The Constitution establishes Islam as the state religion but
provides for the right to practice the religion of one's choice,
and the Government generally respects thisprovision in practice.
organizations are not required to register with the Government;
however, all nongovernmental organizations (NGO's), including
religious organizations, are required to register with the
NGO Affairs Bureau if they receive foreign financial assistance
for social development projects. The Government has the authority
to cancel the registration of an NGO or to take other action
against it; however, it rarely has used these powers, and
they have not affected NGO's having religious affiliations.
laws concerning marriage, divorce, and adoption differ slightly
depending on the religion of the person involved. There are
no legal restrictions on marriage between members of different
exerts a powerful influence on politics, and the Government
is sensitive to the Muslim consciousness of the majority of
its citizens. Religion is taught in government schools, and
parents have the right to have their children taught in their
own religion. In practice schools with few religious minority
students often work out arrangements with local churches or
temples, which then direct religious studies outside school
hours. The country celebrates holy days from the Muslim, Hindu,
Buddhist, and Christian faiths as national holidays.
puts no restrictions on the establishment of places of worship,
the training of clergy, or the maintenance of links with coreligionists
2001, the Director General of the Islamic Foundation, a government
organization dedicated to promoting Islamic culture and studies,
forced Maulana Obaidul Haque, Khatib (chief clergyman) of
the Baitul Mukarram National Mosque, to retire. The Director
General appointed a new Khatib, but after Maulana Obaidul
Haque filed a writ petition to protest his forced retirement,
the court stayed the decision and he remains Khatib for the
National Mosque. The case was pending at the end of the period
covered by this report.
on Religious Freedom
2001, the High Court ruled illegal all fatwas, or expert opinions
on Islamic law. Fatwas can include the decision as to when
a holiday is to begin based upon the sighting of the moon,
or an opinion on a religious issue. Islam dictates that only
those Muftis (religious scholars) who have expertise in Islamic
law are authorized to declare a fatwa. However, in practice
village religious leaders sometimes make declarations on individual
cases, calling the declaration a fatwa. Sometimes this results
in extrajudicial punishments, often against women for their
perceived moral transgressions. While the court's intention
was to end the extrajudicial enforcement of fatwas or other
declarations by religious leaders, the January ruling declared
all fatwas illegal. The High Court's January 2001 ruling resulted
in violent public protests (see
Section III). Several weeks later, the Appellate Court stayed
the High Court's ruling.
9, 2001, Parliament passed the Vested Property Return Bill
of 2001. This law stipulates that land remaining under government
control that was seized under the Vested Property Act of 1965
be returned to its original owners, provided that the original
owners or their heirs remain resident citizens. Hindus who
fled to India and resettled there will not be eligible to
have their land returned, and no provisions were included
for compensation for or return of properties that the Government
has sold. The Government must publish a list of vested property
holdings by October 11, 2001, and claims must be filed within
90 days of the publication date. No further claims are to
missionaries may work in the country, but their right to proselytize
is not protected in the Constitution, and foreign missionaries
often face delays of several months in obtaining or renewing
visas. In the past, some missionaries who were perceived to
be converting Muslims to other faiths were subsequently unable
to renew their visas, which must be renewed annually.
are no financial penalties imposed on the basis of religious
beliefs; however, religious minorities are disadvantaged in
practice in such areas as access to jobs in government or
the military, and political office. The Government has appointed
some Hindus to senior civil service positions, and some recent
promotion lists from the Ministry of the Establishment included
from 3 to 7 percent Hindus and other minorities. However,
religious minorities remain underrepresented in government
jobs, especially at the higher levels of the civil and foreign
services. The government-owned Bangladesh Bank employs about
10 percent non-Muslims in its upper ranks. Hindus dominate
the teaching profession, particularly at the high school and
university levels. Some Hindus report that Muslims tend to
favor Hindus in some professions, for example, doctors, lawyers,
and accountants. They attribute this to the education that
the British offered during the 19th century, which Muslims
boycotted but Hindus embraced. Employees are not required
to disclose their religion, but religion generally can be
determined by a person's name.
of Religious Freedom
3, 2001, in Baniachar, Gopalganj district, a bomb exploded
inside a Catholic church during Sunday Mass, killing 10 persons
and injuring 20 others. The army arrived to investigate approximately
10 hours after the blast. The bomb, which the army concluded
was produced outside of the country, had been placed just
inside a side door in a jute bag. Police detained various
persons for questioning, but by the end of the period covered
by this report, no progress had been made on the case.
years, the Government sometimes has failed to criticize, investigate,
and prosecute the perpetrators of attacks on members of religious
minorities. For example, the Government responded ineffectively
after an April 1998 attack on a Catholic school in Dhaka.
When workers started demolishing a dilapidated classroom building
on the school's property, someone from a mosque located behind
the building shouted repeatedly over the mosque's loudspeaker,
"The Christians are tearing down the mosque." A
mob then attacked the school, demolishing walls, breaking
statues, burning a large cross, and ransacking dormitories
while students, most of whom were Muslim, stayed in a locked
room. No one was hurt. Policemen stood by and watched as the
attack continued throughout the afternoon.
later ruled clearly that the disputed classroom building belonged
to the school, which produced documents demonstrating ownership
for the last 80 years; however, the leaders of the mosque
continued to harass school officials. Subsequently the Archbishop
instructed the school officials to surrender the land and
the building to the mosque management committee members in
order to maintain peace.
the 1961 Muslim Family Ordinance, female heirs inherit less
than male relatives do, and wives have fewer divorce rights
than husbands. Men are permitted to have up to four wives,
although society strongly discourages polygamy and it rarely
is practiced. 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. Marriages in rural areas
sometimes are not registered because of ignorance of the law.
Under the law, a Muslim husband is required to pay his ex-wife
alimony for only 3 months, but this rarely is enforced.
author Taslima Nasreen, whose latest book was banned in 1999,
remained abroad during the period covered by this report,
after receiving bail while criminal and civil cases against
her for insulting religious beliefs remain pending. There
have been no new developments in these cases.
were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.
were no reports of forced religious conversion, including
of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally
removed from the United States, or of the Government's refusal
to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.
III. Societal Attitudes
between the religious communities generally are amicable.
Persons who practice different religions often join each others'
festivals and celebrations, such as weddings. Shi'a Muslims
practice their faith without interference from Sunnis. Nevertheless,
clashes between religious groups occasionally occur. In recent
years, there have been cases of violence directed against
the religious minority communities that have resulted in the
loss of lives and property. Police, who generally are ineffective
in upholding law and order, often are slow to assist in such
cases (see Section II). In the past, intercommunal violence
caused many Hindus to emigrate to India, but recent emigration
of Hindus has decreased significantly and generally can be
attributed to economic or family reasons. Some incidents of
communal violence still occur.
5, 2000, in Narsingdi, two extortionists demanded approximately
$175 (10,000 Taka) from Hindus during a religious festival.
When the Hindus refused, the two damaged the deity and its
platform and beat the caretaker. On June 11, 2001, the two
criminals were fined approximately $88 (5,000 Taka) and sentenced
to 9 years' imprisonment under the Public Safety Act.
6, 2000, in Gazipur, two boys and one woman were injured in
an altercation between Hindus and Muslims. Muslims conducting
Friday prayers asked Hindus to lower the music volume at a
nearby Hindu festival. When the Hindus refused, Muslims from
the mosque damaged a Hindu deity, leading to the violence
and injuries. This altercation was resolved through dialog
between community leaders.
8, 2000, in Dinajpur, four Muslims set fire to a Hindu temple
over a land dispute with the Hindu temple's manager.
past, members of the Ahmadi sect, whom many mainstream Muslims
consider heretical, were the target of attacks and harassment.
In 1999 several mosques belonging to the sect were attacked.
On October 8, 1999, a bomb killed six Ahmadis who were attending
Friday prayers at their mosque in Khulna. The only suspect
questioned by police was a fellow Ahmadi who later was released.
No other suspects have been questioned, and the case remains
unresolved. In November 1999, Sunni Muslims ransacked an Ahmadi
mosque near Natore, in the western part of the country. In
subsequent clashes between Ahmadis and Sunnis, 35 persons
were injured. Ahmadis regained control of their mosque and
filed a criminal case against 30 persons allegedly responsible
for the conflict. That case remains pending. After a
January 1999 attack on an Ahmadi mosque in Kushtia, two police
officials were disciplined for failing to discharge their
duties in controlling the incident. Ahmadi leaders report
that their mosque remains under the control of local police,
and Ahmadis are unable to worship there more than 2 years
after the original attack.
reaction to the High Court's January 2001 ruling that declared
fatwas to be illegal resulted in violence. Following the court's
decision, a number of NGO's organized a rally in Dhaka and
transported busloads of persons, mostly women, from all parts
of the country to express support for the ruling, which they
said was a victory for women and for all who suffered abuses
in the name of fatwa. However, Muslim groups contended that
fatwa was an integral part of a Muslim's daily life and called
the ruling an attack on their religious freedom. Islamic groups
organized blockades to prevent buses from entering Dhaka for
the rally, and protested the ruling and the NGO rally. In
the ensuing violence, a police officer was killed inside a
mosque, and an NGO office was ransacked.
members of the Hindu, Christian, and Buddhist minorities continue
to perceive and experience discrimination from the Muslim
permits citizens to proselytize; however, strong social resistance
to conversion from Islam means that most missionary efforts
by Christian groups are aimed at serving communities that
have been Christian for several generations or longer.
IV. U.S. Government Policy
Embassy maintains a dialog with government, religious, and
minority community representatives to promote religious freedom
and to discuss problems. On an informal basis, the Embassy
also has assisted some U.S. Christian-affiliated relief organizations
in guiding paperwork for schools and other projects through
government channels. The Government has been receptive to
discussion of such subjects and generally helpful in resolving