The Sylhetti Bengali of Bangladesh
More than five and a half million Sylhetti Bengalis live in the northeastern corner of Bangladesh. Since India surrounds Bangladesh on three sides, the Bangladeshis are heavily influenced by Indian culture. The short, dark-skinned Sylhetti Bengalis speak Sylhetti, a language very similar to the Indian language, Bengali.
Along the northern border of Sylhet is the high mountain plateau, Meghalaya, which means "the abode of the clouds." Breathtaking waterfalls plunge over the sides of this wall of mountains and cliffs. In the eastern parts of Sylhet, tea estates cover the slopes of misty hills. Most of the land elsewhere, however, is a flat patchwork of green rice fields. Simple village houses are built on small embankments near each rice field. Every village has its own tiny domed mosque. Along the outskirts of the villages you will find an abundance of banana trees, bamboo, and tall slender betel-nut palms.
What are their lives like?
Clusters of thatch-roofed bamboo houses dot the countryside; few have electricity or plumbing. Most of the people are farmers, but many still work as craftsmen, weavers, carpenters, and blacksmiths. Local industries include making reed mats, buttons from shells, and ironwork inlaid with brass.
The warm, humid climate and ample amount of rain make Bangladesh one of the world's leading rice producers. Though tea estates provide 95% of the country's income, sugar and oilseed are also major crops. Jute, a fibrous plant used in making string or cloth, is the chief export.
Rivers overflow during the rainy season, flooding the surrounding countryside. Low lying areas are covered with waters up to fifteen feet deep and hundreds of miles wide. Monsoon rains and cyclones are yearly occurrences. Although these torrential rains bring immense fertility to the plains, they also destroy lives and damage property.
Most Bangladeshis wear loose, lightweight clothing. A woman will usually wear a sari (a long piece of cloth wrapped around her waist and draped over one shoulder), with a short blouse underneath. Men wear tight skirt-like garments.
What are their beliefs?
The Sylhetti Bengalis were formerly Buddhists and Hindus; however,
Islam began to penetrate Sylhet in the thirteenth century. At that time, Shah Jalal, a great Muslim saint from Yemen, came with 360 followers and hopes of converting the Bengalis to Islam. While Shah Jalal settled in Sylhet, his followers went to various corners of the district spreading Islam. Shah Jalal and his followers were devoted Sufi Muslims, mystics whose paths to union with God were through mediation, songs, and poetry, rather than strict adherence to Islamic laws. The Sufi approach found great favor with the poor Sylhettis, who were ready to be liberated from the caste system of Hinduism.
When Shah Jalal died, he became the patron saint of Sylhet. A famous mosque was built near his tomb (located in Sylhet), and the spot serves as a great center of pilgrimage.
What are their needs?
Bangladesh has long been characterized by its widespread poverty. Most Bangladeshis are poor farmers, struggling to make a living with their simple tools and ancient farming methods. Agriculturists are needed to teach them modern farming techniques.
As is common in other Muslim countries, Sylhetti women are very poorly educated. Schools and school teachers are desperately needed.
There is also a serious lack of doctors, nurses, hospitals, and medical supplies. Food shortages and unsanitary living conditions contribute to widespread tuberculosis, cholera, and malaria. More than half a million Bangladeshis are suffering with leprosy.
There are currently no missions agencies targeting the Sylhettis; however, the New Testament has become the number one best seller in Bangladesh!
- Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to go to Bangladesh and share Christ with the Muslim Sylhettis.
- Pray that Christian radio and television broadcasts will be made available in their area.
- Ask God to strengthen and encourage the small number of believers who live among the Muslims of Bangladesh.
- Pray for the Lord to send Christian school teachers to work among the Sylhettis.
- Ask God to call loving Christian doctors and nurses to work in Bangladesh.
- Pray that the Lord will soften the hearts of the Sylhettis towards Christians so that they will be open to the Gospel.
- Ask God to raise up a strong local church among the Muslim Sylhettis by the year 2000.
See also the following Bengali Groups:
The Bengali Cluster; The Bengali Tribes of South Asia; and
The Hindu Bengali of Bangladesh.
Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.
- People name: Sylhetti Bengali
- Country: Bangladesh
- Their language: Sylhetti Bengali
- Largest religion:
- Christians: <1%
- Church members: 5,643
- Scriptures in their own language: None
- Jesus Film in their own language: None
- Christian broadcasts in their own language: None
- Mission agencies working among this people: None
- Persons who have heard the Gospel: 1,190,800 (22%)
- Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 4,452,600 (78%)
- Country: Bangladesh
- Major peoples in size order:
- Major religions:
- Number of denominations: 32
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Bethany World Prayer Center
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