Hazrat Shah Jalal…Liberator and Unifying Figure

Hadrat Shah Jalal al-Mujarrad al-Yamani (Allah have mercy on him)

{Verily the friends of Allah will not have fear nor will they grieve [TMQ 10:62]}


One of the great blessings of this noble Ummah is that Allah (swt) has given her innumerable men and women of piety and outstanding example. In every generation and period of our history there was – and will continue to be – individuals who are favoured by Allah and bestowed with the honour of His closeness (qurba) and the duty of carrying His message. Those who are believers, pious and conscious of the commands and standards of Allah (swt) living by them and conveying it to others are described with the term wali (pl. awliya’) which linguistically means ‘a close friend’ or ‘a intimate helper’.[1] In the Qur’anic sense, these are individuals who have received the pleasure of Allah and His closeness.[2] Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1255 CE) summarised the Wali of Allah as follows:

“And the meaning of close friendship (wilaya) is the opposite of having enmity (al-`adawa). The basic and foundation of wilaya is love and proximity and the basic foundation of enmity is hatred and distance. It is said a person is called a wali [of Allah] because of h/her consistent obedience to Allah although the first analysis is perhaps correct…Because a wali of Allah follows everything that Allah loves and is pleased with and hates and despises what Allah hates as well as commands the good and forbids the wrong, then it is no surprise that any person who opposes this wali is in effect opposing Allah Himself…”[3]

و ” الولاية ” ضد العداوة وأصل الولاية المحبة والقرب وأصل العداوة البغض والبعد . وقد قيل : إن الولي سمي وليا من موالاته للطاعات أي متابعته لها والأول أصحفإذا كان ولي الله هو الموافق المتابع له فيما يحبه ويرضاه ويبغضه ويسخطه ويأمر به وينهى عنه كان المعادي لوليه معاديا له (ابن تيمية، الفرقان بين أولياء الرحمن و أولياء الشيطان صـ 4)

            One of these outstanding early awliya’ of Allah is the pious Shaykh Jalal the Great of Bengal (d. 1357 CE) who has occupied the popular collective memory of Muslims of Bangladesh and the Sylhet-Bengali-Muslim diaspora. In what follows will be a very short account of Shah Jalal’s life and achievements and important lessons we can learn as Muslims desiring to live by Islam and carry it to others.

His name was Jalal al-Din ibn Muhammad, a Sayyid and descendant of the Holy Prophet (saw) from his mother’s side. Historical records differ about his birthplace some suggesting he was originally born in Turkmenistan but travelled in the central Islamic lands and resided in Yemen whereas others say he was born there in the valley of Hadramout; hence his ascription ‘al-Yamani’ (‘The Yemeni’). Shah Jalal’s father was a religious scholar and lived in the time of the great spiritual scholar Mawlana Jalal al-Din Rumi (d. 1273)[4] and under his uncle’s tutelage Sayyid Ahmad Kabir in Mecca Shah Jalal learned the Islamic sciences and became a Hafiz of the Qur’an while young as well as gaining proficiency in fiqh and theology finally attaining kamaliyat (‘spiritual excellence’) by the age of 30. Throughout his life, his devotion and service to Islam left him unmarried and celibate and hence his ascription of ‘al-Mujarrad’ (‘The unmarried’, ‘The celibate’, ‘The Bachelor’).

Historical sources record that Shah Jalal was instructed to propagate Islam in India where he travelled to and joined jihad campaigns in the eastern regions of Bengal in order to both secure Islamic presence there as well as to remove the Hindu ruler Raja Gaur Govinda who was oppressing the resident Muslims. With a whittled number of 360 (some say 313) scholar-fighters, Shah Jalal with his nephew Shah Paran joined a stationed Muslim army there – by the orders of Sultan Shamsuddin Firuz Shah and his nephew Sikandar Khan Ghazi – and led the jihad campaign successfully defeating the Raja Govinda who had over 1000s of soldiers. Shah Jalal’s assistance and leadership helped the Muslims gain victory.

In his later life having established Islamic security in the area, Shah Jalal devoted his life to da`wa and propagating Islam with huge conversion rates from Hindus and Buddhists. His teaching Islam to the people of the Bengal delta area and beyond became renowned such that it is said that the famous Muslim traveller Ibn Battuta (d. 1369 CE) diverted his travel route to meet Shah Jalal and described him as a man of austerity, simple living, completely devoted to the teaching of Islam and a spiritual guide in accordance with the sunna of the Messenger of Allah. With Shah Jalal, Bengal’s Hindu heritage was discontinued and the Islamic tradition was laid down with subsequent sustained installation and implementation of Islamic culture and values.

