The Islamic Syncretistic Tradition in Bengal

The Islamic Syncretistic Tradition in Bengal

Copyright Date: 1983
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    The Islamic Syncretistic Tradition in Bengal
    Book Description:

    Asim Roy argues that Islam in Bengal was not a corruption of the real" Middle Eastern Islam, as nineteenth-century reformers claimed, but a valid historical religion developed in an area totally different from the Middle East.

    Originally published in 1984.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5670-1
    Subjects: Religion, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xxii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xxiii-xxiv)
  5. Transliterations
    (pp. xxv-2)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 3-16)

    Islamic contact with Bengal is as old as the role of the religion is significant in the historical development of this region. It is rather paradoxical that the phenomenon of Islamization in Bengal has drawn far less academic attention than what would seem warranted by its historical significance. Its importance does not simply consist in the fact that the undivided Bengal saw the largest concentration of Muslims (about 34 million) in the Indian subcontinent, and that their present aggregate in divided Bengal (the Indian state of West Bengal and Bangladesh) makes them the second largest Muslim population in the world...

    • 1 Social Origins of Muslims in Bengal
      (pp. 19-57)

      The social composition, the geographical distribution, and the demographic patterns of the Muslims in Bengal were seminal factors in the development of Islam in that region. By the end of the nineteenth century the Muslim population in Bengal was recorded around 26 million, which constituted about one-third of the total population of Bengal and about 40 percent of the total Muslim population of India. Distributed regionally the number was more meaningful. In east and southeast Bengal two-thirds, and in north Bengal three-fifths, of the inhabitants were recorded as Muslims.¹

      The Muslim preponderance in the Bengal population, as revealed in the...

    • 2 The Emergence of the Bengali Muslim Cultural Mediators and the Syncretistic Tradition
      (pp. 58-84)

      The indigenous and low-class origin of the Muslim masses in Bengal, and the social and cultural considerations underlying the local conversions, as discussed in the preceding chapter, were vital factors in determining the character and patterns of Islamization in the region. These factors remained in the background of the situation revealed by the earliest Muslim Bengali literary sources. This literature is characterized by an anxiety to illumine the masses of Bengali Muslims, who were found ill-grounded in their religious tradition and steeped in pre-existing non-Muslim tradition.¹ The root of this problem lay, in the agreed opinion of these writers, in...

    • A. The Syncretistic Great Tradition
      • 3 History—Myth
        (pp. 87-110)

        The literary area to engage the attention of the mediators most was that of the historical and mythical tradition. A survey of the entire range of the Muslim Bengali literature under study reveals the predominance and the great popularity of these historical-mythical writings. Further, an internal examination of this particular type of composition points to its total correspondance in both form and spirit to the prevailing tradition of long and continuous narrative poems in Bengali, known variously asmangal-kāvya, vijay-kāvya,or simply aspānchāliorpānchālikā. The old and middle Bengali literature assumed two general forms: the lyrical and the...

      • 4 Cosmogony—Cosmology
        (pp. 111-140)

        The cosmogonical ideas presented in the mediators’ writings were also strongly permeated by indigenous influences. The non-Muslim local ideas of this category formed part of themangaliterature and were drawn from various religious-sectarian sources popular in and outside Bengal, such as the dharmist, the nāthist, and the purānic. The Muslim stream of cosmogonical thoughts and beliefs embodied in these Bengali writings flowed generally from the Islamic cosmogonical tradition nurtured in the Judaeo-Christian environment in West Asia. And yet the Muslim and the non-Muslim traditions in Bengal strikingly converged on each other. This correspondence was as much due to a...

      • 5 Esoterism—Mysticism
        (pp. 141-206)

        Esoterical and mystical matters formed a major area of the mediators’ literary preoccupations. As in the realm of history, myth, and cosmogony, the mystical concerns of the Bengali Muslim writers offered a total impression of accord and identification with their corresponding non-Muslim local tradition. A critical evaluation of the extent of local impact on this mystical literature is clouded by the universality and affinity of all mystical quests and also by the controversial nature of communication between India and Islamic mystical systems.¹ In point of fact, however, a student of Bengali Muslim mystical thought and practice can easily avoid both...

    • B. The Syncretistic Little Tradition
      • 6 Pirism or the Cult of Pir
        (pp. 207-248)

        The syncretistic tradition formulated by the Bengali Muslim cultural mediators, as examined in the three preceding chapters, presented a significant contrast with the other tradition obtained at the folk level of the Bengali Muslim society.² The former undoubtedly catered for the folk, as this literature was primarily aimed at them, while it originated not with the folk but with the cultural mediators of the higher social strata.³ The latter, on the other hand, emerged clearly from the folk level itself. In addition to authorship, there were two more vital differences between these literary traditions. A mere casual glance reveals a...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 249-254)

    In examining the Islamic syncretistic tradition in Bengal, we hoped to raise and answer, directly or indirectly, some basic questions about the approach to an historical study in the process of Islamization in a regional setting, the growing and developing nature of Islamization as an historical phenomenon, and the changing meaning and implication of being a Muslim in the context of the believer’s social and cultural mores. The study has made it possible to draw a few conclusions.

    The conventional Islamist’s concern to measure the progress of Islamization at a regional level by the yardstick of classical Islam merely reduces,...

  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 255-294)
  11. Index
    (pp. 295-310)