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rine eo WU 10 The Rooting of Islam in Bengal Why are you afraid of demons, when you have got the jious books? A mulla in Vijaya Guptas poem Padina Purana (1494) From the perspective of Mughal authorities in Dhaka or Murshidabad, the hundreds of tiny rural mosques and shrines established in the interior of eastern Bengal served as agents for the transformation of jungle into arable land and the construction of stable microsocieties loyal to the Mughal state. From a religious perspective, however, these same institutions facili- tated the diffusion of uniquely Islamic conceptions of divine and human authority among groups under their socioeconomic influence. Govern ‘ment documents from the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries note the establishment of new Friday assemblies or “circles” (igamat-i ‘halga-yijum‘a) at mosques or shrines patronized by the Mughal govern- ‘ment, and refer to such communities as “dependents” (od bastagan) of those same institutions. In forest tracts recently cleared for cultivation, the appearance of such assemblies coincided with the establishment of religious rites such as the fatika at rural mosques and shrines. Named after the opening verse of the Quran, which would have been recited on the occasion, the fatiha was 4 simple rite of remembrance of the dead, usually followed by a feast. One type consisted of intercessory prayers offered to the Shi'a succes- sors (imam) to the leadership of the Prophet Muhammad? In another, the fatiha-yi darvisht, prayers were offered in memory of local darvishes, that is, Muslim holy men. Lists of persons supported by village mosques or hi” Chittagong District Collectorate Record Room, No. 64, 7, undle 62, case no. 4005 jam-i ‘Ashirt. Ibid, No. 254, bundle 55, case no. 3568; case no. 4049; No. 252, bundle 3, case no. 2935 3: For example in 1749 the Mughal government granted Shaikh Jan Kania Thana 25.6 acres of jungle so that he might perform fa shrine entrusted to him. Ibid, No. 196, bundle 29, ase no. 2093 lah of Sat- ddarotshr a 3 The Rooting of Islam in Bengal / 269 shrines frequently mention “leaders in fatiha,” “readers of fatih,” or sim- ply “Qur’an-readers.”* The cumulative effect of such simple observances was to promote the cult of Allah and associated lesser agencies in the religious universe of eastern Bengal. This process is usually glossed as “religious conversio: but the use of this phrase requires a precise understanding of both “eli- gion” and “conversion.” If one accepts the definition of religion proposed by the anthropologist Melford Spiro—“an institution consisting of cultur- ally patterned interaction with culturally postulated superhuman be- ings”*—then it follows that, whatever other changes might occur, a soci- ety’ acquisition of a new identity of the superhuman beings postulated by that society. In tracing the process of Islamization in pre-modern Bengal, then, we need to focus on the increasing attention given to Allah, as well as to beings such as Iblis (Satan), Adam, Muhammad, the angel Gabriel, a host of minor spirits Ginn), and the many saints (auliya or pits) who entered popular traditions as intermediaries between human society and Allah. The term conversion is pethaps misleading when applied to this process, since it ordinarily con~ notes a sudden and total transformation in which a prior religious identity is wholly rejected and replaced by @ new one. In reality, in Bengel, as in phe- ous identity will involve @ change in the South Asian history generally, the process of Islamization as a soc nomenon proceeded so gradually as to be nearly imperceptible. Nonetheless, from the position of historical retrospect, one may discern three analytically distinct aspects to the process, each referring toa differ- ent relationship between Islamic and Indian superhuman agencies. One of these I am calling inclusion; a second, identification; and a third, displace- ment. By inclusion is meant the process by which Islamic superhuman agencies became accepted in local Bengali cosmologies alongside local di- vinities already embedded therein. By identification is meant the process by which Islamic superhuman agencies ceased merely to coexist alongside Bengali agencies, but actually merged with them, as when the Arabic name Allah was used interchangeably with the Sanskrit Niranjan. And fi by displacement is meant the process by which the names of Islamic super- Juman agencies replaced those of other divinities in local cosmologies. The three terms inclusion, identification, and displacement are of course only fs in ibid, No, 32, bundle 77, case no, Qu 63, case 4. Musalltan-i fatiha, or atiha-khi 4o7t: No. 49, bundle 47, case no. 3054. "Qur'an veaders” were ti Eniwans, or tlawat, a in No. 65, bundle 73, case no. 4677: No. 72, bun: no, 4100; No. 113, bundle 35, case no. 2296. 5, Melford E. Spiro, “Religion: Problems of Definition and Explanatio thropolegical Approaches to the Study of Religion, ed. Michael Bonto ‘Tavicrarl Publicerione re6o), of. in An London: