Faraizi Movement: The clarion call for the peasants of India

History Contributor
Flashback
Faraizi Movement
Haji Shariatullah

In this column we have spoken of Titu Mir (1782 – 1831), a religious reformer-turned-peasant movement leader, martyred by the British. It would, however, be amiss to try and understand his role in India history in isolation. He must be placed within the context of a larger politico-religious movement that spread like wildfire across much of Bengal in early 19th century, the Faraizi Movement.

The two key figures of this movement were a father-son duo, Haji Shariatullah and Muhsinuddin Ahmed, more popularly known as Dudu Miyan. If there was one precursor in the eastern parts of the Bengal province to the 1857 uprising against the Company, it was the Faraizi Movement led by Shariatullah and Dudu Miyan.

Faraizi as an obligation

The term Faraizi is derived from Faraiz, which is the plural form of Farizah, meaning ‘obligatory duties’ instructed by Allah. Indeed, that is how this movement began. With a call to the Muslims to strictly adhere to the obligatory duties laid down by the Islamic scripture. This clarion call was given by a man of middle height, fair complexion, robust health, sporting a long floating beard and a voluminous turban on his head. Shariatullah was born in Shibchar, a small village, not far from Dhaka in 1781 CE.

Not unlike Titu Mir, he also became proficient in the teachings of the Holy Quran. Also in Arabic and Persian languages in an early age. In 1799 he moved to Arabia and stayed in the region for 19 years. During these years Shariatullah studied Islam under a well-known Hanafi jurist Tahir al-Sumbal Makki. He is also said to have spent several years studying in the library of Cairo’s famous Al-Azhar University.

Immediately on his return to Bengal, Haji Shariatullah gave a call to local Muslims to perform their obligatory duties. It was done with utmost importance to five fundamentals of Islam. Profession of the Kalima, offering Namaz five-times a day, fast during the month of Ramzan, paying the Zakath, and going on a pilgrimage to Mecca. Thus began the Faraizi movement.

Formation of economic resistance

So, however, Shariatullah and his followers realized that it was impossible for Bengali Muslims to adhere strictly to the path of Islam. It cannot be done without emancipating the vast majority of Muslim peasantry from the ruthless exploitation of the British Raj. They were aided by landlords, who came from both the Hindu and Muslim elite society.

Quickly social and economic resistance to such exploitations began to take roots within the larger bed of Islamic reformism. It spread rapidly in the districts of Dhaka, Faridpur, Bakherganj, Mymensingh, Coomilla, Chittagong and Noakhali, and even to the province of Assam. Shariatullah was arrested by the police on several occasions. His charges included instigating peasant rebellions against the Zamindars. By the time he passed away in 1840, the Faraizi movement had turned into a rallying platform for disgruntled peasants.

Braveheart Dudu Miyan

On Shariatulla’s death, the mantle of leadership of the movement was passed on to Dudu Miyan. Born in 1819, Dudu also had his training in Islamic studies in Mecca. Not really a scholar like his father, young Dudu, however, was an extremely charismatic leader. Soon he galvanized the Faraizi movement into an organized resistance to the extortions of the landlords and British indigo planters. Within a year the militant nature of the Faraizi movement began to shake the exploitative foundations of the whole system in the eastern parts of the province. In 1843, the Bengal Police estimated that the movement had at least 80 thousand followers.

And after Dudu and his followers burnt down the residence of planter Andrew Dunlop in 1846, their activities became stuff for legends carried far and wide through tales of heroism. Dudu was arrested on many occasions, but had to be always released, since no witness could be found to testify against him. Finally. as the larger uprising began in 1857, the British took no chances and put Dudu behind bars for two years as a precaution. He died in 1862. And the Faraizi movement did not continue long after his death, but it had sown within the Bengal peasantry seeds of a rebellion that would play an important role in the flowering of India’s freedom movement in coming decades.

 

(Written by Author and Translator Nilanjan Hajra)

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