TheRise of Islam as a Religion in Bengal Frontier
TheRise of Islam as a Religion in Bengal Frontier
Therise of Islam in the region of Bengal and its surroundings is on thetopic that is fascinating to many historians. The facts that Bengalwas originally occupied by non-Muslim communities and the eventualdiscovery of the Muslim majority in the region are amazing and worthyof further research. Study shows that Bengal was originally occupiedby followers of a traditional religion known as Sahajiyasadgana,which was initiated by Buddhists. 1Followers of Sayajiyatraditional religion avoided any type of institutional religion atall costs. In addition, the majority of the Bengal rulers, who werenon-Muslim, did not impose any form of religion to Bengal residents,not even their own religion of Buddhism. This paper will address theissue of the rise of Islam in the region of Bengal with the mainfocus on the Bengal frontiers, initiation Islam in Bengal region, thediscovery of the majority Muslim in the region, and mass conversionof Bengal residents to Islam. The reluctance of the Pala rulers toimpose their original religion, the need for favors from the Muslimrulers, and the emergence of powerful Muslim rulers were the majorfactors that facilitated the mass conversion of Bengal residents toIslam.
Bengalis one of the regions in the world that have extraordinary history.The history of the Bengal region is characterized by the existence ofseveral frontiers and mass reception of Islam compared to other partsof the world. Currently, Bengal has four major types of frontiersthat major a unique region. First, the political frontierdistinguished the territories in which the Turks and the Turkssuccessors (including governors of the empire of Mughal and
1. Dasgupta,Atis. “Islamin Bengal: Formative Period social Scientist”. SocialScientist32, no. 3 (2004): 30-40, p. 12.
Bengalsultans) garrisoned troops, minted coins, and collected revenue. 2Secondly, the Agrarian frontier establishes the boundaries betweenthe agricultural communities and forest, which was perceived to bethe natural state of Bengal prior to human attack. Third, the Islamicfrontier separated non-Muslim communities from the Muslimcommunities. The three types of frontier are superimposed to fro thefourth frontier that defines the eastward civilization of Sanskriticalong the Bengal delta. 3The existence of numerous types of frontier resulted in the labelingof Bengal as the Bengal frontier.
Theorigin of mass Islamization in Bengal
Theroad towards the domination of the Islam in Bengal can be traced tothe thirteenth century, when Turkish chieftains ousted the Senadynasty that had ruled the Bengal region for centuries. The Turkishchieftains were accompanied by Muslim groups (includingadministrators, literati, orthodox, long-distance traders, andmaulavis among others. 4These immigrants intended to populate and establish a political powerin a given region (Bengal in this case) because they could not fairwell with non-Muslim population governed by non-Muslim Sultan.Disagreements about the share of revenues between the Muslimdominated regions and non-Muslim dominated regions increased thedemand for the establishment of an imperial authority in Bengal.Eventually war broke and the Muslim leaders managed to acquire theBengal regions and
2.Eaton, Richard, M. Therise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier 1204-1760.Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996, p. 2.
4.Dasgupta, Atis.“Islamin Bengal: Formative Period social Scientist”. SocialScientist32, no. 3 (2004): 30-40, p. 31.
achievedtheir goal of establishing a centralized and universal Arabcaliphate. 5The Muslim leaders believed that people must be made to recognize andpay attention to Islamic followers and their interaction with textsthat founded the religion, paving way for continued increase in theMuslim population I the region. 6.7This motivated them to hold strongly to their belief and attract moreresidents into Islam.
Thediscovery of the Muslim majority in Bengal
Initially,it was generally perceived that many people in Bengal registeredthemselves as Muslims to avoid the punishment for failure to paytaxes. However, a series of census indicated that there was an actualrise in the number of true Muslims. The 1872 census provided the mostreliable statistics indicating the distribution of the Muslimcommunity in Bengal and the surrounding regions. This censusindicated that Muslim communities were highly concentrated in easternBengal, Northwest frontier, western Punjab, and Baluchistan. 8Thecensus revealed that the Muslim population in remote districts ofeastern Bengal had risen to 70 % and nearly reached 80 % in the BograDistrict and 32 % in both Assam and Bengal as a whole. 9and 10.In essence, the census indicated that the Muslim
5.Endress, Gerhard. Islam:An historical introduction.Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2002, 152.
