The Story of Islamic Imperialism in India – Part 3

Islam has always refused to assimilate wherever it has landed, the 1400-year-old war machine is still trying to force its way of life on others.

The Story of Islamic Imperialism in India – Part 3

Continued from Part 2

Of Assimilation and Synthesis

NCERT guides historians not to neglect trends of assimilation and synthesis and growth of a composite culture in the interest of ‘national integration’. What is the need for inventing a composite culture, unless the Islamic culture was against the indigenous Hindu culture? In earlier times, many foreigners (Iranian, Parthian, Scythian, Greeks, or Kushanas) visited India and settled here. Their cultures indeed synthesised with the indigenous Indian culture. Parsis, Syrian Christians, and the Jews have remained a distinct minority with their cultural identity intact without creating any social, political, or cultural problem for the Hindus. It is not necessary for ‘synthesis’ for peaceful co-existence so long as a culture is not exclusive and intolerant.

Apart from India, many countries like Greece, Yugoslavia, Cyprus, Philippines, Spain, Russia, and China have found it difficult for the indigenous population to co-exist peacefully with the Muslims. No Islam dominated country has allowed non-Islamic minorities to survive. The Prophet himself declared the Jews and the Christians as zimmis. The Jews; the Christian minority in Egypt and Lebanon; the Zoroastrians in Iran; and the Hindus of Pakistan and Bangladesh have historically and even presently faced severe persecutions. The secularists and socialists however doggedly try to concoct a composite culture in medieval India against all historical evidence.

Nehru saw the seeds of this composite culture in Muslim harems where Hindu women were dragged forcibly. These women however could not retain their faith. Also, Hindus could not marry Muslims without converting. Hindu employees and rulers adopting Muslim manners and patronising Persian literature is another example of this syncretism. This was at best a cultural imposition or imitation. Muslims hardly adopted Hindu customs.

Some point towards many Hindu social and cultural traits which many Muslims in India, particularly its peasant and artisan communities, display at present. A vast majority of Muslims are Hindu converts who have retained many native customs. The clergy have been constantly mounting campaigns of tabligh to cleanse the native Muslims of the remnants of jahiliyya.

Architecture, Paintings, and Music

Secularists talk about the synthesis of Hindu and Muslim architectural traditions. But foreign rulers everywhere have used native materials, skills, and styles to build monuments that portray their power and wealth. Also, native subjects have always tried to follow their foreign masters. The synthesis and assimilation were at a purely physical level and is entirely a result of outer circumstances without any inner psychological fusion. The few Hindu temples built by Muslim monarchs rarely show any such synthesis. However, many mosques and structures stand at the sites of Hindu temples and structures using material from the demolished structures. Significantly, no mosque or mazar is in the style of a Hindu temple or samadhi.

Before the Mughals, Muslims in India hardly patronised any painting. Mughal miniatures are purely Persian even when painted by Hindu artists or patronised by Hindu princes. The Rajput and other Hindu schools of painting breathe an entirely different spirit and draw their inspiration from a different source. There is no synthesis, or assimilation, or even mutual influencing.

In Hindustani music, we find Hindus and Muslims sharing the same tradition. However, Islam never had any music of its own. Hindu musicians converted to Islam to obtain patronage; their music did not undergo a similar conversion. Qawwali music patronized by Sufis is perhaps the only contribution of Islam. But it has remained confined to Muslim society.

In dance and drama, major schools and styles remained purely Hindu even when Muslim princes patronised them. Mujrah is perhaps the only Muslim contribution. All folk dances and dramas are entirely Hindu in dress as well as demeanour. The presence of Muslim audiences at these performances proves nothing as far as composite culture is concerned.

Science, Literature, and Philosophy

Muslims had little to teach in the field of science. The only major science they brought with them was the Greek system of medicine. But Hindus were familiar with the system before the advent of Islam. Similarly, the Arabic and Persian translations of Sanskrit and Prakrit classics, a great showpiece for syncretism, never helped the Muslims to appreciate the Hindu cultural vision. The inheritors of such vast literary treasures were still despicable kafirs. Several Sufis wrote in Indian languages but happily invited Muslim monarchs to impose on the Hindus the true Islamic laws.

Hindu and Muslim literary traditions have been two separate streams that have hardly influenced one another. Indian languages have borrowed and assimilated many Arabic, Turkish, and Persian words. But these classic languages of Islam have remained largely impervious to Hindu linguistic influences. Urdu held some promise because of its Indic roots. But Muslims started claiming Urdu as the language of their culture. Over the years, this language has been heavily Arabicised and Persianised and became quite beyond the common man’s reach.

