The history of Bangladesh is related to that of the larger area of Bengal. Early Muslim explorers and missionaries arrived in Bengal late in the A.D. first millennium. The Islamic conquest of Bengal began with the 1204 invasion by Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khalji after annexing Bengal to the Delhi Sultanate. The history of Bangladesh is related to that of the larger area of Bengal, which became independent of Delhi by 1341.

Islam came to South Asia in the years following A.D. 800 but did not reach Bengal until Muslim invaders from the west secured a foothold there around A.D. 1200. This political control also encouraged conversion to Islam. In the 13th and 14th centuries, after waves of Turkish, Persian, and Afghan invaders, the religion began to take a firm hold in the area. Since then, Islam has played a crucial role in the region's history and politics, with a Muslim majority emerging, particularly in the eastern region of Bengal. [Source: Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations, Thomson Gale, 2007]

Sufi sects took root at an early stage in what is now Bangladesh. Arab and Persian traders began arriving in Bangladesh in the A.D. ninth century. Sufi religious teachers succeeded in converting many Bengalis to Islam, even before the arrival of Muslim armies from the west. Arab, Persian and Chinese traders sought fine muslins, pearls and precious stones. Bengal was known for its silk and cotton cloth weaving industries.. The famous 14th century Muslim geographer Ibn-I-Batuta described Chittagong as madina-tul-Akahzar ("the green city").

Islamization of Bengal

The Turkish conquest of the subcontinent was a long, drawn-out process covering several centuries. It began in Afghanistan with the military forays of Mahmud of Ghazni in 1001. By the early thirteenth century, Bengal fell to Turkish armies. The last major Hindu Sena ruler was expelled from his capital at Nadia in western Bengal in 1202, although lesser Sena rulers held sway for a short while after in eastern Bengal.

Bengal was loosely associated with the Delhi Sultanate, established in 1206, and paid a tribute in war elephants in order to maintain autonomy. In 1341 Bengal became independent from Delhi, and Dhaka was established as the seat of the governors of independent Bengal.

The Muslim community in what is now Bangladesh was very isolated from the Muslim world. It was surrounded by Hindus to the west and Buddhist to the east. When Bengal became independent of Delhi by 1341 and was ruled by a succession of Muslim rulers until it was conquered by Akbar, the great Mughal emperor in 1576.

Bengal was ruled by Mughals into the 17th century. By the beginning of the 18th century, the governor of Bengal was virtually independent. The fealty lesser Nawabs (or Nabobs) of the Bengal area paid to the Mughals ensured the political stability and economic prosperity of the region. Bengal remained a Mughal province until the beginning of the decline of the Mughal Empire in the eighteenth century. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”, Thomson Gale, 2007]

Bengal Under the Mughals.

Under the Mughals, the political integration of Bengal with the rest of the subcontinent began, but Bengal was never truly subjugated. It was always too remote from the center of government in Delhi. Because lines of communications were poor, local governors found it easy to ignore imperial directives and maintain their independence. Although Bengal remained provincial, it was not isolated intellectually, and Bengali religious leaders from the fifteenth century onward have been influential throughout the subcontinent. [Source: James Heitzman and Robert Worden, Library of Congress, 1989]

The Mughals in their heyday had a profound and lasting effect on Bengal. When Akbar ascended the throne at Delhi, a road connecting Bengal with Delhi was under construction and a postal service was being planned as a step toward drawing Bengal into the operations of the empire. Akbar implemented the present-day Bengali calendar, and his son, Jahangir (1605-27), introduced civil and military officials from outside Bengal who received rights to collect taxes on land. The development of the zamindar (tax collector and later landlord) class and its later interaction with the British would have immense economic and social implications for twentieth-century Bengal.

