SIDDIQ Mohammad Yusuf

With a grant from the Max van Berchem Foundation, Mr. Mohammad Yusuf Siddiq began in 1989 a complete survey of the Islamic inscriptions of Bengal.
Inscriptions represent essential material for historians because of two main reasons : due to their size, they are less subject to forgery and, as many of them are commemorative, the little available space for text implies that it is usually devoid of unnecessary rhetoric. Thus they are one of the most authentic sources of documentation for the history of early Muslim Bengal. Furthermore, they often record the names of contemporary rulers, local administrative officers, religious figures, military commanders, etc., which are of great use to historians. The historical implications of the titles that invariably accompany these names are far-reaching since they not only throw light on the personality of title bearers, but also on contemporary history such as territorial expansions, prevailing sectarian conditions and policy, political allegiances, etc. Most inscriptions are dated and therefore contribute to establishing the still little-known chronology of the Islamic rule in Bengal.


A Mughal inscription

M. Y. Siddiq. A Mughal inscription from a village near Dhaka, recording the construction of a mosque by Haji Khan

The graphic quality of these inscriptions is remarkable. A number of them are inscribed on beautifully decorated background and the calligraphy offers a great diversity of styles: although Kufi is rarely found, there are varieties of cursive and semi-cursive styles; Thulth, Naskh, Riqa', Tauqi' Bihari, Rihani and Muhaqqaq.
Mr. Siddiq travelled through Bangladesh and the West Bengal portion of India. He has been able to record approximately 400 inscriptions of diverse nature such as monumental inscriptions, tombstones, milestones, etc. covering the period 1205-1707.

A lasting settlement

The history of Islam in Bengal shows that it consolidated rapidly in this region : in 1204, Mohammad Bakhtiyar, an adventurer of a Turkish Khilji tribe from the mountainous central Afghanistan defeated Lakshman Sen, an Hindu king of the powerful Sen dynasty of Bengal. He swept over the whole area of Rar and Barindra in an amazingly short period of time, establishing a strong Muslim foothold which was going to bring an everlasting historical change in the society, culture and politics of the region. Although this was achieved through superior war tactics as well as a swift cavalry, the semi-hinduised local Buddhist populations had not fully accepted the rule of the Sen dynasty which was coming from southern India. Due to their strong conviction in the caste system, the Sen failed to establish a firm root among the local population. That is why, once the Muslim conquerors were settled in the region, the local populations started cooperating with them and Bengal quickly became a Muslim majority area.
This winter Mr. Siddiq will be completing his work and preparing its publication.