Islam and Sufism

Islam is second-most practiced religion in the Republic of India after Hinduism, with more than 13.4% of the country’s population (over 138 million as per 2001 census and 160.9 million per 2009 estimate) identifying themselves as Muslims.

Not only is Islam one of the largest religions in India, India also hosts the second largest population of Muslims in the world. The first is Indonesia, surprisingly enough.

India’s Muslim population is the world’s third largest and the world’s largest Muslim-minority population. Most of the Muslim population is of local origin with undetectable or minor to obvious levels of gene flow from outside, primarily from Iran and Central Asia, rather than directly from the Arabian Peninsula. Matters of jurisdiction involving Muslims in India related to marriage, inheritance and wakf properties are governed by the Muslim Personal Law,and the courts have ruled that Sharia or Muslim law, holds precedence for Muslims over Indian civil law.

History of Islam in India

Jama Masjid, Delhi, one of the largest mosques in Asia-Pacific region.

Contrary to popular belief, Islam came to South Asia prior to Muslim invasions of India. Islamic influence first came to be felt in the early 7th century with the advent of Arab traders. Trade relations between Arabia and the subcontinent are very ancient. Arab traders used to visit the Malabar region, which was a link between them and ports of South East Asia, to trade even before Islam had been established in Arabia. According to Historians Elliot and Dowson in their book The History of India as told by its own Historians, the first ship bearing Muslim travelers was seen on the Indian coast as early as 630 AD. H.G. Rawlinson, in his book: Ancient and Medieval History of India claims the first Arab Muslims settled on the Indian coast in the last part of the 7th century AD. Shaykh Zainuddin Makhdum’s “Tuhfat al-Mujahidin” also is a reliable work.This fact is corroborated, by J. Sturrock in his South Kanara and Madras Districts Manuals, and also by Haridas Bhattacharya in Cultural Heritage of India Vol. IV. It was with the advent of Islam that the Arabs became a prominent cultural force in the world. The Arab merchants and traders became the carriers of the new religion and they propagated it wherever they went.

Muslim neighborhood in Delhi circa 1852.

The first Indian mosque was built in 629 A.D, at the behest of Cheraman Perumal, who is considered the first Indian muslim, during the life time of Muhammad (c. 571–632) in Kodungallur, in district of Thrissur, Kerala by Malik Bin Deenar.

In Malabar, the Mappilas may have been the first community to convert to Islam because they were more closely connected with the Arabs than others. Intensive missionary activities were carried out along the coast and a number of natives also embraced Islam. These new converts were now added to the Mappila community. Thus among the Mapilas, we find, both the descendants of the Arabs through local women and the converts from among the local people.

In the 8th century, the province of Sindh (in present day Pakistan) was conquered by an Arab army led by Muhammad bin Qasim. Sindh became the easternmost province of the Umayyad Caliphate.

In the first half of the 10th century, Mahmud of Ghazni added the Punjab to the Ghaznavid Empire and conducted several raids deeper into modern day India. A more successful invasion came at the end of the 12th century by Muhammad of Ghor. This eventually led to the formation of the Delhi Sultanate.

Arab-Indian interactions

There is much evidence in history to show that Arabs and Muslims interacted with India and Indians from the very early days of Islam, if not before the arrival of Islam in Arabia.

Many Sanskrit books were translated into Arabic as early as the Eighth century. George Saliba writes in his book ‘Islamic Science and the Making of the European Renaissance’ that “some major Sanskrit texts began to be translated during the reign of the second Abbasid caliph al-Mansur [754-775], if not before; some texts on logic even before that, and it has been generally accepted that the Persian and Sanskrit texts, few as they were, were indeed the first to be translated.”

Spread of Sufi Islam

Tomb of Sufi saint Shaikh Salim Chisti in Fatehpur Sikri, Uttar Pradesh

Sufis (Islamic mystics) played an important role in the spread of Islam in India. They were very successful in spreading Islam, as many aspects of Sufi belief systems and practices had their parallels in Indian philosophical literature, in particular nonviolence and monism. The Sufis’ unorthodox approach towards Islam made it easier for Hindus to practice. Hazrat Khawaja Muin-ud-din Chishti, Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki, Nizam-ud-din Auliya, Shah Jalal, Amir Khusro, Sarkar Sabir Pak, Shekh Alla-ul-Haq Pandwi, Ashraf Jahangir Semnani, Waris Pak, Ata Hussain Fani Chishti trained Sufis for the propagation of Islam in different parts of India. Once the Islamic Empire was established in India, Sufis invariably provided a touch of colour and beauty to what might have otherwise been rather cold and stark reigns. The Sufi movement also attracted followers from the artisan and untouchable communities; they played a crucial role in bridging the distance between Islam and the indigenous traditions. Ahmad Sirhindi, a prominent member of the Naqshbandi Sufi advocated the peaceful conversion of Hindus to Islam. Imam Ahmed Rida Khan contributed a lot by defending traditional and orthodox Islam in India by his famous work Fatawa Razvia.

Role in Indian independence movement

Tipu Sultan, also known as the Tiger of Mysore, was one of the prominent Indian kings who fought against the British East India Company.

The contribution of Muslim revolutionaries, poets and writers is documented in India’s struggle against the British. Titu Mir raised a revolt against British. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Hakim Ajmal Khan and Rafi Ahmed Kidwai are Muslims who engaged in this purpose. Muhammad Ashfaq Ullah Khan of Shahjehanpur conspired to loot the British treasury at Kakori (Lucknow). Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan (popularly known as Frontier Gandhi), was a great nationalist who spent 45 of his 95 years of life in jail; Barakatullah of Bhopal was one of the founders of the Ghadar party which created a network of anti-British organizations; Syed Rahmat Shah of the Ghadar party worked as an underground revolutionary in France and was hanged for his part in the unsuccessful Ghadar (mutiny) uprising in 1915; Ali Ahmad Siddiqui of Faizabad (UP) planned the Indian Mutiny in Malaya and Burma along with Syed Mujtaba Hussain of Jaunpur and was hanged in 1917; Vakkom Abdul Khadir of Kerala participated in the “Quit India” struggle in 1942 and was hanged; Umar Subhani, an industrialist and millionaire of Bombay provided Gandhi with congress expenses and ultimately died for the cause of independence. Among Muslim women, Hazrat Mahal, Asghari Begum, Bi Amma contributed in the struggle of freedom from the British.

The period starting from 1498 saw the rise of the naval and trading power of the European countries, as they increasingly projected their naval power and expanded their trading interests over the Indian subcontinent. Subsequently with the advent of the Industrial Revolution in Britain and in Europe, the European powers gained a significant technological and commercial advantage over the decaying Mughal Empire. They gradually began increasing their influence on the subcontinent.

