|Regions with significant populations|
|Bengali with different dialects|
Bengali Muslims are ethnic natives of Bengal who are Bengali adherents of Islam, and speak the Bengali language. With a population of over 200 million, they form the single largest ethnic Muslim group in the world after the Arabs. They are largely Sunni, alongside Shia and Ahmadiyya minorities.
- 1 History
- 2 Muslim Confederacy
- 3 Preaching of Islam and Dissemination of Learning in Medieval Bengal
- 4 Diaspora
- 5 References
- 6 Bibliography
Nawab Salimullah of Dacca, who could not join the Simla Deputation because of an eye operation, took the first concrete step towards establishing a Muslim organization. in November 1906, he circulated a scheme for the formation of the Muslim All-India Confederacy. The scheme was the embryo from which the Muslim League emerged.
Bengal Society before the Advent of Islam
Before the Muslim conquest of Bengal in the beginning of the thirteenth century A.D. Bengal was ruled by the Sena dynasty, which supplanted the Pala dynasty in the last quarter of the eleventh century A.D. The Buddhist supremacy during the Pala regime was replaced by the Hindu Brahmin ascendancy during the Sena period.
The first definite evidence of the prosperity of Buddhism in Bengal is firnished by the accounts of Fa‐hien who visited India in the first decade of the fifth century A.D. But unfortunately the only place he visited in Bengal was Tamralipta, where he found twenty two monasteries with resident monks. Fa‐hien stayed there for two years, and he describes Buddhism to be in a flourishing condition in this sea port of south Bengal. About 637 A.D he gives us a fairly good idea of the condition of Buddhism in Pundravardhan and Samatata. The establishment of the Buddhist Pala dynasty in Bengal about the middle of the eighth century A.D. and the long period of Pala rule for nearly four centuries saw the heyday of Buddhism not only in Bengal but probably also over a large part of eastern India. Bengal played an important role in the international sphere of Buddhism.
The Buddhist Universities of Nalanda and Vikramsila, though not situated in Bengal, had yet close association with Bengal, because they were situated in territories which formed an integral part of the Pala Kingdom, and several eminent sons of Bengal like Silbhadra and Atish Dipankar were head of these great educational‐cum‐ religious establishments. In Bengal proper, the flourishing state of Buddhism is indicated by the establishments of a large number of famous monasteries and temples like Paharpur Bihar and Mainamati Bihar, etc. Royal patronage was extended to Buddhism between 750 and 1150 A.D. The Tibetan sources reveal that Tantric Buddhism flourished in Bengal under the Chandras and that King Gopichandra, who is associated with a particular form of mysticism, is said to have been born in the royal house of that place.
The Sena, coming from the conservative and orthodox Deccan, and upholding the Brahmanical system, were unlikely to perpetuate the social liberalism which had been encouraged during the Buddhist Pala period. The society the Senas created raised artificial barriers among peoples, high and low and thus inaugurated a social system which was diametrically opposed to the Pala society.
As a result the Buddhists fell victims to a systematic policy of persecution pursued by the Brahmans. Before the coming of the Muslims, Buddhism had been severely crippled. The persecution rose to its height in a village named Gajpur in the district of Hoogly. According to Vivekananda, the Buddhists were oppressed by Mumaril, Sankaracharja, Rananuja and Madhab to establish Brahman hegemony. Kumaril also was responsible for killing several thousands of Buddhists through the help of a King of Maharastra. “The way in which the low caste Hindus embraced Islam to escape from Brahmanical torture”, R. C. Dutt remarks, “was a sad reflection on Hinduism.” This mass conversion has also been reported by a European traveller Barbosa of the 14th century. This mass conversion to Islam took place obviously to escape from the tortures of the Brahmans and to enjoy the fruits of Islamic equality and justice. The Buddhists and the lower caste Hindus hailed the Muslim conquest of Bengal as deliverance from the high caste Hindu domination and persecution. That Buddhists in large number preferred Islam to Hinduism was because of the liberal and tolerant spirit of Islam, which accorded equal dignity and opportunities to the new converts along with its old votaries. This equality was unthinkable in Hindu society. That is why the Buddhists became inclined to Islam and their affinity with the Muslims in respect liberal outlook brought them closer to Islam.
