Pirs and Politics in Contemporary Bangladesh, c.a. 1945-2020

Mamun Al Mostofa

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


This thesis explores the political role and engagement of Pirs in Bangladesh, focusing on the period from 1945 to 2020, during which time they have been involved in a range of political activities, both formal and informal. Sufism has enjoyed a powerful presence in this part of South Asia since the thirteenth century CE. Ever since, Islamic mystic practitioners – variously called Sufis, Pirs, murshids, shaikhs, walis etc. – have interacted with the esoteric aspects of Islam along with localised processes of institutionalism. As elsewhere in the world, they established khanqahs (lodges for mystic and ritualistic teaching and worship), offered hope to many ordinary Bengalis, and occasionally, also participated in arenas of power: hence, over the centuries, they came to earn much popular reverence and public influence.

Reflecting wider recognition that, as Reynold A Nicholson once explained, without an understanding of Sufism and its various manifestations – “we should seek in vain to penetrate below the surface of Mohammedan religious life”, Sufism-related academic literature has grown exponentially. However, the more contemporary twentieth-century politicisation of East Bengal’s/ Bangladesh’s Pirs has not yet been systematically explored. Accordingly, by locating Pirs in contemporary Bangladesh within a longer-term frame, but focusing on the second half of the twentieth century, and on the post-1971 era in particular, this thesis considers why, how and under what circumstances, such religious leaders – whether on an individual or family basis – enter and take part in the political domain. It examines whether Pirs’ politicisation represents an inevitable outcome of their engagement with wider societal forces, and in what ways their more conventional religious roles my conflict with or, alternatively bolster their political ones. The range of political responses involved – from the visibly non-partisan to the noticeably partisan – suggests that processes of politicisation start from the very moment that an individual seeks social recognition as a Pir. Subsequently as their influence grows, they engage, confront and negotiate with power in almost all conceivable forms. The launching of their own political parties in the late twentieth century can be therefore explained as an extension of their previous political modes of being.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Ansari, Sarah, Supervisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Jun 2022
Publication statusUnpublished - 2022


  • Pir
  • Muslim saints
  • Bangladesh Khelafat Andolan
  • Bangladesh Tariqat Federation
  • Jamaat e Islami
  • Zaker Party
  • Islami Andolan Bangladesh
  • Pir-led political parties
  • political sufism
  • apolitical sufism
  • Charmonai Pir
  • Atroshi Pir
  • Maizbhandari Pir
  • Dewanbagh Pir
  • Awami League
  • Bangladesh Nationalist Party
  • micro-politics
  • politics of recognition
  • Islamisation process in Bengal
  • Sufi Politics
  • Islam-based politics in Bangladesh
  • alia madrasa
  • qawmi madrasa
  • khanqah
  • politicisation process of Sufis in Bangladesh
  • Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani

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