Islam In India: The Mughals


Early History of Islam in India


Initial contact with Islam occurred in the 8th century - Arab conquest of Sind in North West (711 CE)

  • No established orthodoxy, more receptivity to influence of other civilizations.  Islam in early formation of intellectual traditions of sciences, theology, history > India had an impact: study of astrology, number systems, decimal system.


Late 10th century: Muslim warriors of Afghan and Turkish origin (Central Asia) conquered northwest India. Established the Delhi Sultanate in 1206, eventually controlled northern India (1211-1526)


Mughals: Mughal Empire in India has received more scholarly attention than any other period of time, Mughals more than any other group.  Partly because of brilliant cultural legacy of art, music, architecture; also reflects tendency to view history from the perspective of the most powerful rulers, rather than from the standpoint of the mass population.


Mughals (from “Mongols”): in the tradition of the nomadic warrior clans that periodically swooped down from the grasslands and deserts of Central Asia and either plundered and raided the settled agricultural civilizations or succeeded in conquering them. Not only India, but China, Eastern Europe, and the fertile crescents of the Middle East also experienced such attacks and invasions. Since the nomadic hunter clans lacked agricultural territories that could be tapped for their surplus, the only means to wealth in such parts of the globe were raids on settled civilizations or looting or taxation of trade caravans.


Mughal Rulers

Babur (1483-1530) conquered northern India, established the Mughal empire > whose culture left a permanent mark on India.


Policies toward non-Muslims

Muhammad and immediate successors: uncompromising, harsh

  • Initial Muslim invaders pursued a harsh policy toward the local population: Hindus and Buddhists were not “true believers”, so Muslim warriors plundered and destroyed many local shrines and killed or drove off the monks and nuns.  Buddhism never quite recovered from that blow.
  • Many conversion to Islam (some forced, some voluntary). Many members of lower castes sought to escape social discrimination through conversion.
  • In time, Muslim rulers granted more tolerance to Hindus.


Akbar (ruled 1556-1605) Grandson of Babur, extended <Mughal control over most of India. Model of religious tolerance.

  • In interest of well being of his subjects: Akbar refused to force Hindus to convert, he revokes discriminatory laws, decreed universal religious tolerance.  This went far beyond traditional Islamic law pertaining to non-Muslims.
  • Disestablishing orthodox Islam.  Decreed himself as infallible, thus able to disregards any feature of Islamic law that he felt was incompatible with his political requirements.
  • Illiterate but interested in comparative religion, found value in other traditions. Sponsored discussions in his court between representatives of Hinduism, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Jainism, and Christianity.
  • Decided that a new religious synthesis was needed.  Called the new faith the “Divine Faith” - a form of monotheism that combined elements of several traditions.  A religion that could appeal to all of the various subjects of his empire.  Didn’t have much impact.


Two generations later: Shah Jahan (ruled 1628-1658) restored Islam as the state religion. His reign regarded as the golden age of Mughal art.  Delhi was the seat of his government - palaces, mosques, forts.  Favorite wife died -- Mumtaz -- Shah Jahan had the Taj Mahal built in Agra as a monument to her.  [images] Fell ill, led to a struggle for succession between his sons.


The victor was Aurangzeb (1658-1707), who imprisoned his father for the rest of his life.  Initiated a revival of traditional Islamic practice, champion of orthodox Islam, reintroduced system of discriminating among religious communities in favor of Islam.  Poll tax on non-Muslims, mass conversions by force.  Razed Hindu temples, executed the ninth guru of the Sikh tradition for refusing to convert, earning the enmity of the Sikh community.


Dara Shikoh (died 1659): deeply influenced by Sufism, had several Hindu scriptures translated in to Persian.  collected the results of his studies into a book, The Mingling of the Two Seas.  Believed that the Sufi path and Hindu mysticism led to the same reality.  When Aurangzeb came into power, Dara Shikoh was executed for heresy.  Considered a lover of Hinduism and enemy of Islam.


Decline of the Mughal Empire


Aurangzeb’s efforts to impose Islam weakened rather than strengthened the empire.  Corruption among government officials and oppression of the people led to widespread revolts against the central power.  Delhi was plundered by invader from Iran in 1793, followed by marauders from Afghanistan in 1757.  Sikhs seized power in the Punjab, Hindu and Muslim princes set up semi-independent states within the empire.  Increasing control by the British.  Exile of the last emperor in 1858


Overall: Muslim rulers let Hindus be

  • Did not deprive them of their land, did not interfere with their religious life.
  • The result (says Embree) was indifference on the part of Hindus toward the Turks and Mughals.
  • Akbar's efforts to create a syncretic religion failed


Appeal of Sufism to Hindus in India,

  • Most appealing to Hindus = most problematic among Muslims
  • Resulted in conversion of many Hindus
  • Asceticism (cf. Vedantic, Sanyasa) and emotionalism (Bhakti)
    • God is closer to him [man] than his jugular vein.