Haji Shariatullah

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Haji Shariatullah
Haji Shariatullah.jpg
Born1781
Died1840
NationalityBengali
Known forFaraizi Movement
ChildrenMuhsinuddin Ahmad

Haji Shariatullah (1781–1840) was an eminent Islamic reformer of the Indian subcontinent in British India. He is known for founding the Faraizi movement. Shariatpur District is named after him.[1]

Early life[edit]

Haji Shariatullah was a prominent Islamic scholar and reformer of the Indian sub-continent during the British rule in South-Asia. He was born to Abdul Jalil Talukdar, a farmer by profession, in 1781. His family (Talukdars) were not well off and were classified into the lower socio-economic class of the Indian hierarchy system.[2] Talukdars were not educated and had farming as their generational occupation and primary source of income. The exact date or time of his birth and the name of his mother has not been mentioned by any peer reviewed historical text, but the place of his birth has been reported as Shamali, Madaripur sub-district of Faridpur district in the province of Bengal.[3] His birthplace is now a part of the modern-day Bangladesh.

           He was eight years old when his father passed away. Following that, Haji Shariatullah’s uncle Azim al-Din nurtured him in a very loving manner. Therefore, he lived a “carefree life with little concern for discipline.”[4] However, when he was about 12 years old, he ran away to Calcutta because “on a certain occasion” he was “reprimanded by his uncle”[4]. In Calcutta, he met a Quran teacher named Maulana (a title given to an Islamic scholar) Basharat Ali around the same time who allowed him to become a part of his Quran classes. Maulana had a crucial impact on the direction of his life and encouraged him to learn Arabic and Persian languages, something that would later allow him to develop a comprehensive understanding of Quran. It took him two years to become proficient in these languages.[5]

Following the learning of these languages, he headed towards Murshidabad to meet another uncle of his named Ashiq Miyan, a Murshidabad District court official. He continued to enhance his proficiency in the two languages during the twelve months he spent with his uncle. Upon his uncle and aunt’s decision to visit their native village, Haji Shariatullah decided to pay his birthplace a visit as well. As a matter of fact, he had not visited his Uncle Azim al-Din ever since he ran away at the age of twelve. Unfortunately, the small sail boat that they were in on their way to Shamali broke down when it ran into a vigorous storm. As a result, their sail boat Haji’s uncle and aunt drowned to death, but he himself was somehow lucky enough to survive the catastrophic event. However, he was so disturbed by this shocking and disturbing calamity that he changed his plan and headed back to Calcutta in order to meet his Quran teacher Maulana Basharat Ali. By that time, the Maulana had become so concerned by the British rule that he had made the decision to emigrate to Saudi Arabia, the home to Mecca and Medina which are considered as the two most holy sites according to Islamic beliefs. Haji Shariatullah also expressed his strong desire of accompanying  Maulana. Upon Haji Shariatullah insistence, Maulana allowed Haji to be a part of his emigration journey to Saudi Arabia in the year 1799. Haji Shariatullah’s first stay in Mecca lasted till the year 1818 and significantly enhanced his familiarity with Islam and impassioned him even more to enhance his knowledge and understanding about Islam. [6]

The time he spent in Saudi Arabia can be divided into three distinct phases. During the first two years, he stayed at the place of Maulana Murad, “a Bengali domicile at Makkah”[7], and studied Arabic literature and Islamic jurisprudence. The second phase was the most important and spans over a 14-year time period in which he “received guidance from Tahir al-Sumbal Makki, a Hanafi jurist”. “Tahir al-Sumbal Makki had vast and extensive Islamic knowledge and was reputed for his scholasticism as Abu Hanifa the junior. With the help and guidance of Sumbal, Haji Shariatullah studied religious sciences and Sufism. Sumbal also introduced him to Qadiriyah order of Sufism. In the third phase, Haji Shariatullah asked his respected teacher Tahir Sumbal to grant him the permission to go and study the subtilities of Islam along with philosophy (Hikmat) at the University of al-Azhar in Cairo, Egypt. It is reported that the permission was granted with reluctance “probably for fear or disapprobation of rationalism.” [8]Haji Shariatullah spent long hours at the university’s library, but it has not been confirmed if he officially enrolled in any courses at the university. “James Wise and Hidayet Hosain testify that he came back from Arabia as a good Arabic scholar and a skillful disputer.” [9]

“Having fortified himself with Islamic learning, the Haji proceeded to his home country for preaching”.[10] There he found that many of practices that the Muslims were indulging in practices that were either superstitious or influenced by Hindu beliefs. The situation was very concerning for him since he firmly believed that the then current state of Muslims was “grossly un-Islamic.”[11] Upon his return, he had a long beard (a sunnah in Islam) and wore a turban at all times, something indicative of his strong commitment to all authentic teachings of Islam. It was considered to be such an unexpected change that when he first visited his uncle Azim al-Din’s house, no one was able to identify him. Unfortunately, his uncle passed away soon after his arrival and reportedly requested him to take care of his family as he had no male heir. He then said the Maghrib prayer’s adhan (Islamic way of calling Muslims to worship Allah) and to his surprise no one showed for the prayer. He was also unable to attend his uncle’s funeral due to the disagreements he had with the local villagers on the w ay the funeral had to be conducted. At this point, to him the Islamic community in Bengal and India as a whole appeared to have been corrupted and immensely un-Islamic. These series of events encouraged him to play his role in guiding the local population of Muslims to what he believed to be the true path of Islam. His struggle of enlightening later came to be known as Faraizi Movement.

