Haji Shariatullah

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Haji Shariatullah
Haji Shariatullah.jpg
Nationality Bengali
Known for Faraizi Movement
ChildrenMuhsinuddin Ahmad

Haji Shariatullah (17811840) was an eminent Islamic reformer of the Indian subcontinent in British India. He is known for founding the Faraizi movement. Shariatpur District is named after him. [1]

Indian subcontinent Peninsular region in south-central Asia south of the Himalayas

The Indian subcontinent, is a southern region and peninsula of Asia, mostly situated on the Indian Plate and projecting southwards into the Indian Ocean from the Himalayas. Geologically, the Indian subcontinent is related to the land mass that rifted from Gondwana and merged with the Eurasian plate nearly 55 million years ago. Geographically, it is the peninsular region in south-central Asia delineated by the Himalayas in the north, the Hindu Kush in the west, and the Arakanese in the east. Politically, the Indian subcontinent includes Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

The Faraizi movement was founded in 1819 by Haji Shariatullah to give up un-Islamic practices and act upon their duties as Muslims (fard). The movement protected the rights of tenants to a great extent.

Shariatpur District District in Bangladesh

Shariatpur is a district in the Dhaka Division of central Bangladesh. It is bounded by Munshiganj district on the north, Barisal district on the south, Chandpur district on the east, Madaripur district on the west. Water bodies Main rivers: Padma, Meghna, Palong, and Jayanti. Of the six upazilas of the district Bhedarganj Upazila is the largest and Damudya Upazila is the smallest.


Early life

Haji Shariatullah was a prominent Islamic scholar and reformer of the Indian sub-continent during the British rule in South-Asia. He was born to Abdul Jalil Talukdar, a farmer by profession, in 1781. His family (Talukdars) were not well off and were classified into the lower socio-economic class of the Indian hierarchy system. [2] Talukdars were not educated and had farming as their generational occupation and primary source of income. The exact date or time of his birth and the name of his mother has not been mentioned by any peer reviewed historical text, but the place of his birth has been reported as Shamali, Madaripur sub-district of Faridpur district in the province of Bengal. [3] His birthplace is now a part of the modern-day Bangladesh.

Bangladesh Country in South Asia

Bangladesh, officially the People's Republic of Bangladesh, is a country in South Asia. It shares land borders with India and Myanmar. Bangladesh is the 92nd-largest sovereign state in the world, with an area of 147,570 square kilometres (56,980 sq mi). It is also the world's 8th-most populous country, as well as one of its most densely-populated. Dhaka is its capital and largest city, and is also the economic, political and the cultural center of Bangladesh, followed by Chittagong, which has the country's largest port. Bangladesh forms the largest and eastern part of the Bengal region. The country's geography is dominated by the Bengal delta, the largest delta in the world. The country has many rivers and 8,046 km (5,000 mi) of inland waterways. Highlands with evergreen forests are found in the northeastern and southeastern regions of the country. The country also has the longest sea beach and the largest mangrove forest in the world. The country's biodiversity includes a vast array of plants and wildlife, including the endangered Bengal tiger, the national animal.

He was eight years old when his father died. Following that, Haji Shariatullah's uncle Azim al-Din nurtured him in a very loving manner. Therefore, he lived a “carefree life with little concern for discipline.” [4] However, when he was about 12 years old, he ran away to Calcutta because “on a certain occasion” he was “reprimanded by his uncle”[4]. In Calcutta, he met a Quran teacher named Maulana (a title given to an Islamic scholar) Basharat Ali around the same time who allowed him to become a part of his Quran classes. Maulana had a crucial impact on the direction of his life and encouraged him to learn Arabic and Persian languages, something that would later allow him to develop a comprehensive understanding of Quran. It took him two years to become proficient in these languages.[5]

Kolkata Capital city of West Bengal, India

Kolkata ([kolkata], is the capital of the Indian state of West Bengal. Located on the east bank of the Hooghly River approximately 75 kilometres west of the border with Bangladesh, it is the principal commercial, cultural, and educational centre of East India, while the Port of Kolkata is India's oldest operating port and its sole major riverine port. The city is widely regarded as the "cultural capital" of India, and is also nicknamed the "City of Joy". According to the 2011 Indian census, it is the seventh most populous city; the city had a population of 4.5 million, while the suburb population brought the total to 14.1 million, making it the third-most populous metropolitan area in India. Recent estimates of Kolkata Metropolitan Area's economy have ranged from $60 to $150 billion making it third most-productive metropolitan area in India, after Mumbai and Delhi.