Ibn Batutah, the fourteenth century Muslim traveller, in his account of Ceylon, writes about the Buddhists that they show respect for Muslim dervishes, lodge them in their houses and give them to eat, they live in their houses amidst their wives and children. This is contrary to the usage of the other Indian idolators who never make friends with Muslims, and never give them to eat or to drnk out of their vessels.
The Tibetan Buddhist monk Taranath who visited Bengal in the 16th century, left an account of the Brahmanical tyranny of the Buddhists in the Sena period. He observed that the persecuted Buddhists welcome the Muslims and helped Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khalji in the conquest of Bengal.
But before the advent of the Muslims in Bengal some Buddhists, to escape from the massacre, accepted Hinduism and were merged with the Hindus and gradually the original character of Buddhism underwent a change. Apart from these facts, Buddhism had been suffering since long from its own inherent drawbacks. It is generally believed that Buddhism declined because of the destruction of Buddhist monasteries of Uddandapur, Vikramsila and Nalanda by the Muslim conqueror Bakhtiyar Khalji and also on account of the withdrawal of patronage and financial assistance of the Buddhists Pala Kings after their fall. It may be argued that destruction of some monasteries cannot obviously bring about extinction of a religion. There are, of course, some strong and plausible reasons which led to the liquidation of Buddhism from Bengal and some parts of India.
Buddhism declined when it surrendered to the rituals and practices which were denounced by Buddha. And as it bowed to beliefs and practices which were not inculcated by Buddha, it became practically indistinguishable from popular Hinduism.
The germs of the destruction of Buddhism lay with itself. Buddha, himself a devout soul, renounced worldly life and took to seclusion and monastic life and he dedicated his life to the development of Sangha or monasteries. He did not try to develop a social system, nor did he formulate laws or prescribe norms applicable to everyday practical life. Secluded monastic life is not suitable for all and sundry. So, Buddhism had no peace in the life of the common people. That is why Buddhism had no strong footing among people, who were only engaged in the worship of Buddha image and relics, and when patronage of the Pala rulers was withdrawn, Buddhism was badly affected, being parasitic by nature having no strength of its own. In striking contrast Islam has been endured and embraces within its fold innumerable votaries throughout the world, in asmuch as Islam has a definite and clear code of life for the observance of Muslims. But the Buddhists have not followed any uniform pattern of life and ideal. The learned Buddhists were engaged in philosophical discussions and reflections on the problems of life, whereas the illiterate common folk gave way to worship of deities and frivolous enjoyments. A century or so before the advent of Islam in Bengal Buddhism had deteriorated into the Dharma cult, which as represented in the Sunnya Puran, shows some of the essential features of the Mahayana creed shrouded in popular superstitions. When Buddhism declined in India and the idea of a higher life, inspired by a keen sense of morality and introspection, which was the dominant spirit of Buddhism, declined in to scepticism and sensuality, mystic rituals of Tantricism ruled Buddhist and Hindu communities all over India. In this Pre--‐Chaitanya age Zantrikism degraded into wanton vices and immorality; the Barmachari Zantrikism perpetuated the most heinous crimes in the name of religion and thereby they upset the moral fabric of society. The Sahajiya cult, which maintained that sexual love was the door--‐way to salvation, debased society and both the Sahajiya Vaishnavas became extremely demoralised. According to Satindra Mohan Chatterjee, Vaishnavism gave free rein to sexual enjoyments with women other than wives, which the Vaishnavas term as ‘Parakiya prem’.
The Sahajiya cult owes its origin to the Bramachari Buddhist, and Kanhapada, a Buddhist scholar, who lived in the latter part of 10th century, was the first apostle of love songs of the Sahajiya cult in Bengal. This love is not a legitimate affair sanctioned by society with one’s wife and it could not, according to this creed, reach a high degree of perfection. D. C. Sen observes, “It goes without saying that in their earnest efforts to attain salvation by worshipping young and beautiful damsels, many a youth turned moral wrecks in this country.” It was Srichaitanya who condemned romantic sexual love, the prevailing practice of Sahajiya, and he was very strict with those who showed any imprudent tenderness towards young and beautiful women. Like Chaitanya Adwaita, Haridas and other devotees, who followed him, were unsparing in their hostile attitude to the Sahajiya Vaishnavas. In fact the Vaishanavas became debased to the extreme and produced disastrous results on the Vaishnava community.
