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The Arrival and Spread of Islam in South Asia


Arab Invasion of Daybul:

In 712 A.D, the Arabs under the leadership of Muhammad Bin Qasim invaded India, an expeditionary power of 6,000 rangers and 6,000 infantry walked through southern Persia to the Indus delta, while supplies and siege equipment were sent via ocean. The target was Daybul, a port on the site of present day Karachi.

The cause which led to the attack was piracy, a ship carrying valuable gift from the ruler of Maldives for Khalifa was blocked had been intercepted by raiders from Daybul. There were Muslim ladies on board too. The Hindu lord of Sind, who had recently annexed Daybul, disavowed any duty for the pirate assault, and turned down the demand of Hajjaj bin Yousaf to surrender the pirates, so the Arabs decided on direct action. After the walls of Daybul were decimated by huge catapults, a large number of the general population living there was dispatched off as slaves.

Despite the fact that conversion to Islam does not appear to have been an immediate priority, numerous Indians moved toward becoming Muslims after the fall of Daybul, particularly low caste hindus, who were not really integrated with Hindu society by any means. In Sind, and somewhere else in the subcontinent, Muslims were to find that Islam’s marked egalitarian outlook would prove attractive to people whom fellow Hindus regarded as their social inferiors.

Islamic injunctions of equality had failed to have any definitive effect on the caste ridden Indian culture. From the beginning, pragmatism shaped the approach of the Arab conquerors. When it was understood that they intended no harm to either Hindu or Buddhist temples and culture, urban communities upriver from Daybul were prepared to submit. Given the size of the indigenous population, the modest number of incoming Arabs had minimal choice but to tolerate the local beliefs and culture. The invasion was thus never viewed as a holy war but instead a move that was considered imperative to protect trade. By that time Arab merchants had already settled in different parts of India and Sri Lanka, and their trading activities were enormously enriching Arabia, Iraq and Syria. At the southern Iraqi port of Basra, the harbor was really called “Hind and Sind”.

Delhi Sultanate:

Numerous Arabs left toward the end of Umayyad rule. However the succeeding Abbasid caliphate dispatched expeditions as far as Kashmir, it fell to Turkish tribes from Afghanistan to firmly establish Islam in the subcontinent.


These semi-nomads came as invaders however they settled in as rulers. Their triumph occurred in a few phases, beginning with the Turkish Ghaznavids. They brought to northwestern India an amalgamation of Islamic and Turkic culture within a strong Iranian framework. Under Seljuk influence of a Persian-bureaucracy was so pervasive in West Asia that that the use of the Arabic language ceased to be universal. Much more in medieval South Asia, Persian turned out to be the everyday Muslim language, in this way confining Arabic to an academic part.

What the Ghaznavids also imported was iconoclasm, pulverizing in 1026 the well known Hindu temple at Somnath, long a place of pilgrimage in Gujarat. Mahmud ibn Sebruktigin, was showered with praise for destroying the temple. After Mahmud’s death, the Ghaznavids endured extreme losses in Central Asia, so they were obliged to focus their energies on fighting Hindu kings. This did not stop the Ghaznavid capital at Lahore from becoming into a noteworthy centre of Islamic learning and Sufism. Here the first extensive study on Muslim mysticism was written in the Persian language. It described a Sufi as one who is “purified by love, absorbed in the Beloved, and has abandoned all else”.

Ghurids and Slave Dynasty:

A considerably new converted tribe of Turkish extraction, the Ghurids, then descended from Afghanistan and overthrown Ghaznavid rule in 1186. Afterwards Ghurids progressed toward the south and the east before setting up at Delhi, the “Slave Sultanate”. Victories over the armies belonging to Hindu kings were gained through mounted archers and foot soldiers armed with crossbows. When in 1210 the founder of Slave dynasty Qutubuddin Aibak died while playing polo, his son in-law Iltutmish ascended to the throne. Iltutmish secured his position through patronage and the recruitment of people fleeing the Mongol onslaught in Central Asia. With Iltutmish’s rise, Islamic authority was firmly established in the subcontinent, where it would stay until the point that the British removed the last Mughal king after the Indian war of independence in 1857.

Ghurid sultans were not iconoclastic like their Ghaznavid predecessor. They imitated Indian sorts of coinage demonstrating Hindu deities, for example, Shiva and Vishnu’s wife Laksmi, the goddess of favorable luck. Iltutmish was concerned, in any case, that his supporters should acknowledge how his rule fitted into the general pattern of the Islamic world. A coin he issued depicted himself as “the Helper of the Leader of the Faithful, a ruler loyal to the tradition of the Abbasid caliphate”.

Khalaji and Tughluq:

During the fourteenth century Islam spread across to a great part of the subcontinent. Two Delhi sultans in particular were responsible for this happening: Khalaji and Tughluq. The former proclaimed himself sultan in 1296. Called Sikander Sani, “the Second Alexander”, Ala al-Din Khalaji repelled the Mongol attacks and reduced to vassal status the Hindu rulers of Rajasthan, Andra and Karnataka. Much more determined was Tughluq, whereas Khalaji had been content with tributary network, Tughluq sought to extend sovereignty.

After Khalaji’s son was killed by his favourite slave, a convert from a low-caste Hindu family, order was restored by an able soldier named Ghazi Malik, the son of a Turkish slave and a Hindu mother. Urged by the Moslem nobles in Delhi to ascend the throne, under the title of Ghiyath al-Din Tughluq Shah, he founded a new dynasty, the Tughluqids. An early death of Ghiyath al-Din Tughluq Shah in 1325 prompted the ascension to throne of Muhammad ibn Tughluq, who moved the court to Daulatabad on the Deccan to grow his empire southwards. With the help of Sufi s, he endeavored to convince the Deccani Indians to convert to Islam since he wished to combine in his own person religious with secular authority. Disappointment over their reluctance to adopt Islam as their faith may have constrained him to come back to Delhi, in spite of the fact that the strain on the sultanate was clear well before Muhammad’s demise in 1351.

The second move of the capital brought about numerous Moslems being left behind in the Deccan, where they were to set up self-ruling states. Even in Delhi the policies of the Tughluqids became the subject of heated debate, especially the effort made by Muhammad to enlarge the Moslem community through mass conversion. Critics held that the sole guarantee of continued Turkish dominance in India was ethnic exclusiveness. To stifle this criticism, grants of extra land were awarded to the aristocracy and exemption was given from paying certain taxes. Thus the Tughluqid sultanate secured a longer lease of life, but it had to pay a heavy price for its aristocratic support. When Tamerlane’s army descended on Delhi in 1398, it lacked sufficient authority to marshal an adequate defence, even though it took another fifteen years to come to an end, with the death of the last Tughluqid sultan in 1412.

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