Quran The central religious text of Islam

The Quran is the central religious text of Islam, which Muslims believe to be a revelation from God (Allah). It is widely regarded as the finest work in classical Arabic literature. The Quran is divided into chapters, which are subdivided into verses.

Persian language Western Iranian language

Persian, also known by its endonym Farsi, is a Western Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family. It is a pluricentric language primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and some other regions which historically were Persianate societies and considered part of Greater Iran. It is written right to left in the Persian alphabet, a modified variant of the Arabic script.

Following the learning of these languages, he headed towards Murshidabad to meet another uncle of his named Ashiq Miyan, a Murshidabad District court official. He continued to enhance his proficiency in the two languages during the twelve months he spent with his uncle. Upon his uncle and aunt's decision to visit their native village, Haji Shariatullah decided to pay his birthplace a visit as well. As a matter of fact, he had not visited his Uncle Azim al-Din ever since he ran away at the age of twelve. Unfortunately, the small sail boat that they were in on their way to Shamali broke down when it ran into a vigorous storm. As a result, their sail boat Haji's uncle and aunt drowned to death, but he himself was somehow lucky enough to survive the catastrophic event. However, he was so disturbed by this shocking and disturbing calamity that he changed his plan and headed back to Calcutta in order to meet his Quran teacher Maulana Basharat Ali. By that time, the Maulana had become so concerned by the British rule that he had made the decision to emigrate to Saudi Arabia, the home to Mecca and Medina which are considered as the two most holy sites according to Islamic beliefs. Haji Shariatullah also expressed his strong desire of accompanying  Maulana. Upon Haji Shariatullah insistence, Maulana allowed Haji to be a part of his emigration journey to Saudi Arabia in the year 1799. Haji Shariatullah's first stay in Mecca lasted till the year 1818 and significantly enhanced his familiarity with Islam and impassioned him even more to enhance his knowledge and understanding about Islam. [6]

Murshidabad district District in West Bengal, India

Murshidabad district is a district of West Bengal, in eastern India. Situated on the left bank of the river Ganges, the district is very fertile. Covering an area of 5,341 km² and having a population 5.863m, it is a densely populated district and the ninth most populous in India. Baharampur town is the headquarters of the district.

Saudi Arabia Country in Western Asia

Saudi Arabia, officially the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,, is a country in Western Asia constituting the bulk of the Arabian Peninsula. With a land area of approximately 2,150,000 km2 (830,000 sq mi), Saudi Arabia is geographically the largest sovereign state in the Middle East, the second-largest in the Arab world, the fifth-largest in Asia, and the 12th-largest in the world. Saudi Arabia is bordered by Jordan and Iraq to the north, Kuwait to the northeast, Qatar, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates to the east, Oman to the southeast and Yemen to the south; it is separated from Israel and Egypt by the Gulf of Aqaba. It is the only nation with both a Red Sea coast and a Persian Gulf coast, and most of its terrain consists of arid desert, lowland and mountains. As of October 2018, the Saudi economy was the largest in the Middle East and the 18th largest in the world. Saudi Arabia also enjoys one of the world's youngest populations; 50 percent of its 33.4 million people are under 25 years old.

Mecca Saudi Arabian city and capital of the Makkah province

Mecca, also spelled Makkah, is a city in the Hejazi region of Saudi Arabia. 70 km (43 mi) inland from Jeddah, in a narrow valley 277 m (909 ft) above sea level, 340 kilometres (210 mi) south of Medina, its population in 2012 was 2 million, although visitors more than triple this number every year during the Ḥajj, held in the twelfth Muslim lunar month of Dhūl-Ḥijjah.