In the context of this social, moral and religious decadence, the Muslim advent in Bengal is to be understood. In this perspective mainly the success and expansion of Islam in Bengal is quite patent and clear. There is no denying the fact that Islam found a congenial soil in India as well as in Bengal on account of the general Hindu resentment against the prevailing social structure. In Bengal the members of departed Buddhism were still hot when the Muslims came. This is recorded in the ballads and legends of this period. The Muslim conquerors came as the champions of religion or dharma, in order to rescue the masses from oppression. The ballads and legends prove that a large section of people were ready to accept or welcome the Turkish or Pathan conqueror of Bengal. This fact also explains the large proportion of Muslims in the population of Bengal, even though it was far removed from the centre of Pathan or Mughal power.
Besides Brahmanical tyranny, Islam’s demolition of artificial barriers of birth, rank, caste, colour and fortune attracted the down--‐trodden masses, who never could enjoy in practical life the benefits of equality and justice, although the Vedas and the Upanishads preached the Brotherhood of man which at best remained an article of faith, divorced from the realities of life.
“Supervisious beliefs and derogatory practices,” Sukumar Sen observes, “were slowly destroying the initative spirits of the people both high and low……The gulf between the higher and the lower classes was widening. The Muslims in fact struck a stunning blow to the self complacency of the ruling classes and of the priesthood. The Muslim rulers and particularly Sufi saints worked for the emancipation of the common people from every kind of bondage and for inter--‐racial harmony and concord. In consequence a healthy and broad outlook of life pervaded the minds of the people and the whole society was morally and ethically elevated. “There are many evidences to prove,” D. C. Sen observes, “that in the earlier days of Mohammedan conquest, the Hindus tried to assimilate the best elements of Islam in their religion. Some of the Mohammedan Pirs and Fakirs especially a band of Aulia who came from Arabia, Iran and other Muslim regions lent their support in bringing about this happy union in the 15th and 16th centuries.”
About the role of the Sufis in creating understanding between Hindus and Muslims in their country, Atindra Nath Bose observes, “Islam knocked on the western gates of India, and the Sufis, inspired by the Islamic idea of equality, came as the torch bearers of a liberal folk philosophy……Their spirit was free from these superstitions and rigidities which caused stagnation among the classical Indian and Islamic schools. Against the sterility of the orthodox systems, the new popular appeals awakened a fresh spiritual fervour and let loose great creative power which so long lay dormant. A new philosophy grew up based on the material of human values, it trusted in latent divinity of the human soul in universality of love, and in the dynamic power of mention. It released powerful spiritual energy hitherto pent up by social barriers among the dumb millions of the soil…”
Regarding the advent of the Muslim mystics in India and the impact their doctrine and teaching produced on Indian society and life, Rabindranath Tagore said, “The simple doctrine of Fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man, the Mohammedans introduced in India appears to have stirred the people to its depths, for we found in ithe fourteenth century in almost every part of India religious reformers rose in protest against the dry intellectualism of the Brahmanic orthodoxy ..…..and the poets of the age poured out emotions, social and religious in language which is as simple as it is fervent.
Partitions of Bengal
Bangladesh War of Independence
Preaching of Islam and Dissemination of Learning in Medieval Bengal
Bengal comprising modern Bangladesh and West Bengal of India was considered an important part of Eastern India in the medieval period. The time span of medieval period can be taken here tentatively from the beginning of the 13th century to the third quarter of the 16th century A.D. Before the advent of the Muslims in this land no ruler had connoted Bangala or Bengal in the sense of a country. It was then divided into so many Janapadas or principalities over which the rulers of various dynasties ruled. It was sultan Shams al Din Ilyas Shah (1339 1358 A.D.) who united all the administrative divisions of Lakhnawati, Satgaon and Sonargaon and various Janapadas into a compact country which became widely known as Bagala or Bengal in later times. Bengal connoted as country in medieval period consisted of a vast expanse of land from the Teliagarhi pass in the west to Chittagong in the east and from the foot of the Himalayas in the north to the Bay of Bengal in the south. It is discernable that from the time of yore Bengal had been an important region of Indian sub- continent, and her affluences arrested the attention of the foreigners and travelers to land in, and in many cases to make habitation in various parts of her soil. Enormous archaeological remnants of ancient and medieval times scattered over this land bear witness to this fact. Following the age long tradition of influx the Muslims availed the opportunity of entering into Bengal with the peace mission of Islam and rich cultural heritage.
