The Sylhetti Bengali of the United Kingdom
Driven by poverty and drawn by ambition to see the world, many Sylhetti Bengali left Bangladesh and joined the English merchant fleet. During World War II they were vital to Great Britain's survival. After the war, they settled in various cities of the United Kingdom.
Their presence in the United Kingdom from the 1920's to the 1950's encouraged other Bengali to emigrate from Sylhet in the 1950's and 1960's. The immigrants have established dynamic new communities in London, Birmingham, Glasgow, Cardiff, and Liverpool. Some of the pioneers flourished, particularly in the Indian restaurant business, others struggled, but only a few returned to Bangladesh.
What Are Their Lives Like?
Some Sylhetti sailors left the ships as early as 1920 and joined the small, but growing, community in eastern London. They often found jobs in the clothing trade or some branch of catering. Some worked in the boiler houses of large hotels, where they, as ex-firemen, found the suffocating atmosphere to be no problem.
Later, Bengali "coffee shops" began to spring up. This proved to be the initial step towards the first Sylhetti-owned Indian restaurants. By 1946, there were 20 such restaurants in London. This number grew to 300 in the United Kingdom by 1960 and over 3000 by 1980. The vast majority of these were owned by Indian families from Sylhet.
In 1947, lobbying by Bengali Muslims influenced the way the United Kingdom handled the release of British India into two independent countries, Pakistan and India. Many Sylhetti Bengali lobbied in the UK through the Congressional Muslim League; others rallied in the Sylhet district of Bangladesh. Eventually, the Bengali voted to be a part of Pakistan instead of India.
In the early 1950's, the London community of Sylhetti men was about 300. By 1962, the number had grown to 5,000. It was very common for the early immigrants to marry their English or Irish girlfriends, most of whom converted to Islam. After World War II, the first Sylhetti Bengali wives joined their husbands, and more have brought their families ever since.
What Are Their Beliefs?
After coming to the United Kingdom, early Sylhetti Bengali were negligent of their religious duties. However, after World War II, a new generation of more religious Sylhetti arrived. Many joined the political or religious organizations, clubs and leagues that began, mainly in London and Birmingham.
The opening of a Muslim University in the UK increased the number of devout Sylhetti Bengali Muslims. Today, there are 1,800 mosques and 3,000 Islamic schools in England alone.
What Are Their Needs?
Muslim communities are highly organized and press constantly for legislation to favor Islam. Christians have been apathetic or fearful to witness to Muslims, and conversions have been few.Prayer Points
Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.
© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center
This profile may be copied and distributed without obtaining permission
as long as it is not altered, bound, published
or used for profit purposes.