Sufism in Bangladesh
From the beginning of the thirteenth up to the fourteenth centuries, the Sufis of Northern India predominated over the Sufis of Bengal. During this time, their (Northern Indian Sufis') deputies were sent to the Bengali people. It is generally said that establishment of Muslim rule was instrumental in bringing the faith of Islam and its civilisation in this country. This statement is only partially true but it was Sufis who were the real torch-bearers of Islamic faith in Bengal. Their real influence on Bengal began to be continuously felt from the very inception of the thirteenth century AD.
There may be a question, impelled by what motives the Sufis of Northern India and other foreign countries first turned their attention to Bengal? We do not exactly know. But, it can be precisely said that intention of preaching their faith - Islam -among unbelievers was the main aim which impelled them to leave their hearth and home for Bengal. With this view they came to our country often quite alone and preached Islam throughout their lives under circumstances. The earliest Sufis' attempts to proselytism began under very unfavourable circumstances: the country was under the rule of Hindu ruler. It is, therefore, interesting to mention here a few causes that contributed to the success of the proselytising mission of the Sufis.
Firstly, indomitable zeal, uncommon piety and widely believed miracles possessed by the Sufis of the thirteenth up to the sixteenth centuries AD were the first group of causes of the success of Sufi mission in Bengal. Their zeal was so great that it was not curbed or cheeked by personal losses, regal tyranny and even assassination. They all led a very pious and simple life; comfort and pleasures of life they shunned and all kinds of worldly bonds they cut off. In this way, they dedicated their lives for the cause of Islam and for the service of humanity.
Secondly, permanent establishment of Muslim rule in Bengal and the liberal and munificent patronage extended to the Sufis by the sultans were the other causes that contributed to the success of the Sufi proselytising in Bengal.
Thirdly, at the time when Sufis came over to this country Buddhism and Hinduism were two prominent religions of Bengal. During the time of Palas kingdom, Buddhism was the state religion. After the ruin of Buddhist kingdom, Hindu Sen dynasty established their kingdom. The followers of Buddhist religion were suppressed and oppressed by Hindu king. They were bound to convert in Hindu faith. Among the Hindu followers were four types viz Brahman, Khaitrya, Baisshya and Sudra. The lower types of Hindus were oppressed by higher type.
While the social and religious condition of the people was such, the Sufis came here carrying with them the message of Islam. Islam is ever famous for its strong monotheistic belief in God, and for its theoretical and practical teachings of universal brotherhood. Islam sufficiently possesses those qualities which can easily satisfy spiritual cravings of the masses. When the continuous activities of the Sufis, their inherent qualities, were made familiar to the masses, who were already groaning under social tyranny and sufferings from the agony of spiritual yearnings of soul, they gathered round the saintly preachers known as the Sufis and readily changed their old faith to the new one. The Muslims hardly made any distinction between a convert Muslim and a born Muslim. Only the change of faith at once offered the masses a golden opportunity to raise their social status to the status of their rulers, the Muslims, and to satisfy their hearts by the adoption of a simple and easily understandable creed like Islam.
During the period of Indian predominance over the Muslims of Bengal, a number of Sufi orders and sub-orders were introduced into Bengal. Among these orders Suhrawardi order of India had the credit to be the first Sufi order that was introduced to Bengal by Shayekh Jalaluddin Tabarizi in 1225 AD. He came to Bengal just on the eve of the Turkish conquest of this country. He converted a number of Hindus mostly belonging to lower castes. The last Hindu king built for him a mosque and a khanqah at Pandua but we exactly do not know, whether he left any reputed spiritual successor behind him. The next great saint of this order was Makhdum Jahaniya Mujarrad-i-yamani.
In the wake of Suhrawardi order, Chisti Sufis entered into Bengal to preach Islam. The first Sufi of this order was Shayekh Fariduddin Shakarganj in 1296 AD. His field of activities was in Eastern Bengal. When he was preaching in Eastern Bengal, another saint of this order named Abdullah Kirmani was active in Western part of Bengal. The third great saint of this order was Shayekh Akhi Sirajuddin Badayuni in 1357 AD. He was sent to Bengal by his spiritual guide Nizamuddin Awliya of Delhi for an avowed intention of propagating Islam in this country. When he died, he left behind him a long line of spiritual successors, who led aloft the banner of the Chisti order in Bengal for generation to come.
The Naqshibandi order of Indian Saints first came to Bengal during the lifetime of Mujadded-i-alf Sani. The first Sufi of this order who was introduced into Bengal was Shayekh Hamid Danishmand. The influence of the Naqshibandi on the Muslims of Bengal is of very recent origin, beginning only from the seventeenth century AD.
The next and probably the last order was the order of the Qadiri. The earliest Sufi belonging to this order was Hazrat Shah Qamis. He made many disciples in different parts of the country and his followers are known as Qamisiyah Dervishes. On his death, he was succeeded by Sayyed Abdur Razzaq.
