Preferred Citation: Eaton, Richard M. The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204-1760. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1993 1993.

Mass Conversion to Islam: Theories and Protagonists

5. Mass Conversion to Islam: Theories and Protagonists

The most interesting fact revealed by the census of 1872 was the enormous host of Muhammadans resident in Lower Bengal—not massed around the old capitals, but in the alluvial plains of the Delta.

Four Conventional Theories of Islamization in India

Theories purporting to explain the growth of Islam in India may be reduced to four basic modes of reasoning. Each is inadequate. The first of these, which I shall call the Immigration theory, is not really a theory of conversion at all since it views Islamization in terms of the diffusion not of belief but of peoples. In this view, the bulk of India’s Muslims are descended from other Muslims who had either migrated overland from the Iranian plateau or sailed across the Arabian Sea. Although some such process no doubt contributed to the Islamization of those areas of South Asia that are geographically contiguous with the Iranian plateau or the Arabian Sea, this argument cannot, for reasons to be discussed below, be used to explain mass Islamization in Bengal.

The oldest theory of Islamization in India, which I shall call the Religion of the Sword thesis, stresses the role of military force in the diffusion of Islam in India and elsewhere. Dating at least from the time of the Crusades, this idea received big boosts during the nineteenth century, the high tide of European imperial domination over Muslim peoples, and subsequently in the context of the worldwide Islamic reform movements of the late twentieth century. Its general tone is captured in the way many nineteenth- and twentieth-century Orientalists explained the rise of Islam in seventh-century Arabia, as illustrated in these lurid lines penned in 1898 by Sir William Muir:

It was the scent of war that now turned the sullen temper of the Arab tribes into eager loyalty.…Warrior after warrior, column after column, whole tribes in endless succession with their women and children, issued forth to fight. And ever, at the marvelous tale of cities conquered; of rapine rich beyond compute; of maidens parted on the very field of battle “to every man a damsel or two”…fresh tribes arose and went. Onward and still onward, like swarms from the hive, or flights of locusts darkening the land, tribe after tribe issued forth and hastening northward, spread in great masses to the East and to the West.[1]

In the end, though, after the thundering hooves have passed and the dust has settled, in attempting to explain the Arab conquests, Muir leaves us with little of substance. Rather, he simply asserts the Arabs’ fondness for the “scent of war,” their love of “rapine,” and the promise of “a damsel or two.” Muir’s vision of a militant, resurgent Islam gone berserk reflected, in addition to old European associations of Islam with war and sex, colonial fears that Europe’s own Muslim subjects might, in just such a locustlike manner, rise up in revolt and drive the Europeans back to Europe. SirWilliam, after all, was himself a senior British official in colonial India,as well as an aggressive activist for the Christian missionary movementthere.[2]

If colonial officials could imagine that the reason for the rise of Islam was its inherently militant nature, they had little difficulty explaining its extension in India in similar terms. Yet as Peter Hardy has observed, those who argued that Indian Muslims were forcibly converted have generally failed to define either force or conversion,[3] leaving one to presume that a society can and will alter its religious identity simply because it has a sword at its neck. Precisely how this mechanism worked, either in theoretical or in practical terms, has never, however, been satisfactorily explained. Moreover, proponents of this theory seem to have confused conversion to the Islamic religion with the extension of Turko-Iranian rule in North India between 1200 and 1760, a confusion probably originating in too literal a translation of primary Persian accounts narrating the “Islamic” conquest of India. As Yohanan Friedmann has observed, in these accounts one frequently meets with such ambiguous phrases as “they submitted to Islam” (“iṭā‘at-i Islām numūdand”), or “they came under submission to Islam” (“dar iṭā‘at-i Islām āmadand”), in which “Islam” might mean either the religion, the Muslim state, or the “army of Islam.” But a contextual reading of such passages usually favors one of the latter two interpretations, especially as these same sources often refer to Indo-Turkish armies as the lashkar-i Islām, or “army of Islam,” and not the lashkar-i Turkān, or “army of Turks.”[4] In other words, it was the Indo-Muslim state, and, more explicitly, its military arm, to which people were said to have submitted, and not the Islamic faith.

Nor does the theory fit the religious geography of South Asia. If Islamization had ever been a function of military or political force, one would expect that those areas exposed most intensively and over the longest period to rule by Muslim dynasties—that is, those that were most fully exposed to the “sword”—would today contain the greatest number of Muslims. Yet the opposite is the case, as those regions where the most dramatic Islamization occurred, such as eastern Bengal or western Punjab, lay on the fringes of Indo-Muslim rule, where the “sword” was weakest, and where brute force could have exerted the least influence. In such regions the first accurate census reports put the Muslim population at between 70 and 90 percent of the total, whereas in the heartland of Muslim rule in the upper Gangetic Plain—the domain of the Delhi Fort and the Taj Mahal, where Muslim regimes had ruled the most intensively and for the longest period of time—the Muslim population ranged from only 10 to 15 percent. In other words, in the subcontinent as a whole there is an inverse relationship between the degree of Muslim political penetration and the degree of Islamization. Even within Bengal this principle holds true. As the 1901 Census of India put it:

None of these [eastern] districts contains any of the places famous as the head-quarters of Muhammadan rulers. Dacca was the residence of the Nawab for about a hundred years, but it contains a smaller proportion of Muslims than any of the surrounding districts, except Faridpur. Malda and Murshidabad contain the old capitals, which were the center of Musalman rule for nearly four and a half centuries, and yet the Muslims form a smaller proportion of the population than they do in the adjacent districts of Dinajpur, Rajshahi, and Nadia.[5]

Indeed, it has even been proposed that, far from promoting the cause of Islamization, the proximity of Muslim political power in some cases actually hindered it. According to S. L. Sharma and R. N. Srivastava, Mughal persecution of the nominally converted Meo community of Rajasthan had the effect, not of strengthening the Meos’ Islamic identity, but of reinforcing their resistance to Islam.[6]

