Islam in South Asia
|c. 600 million (31.4%)|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Sri Lanka||1,967,227 (2011)|
|Islam (vast majority Sunni and significant minority Shia)|
Islam is the second-largest religion in South Asia with about 600 million Muslims, forming about one-third of South Asia's population. South Asia has the largest population of Muslims in the world, with about one-third of the Muslims being from South Asia. Islam first came to South Asia to coastal Malabar through Arab traders as early as the 7th century CE. The Cheraman Juma Masjid in Kerala is thought to be the first mosque in India, built in 629 CE by Malik ibn Dinar.
The first Arab raid came in 635 AD when the Governor of Bahrain sent an expedition against Bharuch, a coastal city in Gujarat. After the Islamic conquest of Persia was completed, the Muslim Arabs then began to move towards the lands east of Persia and in 652 captured Herat. In 712 CE, a young Arab general Muhammad bin Qasim conquered most of the Indus region for the Umayyad empire, to be made the "As-Sindh" province with its capital at Al-Mansurah. Sindh became the easternmost province of the Umayyad Caliphate. By the end of the 10th century CE, the region was ruled by several Hindu Shahi kings who would be subdued by the Ghaznavids. Dawoodi Bohra Ismailli Shia was established in Gujarat in the second half of the 11th century, when Fatimid Imam Mustansir sent missionaries to Gujarat in 467 AH/1073 AD.
Islam arrived in North India in the 12th century via the Turkic invasions and has since become a part of India's religious and cultural heritage. Muslims have played a prominent role in India's economic rise and cultural influence.
- 1 History
- 1.1 Early history of South Asian Muslims
- 1.2 Muslim conquest of Sindh
- 1.3 Ghaznavid Sultanate
- 1.4 Delhi Sultanates
- 1.5 Regional empires of the 15th century
- 1.6 Mughal Empire
- 1.7 Eighteenth century onwards
- 1.8 1857 and its aftermath
- 1.9 Colonial rule and freedom movement
- 1.10 After Independence
- 2 Conversions
- 3 Demographics
- 4 Movements
- 5 Caste
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 Bibliography
Early history of South Asian Muslims
A small Muslim presence in South Asia was established on the southern coasts of India and Sri Lanka in the early eighth century. A commercial Middle Eastern presence on South Asia's western coasts pre-dated the emergence of Islam. With the rise of Islam the Arab arrivals became Muslims. The Muslim mercantile community received patronage from the local non-Muslim rulers. Intermarriages with the local population in addition to further arrivals and conversions increased the Muslim population. The Muslim population became more indigenous with the birth of children to Arab merchants married with local women. Moreover, local non-Muslim authorities sent children to the Arabs to have them learn maritime skills.
In one early, but disputed, account of Islam in the Malabar region, Muslims are described as descendants of a Hindu king who had seen the miracle of the moon splitting performed by the Prophet Muhammad. On a similar note, Tamil Muslims on the eastern coasts also claim that they converted to Islam in the Prophet's lifetime. The local mosques date to the early 700s. The scholars, rulers, traders and literate Muslims in the south were more predisposed to their Indian Ocean links than to the north's Central Asian connections. The southern Muslims employed Arabic instead of Persian and followed Shafi'i jurisprudence instead of Central Asia's Hanafi jurisprudence. Because the Islamic authority in the Middle East established Arabic as a lingua franca for the Indian Ocean basin's commercial community, the status of Muslim Arabs in Malabar was raised by Arabic literacy.
Muslim conquest of Sindh
Unlike the coasts of Malabar, the northwestern coasts were not as receptive to the Middle Eastern arrivals. Hindu merchants in Sindh and Gujarat perceived the Arab merchants to be competitors. The Umayyads came into conflict with Sindh's Hindu rulers over piracy in the maritime trade routes. The rulers of Sindh had failed to control this piracy (or maybe they had benefited from it). When in 711 the locals seized a ship that was travelling to the Umayyad dynasty, an expedition was sent out by the Umayyads to conquer Sindh. The expedition, led by the young Muhammad Bin Qasim, was made up of both an overland and naval army. The conquest might have been assisted by Mahayana Buddhists struggling against Brahmins for political reasons.
