India’s Islam

There are various images I could have chosen to represent Islam in India. One could use the Taj Mahal, the ruins of a temple, a mural of a bloody battlefield, Muhammed Ali Jinnah, the beauty of Indo-Islamic art, and so many more images. Islam in India has had a long and complicated history. People have argued till tongues became swords over the impact of Islam on India and its relation to the people. Indeed, one could argue the most lasting impact of Islam on the subcontinent is its partitioning by Jinnah and his cohorts on that fateful day in 1947; when Mahatma Gandhi’s dream was ripped apart in a bloody separation of an ancient people.

But while this post will examine the past, I want to focus on the now and future of Islam in India. That is why I chose to have possibly the most beloved Indian in history, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, as the heading photo for this post. But we will talk more about him and what he encapsulates later; let’s take a look back at the sands of time.

(No) Remorse

Gyanvapi Mosque in Varanasi; Built From Ruins of a Hindu Temple (See Left Side)

I’ll be upfront and say I have an overall negative view on Islam’s past impact on India.

One of the most eminent historians ever, Will Durant, wrote this of the Islamic invasion of India:

“The Islamic conquest of India is probably the bloodiest story in history. It is a discouraging tale, for its evident moral is that civilization is a precious good, whose delicate complex of order and freedom, culture and peace, can at any moment be overthrown by barbarians invading from without or multiplying within.” – The Story of Civilization: Our Oriental Heritage page 459.

History has witnessed monsters that have killed millions – Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, the Spanish conquistadors of America, etc… – but Durant singles out the hundreds of years long siege of Islam on India as the bloodiest of them all. Millions dead, raped, or forcibly converted. Temples, universities, and entire cities lay in ruin. An indigenous culture repressed and humiliated all because they believed in a different god.

While this image is grave, it’s not what I want you to leave with in regards to India’s Islam. Amongst the carnage and deep darkness that swept the subcontinent, there was light.

Din-I-Ilahi

A fusion of Indian, Arabian, and Persian art styles would give birth to they beauty of Indo-Islamic architecture

Islamic rule in India produced great art, literature, opulence, but most beautiful of all – syncretism, the trademark of India. Akbar was one of the first rulers who recognized the underlying similarities between Islam and Hinduism; so much so, that he integrated both religions into his own system – Din-I-Ilahi – or the Religion of God (original…I know).

The Varanasi poet and weaver, Kabir, won the hearts of both Hindus and Muslims. His poetry would be recited till this day as an epitaph to his spirit of spiritual harmony. His musings would change how religion was practiced across North India, including influencing a newly born religion – Sikhism. Guru Nanak would continue Kabir’s compare and contrasting of Hinduism and Islam, while providing his own unique philosophy.

Kabir in Discussion with People of Various Faiths

The Mughal prince, Dara Shikoh, even wrote a treatise on the similarities of Vedanta and Sufism in a book – Majma-ul-Bahrain (The Confluence of Seas). Dara would translate the Upanishads from Sanskrit into Persian as he was fascinated by the concepts found in this mystical and ancient book. Dara would become convinced that the Upanishads were the Kitab al-Maknun (The Hidden Book) mentioned in the Quran.

India had a habit of making foreigners and foreign ideas attain a saffron hue as time went on. The Dargahs, Qawwalis, saint veneration, and many cultural practices of Indian Islam would be completely alien to the rest of the Islamic world. Much of this was due to local spiritual influences that had been present for millennia. Religion turned grey as time went on with Hindus revering Sufi saints and Muslims seeking the blessings of Hindu sadhus.

Perhaps this was due to the old pluralism of the Vedas, Upanishads, and Bhagavad Gita (Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains had already lived peacefully with each other). Or maybe due to the emphasis of oneness and the mysticism of the ever popular Sufis of the subcontinent. Either way, one has to acknowledge that pluralism indeed did succeed as India saw Hindus and Muslims live side by side and intermingle.

