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Islamic conquest in India

The Islamic conquest of the Indian subcontinent took place during the ascendancy of the Rajput Kingdoms in North India, during the seventh to the twelfth centuries. The first incursion by the new Muslim successor states of the Persian empire occurred around 664 CE during the Umayyad Caliphate, led by Mohalib towards Multan in Southern Punjab; in modern day Pakistan. Mohalib expeditions were not aimed at conquest, though they penetrated as far as the capital of the Maili and returned with wealth and prisoners of war.

It took several centuries for Islam to spread to parts of India and is a topic of intense debate. Some quarters hold that Hindus were forcibly converted to Islam by laws favoring Muslims Citizens, and threat of naked force; the "Conversion by the Sword Theory." Others hold that this occurred by inter-marriage, conversions, economic integration, to escape caste structures or at the hand of Sufi preachers. The disputers of the "Conversion by the Sword Theory" point to the prescence of the strong Muslim communities found in Southern India, modern day Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Western Burma, Indonesia and Philippines coupled with the distinctively lack of equivalent Muslim communities around the heartland of historical Muslim Empires in the Indian Sub-Continent as refutation to the Conversion by Sword Theory.

Historian Will Durant wrote in The Story of Civilization (1972) that the Muslim conquest of India was "probably the bloodiest story in history." The number of people killed is estimated based on the Muslim chronicles and demographic calculations. K.S. Lal estimated in his book The Growth of Muslim Population in India that between 1000 CE and 1500 CE, the population of Hindus decreased by 80 million. The legacy of Islamic conquest of South Asia is a hotly debated issue even today.

Early Islamic Communities

Several reasons existed for the desire of the rising Islamic Empire to gain a foothold in Makran and Sind; ranging from the participation of armies from Sindh fighting alongside the Persians in battles such as Nehawand, Salasal, Qadisia and Makran, pirate raids on Arab shipping to the granting of refuge to rebel chiefs.

The Punjab and Sind region had also been historically under considerable flux as Central Asian Kingdoms, the Persian Empire, Buddhist Kingdoms and Rajput Kingdoms vied for control prior to the arrival of the Islamic influence.

Islam in India existed in communities along the Arab trade routes in Sindh, Ceylon and Southern India.

Muhammad bin Qasim

In 711, the Umayyad Caliph in Damascus sent two failed expeditions to Baluchistan (an arid region on the Iranian Plateau in Southwest Asia, presently split between Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan) and Sindh (presently a province of Pakistan bordering on Baluchistan, Punjab, and Rajasthan, India).

The nature of the expeditions was punitive, and in response to raids carried out by pirates on Arab shipping, operating around Daibul. The allegation was made that the King of Sindh, Raja Dahir was the patron of these pirates. The third expedition was led by a 20-year-old Syrian chieftain named Muhammad bin Qasim. The expedition went as far North as Multan, then called the "City of Gold," that contained the extremely large Hindu temple Sun Mandir.

Bin Qasim invaded the sub-continent at the orders of Al-Hajjaj bin Yousef, the governor of Iraq. Qasim's armies defeated Raja Dahir at what is now Hyderabad in Sindh in 712. He then proceeded to subdue the lands from Karachi to Multan with an initial force of only six thousand Syrian tribesmen; therby establishing the dominion of the Umayyad Caliphate from Lisbon in Portugal to the Indus Valley. Qasim's stay was brief as he was soon recalled to Baghdad, and the Caliphates rule in South Asia shrank to Sindh and Southern Punjab.

Communities in the North-West

Subsequent to Qasim's recall the Caliphates control in Sindh was extremely weak under governors who only nominally acknowledging Arab control and shared power to coexisting with local Hindu, Jain and Buddhist rulers. Ismaili missionaries found a receptive audience among both the Sunni and non-Muslim populations here. In 985 a group around Multan declared themselves an independent Ismaili Fatimid State.

Coastal trade and the presence of a colony in Sindh permitted significant cultural exchange and the introduction of Islamic teachers into the subcontinent. Considerable conversions took place, especially amongst the Buddhist majority. Multan became a center of the Ismaili sect of Islam, which still has many adherents in Sindh today. This region under generous patronage of the arts provided a conduit for Arab scholars to absorb and expand on Indian sciences and pass them onwards to the West.

North of Multan non-Muslim groups remained numerous. From this period, the conquered area was divided into two parts: the Northern region comprising the Punjab remained under the control of Hindu Rajas, while the Southern coastal areas comprising of Baluchistan, Sindh, and Multan came under Muslim control.