Philosophy has never been a forte of Islam. They borrowed some from the Greeks. But the clergy thought that Greek philosophy had corroded the purity of Islamic monotheism. For Muslim thinkers, Hindu monism was as much of an anathema to them as Hindu pantheism. Hindu philosophy throughout medieval India never had any Islamic influence.

The ‘Peaceful’ Sufis

Some secularists mistakenly see a parallel between the Sufis and Hindu Nirguna saints. Significantly, no Nirguna saint has mentioned the name of a single Indian Sufi; though they have spoken warmly of earlier Sufis like Rabia, Junaid, Shams Tabriz, and Adham Sultan. These earlier Sufis were genuine mystics who lived before Islam was able to extinguish finally the spiritual traditions of Arab Paganism, Neo-Platonism, Zoroastrianism, and Buddhism prevalent in the Middle East. The Ulama of Islam came down very heavily upon these earlier Sufis as soon as the tone and temper of Sufi poetry became evident.

Sufism gradually became an instrument for Islamic imperialism. Sufi Fariduddin Attar shows great approval in his Mantiq-ut-Tair of Mahmud Ghaznavi’s murti breaking at Somnath. The Sufi silsilas which travelled to India after the advent of Moinuddin Chishti were never kind to Hindus. Sufi piety attracted some Hindu simpletons and some used the Sufis to gain favour in the Muslim courts. Nirguna saints constantly questioned the exclusive claims of Islam.

Was There Ever a Synthesis? 

Dr. R.C. Majumdar writes:

There was no rapprochement in respect of popular or national traditions, and those social and religious ideas and beliefs and practices and institutions which touch the deeper chord of life, and give it a distinctive form, tone, and vigour. In short, the reciprocal influences were too superficial in character to affect materially the fundamental differences between the two communities in respect of almost everything that is deep-seated in human nature and makes life worth living. So, the two great communities, although they lived side by side, moved each in its own orbit and there was yet no sign that the twain shall ever meet.”

Reconciliation and harmony between the two communities are desirable but clearly, no significant synthesis or assimilation took place in the past, and history should not have a falsification to serve political purposes. Only if the first premises of Islam radically revise in keeping with reason, universality, and humanism can a synthesis develop.

A mere swelling of secular enthusiasm for Hindu-Muslim unity without analysing and eradicating the basic causes of conflict has served only to harden the heart of Islam and made it more self-righteous. Dr. R.C. Majumdar said with great anguish:

In India today, there is an Islamic culture as also an Indian culture. Only there is no Hindu culture. This word is now an untouchable in civilised society. They very word Hindu is now on the way to oblivion. Because many people believe that this word symbolises a narrowness of mind and a diehard communalism.”

Islam Versus Insaniyat (Humanism)

Guidelines and Tools for Evaluating School Text-books From the Standpoint of National Integration is an official NCERT document encouraged by government policy. National integration happens on truth, justice, and a deeper perception of human culture. Political expediency or false secularism allowing surrender to intolerant ideologies will result in national disintegration.

Hindus were never very good political historians or biographers. The three Rajataranginis written by Kalhana, Jonaraja, and Srivara are the exceptions. Hindu political history before the advent of the Islamic invaders is mostly a patchwork pieced together by modern scholars out of epigraphic evidence, accounts of foreign travellers, and some indigenous literature.

During Islamic invasions, however, there are voluminous historical materials compiled by many Muslim chroniclers. These materials have been carefully collated, compared, edited, annotated, and translated by a band of Western and Indian scholars. Some scholars confirm that the deeds of Muslim monarchs, mullahs, and Sufis agree with the basic tenets of Islam. An unequivocal language leaves no scope for any misunderstanding. Yet, a few historians like Mohammad Habib and Romila Thapar, under the patronage of Nehruvian secularism, could successfully distort this period of history.

A healthy and humanitarian system of education would have placed all these facts before our Muslim community. A healthy evaluation of the words and deeds of monarchs in terms of natural human reason, moral sense, and human brotherhood would have given a better perspective of our medieval history. Like the Enlightenment modifying the Christian thought, a similar rationalism and humanism would have led to better national integration. Indian Muslims can well identify themselves with Indian traditions rather than trying to deny or justify the crimes done in the name of Islam by unrelated people. Some people confuse Islam with Muslims and condemn the latter for the crudities of the former. This needs avoidance strictly for a true national integration as opposed to sectarian and chauvinistic nationalism or communalism. The discussion is on Islam as an ideology and not of Muslims as human beings.