Reopened Wounds

Unfortunately the scars of the past would overshadow much of the syncretism that bloomed in India. During the fledgeling Indian independence movement, an intellectual named Syed Ahmed Khan (1817 – 1898) would propose the two nation theory – an idea that Hindus and Muslims were fundamentally different peoples who could not live side by side in a united India.

Years later, a pan-Indian nationalist would pen the beautiful poem “Sāre Jahān se Achchhā, Hindositān Hamārā” (Better than the entire world is our India) with lines such as “Religion does not teach us to bear animosity among ourselves; we are of Hind, our homeland is Hindustan.” He would then go to school for Islamic studies and return an avowed proponent of the Two Nation Theory and Islamist. His name was Muhammed Iqbal, and he would become a renowned poet, revolutionary, and ideological father of Pakistan.

Muslim nationalists such as Muhammed Ali Jinnah (founder of Pakistan) would seize Khan and Iqbal’s philosophy and go on to campaign for and eventually succeed in creating the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

Jinnah would call for “Direct Action Day” on August 16, 1946, agitating Indian Muslims to force partition. Thousands of people would die in Calcutta as a result, and the demand for partition would be solidified. India was ripped apart a year later.

A large amount of Indian Muslims would end up staying in India. Their population would grow as the population of Hindus in Pakistan was decimated. Muslims would form a significant electoral block in India as the INC would slowly dole out appeasement to capture a loyal vote bank on one side while dividing Hindus by caste on the other side. It was a stunningly effective method leading to political dominance for 60 years.

Indian Muslims didn’t benefit greatly though, as much of their political voices and interests were captured by narrow minded and fanatical leaders who encouraged these rabid identity politics while enjoying power and wealth from their sponsors from the INC. Rajiv Gandhi’s minister famously exhorted that the Congress Party had no responsibility to reform Muslims, and “if they wanted to lie in the gutter, let them be.”

New Beginnings

For all of India’s faults, it is not Pakistan. Pakistan’s collapse into a bankrupt terror state that has annihilated and oppressed its minorities has contrasted with India. India’s minorities have grown in the percentage of population while also rising to the upper echelons of the highest political, intellectual, artistic, scientific, and indeed almost every single aspect of Indian society. That is not to say they do not face discrimination in India, but there should be no comparison anymore between which minorities have faired better in the subcontinent.

With Modi’s rise and the mainstreaming of Hindutva, eyes now rest on the fate and future of India’s Muslims.

Muslim Women Celebrating the Criminalization of Triple Talaq (Instant Divorce Applicable to Only Muslim Women) and Thanking Modi 

India will never rise unless its 200+ million Muslim population rises with it. I have praised many of Modi’s welfare programs as I believe they will reap compound interest on human capital. Much of that interest will accrue on the lower economic rungs of society; rungs which a large amount of Muslims populate. Economic empowerment is integral for India’s Muslims to prosper.

Perhaps the more controversial aspect of Muslim upliftment is cultural integration. Notions of “worship my god or you are condemned to eternal hell” are alien to the Indian ethos. Pluralism is the blood of India. Ideally, all Indians would celebrate each others festivals, holidays, commemorations together. Unfortunately, much of Muslim leadership still meanders in more conservative approaches towards Islam that don’t fit the millennia-old “Ekam Sat” principle discussed in a previous post. Essentially “Ekam Sat” should be a pan-Indian spiritual acceptance, as it forms the basis of Indian pluralism. Whether Muslims theologically justify this by claiming Indian gods/avatars were “prophets” of Allah or any other basis (Dara Shikoh had a number), this thought process is essential to the mainstreaming of Indian Islam.

Another aspect that must be confronted is a more realistic view of India’s Islamic rule. More and more today, that period of India’s history is being demonized (and in many cases rightly so), but too much vitriol is being directed towards today’s Muslims. On the other side, a section of elites (whether Muslim or not) seek to glorify Mughal/Islamic rule as an enlightened age that civilized native heathen Indians. The age’s positive contributions (art, literature, architecture, syncretism) should be celebrated, but the atrocities must be acknowledged and accepted. Exalted glorification of this era isn’t wise nor laudable these days. Just as the British Raj has been exposed, so should the brutal Islamic regimes prior to it be exposed.