Bengal was treated as the "breadbasket of India" and, as the richest province in the empire, was drained of its resources to maintain the Mughal army. The Mughals, however, did not expend much energy protecting the countryside or the capital from Arakanese or Portuguese pirates; in one year as many as 40,000 Bengalis were seized by pirates to be sold as slaves, and still the central government did not intervene. Local resistance to imperial control forced the emperor to appoint powerful generals as provincial governors. Yet, despite the insecurity of the Mughal regime, Bengal prospered. Agriculture expanded, trade was encouraged, and Dhaka became one of the centers of the textile trade in South Asia.

In 1704 the provincial capital of Bengal was moved from Dhaka to Murshidabad. Although they continued to pay tribute to the Mughal court, the governors became practically independent rulers after the death in 1707 of Aurangzeb, the last great Mughal emperor. The governors were strong enough to fend off marauding Hindu Marathas from the Bombay area during the eighteenth century. When the Mughal governor Alivardi died in 1756, he left the rule of Bengal to his grandson Siraj ud Daulah, who would lose Bengal to the British the following year.

Muslim Rulers in Bangladesh

Between the 13th and 18th century large numbers of Muslim invaders came to Bangladesh and converted the population so that Muslims outnumbered Buddhists and Hindus. Many Hindus and Buddhist converted to Islam but also held on to some non-Muslim customs and culture.

In the 13th and 14th century Muslim leaders of Bangladeshi and Afghan origin ruled what is now Bangladesh. The Muslim leaders that ruled Bangladesh included independent sultanates such as Hussain Shahi dynasty and Ilyas Shahi dynasty as well as rulers who answer to the Mogul leaders in Delhi. Turks ruled Bengal for several decades before the conquest of Dhaka by forces of the Mughal emperor Akbar the Great (1556-1605) in 1576.

The entire Indian subcontinent, including Bengal, was united under the Mogul leaders in the 16th century. When Bengal was absorbed into the Mughul Empire in the 16th century, and Dhaka, the seat of a nawab (the representative of the emperor), gained some importance as a provincial center. But it remained remote and thus a difficult to govern region — especially the section east of the Brahmaputra River — outside the mainstream of Mughul politics. [Source: “Countries of the World and Their Leaders Yearbook” 2009]

Governors/Sultans of Bengal Ruler, Muslim dates A.H., Christian dates A.D.
594–984 1198–1576
Governors for Delhi Sultans Muhammad Bakhtiyar Khilji 594–603 1198–1206
cAli Mardan (1st reign) 603 1206–7
Muhammad Shiran Khan 603–4 1207–8
Iwad (1st reign) 604–7 1208–10
cAli Mardan (2nd reign) 607–10 1210–13
Iwad (2nd reign) 610–24 1213–27
Mahmud 624–26 1227–29
Bilge Khan 626–29 1229–32
Mascud Jani 629–30 1232–33
Aybak Khita'I 630–33 1233–36
A'or Khan Aybak 633 1236
Toghril Toghan Khan 633–42 1236–44
Temur Qiran Khan 642–45 1244–47
Mascud Jani (1st reign) 645–49 1247–51
Yuzbak 649–55 1251–57
Balban Yuzbaki (1st reign) 655–57 1257–59
Mascud Jani (2nd reign) 657 1259
Balban Yuzbaki (2nd reign) 657 1259
Muhammad Arslan Khan Sanjar 657–63 1259–65
Tatar Khan 663–66 1265–68
Shir Khan 666–70 1268–72
Toghril 670–80 1272–81
Governors of Balban line 681–984 1282–1576 [Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art]

Nawabs of Bengal
Ruler, Muslim dates A.H., Christian dates A.D.
1116–1274 1704–1858
Murshid Quli Khan 1116–38 1704–25
Shuja Khan 1138–51 1725–39
Sarfaraz Khan 1151–53 1739–40
cAliwirdi Khan 1153–69 1740–56
Mirza Mahmud 1169–70 1756–57
Mir Jacfar (1st reign) 1170–74 1757–60
Mir Qasim cAli 1174–77 1760–63
Mir Jacfar (2nd reign) 1177–78 1763–65
[Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art]

