Entry of Islam into the Subcontinent: The embryo of Pakistan, for Mohammed Ali Jinnah, its founder, was conceived the moment the first Muslim set his foot on the subcontinent.1 That was in AD 712 when Arabs invaded Sindh for the first time. Islam got no foothold in the subcontinent with this invasion.
The next encounter with Islam took place 300 years later when Mahmud of Ghazni made several forays into northern India from Afghanistan. Mahmud’s principal objective was to loot. He also destroyed several Hindu temples including the one at Somnath. The destruction of Somnath temple traumatised the Hindu mind and created long abiding resentments.
Muslim power got established in northern India with the conquests of Muhammad Ghauri towards the end of the 12th century. A sultanate was set up by his successors at Delhi. The Lodhis and Mughals followed, extending Muslim power right up to Bengal.
The non-Muslim communities no longer identified themselves with the Emperor but the Muslims felt and behaved like the members of a ruling class. It is no wonder that in Pakistan, Aurangzeb is rated as the best Muslim ruler of the subcontinent.
Islam spread as Muslim power expanded. The new adherents to Islam from the local population came mostly from the followers of Buddhism, which was already under decline, and from the lower strata of Hindus, particularly the untouchable classes. Conversions were encouraged by the Muslim establishment to expand their constituency and increase their security.
Assimilation and Coexistence
The expanding Muslim population did not, however create watertight compartments for the Muslims and Hindus. The early Muslim leaders were alive to the need for securing the goodwill of their Hindu subjects and were keen to see Hindus and Muslims live in peace side by side. This promoted a synthesis despite the obvious differences between Hinduism and Islam: According to the historian Romila Thapar2 the communities exhibited a fair degree of assimilation in their pattern of living by the 16th century. Urdu is an excellent example of this assimilative process at the popular level, which enabled the ruler and the ruled to talk to each other in the same common language. North Indian classical music and the monuments built by the Muslim rulers in the north are other brilliant examples of the spirit of fusion, which also indicated that the Muslim rulers, whose ancestry lay in Central Asia, wished to be identified as the indigenous sons of the subcontinent and not as foreigners.
The sobriquet is given to him because he kept the ideology of Islam uppermost in his mind as he ruled India, much like Pakistan has tried to do after its formation.
No doubt, there were excesses also against the Hindu religion by orthodox Islamic preachers and some members of the Muslim establishments but genocidal tendencies were by and large, absent. Sikhism was another product of the effort at synthesis, with ideas borrowed from both religions, to reduce the gulf between them. The monotheism of Sikhism was akin to monotheism of Islam. The emphasis of Sikhism on the establishment of a non-casteist society was intended to be an improvement on Hinduism, which permitted castes. The emergence of Sikhism as a new religion in the 15th-16th century was influenced in no small way by the interaction between Hinduism and Islam.
Islam spread to the southern parts of India also through Arab settlements on the Malabar Coast and the rise of Muslim kingdoms in the south. Here also, this phenomenon did not lead to serious cultural clashes and by and large the adherents of the two religions lived peacefully side-by-side.
The process of synthesis reached its zenith during the rule of Akbar (1550-1605). While he expanded his empire up to the banks of the Godavari to the south and to the whole of north India including Afghanistan, he was mindful about showing due respect to ‘Hinduism. His desire to take the Hindus with him is displayed by his inclusion in key positions of several Hindu luminaries like Birbal and Todarmal. He married a Hindu princess and abolished the hated tax Jazia, levied on non-Muslims. He tried to propagate a new religion Deen-e-llahi, which represented an effort to smoothen the edges of antagonism between Hinduism and Islam.
“¦believing that the Congress would look after only Hindu interests. Adoption of this communal approach has been interpreted by some as amounting to a first overt step towards Pakistan.
The foundations of mutual tolerance and respect were rudely shattered during Aurangzeb’s rule (1658-1707). Aurangzeb ruled as a puritanical orthodox Muslim, discriminating against Hindus and their religious institutions, reimposing Jazia and closing the doors of state offices to them. Sikhs were likewise persecuted. Suddenly, the chasms between the communities began to widen. The non-Muslim communities no longer identified themselves with the Emperor but the Muslims felt and behaved like the members of a ruling class. It is no wonder that in Pakistan, Aurangzeb is rated as the best Muslim ruler of the subcontinent. The sobriquet is given to him because he kept the ideology of Islam uppermost in his mind as he ruled India, much like Pakistan has tried to do after its formation. Religious and political intolerance was the hallmark of his rule, much as it was to appear in Pakistani politics later. But if one were to search for evidence that Muslims and Hindus had started to look upon each other as people who could not coexist in this reign, one would be looking in vain. Despite the excessive religious zeal, which Aurangzeb displayed during his rule, India, under him and other Mughals, could not be called an Islamic state.