The Arab conquerors, contrary to popular beliefs about Muslims, did not have an interest in converting the local populations. Local Sindhi Hindus and Buddhists were accorded dhimmi status. This was the first instance of this status being conferred upon peoples not mentioned in the Quran. Although a few select temples were destroyed initially, religious life continued as it had done before. Eventually, most Sindhis became Muslim. While Sindh had been ruled by a Brahmin in the early 700s the local population had then also comprised Jains, Buddhists and followers of various cults, contrary to the perception that South Asian Muslims were largely converts from Hinduism. Evidence about Sindhi conversions during the early period of Arab rule indicates that converts originated from the higher, rather than lower, echelons of local society, choosing to incorporate themselves into the Muslim ruling class by virtue of a common religious identity.
With the weakening of the Abbasid Caliphate, Mamluks declared themselves independent sultanates. Muslim scholars propounded, especially after the end of the Abbasid Caliphate, that each sultan should assume the role of caliph in their own area, a proposition known to some as the "pious sultan" theory. Mahmud who ruled the sultanate of Ghazna expanded his rule into Punjab, transforming Lahore into both a border cantonment and vital center for Islamic scholarship. Mahmud's court was both urbane and sophisticated. He provided patron to works on poetry, science and Sufism. The first Persian Sufi text in South Asia, Kashf al-Mahjub, was composed in Ghaznavid Lahore by Shaykh Abul Hasan 'Ali Hujwiri, whose shrine is one of the most important in South Asia. His work was to become a crucial source for early Sufi philosophy.
Sufi groups entered the Sultanate as Sunni missionaries; Suhrawardi Sufis actively opposed Ismailis. These included Bahauddin Zakariya, centered in Multan, Sayyid Jalal Bukhari of Uch and Ali Hujwiri of Lahore. Mahmud also took part in religiopolitical issues. He opposed the Fatimid presence in Sindh and invaded Sindh. He carried out raids deep in the Gangetic plains and political accounts claim that his policy was to loot Hindu temples. There is a dispute among historians if religion was a motive for the looting and what the extent of these activities was. There is a consensus, however, that the loot acquired funded campaigns to the west of the Sultanate.
Under Muhammad of Ghor's leadership a fresh current of Persianized Turks initiated conquests of Ghaznavid principalities in Punjab. They took Delhi by 1192, and Ajmer and Kanauj afterwards. Quality horses and horsemanship characterized their war arsenal. Qutubuddin Aibek assumed control over Delhi upon Ghori's demise. His dynasty came to be referred to as the "Slave dynasty". The Khiljis dynasty extended Delhi's authority into the Deccan and were succeeded by the Tughluq dynasty which fell victim to Timur's raids who moved into Delhi in 1398. Most of the sultanates' populace continued to live as they did before but important developments took place under the reign of the sultans. These included the development of networks all over South Asia and with Central Asia and the cultivation of Arab and Persian traditions.
Their military prowess accorded protection to South Asia from upheavals caused by Mongols in the thirteenth-century. Scholars and others fleeing Mongol despoliation found sanctuary in South Asia. In this period conversions began of Punjab and Bengal's newly settled agriculturists. The sultans posited that their rule provided stability which allowed Islamic life to prosper. Their Islamic rhetoric meant the political supremacy of the Afghan and Sunni Turkic elite. Despite such rhetoric, growing South Asian Muslim communities outside the sultanate were recruited into the armies of Hindu kings who were warring against the Turkic sultans. Similarly, the sultanate also included Hindu soldiers in their militaries.
The Delhi Sultanate favoured the Shafi'i law, although most subcontinental Muslims followed Hanafi jurisprudence. The administration's official structure included authoritative Islamic scholars who guided qadis, or Islamic judges. While the Delhi Sultanate was formally Islamic and appointed Islamic scholars to high offices, their state policy was not based on Islamic law. Their government was based on the pragmatisms surrounding the maintenance of minority rule over a vast populace. The fourteenth century figure Ziya al-Din Barani criticised both Ala al-Din Khalji and Muhammad Tughlug for their lack of concern with Islamic law. To one Islamic scholar, Ala al-Din asserted that his policies were based on state interest, rather than Islamic injunctions.
Iltumish delineated the role of sharia in shaping the politics of the predominantly non-Muslim territory. Some scholars had requested that he apply Islamic law to compel Hindus to convert or else be killed. But the vizier called it unrealistic because of the low Muslim population. Iltumish ignored Islamic law by selecting his daughter as his heir. He declared, through his refusal to shelter Khwarem Shah from Genghis Khan, that Delhi's Turkish authority would not participate in the political struggles in eastern Islamic countries. He also legitimised his goals by acquiring a letter of appointment from the caliph in Baghdad. His declaration that Indian law would not be built fully upon Islamic law was apparently supported by the nobility. Eventually, Turkish authority came to be characterised by the careful balance of the sharia with contemporary needs. Muslim scholars outside India had already effectively accepted the limitation of religious law to family and proprietary matters as long as the rulers did not formally reject the authority of sharia over all aspects of life.
Regional empires of the 15th century
Regional states emerged in the 1400s and early 1500s, providing for a cultural flowering. While sultans still ruled Delhi, their territorial authority was restricted. As the Delhi Sultanate weakened, governors in many regions declared independence. In 1406 Malwa, south of Delhi, became independent. Under the Sharqi dynasty Jaunpur overtook Delhi in importance. Bengal became independent during Firoz Shah Tughluq's rule. These kingdoms all became intellectual centers and housed important Sufis. The regional dynasties provided patronage to Sufi leaders to justify their independence from Delhi.
By the middle of the 1300s, the Deccan's Bahmanid dynasty became independent of Delhi. By the beginning of the 1500s this kingdom split further into five smaller kingdoms which continued to exist during the Mughal rule. The development of Dakhni Urdu was a major cultural milestone in this time. These regional kingdoms often fought each other and also fought against, and sometimes with, the Hindu-ruled Vijayanagara empire. They also interacted and came into conflict with the Portuguese, who were on the coasts. The "long fifteenth century" ended with Muhammad Zahiruddin Babur, later considered the founder of the Mughal empire, defeating the last Lodhi sultan in 1526.
Babur's rule lasted only four years and both him and his successor, Humayun, did little more than to establish frontier garrisons. The Surs, resurgent Afghans who ruled until Humayun retook power in his life's final year, laid the foundation for road infrastructure and agricultural surveys. The Mughal dynasty was to be established as an empire under Humayun's heir, Akbar, who expanded Mughal frontiers. Akbar sought to build the empire upon an inclusive elite. He initiated his dynasty's custom of taking Rajput brides without converting them to Islam. The Mughal elite also included Shia Persians, some local and Arab Muslims, Rajputs, Brahmins and Marathas. The state's unifying ideology was based on loyalty to the ruler instead of tribal affinities or Islamic identity. The ideology incorporated the mainly non-Muslim lower officials.
Akbar's teachings, known as Din-i Ilahi, drawn from Islam, Hinduism and Zoroastrianism, were a pivot for a few court members who took Akbar to be their spiritual, in addition to royal, head. The inner circle included a few Hindus including Birbal and Todal Mal. Opposition came from the court ulama, most famously from Abdul Qadir Badayuni, due to whom Akbar was remembered for apostasy. Akbar supported translating the Sanskrit texts of Mahabharata and the Ramayana into Persian and he abolished the jizya, which was taxed from non-Muslims.
A major issue concerned assimilation and syncretism. The Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire both generally safeguarded and commissioned Hindus. This tendency was epitomized by the policies of Akbar. A difficult issue was that Hindus who converted to Islam often kept to much of their old beliefs. Even worse, Sufi and Hindu mystics developed proximity. Closer contacts between Sufis and Hindus were encouraged by the influence of Chaitanya, Kabir and Nanak. These things worried pious Muslims, particularly in the midst of political turbulence. They wrote against mystics and to educate the converts. Syncretism was opposed by Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi, a popular Naqshbandi leader. His followers also denounced the mixing of Sufi and Upanishadic philosophies.
Akbar's religious predispositions continued under Jahangir who was devoted to both the Qadiri saint, Miyan Mir, and the Vaishnava yogi, Gosain Jadrupp. Initially, Jahangir also enjoyed cordial relations with the Sufi Naqshbandis, who were stricter than the Chishtis. But he could not tolerate criticism from Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi who criticized the government for failing to follow Islamic sharia law.
One of the reasons for Akbar's success had been his administrative reforms. Aurangzeb is often blamed for destroying the empire's administrative efficiency and pluralism. He had competed with his brother Dara Shikoh for the throne and the two have been considered ideological adversaries. Dara Shikoh followed Akbar's tradition and searched for common religious truths from all religions. Among his works were the translation of the Sanskrit Upanishads and Majmua'u'l-bahrain, a treatise connecting sufi and Upanishadic philosophies. Aurangzeb charged Dara Shikoh with apostasy.
Aurangzeb created an image of himself as a pious Muslim ruler to disguise his violation of the sharia when he incarcerated his father. To strengthen his rule Aurangzeb quickly applied a different kind of Islam. This was not easy because his imprisonment of his father had contravened both the sharia and the people's sensibilities. Aurangzeb granted large gifts to the Meccan authorities to improve his image and counter such criticism. While Aurangzeb did shift the empire's religious policy he did not seriously change it. Aurangzeb supported the ulama and had Islamic judicial opinions compiled in the Fatawa Alamgiri.
His personal piety led to the court's lifestyle becoming more austere. He banned court music and the use of gold in male clothing. Painting also declined. He had many mosques constructed, such as the Badshahi mosque which is still the largest in South Asia, and a mosque inside Shah Jahan's fort at Delhi. Aurangzeb also initiated a simpler architectural tradition for tombs. Aurangzeb imposed jizya, required by sharia, on the non-Muslim population, which drew disdain from the non-Muslim population. The Islamic orthodoxy played a role in alienating the Rajputs upon whom the dynasty had depended since its beginning.
Factors leading to the Mughal decline included the challenge to Mughal dominance posed by the emergence of Maratha power, court factionalism, administrative breakdown, Aurangzeb's extremism and his fixation with the wars in the Deccan. Aurangzeb's military campaigns had proven costly for the empire and further problems arose with the rural revolts by Marathas, Sikhs and Jats. By the early 1700s Mughal authority had declined in the face of regional powers, some of which were breakaway provinces, while others were powerful local heads who had obtained ruling experience under the Mughals. Rajputs, some of whom had already rebelled against Aurangzeb, were the most prominent of these. Others were the Marathas, Sikhs in Punjab and the Jats. The breakaway provinces of Bengal, Hyderabad and Awadh continued pledging a formal allegiance to the Mughals.
Eighteenth century onwards
Muslim power quickly vaporized in the eighteenth century and was replaced with successor Hindu, Sikh and Muslim states competing for power with the British East India Company. The loss of Muslim power to non-Muslims such as the Marathas and Sikhs strengthened calls for a "purist Islam." Shah Wali Allah, a notable eighteenth century Islamic revivalist, criticized the way religion was popularly practiced in India at the shrines and emphasized the importance of jihad against infidels. His instruction had minimal impact while he was alive - even drawing poetic satire for his attempt to view the Afghan invader, Ahmad Shah Abdali, as a liberator of Islam in the subcontinent - but they provided an inspiration for Sunni Muslim scholars.
Despite the defeat at the hands of Ahmad Shah Abdali, at the Battle of Panipat in 1761, the Marathas continued to dominate the subcontinent's western regions until they were finally conquered in 1818 by the British. After defeating the Marathas the British became the dominant power. The effect of British rule was different for the various classes of the Muslim population. For the elite it meant the loss of their culture. The institution of feudalism had the same impact on Muslim peasants and landlords as it did on non-Muslims. But there were more Muslim peasants in Bengal to be affected. Similarly, most weavers in Dacca were Muslim, so Muslims suffered more even though Hindus weavers had also been affected by the Lancashire competition.
Islamic scholars reacted slowly to the British rule. Shah Abdul Aziz, a leading scholar from Delhi, had a good relationship with the British. He issued an academic ruling that Indian territories governed by the British were dar al-harb, to ease the minds of those who had to live under non-Muslim administration and to give practical guidance in issues which incur different rulings in a dar ul-harb setting; i.e. interest rates. Even though anti-colonial nationalists interpreted this fatwa to support jihad against British rule, Shah Abdul Aziz believed that rebellion against the British authority was unlawful because the British had given Muslims religious freedom. Sayyid Ahmad of Rai Bareilly actively encouraged the defence of Islamic culture, but also refrained from actively resisting the East India Company.
Saiyid Ahmad's ideas won significant support in northern India and thousands joined his Sufi order. In 1826 he and his followers departed on a three thousand mile journey, though Rajputana, Sindh, Baluchistan and Afghanistan, and arrived in Charsadda, where he declared jihad against the Sikhs who were ruling Punjab. Nearby Pathan chiefs, including Peshawar's sardars, joined Saiyid Ahmad, who established a state. He was declared imam in January 1827 and was given bai'a. However, Saiyid Ahmad's mujahideen were defeated in March after one sardar from Peshawar, Yar Muhammad Khan, betrayed them. Yar Muhammad Khan was later defeated by Saiyid Ahmed who established himself at Peshawar. The Pathans disliked foreign rule, even if it was in Islam's name, and revolted, driving Saiyid Ahmad out and killing many of his tax collectors. The Sikhs killed Saiyid Ahmad, Shah Ismail and approximately six hundred followers at the Battle of Balakot in 1831. With the Sikhs' own defeat in 1849 by the East India Company, all of the subcontinent was under Company rule.
1857 and its aftermath
In less than a decade British control was disrupted by an army mutiny and civil unrest in northern and central parts of India. There were many factors feeding the rebellion such as taxes, army conditions and random dismissals of princes. Soldiers rallied around the Mughal emperor Bahaur Shah Zafar, taking him as a symbolic leader. Hindu soldiers were initially dominant and the strongest rebels included Hindu Marathas. Some ulama also supported the revolt but their role was minor. Yet the British reprisals targeted Muslims in particular; Delhi and Lucknow were treated savagely.
Many, especially younger, British administrators suspected a Muslim hand behind the uprising. But Hindus had also been prominent. The first mutinies were caused by Hindus concerned for their caste and honour, civil uprisings were usually led by Hindus and most rebellious taluqdars in Awadh were Hindus. Furthermore, prominent Muslims such as Sayyid Ahmad Khan were loyal to the British. There was no support for the revolt from Bengali Muslims and Punjabi Muslims joined the British troops as reinforcements.
The rebellion, rather than being a Muslim revolt, was mainly by those who had felt aggrieved under the British rule. After the uprising, the British distrusted Muslims. This British position changed by the late nineteenth century when the Muslims sought British protection for their interests from the Hindu population. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan led the process of Muslim engagement with the British and in large part cultivated the new image of Muslims as loyalists of the British.
Colonial rule and freedom movement
British Bengal was divided for administrative reasons. The new province contained a Muslim majority. Dismayed Bengali Hindus agitated against this move, political terrorism characterizing their agitation. The Muslim leadership, disturbed by Hindu behavior, sought security in the new province. The formation of the Muslim League was the most significant outcome of the partition. It was founded by the Muslim elite in Dhaka in 1906 to safeguard Muslim interests. The League sent a deputation to Lord Minto in 1906 to ask for parliamentary representation for Muslims reflecting their political importance. The Minto-Morley Reforms in 1909 introduced the separate electorates system which reserved seats for Muslims.
In 1919 prominent ulama campaigned to defend the Ottoman caliphate. They were backed by Gandhi, partially out of principle and partially to block the reuse of Muslims to support British authority. By the time Gandhi was released from imprisonment in 1924 Hindu Muslim relations had deteriorated. Jinnah, once ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity and member of both the Congress and Muslim League felt isolated and was unwanted by the Congress. While in London he encountered and rejected Rahmat Ali's proposal of a Muslim state called Pakistan.
