How Buddhist Bengal Transformed into Muslim Bengal -Shaikhul Islam Imran
Buddhists were the largest ethnic group in the Eastern part of the ancient Bengal (now Bangladesh). Even this part was the safest zone for them and they prevented the Hindus more than that of the Northern part of India. With the passage of time, this predominant sector of the society had been transformed into Muslims. The question arises as to how and why these Buddhists people took a new religion distracting from Buddhism. This is an interesting discussion looking back at the events from the history.
Establishment of Buddhists dynasty-
In 756, Emperor Gopal established a Buddhist dynasty with the assistance of the several feudal leaders, the ‘Pal’ dynasty, when the society was in severe anarchy. Emperor Gopal had come to power and he effectively brought a minimum stability in the society. He ruled for a long period of 25 years and then his son, Dharmapal, took over the throne.
Gopal, Dharmapal. Debpal, Mohipal (first) and Rampal among the rulers from ‘Pal’ dynasty were famous in history. 18 rulers from the ‘Pal’ dynasty ruled Bengal and ‘Mogadh’ region (present Assam) for more than four hundred years starting 756 to 1174 until they were ended by the next Hindu Brahmin dynasty, the ‘Sen’ Dynasty.
Hindu Brahmins came to power-
The foundation of Hindu ‘Sen’ Dynasty (1097-1225) was established by the ruler Bijoy Sen. Came into power with an advantage of Feudatory revolt in the Barendra region during the ‘Pal’ ruler Mohipal (second). The ‘Sen’ rulers controlled over the whole Bengal (West and East) and their administrative functions were mainly based in West Bengal, since the West was Hindu populated.
The ‘Sen’ Rulers were Hindu Brahmin and they came from Karnataka, the south western region of India. It is not clear that how and why the Hindus came from Karnataka but it is believed that they came with an invader group from South India and got mixed with local Buddhists. Afterwards they took very strong position among the ‘Pal’ administration and took over the power when the ‘Pal’ rulers got became fragile.
Staggering repression on Buddhists-
Just after coming to power, the Hindu Brahmins started severe repression on the Buddhists. The Brahmins chased the Buddhists till they had reached Nepal. A considerable portion of Buddhists forcibly or fearfully took the Hindu religion and they were relegated into the lower cast (Sudra) of the society by the Brahmins.
Some Buddhists went to Qutub ud-Din Aybak, the founder of the Mamluk dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate, and was thus the first sultan of the sultanate, to protect the Bengal Buddhists from the repression of the ‘Sen’ rulers. Tibetan Historian Kulacharya writes that a group of Buddhist Monks of ‘Mogadh’ (present Assam) went to Mirjapoore and meet with Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khilji to save ‘Mogadh’ from the ‘Sen’ aggression. Then Bakhtiyar Khilji came with his soldiers in response to the call of Buddhists and conquered the Bengal in 1204 (Journal of the Varendra Research Society, Rajshahi, 1940).
Muslims’arrival and the transitional phases-
Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khilji was the man who conquered the Bengal and introduced Muslim rule in this region. Khilji was an inhabitant of ‘Garmsir’ in the Southern Afghanistan (present day-Dasht-e-Margo). He became a soldier of ‘Badaun’ ruler and afterwards, he got land settlement of the two ‘Parganas’ under Mirjapoore district. He was also given the responsibility for the protection of the East boarder of the Muslims region.
Responding to the demand of those oppressed Buddhists, Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khilji came with his soldiers and ended the ‘Sen’ regime. In the winter of 1204, Bakhtiyar Khilji came with his soldiers in some groups through the hilly forests of Jharkhand, India. He had only a small group composing of 17 soldiers and the rest were not so speedy that they could not cope with the speed of Bakhtiyar Khilji but they came when Bakhtiyar Khilji about to conquer the city of Nadia where the Laxman Sen was holidaying.
When Bakhtiyar Khilji entered with his 17 soldiers into the city of Nadia, the king Laxman Sen fled to Bikrampur of East Bengal with a boat through the back door of his palace. After reaching ‘Bikrampur’ of East Bengal, Laxman Sen continued his ruling in the Southeastern Bengal till his death in 1206. His two sons then continued that fragile ruling for less than 25 years in the Southeastern Bengal. Finally, at the end of the 13th century and at the beginning of the 14th century, the whole Bengal came under the Muslim administration.