Advent of Islam
On an analysis of the available sources we may surmise that Islam penetrated into this sub-continent by three groups of people- traders, the missionaries i.e. ulama- mashaikh and the conquerors. The first two groups paved the ground for permanent footing of Islam in this soil. The sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (sm) “Ballighu anni wa law aya” (communicate from me even though it may be a single message) and “fal yuballighu al- shahid al –ghaib” (those present here should convey to those who are absent) imbibed the votaries of Islam to preach the teachings of Islam to the people of other lands than those of theirs. Moreover, the Prophet(sm) offered the good tiding of the conquest of India by his followers, and he assured them the reward for the endearvours they made in such enterprise. Bengal could not be excluded from such tiding of the Prophet. In this connection it is to be mentioned here that three distinct phases could be noticed in the preaching of Islam along with the expansion of Muslim rule in the Indian sub-continent.
The first phase began from the time of the four pious caliphs (632-661 AD) especially of Hazrat Uthman(644-656) and ended in the reign of the Umayyad caliph al-Walid b. Abdul Malik (705-715) with the conquest of Sind and Multan by Muhammad b. Qasim al-Thaqafi in 712 A.D. The Muslim emissaries put their foot in the various parts of this vast country especially of her north western regions. The seventeen times` military expeditions of sultan Mahmud of Ghazna to this subcontinent in between 1000-1030 AD can be considered the second phase regarding politico-cultural and Islam’s contact with this land. The impact of these expeditions extended to Kanuj in the east and Gujrat in the south, thus introducing the ideals and egalitarian spirit of Islam to the people of this area. The third phase started with the second battle of Tarain in 1192 AD when sultan Muiz al- Din Muhammad b. Sam better known as Muhammad Ghuri defeated the combined forces of the Hindu rulers headed by Prithviraj and established permanently the Muslim rule in India with Delhi as capital. In this third phase Ikhtiyar al- Din Muhammad Bakhtiyar Khalji led his military expedition to Lakhnawati kingdom of eastern India and defeating the Sena king Laksmana Sena established the Muslim rule in this part in 1204 AD. Thenceforth the preaching of Islam made a great stride through its various organs over this land.
Nature and Stages of Preaching and Dissemination
There is a moot question whether the Muslims had contact with Bengal in any form either for preaching Islam or for carrying business transaction before the military conquest of Muhammad Bkhtiyar khalji in the first quarter of the 13th century AD. The scholars are not unanimous on this point. Now let us consider various factors in this regard and come to an agreeable opinion. It is presumed that the Arab Muslims had their trade relation with the people of the East especially of China, possibly from the 7th century AD. It is known from the accounts of the early Arab geographers that Arab merchants, in their eastward voyages, some times broke their journey at ports of Samondar, Orashin, the corruption of Roshang or Rokhang, the old name of Arakan and Abina identified with Burma. In some accounts Kamrun or Kamru identified with Kamrupa is mentioned in the countries of the east. The accounts of the Arab geographers are not clear to locate the distance of some places with accuracy. Hence the schorars differ one another in the identification of the term Samondar mentioned in their accounts. A.H. Dani locates Samondar on the confluence of the Meghna river identifies the island described by al-Idrisi as being at a distance of one day’s journey from Samondar with Sandipa. A.Rahim holds the view substantiated with further arguments and describes Sandipa as a flourishing commercial port in the early period. A. Karim differs with them and takes Chittagong to be the Samondar port of the early geographers. He strengthens his view with convincing arguments. The mention of Sudkawan by Ibn Batutah as the coastal city and its identification with Chittagong by the scholars reveal the fact that Chittagong occupied a pivotal position for the landing of the Arab merchants in their eastward voyages. Though opinions differ among the scholars as to the identification of the Samundar, it is clear that Arab merchants hat their commercial contact with the ports and coastal regions of Bengal from the mouth of Meghna to Coxes Bazar in the 8th and 9th centuries AD. It is possible that ulama-mashaikh and preachers came with them in their voyages and settled in the regions of their landing. Chittagong was named as port grande or the great port by the Portuguese for its flourishing sea port. Likewise Satgaon named as porto piqueno or the small port in the south-west of Bengal and later on Hugli as porto piqueno in the same direction attracted the attention of the merchants for their merchandise enterprises. With them invariably came the ulama-mashaikh and saintpreachers to spread the Islami Da`wah among the people of this land. From all these citations it may be presumed that Islam started penetrating in the cities and ports of the coastal areas of Bengal and other adjoining countries from the 8th and 9th centuries of the Christian era. It is, therefore reasonable to hold that before the conquest of the land in the early 13th century AD the traders and missionaries were credited for preaching and expansion of Islam, and also for the evolving of Islamic society in the sea-girt areas of eastern India.