Hyder Ali, and later his son Sultan Tipu were early to understand the threat of the British East India Company and resisted it. However, Tipu Sultan was finally defeated at Srirangapatnam in 1799. In Bengal, Nawab Siraj ud-Daulah faced the expansionist aims of the British East India Company and fought the British. However, he lost at the battle of Plassey in 1757.

The first ever Indian rebellion against the British saw itself in the Vellore Mutiny of 10th July, 1806 which left around 200 British Officers and troops dead or injured. But it was subdued by the British and the mutineers and the family of Tippu Sultan who were incarcerated in the Vellore Fort at that time had to pay a heavy price. It predates the First war of Independence, which is British imperialists called the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. And as a result of the Sepoy Mutiny, mostly the upper class Muslims were targeted by the Britishers, as under their leadership the war was mostly fought in and around Delhi. Thousands of kith and kins were shot or hanged near the gate of Red Fort, Delhi, which is now known as ‘Khooni Darwaza'(the bloody gate). The renowned Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib(1797–1869) has given a vivid description of such massacre in his letters now published by the Oxford University Press ‘Ghalib his life and letters’compiled and translated by Ralph Russel and Khurshidul Islam(1994).

As the Muslim power waned with the gradual demise of the Mughal Empire, the Muslims of India faced a new challenge – that of protecting their culture and interests, yet interacting with the alien, technologically advantaged power. In this period, the Ulama of Firangi Mahal, based first at Sehali, District Barabanki, and since 1690s based in Lucknow, educated and guided the Muslims. The Firangi Mahal led and steered the Muslims of India. The moulanas and moulvis (religious teachers) of Darul-uloom, Deoband (UP) also played significant role in freedom struggle of India declaring subjugation of an unjust rule is against Islamic tenets.
Other famous Muslims who fought for freedom against the British rule: Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Maulana Mehmud Hasan of Darul Uloom Deoband who was implicated in the famous Silk Letter Conspiracy to overthrow the British through an armed struggle, Husain Ahmed Madani, former Shaikhul Hadith of Darul Uloom Deoband, Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi, Hakeem Ajmal Khan, Hasrat Mohani, Dr. Syed Mahmud, Professor Maulavi Barkatullah, Dr. Zakir Husain , Saifuddin Kichlu, Allama Shibli Nomani, Vakkom Abdul Khadir, Dr. Manzoor Abdul Wahab, Bahadur Shah Zafar, Hakeem Nusrat Husain, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, Samad Achakzai, Colonel Shahnawaz, Dr. M.A.Ansari, Rafi Ahmad Kidwai, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad, Ansar Harwani, Tak Sherwani, Nawab Viqarul Mulk, Nawab Mohsinul Mulk, Mustsafa Husain, VM Ubaidullah, SR Rahim, Badaruddin Taiyabji, and Moulvi Abdul Hamid.

Until the 1930s Muhammad Ali Jinnah was a member of the Indian National Congress and was part of the freedom struggle. Dr. Sir Allama Muhammad Iqbal, poet and philosopher, was a strong proponent of Hindu – Muslim unity and an undivdided India until the 1920s.

Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar and Maulana Shaukat Ali struggled for the emancipation of the Muslims in the overall Indian context, and struggled for freedom alongside Mahatama Gandhi and Maulana Abdul Bari of Firangi Mahal. Until the 1930s, the Muslims of India broadly conducted their politics alongside their countrymen, in the overall context of an undivided India.

In the late 1920s, recognizing the different perspectives of the Indian National Congress and that of the All India Muslim League, Dr. Sir Allama Muhammad Iqbal presented the concept of a separate Muslim homeland in India in the 1930s. Consequently, the All India Muslim League raised the demand for a separate Muslim homeland. This demand was raised in Lahore in 1940 (Known as the Pakistan Resolution). Dr. Sir Allama Muhammad Iqbal had died by then, and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, and many others led the Pakistan Movement.

Initially, the demand for separate Muslim homeland(s) was within a framework of a large, independent, undivided India with autonomous regions governed by the Muslims. A number of other options to give the Muslim minority in India adequate protection and political representation in a free, undivided India, were also debated. However, when no common formula leading to early independence of India from the British Raj could be agreed between the Indian National Congress, the All India Muslim League, and the British colonial government, the All India Muslim League pressed unequivocally with its demand for a completely independent, sovereign country, Pakistan.

Indo-Islamic art and architecture

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The Taj Mahal in Agra is one of India’s most iconic monuments.

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Gol Gumbaz at Bijapur, has the second largest pre-modern dome in the world after the Byzantine Hagia Sophia.

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The Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi, India.

1024px-Bahauddin_Makbara,_Junagadh

Bahauddin Makbara, mausoleum of the Wazir of Junagadh.

Indian architecture took new shape with the advent of Islamic rule in India towards the end of the 12th century AD. New elements were introduced into the Indian architecture that include: use of shapes (instead of natural forms); inscriptional art using decorative lettering or calligraphy; inlay decoration and use of coloured marble, painted plaster and brightly coloured glazed tiles. Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque built in 1193 CE was the first mosque to be built in the Indian subcontinent; its adjoining “Tower of Victory”, the Qutb Minar also started around 1192 CE, which marked the victory of Muhammad Ghori and his general Qutbuddin Aibak, from Ghazni, Afghanistan, over local Rajput kings, is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Delhi.

In contrast to the indigenous Indian architecture which was of the trabeate order i.e. all spaces were spanned by means of horizontal beams, the Islamic architecture was arcuate i.e. an arch or dome was adopted as a method of bridging a space. The concept of arch or dome was not invented by the Muslims but was, in fact, borrowed and further perfected by them from the architectural styles of the post-Roman period. Muslims used a cementing agent in the form of mortar for the first time in the construction of buildings in India. They further put to use certain scientific and mechanical formulae, which were derived by experience of other civilizations, in their constructions in India. Such use of scientific principles helped not only in obtaining greater strength and stability of the construction materials but also provided greater flexibility to the architects and builders. One fact that must be stressed here is that, the Islamic elements of architecture had already passed through different experimental phases in other countries like Egypt, Iran and Iraq before these were introduced in India. Unlike most Islamic monuments in these countries, which were largely constructed in brick, plaster and rubble, the Indo-Islamic monuments were typical mortar-masonry works formed of dressed stones. It must be emphasized that the development of the Indo-Islamic architecture was greatly facilitated by the knowledge and skill possessed by the Indian craftsmen, who had mastered the art of stonework for centuries and used their experience while constructing Islamic monuments in India.

Islamic architecture in India can be divided into two parts: religious and secular. Mosques and Tombs represent the religious architecture, while palaces and forts are examples of secular Islamic architecture. Forts were essentially functional, complete with a little township within and various fortifications to engage and repel the enemy.

