Islam in Bangladesh

This summer, one of the brothers living in Bangladesh shared with the brothers in Taizé his experience of many years spent in the Muslim world.

I have been living in the Islamic world for thirty years. Bangladesh is a Muslim country; it is the third Muslim country in the world. The first is Indonesia, the second is India and the third is Bangladesh although it is being overtaken by Pakistan for the number of Muslims: 130 million.

Today, Bangladesh appears much more as a Muslim country than it did at the beginning. When we arrived, you did not get that impression at all.

In 1975, the country was emerging from the war of independence with Pakistan, that part of the Empire of India that had a Muslim majority and was separated from India. This was an independence that came about not for religious or territorial reasons but for linguistic ones. In fact, the war of independence took place to affirm the right to speak Bengali and not Urdu which some were attempting to impose as the national language. Bengali nationalism is based on the language. Three years after the end of the war of independence, the country was officially secular and the language played a unifying role in the country. Islam was present but did not appear in a public way.

The first time I was very astonished was during a large gathering of the Independence Party. The call to prayer was heard and the political meeting was interrupted. The speaker said he was going to say his prayers. That was in 1977. In 1978, the presence of Islam became visible. Now, when the call to prayer is heard, the bus stops to allow those who so wish to go and pray. For the moment, those who do not wish to pray are not obliged to do so. Little by little Islam has become more public.

A major change took place in 1978 when the then president changed the Constitution and introduced as a preamble the first verse of Koran: “In the name of God Almighty and Merciful”. Islam was introduced as state religion or as supported by the state. But freedom of religion was maintained. What is important, and what is not the case in many Muslim countries: no one can be arrested or judged if they abandon Islam.

Last updated: 22 September 2006