The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, Eaton’s examination of the proliferation of Islam in Bengali from the thirteenth through the eighteenth century, presents compelling arguments in support of a model striking in contrast to those endorsed by Eaton’s predecessors.
This paper will present a juxtaposition of the theories including a comprehensive examination of vital historical processes in cultural change. Eaton’s argument maintains the agrarian frontier was the foundation of economic growth and the political frontier is responsible for the collection of individuals and the activator in expansion of agriculture. Furthermore, the cultural frontier consists of a triad of processes over time merge Muslims and non-Muslims in the Bengal region.
Over the nineteenth and twentieth century, several theories developed explaining the diffusion of Islam in the Eastern Bengal region. Each of the theories serves as the basis of Eaton’s argument; in fact, the theories overlap and are carefully incorporated into Eaton’s thesis.
First, the theory Eaton calls “Immigration theory,” explains the large concentration of Muslims in Bengal are descendants of migrants arriving via land and sea, before the Moghul Empire. While it’s logical to assume that some Muslims immigrated to the Bengal region, this theory explains the spread of human populations rather than cultural diffusion.
“Religion of the Sword” theory assumes the Islamization in Bengal was the result of military and political coercion on the local population. But, it fails to answer why the large concentration of Muslims existed inversely in East Bengali. Later, I will address Eaton’s new findings relative to the large concentration of Muslims in East Bengal, rather than the West.
The “Patronage Theory” posits Indians converted to Islam because they were offered tax relief or elevation in social status. According to Eaton, the theory lacks the explanation of Islamization in Bengal, and rather explains the diffusion in India’s heartland. He compares the outcome of patronage to military force and coercion pointing out that the farther away from the center of the empire, the less influence it has.
Finally, “Social Liberation Theory,” assumes the Hindu social system was oppressive, and the equality or social liberation of Islam was appealing. However, Eaton refutes the assumption based on evidence from early Hindu text, stating that Bramanic society was not fully accepted in Eastern Bengal. Therefore, the indigenous in East Bengal would have not endured oppression to be relieved of. Muslims leaders at the time did not express equality as opposed to Hinduisms inequalities, and there is no proof that Islam improved the status of individuals.
According to Eaton, none of the theories truly identify why the second largest populations of Muslims reside in Easter Bengal rather than the West. The problem with these theories is they are based on little evidence. Eaton utilizes pre-modern...