‘Islamization’ of India did not occur as a result of mass conversions. The process took several centuries. Though the province of Sindh was conquered in early 8th century it was not until the incursions of Mahmud of Ghazni and Muhammad of Ghor that serious settlement of the subcontinent with Muslims took place. Even then contrary to belief it was not the forced conversions that increased the number of Muslims in India. Of course, the unfair taxes called jizya of all non-Muslims had an effect. Many Hindus were forced to convert to Islam to escape from the punishing taxes. The invading sultans like Qutb ud-din Aibak and Ala-ud-din Khilji often offered clemency to the enemy after their defeat if they converted to Islam. Many of these local rulers switched back to Hinduism as soon as the sultans turned their backs and returned to Delhi. The major reason for mass settlement of India by Muslims was the invasion of Mongols into central Asia. Genghis Khan, his grandsons and later Timurlane wreaked havoc in the Central Asian countries causing migration of countless number of people seeking refuge in the relative safety of India.

Just how disastrous Muslim conquest was for India and how much resistance had been offered to preserve its heritage by Hindu rulers are controversial subjects. Much of the history was written by Muslim historians and could be biased. The little history documented by Indians was also written with an eye towards glorifying their kings. These as well could be simply exaggerations. Hindu writers write about countless accounts of heroism by their warrior, some of them mere boys in their teens. Some of the fiercest resistance probably came from lesser tribes and simply went undocumented. However, it is clear that the Muslim conquest of India took several centuries. Idolatry was condemned but many sultans simply ignored the practice by the Hindus and did not impose Islam on them forcibly. Better results were obtained by imposing taxes on non-Muslims, although the Brahmins and some Buddhists were exempt form it until the rule of Feroz Shah Tughlaq in the latter half of 14th century. When the Mughals established their empire, the whole of India was almost completely under the Muslim rule, especially during the rule of Aurangazeb. Religious fanaticism of Aurangazeb, unlike his ancestor Mughals finally led to the cessation of Muslim control of India. As a consequence of his intolerance, the Mughal Empire weakened precipitously after his death and steadily shrank in size over the next century and a half, to finally be taken over by another foreign force in the nineteenth century, the British. What Akbar had achieved with tolerance and reconciliation was reversed by Aurangzeb’s zeal to force Islam on Hindus.

The religion of Islam stormed into India in a similar manner as it did in the Arabian countries. Powerful regimes succumbed to the religion at a remarkably fast pace as evidenced by the fact that within a century after its inception, it had spread to the entire Middle East and Northern Africa. But in India, Islam had a more difficult time to insinuate into the Hindu and Buddhist societies. Even then, ‘Islamization’ of India took several centuries and was never complete. The barbaric nature of the sultanates rule and the invasion of Mongols may have had a negative effect on the Hindu practitioners. The earlier Mughals had breeched the division somewhat, but Aurangzeb in his zeal to turn India into an Islamic nation alienated all other religions. From then onward ‘moderate Muslim rule’ was an oxymoron. It is also apparent that the Hindus revered their idols much more than the Muslim conquerors estimated. A sweep of India never occurred and India remained predominantly Hindu, with only about twenty percent of its population as Muslims, at any given time in its history.

Greater India once included Pakistan and Afghanistan. Gandhara is mentioned in Mahabharata epic (Gandhari, wife of Drtarashtra hailed from Gandhara). Ashoka and Kanishka ruled Afghanistan and it was an integral part of India until it was lost to Islam. Afghanistan had been lost to India for many centuries until Babur, the founder of the Mughal Empire, united it with India. Lost to Shah of Persia by Humayun, Akbar had re established the sovereignty in Afghanistan by conquering both Kabul valley and Kandahar. Then Jahangir and Shah Jahan lost Kandahar forever to the Shah of Iran, never to be regained though Kabul remained in Mughal hands until the reign of Aurangzeb. Even the British in the nineteenth century were unable to re-conquer it. India lost further territory when Pakistan and Bangladesh were lost to India in the modern era, in the middle of twentieth century.

As you read this article it will surely dispel the myth that the Mughals were more detrimental to Hindu dominance of India than any other dynasty. If destruction of Hindu temples is any measure the Sultans of Delhi did far worse damage than the Mughals (except Aurangzeb). The marauders like the Mahmud of Ghazni, Muhammad of Ghor, Timurlane, Nadir Shah and Ahmad Shah Abdali did loot and destroy idols in the temples all over the North, but the rulers like Aibak, Iltumish, Khilji and Feroz Shah Tughlaq, continued to do the desecration of temples in the name of cleansing the religion of Hindus and Buddhists over a long period of time in a sustained way. A large library of Buddhist literature was set ablaze by Khilji in Odantapuri, even before knowing what they contained.

As I researched for this article, I realized that there were many unsung heroes in the history who bravely confronted the attackers. Their stories are forgotten because Indians never developed the habit of writing down history. They relied on their memory to remember events (just as the Vedas had been memorized for generations). But this was regretful, as history shows that the Hindus eventually forgot their history and made the mistake of repeating it, often committing the same mistakes over and over again. This folly was exploited fully by the invading Muslims as well the British at a later date.


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