Shah Jalal (Allah have mercy on him) died in the district of Sylhet where his shrine (dargha) is one of the largest in the region as well as a spiritual and tourist attraction.

Lessons: what then are some of the lessons we as Muslims can learn from Hadrat Shah Jalal and his life.

[1] da`wa: to carry the call and message of Islam wherever we are. As Muslims we obligated to propagate and share our faith in an intellectual way as well as by character. Shah Jalal was far away from his birthplace but came to the Bengal region purely for the sake of Islam and to spread its teachings. Thus Muslims living here in the UK far away from our heritage birthplace ought to do the same.

[2] struggle: To struggle for Islam in all its forms. This can be through writing, speaking or through physical means.

[3] shari`ah: To live our lives according to the sunna (example) of the Messenger of Allah (saw). Just how Shah Jalal emulated the Prophet’s life and characteristics such as austerity (zuhd) and poverty (faqr) as well as long spells at night in devotion we as Muslims must adhere ourselves to all aspects of the sunna and not neglect some parts over another.

[4] unity: Importantly, Shah Jalal did not go to Bangladesh to propagate Arabism, or Bengali nationalism or any form of cast or tribalism. He went to spread the message of Islam and to bring the people there out of the darkness of non-religiosity into the light of Guidance and as mentioned above because of his efforts, today the majority of the people in Bangladesh are of strong Muslim heritage. He further showed that the Muslims of all backgrounds can co-exist thus practically exemplifying the concept of ‘One Nation’ (umma wahida). If Shah Jalal did not believe in this concept of one umma, he would not have found reason to migrate from his homeland to an unknown foreign land? He put Islam above all matters and showed us that Allah (swt) looks at our belief (iman), actions (a`mal) and religiosity (taqwa) and not our lineage, race, nation, or wealth. He thoroughly believed there is no difference between the Muslims of Bangladesh and the Muslims of Yemen thus negating Arab v. Non-Arab conflicts as Muslims are one umma united under the banner of Islam.

Thus, Sayyid Shah Jalal was a unifying figure in Bengal-Islamic history, a pious figure of liberation, da`wa and unification.

We ask Allah to grant us the tawfiq to follow and adhere to Islam authentically as well as to correctly carry the message of Islam and raise us with those in the closest company with Him: the Prophets, Messengers, Companions and the righteous awliya’. Amin.

S. Z. Chowdhury

References: A, Karim, Social History of the Muslims of Bengal, pp.91-101, A. Rahim, Social and Cultural History of Bengal, pp.85-103; S. M. Ikram, “An Unnoticed Account of Shaikh Jalal of Sylhet” in JASP 2 (1957), pp.63-68; N. Hanif, s.v. Biographical Encyclopaedia of Sufis, pp.166-167; E. Haq, History of Sufism, pp.218-224 and R. Eaton, The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204-1716, pp.72-77 and idem, “Forest Clearing and the Growth of Islam in Bengal” in B. Metcalf, ed. Islam in South Asia in Practice, pp.383-386.

[1] See for example, E. W. Lane, Lexicon, suppl., pp.3060-3062.

[2] For Qur’anic occurrences of the word ‘wali’ see 2:107, 2:120, 2:257, 2:257, 2:282, 3:28, 3:68, 3:122, 3:175, 4:45, 4:75, 4:76, 4:89, 4:89, 4:119, 4:123, 4:139, 4:144, 4:173, 5:51, 5:51, 5:55, 5:57, 5:81, 6:14, 6:51, 6:70, 6:121, 6:127, 6:128, 7:3, 7:27, 7:30, 7:155, 7:196, 8:34, 8:34, 8:72, 8:73, 9:23, 9:71, 9:74, 9:116, 10:62, 11:20, 11:113, 12:101, 13:16, 13:37, 16:63, 17:33, 17:97, 17:111, 18:17, 18:26, 18:50, 18:102, 19:5, 19:45, 25:18, 27:49, 29:22, 29:41, 32:4, 33:6, 33:17, 33:65, 34:41, 39:3, 41:31, 41:34, 42:6, 42:8, 42:9, 42:9, 42:28, 42:31, 42:44, 42:46, 45:10, 45:19, 45:19, 46:32, 48:22, 60:1, 62:6.

[3] Ibn Taymiyya, al-Farq bayn Awliya’ al-Rahman wa Awliya’ al-Shaytan, p.4.

[4] H. Ritter, art. “Djalal al-Din Rumi” in EI2, vol.2, pp.393-396.


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