A Familiar Echo

It’s at this point where Asaduddin Owaisi, the leader of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), should be examined. Owaisi has always been a firebrand and extremely articulate politician and speaker. He has frequently engaged in Islamist rhetoric; though to give him credit, he doesn’t with baiters from across the border and proudly calls himself Indian. The recent problem with Owaisi though, is his disturbing calls for a pan-Islamic organizing in India.

Does this sound familiar?

But wait – what is wrong with calls for Muslim consolidation if people say it’s okay for Hindu consolidation (Hindutva)? The thing is, we’ve seen what Muslim consolidation has done in partition. The shadow of the subcontinental fissure still looms today. With the recent Ram Mandir verdict signaling a possible new era in India, Owaisi has become more and more outright in his mission to be a leader of India’s Muslims. Opening deposits in as many Muslim majority localities as he can, Owaisi seeks to dent a flailing Congress’s old and trusted vote bank, while the BJP watches with glee as Owaisi cannibalizes a rival.

Because of partition, most Indians will be allergic to Owaisi’s call. Whether one believes Muslim consolidation into a party is okay, necessary, egregious, or disgusting doesn’t matter electorally. What matters is that most Indians will have an overwhelmingly negative view of AIMIM and see this movement as Jinnah Part 2. If one believes Indian Muslims are already sidelined, wait till you see what happens if Owaisi gets his way.

India’s electoral future may mirror Israel’s current situation – A religious Hindu Party vs a secular Hindu Party with a number of smaller parties including a large, shunned Muslim Party just as the Arab parties are in Israel today. That is a death-knell for Indian Muslims as they will become pariahs electorally and their interests will be completely sidelined.

I don’t believe this will happen because of India’s pluralistic spirit, the current integration of Muslims, partition’s shadow, but also demographic pulls – Muslims are a large minority that have dividends in being catered to. But when discussing that spirit of India, we must also discuss Hindutva and Hindu consolidation. Isn’t it also a clear and present danger?

The answer lies in India’s past (Ekam Sat/pluralism) and how future Indians react to religion. For India to keep moving forward, I think it may have to reflect in its past, where religion becomes more composite and syncretic. The Dharmic religions have demonstrated this well enough; the gauntlet is now thrown to the other side and a fork in the road arrives. In a time of turbulence, will one choose the path of Aurangzeb or the path of Dara Shikoh?

Nūr-E-Dharma

When the Maratha King Shivaji rebelled against the Mughal Aurangzeb, Shivaji sent Aurangzeb a letter demanding him to stop his persecution of Hindus. Shivaji sought to reestablish Hindu rule in India but made it a point to be inclusive of Muslims; while Aurangzeb obsessed over a fanatical wish to convert the subcontinent to Islam by any means necessary.

Shivaji wrote:

“Verily, Islam and Hinduism are terms of contrast. They are used by the true Divine Painter for blending the colors and filling in the outlines. If it is a mosque, the call to prayer is chanted in remembrance of God. If it is a temple, the bells are rung in yearning for God alone.” –Shivaji’s Letter to Aurangzeb April 2nd, 1679

Again, here we see a triumph of India’s pluralism in the face of fanaticism. And it is this thought process that may be the path forward for both Hindus and Muslims in India.

India’s Muslims are just as Indian as a Hindu, Christian, Sikh, etc… India is an officially secular state (though it could do with less appeasement and more universal civil code) and will be so in the foreseeable future. Bigots and extremists line the coats of each Indian political party. BJP’s extremists frequently attack today’s Muslims for the crimes of the past and constantly question their patriotism. This alienation will never do India well.

I have always thought that there was a clear “civilizational interest” for India’s civilization. Whether it is called “Dharma” or by another word; throughout India’s history, there have been pivotal moments that either furthered or distressed India. And this “Dharma” has been blind to religion.