Mosques: The mosque or masjid is a representation of Muslim art in its simplest form. The mosque is basically an open courtyard surrounded by a pillared verandah, crowned off with a dome. A mihrab indicates the direction of the qibla for prayer. Towards the right of the mihrab stands the mimbar or pulpit from where the Imam presides over the proceedings. An elevated platform, usually a minaret from where the Faithful are summoned to attend prayers is an invariable part of a mosque. Large mosques where the faithful assemble for the Friday prayers are called the Jama Masjids.

Tombs: Although not actually religious in nature, the tomb or maqbara introduced an entirely new architectural concept. While the masjid was mainly known for its simplicity, a tomb could range from being a simple affair (Aurangazeb’s grave) to an awesome structure enveloped in grandeur (Taj Mahal). The tomb usually consists of a solitary compartment or tomb chamber known as the huzrah in whose centre is the cenotaph or zarih. This entire structure is covered with an elaborate dome. In the underground chamber lies the mortuary or the maqbara, in which the corpse is buried in a grave or qabr. Smaller tombs may have a mihrab, although larger mausoleums have a separate mosque located at a distance from the main tomb. Normally the whole tomb complex or rauza is surrounded by an enclosure. The tomb of a Muslim saint is called a dargah. Almost all Islamic monuments were subjected to free use of verses from the Quran and a great amount of time was spent in carving out minute details on walls, ceilings, pillars and domes.

Islamic architecture in India can be classified into three sections: Delhi or the Imperial style (1191 to 1557AD); the Provincial style, encompassing the surrounding areas like Jaunpur and the Deccan; and the Mughal architecture style (1526 to 1707AD).

Literature

  • Elliot and Dowson: The History of India as told by its own Historians, New Delhi reprint, 1990.
  • Elliot, Sir H. M., Edited by Dowson, John. The History of India, as Told by Its Own Historians. The Muhammadan Period; published by London Trubner Company 1867–1877. (Online Copy: The History of India, as Told by Its Own Historians. The Muhammadan Period; by Sir H. M. Elliot; Edited by John Dowson; London Trubner Company 1867–1877 – This online Copy has been posted by: The Packard Humanities Institute; Persian Texts in Translation; Also find other historical books: Author List and Title List)
  • Majumdar, R. C. (ed.), The History and Culture of the Indian People, Volume VI, The Delhi Sultanate, Bombay, 1960; Volume VII, The Mughal Empire, Bombay, 1973.
  • Mistry, Malika B. (December 2005). “Muslims in India: A demographic and socio-economic profile”. Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 25 (3): 399–422. doi:10.1080/13602000500408468.
  • M K A Siddiqui (ed.), Marginal Muslim Communities In India, Institute of Objective Studies, New Delhi (2004) (review)
  • Nizami, Khaliq Ahmad (1957). “Some Aspects of Khānqah Life in Medieval India”. Studia Islamica 8: 51–69. doi:10.2307/1595247.

Law and politics

Muslims in India are governed by “The Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937.” It directs the application of Muslim Personal Law to Muslims in marriage, mahr (dower), divorce, maintenance, gifts, waqf, wills and inheritance. The courts generally apply the Hanafi Sunni law, with exceptions made only for those areas where Shia law differs substantially from Sunni practice.

The Indian constitution provides equal rights to all citizens irrespective of their religion. Article 44 of the constitution recommends a Uniform civil code. However, the attempts by successive political leadership in the country to integrate Indian society under common civil code is strongly resisted and is viewed by Indian Muslims as an attempt to dilute the cultural identity of the minority groups of the country. Thus in India there exists the unique situation where proponents of a secular law are deemed fascist while those who support the separate Sharia law for Indian Muslims are considered secular. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board was established for the protection and continued applicability of “Muslim Personal Law” i.e. Shariat Application Act in India.

Conversion controversy

Considerable controversy exists both in scholarly and public opinion about the conversions to Islam typically represented by the following schools of thought:

  1. The bulk of Muslims are descendants of migrants from the Iranian plateau or Arabs.
  2. Muslims sought conversion through jihad
  3. Conversions occurred for non-religious reasons of pragmatism and patronage such as social mobility among the Muslim ruling elite or for relief from taxes
  4. Conversion was a result of the actions of Sunni Sufi saints and involved a genuine change of heart
  5. Conversion came from Buddhists and the en masse conversions of lower castes for social liberation and as a rejection of the oppressive Hindu caste strictures.
  6. A combination, initially made under duress followed by a genuine change of heart
  7. As a socio-cultural process of diffusion and integration over an extended period of time into the sphere of the dominant Muslim civilization and global polity at large.

Embedded within this lies the concept of Islam as a foreign imposition and Hinduism being a natural condition of the natives who resisted, resulting in the failure of the project to Islamicize the Indian subcontinent and is highly embroiled within the politics of the partition and communalism in India. An estimate of the number of people killed, based on the Muslim chronicles and demographic calculations, was done by K.S. Lal in his book Growth of Muslim Population in Medieval India, who claimed that between 1000 CE and 1500 CE, the population of Hindus decreased by 80 million. His work has come under criticism by historians such as Simon Digby (School of Oriental and African Studies) and Irfan Habib for its agenda and lack of accurate data in pre-census times. Lal has responded to these criticisms in later works. Historians such as Will Durant contend that Islam was spread through violence. Sir Jadunath Sarkar contends that several Muslim invaders were waging a systematic jihad against Hindus in India to the effect that “Every device short of massacre in cold blood was resorted to in order to convert heathen subjects.” Hindus who converted to Islam were not immune to persecution due to the Muslim Caste System in India established by Ziauddin al-Barani in the Fatawa-i Jahandari, where they were regarded as an “Ajlaf” caste and subjected to discrimination by the “Ashraf” castes.

Disputers of the “Conversion by the Sword Theory” point to the presence of the large Muslim communities found in Southern India, Sri Lanka, Western Burma, Bangladesh, Southern Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia coupled with the distinctive lack of equivalent Muslim communities around the heartland of historical Muslim Empires in the Indian Sub-Continent as refutation to the “Conversion by the Sword Theory”. The legacy of the Muslim conquest of South Asia is a hotly debated issue and argued even today. Different population estimates by economics historian Angus Maddison and by Jean-Noël Biraben also indicate that India’s population did not decrease between 1000 and 1500, but increased by about 35 million during that time.

