Past present: The first Muslims of India

Published Jul 21, 2013 10:09am

The arrival of Muslims in India took place in three phases. They first arrived and settled in the coastal towns of South India as traders. They were welcomed by the rulers who gained from their commercial activities. As traders, they were peaceful people and maintained friendly relations with the local population by integrating into the local culture and traditions, learning local languages and marrying local women. Gradually, they became Indian. As they adopted the Indian culture, they disconnected their past affiliation and emotionally attached themselves to their adopted homeland. There was no contempt for the Indian culture and no yearning to revisit the past.

Even today, the South Indian Muslims are tolerant towards other religions and believe in multicultural values.

In Sindh, the Arabs arrived as conquerors, defeated the local ruler and occupied the country. As conquerors, their interest was to extract as many resources as possible from the vanquished country and convert the people to Islam. Politically, Sindh first became a part of the Umayyad and then the Abbasid Empires. It lost its independence and was ruled by the appointed governors of the Arab Caliphs. In this process, Sindh became disconnected from the subcontinent. The local non-Muslim population or the Zimmis were required to pay jizya or poll tax and were treated as second-rate subjects.

The impact of the Arab conquest is deep-rooted in the Sindhi society. Even today, Muslims of Arab descent or origin such as Sayyids, Qureshis, Ansaris and Abbasis are an elite class which enjoys a higher social status. Proud of their Arab origin, they refer to Sindh as Bab-ul-Islam or the gateway to Islam.

In North India, the Turks arrived as conquerors and fought bloody battles with the Rajput rulers who resisted them, creating a gulf between the conquerors and the defeated. The Turk rulers were not interested in converting people to Islam and focused on military intervention. Early invaders like Mahmud of Ghazni and Muhammad Ghori swept away wealth from the subcontinent to Ghazna. In 1206, when Qutbuddin Aibak became the ruler, India disconnected its relations with Ghazna.

The Sultans of Delhi ruled over India ruthlessly. They were prejudiced and did not allow other ethnic groups to share power. When the Lodhis became rulers, they replaced the Turkish supremacy with the Afghan hegemony while the Turkish elite class was swapped by the Afghans.

Babur defeated Ibrahim Lodhi in the Battle of Panipat in 1526. In Tuzk-i-Babri, Babur undermines the Indian culture while reminiscing about the climate and fruits of his homeland. He wished to be buried in Kabul instead of the hot climate of India. The character of the Mughal rule was changed by his grandson Akbar who Indianised the empire by cultivating egalitarian relations with Hindus.

During the Mughal reign, the Iranians continued to arrive at the Mughal court so foreign influence flourished. Persian being their mother tongue, they were welcomed and appointed at high posts without much competition. The Iranians were arrogant people and had a condescending attitude for the way the Indians spoke and wrote the Persian language. Shaikh Ali Hazin (d.1766) who arrived in India in the later Mughal period poured scorned on the Persian literary works of the Indians.

The linguistic imperialism created a sense of inferiority among Indians while language created a gulf between the ruling classes and the common people. They always looked up to the Iranians for approval of their language but the Iranians refused to accept it as part of their literature. The tragic result was that after the fall of the Mughal Empire, Persian literature created by Indian writers disappeared.

After the arrival of the British, English became the official language. The Indian elite learnt it and became a part of the ruling class. Those who composed English poetry and wrote short stories and novels in English perhaps suffered a fate similar to the Persian writers who wasted their creativity on foreign language and lost their work without a trace.


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Comments (27) Closed




umesh bhagwat
Jul 21, 2013 11:16am

an excellent article!

umesh bhagwat
Jul 21, 2013 11:16am

an excellent article!

ravi
Jul 21, 2013 12:44pm

Excellent article. Well resaerched. Kudos

deep
Jul 21, 2013 03:11pm

this is a good exercise to explore reasons for the disconnect between hindus and muslims - you do not see that between hindus and other religious groups including the christians.

Arshad Khan
Jul 21, 2013 03:57pm

An interesting article. The question is whether the English Language should have been introduced in India by the British to facilitate their governance.. Hindi should have become the national language and English the second language. We would have not been so confused as we are today speaking a curious blend of Hindi, Urdu and English. Even many of the MPs cannot speak pristine Urdu and resort to the annoying Urdu with interjected English sentences. This is ridiculous. Speak one language properly and do not resort to English to emphasize your point. Do not slaughter both Urdu and English.

Roger Rao
Jul 21, 2013 05:32pm

Brilliant - historical honesty, a trait that is missing amongst many in South Asia today. May I request Dawn to send a copy of this article to Romilla Thapar and Mani Shankar Iyer? Hope people see in this acknowledgement and honesty an attempt to heal the political wounds that were left behind from history. Immensely grateful that this originates in Pakistan from a respectable institution (Dawn) - perhaps making it more palatable to several sections of this region.

Roger

Roger Rao
Jul 21, 2013 05:46pm

@Arshad Khan - Perhaps true that several 'MPs' today do not speak great 'Urdu' or 'Hindi' or 'English'. Within the Indian context, however, nor can they speak good 'Tamil' or 'Marathi, or 'Bengali'. For an emotional subcontinental population, IMHO, we need to widen the discussion. English is a great 'neutralizer' and an acceptable nationalistic glue for many. Else, we would be replacing the Turk and Arab reign with the reign of people from the Hindi heartland. As we all know, or at least must acknowledge, language has a major political role and influences political thinking. In today's world, English has also helped contribute to the development of the country. The good news, though, is that the English are long gone from the region and there is very little risk of them returning to the sub-continental politics - in the foreseeable future :-)

sri1
Jul 21, 2013 05:49pm

@Arshad Khan: Hmmm, what the Persians consider as inferior was the hybridization of their language with that of the Indian sub-continent - it is now Urdu, a confluence of Persian and the local lingua franca. Centuries back, Persia itself changed faith and gradually altered faith, culture and language from Zoroastrian. It is not easy to accept or adapt to such hybrid changes, but that is the abiding strength of the Indian subcontinent, at least the eastern part. It is useful to remember that this rich confluence is our Hindustani culture, music, ethos, not one or the other. After all, change is the only constant and it is an attitude.