The time he spent in Saudi Arabia can be divided into three distinct phases. During the first two years, he stayed at the place of Maulana Murad, “a Bengali domicile at Makkah”[7], and studied Arabic literature and Islamic jurisprudence. The second phase was the most important and spans over a 14-year time period in which he “received guidance from Tahir al-Sumbal Makki, a Hanafi jurist”. “Tahir al-Sumbal Makki had vast and extensive Islamic knowledge and was reputed for his scholasticism as Abu Hanifa the junior. With the help and guidance of Sumbal, Haji Shariatullah studied religious sciences and Sufism. Sumbal also introduced him to Qadiriyah order of Sufism. In the third phase, Haji Shariatullah asked his respected teacher Tahir Sumbal to grant him the permission to go and study the subtilities of Islam along with philosophy (Hikmat) at the University of al-Azhar in Cairo, Egypt. It is reported that the permission was granted with reluctance “probably for fear or disapprobation of rationalism.” [8]Haji Shariatullah spent long hours at the university's library, but it has not been confirmed if he officially enrolled in any courses at the university. “James Wise and Hidayet Hosain testify that he came back from Arabia as a good Arabic scholar and a skillful disputer.” [9]

“Having fortified himself with Islamic learning, the Haji proceeded to his home country for preaching”.[10] There he found that many of practices that the Muslims were indulging in practices that were either superstitious or influenced by Hindu beliefs. The situation was very concerning for him since he firmly believed that the then current state of Muslims was “grossly un-Islamic.”[11] Upon his return, he had a long beard (a sunnah in Islam) and wore a turban at all times, something indicative of his strong commitment to all authentic teachings of Islam. It was considered to be such an unexpected change that when he first visited his uncle Azim al-Din's house, no one was able to identify him. Unfortunately, his uncle passed away soon after his arrival and reportedly requested him to take care of his family as he had no male heir. He then said the Maghrib prayer's adhan (Islamic way of calling Muslims to worship Allah) and to his surprise no one showed for the prayer. He was also unable to attend his uncle's funeral due to the disagreements he had with the local villagers on the w ay the funeral had to be conducted. At this point, to him the Islamic community in Bengal and India as a whole appeared to have been corrupted and immensely un-Islamic. These series of events encouraged him to play his role in guiding the local population of Muslims to what he believed to be the true path of Islam. His struggle of enlightening later came to be known as Faraizi Movement.

Sunnah, also sunna or sunnat, is the body of literature which discusses and prescribes the traditional customs and practices of the Islamic community, both social and legal, often but not necessarily based on the verbally transmitted record of the teachings, deeds and sayings, silent permissions of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, as well as various reports about Muhammad's companions. The Quran and the sunnah make up the two primary sources of Islamic theology and law. The sunnah is also defined as "a path, a way, a manner of life"; "all the traditions and practices" of the Islamic prophet that "have become models to be followed" by Muslims.

The Maghrib prayer, prayed just after sunset, is the fourth of five obligatory daily prayers (salat) performed by practicing Muslims.

Allah Deity of Islam

Allah is the Arabic word for God in Abrahamic religions. In the English language, the word generally refers to God in Islam. The word is thought to be derived by contraction from al-ilāh, which means "the god", and is related to El and Elah, the Hebrew and Aramaic words for God.

Surprisingly, he faced a lot of opposition from the elite of Muslims in Bengal who also tried to entrap him into legal matters. Following the initial failure of the Faraizi Movement, he decided to return to Makkah. It is believed that the trip took place somewhere between year 1818 and 1820. Haji Shariatullah believed that his efforts of purifying Islam had met failure because he had not formally requested permission from his teacher Tahir al-Sumbal Makki for moving ahead with this step in his life. This is clearly indicative of the impact that his teacher and spiritual leader Tahir al-Sumbal Makki had on his life, and the high degree of respect that Haji treated his mentors with. It is also reported but has never been confirmed that a turning point in his struggles for purifying Islam was a dream that he had of Muhammad during his second stay in Saudi Arabia. According to the unconfirmed accounts, Muhammad encouraged him to purify Islam in his homeland. As a result, he returned to Bengal in 1821 with much more enthusiasm and passion to guide the Muslim of Bengal than during his prior visit. This is probably one of the reasons why Faraizi Movement became popular and well known during after the year 1821 even though it was founded in 1818.