Not all Muslim invaders were simply raiders. Later rulers fought on to win kingdoms and stayed to create new ruling dynasties. The practices of these new rulers and their subsequent heirs (some of whom were borne of Hindu wives) varied considerably. While some were uniformly hated, others developed a popular following. According to the memoirs of Ibn Batuta who travelled through Delhi in the 14th century, one of the previous sultans had been especially brutal and was deeply hated by Delhi’s population, Batuta’s memoirs also indicate that Muslims from the Arab world, Persia and Turkey were often favored with important posts at the royal courts suggesting that locals may have played a somewhat subordinate role in the Delhi administration. The term “Turk” was commonly used to refer to their higher social status. S.A.A. Rizvi (The Wonder That Was India – II), however points to Muhammad bin Tughlaq as not only encouraging locals but promoting artisan groups such as cooks, barbers and gardeners to high administrative posts. In his reign, it is likely that conversions to Islam took place as a means of seeking greater social mobility and improved social standing.

Religious conflict

Hindu-Muslim conflict

Before 1947

The conflict between Hindus and Muslims in the Indian subcontinent has a complex history which can be said to have begun with the Jihad of the Umayyad Caliphate in Sindh in 711. The persecution of Hindus during the Islamic expansion in India during the medieval period was characterized by destruction of temples, often illustrated by historians by the repeated destruction of the Hindu Temple at Somnath and the anti-Hindu practices of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb.

From 1947 to 1991

The aftermath of the Partition of India in 1947 saw large scale sectarian strife and bloodshed throughout the nation. Since then, India has witnessed sporadic large-scale violence sparked by underlying tensions between sections of the Hindu and Muslim communities. These conflicts also stem from the ideologies of Hindu Nationalism versus Islamic Extremism and prevalent in certain sections of the population. Since independence, India has always maintained a constitutional commitment to secularism.

Since 1992

The sense of communal harmony between Hindus and Muslims in the post-partition period has been compromised in the last decade with the razing of the disputed Babri Mosque in Ayodhya. The demolition took place in 1992 and was allegedly perpetrated by the Hindu Nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party and organizations like Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad. This was followed by tit for tat violence by Muslim and Hindu fundamentalists throughout the country including Bombay with the Bombay Riots and also the 1993 Bombay Bombings, amongst those allegedly involved in these atrocities were the Muslim Mafia don Dawood Ibrahim and the predominantly Muslim D-Company criminal gang.

In 2001 a high profile attack on the Indian Parliament by Islamic militants created considerable strain on community relations.

Some of the most violent events in recent times took place during the infamous Gujarat riots in 2002 where it is estimated one thousand people were killed, most of whom allegedly Muslim, some sources claim there were approximately 2,000 Muslim deaths, there were also allegations made of state involvement. The riots were in retaliation to the Godhra Train Burning in which 50 Hindus pilgrims returning from the disputed site of the Babri Mosque, were burnt alive in a train fire at the Godhra railway station. The incident was a planned act carried out by revengeful and extremist Ghanchi Muslims in the region against the Hindu pilgrims according to Gujarat police. The commission appointed to investigate this finding declared that the fire was an accident. In 2006 the High Court decided the constitution of such a committee was illegal as another inquiry headed by Justice Nanavati Shah was still investigating the matter. The Nanavati Shah commission has already given its first report, in last week of September 2008, where it has said that burning of train in Godhra was pre-planned and petrol of large quantity was bought by a group of Muslim people for this purpose.

The skyline of Ahmedabad filled with smoke as buildings and shops are set on fire by rioting mobs. The riots, which took place following the Godhra train burning incident, killed more than 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus, including those killed in the Godhra train fire.

There was widespread communal violence in which both communities suffered. In these riots, the role played by chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, and some of his ministers, police officers, and other right wing Hindu organization has been criticized. It was alleged that Gujarat administration, Gujarat police under Narendra Modi, deliberately targeted Muslims. Narendra Modi was even accused of genocide. But the Nanavati commission’s report has clarified that all these allegation were wrong and has given a clean chit to Narendra Modi and absolved his ministers who were accused of violence against Muslims, and also the Gujarat police and their officers, of any role in the riots against Muslims.

Muslim-Hindu conflicts have also been fomented due to the mushrooming of Islamist organisations like SIMI (Students Islamic Movement of India) whose goal is to establish Islamic rule in India. Other Pakistan based groups such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed have been fomenting bias in the local Muslim populace against Hindus. These groups are believed by many to be responsible for the 11 July 2006 Mumbai train bombings, in which nearly 200 people were killed. Such groups also attacked the Indian Parliament in 2001, declared parts of Indian Kashmir to be Pakistani in 1999 and have orchestrated numerous other attacks including constant attacks in Indian Kashmir and bombings in the Indian capital New Delhi. In the meantime, the toll of innocent Muslims and Hindus at the altar of communal strife continues to mount.

As per Professor M.D. Nalapat (Vice-chairman of the Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair, and professor of geopolitics at Manipal University), the reason for “Hindu – Muslim” conflict is “Hindu Backlash” or “partial” secularism, in which only Hindus are expected to be secular while Muslims and other minorities remain free to practice exclusionary practices.

In 2004, several Indian school textbooks were scrapped by the National Council of Educational Research and Training after they were found to be loaded with anti-Muslim prejudice. The NCERT argued that the books were “written by scholars hand-picked by the previous Hindu nationalist administration”. According to The Guardian, the textbooks depicted India’s past Muslim rulers “as barbarous invaders and the medieval period as a dark age of Islamic colonial rule which snuffed out the glories of the Hindu empire that preceded it”. In one textbook, it was purported that the Taj Mahal, the Qutb Minar and the Red Fort—all examples of Islamic architecture—”were designed and commissioned by Hindus”.

Muslim-Sikh conflict

Sikhism emerged in the Punjab during the Mughal period. Conflict between early Sikhs and the Muslim power center at Delhi reached an early high point in 1606 when Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth guru of the Sikhs, was tortured and killed by Jahangir, the Mughal Emperor. After the death of the fifth beloved Guru his son had taken his spot Guru Har Gobind who basically made the Sikhs a warrior religion. Guru ji was the first to defeat the Mughal empire in a battle which had taken place in present Sri Hargobindpur in Gurdaspur After this point the Sikhs were forced to organize themselves militarily for their protection. Later in the 16th century, Tegh Bahadur became guru in 1665 and led the Sikhs until 1675. Teg Bahadur was executed by the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb for helping to protect Hindus, after a delegation of Kashmiri Pandits came to him for help when the Emperor condemned them to death for failing to convert to Islam. This is an early example which illustrates how the Hindu-Muslim conflict and the Muslim-Sikh conflicts are connected.