A Religion or a Political Ideology?

Islam, in its monotheism, pits ‘One True God’ against many false gods. Ram Swarup (The Word as Revelation: Names of Gods) says that the problem of One or many Gods is born of a theological mind, not of a mystic consciousness. The Hindus do not call their Gods either ‘One’ or ‘Many’. They worship the One Realityekam sat, differently named. This Reality is One and many at the same time and transcends them both. Spiritual life is one but it is vast and rich in expression. The human mind is not a fixed quantity and its powers and needs are different. Unfortunately, in the cultural history of the world, conflict, persecution, and crusading accompanied the replacement of Many False Gods by One True God.

Theologians praise God as Omnipotent and Omniscient but frown at any association of Omnipresence with Him. The very thought that God could be present in the human heart (antarayamin), in the Universe (sarvanivasin), in Nature, in animals, in plants, and even in the matter is Pantheism- a blasphemy as atheism itself. Monotheism also places God at the mercy of a historical person who communicates His message to the masses.

Ram Swarup says that the Prophet needed a proxy disguised as God who would echo precisely, though in a pompous language, the choices he made for every situation confronting him. A chronological reading of the Quran and orthodox biographies of the Prophet show a striking correspondence between what the Prophet planned and what the divine revealed to him. The chronological confusion in the compilation of the Quran has helped a good deal to hide this correspondence. Muslim monarchs, in the name of One True God, wanted their kingdoms, war-booties, and harems to extend as much as possible destroying non-believers in the way.

Brotherhood and Equality

Islam claims that it stands for human brotherhood and social equality as contrasted with the caste divisions and class hierarchies rampant in Hindu society. Hindu-baiters see this ‘social progressivism’ as a learning point. Islam had never put forward these claims before the rise of democracy and socialism in modern times. The old theologians of Islam were meticulous in placing various people in their proper places. The mumins (believers) constituted the supreme class (millat); the kafirs (non-believers) were rejected; the zimmis were non-citizens with severe disabilities.

Within the millat itself, the Quraish had primacy over the plain Arabs at the start of Islamic imperialism. There was a class hierarchy in Arab society. With the Arab expansion, non-Arabs were inferior even when they converted. Later, the Turks took over the Arab legacy of being a master race. Islam has never known any brotherhood or equality even within its millat.

The Quran is frank and straightforward about human brotherhood and social equality. Verses like 3.85 (He is unacceptable who seeks a faith other than Islam); 8.39 (Fight them till removal of the last trace of unbelief); 47.4 (smite the throats without allowing them to defeat you. When you have defeated them, take them prisoners so that you may earn ransom); 2.216 (Fighting ordains upon you while it is hateful to you. But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not) reads more like a manual of war on disbelievers rather than a charter of human brotherhood. It leaves not the slightest scope for any mutual understanding between the believers and non-believers.

The Conversion of Arab Land

Islam claims to rescue Arabia from darkness (jahiliyya) and put her squarely on the path of cultural progress. No records of pre-Islamic culture have survived except a bit of poetry, which by itself is telling evidence of the havoc by Islam on a society that did not take seriously the prophethood of Muhammad. It was a tribal society no doubt. But the tribes had a long tradition of large-hearted religious liberalism which made the worshippers of many Gods and Goddesses live peacefully side by side. The Jews and the Christians also enjoyed full religious freedom. It was this liberalism that permitted the prophet of Islam to preach and practise. The pre-Islamic Arabs were chivalrous towards their enemies and practised a code of honour. The women in pre-Islamic Arabia had a high status. It was this simple, straightforward, and essentially human society which Islam divided by mutual hatred sown by ‘divine revelations.’

There were surprise raids of unsuspecting tribal settlements; looting of caravans; massacring of innocent men, women, and children; enslaving of citizens; forcing women into slavery and concubinage; and plundering properties. The victims fought back half-heartedly but finally surrendered. The converted Arab people now fell on the neighbouring lands and massacred other people in the name of monotheism. The Turks took on this behaviour at a later stage, particularly in India.

Nehruvian secularism tries to make amends for the Islamic religion whose behaviour has been more like an aggressive political ideology. Sanatana Dharma, when it practices sarva-dharma-sama-bhava is comfortable for all traditions and religions. However, a policy of reciprocation for other religions is unthinkable.

