Religion plays a fundamental role in Bangladeshi society. Indeed, Bangladeshis tend to be religiously oriented, and their religious heritage helps form their understanding of themselves as a people and others. For example, someone’s nationality may be considered secondary to their religious identity. Those of differing religious affiliations tend to peacefully coexist as there is a cultural tradition of tolerance and acceptance of difference.
The majority of the Bangladeshi population identifies as Muslim (89.1%), while the second largest religious group being Hinduism (10.0%). A remaining 0.9% of the population identifies with some other religion (including Buddhism and Christianity). While Bangladesh's population is predominantly Muslim, 70.5% of those residing in West Bengal (located in India) identify as Hindu. Religion often serves to reinforce the distinction between Hindu West Bengal and Islamic Bangladesh despite the two sharing common cultural elements.
The 2011 Australian census found that most of the Bangladesh-born Australian population identified as Muslim (85.1%), followed by Hindu (6.9%). Of the remaining population, 2.2% identified as Catholic, 3.8% identified with ‘other’ and 2.0% did not state their religious affiliation.
Islam in Bangladesh
Bangladesh has the fifth largest Muslim population in the world. Most Muslims in Bangladesh identify with the Sunni, but there is also a small Shi’a community that lives mainly in the larger cities and there is a small Ahmadiyya community. Importantly, the Muslim community in Bangladesh (and the Bengal region more generally) developed independently from the dominant Islamic trends in India and Pakistan.
Islam plays a significant role in the personal and political lives of the vast majority of the Bangladeshi population. Islam was made the official religion of Bangladesh in a 1988 constitutional amendment, but the right to religious freedom is defended by the state. Indeed, Islam has long been a fundamental element in discussions about what constitutes Bangladesh as a distinct culture from the wider Bengal region. Discussions regarding the role Islam plays in terms of national identity and politics occur often. On a more local level, sounds and symbols of Islam – such as the call to prayer – are evident in daily life. While not all of those who identify as Muslim practise the religion on a regular basis, the beliefs and core tenets are widely recognised and respected.