Sufism in Bangladesh is more or less similar to that in the whole Indian subcontinent. India, it is claimed, is one of the five great centers of Sufism, the other four being Persia (including central Asia), Baghdad, Syria, and North Africa. Sufi saints flourished in Hindustan (India) preaching the mystic teachings of Sufism that easily reached the common people, especially the spiritual truth seekers in India. Sufism in Bangladesh is also called pirism, after the pirs or teachers in the Sufi tradition (also called Fakir).
The Sufism tremendously influenced local population and thus these Sufi masters were the single most important factor in South Asian conversions to Islam, particularly in what is now Bangladesh. Most Bangladeshi Muslims are influenced to some degree by Sufism. The conversion to Islam of the population of what was to become Bangladesh began in the thirteenth century and continued for hundreds of years. Muslim pirs who wandered about in villages and towns were responsible for many conversions. Academic Golam Dastagir describes some modern Bangladeshi Sufi practices as deviating from traditional Sufi teachings, and says that most Sufi orders in the country have no record of their history and spiritual lineage.
A majority of Bangladeshi Muslims perceive Sufis as a source of spiritual wisdom and guidance and their Khanqahs and Dargahs as nerve centers of Muslim society These majority of Muslims in Bangladesh are Sunni, who mainly follow the Hanafi school of thought (madh'hab).
Sufis have been subject to religious violence in Bangladesh, part of a broader pattern of violence perpetrated by Islamists against Sufis, Shias, atheists, religious minorities, liberals and foreigners.
The Sufi principles and practices of Bangladesh are completely traced to the Quran and the Hadith. The mystical expressions of the Quranic verses of the Prophet are the direct sources of Sufism. The concepts of nafs (self), zikr (remembrance), ibadat (prayer), morakaba (meditation), miraj (ascension), tajalli (divine illumination), faqr (spiritual poverty), tawhid (Unity of God), fana (annihilation) and baqa (subsistence) are all the basic sources of Sufism, as practiced in Bangladesh.
The tradition of Islamic mysticism known as Sufism appeared very early in Islam and became essentially a popular movement emphasizing worship out of a love of Allah. rather than fear. Sufism stresses a direct, unstructured, personal devotion to God in place of the ritualistic, outward observance of the faith and "a Sufi aims to attain spiritual union with God through love" An important belief in the Sufi tradition is that the average believer may use spiritual guides in his pursuit of the truth. Throughout the centuries many gifted scholars and numerous poets have been inspired by Sufi ideas.
History of Sufism
Under Brahmaic and Buddhist rule
Migrant Sufis introduced Islam to Bengal in the 12th century, during the Buddhist Pala Empire. Hinduism was also widespread in Bengal at the time, with some local rulers being explicitly Brahmanic despite being ruled by Buddhists. Bengal was also likely home to indigenous folk religions not bound by Buddhist, Brahmanic or Islamic orthodoxy; the 14th century account of Ibn Battuta describes the subjects of Fakhruddin Mubarak Shah in Sylhet as "[n]oted for their devotion to and practice of magic and witchcraft".
The 12th century Turkish-speaking migrants from Central Asia were often either led by an alp (also written alp-eren; a heroic warrior) or a Sufi teacher. Historian Richard Eaton describes these Sufi teachers as combining qualities of the alp and the pre-Islamic shaman, with the traditional Sufi hierarchy of master and disciple proving "remarkably well suited for binding retainers to charismatic leaders".
The earliest known Muslim inscription in Bengal records the construction of a khanqah by a fakir whose father was born in Maragheh, Iran. It is dated to 29 July 1221 and was found in Birbhum district (in what is now West Bengal), carved from the ruin of a Hindu temple.
Persian Sufi histories depict early Sufi as ghazis, or wagers of war against non-Muslims. Hagiographies of 14th century Sufi sheikh Jalal al-Din Tabrizi, one of the earliest attested Sufis in Bengal, describe him as destroying temples and replacing them with Sufi resting houses, and converting "infidels" to Islam. Similarly, the 15th century Shah Jalal is described as fighting and defeating "infidels". In the 1930s, orientalist Paul Wittek adopted this theme in his Gaza thesis explaining the spread of Islam and the Ottoman Empire.
