Grad Stories

Sufi shrines in Bangladesh

Left: shrine of Shah Jalal in Sylhet, Bangladesh. Right: Saif Zaman pictured at the shrine of Shah Sufi Syed Dayemullah in the village of Ibrahimpur, Bangladesh.

Saif Zaman: Redefining Slavery in British Bengal

Saif Zaman is a PhD Candidate in History supervised by Dr. Douglas Peers.

My thesis looks at the redefining of slavery in British Bengal during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This was a period of heightened abolitionist movements throughout the British Empire. My work specifically looks at the reaction of two groups within Bengal. One group, the Sufis (Muslim mystics), had long been critical of slavery and social inequalities. Sufi influence in Bengal is quite profound which lead to the region becoming a Muslim enclave in South/South East Asia. I have been conducting research into Sufism and slavery for some time now and my work has taken me to several Sufi shrines dotted throughout Bangladesh (former East Bengal) to access the archives appended to these institutions. The materials there are unique and not found in other libraries. One of the pictures here shows the entrance to Shah Jalal's shrine. Shah Jalal was a 13/14th century Sufi who flourished around the same time as another famous Sufi, Rumi. Shah Jalal migrated from the Middle East to establish Islam in the regions of East Bengal and Assam. He is regarded as the patron saint of the city of Sylhet and the international airport there is named after him. The other picture shows the shrine of Shah Syed Dayemullah, a 20th century Sufi who established several orphanages throughout Bangladesh and was a noted social reformer. In one instance, despite threats to himself and his family, he rescued some young girls who had been sold to a brothel. His shrine is a unique example of a Sufi shrine in Bangladesh since the carvings where done by a Hindu disciple.