The capital of Bangladesh, Dhaka is one of the world’s largest and most densely populated cities. It has exploded from 335,000 in 1950, to 20 million today! Many believe that Dhaka has the world’s worst traffic, worst pollution, worst infrastructure, and is the most stressful and crowded city on the planet.
Yet, Dhaka’s residents are among the most optimistic and hospitable people. And though the garment factories (sweat shops) are helping create an urban wasteland, they are giving some sort of livelihood to hundreds of thousands of women.
As the economic, political, and cultural center of Bangladesh, Dhaka is full of amazing markets, great street food, and friendly people. Even those who hate living there, love the city. Once known as the Vienna of the East, there are thousands of boats crossing its three rivers and many lakes. There are many charming old palaces, old city neighborhoods, and parks.
Though the area has been inhabited for over 1500 years, it did not gain prominence until it became the capital of the Muslim Mughal Empire’s province of Bengal (1608-1704). Since then, its fortunes have risen and fallen, and it only began to flourish when it became the capital of independent Bangladesh in 1972.
Since then, the city has developed rapidly into a world-class city, even though it is one of the poorest cities in the world with more than half of its people living in poverty. Dhaka is known as a city of mosques. About 90% of the inhabitants are Muslim.
Bangladesh was initially a secular state (like India) from 1971-1988, but then it became a Muslim state. Until recently, its moderate version of Islam was a model for the world. But political Islam is increasingly influential throughout the country. The city is becoming a haven for radicalized Muslims seeking to rule the country in accordance with Islamic law.
The majority of the officially recognized Christians in the country are from Hindu and tribal backgrounds, including approximately 7% in Dhaka, who are concentrated in a few Christian “ghettos.”
In general, ministry is moving positively forward but much slower than hoped. Of the 120 or so evangelical ministries in the country, only about 30 are focused on Muslims. It has only been since 2000, when the Bible was translated into Muslim idiomatic Bengali, that ministry among Muslims started bearing significant fruit. Even so, there are thought to be fewer than a thousand Muslim background believers among Dhaka’s 20 million people.
Bangladesh is relatively secular and open for Christian ministries, but officials frown on foreigners working with Bengali Muslims. There have been efforts to share the Gospel through media, but with very little response. Persecution from the Muslim community is much less in Dhaka, since there is much less sense of community than in other areas. Secularism and consumerism are the biggest threats to faith in Dhaka.