A third theory commonly advanced to explain Islamization in India is what I call the Religion of Patronage theory. This is the view that Indians of the premodern period converted to Islam in order to receive some non-religious favor from the ruling class—relief from taxes, promotion in the bureaucracy, and so forth. This theory has always found favor with Western-trained secular social scientists who see any religion as a dependent variable of some non-religious agency, in particular an assumed desire for social improvement or prestige. Many instances in Indian history would appear to support this theory. In the early fourteenth century, Ibn Battuta reported that Indians presented themselves as new converts to the Khalaji sultans, who in turn rewarded them with robes of honor according to their rank.[7] According to nineteenth-century censuses, many landholding families of Upper India had declared themselves Muslims in order to escape imprisonment for nonpayment of revenue, or to keep ancestral lands in the family.[8] The theory might even be stretched to include groups employed by Muslim rulers that assimilated much Islamic culture even if they did not formally convert. The Kayasthas and Khatris of the Gangetic Plain, the Parasnis of Maharashtra, and the Amils of Sind all cultivated Islamic culture while meeting the government’s need for clerks and administrative servants, a process that Aziz Ahmad once compared with nineteenth- and twentieth-century “Westernization.”[9] The acculturation of captured soldiers or slaves perhaps formed another dimension of this process. Severed from their families, and with no permanent sociocultural ties to their native homes, these men not surprisingly fell into the cultural orbit of their patrons.[10]

Although this thesis might help explain the relatively low incidence of Islamization in India’s political heartland, it cannot explain the massive conversions that took place along the political fringe—as in Punjab or Bengal. Political patronage, like the influence of the sword, would have decreased rather than increased as one moved away from the centers of that patronage. What we need is some theory that can explain the phenomenon of mass Islamization on the periphery of Muslim power and not just in the heartland, and among millions of peasant cultivators and not just among urban elites.

To this end a fourth theory, which I call the Religion of Social Liberation thesis, is generally pressed into service. Created by British ethnographers and historians, elaborated by many Pakistani and Bangladeshi nationals, and subscribed to by countless journalists and historians of South Asia, especially Muslims, this theory has for long been the most widely accepted explanation of Islamization in the subcontinent. The theory postulates a Hindu caste system that is unchanging through time and rigidly discriminatory against its own lower orders. For centuries, it is said, the latter suffered under the crushing burden of oppressive and tyrannical high-caste Hindus, especially Brahmans. Then, when Islam “arrived” in the Indian subcontinent, carrying its liberating message of social equality as preached (in most versions of the theory) by Sufi shaikhs, these same oppressed castes, seeking to escape the yoke of Brahmanic oppression and aware of a social equality hitherto denied them, “converted” to Islam en masse.

It can be seen that by juxtaposing what it perceives as the inherent justice of Islam and the inherent wickedness of Hindu society, the Religion of Social Liberation theory identifies motives for conversion that are, from a Muslim perspective, eminently praiseworthy. The problem, however, is that no evidence can be found in support of the theory. Moreover, it is profoundly illogical. First, by attributing present-day values to peoples of the past, it reads history backward. Before their contact with Muslims, India’s lower castes are thought to have possessed, almost as though familiar with the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau or Thomas Jefferson, some innate notion of the fundamental equality of all humankind denied them by an oppressive Brahmanic tyranny. In fact, however, in thinking about Islam in relation to Indian religions, premodern Muslim intellectuals did not stress their religion’s ideal of social equality as opposed to Hindu inequality, but rather Islamic monotheism as opposed to Hindu polytheism.[11] That is, their frame of reference for comparing these two civilizations was theological, not social. In fact, the idea that Islam fosters social equality (as opposed to religious equality) seems to be a recent notion, dating only from the period of the Enlightenment, and more particularly from the legacy of the French Revolution among nineteenth-century Muslim reformers.[12]

Second, even if Indians did believe in the fundamental equality of mankind, and even if Islam had been presented to them as an ideology of social equality—though both propositions appear to be false—there is abundant evidence that Indian communities failed, upon Islamization, to improve their status in the social hierarchy. On the contrary, most simply carried into Muslim society the same birth-ascribed rank that they had formerly known in Hindu society.[13] This is especially true of Bengal. As James Wise observed in 1883: “In other parts of India menial work is performed by outcast Hindus; but in Bengal any repulsive or offensive occupation devolves on the Muhammadan. The Beldar [scavenger, and remover of carcasses] is to the Muhammadan village what the Bhuinmali is to the Hindu, and it is not improbable that his ancestors belonged to this vile caste.”[14]

Finally, as with the Sword and Patronage theories, the Religion of Social Liberation theory is refuted by the facts of geography. In 1872, when the earliest reliable census was taken, the highest concentrations of Muslims were found in eastern Bengal, western Punjab, the Northwest Frontier region, and Baluchistan. What is striking about those areas is not only that they lay far from the center of Muslim political power but that their indigenous populations had not yet, at the time of their contact with Islam, been fully integrated into either the Hindu or the Buddhist social system. In Bengal, Muslim converts were drawn mainly from Rajbansi, Pod, Chandal, Kuch, and other indigenous groups that had been only lightly exposed to Brahmanic culture, and in Punjab the same was true of the various Jat clans that eventually formed the bulk of the Muslim community.[15]

But this is hardly surprising. The Baudhāyana-Dharmasūtra, a late Vedic text (fifth-sixth centuries B.C.) reflecting the values of self-styled “clean” castes, divided the subcontinent into three concentric circles, each one containing distinct sociocultural communities. The first of these, Aryavarta, or the Aryan homeland, corresponded to the Upper Ganges-Jumna region of north-central India; there lived the “purest” heirs to Brahmanic tradition, people styling themselves highborn and ritually clean. The second circle contained an outer belt (Avanti, Anga-Magadha, Saurastra, Daksinapatha, Upavrt, and Sindhu-Sauvira) corresponding to Malwa, East and Central Bihar, Gujarat, the Deccan, and Sind. These regions lay within the pale of Indo-Aryan settlement, but they were inhabited by people “of mixed origin” who did not enjoy the same degree of ritual purity as those of the first region. And the third concentric circle contained those outer regions inhabited by “unclean” tribes considered so far beyond the pale that penances were prescribed for those who visited such places. Peoples living in this third circle included the Arattas of Punjab, the Sauviras of southern Punjab and Sind, the Pundras of North Bengal, and the Vangas of central and East Bengal.[16]

Now, the theory of Social Liberation assumes the prior existence of a highly stratified Hindu social order presided over by an entrenched and oppressive Brahman community. If the theory were valid, then, the greatest incidence of conversion to Islam should logically have occurred in those areas where Brahmanic social order was most deeply entrenched—namely, in the core region of Aryavarta. Conversely, Islam should have foundits fewest adherents in those areas having the least exposure to Brah-manic civilization, that is, along the periphery or beyond the pale of that civilization, in the outermost of the three concentric circles cited in the Baudhāyana-Dharmasūtra. But it is precisely in that outer circle—the area roughly coinciding with the areas included in the original (1947) state of Pakistan, with its eastern and western wings—that the vast majority of South Asian Muslims reside. The modern, pre-Partition distribution of South Asian Muslims thus indicates an outcome precisely opposite to the one predicted by the theory—namely, the less the prior exposure to Brahmanic civilization, the greater the incidence of subsequent Islamization. If the aboriginal peoples inhabiting India’s “periphery” had never been fully absorbed in a Brahman-ordered society in the first place, the matter of their escaping an oppressive Hindu social order cannot arise logically, just as it did not arise empirically.

