Shah Jalal

Shāh Jalāl ad-Dīn al-Mujarrad al-Naqshbandi (Arabic: شاه جلال الدين المجرد النقشبندي‎), popularly known as Hazrat Shah Jalal (Arabic: شاه جلال‎, Bengali: শাহ জালাল, Sylheti: ꠡꠣꠢ ꠎꠣꠟꠣꠟ) (25 May 1271 CE – 15 March 1346 CE), is a celebrated Sufi Muslim figure in Bengal. Shah Jalal's name is often associated with the spread of Islam into the Sylhet region, which was part of a long history of interactions between the Middle East, Persia, Central Asia and South Asia. According to a tablet inscription found in Amberkhana, he arrived at Sylhet in 1303 CE.[1] Various complexes and religious places have been named after him, including the largest airport in Bangladesh, Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport.

Jalāl ad-Dīn ibn Mahmud was born in 1271 AD. Various traditions and historical documents differ in his place of birth. A number of scholars have claimed that he was born in Konya in modern-day Turkey (then in the Sultanate of Rum) and later moved to Yemen either as a child or adult. Many others believe he was born in a village called Kaninah in Hadhramaut, Yemen. His biography was first recorded in 1571 by Shaikh 'Ali Sher Bangali, a descendant of Shah Jalal's companion Haydar Ghazi. Thus, there is a gap of two centuries between the life of the saint and that of his earliest biographer. According to this account, Shah Jalal had been born in Turkestan, where he became a spiritual disciple of Khwaja Ahmad Yasawi, one of the founders of the Central Asian Yasawi Sufi tradition.[2] His mother, Syeda Haseenah Fatimah, and his father, Mahmud ibn Muhammad ibn Ibrahim, were descendants of Hashemite dynasty of Quraysh of Makkah.[3] His father was a Muslim cleric, who was a contemporary of the Sufi mystic Rumi. Shah Jalal was educated and raised by his maternal uncle Syed Ahmed Kabir Suhrawardi in Makkah.[4] He excelled in his studies; became a hafiz and mastered fiqh. He became a makhdoom, teacher of Sunnah and, for performing prayers in solitary milieu and leading a secluded life as an ascetic, al Mujarrad was post-fixed to his name. It is claimed he achieved spiritual perfection (Kamaliyyat) after 30 years of study, practice and meditation.[5]

According to legend, one day his uncle, Sheikh Kabir, gave Shah Jalal a handful of soil and asked him to travel to India. He instructed him to choose to settle and propagate Islam in any place in India where the soil exactly matches that which he gave him in smell and colour.[6] Shah Jalal journeyed eastward met many great scholars and Sufi mystics.[6] During his time in Yemen, a prince, Shahzada Sheikh Ali Yemeni, gave up his title to join Jalal on his expedition. Other disciples joining him from the Arabian peninsula include Shah Paran, Hafiz Muhammad Zakariya Arabi, Daud Qurayshi of Makkah, Sulayman Qarni and Kamal Pahlawan Yemeni. He passed through Baghdad and was present there during the time of the murder of the last Abbasid caliph Al-Musta'sim in 1258.[7] He gained a small following which joined Jalal on his expedition, including the likes of Shah Mustafa and Syed Yusuf. Driven off by the Mongol invasion of Baghdad, they continued journeying to the east. In Iran, the group was joined by Shah Kala and Shah Irani.

Jalal reached Uch in the Punjab, where he and many of his companions were initiated into the Sufi order of Suhrawardiyya.[8] Jalal was joined by many other disciples from more northerly places above Uch such as Syed Umar Samarqandi of Samarqand, Arif Multani of Multan, Sheikh Gharib Shah Gabru Afghani of Balochistan, and Makhdum Zafar Ghaznawi of Ghazni. Shah Jalal then reached Gujarat, where he was joined by Shah Malum and Narnaul where he met Shah Helimuddin Narnuli.

