Islam in India

Islam in India

The initial entry of Islam into India came in the first century after the death of the Prophet Muhammad. The Umayyad caliph in Damascus sent an expedition to Balochistan and Sindh in 711 led by Muhammad bin Qasim (for whom Karachi's second port is named). The expedition went as far north as Multan but was not able to retain that region and was not successful in expanding Islamic rule to other parts of India. Coastal trade and the presence of a Muslim colony in Sindh, however, permitted significant cultural exchanges and the introduction into the subcontinent of saintly teachers. Muslim influence grew with conversions.

Almost three centuries later, the Turks and the Afghans spearheaded the Islamic conquest in India through the traditional invasion routes of the northwest. Mahmud of Ghazni (979-1030) led a series of raids against Rajput kingdoms and rich Hindu temples and established a base in Punjab for future incursions. Mahmud's tactics originated the legend of idol-smashing Muslims bent on plunder and forced conversions, a reputation that persists in India to the present day.

During the last quarter of the twelfth century, Muhammad of Ghor invaded the Indo-Gangetic Plain, conquering in succession Ghazni, Multan, Sindh, Lahore, and Delhi. His successors established the first dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate, the Mamluk Dynasty (mamluk means "slave") in 1211 (however, the Delhi Sultanate is traditionally held to have been founded in 1206). The territory under control of the Muslim rulers in Delhi expanded rapidly. By mid-century, Bengal and much of central India was under the Delhi Sultanate. Several Turko-Afghan dynasties ruled from Delhi: the Mamluk (1211-90), the Khalji (1290-1320), the Tughlaq (1320-1413), the Sayyid (1414-51), and the Lodhi (1451-1526). As Muslims extended their rule into southern India, only the Hindu kingdom of Vijayanagar remained immune, until it too fell in 1565. Although some kingdoms remained independent of Delhi in the Deccan and in Gujarat, Malwa (central India), and Bengal, almost all of the area in presentday Pakistan came under the rule of Delhi.

The sultans of Delhi enjoyed cordial, if superficial, relations with Muslim rulers in the Near East but owed them no allegiance. The sultans based their laws on the Quran and the sharia and permitted non-Muslim subjects to practice their religion only if they paid jizya or head tax. The sultans ruled from urban centers--while military camps and trading posts provided the nuclei for towns that sprang up in the countryside. Perhaps the greatest contribution of the sultanate was its temporary success in insulating the subcontinent from the potential devastation of the Mongol invasion from Central Asia in the thirteenth century. The sultanate ushered in a period of Indian cultural renaissance resulting from the stimulation of Islam by Hinduism. The resulting "Indo-Muslim" fusion left lasting monuments in architecture, music, literature, and religion. The sultanate suffered from the sacking of Delhi in 1398 by Timur (Tamerlane) but revived briefly under the Lodhis before it was conquered by the Mughals.

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