More recent historians, including Richard Eaton, have argued that these hagiographies are "obviously ideological", and that original Sufis were not primarily motivated by conversion or holy war, with no Bengal Sufi or sultan calling himself "ghazi".
Similarities between Sufi thought and practice and Hinduism encouraged an inter-mingling of ideas. The tantric yoga text Amṛtakuṇḍa ("The Pool of Nectar") was translated into Arabic and Persian in the 13th century and widely circulated among Sufis in Bengal and India more widely, including with preambles that situated the work in an Islamic context. The 16th century Sufi Abdul Quddus Gangohi made use of the Amṛtakuṇḍa in his teaching.
Indo-Turkish (Sultanate) rule
Sufis took up residence in the successive capitals of Bengal, Lakhnauti, Pandua and Gaur. Typically adherents of the Suhrawardi, Firdausi or Chishti orders, these "urban Sufis" often formed a mutual patronage with temporal leaders. Drawing on an existing concept in the Persian-speaking world, urban Sufis would "predict" which prince would govern, and for how long. Richard Eaton describes this as "the implicit act of appointment" behind the "explicit act of 'prediction'". In legend, the first three rulers of the Tughlaq dynasty received turbans from the grandson of Chisti saint Fariduddin Ganjshakar, with the length of each man's turban "exactly correspond[ing]" to the length of his reign.
In the 14th century, the Chisti order dominated Sufi involvement in South Asian politics because its major shrines were located in the sub-continent, whereas the other orders looked westward. Nizamuddin Auliya's khanqah in Badayun trained sheikhs who spread throughout South Asia, including his Bengal disciple Akhi Siraj Aainae Hind. Akhi Siraj Aainae Hind's successor, Alaul Haq Pandavi, formed an alliance with Ilyas Shah as he founded the Ilyas Shahi dynasty. Chisti influence was strong during the rule of the seven sultans of the first Ilyas Shahi dynasty, although not without clashes. The second sultan, Sikandar Shah, clashed with Alaul Haq Pandavi over the amount of money he was distributing to the poor, and he may have been wary of the Sufi gaining too much power with the public. He would eventually "banish" the Sufi to Sonargaon.
When the Ilyas Shahi dynasty fell for the first time, Sufis saw Bengal as a distinctly Islamic polity defined by three centuries of Muslim rule, and a crucial part of Islam's global presence, with sheikh Nur Qutb Alam (son of Alaul Haq Pandavi) writing:
The lamp of the Islamic religion and of true guidance
Which had [formerly] brightened every corner with its light,
Has been extinguished by the wind of unbelief blown by Raja Ganesh.
When the abode of faith and Islam has fallen into such a fate,
Why are you sitting happily on your throne?
The Jaunpur sultan Ibrahim Shah was the intended target of the sheikh's letter, but it was internal dynamics that would restore Muslim rule to Bengal. The Hindu conqueror Raja Ganesha's son and successor Jalaluddin Muhammad Shah converted to Islam under Sufi influence. Jalaluddin Muhammad Shah and his son and successor Shamsuddin Ahmad Shah were disciples of Nur Qutb Alam, and the 12 sultans after them were disciples of other descendants of Alaul Haq Pandavi. Ironically given Nur Qutb Alam's letter asking him to restore Muslim rule to Bengal, Ibrahim Shah attempted to invade Bengal during the Muslim rule of Shamsuddin Ahmad Shah.
Colonial Bengal and independent Bangladesh
Reverence for the Bangla folk hero Satya Pir was identified over a hundred years ago in what is now Bangladesh. Ritual practices surrounding the figure represent a syncretic combination of Hindu and Sufi Muslim practices.
In the 20th Century, one of the most influential Sufi in Bangladesh was the Sufi saint Khwaja Yunus Ali, who developed a tripartite teaching method, "by writing", "by lecture" and "by khanqah". His followers numbered in the hundreds of thousands. A number of khanqahs are operated by his successors, including Bangladesh's largest.