Take an example of this: Would you consider the self-proclaimed Janeudhari Brahmin Hindu Rahul Gandhi more Dharmic than Muslim Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam? Or how about the “master Sanskrit shloka” speaker and queen of appeasement, Mamata Banerjee, being more pro-Indic civilization than the Mughal prince Dara Shikoh? Would the anti-Ram Mandir (or anti any Hindu interest) lawyer, Kapil Sibal, be more of service to India than the Kashmiri Indian soldier, Aurangzeb, who was brutally murdered by terrorists for serving in the Indian Army?

India’s interests are beyond religious labels. Muslims have become integral parts of the Indian state, society, and now civilization. Muslims need to be integrated economically and culturally for India to thrive. And India’s Muslims need better models and leaders than communalists who stoke identity politics, regressive practices, and an us versus them mentality concerning Hindus.

Copies of Kalam’s Final Book – Transcendence Detailing the similarities between Hinduism, Islam, and his relationship with his Guru, Pramukh Swami Maharaj. 

Abdul Kalam perhaps represents this ideal Indian Muslim (and definitely an ideal Indian for all to emulate). One who devoutly worships Allah and practices his spirituality but also fully embraces the Indian values of Dharma, Ahimsa, and pluralism. Beyond his great service to the nation, Kalam’s fondness for Sanskrit, the Bhagavad Gita, Tamil poetry, playing the Veena, etc… endeared him to the entire Indian population. Kalam was a living breathing amalgamation of the Indian experiment, combining various spiritualities, cultures, and passions. Kalam continued Dara Shikoh’s view of Islam and Hinduism as two beautiful answers to the same question of life and spirituality. This is a mentality that both Hindus and Muslims should embrace. Easier said than done of course, but a worthy aim in the journey of India.

This is an updated post from The Emissary. Please visit our blog for more content and thanks to Brown Pundits for the repost!

49 Replies to “India’s Islam”

  1. History has witnessed monsters that have killed millions – Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, the Spanish conquistadors of America, etc… – but Durant singles out the hundreds of years long siege of Islam on India as the bloodiest of them all. Millions dead, raped, or forcibly converted. Temples, universities, and entire cities lay in ruin. An indigenous culture repressed and humiliated all because they believed in a different god.

    this is surely wrong on the body-count.

    the extent of mongol expansion in the 13th-century is so great and its decimation so extreme there are models of climate change that are driven by it (reforestation due to depopulation). similarly, the arrival of europeans in the new world caused mass death, though mostly due to disease.

    finally, you have tens of millions possibly dying during the taiping rebellion.

    the reality is premodern societies did not have the capability to be totalitarian. even the killings of the mongols were more often due to the fact that populations which cannot farm when harrassed and under threat will starve.

    rhetorical overreach misleads. the shock of islam and the incursions of the turks transformed indian society and culture. but it was not of the same magnitude that occurred in persia, to give an example. in bengal the gauida vaishnava movement arose under muslim rule, indicating the vigor and robustness of indian non-muslim society underneath the muslim overlay.

  2. The Dargahs, Qawwalis, saint veneration, and many cultural practices of Indian Islam would be completely alien to the rest of the Islamic world.

    no, it’s not alien. a veneration of saints and such predates islam expanding across south asia. it’s just human nature (even setting aside the devotionalism of the shia around karbala and such).

    one of the major projects of the sauds has been destroyed the pilgrimage sites in arabia associated with religious figures, including muhammad.

    India’s minorities have grown in the percentage of population while also rising to the upper echelons of the highest political, intellectual, artistic, scientific, and indeed almost every single aspect of Indian society.

    only muslims. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_India#Statistics

    A religious Hindu Party vs a secular Hindu Party with a number of smaller parties including a large, shunned Muslim Party just as the Arab parties are in Israel today.

    israel’s representation system allows for small parties. i believe first-past-the-post in india is going to not work well for muslims as muslims, since they are not concentrated. IOW, a ‘muslim party’ as a major electoral force is a non-starter.

