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Past present: A policy of tolerance


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During the Sultanate period, the issue of Hindu-Muslim relations generated a controversy between the Muslim rulers and the ulema. Following the model of the Arab rule in Sindh, the ulema held Hindus at par with the Jews and the Christians as the ‘people of the Book’. They were regarded as Zimmis who paid jizya. After the Mongols invaded Central Asia, some ulema arrived to settle in India and critical of this policy, they discussed among themselves the options to make amendments to it.

Ziauddin Barani, (1285–1357) a Muslim historian and political thinker, in his book Sana-i-Muhammadi discussed the ulema’s view in detail. He highlighted that the Hindus were not people of the book but infidels and pagans as they did not have a divine book nor prophets to guide them. So he believed they should be regarded differently from the Jews and the Christians.

The ulema met Sultan Iltutmish to convince him that the policy of the Muslim state was against Islamic law. They suggested that as the Hindus were not people of the book, they should either be converted to Islam, or killed in case of denial. They further argued that in a Muslim state, infidels must not be allowed to live respectably but should be humiliated and insulted. They wanted the sultan to adopt a policy of coercion towards them and express his anger and displeasure in the presence of the Hindus. When they finished, their conversation, the sultan asked his wazir Nizamul Mulk Junaidi, to respond to the arguments of the ulema. The wazir told him that the argument of the ulema about the Hindus was correct as according to the Sharia, they should either be converted or be killed because they were enemies of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). Junaidi pointed out that the Muslims were in minority, while the Hindus formed the majority in the subcontinent. He feared that they would unite and revolt against the policy of coercion which would make it difficult for the Muslims to maintain their hold on the subcontinent. So until the sultanate consolidated and became powerful, a harsh policy towards the Hindus was not advisable. After hearing this, the ulema requested the sultan to not allow Hindus to be appointed to high posts, to reside in Muslim localities or to freely perform their religious rituals.

In his book Fatawa-i-Jahandari, Ziauddin Barani revised the question that if a Muslim ruler with political power, wealth and resources tolerates religious practices of the non-Muslims and fails to prevent their influence, how would Islamic teachings be propagated and paganism eliminated.

During the period of Iltutmish, Nuruddin Mubarak Ghaznavi, a religious scholar criticised the Muslim rulers for failing to take any action against the infidels because of their majority. He argued that they should be treated with contempt and not be permitted to worship idols openly. They urged the sultan to crush the Brahmins, who were the root cause of idol worship. According to Ghaznavi, the sultan should crush the Brahmins, preserve the Islamic spirit and not extend them any favours or concessions. He also requested that the sultan should expel all philosophers from state institutions and appoint only pious and devout religious people on high posts.

While the rulers patiently listened to the exhortations of the ulema, they still did not allow interference in state affairs. They made no attempt to impose the Sharia and continued to follow a policy which suited the interest of the state.

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Comments (15) Closed

Khalid Pathan Aug 04, 2013 04:41pm

The day a state starts discriminating against her citizens on the basis of region, religion, ethnicity or color, It looses the basis for existence and progress. This sets in motion a process that ends in her becoming a failed state.

musofer Aug 04, 2013 07:47pm

It is evident that whenever the ulama become stronger in the society they create polarization in societies....Pakistan is facing the same situation today

Sinclair Aug 04, 2013 09:14pm


Jizya is discriminatory. Please do not condone it as the lesser evil. As for your last couple of lines, answer me this. Who decides societal conduct - the sultan or the ulema? The few Sultans who might have been loath to discriminate openly (excepting Aurangzeb) could not have stopped all of the maulanas from doing the same. Lastly, never write this in the past tense. This is a battle that is fought on the streets of the cities in India even today. Pakistani Hindus lost long ago. We are still trying.

Rick Martin Aug 04, 2013 09:36pm

Confused Article. Waste of Space and time.

John Aug 04, 2013 10:09pm

After all this you expect Hindus & Buddhists to be tolerant of Muslims?

