A Brief Reflection On The History of The Muslims of Bengal

In The Name of Allaah, The Most Merciful, Ther Bestower of Mercy.

On their part the Muslim rulers, in consonance with the spirit of Islam, followed a policy of religious tolerance and granted perfect freedom of belief to the people. There is no reference in the sources of any of the rulers having ever attempted to impose Islam by force on any of the conquered people. From the very beginning Islam was left to itself to make its mark on the people through persuasion and understanding. [Ref 1]

The simple concept of monotheism and the principles of equality and brotherhood of man enunciated by Islam came as a revolutionary force to the caste – ridden and Brahman-dominated Hindu society. The very establishment of Muslim rule in the country divested the Brahman class of its privileged and domineering position in society. Muslims could not and did not have to distinguish between the ” high ” and “low” castes of the Hindus and in course of time placed all of them on an equal footing in respect of employment and education.  Non – Brahman Hindus acquired a respectable position in society through education, state employment and literary activities patronized by the Muslim rulers. [Ref 2]

Even many small traders and the artisan classes like the weavers, paper and salt manufacturers and fishermen had a sound base in agricultural lands and spent a part of their time in agricultural pursuits. Purely landless labourers were very few, and even they were engaged in various professions.  According to Rennel at least 30,000 people were constantly employed as boatmen on the Bengal Rivers by the middle of the 18th century.

Secondly, throughout the centuries, the country had a big surplus in food and cloth, the two most important necessitates of life, which were produced in abundance and which formed the chief items of the country’s export trade. Almost each family in the rural areas produced sufficient rice, if not more, to meet its needs. Each family had also its vegetable gardens, and cattle and fowl stocks, or little family dairy farms, so to say, for rearing meat, milk and egg. This was in addition to the fruit trees, specially coconut and betel – nut trees that form an essential part of every homestead in the southern districts. Similarly fish was available in almost legendary abundance. [Ref 3]

Some of the Sultans like Shams al-Din Yusuf Shah, for instance, used to call the Ulama to his presence from time to time, had consultations with them and urged them to be impartial in the discharge of their duties. Another ruler, Sulaymaan Karrani, used to hold a meeting every morning with 150 Shaikh’s and Ulama after which he transacted other affairs of state. [Ref 4]

Although in general the Muslims of Bengal followed the injunctions of Islaam, certain innovations and Un-Islamic practices were prevalent among them, particularly later in the period. The existence of such innovations and superstitions have too often been explained as a result of Bengal Muslims’ being mostly converts from Hindus etc who are said to have retained many of their previous Un-Islamic beliefs and practices.  Such a view is clearly superficial. A little closer look would at once show that the innovations and superstitions that are noticeable among the Muslims of Bengal were in large measure imported by the immigrant Muslims themselves, though these received further accretions from local Un-Islamic beliefs and practices. Of the innovations that definitely came along with the immigrant Muslims and that which was the most far-reaching in its effects and influence was Sufism. There is a considerable literature on the subject in various languages, and it not necessary here to enter into the academic debate as to whether Sufism grew out of European or Indian influences. Suffice to note here that Islam does not countenance asceticism and mysticism. Yet from the second century of its history these two trends made their inroads into the ranks of the Muslims and in course of time there came into being a class of mystics known as Sufis. [Ref 5] Read here, ‘The Origin of Grave Worship and Other Deviants: https://salaficentre.com/2020/05/exposed-and-rebutted-some-deviants-from-the-early-days-of-islaam-munaafiqoon-heretics-fabricators-of-hadeeth-story-tellers-etc/

The prosperity of the country was due in a considerable measure to the extension of agriculture by reclaiming virgin lands and making new settlements on them. Before the coming of the Muslims vast tracts of alluvial lands, especially in the southern regions, were still covered forests. The attention of the new comers was directed to the reclamation of these lands partly for the purpose of settling immigrants who poured into the country from time to time, and partly for increasing its agricultural out – put by bringing more of those fertile tracts under cultivation.  The work seems to have been undertaken quite early in the period, though the exact time and the areas involved are not known, for its salutary effects were observed in the first half of the fourteenth century. A Chinese account of 1349-50 states: “These people owe all their tranquillity and prosperity to themselves, for its source lies in their devotion to agriculture whereby a land originally covered with jungle has been reclaimed by their unremitting toil in tilling and planting.” [Ref 6]


Ref 1: History of The Muslims of Bengul Vol 1B page 733. Publisher: Imam Muhammad Bin Sa’ud University. First Edition 1406H/1985

Ref 2: History of The Muslims of Bengul Vol 1B page 805. Publisher: Imam Muhammad Bin Sa’ud University. First Edition 1406H/1985

Ref 3:Source: History of The Muslims of Bengul Vol 1B page 959. Publisher: Imam Muhammad Bin Sa’ud University. First Edition 1406H/1985

Ref 4: History of The Muslims of Bengul Vol 1B page 726. Publisher: Imam Muhammad Bin Sa’ud University. First Edition 1406H/1985

Ref 5: Source: History of The Muslims of Bengal Vol 1B page 799-800. Publisher: Imam Muhammad Bin Sa’ud University. First Edition 1406H/1985]

Ref 6: History of The Muslims of Bengal Vol 1B pages  931-932 Publisher: Imam Muhammad Bin Sa’ud University. First Edition 1406H/1985]

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