Khwaja's student Maulana Hashmatullah Faridpuri, the pir of Atroshi (in Faridpur), was a Sufi teacher until his death in 2001. Disciples advance in the Atroshi tariqa by bringing in more recruits. The focus of the pir of Atroshi in developing buildings and institutions, especially a 600-bed hospital and a mosque larger than the Taj Mahal, has influenced the behaviour of other Sufi pir in Bangladesh.
Involvement in politics
Islamic rule of Bengal began with Sufi blessings, when Ghiyasuddin Iwaj Shah took power in 1208 claiming to have had the blessing of two dervishes. The Ilyas Shahi dynasty was endorsed by Alaul Haq Pandavi, and the dynasty always had a relationship of mutual patronage with Sufis of the Chishti Order.
In modern times, Sufi pir have sometimes engaged in Bangladeshi politics. Khwaja Enayetpuri was an "active supporter" of the Muslim League, although he never associated his tariqa with politics. The pir Hafizi Huzur unsuccessfully contested the Bangladeshi presidential election in 1986. The pir of Atroshi supported the freedom fighters in the Bangladesh Liberation War and in 1989 founded a political party, the Zaker Party, that was opposed to Indian influence but contested the 1991 election without success.
Academic Samuel Landell Mills identifies the increased use of physical objects in Bangladeshi Sufism over other forms of Sufism as an attempt to extend the pir's spiritual authority to a worldly one. Pir are associated with the places that they teach in, and the growth in material and stature of these places further strengthens their spiritual authority.
The Qadiri, Razzaqiah, Sureshwaria, Maizbhandaria, Naqshbandi, Chishti, Mujaddid, Ahmadia, Mohammadia, Soharwardi and Rifa'i orders were among the most widespread Sufi orders in Bangladesh in the late 1980s.
Prominent Sufi personalities in Bangladesh includes the Great Reformer Imaamut Tareeqat Allama Shaykh Sayyid Muhammad Burhanuddin Uwaysi (Rad.), Abdul Gafur Hali, Syed Ahmad Ali Urfi Jan Sharif Shah Sureshwari, Ahmed Ullah Maizbhanderi, Salekur Rahman Rahe Bhanderi, Sayed Delaor Husaein, Sayed Ziaul Haq, Syed Rashid Ahmed Jaunpuri. Sufism in Bangladesh is owed to the great saint in Bangladesh, Khwaja Enayetpuri, whose family lineage traced back to Baghdad but later on migrated to Delhi. The regular Sufi practice in many of the Khaneghahs in Bangladesh is zikr, assisted with ghazals. The participants of zikr do not perform any other sama (Suif music), qawwali, or dance. Sufism in Bangladesh is a silent and spontaneous movement. The Sufis and the Sheikhs in India and Bangladesh are believed to have shown many miracles and divine activities.
The regular Sufi practice in many of the Khanqahs in Bangladesh is zikr, assisted with Na`at. The participants of zikr do not perform any other sama (Suif music), qawwali, or dance. The only music performed with the verbal zikr is Na`at, written and sung with rhythm and melody but without any musical instrument, by the poets (performers of zikr). The anniversary of the birth and death of a Sufi pir is observed annually. Popular belief holds that this anniversary is an especially propitious time for seeking the intercession of the pir. Large numbers of the faithful attend anniversary ceremonies, which are festive occasions enjoyed by the followers of the pir as well as orthodox Muslims. Many, if not most, visit the graveside shrines (mazar) of pirs, some at least occasionally, many often, and an untold number rather regularly, throughout their lives.[full citation needed]
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The medieval 'popular' or 'syncretistic' tradition of Islam seems to be sustained by the institutions of pirs (religious leaders with miraculous powers) and mazars (tombs of the dead pirs). People regularly visit ... mazars to invoke intercession of the pirs for the acceptance of their prayers to God, and to offer votive prayers and donations.
- Begum and Ahmed 1990