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Religious Beliefs and Spirituality in Bangladesh

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Bangladesh is a parliamentary democracy state located on the northern coast of Bay of Bengal in South Asia. It shares a small border with Myanmar on the southeast and it is surrounded by India. The Ganges and Brahmaputra branches and tributaries traverse the Bangladesh land. The majority of the people are subsistence farmers because of the renewed farmland fertility during the annual floods. The delta regions normally experience heavy damage during tropical monsoons and floods and cyclones.

60 Dome Mosque, Bagherhat Historic District, SourceIn Bangladesh, Islam is the official religion and is practiced by a majority of the population. It has the third largest population of Muslims in the world after Indonesia and Pakistan. It is reported that the country is the most crowded in the world with more than 1,000 people per square kilometer. The constitution stipulates that Islam is the state religion. It offers the right ways on how individual and the state can profess or propagate religions. However, it further states that an individual has the freedom of worship. In as much as the Bangladesh Government openly support freedom of religion, that has not barred attacks carried out on religious and ethnic minorities. For example, demands were made to declare the Ahmadivya Muslim Community as non-Muslims and Christians also face violence. In 2016, there were reports of temples of Hindus being attacked.

According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics Islam has the higher percentage of the population accounting to 90% of the population and Hindu are 9% and the rest of the population are Christians, Buddhist and Animist.

Islam in Bangladesh

As noted earlier Bangladesh has the 3rd highest percentage of Muslims in the universe. It is reported that people started to convert to Islam in the 13th century and the conversion was carried out to several centuries and huge masses were converted during those periods. It is believed that the Muslim missionaries and mystics were responsible for the introduction of Islam to the people of Bangladesh.

Islam is the official religion in Bangladesh and it is practiced by approximately 90% of the population. The majority of the individuals are Sunni Muslims while a small percentage are Shia. Islam as a religion plays a major role in the everyday life of an ordinary citizen as it is patent in all the celebrations that are carried out for example; Eid-ul-Fitr, Eid-e-Miladunnabi, and Muharram among others. In as much as the Muslims in Bangladesh are fully devoted to Islam, loyalty to certain rituals and beliefs might vary depending on a number of issues. In some interior regions, people have incorporated other beliefs which may not be accepted by the orthodox Muslim.

Hinduism in Bangladesh

Armanian church, Amla Para, Dhaka, SourceThe Hindu religion followers in Bangladesh are estimated to be 9% of the total population of the state. The majority of the Hindu community are found in Faridpur, Barisal, Jessore, Khulna and Dinajpur. It is reported that the Hindu temples are scattered all over the country.  Over the past years, the population of Hindu followers has declined drastically. According to the 2011 census, the total percentage of the Hindu population was 9.5% compared to the previous census year which was about 13.5%.

Contrast to Islamism, Hinduism does not have a definitive authoritative scripture, for example, the Quran, and a historically known founder. It is believed that Hinduism is a fusion of the religious expression of South Asia. It does not follow a particular creed. It is, however, seen as anonymous expression of people’s worldview and cosmology. It, therefore, refers to a huge number of set beliefs and practices. To understand the Hindus in Bangladesh one has to understand the caste system beliefs, rituals and festivals in their context. For instance, the Hindu philosophy identifies Brahma as the absolute meaning that he is eternal, unbounded by space and time. In addition, he contains pure existence, consciousness and bliss.

Hinduism incorporates a variety of devotions and sects that might be centered in one or more of the great gods. Brahma who is recognized as the absolute has other forms like Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer. The traditions recognize a trinity of Gods. The majority of the devotions conducted by the faithful are usually directed to Vishnu and Shiva while on the other hand little devotion is directed for Brahma.

In Bangladesh Shiva is normally worshiped by individuals of the higher caste. Whilst, Vishnu the preserver is worshiped across all the Indian caste lines. However, a huge emphasis is being placed on the teachings of the importance of oneness of human kind in spirit.

However, in the recent years, Hindus have faced discrimination and violent attacks by the Muslims. It has been reported that a number of Hindu temples and homes have been destroyed. In as much as the government supports the freedom of worship, nothing has been done to ensure that the violence is curbed.

Buddhism in Bangladesh

Buddhism in Bangladesh forms an integral part of the culture and history of the country. Historians and archeologist assert that the introduction of Buddhism in Bangladesh was before the Common Era during the Mauryan Rule. The presence of Buddhist was accepted during the second century. The ruler had accepted Buddhism on the basis of Mahasthan Brahmi Inscription of the second century BCE. Bangladesh has played a significant role in the development of Buddhism which led to the creation of the mystical Tantric Buddhism.

Buddhism was firmly entrenched as the most popular religion in Bengal during the reign of the Buddhist emperor in 304-232 BC until the 12 century AD; the country was known to be a h2hold of Buddhism despite being predominantly Muslim and Hindu.

The census conducted in 2011 indicates that close to 0.5 to 1% of the population practice Buddhism. In the current times, the followers of Buddhism are mainly the people of Arakanese descent living in the sub-tropical Chittagong Hill Tracts. Most of the Buddhist are people belonging to the tribe of the Chakma Tenchungya, Marma, Chak and Khyang. It is believed that these tribes have been practicing Buddhism since time in memorial.

Christianity in Bangladesh

Church service in Bangladesh, SourceThe Portuguese traders and Christian missionaries introduced Christianity in Bangladesh during the late sixteen to seventeen centaury CE. Christians make up another 1% of Bangladesh's population. The majority of the Christian population are Roman Catholic and the rest are Protestants. Ethnic and religious minority communities often overlap and are concentrated in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and northern regions.

Christians have been facing persecution in the recent years. Majority of the Christians who are in rural areas face the pressure from Muslim religious leaders, families and local mosques. Over the years, violence against Christians has greatly increased especially to new converts. The converts have been killed because of their faith. Pastors and Priests are usually targeted for death in the rural areas. In a nut shell, the police do not offer protection to Christians thus making them an easy target for violence. In spite of all the persecution, it is reported that more Muslim are converting to Christianity. An estimated number of 91,000 Muslims have been converted in the past six years. This conversion is the reason why there is an increase in Christian persecution.

Christianity and other minority religions are facing extreme violence but the police have failed to make any arrest to the perpetrators. People have been murdered but there is nothing that has been done to ensure that the individual responsible are brought to justice. International human rights group assert that in Bangladesh politics have motivated and at some length provided a cover to the crime of religion carried out by the perpetrators.

Other Religions in Bangladesh

The minority religious beliefs are described as others because they make up a very small percentage of the population. These religious beliefs include animism and the followers believe that every object in the universe has a soul which can either be worshiped or appeased. The tribal belief system is practiced by the tribal population in the rural areas. The tribal races live in the Chittagong Hills in the region of Rajshahi, Sylhet and Mymensingh. According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, the tribal race constitutes less than 0.05% of the country’s population. The major tribes that practice this faith are Santals, Chakmas, Marmas, Tipras, Kukis and Murangs. The main difference between the tribal population and the rest of the population in the country is in the death rights, food and other social customs. However, there are some tribes in the Chittagong Hills that have formed their own religion by combining tribal rituals and Buddhism.

Although religious freedom is promoted in the Bangladesh Constitution, little is being done to support and protect individuals of the minority religious groups. There is continued persecution of minority groups with little or no response from the police. The government does support the freedom of worship but it has not offered solutions on how to mitigate the ongoing persecutions of Hindus and Christians. No arrest has been made or no individual or group has been prosecuted for the murder of people of minority religions. The people of those religions are still hopeful that in the future everyone will be able to practice their religion without opposition.

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