Faraizi Movement

Faraizi Movement nineteenth century religious reform movement launched by haji shariatullah. The term Faraizi is derived from 'farz' meaning obligatory duties enjoined by Allah. The Faraizis are, therefore, those who aim at enforcing the obligatory religious duties. The exponent of the movement, Haji Shariatullah, however, interpreted the term in a broader sense to include all religious duties enjoined by the quran as well as by the Sunnah of the Prophet (Sm).

Shariatullah made a pilgrimage to Makkah, stayed there for 20 years and studied religious doctrines under Shaikh Tahir Sombal, an authority of Hanafi School. Returning home he launched a movement to make the Bengal Muslims follow the true canons 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.

Shariutullah vowed to bring the Bengal Muslims to the true path of Islam. He laid utmost emphasis on the five fundamentals of Islam, insisted on the complete acceptance and strict observation of pure monotheism and condemned all deviations from the original doctrines as xirk (polytheism) and bid'at (sinful innovation). Numerous rites and ceremonies connected with birth, marriage and death such as Chuttee, Puttee, Chilla, Shabgasht procession, Fatihah, Milad and Urs were forbidden. Saint-worship (Pir), showing undue reverence to the Pir, making of Taziah during the Muharram was also declared xirk. He gave stress on justice, social equality, and the universal brotherhood of Muslims.

Haji Shariatullah regarded British rule in Bengal as injurious to the religious life of the Muslims. In pursuance of the Hanafi law he opined that the absence of a lawfully appointed Muslim caliph or representative administrator in Bengal deprived the Muslims of the privilege of holding congregational prayers. To the Faraizis, Friday congregation was unjustified in a non-Muslim stale like Bengal.

The Faraizi movement spread with extraordinary rapidity in the districts of Dhaka, Faridpur, Bakerganj, Mymensingh, Tippera (Comilla), Chittagong and Noakhali as well as to the province of Assam. The movement, however, gained the greatest momentum in those places where the Muslim peasantries were depressed under the oppressive domination of Hindu zamindars and European indigo planters.

Many Muslims did not accept the Faraizi doctrine and they tried to resist their activities with the help of zamindars. Thus, the landlords of Dhaka secured the expulsion of Shariatullah by the police in 1831 from Ramnagar or Nayabari where he had set up his propaganda centre. Through continuous involvement with the Hindu landlords and European indigo planters, the movement gradually developed into a socio-economic programme which became a dominant feature of the Faraizi movement under Shariutuallah's son dudu miyan and his successors.

The landlords levied many abwabs over and above normal rent and such abwabs were illegal in the eyes of law. Many abwabs were of religious nature, such as, cesses on Kali Puja, Durga Puja etc. Shariatullah objected to this practice and directed his disciples not to pay these illegal cesses to the landlords. The landlords had even imposed ban on the slaughter of cow, especially on the occasion of Eid-ul Azha. The Farizis ordered their peasant followers not to adhere to such a ban. All these contributed to strained relations between the Faraizies and the landlords who were almost all Hindus.

The offended landlords launched a propaganda campaign with the British officials, implicating the Faraizis with rebellious mood. In 1837, they accused Shariatullah of attempting to set up a kingdom of his own like that of titu mir. They also brought numerous lawsuits against the Faraizis in which they gained active co-operation of the European indigo planters. Shariatullah was more than once in the custody of the police for allegedly occasioning agrarian disturbances in Faridpur.

On the death of Haji Shariatullah in 1840 his only son Muhsinuddin Ahmad alias Dudu Miyan was acclaimed the head of the Faraizi movement. It was under his leadership that the Faraizi movement assumed agrarian character. He organised the oppressed peasantry against the oppressive landlords. In retaliation, the landlords and indigo planters tried to contain Dudu Miyan by instituting false cases against him. But he became so popular with the peasantry that in the cases, courts seldom found a witness against Dudu.

The initial victories of Dudu Miyan captured the imagination of the masses and his prestige rose high in their esteem. These incidents also gave added impetus to the spread of the Faraizi movement and drew to its fold not only numerous Muslims who so far stood aloof but also the Hindus and native Christians who sought Dudu Miyan's protection against the oppressive landlords.

Dudu Miyan died in 1862 and before his death he had appointed a board of guardians to look after his minor sons, Ghiyasuddin Haydar and Abdul Gafur alias Naya Miyan who succeeded him successively. The board, with great difficulty, kept the dwindling movement from falling to pieces. It was not until Naya Miyan attained maturity that it regained some of its lost strength. nabinchandra sen, the then sub-divisional officer of Madaripur, thought it prudent to enter into an alliance of mutual help with the Faraizi leaders, who, in their turn, showed a spirit of co-operation towards the government.