Theories of Islamization in Bengal

It was relatively late in their experience in Bengal that Englishmen became aware of the full extent of the province’s Muslim population. With British activity centered on Calcutta, in the predominantly Hindu southwest, colonial officials through most of the nineteenth century perceived Bengal’s eastern districts as a vast and rather remote hinterland, with whose cultural profile they were largely unfamiliar. They were consequently astonished when the first official census of the province, that of 1872, showed Muslims totaling 70 percent and more in the Chittagong, Noakhali, Pabna, and Rajshahi districts, and over 80 percent in Bogra (see map 3).[17] Writing in 1894, James Wise, a government official with considerable experience in the province, wrote that “the most interesting fact revealed by the census of 1872 was the enormous host of Muhammadans resident in Lower Bengal—not massed around the old capitals, but in the alluvial plains of the Delta.” He went on to observe that “the history of the spread of the Muhammadan faith in Lower and Eastern Bengal is a subject of such vast importance at the present day as to merit a careful and minute examination.”[18]

The subject certainly was examined. The census of 1872 touched off a heated debate that lasted the rest of the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth. Its opening salvo was fired by the compiler of the census report itself, Henry Beverley. Noting the apparent incongruity of masses of Muslims turning up in regions far from the ancient centers of Muslim domination, Beverley concluded that “the existence of Muhammadans in Bengal is not due so much to the introduction of Mughul blood into the country as to the conversion of the former inhabitants for whom a rigid system of caste discipline rendered Hinduism intolerable.”[19] In short, he rejected the Immigration theory and instead sketched out an early version of the Social Liberation theory. Henceforth this theory would dominate British thinking about Islamization in the province, and eventually most Muslims would subscribe to it as well.

Map 3. Distribution of Muslim population in Benghal, 1872

But Beverley’s interpretation did not go unchallenged. Soon after the publication of the 1872 census findings, a respectable Muslim gentleman of Mymensingh District, Abu A. Ghuznavi, submitted a report to the Collector of his district strenuously opposing Beverley’s argument that mass conversion had taken place. Ghuznavi proposed instead that “the majority of the modern Mahomedans are not the descendants of Chandals and Kaibartas but are of foreign extraction, though in many cases it may be of more or less remote degree.”[20] In favor of his argument, Ghuznavi cited Arab migration before the Turkish conquest, land grants made by Sultan Husain Shah to foreigners, the dispersion of Afghans “in every hamlet” after the Mughal conquest, the greater fertility of Muslims owing to their practices of polygamy and widow remarriage, their greater longevity, and the absence among Muslims of a caste system or institutionalized celibacy.[21] Although he conceded that there had been “some” conversions, Ghuznavi insisted that they had not been among low-caste Hindus. “Why should we speak of conversion of low-caste Hindus only?” he asked, “Why should we forget the Musalman Rajput diwans of different districts and notably of Maimensing.…Similarly, there are Mozumdars of Sylhet, Raja Sahebs of Faridpore, Gangulies of Bikrampore, and a host of others.”[22]

Ghuznavi was here outlining the Immigration theory of Islamization, the view favored by ashrāf classes throughout India. To the extent that local conversions took place at all, Ghuznavi argued, they came not from the despised low castes, but from the upper orders of Hindu society. At the turn of the twentieth century, claims were indeed made that in the Mughal period some members of Bengal’s landed elite and even of the priestly caste had converted to Islam. The rajas of Kharagpur (in Midnapur District), defeated by one of Akbar’s generals, were said to have accepted Islam as the condition for retaining their family estates; Raja Purdil Singh of Parsouni in Darbhanga, in northern Bihar, became a Muslim by way of expiation after having rebelled against the Mughal emperor; the Muslim dīwān families of pargana Sarail in Tippera, and of Haibatnagar and Jungalbari in Mymensingh, had formerly been Brahmans; and the Pathans of Majhouli in Darbhanga sprang from the family of the raja of Narhan.[23] These instances, however, could have accounted for only a tiny fraction of the total Muslim population and cannot explain the appearance of the millions of Muslim peasant cultivators recorded in the census figures.

Meanwhile, in the final decades of the nineteenth century, a consensus on the Islamization issue began to emerge in British official circles. Here we may examine the work of James Wise, a veteran official who had served ten years as civil surgeon in Dhaka, and who elaborated his views in an important article entitled “The Muhammadans of Eastern Bengal” (1894).[24] Wise opened by dismissing the Immigration theory favored by ashrāf spokesmen like Ghuznavi. “In Muhammadan histories,” he noted, “no mention is made of any large Muhammadan immigration from Upper India, and we know that in the reign of Akbar the climate of Bengal was considered so uncongenial to the Mughal invaders, that an order to proceed thither was regarded as a sentence of banishment.”[25] Wise then offered a number of arguments to explain how and why ethnic Bengalis became Muslims. First, he invoked the Religion of the Sword thesis, citing without evidence the “enthusiastic soldiers who, in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, spread the faith of Islam among the timid races of Bengal, made forcible conversions by the sword, and, penetrating the dense forests of the Eastern frontier, planted the crescent in the villages of Silhet.” He also accepted the view that the Chittagong region had been colonized by Arab merchants. The latter, he argued, again without citing evidence, carried on an extensive trade along the Chittagong coast, where they “disseminated their religious ideas among the people.” Furthermore, he suggested, captured slaves from the villages of eastern Bengal might have swelled the ranks of the Muslim population, since desperate and impoverished families would have been driven to sell their children to Muslims as slaves. He also suggested that Hindus might have converted “as the only means of escaping punishment for murder, or adultery, as this step was considered full atonement for either crime.”[26] All of this was conjecture.

