Bangladesh – Religion and Education

Religion:

There are mainly four religions in Bangladesh. According to the 2001 census, the religious profile of the population is: Islam 89.7%, Hinduism 9.2%, Buddhism 0.7%, Christianity 0.3% and others (such as Animists) 0.1%. Most of the people of Bangladesh are Muslim but Bangladesh is a secular state, however the United Nations has recognised the country as mainly moderate Muslim democratic country.

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Islam in Bangladesh:

Islam is the main religion of Bangladesh. About 145.3 million people are Muslim of total population of Bangladesh.

Islam arrived to the region of Bengal since the 13th century, mainly by the arrivals of Arab traders, Persian Saints and conquests of the region. One of the notable Muslim saint was, Shah Jalal. He arrived in the region of Sylhet in 1303 with many other disciples to preach the religion to the people.

The majority of the Muslims are Sunni consisting of 95% of the Muslim population, who mainly follow the Hanafi school of thought and the remaining are Shi’a and Ahmadiyya. Most of those who are Shia reside in urban areas. Although these Shias are few in number, Shia observance commemorating the martyrdom of Ali’s sons, Hasan and Husayn, is widely observed by the nation’s Sunnis. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, which is claimed to be non-Muslim by mainstream Muslim leaders, is estimated to be around 100,000, the community has faced discrimination because of their belief and have been persecuted in some areas. The Tablighi Jamaat has also a large following, the Bishwa Ijtema (World Congregation) is an event held annually by Tablighi Jamaat which focuses on prayers and meditation, attracting 5 million people from across Bangladesh and South Asia.

Hinduism in Bangladesh:

According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, there are 11,379,000 Hindus in Bangladesh. Hinduism is the second religion of Bangladesh which is about 9.2% of total population.

Hindu ethics generally center on the principle of ahimsa, noninjury to living creatures–especially the cow, which is held sacred. The principle is expressed in almost universally observed rules against eating beef. By no means are all Hindus vegetarians, but abstinence from all kinds of meat is regarded as a “higher” virtue. High-caste Bangladeshi Hindus, unlike their counterparts elsewhere in South Asia, ordinarily eat fish.

On the level of the little tradition, Hinduism admits worship of spirits and godlings of rivers, mountains, vegetation, animals, stones, or disease. Ritual bathing, vows, and pilgrimages to sacred rivers, mountains, shrines, and cities are important practices. An ordinary Hindu will worship at the shrines of Muslim pirs, without being concerned with the religion to which that place is supposed to be affiliated. Hindus revere many holy men and ascetics conspicuous for their bodily mortifications. Some people believe they attain spiritual benefit merely by looking at a great holy man.

Common among Hindus is the acceptance of the caste system as the structure of society. For virtually all Hindus, even those in revolt against some aspects of the system, caste is taken for granted as the way of life. To be considered Hindu, a group must identify itself in some way as a unit in the caste hierarchy. One cannot join a caste; one is born into it and lives, marries, and dies in it.

Hindus in Bangladesh in the late 1980s were almost evenly distributed in all regions, with concentrations in Khulna, Jessore, Dinajpur, Faridpur, and Barisal. The contributions of Hindus in arts and letters were far in excess of their numerical strength. In politics, they had traditionally supported the liberal and secular ideology of the Awami League.

Buddhism in Bangladesh:

About 0.07% of total population of Bangladesh are Buddhist. Buddhism is the third religion in Bangladesh.

In subsequent centuries and up through the 1980s nearly all the remaining Buddhists lived in the region around Chittagong, which had not been entirely conquered until the time of the British Raj (1858-1947; see Glossary). In the Chittagong Hills, Buddhist tribes formed the majority of the population, and their religion appeared to be a mixture of tribal cults and Buddhist doctrines. According to the 1981 census, there were approximately 538,000 Buddhists in Bangladesh, representing less than 1 percent of the population.

The ethical teachings of the Buddha, Siddartha Gautama (ca. 550-486 B.C.), stress a middle path between physical indulgence and ascetic mortification. The practice of Buddhism is concerned with salvation rather than with metaphysical speculation. Salvation consists of freeing oneself from the cycle of rebirth into lives of evil, pain, and sorrow; to accomplish this, one must renounce society and live a simple life of self-discipline. Those who renounce society often are organized into one of the many monastic orders.

There are several monasteries in the Chittagong Hills area, and in most Buddhist villages there is a school (kyong) where boys live and learn to read Burmese and some Pali (an ancient Buddhist scriptural language). It is common for men who have finished their schooling to return at regular intervals for periods of residence in the school. The local Buddhist shrine is often an important center of village life.

Essentially tolerant, Buddhism outside the monastic retreats has absorbed and adapted indigenous popular creeds and cults of the regions to which it has spread. In most areas religious ritual focuses on the image of the Buddha, and the major festivals observed by Buddhists in Bangladesh commemorate the important events of his life. Although doctrinal Buddhism rejects the worship of gods and preserves the memory of the Buddha as an enlightened man, popular Buddhism contains a pantheon of gods and lesser deities headed by the Buddha.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs provides assistance for the maintenance of Buddhist places of worship and relics. The ancient monasteries at Paharpur (in Rajshahi Region) and Mainamati (in Comilla Region), dating from the seventh to ninth century A.D., are considered unique for their size and setting and are maintained as state-protected monuments.

Christianity in Bangladesh:

Christianity is the fourth religion in Bangladesh and about 0.3% of total population are Christians.

Christianity’s first contact with the Indian subcontinent is attributed to the Apostle Thomas, who is said to have preached in southern India. Although Jesuit priests were active at the Mughal courts in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the first Roman Catholic settlements in what became Bangladesh appear to have been established by the Portuguese, coming from their center in Goa on the west coast of India. During the sixteenth century the Portuguese settled in the vicinity of Chittagong, where they were active in piracy and slave trading. In the seventeenth century some Portuguese moved to Dhaka.

Serious Protestant missionary efforts began only in the first half of the nineteenth century. Baptist missionary activities beginning in 1816, the Anglican Oxford Mission, and others worked mainly among the tribal peoples of the Low Hills in the northern part of Mymensingh and Sylhet regions. Many of the Christian churches, schools, and hospitals were initially set up to serve the European community. They subsequently became centers of conversion activities, particularly among the lower caste Hindus.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs provided assistance and support to the Christian institutions in the country. In the late 1980s, the government was not imposing any restrictions on the legitimate religious activities of the missions and the communities. Mission schools and hospitals were well attended and were used by members of all religions. The Christian community usually enjoyed better opportunities for education and a better standard of living. In the late 1980s, Christianity had about 600,000 adherents, mainly Roman Catholic, and their numbers were growing rapidly.

Education:

Literacy of Bangladesh:

Definition: age 15 and over can read and write

  • About 43.1% of total population are literate.
  • Male: 53.9%
  • Female: 31.8% (2003 est.)

Education expenditures:

2.7% of GDP (2005)

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