The spread of Islam across Bengal took centuries to take place starting with individuals seeking to leave the highly institutionalised caste-based medieval social system, said former caretaker government advisor Akbar Ali Khan on Saturday.
Akbar made the suggestion in his lecture delivered as part of a series of lectures being organised by Gyantapas Abdur Razzaq Foundation at National Museum in the afternoon.
In Bengal, Akbar said, the spread of Islam began in the 13th century and there is evidence of people converting to Islam in significant number till 19th century.
‘We need to understand what influenced people to desert their previous religion for a new one and who were the first to be influenced,’ said Akbar as he began delivering his lecture.
He said that the people attracted to Islam first were farmers, who were members of the lowest echelon of a highly institutionalised caste-based Hindu society.
The villages in Bengal, where they lived, were far from the control of centres of development and were open to new ideas, Akbar said.
‘The diverse cultural heritage of Bengal is owed to this practice of individualism, which eventually led to popularisation of humanism in Bengal,’ said Akbar.
The first census in Bengal conducted in 1871 took people living in cities and close to it by surprise as it revealed that nearly half of the people in Bengal were Muslim.
In 1901, Akbar said, the number of Muslim population stood at 2.15 crore, which was almost equal to the number of Muslims living under Ottoman empire.
Central Women’s University vice-chancellor Perween Hasan, who presided over the lecture, said that it was difficult to know exactly how this change took place in Bengal due to lack of documentary evidence.
‘Still, it can be said from studying all the sources we have to learn about the change that people did not accept Islam as their religion just because of being at sword point,’ said Perween.
She said that most of the people who converted to Islam could not even read and their conversion has been more of a sign of their being accommodative than being in search for a pure religion.
Former secretary Aminul Islam Bhuiyan presented a short biography of Akbar Ali Khan before he started his lecture on ‘the spread of Islam in Bengal: historical issues revisited’.
It was the sixth in the series of lecture being organised by Gyantapas Abdur Razzaq Foundation.
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