How Muslims Built the Bengal Sultanate, the Richest Country in the World in its Time

Drawn and printed by Georg Westermann, Germany / Public domain

One of the biggest problems confronting humanity today is poverty. A number of some of the poorest nations in the world today are Muslim nations so it will be a kind of surprise for some to realise that there was a time when the Muslims built the richest country in the world. This is the incredible story of the Bengal Sultanate. Also known as Shahi Bangla, the Sultanate of Bengal was an empire located in Bengal (an important region in South Asia) and its existence spanned significant parts of the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries.

With Arabic being its religious language and Bengali alongside Persian being the official languages, the Bengal Sultanate was the most powerful entity in the Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta and its imperial capital held on its own as one of the biggest cities on the planet. Even though the Bengal Sultanate was a Muslim kingdom, it was known for its tolerance to people of every faith. One of the most prominent features of the Bengal Sultanate was that it was a place of refuge for various non-Muslim communities.

It was a thriving and bustling settlement with its royal capital city of Gaur being one of the most populous cities on earth. A major global trading power, the Bengal Sultanate grew in strength and prosperity until it became the largest nation in the world. How the Muslims managed to achieve this wonderful feat will be discussed in the other sections of this piece.

In the early 13th century, the absorption of Bengal over time into the Delhi Sultanate (another Muslim empire) was in process. By the 14th and 15th centuries, there was already a full-fledged Bengal Sultanate. The Muslims of that era were known for not just their bravery, piety, and trading abilities but also being fantastic architects. They built amazing structures like the Adina Mosque in Pandua. Pandua was the first capital for the Sultanate of Bengal and the Adina Mosque held the record as the biggest mosque anywhere on the Indian subcontinent.

As a reflection of its power, the Bengal Sultanate also had several vassal states that served as its protectorates and tributary states all under the control of the Sultan of Bengal. That said, the most interesting part of this vast Muslim kingdom was its economy. It was incredibly successful in the production of silver coins, sericulture, textiles, gold, exports via shipping all over the globe, and production of muslin. Traders came from Europe, China, and all over the world.

The Bengal Sultanate also maintained solid relations with other nations and even maintained embassies in Africa, South Asia, China, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, Europe, and anywhere that mattered. At a point, it was the centre of global business. Even though the Bengal Sultanate was the richest nation in the world, it was still under the Abbasid Caliphate and it pledged its full allegiance to the caliph as Islam dictates. Today, many Muslim societies that are in poverty and facing economic hardship can take this story as an inspiration for a better future. May Allah (SWT) bring ease unto our affairs, aameen.