Greetings! I dont know if this is the right place to post this, but I am interested about what countries or regions were mainly Buddhist or had large Buddhist populations in the past which are today majority Muslim countries,
Roughly speaking, of course Bangladesh as you will know, but also Pakistan and Afghanistan would have been highly populated by Buddhists. Most of the Turkish countries, the "stans" as you say, would have had considerable Buddhist populations too.
and how that came to be. I am very interested in Bangladesh (where my wife is from, Sylhet specifically), Pakistan, Afghanistan, and various other "stan" countries. Thank you!
It's a complex issue and not black and white. Clearly Islam had a large part to do with it, since most of the areas that were majority Buddhist in South and Central Asia are now majority Muslim -- there's obviously something about Buddhism as opposed to Hinduism that made it easier to convert.
But there are also many other complex factors internal to Buddhism itself and in relation to Hinduism. There are two recent books on the topic that use the most recent research, that I have yet to read, so I can't summarize their arguments for you. But both are available for order online.
One has generally bad reviews:
Sarao, K.T.S. Decline of Buddhism in India: A Fresh Perspective
. Philadelphia: Coronet Books, 2012.
Description on Amazon:
It is almost impossible to provide a continuous account of the near disappearance of Buddhism from the plains of India. This is primarily so because of the dearth of the archaeological material and the stunning silence of the indigenous literature on this subject. Interestingly, the subject itself has remained one of the most neglected topics in the history of India. In this book apart from the history of the decline of Buddhism in India, various issues relating to this decline have been critically examined. Following this methodology, an attempt has been made at a region-wise survey of the decline in Sind, Kashmir, northwestern India, Bengal, Orissa and Assam, followed by a detailed analysis of the different hypotheses that propose to explain this decline. This is followed by author's proposed model of decline of Buddhism in India.
And the other generally good reviews:
Verardi, Giovanni. Hardships and Downfall of Buddhism in India
. Delhi: Manohar, 2011.
Description on Amazon:
Buddhism originated as an atinomial system, facing the opposition of both vaidika and theistic Brahmans, who socially identified themselves with the agrarian world. The two models of society generated in early historical India never merged, and Buddhism was gradually and often violently reduced to impotence. It was Gupta rule the first checkmated the antinomial model of the Buddhist. Whereas in the open society traders, landowners and 'tribals' coexisted, from Gupta times onwards pressure on kings and direct Brahmanical rule led to the requistions of the land and the impositions of a varna state society.
Doctrinal debates, which soon turned into ordeals, where instrumental in the suppression of the Buddhist elite, mainly formed by intellectuals of Brahmanical descent, this being proof of a dramatic rift in the brahmanavarna. The Vajrayana, which was the Buddhist response to this state of affairs, originated and grew under Pala rule and expansionism, and was characterized by a decisive opening towards the outcast and the theorization of violence. This set off a conflict whose scope and significance are still poorly understood. It was eventually the compromise between the orthodox power and the Muslims that caused the final downfall of Buddhism. The former were obliged to transfer political power to the latter but had a free hand in social repression.
The book draws mainly on Brahmanical source, both literary and iconographic, which are abundant and insufficiently exploited, as well as on archaeological evidence, hardly ever resorted to.