    India’s Muslims are just as Indian as a Hindu, Christian, Sikh, etc…

    ppl get mad when i say this, but i don’t think this is true. hindus are the prototypical indian. this is the fundamental problem. sikhs and jains too, since they revere the indian landscape. but muslims and xtians have international connections. #heartDivided

    Abdul Kalam perhaps represents this ideal Indian Muslim (and definitely an ideal Indian for all to emulate). One who devoutly worships Allah and practices his spirituality but also fully embraces the Indian values of Dharma, Ahimsa, and pluralism.

    but abdul kalam seems to have been the kind of muslim who is basically a sect of hindu. this is totally comprehensible to hindus, but objectionable to most muslims.

    1. “israel’s representation system allows for small parties. i believe first-past-the-post in india is going to not work well for muslims as muslims’

      I think that in the current scenario, it would seem the FPTP system is disadvantageous to muslims, but for years it has helped them more than representative system, and the reason is that they were the swing vote deciding which Hindu groups would win. That way they could get away from the stigma of being “communal voters” and be a player in power politics. That’s why even soft communal Hindu parties have flirted with them by toning down their communal ism time to time. Its only post Modi that they have become irrelevant

      On the other hand in the representative system, yes they would have better representation, but in a polity like India, it would have lead to even greater consolidation of Hindus. The result to be almost all middle-of-the-road parties having to side with the Hindu party and more bullying of the muslim party. The best example is the overblown presence of AIMIM , which does not get even 1 percent vote , but still commands so much media space. Think of AIMIM of 15 percent vote and what would it do the Hindu side consolidation.

  3. i make a supposition here:

    – the body count was greatest during the early period (delhi sultanate), because these newcomers were the least stable, and had the least ‘investment’ in the local population. also most temple destruction. BUT this same period the conversion would have been minimal too, since these turks were not making an investment in indians….

    – the body count would decline under the mughals, who were invested in collecting tax more than simple plunder. but the conversion would have been greater as well, since they want to integrate indians into their political system.

  4. The idea than din-i-llahi is some sort of Indian Islam is stupid. It was not accepted either by the layfolk or most of the muslim courtiers. Moreover, it is not some “average” of Islam and Hinduism. It was a case of outright rejection by akbar of his previous religion, and much more leaning upon Hindu concepts, as can be seen by a historian’s observations while in Akbar’s court (below.)

    https://agnimaan.wordpress.com/2015/06/07/juicy-excerpts-from-bada%ca%beunis-account-of-emperor-akbars-apostacy-from-islam/

    Moreover, there always has been a strong recombinatory mechanism that prevented such “syncretic” practices from becoming more mainstream.

    Dara Shikoh (vs Aurangzeb)
    Iqbal’s earlier self
    Akbar’s “new” religion
    APJ Kalam

    None of the above can be said to be representative of the vast majority Muslims in India. It is therefore not honest to portray them as mainstream representatives of Indian Islam.

    1. 1) please be polite

      2) i think a major issue is whenever ‘indian islam’ indigenized muslims from west and central asia arrived to ‘pull it back.’ you can see this with the arrival of sufi orders, and it accelerated in the modern period with better communication and transporation.

      some liminal muslims likely did become hindu or sikh over time. in china, where they keep better genealogies there are many famous bureaucrats where you see a nototation (“person x descended 8 generations ago from a persian muslim”).

          1. for the curious: Crossing the Threshold: Understanding Religious Identities in South Asia by Dominique-Sila Khan. tldr; lots of ‘heterodox’ muslim groups were persecuted by the mughals etc. lots of them became sunni. but some may have become hindu. basically the push by sufi/sunni revivalists was to increase salience of division btwn muslims and hindus, and the ghulat and heterodox muslim groups were serious problems for that.

            directed religious persecution against ismailis in gujarat by the mughals was far more effective in the long-term than anything against hindus.

  5. It was quite rare for a Muslim, either in pre-modern India or China, to leave Islam.

    The only reason it happened on a significant scale for the Hui was due to heavy persecution (bordering on genocide in some areas), first under the Qing, and later under the Communist regime.

    Prior to these events, the Hui and related Chinese-speaking Muslim groups (Uighurs excluded) were about 5% of China’s population. Today they are about .8%.