What about the contact of Islam with main and hinter land of Bengal? In order to clarify this point we are to into consideration the numismatic and circumstantial factors. First, the discovery of a silver coin (dirham) of the Abbasid caliph Harun. al- Rashid ( 786 -809 AD ) dated A.H. 172 / 788 AD at Paharpur (greater Rajshahi district) and some other Arab coins of the same period unearthed at Mainamati( Comilla ) have led us to presume that the merchants or the saint-preachers had come to the hinter land of Bengal in the 8th or the 9th century AD.To add to it if ‘mulk Ruhmi` or ‘Darhami` of the merchant Sulayman meant the kingdom of Dharmapala it would seem that the coming of the Muslim merchants or preachers to this land fell in the time Dharmapala (770-810 AD ) was not improbable. Because the Muslims as horse-dealers were not possible unknown to the people of this region. The accounts of Minhaj Siraj bear indirect testimony to this fact. It is known that Muhammad Bakhtiyar Khalji with eighteen horsemen seemed to the city guards of Laksmana Sena to be the merchants displaying their horses for sale. It is, therefore, not unreasonable to presume that the merchants of Turkish or Persian origin had traversed the important towns and commercial places of the hinter land of Bengal even before the military occupation. The foundation of khanqat by Muhammad Bakhtiyar Khalji and his nobles just after conquest of this land indicates the existence of the Sufis and preachers even before the conquest. The story of Makhdum Shaykh Jalal al-Din Tabrizi as narrated in Sek Subhodaya reminds us of the preaching of Islam at the time of Laksmana Sena before the conquest of Muhammad Bakhtiyar Khalji. Though we may not subscribe fully to the narration of Sek Sbhodaya regarding Jalal al- Din Tabrizi,hi his tomb at Deotala named Tabrizabad is indicative of his work over northwestern portion of this land. Mahisun identified with Mahisantosh, Deotala and Narkuti identified with Natore are stated to have been the important centers of the different Sufi orders at the initial period Muslim conquest. These indirect evidences show that the connection of Islam with land even before the military occupation of Muhammad Bakhtiyar Khalji. This may be termed as the initial stage regarding the contact of Islam with the hinter land of Bengal.
The second stage for the preaching of Islam and the nourishment of Islamic culture started with the foundation of Muslim rule in Bengal at beginning of the 13th century AD. The Muslim rule over this area began with the conquest of Muhammad Bakhtiyar Khalji in 1204 AD and ended in the catastrophic fall of Nawab Siraj ud- Dawla at battle of Plassey in 1757 AD. This long period is divided into Sultanate period and Mughal period. The former begins with the conquest of Lakhnawati kingdom in 1204 AD and ended with the fall of Daud Khan Karrani in 1576 AD. The latter begins from that year and ends with the battle plassey in 1757AD. Under the direct patronization of the Muslim rulers sultans the masajid ( mosques ), madaris ( educational seminaries ) and khanqat ( seat of religious divines ) considered to be the luminaries for the spread of Islamic beliefs and practices, were founded in the capital cities, strategic places and other stations of the country. In the chronicles and the epigraphs of Bengal sultans from the time of conquest in 1204 to her annexation with the Mughal empire 1757 AD we can trace a good number of mosques which provided arrangement for imparting religious learning and other essentials of Islam besides retaining the places of accommodation for salat[Ref] or daily congregational and weekly prayers.