The ‘Gifts’ of Islamic Rule

Intellectuals propagate a few things like it was in reaction to Muslims that we became ‘Hindus’ just as it was in reaction to the British that we became ‘Indians’. Muslim rulers in trying to expand possibly gave political unity to India. Tribals joined the Hindu mainstream more than the Hindus becoming converts. The Hindu rulers were more decentralised. A centralised State under the Sultans created a huge common market encouraging trade and industry. Europeans arriving in India found Delhi and Agra much bigger and richer than London and Paris. This would not be the case had Muslim rule been an unmitigated evil. Even during Muslim rule, there were great poets like Tulsi, Mira, Sur, Kabir – apart from innumerable Sufi saint-poets. The silence of these poets would suggest there was a rule of law even during the period of misrule.

Sita Ram Goel in answer starts by saying that that Muslim rule in India was an unmitigated evil. The tribals of Assam, hill people on northern borders, Gonds under Durgavati, Bhils under Maharana Pratap, and the Mavlas fought spontaneously against the Muslims rather than join the winning side shows that there was a common culture.

The traditional Indian idea of political unity was different from that brought in by Islam- a monolithic militarised state serving a system of expansionism. Our concept of samrajya derives from Sanatana Dharma. It fosters a truly decentralised federation of many janapadas enjoying swarajya (local autonomy) based on swadharma, local tradition, and culture. Islam made no contribution to the unity of Bharatavarsha; on the contrary, it seriously damaged the deeper fabric of our national unity and, finally dismembered the nation into fragments like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Hindustan, and Bangladesh.

The eulogization of a common market is a capitalist-imperialist innovation. The infrastructure created by the ancient culture of this country was in the spirit of swadeshi – local materials, local techniques, and local labour mobilised for local needs. Only the surplus goes out in exchange for useful goods. Muslim rule damaged this infrastructure under pressure from its court and aristocracy and later by British imperialism. The five-year plans continued this trend in fact. However, to be fair, Muslim rule in India did not create any significant centralised market.

Europe till the end of the 18th century was a poor continent sending out large colonial armies to loot and plunder. Agra and Delhi should compare with Pataliputra, Varanasi, Ujjain, Kanauj, Kanchipuram, Madura and Tanjore which flourished before Islam or the contemporary Vijayanagara to find out its sorry state rather than with London and Paris.

Sufis during the Muslim rule might have been poets. But they were not saints, except a few on whom Islam continues to frown even today. Indian Sufis were a part of the imperialist establishment of Islam. On the other hand, Muslim rule had nothing to do with the rise of Hindu saints like Kabir, Nanak, Tulsi, Sur and Mira. They arose despite Islam and flourished only because Islam could not reach out to kill them. Kabir and Nanak have referred to the inequities of Islam in very clear terms. Mira flourished in Mewar which was never under Muslim rule. Tulsi and Sur flourished under Akbar who had largely dismantled the edifice of the Islamic State in India and struck up a deal with the Rajputs.

Concluding Remarks

The book is a disturbing read as it shows clearly the gross falsification of history in our textbooks. To please or protect, our thinkers in all relevant fields inappropriately associated the present-day Muslims to the past Islamic invaders when it was quite unnecessary. This has caused immense damage to both Muslims and Hindus. The textbooks went against a huge body of contemporary descriptions of the invaders by chroniclers and historians. These exist intact in our libraries. There may have been some exaggerations but the large body of evidence largely corroborates the brutal nature of the invasions.

The Islamic rulers may have fought each other for political and economic reasons. However, religion additionally, and more dominantly, inspired them when they were fighting or invading the non-Muslims. There are verses that clearly inspired the fanatics across centuries and these are very disturbing for non-Muslims. The Muslim intellectual, in most instances, tries to justify or ignore them when questioned. Muslim intellectuals, instead of confronting the clergy, choose mostly to defend both the clergy and the problematic passages on intellectual platforms. They try to convince the non-Muslims about the ‘peaceful nature’ of Islam or the ‘misguided individuals’. In doing so, the clergy continues to stay in power and decide on an individual or public behaviour. In this regard, the Muslim intellectuals and moderates have failed to initiate better dialogues for harmony.