Surprisingly, he faced a lot of opposition from the elite of Muslims in Bengal who also tried to entrap him into legal matters. Following the initial failure of the Faraizi Movement, he decided to return to Makkah. It is believed that the trip took place somewhere between year 1818 and 1820. Haji Shariatullah believed that his efforts of purifying Islam had met failure because he had not formally requested permission from his teacher Tahir al-Sumbal Makki for moving ahead with this step in his life. This is clearly indicative of the impact that his teacher and spiritual leader Tahir al-Sumbal Makki had on his life, and the high degree of respect that Haji treated his mentors with. It is also reported but has never been confirmed that a turning point in his struggles for purifying Islam was a dream that he had of Muhammad during his second stay in Saudi Arabia. According to the unconfirmed accounts, Muhammad encouraged him to purify Islam in his homeland. As a result, he returned to Bengal in 1821 with much more enthusiasm and passion to guide the Muslim of Bengal than during his prior visit. This is probably one of the reasons why Faraizi Movement became popular and well known during after the year 1821 even though it was founded in 1818.

Durr-i-Muhammad describes the impact of Faraizi movement in the words “All these bidat were then abolished and the sun of Islam rose high in the sky.”[12] Hunter takes a similar stand by saying “Having arrived there Haji Shariatullah propagated (true) religion throughout Bengal.”[13] Haji Shariatullah believed that the Hindu practices of superstition had seeped into Islamic traditions and had led the Muslims astray. An example of Hindu traditions would be regularly visiting temples of people who are placed in high social or religious standing or planting a Banana tree when a woman from menstruates for the very first time.[14] Haji Shariatullah wanted the Muslims to truly focus on the teachings of Quran in a very strict and orthodox manner. He devoted the later portion of his life in effectively spreading the message of Faraizi Movement. The beliefs of Haji Shariatullah had a significant overlap with those of Wahhabism and continue to be very popular to date.[15]


[1] Khan, Moin-Ud-Din. “Haji Shari’at-Allah.” Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society11, no. 2 page 106 (April 1, 1963). http://search.proquest.com/docview/1301938794/?pq-origsite=primo

[2] Ibid. Page 106.

[3] Ibid. Page 106.

[4] Ibid. Page 106.

[5] Ibid Page 106 – 109.

[6] Ibid. Page 106-115.

[7] Khan, Moin-Ud-Din. “Haji Shari’at-Allah.” Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society11, no. 2 page 108 (April 1, 1963). http://search.proquest.com/docview/1301938794/?pq-origsite=primo

[8] Ibid.

[9] Khan, Moin-Ud-Din. “Haji Shari’at-Allah.” Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society11, no. 2 page 107 (April 1, 1963). http://search.proquest.com/docview/1301938794/?pq-origsite=primo

[10] Ibid. Page 111.

[11] Ibid. Page

[12] Durr-i-Muhammad: Puthi, p. 27.

[13] W.W. Hunter, ed.: Imperial Gazetteer of India, vol. iv, p. 339.

[14] Khan, Moin-Ud-Din. “Haji Shari’at-Allah.” Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society11, no. 2 page 112 (April 1, 1963). http://search.proquest.com/docview/1301938794/?pq-origsite=primo

[15] Khan, Moin-Ud-Din. “Haji Shari’at-Allah.” Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society11, no. 2 page 115 (April 1, 1963). http://search.proquest.com/docview/1301938794/?pq-origsite=primo

Faraizi movement[edit]

Shariatullah founded the Faraizi movement which was a religious reform movement in the 19th century for Bengali Muslims. The term Faraizi was taken from fard which means standing for compulsory and mandatory duties ordained by Allah. Shariatullah instructed his followers to assimilate every religious duty required by the Quran as well as by the Sunnah, while remaining firmly in the Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence.[5] He called for observance on the five fundamentals of Islam, insisted on the complete acceptance and strict observance of monotheism and prohibited all digressions from the original doctrines of Islam as shirk (polytheism) and bid`at (sinful conception).[1] Haji Shariatullah deemed British domination in Bengal as detrimental to the religious life of Muslims.