These mosques played a vital role for the spread and expansion of Islam in Bengal in the period under study. The Imams in the mosques besides leading five times’ prayer a day and the weekly Jum’ah prayer delivered religious sermons to the audience who communicated them to the absentees. In this way the teachings of Islam reached to the multitudes of people of the area of our study. In the same way the madaris or theological seminaries were considered to be the rendezvous where the learners met together, and getting proper theological training worked for the spread of Islam among the masses. Contemporary epigraphical sources relate to a great number of such madrasahs where the primary and advanced learning of Islam were imparted to the students. They, on getting proper religious education, spread far and wide of the country and motivated to the teachings of Islam. On inscriptional evidences it is held that a madrasah built at Triveni in the Hoogly district in the reign of Rukn al Din Kaykaus (1291-1301 AD) by Qadi Nasir in 1298 AD and another madrasah under the name of Darul khairat or the house of benevolence built in the same locality in the time of Shams al Din Firuz Shah (1301-1322 AD) by Khan Jafar Khan in 1313[Ref] provided religious education to the learners and worked for the expansion of Islam among the people of the Satgaon region i.e. south-western Bengal. Likewise in the Lakhnawati region i.e. north-west Bengal along with the territories of Bihar the Darasbari madrasah[Ref] of the time of sultan Sham al-Din Yusuf Shah (1474-1481 AD), Belbari madrasah[Ref] of the time of `Ala al-Din Husayan Shah(1493-1593 AD) and Bagha madrasah[Ref] of time of Nasir al-Din Nusrat Shah( 1519-1531 AD) played a pivotal role in the spread and expansion of Islam among the masses.
In the same way the madrasah at Mahison identified with Mahisantosh ( greater Rajshahi district) built by Mawlana Taqi al-Din al-Arabi in the hinter land of Bengal attracted the students from the various parts of the country and thereby helped greatly to acquaint the people with the fundamental beliefs and practices of Islam. In this list is added the name of Mawlana Sharaf al-Din Abu Tawwama, an inhabitant of Bukhara who came to eastern India in about 1281 AD, settled down at Sonargaon in east-Bengal and built a khanqah and an Academy for learning in the city.[Ref] Religious as well as secular sciences were taught and studied in the great educational seminaries of Mahisantosh and Snargaon. These Academies for learning produced illustrious sages and scholars in various branches of human knowledge. These institutions earned great fame as seats of learning in eastern India, and to these academies the students from all over the sub-continent flocked together to receive training in all subjects Islamic learning. Thus they rendered valuable services in producing scholarly people by whom expansion of Islam was possible in every nock and corner of the country. During the reign of sultan Nasir al-Din Mahmud Shah( 1442-1459AD ) Ulugh Khan Jahan[Ref] an area administrator shared to build mosques and academic resorts in the Khalifatabad region i.e. southern Bengal, and they played significant role for the spread of Islam and dissemination of learning in the area of southern Bengal.
In the third stage for the spread and expansion of Islam in eastern India may be noted the endeavours of the individual persons and eminent preachers who, either founding the Islamic seminaries or giving religious sermons to the people, persuaded them to enter the fold of Islam. For instance the name of Taqi al –Din al-Arabi and Abu Tammam as founders of religious academies in Mahisantosh and Sonargaon, and the name Qadi Rukn al-Din Samarqandi[Ref] and Imamzada Jalal al-Din son of Jamal al- Din, an inhabitant of Firuzkuh[Ref] as Islamic scholars and debaters may be mentioned for the expansion of Islam and dissemination of learning at the initial period of Muslim rule in this part of the sub-continent. In the very inaccessible places of the country among the masses steps in different forms were taken by the competent individuals for the spread of education and learning which proved beneficial at large. In view of above discussion we may come to this proposition that the merchants, the missionaries i.e. ulama-mashaikh, the rulers their deputies eminent scholar-speakers did their best for the spread and expansion of Islam and the dissemination of learning as well in the period of our study in Bengal.
South Asian Bengalis who worked in sea ports in the British colonies were the first among the wave of immigrants to the United States from South Africa and other British territories. Despite restrictions and reprisals by U. S. immigration authorities, many South Asian men worked in the service industry, alongside African Americans and other people of color, as factory workers, dishwashers and doormen. By the 1930s and 1940s, a number of Indian restaurants in Harlem in New York City, were started and operated by Bengali Muslim men and prosperred.
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