Christianity had its share of violence in the name of religion (the destruction of the Greco-Roman world, the religious wars, Inquisitions) but in the western world, Enlightenment and secularization helped solve religious strife. This spread to other parts of the world, including India, and thus the priests or the Book do not hold the power in deciding individual or mass behaviour to a large extent. This secularization or ‘Age of Reason’ is yet to appear in the Islamic world. Intellectuals may argue against this but this is the perception of an average non-Muslim.

In the Indian context, on a broader scale, the notions of secularism arise from a poor understanding of religions and traditions. Secularism was a solution for the European Christian world at a specific time of its history. Making it a universal solution for all cultures and across all times is a recipe for disaster as is evident in India. Indian politicians and thinkers twisted this secularism furthermore to create policies antithetical to the fabric of the country.

The minority appeasement policies, which includes falsifying history, is bound to bring a reaction in the majority at some point in time. Here, the research program of Dr SN Balagangadhara may hold solutions that need more study by our academia and our political thinkers. Unfortunately, the political parties have more ideologues than intellectuals and that does not help matters.

Quite briefly, India is a land of traditions (sampradayas and paramparas) rather than religions. By the definition of religion applied for Christianity, Islam, or Judaism, it is a metaphysical and sociological impossibility that there are religions of India. The colonials, rooted in their religious background, saw religions wherever they went. For them, the Indian religions like ‘Hinduism’, ‘Buddhism’, ‘Sikhism’, or ‘Jainism’ were experiential constructions of the traditions and practices they saw in the alien world. One cannot blame them for their attempts to construct some unity in the varied phenomenon to understand India better.

Tragically and unfortunately, Indians swallowed these descriptions wholesale as true descriptions and started believing that there are religions in India. As an extension, they also believed that the solution to religious problems was secularism. This is the ‘colonial consciousness’ which Dr Balagangadhara talks about; a continuing violence of colonialism in a different timeframe by altering the intellectual frameworks of the colonized.

Without going into great details about the definition of culture, Dr Balagangadhara’s thesis shows that India has a distinct culture that roots in traditions. The hallmark of traditions is indifference to differences. This has been the Indian solution to diversity and multi-culturalism across centuries. When foreigners invaded India, our culture was damaged but not destroyed. We could still absorb the alien religions who came with the ideology of My One True God and Your False Many Gods. India’s practical solution was to traditionalise the religions so that they lost focus on proselytization and made some genuine attempts at cultural syncretism. This adoption and adaptation to Indian culture allowed the different religions to merge into society and yet keep their belief systems intact. And this adaptation is what the Islamic clergy or the Christian evangelists fight against.

Our thinkers went in reverse gear as they tried to convert our traditions into religions causing severe problems. As Hindu traditions become more of a religion, it becomes intolerant. Hindu fundamentalism is the outcome of this process which ultimately damages the philosophy of the nation. A philosophy, which in fact, is the solution to the pluralism and multi-culturalism of the world, now packed into smaller geographical areas.

This integration allowed different religions to become a part of Indian culture with a core philosophy of indifference to differences. Thus, a Gujarati speaking Muslim in Ahmedabad, a Tulu speaking Christian in Mangalore, and a Bengali speaking Hindu in Kolkata are invariably a part of this Indian culture. How do we rediscover these old solutions which always existed in our society and now are replaced by the noxious ‘secularism’ of post-independent India? As a beginning, we need to decolonise ourselves and our academia, especially the social sciences. The natural sciences build the technology of the world to make us comfortable. The social sciences should offer some solutions too for making our social world comfortable instead of causing divisions with ideologically driven theories. History rewriting should be an important component of this exercise.

About Author: Pingali Gopal

Dr Pingali Gopal is a Neonatal and Paediatric Surgeon practising in Warangal for the last twenty years. He graduated from medical school and later post-graduated in surgery from Ahmedabad. He further specialised in Paediatric Surgery from Mumbai. After his studies, he spent a couple of years at Birmingham Children's Hospital, UK and returned to India after obtaining his FRCS. He started his practice in Warangal where he hopes to stay for the rest of his life. He loves books and his subjects of passion are Indian culture, Physics, Vedanta, Evolution, and Paediatric Surgery- in descending order. After years of ignorance in a flawed education system, he has rediscovered his roots, paths, and goals and is extremely proud of Sanatana Dharma, which he believes belongs to all Indians irrespective of religion, region, and language. Dr. Gopal is a huge admirer of all the present and past stalwarts of India and abroad correcting past discourses and putting India back on the pedestal which it so truly deserves.

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