This time was the most significant part of transformation. Through the century, the ‘Sen’ rulers conducted the inhumane torture on the Buddhists as well as the lower caste Hindus. Historian Dr. Dinesh Chandra Sen writes that the Buddhists considered the Muslim conquest as a gift of Almighty. He further referred a chapter, namely ‘Niranjoner Ushma’ of the book “Shunyapuran” written by ‘Ramai Pandit’ where the Pandit writes that the Buddhists people were delighted by the failure of Brahmins to the Muslims. After conquest of Bengal, thousands of Buddhists and lower caste Hindus embraced relief by accepting Islam. (Dr. Dinesh Chandra Sen, “Brihat Banga” /Greater Bengal: a social history, in two volumes (1935), page- 528)
The Muslims who had been residing long before the coming of Bakhtiyar Khaliji always sided with Buddhists when they got repressed by the Hindu Brahmins. That’s why the Muslim community and the Buddhists were close in relation before Bhaktiyar Khilji came in the region. So, the Muslim conquer didn’t create any social or religious problem rather it saved the Buddhists from ‘Sen’ repression and came closer together which has a dramatic influence behind the transition of Buddhists into Islam.
The transformation didn’t happen within days but it took years of social and administrative combination between Muslims and Buddhists. The generosity of Muslim rulers and good use of Muslims to Buddhists, they slowly became attractive to Islam and took it as their own. Famous historian Haraprasad Shastri, who discovered the Charyageeti or Charyapada manuscripts, a collection of mystical poems and songs of realization in the Vajrayana tradition of Buddhism from the tantric tradition in Odisha, writes “half of the Bengal Buddhists took Islam” (Haraprasad Shastri, Bouddha dharma, page- 131). With the passage of time, a business relation was formed between the local Buddhists and the Arab Muslims. Some shows that the impact of marital relation between the two groups has a good impact on the transformation to Islam.
Apart from politico-military powers showed by Qutub ud-Din Aybak, Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khilji and others there came in some Islamic preachers, jurists, mystics and scholars who preached Islam among the people of the region. In his book Religion in India: A Historical Introduction, Fred W. Clothey (2006) wrote that Sufis followed ten commandments to preach Islam in India. They include a) repenting for misdeeds and emptying of self-orientation; b) living simple lives; c) focusing on the sovereignty and accessibility of God; d) taking vow to possess nothing other than what is needed as daily necessities; e) practicing self-discipline; (vi) being grateful to the mercies of Allah; f) fearing Allah; g) having divine nature; h) being content with one’s spiritual stature; and i) submitting to the Allah’s Will. Particularly in Bengal Hazrat Shah Jalal, his brother Shah Paran, according to a tablet inscription found in Amber Khana, arrived at Sylhet in 1303. Three sixty other people followed him. Nizamuddin Auliya stressed love of humanity in India. Makhdum Shah Daulah Shahid was a fourteenth century Muslim saint recognized for his preaching of Islam in northern India. He was martyred at Shahjadpur in Sirajganj District, Rajshahi District in what is now northwestern Bangladesh. Makhdum Shah was the second son of Muaz bin Jabal, a king of Yemen. Together with some twenty companions, he travelled east by the land route through Bukhara and into India preaching Islam. Eventually they settled in Shahzadpur, at the time part of a Hindu kingdom. The king was displeased with the disruption caused by Makhdum Shah and his followers and ordered them expelled from his kingdom. Makhdum Shah refused to comply and he and nearly all of his followers were killed. Khan Jahan Ali preached Islam and established his own Islamic state based in his Sat Gombuj Mosque.
During the British colonial period of undivided India, lots of British scholars and Hindu fundamentalists Brahmin tried to postulate that the transformation of Buddhists is due to the reason of Muslim invasion. Professor Johan Elverskog challenges this notorious fabrication. He writes “the stereotypical image of Muslims as hostile towards Buddhists has been constructed in the West, and “reaffirmed” with the Taliban’s destruction of the giant Buddha statues in Bamiyan in 2001” (Johan Elverskog, Buddhism and Islam on the Silk Road, pp- 1–4). Thus, Islam has brought a revolutionary harmony in the region irrespective of religion. Its expansion gave the fruits of peace towards the people of Bengal and that’s why people accepted Islam