    1. Prior to these events, the Hui and related Chinese-speaking Muslim groups (Uighurs excluded) were about 5% of China’s population. Today they are about .8%.

      what’s your citation on that? you can’t be making this up knowing i’m going to ask. we actually have some census stuff on china for many periods, so 5% is a massive number of people.

      1. There used to be estimates for different periods (Ming, Qing, etc) on Wiki but its gone now, I’ll try and do a deep dive and see if I can scour up some figures.

        But yes the Hui population was devastated. The Qing era was worse for Hui strongholds at the periphery (Gansu and Yunan), where they made up roughly 1/3 and 1/4 of the population respectively, before being “washed away” as the Qing called it. The civil-war era culminating with the Communists was worse for the Hui in the major North-China urban centers.

        This later period was bad for all religions though. Buddhism was arguably hit just as hard as Islam, though Islam suffered disproportionately as most of the Hui were concentrated in Northern-Han territories (where the atheist purge was absolute), while Buddhism was more spread out.

        I agree that some attrition took place, but from what I’ve read the Hui community during the Yuan-Qing era was quite virile. High levels of inter-marrying, and when marrying Han, the Han usually converted to Islam (even the males when marrying Hui women). The Hui at this time were also very prosperous, highly placed in the military, government, and commerce. This prosperity is what enraged the Northern-Han, but also I think, acted against any incentive they may have had to convert.

        1. the rule of thumb in china in the 20th-century is han can become hui, but hui cannot become han.

          but the reality is i know many ppl (well some) of mixed backgrounds and the hui parent assimilated to han identity and the children are han.

          But yes the Hui population was devastated. The Qing era was worse for Hui strongholds at the periphery (Gansu and Yunan), where they made up roughly 1/3 and 1/4 of the population respectively, before being “washed away” as the Qing called it. The civil-war era culminating with the Communists was worse for the Hui in the major North-China urban centers.

          i don’t doubt the population drops. the dzhungars were exterminated. what i doubt is that 5% of china proper was every muslim. that’s a large fraction in a huge base population. hard to imagine even different north-south mortality could account for that

          The Hui at this time were also very prosperous, highly placed in the military, government, and commerce.

          the hui respected military profession. han did not. that’s one reason they were placed in military. commerce is similar.

          the high tide for the muslims in status was clearly the yuan period. and they were clearly persecuted after the fall of the yuan (mongols were exterminated when they didn’t flee for obv reasons). but i don’t see that they were particular prestigious by the ming to qing period, though they were a substantial community with resources and utility (e.g., cheng ho).

          fwiw, genetically the hui are still around 10-15% west asian. i saw a very clear and thorough poster at ASHG. assuming some turkic ancestry, which would give some east asian ancestry (some of it was broken down by e. asian provenance and some seemed turkic), there is actually LESS intermarriage in the hui community that’s left than i had originally thought.

    2. It was quite rare for a Muslim, either in pre-modern India or China, to leave Islam.

      i’m about 80-90% sure that more than 50% of the genetic material from the turkic and persian muslims is now in ‘han chinese.’ and not simply due to persecution. without a large community and contact (e.g., gansu and yunnan have contact in the former and a very large community+history in the latter) there tends to be attrition.

      but yes, persecution is a major thing for all adherents of ‘foreign religions’, as general neglect alternatives with periodic shocks persecution.

      re: india, i think most of the muslim => non-muslim were from liminal communities or people who were lightly islamicized. since these people are indian and indians (to be frank) make up all sorts of weird stories about their ancestry i have a weak sense of the proportionality. in china han communities with muslim ancestry are marked off by relic practices (e.g., no pork is offered at ancestral graves).

  6. The line from Durant about the bloody conquest of India by Muslims has been rejected by nearly every modern scholar (including his ludicrous demographic estimates).

    I always find it funny when Hindus reject the historical evaluations of orientalist-era Europeans when it makes them look bad, but when it makes Muslims look bad, suddenly its, “one of the most eminent historians ever” lol.