Wise’s central argument, however, was the one that would achieve widest currency in government circles. “When the Muhammadan armies poured into Bengal,” he wrote,

it is hard to believe that they were not welcomed by the hewers of wood and drawers of water, and that many a despairing Chandal and Kaibartta joyfully embraced a religion that proclaimed the equality of all men, and which was the religion of the race keeping in subjection their former oppressors. Hinduism had prohibited the outcast from residing in the same village as the twice-born Brahman, had forced him to perform the most menial and repulsive occupations, and had virtually treated him as an animal undeserving of any pity; but Islam announced that the poor, as well as the rich, the slave and his master, the peasant and the prince, were of equal value in the eyes of God. Above all, the Brahman held out no hopes of a future world to the most virtuous helot, while the Mulla not only proffered assurances of felicity in this world, but of an indefeasible inheritance in the next.[27]

This is as vigorous a statement of the Social Liberation thesis as can be found anywhere, and contains all the essential elements of that theory: the a priori presence of a highly stratified Hindu social order, an exploited class of menial outcasts, an oppressive class of Brahmans, and an understanding of Islam as an ideology of social egalitarianism that would be “joyfully” embraced by the masses.

But Bengal’s ashrāf Muslims did not accept such reasoning. Even if inclined to agree with Wise’s characterization of Brahmans as cruel oppressors, they would not agree that the majority of the Muslims of Bengal were indigenous to the delta. So in 1895, the year after the publication of Wise’s essay, Khondkar Fuzli Rubbee published his The Origin of the Musalmans of Bengal. Like his predecessor Abu Ghuznavi, Rubbee denied “that the natives of this country, either from compulsion or free will, were converted to Islam, in any appreciable number at a time.”[28] Rather, he asserted, “the ancestors of the present Musalmans of this country were certainly those Musalmans who came here from foreign parts during the rule of the former sovereigns.”[29] In fact, Rubbee viewed the delta’s geographic isolation as evidence for this process, arguing that the region “always enjoyed immunity from foreign invasions, and consequently it formed a great asylum for the Musulmans.”[30] Rubbee did not explain why the same natural frontiers that had protected Muslims from foreign invaders failed to protect Bengalis from Muslim invaders. Presumably he did not consider Muslims to have been invaders, but merely immigrant settlers.

Rubbee also cited numerous charitable grants (aima) to “venerable Muslims” in Bengal, suggesting that these became the bases of foreign settlement. “With regard to the three ancient divisions of Bengal,” he wrote, “namely Rarh [the southwest], Barind [the north], and Bang [the east], Aimas are to be found mostly in Rarh, less in Barind, and rarely in Bang.”[31] But the difficulty with this reasoning is that the majority of the Muslims were found in the very areas where, according to Rubbee, there were the fewest charitable grants. The author also had difficulty explaining how one of the largest peasant populations in the world could have been descended from high-born immigrants who refused to cultivate the soil. They took to agriculture, he speculated, when “their resources failed them,” or when those among them who were soldiers failed to obtain military employment. Subsequently, when agricultural productivity improved and internal peace and security prevailed in Bengal, these classes of Muslim cultivators naturally multiplied.[32]

The publication of Rubbee’s book was soon followed by the controversial 1901 Census of India, which restated the position to which Ghuznavi and Rubbee had reacted. In his report in this census, E. A. Gait concluded that probably nine-tenths of those returning themselves as “Shekhs”—the typical response of Muslim Bengali cultivators when asked their caste—were of local origin.[33] Gait doubted that any significant migration of Muslim settlers had taken place even within Bengal, much less from beyond the delta. Observing that Muslim settlers generally sought the higher levels of land near the old capitals, he reasoned that “they would never willingly have taken up their residence in the rice swamps of Noakhali, Bogra and Backergunge.”[34]

Gait’s most important contribution to the ongoing debate was his observation that in Bengal high Muslim populations correlated with the simplest social organization—that is, with the least elaboration of castes. Noting the affinities of the Muslims of the east with indigenous Pod and Chandal communities, and those of the north with indigenous Rajbansi and Kuch communities, Gait remarked that “the proportion of Hindus of other castes in these parts of the country is, and always has been, very small. The main castes are the Rajbansis (including Koches) in North Bengal, and the Chandals and other castes of non-Aryan origin in East Bengal.”[35] This observation might have led to a breakthrough in the fuzzy and tendentious thinking that had theretofore characterized the debate. For it follows that where there was little caste elaboration, there was little Brahmanic dominance, and hence little oppression of outcasts. And without such oppression, the Social Liberation theory collapses, since the “lower orders” would not have had an entrenched, Brahman-ordered society against which to rebel.

But Gait did not follow up on the implications of his own observation; indeed, he offered no coherent theory of Islamization at all, apart from stating that the vast majority of Muslims were of local origin. But since they were published in the authoritative Census of India, even these views carried weight. Soon they were replicated in the Settlement Reports and the widely influential Bengal District Gazetteers that began appearing in the early twentieth century. For example, the gazetteer for Noakhali District (1911) stated that the “vast majority of the Shekhs [i.e., Muslim cultivators] and lower sections of the community are descended from the aboriginal races of the district,” meaning, primarily, the Chandals.[36]Similarly, the Settlement Report of Bogra and Pabna districts (1930)traced the Muslim communities of those districts to “Hindus convertedat a comparatively recent date,” and stated that the majority of thepopulation were “descendants of the aboriginals of North Bengal, theKoches.”[37]

In the decade before 1947, three anthropological studies produced data corroborating the consensus view in official circles. Although differing in methodology, sampling techniques, and regions studied within the delta, they all agreed that the masses of Bengali Muslims were descended from indigenous communities and not from outsiders. In the first of them, conducted in the Twenty-four Parganas District in 1938, Eileen Macfarlane concluded that “the blood-group data of the Muhammadans of Budge Budge show clearly that these peoples are descended from lower caste Hindu converts, as held by local traditions, and the proportion remains almost the same as among their present-day Hindu neighbors.”[38] Three years later, B. K. Chatterji and A. K. Mitra made another study of blood-group distributions comparing not only low-caste Bengali Hindus with rural Muslims, again in the Twenty-four Parganas District, but also the latter with both urban Muslims and non-Bengali Muslims. This study found an affinity between rural Muslims and their low-caste Hindu neighbors, the Mahisyas and Bagdis, and further concluded that urban Bengali Muslims were serologically closer to the distant Pathans of India’s Northwest Frontier than they were to rural Bengali Muslims, lending substance to the urban Muslims’ claims of their own descent from foreign immigrants to Bengal.[39]