These are the chief orders that were successively introduced into Bengal by the Sufis of the Northern India. Sufism of Bengal is a continuation of Sufism in Northern India.
Taking the general line of Sufi thought into consideration we may classify the Sufis into the following periods:
Early period: Duration of this period was from twelfth century to fourteenth century AD. This was the period of the spread of Islam in Bengal from Northern India. Almost all the Sufis of Bengal belonging to this age were the disciples of Suhrawardi and Chisti Sufi order.
Middle period: Duration of this period was from fifteenth century to seventeenth century AD. This was a period of steady consolidation of Muslim thought and of gradual accommodation of local influence in Bengal. The stimulating political atmosphere created by the independent sultans of Bengal, gave ample opportunities to Sufis to settle down permanently in various parts of the country and to come in close contact with the people. Another feature of this period was involvement of Bengali Sufis in the politics of the country.
Third period: This period was from eighteenth century to nineteenth century AD. From the latter part of the middle period signs did not want to prognosticate the early advent of this period. It was a period of decay and corrosion and of moral and spiritual degradation of the Bengali Sufis. The whole religious life of the Bengali Muslims was thoroughly affected by the environment under which it was living. The practice of Pir-murshidi was so much accentuated during this period that the whole mystic creed of the Sufis had to give way to it. Muslims began to believe that initiation to a Pir is absolutely binding on them. Such a belief gradually gave birth to a polytheistic devotion in the minds of the people and they began to give votive offerings to Pirs dead or alive.
After observing history we find four centres of Sufi activities:
Veranda centre: It is located in Maldah, Dinajpur, Rangpur, Purnima, Rajmahal and its surrounding places. This is the most important centre of Bengalis with regard to the history of its saints. It seems that the activities of the first Muslim preachers in this tract are chronicled more satisfactorily than of those in other tracts. The Sufis of this centre enhanced the prestige of the Muslims of Bengal by their piety, education, culture and activities. Most prominent Sufis of this centre are Shayekh Jalaluddin Tabarizi, Shayekh Akhi Sirajuddin Badayni, Shayekh Alauddin, Shayekh Nuruddin Qutb, Shayekh Hisam Uddin, Shayekh Rada Biyabani, Shayekh Khalil, Shayekh Shah, Shayekh Niamatullah and Shah Ismail.
Radha centre: It is located in Burdwan, Midnapur, Hugly, Birbhum and Bannkara. Sufi activities in this centre were not continuous. Only sporadic attempts were made by individual saints to proselytise the Hindu inhabitants of the localities where they settled. Most prominent Sufis of this centre were Shah Muhammad Gaznawi, Shah Abdullah, Shah Sultan Ansari, Shayekh Hamid Danishmand, Shah Mir Dhakir, Shah Saifuddin Shahid, Shah Abdullah Kirmani, Shah Zahiruddin, Haji Bahram Saqqa, Pir Badar, Shah Anwar, Shah Quli Halbi, Khwaja Anwar Shah.
Vanga centre: It is located in Mymensingh, Pabna, Bogra, Rajshahi, Dhaka, Faridpur and Barisal. From the chronological point of view, this seems to be the most ancient centre among all the Sufi centres of Bengal. Non-Indian Sufi activities are traditionally traceable in this centre from a time as early as the eleventh century AD. The number of the Sufis of this centre is a large one. From the fourteenth century AD Sufis from Northern India and many other parts of the country, began to flock to this part of Bengal. Most prominent Sufis of this centre were Shah Sultan Balkhi, Shah Sultan Rumi, Baba Adam Shahid, Shah Dawlah Shahid, Shah Jalal, Sayyidul Arifin, Shah Makhdum and Shah Ali Baghdadi.
Chattala centre: It is situated in Chittagong, Tippera, Noakhali and Sylhet. The main point of this centre was the district Chittagong, which is traditionally known as the land of twelve awliyas. Amongst these twelve awliyas, Pir Barad is generally regarded as the first and the greatest awliya, who brought the message of Islam to this remote area of Bengal. It is almost certain that twelve Sufis did not came to Chittagong together; they came to the district either in group of two or three or one by one in intervals. Most prominent Sufis of this centre were Pir Badar, Bayzid Bostami, Baba Fariduddin, Shah Badruddin, Shah Muhsin, Shah Pir, Shah Umar, Shah Badl, Chand Awliya and Shah Muakkil.
Now easily we may conclude that Sufi history in Bengal started in the eleventh century AD. It was truly a pious attempt of preaching Islam. The earliest Sufis of Bengal were so much intelligent. They observed the situation truly and preached Islam under rough circumstances. But at the age of eighteenth century, when Sufis were politically patronised, the real picture of Sufi movement was demolished. Implicit polytheism had taken place with Pir-murshidi concept.