He returned to India and in the 1936 elections the Muslim League won only a quarter of the Muslim vote, the Congress 6 percent while the remaining 69 percent was won by regional parties in the Muslim majority provinces. The results demonstrated that neither the League nor the Congress represented Muslims, whose politics were provincially oriented. Jinnah turned his attention to the Muslim majority provinces and proposed a separate Muslim state at a Muslim League session in Lahore in 1940.
In the ensuing years of the Lahore resolution Jinnah and the League 's power gradually consolidated. By the end of World War II the League was a mass movement and went into the 1945-1946 elections solely over its Pakistan campaign. It was victorious and won most provincial and all central Muslim seats; winning the majority of Muslim seats in Bengal and the Muslim minority provinces and a plurality in Punjab. Many middle class Muslims had voted for the League to escape Hindu competition while others had voted for ambitions about Islamic law and moral authority. Some ulama, including Deobandi, also backed the Pakistan demand to live under the law of Islam.
After the election victory Jinnah had gained a strong hand to negotiate with the Congress and the British. The British Cabinet Mission proposed a three-tiered form of government for the Indian Union. Effectively, the League would have two large semi-autonomous territories inside a loose federation. Both the League and Congress accepted the plan but on 10 July Nehru spurned the notion of provincial groupings which comprised the plan. To break the impasse British Prime Minister sent the last Viceroy Lord Mountbatten. Frustrated with sharing power with the League in the interim government the Congress agreed to a partition of Punjab and Bengal. Mountbatten presented the partition plan on 2 June 1947 to the Indian leadership. For Jinnah it was a bitter pill and a disappointment for the League leaders who were embittered with the British and Congress for not granting them six whole provinces.
Muslims in Pakistan found themselves in the only ever "Muslim" homeland. In the decades preceding partition the character of the new Muslim polity had been uncertain. Pakistan's new citizens were unprepared by the time of Partition. Pakistan did not inherit central institutions as India did. The strongest institution the country inherited was the military, attributable to the fact that the British had recruited significantly from northwestern Muslim populations. The army ruled Pakistan for over half the post-Independence period. The ideological character of the state has been disputed, with Jinnah's 11 August speech apparently supportive of the notion that the state was formed simply to protect Muslim interests and the ulama envisioning Pakistan as an Islamic state. Islamist thinker Abul A'la Maududi has been influential in Pakistan and the ulama of the country increasingly shared his thoughts. Pakistani politics became intertwined with Afghanistan in the 1980s where a communist coup was supported by a Soviet military presence.
Millions of Afghan refugees and international resources poured in. The regime of military ruler, General Zia ul Haq, was strengthened as he introduced Islamic laws. Some attribute Zia's Islamization to his Deobandi piety, others to his political interests. The Jamaat e Islami obtained political mileage under Zia ul Haq. Both the military and the United States saw the backing of jihadi Islam as useful. Unforeseen consequences of Zia's policies and promotion of jihad included a growth of sectarianism and the civil war in Afghanistan after Soviet withdrawal, which was mostly controlled by the Taliban by the middle of the 1990s. After 9/11 the United States destroyed Taliban's power in Afghanistan with Pakistan's reluctant support. The country was at the time led by military ruler General Pervez Musharraf who did not share Zia's promotion of Islamic law but support for religious parties grew while he was in power, partially in protest against his pro-US policies. Elections in 2008 brought back major political parties instead of Musharraf or the religious parties.
Many East Pakistanis soon became disillusioned with the new country, feeling colonised by the predominantly Punjabi army and bureaucracy. The privilege for Urdu and English over Bengali language was also a cause of disturbance. In 1971 Sheikh Mujib's Awami League was denied office in spite of its electoral victory. East Pakistan separated. India, flooded with refugees, sided with Bengal in the violent civil war. The first constitution declared Bangladesh a secular state and proscribed religious parties, in response to the wartime support groups such as the Bengali Jamaat e Islami had given to Pakistan.
However, Islam became more important after the mid-1970s. This global phenomena, relevant also in Pakistan, was partly a response to the oil boom which was accompanied with opportunities for poorer nations in the Muslim world. Religion also comprised part of the expression of populist governments. A 1975 coup against Mujib brought in administrations which supported religious institutions and developed closer ties with the Muslim world. Islam became the state religion by a constitutional amendment in 1988. Bangladeshi politics has been dominated by two parties: the Awami Party and its contender, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party.