Finally, in 1960, D. N. Majumdar and C. R. Rao published a study based on data collected in both East and West Bengal in 1945, just prior to the massive population shifts that followed partition of the province in 1947. Using stature, frontal breadth, and nasal height in defining group divergences, these investigators concluded that “we should look among the tribal and scheduled caste Non-Muslim groups of Bengal for a possible origin of the Muslim population in Bengal.…The serological data obtained from the Muslim population of Bengal (pre-Partition) tends to the same view, viz., the dissociation of the Bengali Muslims from those outside India, and even from the Shias and Sunnis of Uttar Pradesh. This indicates the local origin of the Muslims, if blood group evidence has any meaning at all.”[40] The authors also found that in terms of the more important anthropometric indicators (head length and breadth, nasal length and breadth), East Bengal groups, both Muslim and non-Muslim, differed fundamentally from West Bengalis.[41] This last finding would diminish the historical significance even of internal migration from western to eastern Bengal.

In the early twentieth century, as the Indian nationalist movement gathered momentum, and especially after the founding of the Muslim League in 1906, when the drive for a separate Muslim “homeland” in British India began to gather strength, arguments for or against the various theories of Islamization became more heated. Indian nationalists tended to sidestep the issue altogether, since any recognition of foreign origin of a large segment of the Indian community, or of past Islamization among that community, would have weakened the nationalist position concerning the fundamental unity and homogeneity of all Indian peoples. Nor was it easy for Hindus to embrace the thesis favored by Muslim intellectuals, the Religion of Social Liberation argument, since it placed high-caste Hindus in the unsavory role of oppressors.[42]

For many Muslims, on the other hand, the issue of a separate Muslim community on the Indian subcontinent was fundamental, since it formed the historical justification for the future state of Pakistan. This made it difficult to relinquish the Immigration thesis entirely, even though, so far as Bengal is concerned, considerable ethnographic data had shown that the ancestors of the Muslim masses had been indigenous to the delta long before the thirteenth century. This led some to embrace a hybrid theory that combined elements of both the Immigration theory and the Religion of Social Liberation thesis. In this view, ashrāf immigrants had settled the land and become naturalized Bengalis, while at the same time masses of ethnic Bengalis were attracted to the egalitarian ethic of Islam. As this mutual accommodation was said to have obliterated social differences between the ashrāf and the masses, the theory became ideologically convenient for post–1947 Muslim governments, which naturally sought to stress the unity of all Muslims residing within their borders.[43]

Historiographically, the legacies of the colonial era and the independence movement were to polarize Hindus and Muslims into exclusive and even hostile categories, to project these categories into the past, and to read premodern Bengali history in terms of a struggle between them. Here is a lurid portrayal of the Turkish conquest penned in 1963 by the reputed linguist and historian of Bengali language S. K. Chatterji:

The conquest of Bengal by these ruthless foreigners was like a terrible hurricane which swept over the country, when a peace-loving people were subjected to all imaginable terrors and torments—wholesale massacres, pillages, abduction and enslavement of men and women, destruction of temples, palaces, images and libraries, and forcible conversion. The Muslim Turks, like the Spanish Catholic conquistadores in Mexico and Peru and elsewhere in America, sought to destroy the culture and religion of the land as the handiwork of Satan.[44]

And here is how the well-known Indian Bengali historian R. C. Majumdar, writing in 1973, described the growth of Islam in premodern Bengal:

The Hindu and Muslim communities resembled two strong walled forts, standing side by side, each of which had only one gate,—that of exit in the case of the Hindus, and that for entrance in the case of the Muslims. Even for the slightest deviation from the rules of touch and purity the Hindus were cast out of society, with no chance of re-entry, and once they entered the fort of Islam the door of exit for the new-comer was forever barred. This, together with forcible conversion, and voluntary acceptance of Islam by temptation of material gain or benefit, rarely by conviction, resulted in the steady flow of the Hindus to the fold of Islam, which constitutes the most important change in the Hindu society during the middle age.[45]

Implicit in Chatterji’s overheated rhetoric, and explicit in Majumdar’s military imagery of forts and gates, is the presumption that religions themselves are timeless essences—closed, self-contained, and mutually exclusive. Although such an ahistorical and normative conception is not confined to the modern age, it has become especially widespread in the twentieth century. From the Partition of Bengal (1905) down to the razing of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya in nearby Uttar Pradesh (1992), colonial and post-colonial politicians have encouraged and effectively exploited the idea. Nor have historians been immune to this essentialist conception of religion, which Chatterji and Majumdar simply projected backward in time and displaced onto Bengal’s premodern history.[46]

The Appearance of a Bengali Muslim Peasantry

What is striking about the historiography of Islamization in Bengal is that so few advocates of any of the theories discussed above—Immigration, Sword, Patronage, Social Liberation—grounded their theories on original evidence. Nor did they attempt to establish exactly when and where Islam first became a mass religion. Inasmuch as any coherent historical reconstruction must be based on established facts of geography and chronology, before we can explain mass conversion to Islam, we must first establish, in as precise terms as possible, exactly when and where the Bengali Muslim peasant community first emerged.

As to the direction from which Islamic influence first reached the delta, a glance at a map of the Indian Ocean might suggest a maritime connec- tion with the Middle East. It is true that Arab geographers such as Sulaiman Tajir (d. 851), Ibn Khurdadbhih (d. ca. 850), Mas‘udi (d. 956), and Idrisi (d. ca. 1150), were familiar with Bengal, and that one of these,Mas‘udi, actually mentions Muslims—evidently long-distance maritimemerchants—living there in the tenth century.[47] The tradition of local coinage in southeastern Bengal during the Chandra dynasty (ca. 825–1035), and the discovery of Abbasid coins in the Lalmai region, further point to this region’s economic integration with the wider world of the Indian Ocean at a time when Arab Muslims dominated that ocean’s trade.[48] However, study of the global distribution of the four legal traditions in Sunni Islam—Hanafi, Shafi‘i, Maliki, and Hanbali—suggests that Islamization did not occur by way of the seas. In the Islamic world generally, converted populations have tended to adopt the school of law adhered to by the carriers of Islam in their region. From the tenth century on, the Shafi‘i school was dominant in southern and western Arabia, the region of the peninsula most firmly tied into Indian Ocean trade. In the succeeding centuries, coastal East Africa, India’s Malabar coast, and island Southeast Asia all underwent Islamization through commercial contact with Shafi‘i Arabs. And by 1500 all these regions adhered to the Shafi‘i legal tradition. Had Bengal, too, been Islamized by the predominantly Shafi‘i seafaring Arabs, or by other maritime Muslims in touch with such Arabs, one might expect the Muslims of Bengal also to have followed the Shafi‘i school. But by 1500 and thereafter, Bengali Muslims were mainly Hanafi, then as now the dominant legal tradition among inland Muslims living further up the Gangetic Plain and throughout Central Asia.[49] This clearly points to a northwestern, overland origin of Bengal’s Islamization.

