Khanqah a Persian word meaning a house or abode of sufis and dervishes. Khanqah seems to have started appearing in Khurasan and Transoxiana in the 10th century as centres of prayers as well as of teaching on various aspects of Islamic xariah. From then onwards khanqah continued to have been established both in urban centres and countryside throughout the whole Islamic world.
The khanqah institution was introduced in Bengal in the 13th century by the sufis of Persia. Khanqah is an important institution for Muslim society. namaz, religious assemblies and other Islamic functions are held here. Often established as a place of shelter for a large number of sufis, khanqahs generally had residential buildings, mosques, madrasahs, mazars (tombs), and various annexes and ancillary buildings, which made virtually independent complexes. In most cases, khanqahs were built on rent-free lands under government patronage.
In medieval Bengal, khanqahs of Shaikhs and sufis played an important role in guiding Muslims and in their social and cultural development. minhaj-i-siraj records that after making lakhnauti the capital of Bengal, Muhammad bakhtiyar khalji built many mosques, madrasahs and khanqahs. Thirteen inscriptions of the first one hundred years of Muslim rule in Bengal (1204-1304) have been so far discovered and of them, six bear the testimony of khanqahs. This indicates the importance of the khanqah in Bengal society of the time. Places like devkot, Deotala, mahasthan, Dhaka, sonargaon, Chittagong, Sylhet, gaur, pandua, rajmahal, murshidabad and Tribeni (satgaon) were famous for khanqahs.
The sufis played a prominent role in preaching Islam in Bengal by establishing Chilla Khanahs or khanqahs. Each of them had many followers. They were pioneers in spreading not only the spiritual knowledge but also general education. Some khanqahs of Bengal saints were great seats of learning. They produced many notable alims (religious scholars), sufis and dervishes such as sharfuddin yahya maneri, ashraf jahangir simnani, Nasiruddin Manikpuri, Shaikh Husain Dhukkarposh, Hasanuddin Manikpuri, and Shaikh Kafi. In a khanqah, the pious could find mental and spiritual peace.
Every khanqah had a langarkhana or free kitchen attached to it that provided food to the poor and the needy. Langarkhanas were maintained by endowments or income from the state endowed lakhiraj lands. They enabled the sufis and dervishes to come closer to the common people and thereby, to understand their feelings and attitudes.
Khanqah was a spiritual institution based on human understanding and feeling. During medieval period and even after, people of all religions and races, irrespective of caste and creed, used to visit khanqahs for purposes of healing and satisfaction.
Khanqahs imparted spiritual teaching and in addition, they served as centres of education. The Sian inscription (dated 1221 AD), the second Islamic inscription of Bengal, is the first epigraphic evidence of a khanqah exclusively for the sufis, who spent their whole time in meditation. The rent-free lands were extensively confiscated during the Colonial rule and as a result, many historic khanqahs were affected. Through financial hardships many old khanqahs were closed down. There are many khanqahs in Bengal now. But they have lost their historical significance. [Rasheda Waiz]