Ghaznavid Period

Under Sabuktigin, Ghazni found itself in conflict with the Shahi Raja Jayapala. When Sabuktigin died and his son Mahmud ascended the throne in 998, Ghazni was engaged in the North with the Qarakhanids when the Shahi Raja renewed hostilities.

In the early 11th century Mahmud of Ghazni launched 17 expeditions into the Indian sub-continent. In 1001, Sultan Mahmud Ghaznavi defeated Raja Jayapala of the Hindu Shahi Dynasty of Gandhara and marched further into Peshawar and in 1005 made it the center for his forces.

The Ghaznavid Jihads were initially directed against the Ismaili Fatimids in on-going struggle of the Abbassid Caliphate elsewhere. However, once this aim was accomplished he moved onto richness of the loot of wealthy temples and monastaries. By 1027, Mahmud had captured most of Northern India and obtained formal recognition of Ghazni's sovreignity from the Abbassid Khalifah, al-Qadir Billah.

Ghaznavid rule in North India lasted over 175 years, from 1010 to 1187. It was during this period that Lahore assumed considerable importance apart from being the second capital, and later the only capital, of the Ghaznavid Empire.

At the end of his reign, Mahmud's empire extended from Kurdistan in the west to Samarkand in the Northeast, and from the Caspian Sea to the Yamuna. Although his raids carried his forces across Northern and Western India, only Punjab came under his permanent rule; Kashmir, the Doab, Rajasthan, and Gujarat remained under the control of the local Rajput dynasties.

In 1030, Mahmud fell gravely ill and died at age 59. He had been a gifted military commander, and during his rule, universities were founded to study various subjects such as mathematics, religion, the humanities, and medicine. Sunni Islam was the main religion of his kingdom and the Perso-Afghan dialect Dari was made the official language.

As with the Turkic invaders of three centuries ago, Mahmud's armies looted temples in Varanasi, Mathura, Ujjain, Maheshwar, Jwalamukhi, and Dwarka. Mahmud was quite pragmatic and he even utlized uncoverted Hindu generals and troops in his expeditions. His main target remained the Shiites and Buyid Iran. There is considerable evidence from writings of Al-Biruni, Sogidan, Uyghur and Manichean texts that the Buddhists, Hindus and Jains were accepted as People of the Book and references to Buddha as Burxan or a prophet can be found. After the initial destruction and pillage Buddhists, Jains and Hindus were granted protected subject status as dhimmis.

Muhammed Ghuri

Muhammad Ghori was a Turkic-Afghan conqueror from the region of Ghor in Afghanistan. Before 1160, the Ghaznavid Empire covered an area running from central Afghanistan east to the Punjab, with capitals at Ghazni on the banks of Ghazni river in present-day Afghanistan, and at Lahore in present-day Pakistan. In 1160, the Ghorids conquered Ghazni from the Ghaznevids, and in 1173 Muhammad was made governor of Ghazni. He raided eastwards into the remaining Ghaznevid territory, and invaded Gujarat in the 1180s but was rebuffed by Gujarat's Solanki rulers. In 1186 and 1187 he conquered Lahore in alliance with a local hindu ruler, ending the Ghaznevid empire and bringing the last of Ghaznevid territory under his control, and seemed to be the first Muslim ruler seriously interested in expanding his domain in the sub-continent, and like his predecessor Mahmud initially started off against the Ismaili Shiite kingdom that had regained independence during the Nizari conflicts, and then onto booty and power.

In 1191, he invaded the territory of Prithviraj III of Ajmer, who ruled much of present-day Rajasthan and Haryana, but was defeated at Tarain by Govinda-Raja of Delhi, Prithviraj's vassal. The following year, Muhammad assembled 120,000 horsemen and once again invaded the Kingdom of Ajmer. Muhammad's army met Prithviraj's army again at Tarain, and this time Muhammad won; Govinda-Raja was slain, Prithviraj captured and Muhammad advanced onto Delhi. Within a year, Muhammad controlled Northern Rajasthan and Northern Ganges-Yamuna Doab. After these victories in India, and Muhammad's establishment of a capital in Delhi, Multan was also incorporated into his empire. Muhammad then returned east to Ghazni to deal with the threat on his eastern frontiers from the Turks and Mongols, whiles his armies continued to advance through Northern India, raiding as far east as Bengal.