In 1699, the Khalsa was founded by Guru Gobind Singh, the last guru. A former ascetic was charged by Gobind Singh with the duty of punishing those who had persecuted the Sikhs. After the guru’s death, Baba Banda Singh Bahadur became the leader of the Sikh army and was responsible for several attacks on the Mughal empire. He was executed by the emperor Jahandar Shah after refusing the offer of a pardon if he converted to Islam.[62] The decline of Mughal power during the 17th and 18th centuries, along with the growing strength of the Sikh Confederacy and later, the Sikh Empire, resulted in a balance of power which protected the Sikhs from more violence. The Sikh Empire was absorbed into the British Indian empire after the Second Anglo-Sikh War of 1849.

Massive population exchanges took place during the Partition of India in 1947, and the British Indian province of Punjab was divided into two parts, and the western parts were given to the Dominion of Pakistan, while the eastern parts were given to the Union of India. 5.3 million Muslims moved from India to West Punjab in Pakistan, 3.4 million Hindus and Sikhs moved from Pakistan to East Punjab in India. The newly formed governments were completely unequipped to deal with migrations of such staggering magnitude, and massive violence and slaughter occurred on both sides of the border. Estimates of the number of deaths range around roughly 500,000, with low estimates at 200,000 and high estimates at 1,000,000.

Muslim-Christian conflict

Anti-Christian persecution by Tippu Sultan in the 17th century

The Jamalabad fort route. Mangalorean Catholics had traveled through this route on their way to Seringapatam

In spite of the fact that there have been relatively fewer conflicts between Muslims and Christians in India in comparison to those between Muslims and Hindus, or Muslims and Sikhs, the relationship between Muslims and Christians have also been occasionally turbulent. With the advent of European colonialism in India throughout the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, Christians were systematically persecuted in a few Muslim ruled kingdoms in India.

Perhaps the most infamous acts of anti-Christian persecution by Muslims was committed by Tippu Sultan, the ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore against the Mangalorean Catholic community from Mangalore and the erstwhile South Canara district on the southwestern coast of India. Tippu was widely reputed to be anti-Christian. The captivity of Mangalorean Catholics at Seringapatam, which began on 24 February 1784 and ended on 4 May 1799, remains the most disconsolate memory in their history.

The Bakur Manuscript reports him as having said: “All Musalmans should unite together, and considering the annihilation of infidels as a sacred duty, labor to the utmost of their power, to accomplish that subject.” Soon after the Treaty of Mangalore in 1784, Tippu gained control of Canara. He issued orders to seize the Christians in Canara, confiscate their estates, and deport them to Seringapatam, the capital of his empire, through the Jamalabad fort route. However, there were no priests among the captives. Together with Fr Miranda, all the 21 arrested priests were issued orders of expulsion to Goa, fined Rs 2 lakhs, and threatened death by hanging if they ever returned.

Tippu ordered the destruction of 27 Catholic churches, all beautifully carved with statues depicting various saints. Among them included the Church of Nossa Senhora de Rosario Milagres at Mangalore, Fr Miranda’s Seminary at Monte Mariano, Church of Jesu Marie Jose at Omzoor, Chapel at Bolar, Church of Merces at Ullal, Imaculata Conceiciao at Mulki, San Jose at Perar, Nossa Senhora dos Remedios at Kirem, Sao Lawrence at Karkal, Rosario at Barkur, Immaculata Conceciao at Baidnur. All were razed to the ground, with the exception of the The Church of Holy Cross at Hospet,owing to the friendly offices of the Chauta Raja of Moodbidri.

According to Thomas Munro, a Scottish soldier and the first collector of Canara, around 60,000 of them, nearly 92 percent of the entire Mangalorean Catholic community, were captured, only 7,000 escaped. Francis Buchanan gives the numbers as 70,000 captured, from a population of 80,000, with 10,000 escaping. They were forced to climb nearly 4,000 feet (1,200 m) through the jungles of the Western Ghat mountain ranges. It was 210 miles (340 km) from Mangalore to Seringapatam, and the journey took six weeks. According to British Government records, 20,000  of them died on the march to Seringapatam. According to James Scurry, a British officer, who was held captive along with Mangalorean Catholics, 30,000 of them were forcibly converted to Islam. The young women and girls were forcibly made wives of the Muslims living there. The young men who offered resistance were disfigured by cutting their noses, upper lips, and ears. According to Mr. Silva of Gangolim, a survivor of the captivity, if a person who had escaped from Seringapatam was found, the punishment under the orders of Tippu was the cutting off of the ears, nose, the feet and one hand.

The Archbishop of Goa wrote in 1800, “It is notoriously known in all Asia and all other parts of the globe of the oppression and sufferings experienced by the Christians in the Dominion of the King of Kanara, during the usurpation of that country by Tipu Sultan from an implacable hatred he had against them who professed Christianity.”

The British officer James Scurry, who was detained a prisoner for 10 years by Tipu Sultan along with the Mangalorean Catholics

Tippu Sultan’s invasion of the Malabar had an adverse impact on the Syrian Malabar Nasrani community of the Malabar coast. Many churches in the Malabar and Cochin were damaged. The old Syrian Nasrani seminary at Angamaly which had been the center of Catholic religious education for several centuries was razed to the ground by Tippu’s soldiers. A lot of centuries old religious manuscripts were lost forever. The church was later relocated to Kottayam where it still exists to this date. The Mor Sabor church at Akaparambu and the Martha Mariam Church attached to the seminary were destroyed as well. Tippu’s army set fire to the church at Palayoor and attacked the Ollur Church in 1790. Furthernmore, the Arthat church and the Ambazhakkad seminary was also destroyed. Over the course of this invasion, many Syrian Malabar Nasrani were killed or forcibly converted to Islam. Most of the coconut, arecanut, pepper and cashew plantations held by the Syrian Malabar farmers were also indiscriminately destroyed by the invading army. As a result, when Tippu’s army invaded Guruvayur and adjacent areas, the Syrian Christian community fled Calicut and small towns like Arthat to new centres like Kunnamkulam, Chalakudi, Ennakadu, Cheppadu, Kannankode, Mavelikkara, etc. where there were already Christians. They were given refuge by Sakthan Tamburan, the ruler of Cochin and Karthika Thirunal, the ruler of Travancore, who gave them lands, plantations and encouraged their businesses. Colonel Macqulay, the British resident of Travancore also helped them.

His persecution of Christians also extended to captured British soldiers. For instance, there were a significant amount of forced conversions of British captives between 1780 and 1784. Following their disastrous defeat at the battle of Pollilur, 7,000 British men along with an unknown number of women were held captive by Tipu in the fortress of Seringapatnam. Of these, over 300 were circumcised and given Muslim names and clothes and several British regimental drummer boys were made to wear ghagra cholis and entertain the court as nautch girls or dancing girls. After the 10 year long captivity ended, James Scurry, one of those prisoners, recounted that he had forgotten how to sit in a chair and use a knife and fork. His English was broken and stilted, having lost all his vernacular idiom. His skin had darkened to the swarthy complexion of negroes, and moreover, he had developed an aversion to wearing European clothes.[75] During the surrender of the Mangalore fort which was delievered in an armistice by the British and their subsequent withdrawal, all the Mestizos and remaining non-British foreigners were killed, together with 5,600 Mangalorean Catholics. Those condemned by Tipu Sultan for treachery were hanged instantly, the gibbets being weighed down by the number of bodies they carried. The Netravati River was so putrid with the stench of dying bodies, that the local residents were forced to leave their riverside homes.