But when and how did this happen? Despite claims that the masses of Bengali Muslims originated in the very distant past, such a proposition finds no support in the primary source materials, not, at least, so far as concerns the peasantry, who comprise the great bulk of the population. With but one exception, pre-sixteenth-century foreign references to Muslims in Bengal mention only immigrant or urban Muslims—that is, ashrāf society. The exception is the account of Ibn Battuta, who traveled to Sylhet to meet the renowned saint Shah Jalal in 1345. The famed Arab traveler later recorded that “the inhabitants of these mountains had embraced Islam at his [Shah Jalal’s] hands, and for this reason he stayed amidst them.”[50] But it is not at all clear that Ibn Battuta was referring here to a peasant population. It was, as he said, the inhabitants of the mountains, not those of the plains, that accepted Islam through the agency of Shah Jalal. These hill folk probably practiced shifting cultivation, for he seems to have distinguished this population from the peasants of the lowlands who practiced wet rice cultivation, whom he clearly identified as Hindus.[51]

The next foreigner who noticed Muslims in Bengal was the Chinese official Ma Huan, who reached the delta in 1433, some ninety years after Ibn Battuta. At this time Raja Ganesh’s turbulent political intrusion had just subsided, and Sultan Jalal al-Din Muhammad had begun patronizing an Islamic culture heavily influenced by its Bengali environment. The Chinese traveler saw a dense and prosperous population during his travels from Chittagong to Sonargaon to Pandua. But his only comments as to the people’s ethnic or religious identity were written in the context of Pandua, where he observed that “the king’s palace and the large and small palaces of the nobility and temples, are all in the city. They are Musalmans.”[52] The only Muslims the foreigner mentioned were city-dwellers, not peasants.

In the early sixteenth century, following Vasco da Gama’s maritime voyage to India in 1498, we get the first European accounts of Bengal and its peoples. But again, so far as concerns the delta’s Muslims, these writers appear to have been aware only of an urban, and not a rural population. Referring to Gaur, which he claimed to have visited sometime between 1503 and 1508, Ludovico di Varthema wrote that “this city was one of the best that I had hitherto seen, and has a very great realm,” adding that the sultan’s entire army, two hundred thousand men, were Muslims.[53] Writing between 1512 and 1515, evidently on the basis of reports from merchants or ship captains who had visited Bengal, Tome Pires remarked that the king “is a very faithful Mohammedan” and that “the kings of this kingdom turned Mohammedan three hundred years ago.”[54] But Pires makes no reference to the religion of the population at large.

Pires’s contemporary Duarte Barbosa, whose writings on Bengal were also based on travelers’ accounts and not direct observation, has much to say about the “respectable Moors” of Gaur, whom he describes as walking about “clad in white cotton smocks with their cloth girdles, silk scarves, and daggers garnished with silver and gold.” His references to their eating well, their free-wheeling spending, and to their “many other extravagances” clearly point to wealthy urban merchants and not to rural society. Indeed, Barbosa speaks of Gaur as a city inhabited by white men, with its “strangers from many lands such as Arabs, Persians, Abexis and Indians.”[55] Yet he also makes the important remark that “the Heathen of these parts daily become Moors to gain the favour of their rulers”—the only contemporary evidence that would appear to support the Political Patronagetheory of Islamization.[56] But since he never mentions Muslims except in the context of the capital city, Barbosa appears to have been referring to the Islamization not of peasants but of those Hindu artisan castes that other sources associated with the sultanate’s urban proletariat.

So far as concerns the countryside, it is only from the late sixteenth century, and in particular after the Mughal conquest (1574), that we have solid evidence of a Muslim peasant population anywhere in Bengal. The earliest reference is that of the Venetian traveler Cesare Federici, who in 1567 noted that the entire population of Sondwip, a large island in Bengal’s southeastern corner opposite Chittagong, was Muslim, and that it had its own Muslim “king.” Federici was also struck by the agricultural development of Sondwip, which he judged “the fertilest Iland in all the world.”[57] In April 1599, not long after Federici’s visit, a Jesuit missionary named Francis Fernandez traveled up the channel of East Bengal’s Meghna River on an evangelizing tour, carefully noting the customs of the local people and evaluating the prospects of converting them to Christianity. Reaching the rural districts near Narayanganj in southeastern Dhaka District, Fernandez recorded that “I started examining whether there were any chances of propagating the Christian religion, but I found that the people are nearly all Mahometans.” This is the earliest unambiguous reference to a Muslim peasantry in the heart of the delta proper.[58]

Several seventeenth-century European travelers made similar observations respecting the appearance of Muslims in the Bengali countryside, and noted that Islam was a very recent movement, dating only from the Mughal conquest. Writing in 1629, by which time Mughal power had become firmly established in the delta, the Augustinian friar Sebastião Manrique says: “In the early days, all the kingdoms of Bengala followed heathen cults, as the greater part and even now most of them do to this day. Except some, however, who since this region became subject to the Mogol Empire, have abandoned the heathen faith, and the more difficult road to hell to follow the wider and easier road which is that of the Alcoran [Qur’an].”[59] In 1666 the French traveler Jean de Thevenot made much the same point—as well as exhibiting the same anti-Muslim bias, typical among seventeenth-century Europeans:

The Country [i.e., Bengal] was kept in far better order under the Patan Kings, (I mean) before the Mahometans and Moguls were Masters of it, because then they had Uniformity in Religion. It has been found by experience, that disorder came into it with Mahometanism, and that diversity of Religions hath there caused corruption in Manners.[60]