For Muslims in India, Pakistan was a triumph which instantly turned into a defeat. By voting in the 1945-6 elections they had stated that Islam required a state of its own. But they were to live an Islamic life without fulfillment after 1947. India, unusually for new countries in the 1950s, successfully sustained a lively democracy. Muslims in the 1960s voted for the Congress, which solicited them, but since then have voted for whichever party appears likely to cater to Muslim interests. Muslims were stereotyped negatively with disloyalty and Pakistani sympathies, particularly after the 1980s. This was partially a tactic to unite Hindus and partly a surrogate for government opposition.
Hindu nationalist groups and complicit state officials campaigned against the Babri Mosque, allegedly constructed on Ram's birthplace. A pogrom took place in Gujarat in 2002. The defeat of the BJP brought in a more accommodating government under which a committee was created on the Muslims' socio-economic status. The committee's Sachar report refuted the perception of Muslim "appeasement" by showing the poor and underrepresented status of India's Muslims. Despite individual cases of success the report pointed out significant barriers faced by the large Muslim population.
The Islamic ambitions of the sultans and Mughals had concentrated in expanding Muslim power, not in seeking converts. Evidence of the absence of systematic programs for conversion is the concentration of South Asia's Muslim populations outside the main core of the Muslim polities, in East Bengal and West Punjab, which were on the peripheries of Muslim states.
Another theory propounds that Indians embraced Islam to obtain privileges. There are several historical cases which apparently bolster this view. Ibn Battuta records that Khalaji sultans rewarded converts with robes. Old censuses report that many landed north Indian families became Muslim to avoid penalties for failure to pay taxes. This view could encompass Sind's Amils, Maharashtra's Parasnis and the Kayasthas and Khatris who fostered Islamic traditions under government service. However, this theory cannot resolve the large amount of conversions in the peripheral regions of Bengal and Punjab because state support would diminish further out from their main areas.
One view among historians is that converts seeking to escape the Brahmin dominated caste structure were attracted to sufi egalitarianism. This notion has been popular among South Asian, particularly Muslim, historians. But there is no relation between the areas with significant numbers of conversions and those regions with Brahminical influence. The areas which the 1872 census found to have Muslim majorities had not only been distant from the core of the Muslim states but had also not been assimilated into the Hindu and Buddhist communal structures by the time of Islam's advent in those areas. Bengali converts were mostly indigenous peoples who only had light contact with Brahminism. A similar scenario applied with the Jat clans which ultimately made up the mass of the Punjabi Muslim community.
The sufis did not preach egalitarianism, but played an important role in integrating agricultural settlements with the larger contemporary cultures. In areas where Sufis received grants and supervised clearing of forestry they had the role of mediating with worldly and divine authority. Richard Eaton has described the significance of this in the context of West Punjab and East Bengal, the two main areas to develop Muslim majorities. The partition was eventually made possible because of the concentration of Muslim majorities in northwest and northeast India. The overwhelming majority of the subcontinent's Muslims live in regions which became Pakistan in 1947.
The Islamisation of Bengal and South Asia in general was very slow. The process can be seen to comprise three different features. Richard Eaton describes them, in order, as inclusion, identification and displacement. In the inclusion process Islamic agencies were added to Bengali cosmology. In the identification process the Islamic agencies fused with the Bengali deities. In the displacement process the Islamic agencies took the place of the local deities.
Punjabis and Bengalis retained their pre-Islamic practices. The premier challenge to the purity of Islam in medieval South Asia had neither been from the court nor from the Maratha raids, but from the rural converts, who were ignorant of Islamic requirements, and from the insidious influence of Hinduism in their lives. Punjabis, in the words of Mohammed Mujeeb, relied spiritually on magic while Bengali Muslims were reported to participate in Durga Puja, worship of Sitala and Rakshya Kali and resorting to Hindu astrologers. In both Punjab and Bengal Islam was viewed as just one of several methods to seek redress for ordinary problems.