Ibn Battuta in Bangladesh and Northeast India

In the the early 1340s, after leaving the Maldives for the second time, Ibn Battuta traveled to modern-day Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Southeast Asia before reaching China. He reached the port of Chittagong in modern-day Bangladesh intending to travel to Sylhet to meet Shah Jalal, who became so renowned that Ibn Battuta, then in Chittagong, made a one-month journey through the mountains of Kamaru near Sylhet to meet him. [Sources: “The Introduction to the "Voyages of Ibn Battutah" by Vincent Monteil in The Islamic Review and Arab Affairs, March 1970: 30-37; World Heritage Encyclopedia, Project Gutenberg, Self-Publishing Press, ]

Ibn Battuta wrote: that Chittagong was a city filled with food, but smelled bad - "a hell crammed with good things." Everything there was cheap, including slaves. He bought "an extremely beautiful" slave girl and a friend bought a young boy slave for a couple of gold dinar. He went up the Meghna River to Sylhet in order to find a famous holy man who could perform miracles and foretell the future. (He even lived to the age of 150!) One day the old holy man told his surprised disciples that a traveler from North Africa was about to arrive and to go out to meet him. The disciples went out and discovered Ibn Battuta was on his way - two days away! Ibn Battuta stayed there for three days and shared the stories of his travels with the holy man. Then he continued on. [Source: Travels of Ibn Battuta, Nick Bartel and ORIAS, U. C. Berkeley, |::|]

“At the meeting in 1345 CE, 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. Ibn Battuta went further north into Assam, then turned around and continued with his original plan." -

Muazzam Hussain Khan wrote in Banglapedia: ““Ibn Battuta in his report places geographical account of some important places and rivers. The places are Sudkawan, Kamaru, Habank and Sunurkawan, and the rivers are Ganga, Jun and An-Nahr ul-Azraq. Sudkawan is described as a vast city of Bangala situated on the shore of the vast ocean in the vicinity of which the river Ganga and the river Jun have united before falling into the sea. Kamaru, the incomplete version of Kamrupa, is described as a mountaineous region of vast expanse ranging from China to Tibet. The site visited by Ibn Battuta was probably Sylhet in Assam." [Source: Muazzam Hussain Khan, Banglapedia ]

“Ibn Battuta gives description of the climate and natural view of the country in his itinerary. He was enamoured of the picturesque landscape, the wealth of green in every possible shade, and burst out saying, “we sailed down the river for fifteen days passing through villages and orchards as though we were going through a mart. On its banks there are water-wheels, gardens and villages to right and left like those of the Nile in Egypt. Thus while the abundance of the necessaries of life and its soothing scenery made it a very attractive country to live in, the foggy atmosphere (cloudy and gloomy weather) aided by vapour bath particularly the steaming inhaulation from the creeks and inlets during the summer were so oppressive that the traveller justifies the attitude of the Khorasanis (foreigners) calling it dozakh-i-pur az n'imat, that is 'inferno full of gifts."

“The narratives of Ibn Battuta throw light on some social aspects of Bangala. He has mentioned the influence of the sufi saints on both the Hindus and Muslims. He has told that the people of the country, Muslims and non-Muslims, used to come and visit Shaykh Jalaluddin, and bring for him gifts and presents. It was on them that the fakirs and travellers lived. Under royal orders, the fakirs were exempted of the freight charges on the river and were entitled to provisions free of costs. It was customary that a fakir arriving in a town was to be given a half dinar... Ibn Battuta's report bears clear testimony to the existence of slavery system in the country. From his evidence it is obvious that the slave boys and girls used to be sold and purchased in the open market. While furnishing the list of prices of commodities the traveller related that a pretty young girl fit to serve as concubine was sold in his presence for one gold dinar. He himself purchased at nearly the same price a young slave woman named Ashura who was endowed with exquisite beauty. One of his companions bought a pretty slave boy of tender age named Lulu (pearl) for two gold dinars."

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Bangladesh Tourism Board, Bangladesh National Portal (, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from, please contact me.