  7. the article is somewhat long on hyperbole. impact of islamic conquest on indian population numbers was not so enormous as depicted. yes, there were random massacres of hindus, but they probably didn’t make a dent on the population of india.

    mongols were a strange people in the sense that while their impact on the population numbers in the conquered territory was massive, the cultural impact of their conquest was minimal. They assimilated into their subject population within a handful of generations.

    nobody holds a grudge against mongols in present times because there are no visible structures of their former empire. they just destroyed; hardly built anything. today they are an obscure people living somewhere deep in asia. there are no significant mongol communities anywhere in their former empire. (probably just a handful of pockets exist scattered here and there).

    by contrast the islamic empires left a large muslim population behind everywhere they arose. symbols of islamic conquest are ubiquitously present as mosques and mausoleums. no wonder history of islamic conquests causes so much of heartburn and acrimony.

    even here the strife really exists only in the countries where the conversion of native population to islam was left as a job half done, like in india or balkans. i am sure no one remembers islamic conquest with bitterness in north africa or iran. (spain cleverly solved its “muslim problem” even before the terms like ethnic cleansing were coined).

  8. mongols were a strange people in the sense that while their impact on the population numbers in the conquered territory was massive, the cultural impact of their conquest was minimal. They assimilated into their subject population within a handful of generations.

    who they assimilated into in the three western hordes/khanates was in turks. basically people very similar to mongols, but already muslim. the eastern mongols themselves as a whole nation flirted with islami n the 15th-century, with some leaders converting (their names are like “muhammad khan”), but in the subsequent century they finally chose tibetan buddhism as their national religion.

    and i think it is false to say their cultural impact was minimal. unfortunately the shocks on russia and iran totally transformed the societies in deep ways, orienting them to the eurasian core, and in iran’s case destroyed its complex hydraulic civilization. in turan the mongol sweep hastened the shift from iranian dominance to turkic dominance in the region.

    the ‘first salafi’, ibn tammiyah, wrote and thought in the wake of the mongol butchery and destruction of the mashriq (eastern islam). the mongol period saw the definitive shift of islam away from iraq-iran, and toward anatolia and cairo.

    finally, it is important to note that much of the ‘mongol’ domain had been turkic. the mongols were a small tribe who assimilated turkic naiman and keraits to the west, so they did some assimilating themselves.

    nobody holds a grudge against mongols in present times because there are no visible structures of their former empire. they just destroyed; hardly built anything. today they are an obscure people living somewhere deep in asia. there are no significant mongol communities anywhere in their former empire. (probably just a handful of pockets exist scattered here and there).

    both china and islam have strong memories of the mongols. i wouldn’t call them “obscure.” the name khan comes from them, and it’s pretty common. the mongols were unique in that they were a pagan people whose customs (yasa) and prestige (the name khan and descent from the golden family) persisted for centuries within islamic domains.

    . i am sure no one remembers islamic conquest with bitterness in north africa or iran

    this is false for iran. a strong strain of resurgent secular hyper-nationalism combines anti-arab racism with anti-islamic views. ambivalence toward islam by persian muslims goes back at least to ferdowsi.

    in n. africa anti-islam sentiment is found among berbers. but as they are a minority now it is not as evident among them as in iran, where persian nationalism has an anti-muslim undercurrent.

    1. “and i think it is false to say their cultural impact was minimal.”
      what I meant was that nowhere in the former mongol empire, for e.g. in iran or iraq or russia or poland you will find any people who look exactly like their iranian or iraqi or russian or polish neighbors, but insist on leading their life as per the tenets of yasa, and bowing towards burkhan khaldun 5 times a day.

      this is while islamic conquests were qualitatively different. while other warlords only conquered territory and people, islamic warlords conquered souls. islamic polities fundamentally transformed the conquered population for all times to come.

      1. and I might add that while no empire is forged with a clear goal in mind, one can assume that the broad goal is to impose the conquering people’s values, culture and language on the subject population. on this benchmark the mongols failed spectacularly.

        even british had better success than mongols, without even resorting to religion. british laws, language and values still dominate the lands of their former empire. arabs, of course, were the most successful colonists of history. ( naipaul’s take. i agree.)