Haji Shariatullah was the founder of Faraizi Movement, a religious reform movement that was very popular in its time and is still very popular to date. The name Faraizi itself is reflective of the aspirations and the goals the movement intended on achieving. The word Faraizi comes from the Arabic word Fard. Its literal translation in English is “a religious obligation” and contextual translation with regards to Islam is a mandatory duty that has to be performed by the followers of Allah. One common example of a Fard in Islam would be the five obligatory prayers that every Muslim is obliged to offer at specific times. Haji Shariatullah started the Faraizi Movement with an intent to purify Islam and to fight for the rights of Muslims under the British rule. The Faraizi Movement later became a socio-economic issue when some of the elite Muslim and Hindu Zamindars tried to entrap Haji Shariatullah into legal matters upon their disagreement with the ways he was proceeding with his beliefs, especially regarding his disagreement to paying non-Islamic taxes and slaughtering of cows. After his death, the Faraizi Movement was led by Dudu Miyan, Haji Shariatullah’s only son and child.

Reception[edit]

The Faraizi movement thus began to circulate with astonishing speed in the districts of Dhaka, Faridpur, Madaripur, Barisal, Mymensingh and Comilla. Some Muslims, on the other hand, particularly the landlords of Dhaka, hence, reacted sharply against him and this caused a riot in Noyabari, Dhaka District.[1] Due to the reaction of these landlords and Hindu landlords and European indigo planters, this movement swelled into a socio-economic issue.[6]

Gradually incidents caused by the Faraizi movement could be witnessed in various parts of Bengal. The outraged landlords built up a propaganda campaign with the British officials, incriminating the Faraizis with mutinous mood. In 1837, these Hindu landlords accused Shariatullah of attempting to build up a monarchy of his own, similar in lines to Titu Mir. They also brought several lawsuits against the Faraizis, in which they benefitted dynamic cooperation of the European indigo planters. Shariatullah was placed under the detention of the police in more than one instance, for purportedly inciting agrarian turbulences in Faridpur.[1]

Death and legacy[edit]

After the death of Haji Shariatullah in 1840, leadership of the Faraizi movement passed to his only son, Muhsinuddin Ahmad popularly known as Dudu Miyan.[7]

Palong thana of Madaripur, a district in the Dhaka Division of Bangladesh was named Shariatpur District in honor of Haji Shariatullah.[8] Bangladesh issued a postage stamp commemorating him on 10 March 1993.[9] The 450 metres (1,480 ft) Haji Shariatullah Bridge over the Arial Khan River on the Mawa-Bhanga highway is named after him.[10]

“Haji Shariatullah died at his native village Shamail in 1840 at the age of 59”[1] and was buried in the backyard of his home. His grave was washed away in a flooding of his home, but his tomb inscription has been preserved by the Asiatic Society of Pakistan. remains one of the most celebrated and prominent Muslim reformers to date, especially amongst the category of those who pertain to the history of Islamic leaders in the Indian sub-continent.[2] He is very well known and acknowledged by Muslim communities of Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan with his Faraizi Movement as being the epitome of his legacy and services. Details about Faraizi Movement can be found in common school textbooks as well as in Islamic historical books.  


[1] Khan, Moin-Ud-Din. “Haji Shari’at-Allah.” Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society11, no. 2 page 126 (April 1, 1963). http://search.proquest.com/docview/1301938794/?pq-origsite=primo

[2] Ibid. Page 126.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Khan, Muin-ud-Din Ahmad (2012). "Shariatullah, Haji". In Islam, Sirajul; Jamal, Ahmed A. (eds.). Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh (Second ed.). Asiatic Society of Bangladesh.
  2. ^ Khan, Moin-Ud-Din. “Haji Shari’at-Allah.” Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society11, no. 2 page 106 (April 1, 1963). http://search.proquest.com/docview/1301938794/?pq-origsite=primo
  3. ^ Ibid. Page 106.
  4. ^ Ibid. Page 106.
  5. ^ Hua, Shiping. Islam and Democratization in Asia. Aligarh: Cambria Press. p. 160. ISBN 978-1621969006.
  6. ^ Uddin, Sufia M. (2006). Constructing Bangladesh: Religion, Ethnicity, and Language in an Islamic Nation. University of North Carolina Press. pp. 53–54.
  7. ^ Khan, Muin-ud-Din Ahmed (2012). "Faraizi Movement". In Islam, Sirajul; Jamal, Ahmed A. (eds.). Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh (Second ed.). Asiatic Society of Bangladesh. On the death of Haji Shariatullah in 1840 his only son Muhsinuddin Ahmad alias Dudu Miyan was acclaimed the head of the Faraizi movement.
  8. ^ "Haji Shariatullah". Muslim Ummah of North America. Muslim Ummah of North America. Retrieved 22 February 2015.
  9. ^ "Haji Shariat Ullah". Bangladesh Post Office. Retrieved 31 May 2015.
  10. ^ "Haji Shariatullah Bridge was inaugurated". Roads and Highways Department. Retrieved 31 May 2015.