Continued from Hinduism – 2: Getting to Terms with Religion
It is time now to take stock of the encounter of India with Muslims.
The first aspect that needs to be clear in our minds is whether this was an encounter between Hinduism and Islam or between Hindus and Muslims. This will make a significant difference to our understanding of subsequent events. We will argue that this was not a clash of religions, that it was an encounter of Hindus and Muslims. Of course, this encounter had an influence on both Hinduism and Islam, but the influence was indirect.
As always, this is the starting point for a conversation. We are open to alternative interpretations that are cogently argued.
Raiders or Crusaders?
Frequent and repeated interaction of Hindus in India with Muslims from Afghanistan began around 1000 AD with the raids of Mahmud of Ghazna followed by those of Mohammed of Ghor. In 1206, the Slave Dynasty under Qutbuddin Aibak established a permanent presence in Delhi. Muslims have been in India ever since.
A number of points need to be considered in this context.
First, these were pre-modern times; there were no nation-states, agreed-upon borders, or notions of sovereignty in those days. Raids and expansionism were the norms. Alexander had marched through Persia into India in 327 BC; the Roman Empire had spread into Africa; the Byzantine Empire into the Middle East; the Arab Empire was in Spain; the Mongols were all over including in India. So there was nothing out of the ordinary about the raids from Afghanistan into India – the distance was just a few hundred miles.
Second, there is little evidence that these raids were of a nature similar to that of the First Crusade, launched by Pope Urban II in 1095, of which we have written earlier. The Pope had urged the Christians of Europe, in the name of Christianity, to march 3000 kilometers to Jerusalem to avenge alleged atrocities committed by Muslims against Christian men, women, and children. Pope Urban had launched a religious war. The modern parallel would be Osama bin Laden’s religious war against the Christian West.
There seems to be no evidence that the Afghan raids into India were inspired by some grand Islamic consensus to show non-Muslims the righteous path or to avenge atrocities against Muslims. Any such reading of the history is not compatible with the frequent conflicts between Afghans, Iranis and Turanis who were all Muslims. Babar established his dynasty by displacing an Afghan ruler. Nadir Shah and Ahmed Shah sacked Muslim kingdoms in Delhi; there is no documentation that their treatment of the residents of the city discriminated between Muslim and non-Muslims.
The Afghan raids into India can be considered analogous to a robber raiding a bank. The religion of the robber is incidental to the enterprise; the objective of the robber is to acquire the wealth, not to show the right path to the owners and staff of the bank. It is a reasonable analogy except, as mentioned earlier, that there was no law against raiding territory at that time. Raiders, who happened to be Muslims, came into India; some of them captured territory and stayed.
Indians or Colonialists?
Here we come face to face with the next important question. How do we look upon the Muslims who came from outside but stayed on in India. Were they Indians or colonialists? Once again the answer to this question will have an impact on how we understand subsequent events.
It can be argued that at some point those who stayed became inhabitants of the land. They did not owe allegiance to, or were representatives of, some external overlord; they did not direct their activities to serve the interest of a foreign power; they did not transfer wealth abroad; they did not plan on returning ‘home’ at the end of their working lives. All these characteristics militate against categorizing them as colonialists.
The Muslims who stayed were ‘new’ Indians. They were a mix of the good, the bad and the ugly. Many may wish they had never arrived. But we have to understand the events that occurred and wishes, especially intense wishes, only get in the way of that understanding. It was a commonplace in those times for people to leave one home and make a new home in some distant place without asking for permission or requesting residency status.
(An interesting aside is a reminder of the commonly accepted parallel with the much earlier arrival of the Aryans in India. We will keep this in the back of our minds because at the end of this series of posts we will try and explain why it has become necessary for some to argue that Aryans were the original inhabitants of India. When and why does it become necessary to dispute and reinterpret the past?)
With this as the background, we will explore in the next post how over time the interaction of Hindus and Muslims influenced the nature of Hinduism and Islam in India.
To be continued…