V. C. Bhutani Aug 04, 2013 10:22pm

I It is amazing that in this day and age there are still people who speak approvingly of the writings and views of medieval theologians like Ziauddin Barani and Nuruddin Mubarak Ghaznavi. They represented thinking of their time and were probably regarded with respect by Muslim rulers of that age. A ruler like Akbar in the 16th century, who is regarded by some present-day Muslim scholars as an apostate, saw that in a country of the size and variety of India it was impossible to promote the good of the people except by an attitude and policy of tolerance towards followers of different religions. His own marriage to a Hindu princess is well known. We also know that a later emperor Aurangzeb of the later half of 17th century reverted to orthodox Islam: he was the last notable ruler of the dynasty. His successors presided over the decline and dissolution of the empire built by Akbar. It does not stand to reason that there could be anything like a book of revelation. A book can only be conceived in a human mind and it can only be written by a human hand, or by several human hands. To insist on revelation as a serious intellectual category will strain the minds of rational thinkers. The same thing applies to concepts like Son of God and Prophet of God. It is well known that an acknowledged human like Alexander of Macedon regarded himself as God and wanted that others should so regard him too. It is also known that he died only too soon and he seems to have formed realization that he was merely human. The story that we were taught in our early years at school was that when he was dying he directed that as his body was taken away for cremation his hands and feet should remain uncovered, so that people would know that in spite of his great and large conquests he finally left the world empty handed. He seems to have understood that he was not God any more than Pharaohs of yore. Long after him Jesus of Nazareth and Muhammad of Mecca took advantage of the gullibility of their followers to expound the idea of being representatives of God. If they really cared for the good of humankind they should have expounded ideas of universal application like love, mercy, humility, service, and forgiveness. To some extent these traits were to be found in Jesus but not in Muhammad. In sooth, both were off the mark and only succeeded in bringing on prolonged crusades and wars which lasted centuries long after they were gone. Unlike Alexander, they did not have any realization.

V. C. Bhutani Aug 04, 2013 10:23pm

II Hindus were not far different either. They began with their Bhagavadagita: the title translates as The Song Celestial, or divine song. There is no end to their texts and scriptures which they consider fit to be worshipped as words of God. This too was mere pretence. Hindu scriptures also lacked the element of universal applicability. For that matter, the record of the Sikhs is far better. No one said that Nanak or any of the later gurus was a prophet or that what they wrote was word of God. In fact every line in their holy book, Guru Granth Sahib, can be identified as the work of a recognizable guru or other saint. There is much in Guru Granth Sahib which we may find philosophically arguable, but even Nanak and others were unable to rise above the erroneous belief in God. It may be in order to suggest that we should subject everything to inquiry and investigation. There may be debate, which must necessarily proceed on the lines of logic and rationality. Anything that does not stand to reason should be unacceptable, regardless of who said it or wrote it. This will leave no room for the category of faith or belief, which necessarily is based on suspension of reason as a human faculty. Every day more and more of the so-called mysteries of nature are being explained. We live in the hope and expectation that a day will come when much more will have been explained. Of course, there is no such thing as finality or completeness in knowledge. Whatever we may think today, we must expect to be superseded again and again by those who will come after us. In the meantime, there is no point in arguing about the superiority or immanence of this or that system of thought or civilization. Besides, every civilization grows and expands, but it also eventually declines and decays. That is the law and the teaching of the history of civilizations. V. C. Bhutani, Edinburgh, 4 Aug 2013, 1825 GMT

syed N Aug 04, 2013 11:20pm

There is hardly any change in thinking of our Ulma in general. Laskare Jhangvi, Laskare Tyaba,Taliban and Al Qaida are their creation. Their are vision does not go beyond their nose. They do not realise that they can not stop excesses of Western powers and Israel through shear force. these countries are ruled by capitalists. To be at one page witrh them we have to be strong commercial and industrial power. They are most hurt when their business suffer. If public in midle east and their supporters in central Asia, Sub Continant and Far East stop using products from hostile countries,they will come to their knee. This is not an easy task so we resort to terrorism without tengible result except our own suffering. \

Nazim Syed Aug 04, 2013 11:39pm

Converting nonbelievers by force is certainly against true sprit of Islam. The invasion by Muslim rulers in the early periods in Midle East was an anti Islamic Act. Islam at that time was most progressive religion and way of life, it was bound to spread through peace and persuation. The Indian society was divided by cast system where low cast were treated in most inhuman way. If they were treated with compassion and justice, picture in India to day would have been different. We lost this chance again in forties.

Irfan Aug 05, 2013 02:13am

The Prophet (SAW) din kill a soul when Makkah was conquered. Its not right that in Shariah u have to kill all Hindus.

adi Aug 05, 2013 06:15am

intolerance is why muslims are disliked by the planet

Rao Aug 05, 2013 09:31am

@Khalid Pathan: Well Said....Hope Pakistan leaders are reading it

Rashid Aug 05, 2013 05:19pm

@adi: You can add to this 'herd mentality' and a supremacist ideology. When you claim the 'top seat' for yourself, what chance others are left with?

AP Aug 05, 2013 07:52pm

@V. C. Bhutani: I think you are living in wonderland. Please check out the atrocities on hindus and othe minorities in Pakistan and Bangladesh. By the way, the percentage of Hindu population was 22% in Paksitan in 1947 and now it is 1-2% . So please make sense and do your homework.

If the writings of the 12th century would not be relevant- the author would not have stated them.

Ijaaz Aug 06, 2013 04:16pm

@Adi Look at this fine chap here. Such a blanket statement for well over a billion people. Yet he seems to be riding the high horse about Hindus being all too tolerant and all. Didn't you guys wipe off Buddhism off the face of the Indian sub-continent?

Well..what can we say, all I can say is that Hindus have a visceral hatred for all things Islamic