Shah Ismail Ghazi (R)

Shah Ismail Ghazi (R) was a saint-warrior of the time of ruknuddin barbak shah (1459-1474 AD). The spiritual exploits of Shah Ismail Ghazi have come down to us through a Persian manuscript and traditions found at several places in Bengal. The Persian manuscript, risalat-us-shuhada of Pir Muhammad Shattari written in 1042 AH/ 1633 AD, narrates Shah Ismail Ghazi's life and activities in Bengal. A descendant of the Prophet (Sm), Shah Ismail Ghazi was born at Mecca, where he grew and became a teacher and preacher. At certain stage of his life he felt the urge of becoming a martyr, started towards the east accompanied by some of his fellow students and ultimately reached lakhnauti. Barbak Shah, the sultan of Bengal, had then engaged all his engineers and craftsmen to find out ways and means in controlling the floods, which inundated the capital city annually, but all his attempts proved futile. Shah Ismail advised the sultan to construct a bridge over the Chutia-Putia marsh, in the vicinity of the capital, and thus saved the city from waterlogging. The saint then received favours from the king who appointed him to conduct warfare in different frontiers. The saint's objective of taking part in jihad and obtaining martyrdom was thus achieved.

Shah Ismail Ghazi was first appointed to deal with the aggressive designs of the Orissan king Gajapati in the southern frontier of Bengal. He defeated Gajapati and wrested from him Mandaran, the frontier outpost. The successful general was then sent against Kamrup king Kameshwar, who was defeated and forced to pay tribute to the sultan. But soon, Bhandsi Rai, a commander of the frontier post of Ghoraghat, got jealous over the popularity and fame of Shah Ismail and sent a false report to the sultan that Ismail Ghazi, in collusion with the Kamrup king, was mediating to set up an independent kingdom for himself. The enraged sultan ordered the saint to be beheaded.

According to the Risalat-us-shuhada Shah Ismail Ghazi was killed in 878 AH/ 1474 AD. But according to Abdul Latif's Diary he was alive for some years more and died in the reign of Sultan Shamsuddin Muzaffar Shah (1490-93 AD). Abdul Latif came to Bengal in the train of islam khan chisti and came to Ghoraghat in 1609 AD. He also recorded about the shrine of Shah Ismail Ghazi at Ghoraghat. He wrote his Diary about a quarter of a century before the writing of the Risalat-ush-shuhada. So the statement that Shah Ismail Ghazi was beheaded at the order of Sultan Ruknuddin Barbak Shah cannot be true; likewise it is also not true that Shah Ismail Ghazi proved a traitor to the sultan of Bengal.

According to tradition, after his execution Shah Ismail's head was buried at Kantaduar at Rangpur and body at Mandaran in Hugli district. But as a matter of fact there are at present six shrines dedicated to the memory of the saint, one at Mandaran, one at Ghoraghat, and four in Pirganj in the district of Rangpur, of which the shrine at Kantaduar is more prominent. [Abdul Karim]

Bibliography Shamsuddin Ahmed, Inscriptions of Bengal, IV, Rajshahi, 1960; M E Haq, A History of Sufism in Bengal, Dhaka, 1975; A Karim, Social History of the Muslims in Bengal, (2nd ed), Chittagong, 1985; 'Abdul Latif's Diary', Journal of the Institute of Bangladesh Studies, XIII, 1990.