Muhammad returned to Lahore after 1200 to deal with a revolt of the Ghakkar tribe in the Punjab. He suppressed the revolt, but was killed during a Ghakkar raid on his camp on the Jhelum River in 1206. Upon his death his most capable general, Qutb-ud-din Aybak, took control of Muhammad's Indian conquests and declared himself the first Sultan of Delhi.

The Delhi Sultanate

Muhammad's successors established the first dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate, while the Mamluk Dynasty in 1211 (however, the Delhi Sultanate is traditionally held to have been founded in 1206) seized the reins of the empire. Mamluk means "slave" and referred to the Turkic slave soldiers who became rulers. The territory under control of the Muslim rulers in Delhi expanded rapidly. By mid-century, Bengal and much of central India was under the Delhi Sultanate. Several Turko-Afghan dynasties ruled from Delhi: the Mamluk (1211–1290), the Khalji (1290–1320), the Tughlaq (1320–1413), the Sayyid (1414–51), and the Lodhi (1451–1526). Muslim Kings extended their domains into Southern India, Kingdom of Vijayanagar resisted until falling to the Deccan Sultanate in 1565. Certain kingdoms remained independent of Delhi such as the larger kingoms of Rajasthan, parts of the Deccan, Gujarat, Malwa (central India), and Bengal, nevertheless all of the area in present-day Pakistan came under the rule of Delhi.

The Sultans of Delhi enjoyed cordial, if superficial, relations with Muslim rulers in the Near East but owed them no allegiance. They based their laws on the Quran and the sharia and permitted non-Muslim subjects to practice their religion only if they paid the jizya (head tax). They ruled from urban centers, while military camps and trading posts provided the nuclei for towns that sprang up in the countryside.

Perhaps the greatest contribution of the Sultanate was its temporary success in insulating the subcontinent from the potential devastation of the Mongol invasion from Central Asia in the 13th century, which nonetheless led to the capture of Afghanistan and western Pakistan by the Mongols (see the Ilkhanate Dynasty). The Sultanate ushered in a period of Indian cultural renaissance, The resulting "Indo-Muslim" fusion left lasting monuments in architecture, music, literature, and religion. In addition it is surmised that the language of Urdu (literally meaning "horde" or "camp" in various Turkic dialects) was born during the Dehli Sultanate period as a result of the mingling of Sanskritic Hindi and the Persian, Turkish, Arabic favored by the Muslim invaders of India.

The Sultanate suffered from the sacking of Delhi in 1398 by Timur (Tamerlane) but revived briefly under the Lodhis before it was conquered by the Mughals in 1526, who ruled from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries.

Alauddin Khilji

Other invasions from Central Asia followed his on a regular basis, such as that of Muhammad Khilji, who burned Nalanda, a major Buddhist library. The rulers of these territories became known as the Mughals and their empire as the Mughal Empire.

The Khilji Dynasty is not affiliated politically with the Mughal Dynasty, which started in the 1500s under Babur.

The Mughal Empire

India in the 16th century presented a fragmented picture of rulers, both Muslim and Hindu, who lacked concern for their subjects and failed to create a common body of laws or institutions. Outside developments also played a role in shaping events. The circumnavigation of Africa by the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama in 1498 allowed Europeans to challenge Arab control of the trading routes between Europe and Asia. In Central Asia and Afghanistan, shifts in power pushed Babur of Ferghana (in present-day Uzbekistan) southward, first to Kabul and then to India. The dynasty he founded endured for more than three centuries.


Claiming descent from both Genghis Khan and Timur, Babur combined strength and courage with a love of beauty, and military ability with cultivation. He concentrated on gaining control of Northwestern India, doing so in 1526 by defeating the last Lodhi Sultan at the First battle of Panipat, a town north of Delhi. Babur then turned to the tasks of persuading his Central Asian followers to stay on in India and of overcoming other contenders for power, mainly the Rajputs and the Afghans. He succeeded in both tasks but died shortly thereafter in 1530. The Mughal Empire was one of the largest centralized states in premodern history and was the precursor to the British Indian Empire.

Babur was followed by his great-grandson, Shah Jahan (r. 1628–58), builder of the Taj Mahal and other magnificent buildings. Two other towering figures of the Mughal era were Akbar (r. 1556–1605) and Aurangzeb (r. 1658–1707). Both rulers expanded the empire greatly and were able administrators. However, Akbar was known for his religious tolerance and administrative genius while Aurangzeb was a pious Muslim and fierce advocate of more orthodox Islam.