Agha Ata
Jul 21, 2013 05:56pm

Is this article complete? It ended so abruptly. You started with people, and ended it with languages. I hoped to read more about present people. Could you please write more. I found it very interesting. :) Thank you.

masmanz
Jul 21, 2013 07:20pm

The author failed to mention that the main reason of modern day Hindu/Muslim discord is the British policy of divide and rule. This policy did not work in the states where the local rulers were Muslims. For this reason we see that South India has a more cordial Hindu/Muslim relationship.

pugo
Jul 21, 2013 07:49pm

Please understand unless Islam reforms it'll eat your country pakistan think logically im saying for god sake print it and read it 10 times Read Hassan Nissar from Pak read Mustafa Kamal Attaturk the only thing which will dismember Pak is ISlam . Dont lay too much stress on religion. You cant proove and I repeat 100 times no religion is better than other. Get out of the sinking boat no one is saying leave Islam but be secular no amount of finger pointing at India would save you coz over reliance on ISLAM will bring your downfall. Please save your country print it no hate speech just a logical point

Oshkosh
Jul 21, 2013 08:25pm

thank GOD the British came, otherwise we all would been in a burqua by this time!!!

(Dr.) B.N. Anand
Jul 21, 2013 09:19pm

Though narrated in a reader friendly language, this is a part of history and and any student be it in India or Pakistan reads these facts in history books at the school level. I do not comprehend why there was a need to revisit these well known historical facts and that so in the form of an article in a distinguished newspaper. BNA

Anuj
Jul 21, 2013 11:01pm

Good job. Dawn must donate this article for adding to history curriculum in Pakistani Punjab after converting to Urduas required. Badly needed to be seen by impressionable minds being brought up to believe wrong history/biased view in textbooks there and maybe other provinces as well.

Imran AB
Jul 21, 2013 11:21pm

@Agha Ata: It is a shame that such a great well researched article came to an abrupt end and seems incomplete.....I felt the same as you . Author , please complete your article and do not leave us high and dry with inadequate information ....

Ghulam Abbas
Jul 22, 2013 12:49am

You always write brilliant articles :)

Asad
Jul 22, 2013 01:27am

And the purpose of the article was...????

Pankaj Patel
Jul 22, 2013 01:44am

Very educative article.I do see clear difference between Malbari Muslims and those from UP. I wonder how many percentage of Sindhi Muslims consider them selves as of Hindu origin? I believe none.This is what happens when a foreign conquer rules with religion/culture agenda to perpetuate it's rule for generations.I see this on the whole continent of America where all central and south Americans consider them self as Spanish.Indonesia is a country where they respect their language and culture. I believe all Abrahamic religions are unnatural and they will disappear with time as they arrived and human thought will prevail over individual claim.

SAS
Jul 22, 2013 07:55am

If there was a point to this article, it was definitely lost upon me.

Mohammad Ali Khan
Jul 22, 2013 09:15am

Good attempt at a very complex subject.It will be interesting to explain Muslims in Bangladesh and process of conversion.May be some one can shed light on these questions.

Rao
Jul 22, 2013 10:12am

Looks like its end is abrupt...

skd
Jul 22, 2013 10:24am

@Arshad Khan:

The notion that Hindi, a relatively recent construct, could have served to rule India is not correct.

The Mughals used Persian (not Urdu) for administration and in courts of law. The British continued with the use of Persian for several decades, and then switched to English. Perfectly reasonable for them to do so. You can hardly expect them to use French, or German, or Tamil for that matter. The conqueror uses his own tongue. Hence Latin in Roman Europe and Japanese in Formosa (Taiwan).

Given the number of languages across the subcontinent, the use of English made eminent sense. It was the language of the then ruling class, and its use was less objectionable than the foisting of some Indian language on those who did not speak it. It also opened up the vast new world of Western science to the people of India.

If India is a unity today, it's because of English, not Hindi. Bengal and the South would never accept Hindi as the lingua franca of India.

Look at Europe today as it tries to unite. What language does it use? English!

junraj
Jul 22, 2013 11:09am

@Roger Rao: I endorse your view and hail Dawn for publishing it. Shabash! Junraj

Shubs
Jul 22, 2013 03:19pm

@Asad: Education.

Shubs
Jul 22, 2013 03:22pm

@Roger Rao: I know it's fashionable for the neo-nationalists to pile on Romila Thapar. Care to point out examples of where she has ever said anything as a historian which differs from what has been said here?

SBB
Jul 24, 2013 09:25am

@Pankaj Patel: You'll be surprised.. Sindhis are a very tolerant people and a large majority will accept their Hindu origins. In many towns of Sindh, Mosques and Temples have been built side by side without conflict. It's a new idea of the Muslim migrants to Sindh and to the Hindu Indians in India, but this is a fact.

SBB
Jul 24, 2013 09:28am

@Roger Rao: Completely agreed!