Like Manrique, Thevenot understood Bengal’s pre-Mughal period as pre-Muslim, and believed that Islam had become dominant in Bengal only after the Mughal conquest, which had occurred somewhat less than a century before he was writing. It is significant, too, that Europeans observed concentrations of Muslim peasants only in the eastern half of the delta, and not in the older, already Hinduized western sector. For in 1699, exactly a century after Fernandez encountered Muslims in the rural Dhaka region, another Jesuit, Father Martin, S. J., who so far as we know traveled only in the Hooghly region of west Bengal, noted that “nearly the whole country is given to idolatry.”[61]

Other contemporary data confirm Manrique’s and Thevenot’s general point that Islamization did not appear among the masses until after the Mughal conquest. The earliest Persian source touching on this matter dates from 1638, when the Mughal governor of Bengal, Islam Khan Mashhadi, complained to the raja of Arakan about Portuguese raiding of the Noakhali coast. There, the governor wrote, the Portuguese had been committing “depredations on the Muslim masses.”[62] In the 1660s another Mughal source, the ‘ālamgīr-nāma by Kazim b. Muhammad Amin, stated that most of the peasants of Ghoraghat, or what is now the Rangpur region of northern Bengal, were Muslims.[63]


If large numbers of rural Muslims were not observed until as late as the end of the sixteenth century or afterward, we face a paradox—namely, that mass Islamization occurred under a regime, the Mughals, that as a matter of policy showed no interest in proselytizing on behalf of the Islamic faith. Ruling over a vast empire built upon a bottom-heavy agrarian base, Mughal officials were primarily interested in enhancing agricultural productivity by extracting as much of the surplus wealth of the land as they could, and in using that wealth to the political end of creating loyal clients at every level of administration. Although there were always conservative ‘ulamā who insisted on the emperors’ “duty” to convert the Hindu “infidels” to Islam, such a policy was not in fact implemented in Bengal, even during the reign of the conservative emperor Aurangzeb (1658–1707).

Our attention must therefore turn to the Mughal period in Bengal. Was it merely coincidence that the bulk of the delta’s peasant Muslim population emerged after the advent of Mughal rule, or did deeper forces link these two phenomena?


1. William Muir, The Caliphate: Its Rise, Decline, and Fall (London, 1898; reprint, Beirut: Khayats, 1963), 45.

2. Richard M. Eaton, Islamic History as Global History (Washington, D. C.: American Historical Association, 1990), 13.

3. Peter Hardy, “Modern European and Muslim Explanations of Conversion to Islam in South Asia: A Preliminary Survey of the Literature,” in Conversion to Islam, ed. Nehemia Levtzion (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1979), 78.

4. See Yohanan Friedmann, “A Contribution to the Early History of Islam in India,” in Studies in Memory of Gaston Wiet, ed. Myrian Rosen-Ayalon (Jerusalem: Institute of Asian and African Studies, 1977), 322.

5. Census of India, 1901, vol. 6, The Lower Provinces of Bengal and Their Feudatories (Calcutta: Bengal Secretariat Press, 1902), 156.

6. See S. R. Sharma and R. N. Srivastava, “Institutional Resistance to Induced Islamization in a Convert Community—an Empiric Study in Sociology of Religion,” Sociological Bulletin 16, no. 1 (March 1967): 77.

7. Ibn Battuta, Rehla, trans Mahdi Hussain, 46.

8. Hardy, “Modern European and Muslim Explanations,” 80–81.

9. Aziz Ahmad, Studies in Islamic Culture in the Indian Environment (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964), 105.

10. Beyond India, one thinks of the janissaries of the contemporary Ottoman Empire, who had been Christian youths conscripted in the Balkans before they were Turkified and Islamized by their imperial patrons.

11. See Yohanan Friedmann, “Medieval Muslim Views of Indian Religions,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 95 (1975): 214–21.

12. See Albert Hourani, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 1798–1939 (London: Oxford University Press, 1962), 75–79, 99, 138, 155–56, 162, 164–70, 173, 182, 238; Bernard Lewis, “The Impact of the French Revolution on Turkey: Some Notes on the Transmission of Ideas,” Journal of World History 1, no. 1 (July 1953): 105–25.

13. See, e.g., Caste and Social Stratification among the Muslims, ed. Imtiaz Ahmed (Delhi: Manohar Book Service, 1973).

14. James Wise, Notes on the Races, Castes and Traders of Eastern Bengal, 2 vols. (London: Harrison & Sons, 1883), 1: 40.

15. See Richard M. Eaton, “The Political and Religious Authority of the Shrine of Baba Farid,” in Moral Conduct and Authority: The Place of Adab in South Asian Islam, ed. Barbara D. Metcalf (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984), 333–56.

16. Baudhāyana-Dharmasūtra I.1.9–14, in Georg Bühler, trans., Sacred Laws of the Aryas as Taught in the Schools of Apastamba, Gautama, Vasishtha, and Baudhayana, part 2, Vasishtha and Baudhayana, vol. 14 of Sacred Books of the East, ed. F. Max Müller (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1882), 147–48. See also History of Bengal, ed. R. C. Majumdar, 2d ed. (Dacca: University of Dacca, 1963), 8, 290.

17. H. Beverley, Report on the Census of Bengal, 1872 (Calcutta: Secretariat Press, 1872), 12–15.

18. James Wise, “The Muhammadans of Eastern Bengal,” Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 63 (1894): 28.

19. Beverley, Report, 132.

20. Abu A. Ghuznavi, “Notes on the Origin, Social and Religious Divisions and Other Matters Touching on the Mahomedans of Bengal and Having Special Reference to the District of Maimensing” (India Office Library, London, European MSS., E 295., vol. 17 [n.d.]), 3.

21. Ibid., 4–12.

22. Ibid., 14.

23. E. A. Gait, “The Muhammadans of Bengal,” in Census of India, 1901, vol. 6, The Lower Provinces of Bengal and Their Feudatories, pt. 1, “Report” (Calcutta: Bengal Secretariat Press, 1902), 170.

24. Wise, “Muhammadans of Eastern Bengal,” 28–63.

25. Ibid., 29. Moreover, he added, viceroys and nobles governing Bengal generally left the inhospitable province after having amassed as much wealth as they could, “while only a few officers and private soldiers, having married into native families, remained and settled in their new homes.”

26. Ibid., 28–30.

27. Ibid., 32.

28. Khondkar Fuzli Rubbee, The Origin of the Musalmans of Bengal (1895; 2d ed., Dacca: Society for Pakistan Studies, 1970), 40–41.