While some rulers were zealous in their spread of Islam, others were relatively liberal. Moghul emperor Akbar was relatively liberal and established a new religion, Din E Elahi, which included beliefs from different religions. He abolished the jizya for some time. In contrast, his great-grandson Aurangazeb was more zealous and, generally, during his term non-Muslims suffered. He reimposed the jizya, and it is historically recorded that under his rule a large number of natives were put to death.

In the century-and-a-half that followed the death of Aurangzeb, effective Muslim control weakened. Succession to imperial and even provincial power, which had often become hereditary, was subject to intrigue and force. The mansabdari system gave way to the zamindari system, in which high-ranking officials took on the appearance of hereditary landed aristocracy with powers of collecting rents. As Delhi's control waned, other contenders for power emerged and clashed, thus preparing the way for the eventual British takeover.

Ahmad Shah Abdali

Decay of the Mughal power saw a series of invasions by the Persian adventurer, Nadir Shah, but no occupation per se. Following his death (something his Royal Guardsman Abdali might have contributed to), Ahmed Shah Abdali - a Pathan - decided to try his luck closer to home. The fertile Punjab was the nearest and easiest prey. A long and brutal occupation of the Punjab - reviled by Sikhs, Hindus and Punjabi Muslims - lasted till the rise of the Sikh Empire.



In 1193, the Nalanda University complex was destroyed by Turkish Muslim invaders under Bakhtiyar Khalji; this event is seen as the final milestone in the decline and near extinction of Buddhism in India. He also burned Nalanda's a major Buddhist library and Vikramshila University, as well as numerous Bhuddhist monasteries in India. When the Tibetan translator, Chag Lotsawa Dharmasvamin (Chag Lo-tsa-ba, 1197 - 1264), visited northern India in 1235, Nalanda was damaged, looted, and largely deserted, but still standing and functioning with seventy students. Mahabodhi, Sompura, Vajrasan and other important monastaries were found to be untouched. The Ghuri ravages only afflicted those monastaries that lay in the direct of their advance and were fortified in the manner of defensive forts.

By the end of the 12th century, following the Islamic conquest of the Buddhist stronghold in Bihar, Buddhism declined as survivors retreated to Nepal, Sikkim and Tibet or escaped to the South of the sub-continent. Hinduism and Jainism survived because they did not have large centers of worship and devotion based around heavily fortified monastaries. Furthermore, many buddhist also converted for social mobility from their status as lower castes in the hindu view. Under the tutelage of various scholars fleeing the ravages of the Mongols, and with a historically extensive familiarity with buddhists in Central Asia many impoverished peasants in East Bengal converted.


The city flourished between the 14th century and 16th century, during the height of the Vijayanagar Empire. During this time, it was often in conflict with the kingdoms which rose in the Northern Deccan, and which are often collectively termed the Deccan Sultanates. In 1565, the empire's armies suffered a massive and catastrophic defeat at by an alliance of the Sultanates, and the capital was taken. The victorious armies then razed, depopulated and destroyed the city over several months. The empire continued in slow decline, but the original capital was not reoccupied or rebuilt.


The first temple of Somnath is said to have existed before the beginning of the Christian era. The second temple, built by the Maitraka kings of Vallabhi in Gujarat, replaced the first one on the same site around 649. In 725 Junayad, the Arab governor of Sind, sent his armies to destroy the second temple. The Pratihara king Nagabhata II constructed the third temple in 815, a large structure of red sandstone. Mahmud of Ghazni attacked this temple in 1026, looted its gems and precious stones, massacred the worshippers and burned it. It was then that the famous Shivalinga of the temple was entirely destroyed. The fourth temple was built by the Paramara King Bhoj of Malwa and the Solanki king Bhima of Gujarat (Anhilwara) between 1026 and 1042. The temple was razed in 1297 when the Sultanate of Delhi conquered Gujarat, and again in 1394. Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb destroyed the temple again in 1706.

Historical Views

French historian Alain Danielou wrote in his book Histoire de l'Inde:

From the moment when the Muslims arrive in India, the history of India does not have any more great interest. It is long and monotonous series of murder, massacres, spoilations, destruction. 