Modern times

In modern times, Muslims in India who convert to Christianity are often subjected to harassment, intimidation, and attacks by Muslims. In Kashmir, the only Indian state with a Muslim majority, a Christian convert and missionary named Bashir Tantray was killed , allegedly by militant Islamists in 2006.

A Christian priest, K.K. Alavi, who is a convert from Islam, recently raised the ire of his former Muslim community and has received many death threats. An Islamic group named “The National Development Front” actively campaigned against him.

Caste system among South Asian Muslims

Caste system among South Asian Muslims refers to units of social stratification that have developed among Muslims in South Asia.

Origins

Sources indicate that the castes among Muslims developed as the result of the concept of Kafa’a. Those who are referred to as Ashrafs (see also Sharif) are presumed to have a superior status derived from their foreign Arab ancestry, while the Ajlafs are assumed to be converts from Hinduism, and have a lower status. Actual Muslim social practice, including in India, points to the existence of sharp social hierarchies that numerous Muslim scholars have sought to provide appropriate Islamic sanction through elaborate rules of fiqh associated with the notion of kafa’a.

Most prominent Muslim scholars like Maulvi Ahmad Raza Khan Barelvi and Maulvi Ashraf Ali Faruqui Thanvi have championed the notion of caste superiority based on birth. It is argued that Muslims of Arab origin (Sayyeds and Shaikhs) are superior to non-Arab or Ajami Muslims, and so while a man who claims Arab origin can marry an Ajami woman, the reverse is not possible. Likewise, they argue, a Pathan Muslim man can marry a Julaha (Ansari) Mansuri (Dhunia,) Rayin (Kunjra) or Quraishi (Qasai or butchers) woman, but an Ansari, Rayin, Mansuri and Quraishi man cannot marry a Pathan woman since they consider these castes to be inferior to Pathans. Many of these ulama also believed that it is best to marry within one own caste. The practice of endogamous marriage in one’s caste is strictly observed in India. Interestingly, in three genetic studies representing the whole of South Asian Muslims, it was found that the Muslim population was overwhelmingly similar to the local non-Muslims associated with minor but still detectable levels of gene flow from outside, primarily from Iran and Central Asia, rather than directly from the Arabian Peninsula.

Stratification

In some parts of South Asia, the Muslims are divided as Ashrafs and Ajlafs. Ashrafs claim a superior status derived from their foreign ancestry. The non-Ashrafs are assumed to be converts from Hinduism, and are therefore drawn from the indigenous population. They, in turn, are divided into a number of occupational castes.

Sections of the ulema (scholars of Islamic jurisprudence) provide religious legitimacy to caste with the help of the concept of kafa’a. A classical example of scholarly declaration of the Muslim caste system is the Fatawa-i Jahandari, written by the fourteenth century Turkish scholar, Ziauddin Barani, a member of the court of Muhammad bin Tughlaq, of the Tughlaq dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate. Barani was known for his intensely casteist views, and regarded the Ashraf Muslims as racially superior to the Ajlaf Muslims. He divided the Muslims into grades and sub-grades. In his scheme, all high positions and privileges were to be a monopoly of the high born Turks, not the Indian Muslims. Even in his interpretation of the Koranic verse “Indeed, the pious amongst you are most honored by Allah”, he considered piety to be associated with noble birth. Barrani was specific in his recommendation that the “sons of Mohamed” [i.e. Ashrafs] “be given a higher social status than the low-born [i.e. Ajlaf].His most significant contribution in the fatwa was his analysis of the castes with respect to Islam. His assertion was that castes would be mandated through state laws or “Zawabi” and would carry precedence over Sharia law whenever they were in conflict. In the Fatwa-i-Jahandari (advice XXI), he wrote about the “qualities of the high-born” as being “virtuous” and the “low-born” being the “custodian of vices”. Every act which is “contaminated with meanness and based on ignominity, comes elegantly [from the Ajlaf]”. Barani had a clear disdain for the Ajlaf and strongly recommended that they be denied education, lest they usurp the Ashraf masters. He sought appropriate religious sanction to that effect. Barrani also developed an elaborate system of promotion and demotion of Imperial officers (“Wazirs”) that was primarily on the basis of their caste.

In addition to the Ashraf/Ajlaf divide, there is also the Arzal caste among Muslims, who were regarded by anti-Caste activists like Babasaheb Ambedkar as the equivalent of untouchables. The term “Arzal” stands for “degraded” and the Arzal castes are further subdivided into Bhanar, Halalkhor, Hijra, Kasbi, Lalbegi, Maugta, Mehtar etc. The Arzal group was recorded in the 1901 census of India and are also called Dalit Muslims “with whom no other Muhammadan would associate, and who are forbidden to enter the mosque or to use the public burial ground”.They are relegated to “menial” professions such as scavenging and carrying night soil.

Some South Asian Muslims have been known to stratify their society according to Quoms. These Muslims practise a ritual-based system of social stratification. The Quoms who deal with human emissions are ranked the lowest. Studies of Bengali Muslims in India indicate that the concepts of purity and impurity exist among them and are applicable in inter-group relationships, as the notions of hygiene and cleanliness in a person are related to the person’s social position and not to his/her economic status.[86] Muslim Rajput is another caste distinction among Indian Muslims.

Some of the backward or lower-caste Muslim communities include Ansari, Kunjra, Churihara, Dhobi and Halalkhor. The upper and middle caste Muslim communities include Syed, Shaikh, Shaikhzada, Khanzada, Pathan, Mughal, and Malik . Genetic data has also supported this stratification. It should be noted that most of the claims for Arabic ancestry in India is flawed and points to Arabic preferences in local Shariah. Interestingly, in three genetic studies representing the whole of South Asian Muslims, it was found that the Muslim population was overwhelmingly similar to the local non-Muslims associated with minor but still detectable levels of gene flow from outside, primarily from Iran and Central Asia, rather than directly from the Arabian Peninsula.

The Sachar Committee’s report commissioned by the government of India and released in 2006, documents the continued stratification in Muslim society.

