The Faraizi Movement was a religious movement launched by ‘Haji Shariatullah‘ in 1818 in Eastern Bengal. It aimed to eradicate un-Islamic practices among the Muslims of the region and draw their attention to their duties as Muslims. The Faraizi Movement gained massive peasants’ support and protected the rights of peasants to a great extent. It became common among the Muslim peasants in various districts of Bengal. After Shariatullah’s death, the Movement was carried forward by his son Dudu Miyan.
The ‘Faraizis‘ were the followers of a Muslim sect founded by Haji Shariatullah of Faridpur in Eastern Bengal in the early 19th century. Shariatullah stayed for 20 years at Makkah (or Mecca) and studied the religious doctrines under Tahir al-Sumbal Makki, a prominent jurist of the Hanafi School.
On his return to Bengal, Shariatullah launched a movement in 1818 to make Bengal Muslims follow the true path of Islam. For historical reasons, the Muslims of Bengal had been following many indigenous customs, rituals, and ceremonies, which were far from the principles of Islam. Most Bengal Muslims did not even follow the fundamentals of Islam.
Shariatullah laid utmost emphasis on the fundamentals of Islam, insisted on the complete acceptance and strict observation of pure monotheism, and condemned all deviations from the original doctrines. He vowed to bring the Muslims of Bengal to the true path of Islam. He gave focused on social equality, justice, and the universal brotherhood of Muslims.
Haji Shariatullah regard the British rule in Bengal as detrimental to the religious life of the Muslims. He sought to save them from the atrocities of colonial rule.
Faraizi Movement also fought for the Muslim’s rights under British Rule. It branched on to become not just a religious but also a socio-economic issue when some elites, mainly Zamindars or European indigo planters, attempted to entrap Shariatullah into legal matters. The landlords or zamindars disagreed with the methods he was propagating his beliefs, especially regarding his disagreement with paying non-Islamic taxes and slaughtering cows.
Faraizi Movement under Haji Shariatullah
Shariatullah’s Faraizi Movement focused on reforming the priorities of Bengal Muslims based on the Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence. It was a religious reform movement launched in rural areas of East Bengal in 1818, and its epicentre was in Faridpur. Its primary aim was to discard un-Islamic practices.
The Movement was also known as the “Fara’idi Movement” because of its emphasis on the Islamic pillar of faith. The term ‘Faraizi’, derived from ‘Farz‘ (or Fard), means obligatory duties commanded by Allah (or God). The exponent of the Movement, Haji Shariatullah, however, interpreted the term in a broader sense to include all religious duties enjoined by ‘Quran’ and Sunnah of the Prophet. The leader of the Farazis was called ‘Ustad‘ (or teacher) and his disciples ‘Shagird‘ (or students), instead of using the terms like pir and murid. A person so initiated into the Faraizi fold was known as Tawbar Muslim or Mumin.
Faraizi Movement seeks to purify the religion by outcasting all practices and teachings that are not in line with Islamic beliefs. It called for Muslims to recognise and partake in their compulsory duties (Fard). Shariatullah instructed his followers to assimilate every religious duty required by Quran and Sunnah.
The Faraizi Movement spread widely in the districts of Dhaka, Faridpur, Barisal, Mymensingh, Chittagong, Noakhali, and Comilla and to the province of Assam. It gained more momentum in those places where the Muslim peasants were depressed under the oppressive domination of Hindu zamindars and European indigo planters.
On the other hand, some wealthy Bengalis did not accept the Faraizi doctrine and tried to resist their activities with the help of zamindars. The landlords levied numerous ‘abwabs‘ (during Mughal India, all temporary and conditional taxes and impositions imposed by the government over and above the regular taxes referred to as abwabs). Such abwabs were dishonest in the eye of the law. Several abwabs were of a religious nature.
Haji Shariatullah then intervened to oppose such a practice and commanded his disciples not to pay these unfair cesses to the landlords. The landlords even imposed a ban on the slaughtering of cows, especially on the occasion of Eid. The Farazis ordained their peasant followers not to obey such a ban. All these heated instances added to tensed and stressed relationships between the Faraizis and the landlords, who were almost all Hindus. The Farazis campaigned for radical religious, social and political changes.
Some landlords, particularly the landlords of Dhaka, reacted sharply against Shariatullah, which caused a riot in Nayabari, Dhaka District. They secured the expulsion of Shariatullah by the police in 1831 from Ramanagar or Nayabari, where he had set up his propaganda centre. Due to the continuous involvement of these landlords and European Indigo planters, the Faraizi Movement gradually became a socio-economic issue.
The outraged landlords built up a propaganda campaign with the British officials, accusing the Faraizis of being mutinous. In 1837, these Hindu landlords accused Shariatullah of attempting to build up a kingdom of his own. They also bought several lawsuits against the Faraizis, taking advantage of the active cooperation of the European indigo planters. Shariatullah was under the detention of police in more than one instance for allegedly inciting agrarian disturbances in Faridpur.
Faraizi Revolt (1838-1857)
After the death of Haji Shariatullah in 1840, his son ‘Dudu Muyan‘ led the Faraizi Movement to a more radical agrarian character. He gave it an organisational structure from the village to the provincial level. He established his own administrative system and appointed a Khalifa (leader) for each town. His policy was to create a state within the British-ruled state. He organised the oppressed peasants against the oppressive landlords.
Under Dudu Miyan’s leadership, the Faraizi Movement became revolutionary from 1840 onwards. The Fara’idis organised a paramilitary force armed with clubs to fight against the zamindars, who were mostly Hindus, though there were some Muslim landlords too. The organisation even established its own Law courts.
Dudu Miyan called his followers not to pay revenue to zamindars or landlords. In retaliation, the landlords and indigo planters tried to contain Miyan by instituting cases against him. He was arrested several times but released because he became so popular with the peasantry that the courts rarely found a witness against him in such cases. The Faraizis disturbance continued till 1857.
During the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the British government arrested Dudu Miyan as a precaution and kept him in the Alipore Jail at Calcutta. He was released in 1859, rearrested again, and finally freed in 1860. In 1862, Dudu Miyan died in Dhaka. After the death of Miyan, the Faraizi Movement survived merely as a religious movement without political overtones. Most of the Faraizis joined the Wahabi ranks.