French Historian Gustave Le Bon wrote in his book Les Civilisations de L'Inde:

There does not exist a history of ancient India. Their books contain no historical data whatever, except for a few religious books in which historical information is buried under a heap of parables and folk-lore, and their buildings and other monuments also do nothing to fill the void for the oldest among them do not go beyond the third century B.C. To discover facts about India of the ancient times is as difficult a task as the discovery of the island of Atlantis, which, according to Plato, was destroyed due to the changes of the earth... The historical phase of India began with the Muslim invasion. Muslims were India's first historians. 

Historian Will Durant wrote his book The Story of Civilization:

The Mohammadan conquest of India is probably the bloodiest story in history. It is a discouraging tale, for its evident moral is that civilization is a precarious thing, whose delicate complex of order and liberty, culture and peace may at any time be overthrown by barbarians invading from without or multiplying within. 
Hindu sage Padmanabha described in his KanhaDade Prabandha in 1456 AD the story of the Islamic invasion of Gujarat of 1298 AD:

The conquering army burnt villages, devastated the land, plundered people’s wealth, took Brahmins and children and women of all classes captive, flogged with thongs of raw hide, carried a moving prison with it, and converted the prisoners into obsequious slaves. 

Tarikh-i-Yamini of Utbi the sultan's secretary wrote in the 11th century:

The blood of the infidels flowed so copiously at Thanesar that the stream was discoloured, notwithstanding its purity, and people were unable to drink it. The Sultan returned with plunder which is impossible to count. 

M. K. Gandhi said about the spread of Islam in the 7th century Arabia:

...I became more than ever convinced that it was not the sword that won a place for Islam in those days in the scheme of life. It was the rigid simplicity, the utter self-effacement of the prophet, the scrupulous regard for his pledges, his intense devotion to his friends and followers, his intrepidity, his fearlessness, his absolute trust in God and his own mission. These, and not the sword carried everything before them and surmounted every trouble. YOUNG INDIA, 1924 

Renowned Arabist De Lacy O'Leary:

History makes it clear however, that the legend of fanatical Muslim, sweeping through the world and forcing Islam at the point of sword upon conquered races is one of the most fantastically absurd myths that historians have ever repeated. ISLAM AT CROSSROADS, London, 1923, p. 8 

Cultural Influence

The divide and rule policies, two-nation theory and subsequent partition of India in the wake of Independence from the British Empire has polarized the sub-continental psyche making objective assesment hard in comparison to the other numerous of the settled agricultural societies of India from the North West. Islamic rule differed from these others in the level of assimilation and syncretism that occurred. The retained their identity and introduced legal and administrative systems that superseded existing systems of social conduct and ethics. While this was a source of friction it resulted in aa unique experience resulting in a Muslim community strongly Islamic in character while at the same time markedly distinctive and unique among its peers.

Islamic traditions blended with language, dress, cuisine, architecture, social customs and values of the natives to give rise to much of present day Indian culture.

Islamic rule saw a greater urbanization of India and the rise of many cities and their urban cultures. The biggest impact was upon trade resulting from a common commercial and legal system extending from Morocco to Indonesia. This change of emphasis on mercantilism and trade from the more strongly centralized governance systems further clashed with the agricultural based traditional economy and also provided fuel for social and political tensions.

A related development to the shifting economic was the establishment of Karkhanas, or small factories and the import and dissemination of technology through India and the rest of the world. The use of ceramic tiles in was adopted from architectural traditions of Iraq, Iran, and Central Asia. Rajasthan's blue pottery was a local variation of imported Chinese pottery. There is also the example of Sultan Abidin (1420-70) sending Kashmiri artisans to Samarqand to learn book-binding and paper making. Khurja and Siwan became renowned for pottery, Moradabad for brass ware, Mirzapur for carpets, Firozabad for glass wares, Farrukhabad for printing, Sahranpur and Nagina for wood-carving, Bidar and Lucknow for bidriware, Srinagar for papier-mache, Benaras for jewelry and textiles, and so on. On the flip-side encouraging such growth also resulted in higher taxes on the peasantry.

Numerous Indian scientific and mathematical advances and the Hindu-Arabic numerals were spread to the rest of the world [2] and much of the scholarly work and advances in the sciences of the age under Islamic nations across the globe were imported by the liberal patronage of Arts and Sciences by the rulers. The languages brought by Islam were modified by contact with local languages leading to the creation of several new languages, such as Urdu, which uses the modified Arabic script, but with more Persian words. The influences of these languages exist in several dialects in India today.

Islamic and Mughal architecture and art is widely noticeable in India, examples being the Taj Mahal and Qutub Minar.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_conquest_of_the_Indian_subcontinent

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