Interaction and Mobility

Interactions between the oonchi zat (upper caste) and neechi zat (lower caste) are regulated by established patron-client relationships of the jajmani system, the upper castes being referred to as the ‘Jajmans’, and the lower caste as ‘Kamin’. Upon contact with a low-caste Muslim, a Muslim of a higher zat can “purify” by taking a short bath, since there are no elaborate rituals for purification. In Bihar state of India, cases have been reported in which the higher caste Muslims have opposed the burials of lower caste Muslims in the same graveyard.

Some data indicates that the castes among Muslims have never been as rigid as that among Hindus. An old saying also goes in Bangladesh “Last year I was a Julaha (weaver); this year a Shaikh; and next year if the harvest be good, I shall be a Sayyid.”. However, other scholars, such as Ambedkar, disagreed with this thesis.(see criticism below). The well-known Sufi, Sayyed Jalaluddin Bukhari, also known as Makhdum Jahaniyan-e-Jahangasht, is said to have declared that providing knowledge beyond that of the Quran and the rules of prayers and fasting to the so-called razil (ajlafs) castes is like scattering pearls before swine and dogs! He reportedly insisted that other Muslims should not eat with barbers, washers of corpses, dyers, tanners, cobblers, bow-makers and washermen, besides consumers of alcohol and usurers. Mohammad Ashraf writes in his “Hindustani Maashra Ahd-e-Usta Main” that many medieval Islamic rulers did not allow to low-class people to enter their courts, or if some did they forbade them from opening their mouths because they considered them to be ‘impure’. The scholar Shabbir Ahmad Hakeem quotes from another book by Thanvi called “Masawat-e Bahar-e Shariat”, in which Thanvi argues that Muslims should not allow ‘Julahas’ (weavers) and ‘Nais’ (barbers) to enter Muslims’ homes. In his “Bahishti Zewar” Thanvi claimed that the son of a Sayyed father and a non-Sayyed mother is socially inferior to the child of a Sayyed couple.

In his “Imdad ul-Fatawa”, Thanvi announced that Sayyeds, Shaikhs, Mughals and Pathans are all ‘respectable’ (sharif) communities, and that the oil-presser (Teli) and weaver (Julaha) communities are ‘low’ castes (razil aqwam). He claimed that ‘nau-Muslims’, non-Arab converts to Islam, cannot be considered the kafaa, for purposes of marriage, of ‘established Muslims’ (khandani musalman). Accordingly, he argued, Pathans, being non-Arabs and, therefore, ‘nau-Muslims’, are not the kafaa of Sayyeds and Shaikhs, who claim Arab descent, and, so, cannot inter-marry with them. The first president of All India Muslim Personal Law Board and Vice Chancellor of the Deoband madrasa, Maulvi Qari Mohammad Tayyeb Siddiqui, was also supporter of casteism and wrote two books in support in Mufti Usmani’s book on caste: “Ansab wa Qabail Ka Tafazul” and “Nasb Aur Islam”. True to this tradition of legitimising caste, even today the admission form of the Deoband madrasa has a column that asks for applicants to mention their caste. For many years after it was established, non-ashraf students were not generally admitted in the Deoband and the practice still continues.

Criticism

Some Muslim scholars have termed the caste-like features in Indian Muslim society as a “flagrant violation of the Qur’anic worldview.”. However, most Muslim scholars tried to reconcile and resolve the “disjunction between Qur’anic egalitarianism and Indian Muslim social practice” through theorizing it in different ways and interpreting the Quran and Sharia to justify casteism.

While some scholars theorize that the Muslim Castes are not as acute in their discrimination as that among Hindus, Dr B.R.Ambedkar argued otherwise, writing that the social evils in Muslim society were “worse than those seen in Hindu society”.

Babasaheb Ambedkar was an illustrious figure in Indian politics and the chief architect of the Indian Constitution. He was extremely critical of the Muslim Caste System and their practices, quoting that “Within these groups there are castes with social precedence of exactly the same nature as one finds among the Hindus but worse in numerous ways”. He was critical of how the Ashrafs regarded the Ajlaf and Arzal as “worthless” and the fact that Muslims tried to sugarcoat the sectarian divisions by using euphemisms like “brotherhood” to describe them. He was also critical of the precept of literalism of scripture among Indian Muslims that led them to keep the Muslim Caste system rigid and discriminatory. He decried against the approval of Shariah to Muslim casteism. It was based on superiority of foreign elements in society which would ultimately lead to downfall of local Dalits. This tragedy would be much more harsher than Hindus who are ethnically related to and supportive of Dalits. This Arabian supermacy in Indian Muslims accounted for its equal disapproval by high and low caste Hindus during 1300 years of Islamic presence in India. He condemned the Indian Muslim Community of being unable to reform like Muslims in other countries like Turkey did during the early decades of the twentieth century.

Pakistani-American sociologist Ayesha Jalal writes, in her book, “Democracy and Authoritarianism in South Asia”, that “Despite its egalitarian principles, Islam in South Asia historically has been unable to avoid the impact of class and caste inequalities. As for Hinduism, the hierarchical principles of the Brahmanical social order have always been contested from within Hindu society, suggesting that equality has been and continues to be both valued and practiced in Hinduism .”

Population statistics

Islam is India’s largest minority religion, with Muslims officially constituting 13.4% of the country’s population, or 138 million people as of the 2001 census. However, unofficial estimates claim a far higher figure supposedly discounted in censuses. For instance, in an interview with a well circulated newspaper of India The Hindu Justice K.M. Yusuf, a retired Judge from Calcutta High Court and Chairman of West Bengal Minority Commission, has said that the real percentage of Muslims in India is at least 20%.

Hindutva groups claim in their reports that the Muslim population has reached 30%.

The largest concentrations-about 47% of all Muslims in India, according to the 2001 census—live in the 3 states of Uttar Pradesh (30.7 million) (18.5%), West Bengal (20.2 million) (25%), and Bihar (13.7 million) (16.5%). Muslims represent a majority of the local population in Lakshadweep (93% in 2001) and Jammu and Kashmir (67% in 2001). High concentrations of Muslims are found in the eastern states of Assam (31%) and West Bengal (25%), and in the southern state of Kerala (24.7%). Muslims are generally more educated, urban, integrated and prosperous in the Western and Southern states of India than in the Northern and Eastern ones. Officially, India has the third largest Muslim population (after Indonesia and Pakistan).

The analysis on religious data, among the six major religious communities, shows that the decadal growth of the Muslims was the highest (36.0%) in the 2001 census. This statistic suggested that while the growth rate for Hindus has fallen between 1991 and 2001 compared with 1981 and 1991, Muslims have actually grown faster in the last decade, this led Indian media and different parties raising an alarm at the growing number of Muslims and expressing concern about the demographic imbalance and overpopulation, which the Indian government is desperately trying to stop democratically.