These nominal conversions to Islam, brought about by regional Muslim polities, were followed by reforms, especially after the 17th century, in which Muslims integrated with the larger Muslim world. Improved transport services in the nineteenth century brought Muslim masses into contact with Mecca which facilitated reformist movements stressing Quranic literalism and making people aware of the differences between Islamic commands and their actual practices.
Islamic reformist movements, such as the Fara'izi, in the nineteenth century rural Bengal aimed to remove indigenous folk practices from Bengali Islam and commit the population exclusively to Allah and Muhammad. Politically the reform aspect of conversion, emphasizing exclusiveness, continued with the Pakistan movement for a separate Muslim state and a cultural aspect was the assumption of Arab culture.
The British authorities' westernisation policies effectively destroyed the exclusive hold of the ulama over education and curtailed their administrative influence. In an environment where the Muslim community lacked power, the ulama invested their efforts into maintaining the Muslim society. The most significant efforts were spearheaded by those ulama who followed Shah Wali Allah and were inspired by Sayyid Ahmad Barelwi's jihad. However, the failure of the 1857 rebellion and the British reaction ensured that their jihad would take a different form. Following Barelvi's reformism they emphasized sharia and study of the revealed rather than rational sciences.
They shunned all British, Hindu and Shia influences and only permitted some Sufi practices while completely proscribing the concept of intercession at the shrines. These ulama concentrated at the Deoband madrasa which was established by Muhammad Qasim Nanawtwi and Rashıd Ahmad Gangohi in 1867. They stressed the scripture. According to them knowledge of divine law and expected Muslim behavior was a prerequisite for conserving the Muslim community in the British era. Lacking state power, they also encouraged the role of the individual conscience to ensure compliance with the law. They urged followers to ponder over their actions and evoked Judgement Day.
Pre-reformist conceptions, fueled by resistance to reform, hardened around the late 19th century scholar Ahmad Rada Khan from Bareilly. He justified the customary Islam, associated with obtaining intercession to God from saints, with his scholarly Hanafi credentials. If Deobandis had wanted to preserve Islam as they perceived it to be in the Hanafi texts, the Barelvis desired to preserve Islam as they understood it in the nineteenth century subcontinent. They propagated their ideas eagerly and denunciation, sometimes even violence, characterised their relations with the Ahl i Hadith and Deobandis.
Ahmad Rada Khan sought to highlight even more highly the status of the Prophet. He emphasised the Sufi belief pertaining to the Prophet's light. By approving the shrines Ahmad Rada Khan catered to the needs of the illiterate rural population. He shared with his contemporaries the emphasis on the Prophet, who stressed emulation of his life.
The Ahl i Hadith shared the Deobandis' reformist and revivalist roots but believed that they did not do enough. Their religious ideas were more radical, more sectarian and they came from a more elite class. They shared the Deobandis' commitment to cleansing Muslim culture of acts not in compliance with the Sharia. But while the Deobandis espoused taqlid and embraced the Islamic scholarship they had inherited, the Ahl i Hadith repudiated it and directly used the textual sources of the Quran and Sunnah and advocated deploying the methodologies used by the original jurists of the Islamic schools of thought. This methodology meant that the followers would have a heavy individual duty. To enforce this duty the Ahl i Hadith completely spurned Sufism. They feared judgement day and the writings of Nawab Siddiq Hasan, a prominent member, reflected fear of doomsday.
Indian Muslims were primarily divided ethnically between the Ashraf, descendants of Afghan and Middle Eastern arrivals, and the Ajlaf, who were descended from native converts. The ashraf were distinguished by their urbane culture and they included the Sayeds, Sheikhs, Mughals and Pathans. The highest percentage claiming foreign ancestry was in the UP (where 41.1 percent declared foreign roots in the 1931 census) with Urdu as their language. The ashraf comprised landowning, administrative and professional echelons of society and are known to be the principal pioneers of Muslim separatism as they would have been impacted most by Hindu domination.
Most Indian Muslims were ajlaf and spoke regional languages such as Punjabi, Bengali and Gujarati. They were mainly peasants, merchants and craftsmen such as weavers. Muslims throughout India were mainly agrarian. A feeling of poverty compared to the prosperous Hindu elite and middle class was politically important.
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