29. Ibid., 43.

30. Ibid., 17.

31. Ibid., 59.

32. Ibid., 87–94.

33. Gait, “Muhammadans,” in Census of India, 1901, 6: 169.

34. Ibid., 166.

35. Ibid., 169.

36. J. E. Webster, East Bengal and Assam District Gazetteers: Noakhali (Allahabad: Pioneer Press, 1911), 39.

37. D. MacPherson, Final Report on the Survey and Settlement Operations in the Districts of Pabna and Bogra, 1920–29 (Calcutta: Bengal Secretariat Book Depot, 1930), 31, 32.

38. Eileen W. E. Macfarlane, “Blood-Group Distribution in India with Special Reference to Bengal,” Journal of Genetics 36, no. 2 (July 1938): 230, 232.

39. B. K. Chatterji and A. K. Mitra, “Blood Group Distributions of the Bengalis and Their Comparison with Other Indian Races and Castes,” Indian Culture 8 (1941–42): 197, 201, 202.

40. D. N. Majumdar and C. R. Rao, Race Elements in Bengal (Calcutta: Asia Publishing House, 1960), 96, 98, 114.

41. Ibid., 96.

42. An exception to this was Niharranjan Ray, who wrote in 1945: “To some of the lower grades of Hindus, Islam with its more democratic appeal in the social plane and a simpler code of tenets on the religious, along with the easy temptation of favours at the dispersal of the ruling class and their proselytising zeal, opened up an inviting vista, while to a limited number at least it proved to be a haven from religious and social persecution by the upper classes.” Ray, “Medieval Bengali Culture,” 49.

43. This thesis was articulated by one of the most influential Bengali historians of the post-independence period, Abdul Karim, who wrote: “The facts that the Muslims settled in this country, learnt the local language, lived in harmony with the local people, accepted local wives, adopted various professions suited to their genius, and that in their dietary system and dwelling houses they depended on materials locally available, bear out that they considered Bengal as their homeland. Side by side they adhered to the Islamic religious principles and built religious institutions of their own. There is, therefore, good ground to suggest that a Bengali Muslim society already passed its formative stage, took a definite shape, and breathed a new spirit of tolerance, equality and universal love in the country so much so that large masses accepted Islam and even the then Hinduism was deeply affected as traceable in some of the elements of the Chaitanya movement.” Karim, Social History, 210–11. For a recent restatement of the Immigration theory, combined with a measure of the Social Liberation thesis, see Muhammad Mohar Ali, History of the Muslims in Bengal (Riyadh: Imam Muhammad Ibn Sa‘ud Islamic University, 1985), 1B: 750–88.

44. Suniti Kumar Chatterji, Languages and Literatures of Modern India (Calcutta: Bengal Publishers, 1963), 160–61.

45. R. C. Majumdar, History of Medieval Bengal (Calcutta: G. Bharadwaj & Co., 1973), 196–97.

46. Actually, Majumdar saw himself as only correcting what he felt to be an unwarranted view of communal unity put forward by Indian nationalists caught up in the independence movement. “Since the beginning of the struggle for freedom of India,” he wrote, “the complete Hindu-Muslim unity was regarded as an indispensable factor for its success. As a result of this view, there has been a deliberate attempt to re-write the history of India by considerably toning down, if not altogether effacing from pages of history, the whole episode of the bigotry and intolerance shown by the Muslim rulers towards Hindu religion.” Ibid., vi.

47. The History of India as Told by Its Own Historians, trans. and ed. H. M. Elliot and John Dowson (Allahabad: Kitab Mahal, 1964), 1: 5, 13–14, 25, 90. Mas‘udi, Prairies d’or, 1: 155.

48. F. A. Khan, Mainamati (Karachi, 1963), 25–27. Cited in Tarafdar, “Trade and Society,” 277.

49. See Francis Robinson, Atlas of the Islamic World since 1500 (Oxford: Phaidon Press, 1982), 29.

50. Ibn Battuta, Rehla, 239.

51. Ibid., 241.

52. Ma Huan in P. C. Bagchi, “Political Relations,” 117.

53. Ludovico di Varthema, Travels, 211.

54. Tome Pires, Suma Oriental, 89. Pires does, however, speak of tributary “heathen” kings such as the raja of Tripura. His remark that the kings of Bengal had “turned Mohammedan” in the early thirteenth century is curious, for it suggests that he understood kingship in Bengal as an unbroken succession from the Sena, or pre-Turkish, days to his own. Could it be that Pires was unaware of the foreign origin of Bengal’s Turkish, Afghan, and Arab kings? Evidently the Husain Shahi court had so thoroughly assimilated Bengali culture that the Portuguese official detected no trace of foreignness in either the court or its monarch, seeing instead an unbroken Bengali dynasty that had converted to Islam three hundred years earlier.

55. Duarte Barbosa, Book of Duarte Barbosa, 135–39, 147.

56. Ibid., 148.

57. Federici, “Extracts,” 137.

58. H. Hosten, “Jesuit Letters from Bengal, Arakan and Burma (1599–1600),” Bengal Past and Present 30 (1925): 59.

59. Manrique, Travels 1: 67. Emphasis mine.

60. Surendranath Sen, ed., Indian Travels of Thevenot and Careri (New Delhi: National Archives, 1949), 96.

61. M. L. Aimé-Martin, ed., Lettres édifiantes et curieuses concernant l’Asie,l’Afrique et l’Amérique (Paris: Société du Panthéon littéraire, 1843), 2: 258. H.Hosten, “The Earliest Recorded Episcopal Visitation of Bengal, 1712–1715,”Bengal Past and Present 6 (1910): 217.

62. S. H. Askari, “The Mughal-Magh Relations Down to the Time of Islam Khan Mashhadi,” in Indian History Congress, Proceedings, 22d session, Gauhati, 1959 (Bombay: Indian History Congress, 1960), 210.

63. “Jam‘ī kathīr az ṣaghīr o kabīr-i ra‘āyā-yi ānjā ki akthar Musalmān būdand.” Munshi Amin Kazim b. Muhammad Amin, ‘ālamgīr-nāma, ed. Khadim Husain and ‘Abd al-Hai (Calcutta: Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1868), 677.

Mass Conversion to Islam: Theories and Protagonists

Preferred Citation: Eaton, Richard M. The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204-1760. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1993 1993.