Shah Jalal then passed through Delhi where he was made a guest of the Sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya. Nizamuddin offered him a gift of two rare pigeons which would later be called Jalali Kobutor (Pigeons of Jalal). It is said that these pigeons continue to breed and its descendants remain around Jalal's shrine. Before reaching the Bengal, Jalal came across Haji Sheikh Shamsuddin Bihari who also joined him in the expedition.[4]

In 1303, the Sultan of Lakhnauti Shamsuddin Firoz Shah was engaged in a war with the neighbouring kingdom of Gour in Sylhet, then under the rule of the Hindu king Gour Govinda Dev. This war began when Burhanuddin Quhafa, a Muslim living in Sylhet, sacrificed a cow for his newborn son's Aqiqah (birth celebration).[9] Govinda, in a fury for what he saw as sacrilege, had the newborn killed as well as having Burhanuddin's right hand cut off.[10]

When word of this reached Firoz Shah, an army commanded by his nephew, Sikandar Khan Ghazi, was sent against Gour Govinda. Two successive strikes were attempted, both ending in failure due to the Bengali armies inexperience in the foreign terrain as well as Govinda's superior military strategy.[11][12]

A third attack, now under the additional leadership of Firoz Shah's Sipah Salar (Commander-in-chief) Syed Nasiruddin, was undertaken, a force which was joined by Shah Jalal and his companions, who at this point numbered 360.[13] Shah Jalal may have been summoned by Firoz Shah for aid after the initial failed attacks against Gour Govinda. Alternatively, he may already have been present in Sylhet, fighting against the Hindu king independently prior to being approached by the Sultan.[13][14]

The army was guided through Sylhet by Burhanuddin, ultimately arriving at the banks of the Barak River. Here, the third battle was fought between Gour Govinda and the combined armies of Shah Jalal and Syed Nasiruddin, with the latter forces ultimately claiming victory. Govinda was forced to retreat and Sylhet was brought under Muslim control. According to tradition, Shah Jalal at this point compared the soil in Sylhet with that which was previously given to him by his uncle, finding them to be identical. In any case, following the battle he and his followers permanently settled in Sylhet.[9][13]

During the later stages of his life, Shah Jalal devoted himself to propagating Islam. Shah Jalal became so renowned that the famous traveller Ibn Battuta, then in Satgaon,[15] made a one-month journey through the mountains of Kamarupa north-east of Sylhet to meet him.[16] On his way to Sylhet via Habung, Ibn Batuta was greeted by several of Shah Jalal's disciples who had come to assist him on his journey many days before he had arrived. At the meeting in 1345, Ibn Batuta noted that Shah Jalal was tall and lean, fair in complexion and lived by the mosque in a cave, where his only item of value was a goat he kept for milk, butter, and yogurt. He observed that the companions of the Shah Jalal were foreign and known for their strength and bravery. He also mentions that many people would visit the Shah to seek guidance.[17]

The meeting between Ibn Batuta and Shah Jalal is described in his Arabic travelogue, Rihla (The Journey). Amir Khusrau also gives an account of Shah Jalal's conquest of Sylhet in his book Afdalul Hawaade. Even today in Hadramaut, Yemen, Shah Jalal's name is established in folklore.[18]

The exact date of his death is debated, but he is reported by Ibn Battuta to have died on 20 Dhul Qadah 746 AH (15 March 1346 CE).[19] He left behind no descendants and was buried in Sylhet in his dargah (tomb), which is located in a neighbourhood now known as Dargah Mahalla. He appointed his closest companion, Haji Sareqaum Yusuf Amanullah to be the khadim (guardian) of his dargah and Yusuf's descendants, the Sareqaum family, continue to have this role.

His shrine is famous in Sylhet and throughout Bangladesh, with hundreds of devotees visiting daily. He is buried next to four of his companions. The ex-Prince of Yemen, Shahzada Sheikh Ali to his south, Haji Yusuf to his east and Haji Khalil and Haji Dariya both to his west. The largest mosque in Sylhet was built at the Dargah (also one of the largest in Bangladesh).