Durr-i-Muhammad describes the impact of Faraizi movement in the words “All these bidat were then abolished and the sun of Islam rose high in the sky.”[12] Hunter takes a similar stand by saying “Having arrived there Haji Shariatullah propagated (true) religion throughout Bengal.”[13] Haji Shariatullah believed that the Hindu practices of superstition had seeped into Islamic traditions and had led the Muslims astray. An example of Hindu traditions would be regularly visiting temples of people who are placed in high social or religious standing or planting a Banana tree when a woman from menstruates for the very first time.[14] Haji Shariatullah wanted the Muslims to truly focus on the teachings of Quran in a very strict and orthodox manner. He devoted the later portion of his life in effectively spreading the message of Faraizi Movement. The beliefs of Haji Shariatullah had a significant overlap with those of Wahhabism and continue to be very popular to date.[15]

[1] Khan, Moin-Ud-Din. “Haji Shari’at-Allah.” Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society11, no. 2 page 106 (April 1, 1963). http://search.proquest.com/docview/1301938794/?pq-origsite=primo

[2] Ibid. Page 106.

[3] Ibid. Page 106.

[4] Ibid. Page 106.

[5] Ibid Page 106 – 109.

[6] Ibid. Page 106-115.

[7] Khan, Moin-Ud-Din. “Haji Shari’at-Allah.” Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society11, no. 2 page 108 (April 1, 1963). http://search.proquest.com/docview/1301938794/?pq-origsite=primo

[8] Ibid.

[9] Khan, Moin-Ud-Din. “Haji Shari’at-Allah.” Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society11, no. 2 page 107 (April 1, 1963). http://search.proquest.com/docview/1301938794/?pq-origsite=primo

[10] Ibid. Page 111.

[11] Ibid. Page

[12] Durr-i-Muhammad: Puthi, p. 27.

[13] W.W. Hunter, ed.: Imperial Gazetteer of India, vol. iv, p. 339.

[14] Khan, Moin-Ud-Din. “Haji Shari’at-Allah.” Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society11, no. 2 page 112 (April 1, 1963). http://search.proquest.com/docview/1301938794/?pq-origsite=primo

[15] Khan, Moin-Ud-Din. “Haji Shari’at-Allah.” Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society11, no. 2 page 115 (April 1, 1963). http://search.proquest.com/docview/1301938794/?pq-origsite=primo

Faraizi movement

Shariatullah founded the Faraizi movement which was a religious reform movement in the 19th century for Bengali Muslims. The term Faraizi was taken from fard which means standing for compulsory and mandatory duties ordained by Allah. Shariatullah instructed his followers to assimilate every religious duty required by the Quran as well as by the Sunnah, while remaining firmly in the Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence. [5] He called for observance on the five fundamentals of Islam, insisted on the complete acceptance and strict observance of monotheism and prohibited all digressions from the original doctrines of Islam as shirk (polytheism) and bid`at (sinful conception). [1] Haji Shariatullah deemed British domination in Bengal as detrimental to the religious life of Muslims.

Haji Shariatullah was the founder of Faraizi Movement, a religious reform movement that was very popular in its time and is still very popular to date. The name Faraizi itself is reflective of the aspirations and the goals the movement intended on achieving. The word Faraizi comes from the Arabic word Fard. Its literal translation in English is “a religious obligation” and contextual translation with regards to Islam is a mandatory duty that has to be performed by the followers of Allah. One common example of a Fard in Islam would be the five obligatory prayers that every Muslim is obliged to offer at specific times. Haji Shariatullah started the Faraizi Movement with an intent to purify Islam and to fight for the rights of Muslims under the British rule. The Faraizi Movement later became a socio-economic issue when some of the elite Muslim and Hindu Zamindars tried to entrap Haji Shariatullah into legal matters upon their disagreement with the ways he was proceeding with his beliefs, especially regarding his disagreement to paying non-Islamic taxes and slaughtering of cows. After his death, the Faraizi Movement was led by Dudu Miyan, Haji Shariatullah's only son and child.


