without the first wife's consent, but the protections generally apply only to registered marriages. Marriage is governed by family law of the respective religions. In rural areas, marriages sometimes are not registered because of ignorance of the law. Under the law, a Muslim husband is required to pay his former wife a lump sum alimony fixed at the time of registraton of marriage and further variable amount of alimony for 3 months for maintanence, but this law is not always enforced in the rural areas.

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ [1] U.S Department of State: 2006 Census Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
  2. ^ [2] Asian Studies: Religion in Bangladesh
  3. ^ The Indian Mussalmans by W.W.Hunter, first published in 1871, reprint by Rupa & Co. 2002, pp 145-146.
  4. ^ Social History of Muslims in Bengal by Abdul Karim, former Vice-Chancellor, Chittagong University, third edition published by Jatiya Grantha Prakashan, Dhaka, 2001, pp 7 and 189.

[edit] See also

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