A grave objection to this theory is the fact that the 1991 census did not include Jammu & Kashmir, the only Muslim majority state and strife-torn Assam, while the 2001 census does include Jammu & Kashmir. Adjusted for this, the Muslim growth rate plunges from 36 per cent to 29.3 per cent.

Muslim population in Indian states according to 2001 Census.

State Population Percentage
Jammu & Kashmir 6,793,240 66.9700
Assam 8,240,611 30.9152
West Bengal 20,240,543 25.2451
Kerala 7,863,842 24.6969
Uttar Pradesh 30,740,158 18.4961
Bihar 13,722,048 16.5329
Jharkhand 3,731,308 13.8474
Karnataka 6,463,127 12.2291
Uttaranchal 1,012,141 11.9225
Delhi 1,623,520 11.7217
Maharashtra 10,270,485 10.6014
Andhra Pradesh 6,986,856 9.1679
Gujarat 4,592,854 9.0641
Manipur 190,939 8.8121
Rajasthan 4,788,227 8.4737
Andaman & Nicobar Islands 29,265 8.2170
Tripura 254,442 7.9533
Daman & Diu 12,281 7.7628
Goa 92,210 6.8422
Madhya Pradesh 3,841,449 6.3655
Pondicherry 59,358 6.0921
Haryana 1,222,916 5.7836
Tamil Nadu 3,470,647 5.5614
Meghalaya 99,169 4.2767
Chandigarh 35,548 3.9470
Dadra & Nagar Haveli 6,524 2.9589
Orissa 761,985 2.0703
Chhattisgarh 409,615 1.9661
Himachal Pradesh 119,512 1.9663
Arunachal Pradesh 20,675 1.8830
Nagaland 35,005 1.7590
Punjab 80,045 1.5684
Sikkim 7,693 1.4224
Mizoram 10,099 1.1365

Percentage distribution of population (adjusted) by religious communities : India – 1961 to 2001 Census (excluding Assam and J&K).[3]

Year Percentage
1951 10.1%
1971 10.4%
1981 11.9%
1991 12.0%
2001 12.8%

Percentage distribution (unadjusted) of population by religious communities India – 1961 to 2001 Census (without excluding Assam and J&K).[3]

Year Percentage
1961 10.7%
1971 11.2%
1981 12.0%
1991 12.8%
2001 13.4%
Table : Census information for 2001: Hindu and Muslim compared[α][β]
Composition Hindus[104] Muslims[105]
% total of population 2001 80.5 13.4
10-Yr Growth % (est ’91–’01)[106][β] 20.3 36.0
Sex ratio* (avg. 933) 931 936
Literacy rate (avg. 64.8) 65.1 59.1
Work Participation Rate 40.4 31.3
Rural sex ratio[106] 944 953
Urban sex ratio[106] 894 907
Child sex ratio (0–6 yrs) 925 950

Islamic traditions in South Asia

Sufism is a mystical dimension of Islam, often complimentary with the legalistic path of the sharia had a profound impact on the growth of Islam in India. A Sufi attains a direct vision of oneness with God, often on the edges of orthodox behavior, and can thus become a Pir (living saint) who may take on disciples (murids) and set up a spiritual lineage that can last for generations. Orders of Sufis became important in India during the thirteenth century following the ministry of Moinuddin Chishti (1142–1236), who settled in Ajmer, Rajasthan, and attracted large numbers of converts to Islam because of his holiness. His Chishtiyya order went on to become the most influential Sufi lineage in India, although other orders from Central Asia and Southwest Asia also reached India and played a major role in the spread of Islam. In this way, they created a large literature in regional languages that embedded Islamic culture deeply into older South Asian traditions.

Organization and leadership

The leadership of the Muslim community pursued various directions in the evolution of Indian Islam and several national movements have emerged from the Muslim community during the twentieth century. The most conservative wing has typically rested on the education system provided by the hundreds of religious training institutes (madrasa) throughout the country, which have tended to stress the study of the Qur’an and Islamic texts in Arabic and Persian but little else.

An estimated 2/3-rds of the 15 crore indian muslim population are believed to be adherents of the Sunni Barelwi school of thought and follow Sufi traditions like dargah visit, music and mysticism. Manzar-e-Islam Bareilly and Al Jamiatul Ashrafia are most famous Seminary of Barelwi Muslims. The Deobandis, another influential section of the Muslim population following the Hanafi school of thought of India originate from the Darul Uloom Deoband (house/abode of knowledge), an influential religious seminary in the district of Saharanpur of Uttar Pradesh. The seminary is known for its nationalist orientation and played an important role in the Indian freedom struggle.The Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Hind, founded by Deobandi scholars in 1919, supported the Indian National Congress in the national freedom movement and became a political mouthpiece for the Daru’l Uloom.

The Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (Islamic Party), founded in 1941, advocates the establishment of an Islamic government and has been active in promoting education, social service, and ecumenical outreach to the community.

The Tablighi Jamaat (Outreach Society) became active after the 1940s as a movement, primarily among the ulema (religious leaders), stressing personal renewal, prayer, a missionary spirit, and attention to orthodoxy. It has been highly critical of the kind of activities that occur in and around Sufi shrines and remains a minor if respected force in the training of the ulema. Conversely, other ulema have upheld the legitimacy of mass religion, including exaltation of pirs and the memory of the Prophet. A powerful secularising drive led by Syed Ahmad Khan resulted in the foundation of Aligarh Muslim University (1875 as the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College)-with a broader, more modern curriculum, and other major Muslim universities.

Muslim communities in India

The Indian Muslim population is further sub-divided into linguistic groupings, such as Bihari Muslims and Oriya Muslims.

Ghettoisation of Indian Muslims

Though walled cities, have been traditional dwellings of Muslims in older cities, many upper class Muslims moved out post-Partition and started living in other parts of the cities. Ghettoisation amongst Indian Muslims began in the mid-1970s when first communal riots occurred, this heightened after the Bhagalpur riots 1989, and became a trend after the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992, soon several major cities developed ghettos, or segregated areas where the Muslim population moved in. The trend however, didn’t help in the anticipated security that the anonymity of ghetto was thought to have provided, as seen during 2002 Gujarat riots, where several such ghettos became easy targets, as it only aided in profiling of residential colonies.

Increase in ghetto living has also shown a strengthening of social stereotyping due to lack of cross-cultural interaction, and reduction in economic and educational opportunities at large. On the other hand, the larger community which for centuries had benefited from its interactions with Islamic traditions, to create a rich cultural and social fabric, formed through amalgamation of the two diverse traditions faces a danger of fast becoming insular. Secularism in India is being seen by some as a favour to the minorities, and not as a imperative for democracy.

Source: Wikipedia (April 16th 2010)

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