The Faraizi movement thus began to circulate with astonishing speed in the districts of Dhaka, Faridpur, Madaripur, Barisal, Mymensingh and Comilla. Some Muslims, on the other hand, particularly the landlords of Dhaka, hence, reacted sharply against him and this caused a riot in Noyabari, Dhaka District. [1] Due to the reaction of these landlords and Hindu landlords and European indigo planters, this movement swelled into a socio-economic issue. [6]

Gradually incidents caused by the Faraizi movement could be witnessed in various parts of Bengal. The outraged landlords built up a propaganda campaign with the British officials, incriminating the Faraizis with mutinous mood. In 1837, these Hindu landlords accused Shariatullah of attempting to build up a monarchy of his own, similar in lines to Titu Mir. They also brought several lawsuits against the Faraizis, in which they benefitted dynamic cooperation of the European indigo planters. Shariatullah was placed under the detention of the police in more than one instance, for purportedly inciting agrarian turbulences in Faridpur. [1]

Death and legacy

After the death of Haji Shariatullah in 1840, leadership of the Faraizi movement passed to his only son, Muhsinuddin Ahmad popularly known as Dudu Miyan. [7]

Palong thana of Madaripur, a district in the Dhaka Division of Bangladesh was named Shariatpur District in honor of Haji Shariatullah. [8] Bangladesh issued a postage stamp commemorating him on 10 March 1993. [9] The 450 metres (1,480 ft) Haji Shariatullah Bridge over the Arial Khan River on the Mawa-Bhanga highway is named after him. [10]

“Haji Shariatullah died at his native village Shamail in 1840 at the age of 59”[1] and was buried in the backyard of his home. His grave was washed away in a flooding of his home, but his tomb inscription has been preserved by the Asiatic Society of Pakistan. remains one of the most celebrated and prominent Muslim reformers to date, especially amongst the category of those who pertain to the history of Islamic leaders in the Indian sub-continent.[2] He is very well known and acknowledged by Muslim communities of Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan with his Faraizi Movement as being the epitome of his legacy and services. Details about Faraizi Movement can be found in common school textbooks as well as in Islamic historical books.  

[1] Khan, Moin-Ud-Din. “Haji Shari’at-Allah.” Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society11, no. 2 page 126 (April 1, 1963). http://search.proquest.com/docview/1301938794/?pq-origsite=primo

[2] Ibid. Page 126.

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  1. 1 2 3 4 Khan, Muin-ud-Din Ahmad (2012). "Shariatullah, Haji". In Islam, Sirajul; Jamal, Ahmed A. (eds.). Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh (Second ed.). Asiatic Society of Bangladesh.
  2. Khan, Moin-Ud-Din. “Haji Shari’at-Allah.” Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society11, no. 2 page 106 (April 1, 1963). http://search.proquest.com/docview/1301938794/?pq-origsite=primo
  3. Ibid. Page 106.
  4. Ibid. Page 106.
  5. Hua, Shiping. Islam and Democratization in Asia. Aligarh: Cambria Press. p. 160. ISBN   978-1621969006.
  6. Uddin, Sufia M. (2006). Constructing Bangladesh: Religion, Ethnicity, and Language in an Islamic Nation. University of North Carolina Press. pp. 53–54.
  7. Khan, Muin-ud-Din Ahmed (2012). "Faraizi Movement". In Islam, Sirajul; Jamal, Ahmed A. (eds.). Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh (Second ed.). Asiatic Society of Bangladesh. On the death of Haji Shariatullah in 1840 his only son Muhsinuddin Ahmad alias Dudu Miyan was acclaimed the head of the Faraizi movement.
  8. "Haji Shariatullah". Muslim Ummah of North America. Muslim Ummah of North America. Retrieved 22 February 2015.
  9. "Haji Shariat Ullah". Bangladesh Post Office. Retrieved 31 May 2015.
  10. "Haji Shariatullah Bridge was inaugurated". Roads and Highways Department. Retrieved 31 May 2015.