6.Uddin, Sufia, M. ConstructingBangladesh: Religion, ethnicity, and language in an Islamic nation:Religion, ethnicity, and language in an Islamic nation.Oakland: University North California Press, 2006, p. 6.
7.Lewis, Davis. Bangladesh:politics, economy and civil society.Berkeley:Cambridge University Press, 2010, p. 25.
8.Eaton, Richard, M. Therise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier 1204-1760.Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996. P. 56.
10.Sengupta, Parne. Pedagogyfor religion: Missionary education and the fashioning of Hindus andMuslims in Bengal.Berkeley. Cambridge University Press, 2011, p. 131.
wasthe fastest growing population in the Bengal region. The Muslimcommunity occupied the delta plains of Bengal and avoided thecapital.
Theoriesof conversion of Bengal residents to Islam
Althoughthere many theories have been put forward trying to explain the highrate of Islamization in the region of Bengal, only two of them aremore convincing. The first presumption is based on the theory of massconversion, which holds that the high rate of increase in thepopulation of Muslims in Bengal resulted from massive conversion ofthe Bengal resident. This theory was put forward by Henry Beverly,who states that the conversion of a large number of formerinhabitants of Bengal, who upheld Hinduism, was the primary cause ofthe high rate of Islamization in regions of Bengal. 11This theory opposes the perspectives other theories (such as theimmigration theory) and supports older perspectives, such as thetheory of Social Liberation. Mass conversion also takes account ofthe use of military force to compel the residents of Bengal to upholdthe principles of Islamic religion.
Thesecond theory of conversion that gives a more reasonable explanationis the Patronage theory. This theory holds that the Indian and peoplefrom other races who resided in Bengal converted to Islam to accessnon-religious benefits from the regional religious class. 12Some of the common benefits that the converts expected to receivefrom the Muslim rulers who had conquered Bengal include promotion inthe leadership rank, retention of the ancestral land, and relief frompaying taxes. This gives a
11.Eaton, Richard, M. Therise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier 1204-1760.Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.
betterexplanation as to the reason for the lower rate of conversion in theIndian mainland where leaders were non-Muslim compared to Bengalregion that went under the Islamic regime through conquest. Inaddition, the large number of natives who were employed by the Muslimrulers had to embrace Islam or integrate the Muslim culture intotheir daily lives to retain their jobs. In essence, the need toacquire favors from the oppressive and discriminating Muslim rulerspressured many residents to embrace Islam.
Thereluctance of the non-Muslim leaders to impose the original Buddhism,desire to acquire favors from the Muslim leaders, and forcedconversion were the major factors that contributed towards the rapidincrease in the Muslim population in Bengal. Bengal frontier wasoriginally occupied by non-Muslim communities most of them beingBuddhists, but the Muslim community dominated the region and tookover the leadership positions. Although the Turkish Chieftains cometo Bengal in peace, the desire to establish a political imperialpower led by the Muslim leaders provided an opportunity for Islam toflourish as compared to other religions. The conversion of theresidents of Bengal can be explained using the forced conversion andthe Patronage theory.
Dasgupta,Atis. “Islamin Bengal: Formative Period social Scientist”. SocialScientist32, no. 3 (2004): 30-40.
Eaton,Richard, M. Therise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier 1204-1760.Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.
Endress,Gerhard.Islam: An historical introduction.Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2002.
Lewis,Davis. Bangladesh:politics, economy and civil society.Berkeley:Cambridge University Press, 2010.
Sengupta,Parne. Pedagogyfor religion: Missionary education and the fashioning of Hindus andMuslims in Bengal.Berkeley. Cambridge University Press, 2011.
Uddin,Sufia, M. ConstructingBangladesh: Religion, ethnicity, and language in an Islamic nation:Religion, ethnicity, and language in an Islamic nation.Oakland: University North California Press, 2006.