On the death of Naya Miyan in 1884, the third and the youngest son of Dudu Miyan, Syeduddin Ahmad was acclaimed leader by the Faraizis. During his time, the conflict of the Faraizis with the Taiyunis, another reformist group reached the climax and religious debates between the two schools had become a commonplace occurrence in Eastern Bengal. He was bestowed the title of Khan Bahadur by the government. In 1905, on the question of the partition of Bengal, he lent support to Nawab Salimullah in favour of partition, but he died in 1906.

Khan Bahadur Syeduddin was succeeded by his eldest son Rashiduddin Ahmad alias Badshah Miyan. During the early years of his leadership, Badshah Miyan maintained the policy of co-operation towards the government. But the annulment of the partition of Bengal made him anti-British and he took part in the khilafat and non-cooperation Movements. Soon after the establishment of Pakistan he summoned a conference of the Faraizis at Narayanganj and declared Pakistan as Dar-ul-Islam and gave permission to his followers to hold the congregational prayers of Jum'ah and Eid.

Doctrines The Faraizis adhered to the Hanafi school with certain peculiarities in their religious beliefs as well as in practices. These peculiarities can be loosely grouped together into five Faraizi doctrines: (i) tawbah i.e. to be penitent for past sins as a measure for the purification of soul; (ii) to observe strictly the obligatory duties of Faraiz; (iii) tawhid or Unitarianism as enunciated by the Quran; (iv) India being Dar-ul-Harb, Jum'ah and Eid congregations were not obligatory and (v) denouncing all popular rites and ceremonies, which had no reference to the Quran and Prophetic traditions, as sinful innovations. The leader of the Faraizis was called Ustad or teacher and his disciples xagird or students instead of using the terms like pir and murid. A person so initiated into the Faraizi fold was called Tawbar Muslim or Mumin.

Organisation In organising the Faraizi society, Dudu Miyan had two objectives in view, viz. (i) protecting the Faraizi peasantry from the oppression of the zamindars and European indigo planters, and (ii) securing social justice for the masses. In order to secure the first objective, he raised a volunteer corps of clubmen (lathial) and arranged for their regular training in the art of fighting with clubs. For securing the second objective, he revived the traditional system of local government (Panchayet) under Faraizi leadership. The former came to be known as the Siyasti or political branch and the latter Dini or religious branch, which were amalgamated later on into a hierarchical Khilafat system.

The Faraizi Khilafat system was designed to bring all the Faraizis under the direct control of the authorised representatives of Dudu Miyan who stood at the top of the hierarchy of khalifahs. He appointed three grades of khalifahs: (i) the Uparastha Khalifah, (ii) the Superintendent Khalifah and (iii) the Gaon Khalifah.

Dudu Miyan divided the Faraizi settlement into small units of 300 to 500 families and appointed a Gaon or ward Khalifah over each unit. Ten or more such units were grouped together into a circle or Gird, which was put under a Superintendent Khalifah. The Superintendent Khalifah was provided with a peon and a piyadah or guard, who was sent to and fro maintaining contact with the Gaon Khalifaha on the one hand, and with the Ustad on the other. The Uparastha Khalifahs were advisers to the Ustad and remained in his company at Bahadurpur, the headquarters of the Faraizi movement.

The Gaon Khalifah acted as a community leader whose duty was to spread religious education, enforce religious duties, maintain a prayer-hall, look after the morals and administer justice in consultation with elders. He was also required to maintain a Maktab for teaching the Quran and elementary lessons to the children. The Superintendent Khalifahs main functions were to supervise the activities of the Gaon Khalifahs, look after the welfare of the Faraizis of his Gird, preach the fundamentals of religion and above all, to sit as a Court of Appeal against the decisions of the Gaon Khalifahs, if any. In such cases, he heard the appeal sitting in a council of the Khalifahs of his Gird. In all matters, religious as well as political, the decision of Dudu Miyan was final and as the Ustad he also acted as the final Court of Appeal.

james wise testifies that the Panchayets of Eastern Bengal exercised great influence on the people and in Faraizi villages, it was exceedingly rare that any case of violence or assault committed within the area found its way to the regular courts. According to him Dudu Miyan settled disputes, administered summary justice and punished any Hindu, Muslim or Christian who dared to bring a suit for recovery of debt in the adjoining Munsif's Court instead of referring the case to his arbitration. [Muin-ud-Din Ahmed Khan]

See also peasant movement.