        1. one can assume that the broad goal is to impose the conquering people’s values, culture and language on the subject population. on this benchmark the mongols failed spectacularly.

          this is false. this is not an imperial goal usually. the goal is to extract taxes and enrich the elites. you are again projecting modern nation-building ideologies into the past.

          british laws, language and values still dominate the lands of their former empire. arabs, of course, were the most successful colonists of history. ( naipaul’s take. i agree.)

          the early modern europeans including the british are the first to begin to rationally engage in attempts to assimilate. in particular, there were conscious attempts to assimilate indigenous elites. sometimes just through values, sometimes through intermarriage (e.g., the inca elite intermarried into the early white creole population).

          1. “this is false. this is not an imperial goal usually. the goal is to extract taxes and enrich the elites. you are again projecting modern nation-building ideologies into the past.”

            razib, i know i have difference of opinion with you on this topic, so i will never be able to convince you. but let me give you one example any way.

            after sikandar butshikan conquered kashmir, he spent one entire year just to demolish the martanda sun temple of kashmir. (poor guy must have spent half of his war booty on the enterprise 🙂 ). so obviously there were more goals beyond just the extraction of taxes. some sort of ideological impulse is always present in imperial projects.

      2. islamic warlords conquered souls. islamic polities fundamentally transformed the conquered population for all times to come.

        your point about islamic *polities* is important. islam is not just about arabs. islam as we understand it almost certainly evolved as a dynamic interaction btwn arab elites and conquered peoples, and with the abbassid revolution in 750 the persianization of the religion occurred rapidly.

        islam qua islam is almost certainly a synthesis btwn arab semi-christianity and the native religions and customs.

        many things you take for granted as islamic, such as the abassid model of rule and autocracy, were in fact persian motifs.

  9. Religion is most probably never the main issue in most cases. Religion can be a factor or a political tactic but not the main issue.

    Those so called “islamic” empires or rulers were most probably not really Islamic. Labelling them as “Islamic” or seeing them as “Muslim” are probably the result of historical misconceptions

    1. Those so called “islamic” empires or rulers were most probably not really Islamic. Labelling them as “Islamic” or seeing them as “Muslim” are probably the result of historical misconceptions

      i think this is a complex issue. the ottomans certainly saw themselves as muslims more than turks by their mature phase. otoh, the ummayyads were clearly arabs with islam being secondary. the abbassids flipped the emphasis, cuz islam as we know it was really evolving during this period.

      despite calling themselves ghazis it is hard to take seriously the islamic pretentions of early turkic and afghan warlords, who were clearly in the game for loot and wealth. even babur was of this model.

      in contrast the later mughals (and some post-delhi sultanate rulers) were morer indianized, and as they became more indianzed they also began to lean heavily on islam as their insitutional buttress, and integrate themselves into the congress of muslim polities.

  10. Thanks for the comments and critique everybody!

    Wrt to the body count that many are bringing up. Didn’t mean to infer that the Islamic invasions had a bigger body count than Europeans in America, Mongols, etc… But I can see how one interprets Durant’s quotes in that way (I saw it as more of the brutal fall of a civilization that somehow survived vs other ones).

    But I think there is a unique aspect to Islamic Invasions vs the above:

    1. Mongols are irrelevant now (sorry Mongolia) while Islamic legacy is hotly debated upon and relevant today (Argument that Kashmir traces back to it as well as other Subcontinental issues).
    2. Native Americans were decimated raw # wise, culturally, religiously, etc… while Dharmic culture/people still live on in India.

    I think it’s the framing and accepting of Islamic rule in India that is the crux of many of the problems today. There’s no Tengri believing Mongol minority in Iraq/Iran nor a majority Native American population/religion in the Western Hemisphere. India posits a unique situation in this aspect.

    Fairly good blurb touching on the acknowledging of history/India’s situation released recently:

    https://theprint.in/pageturner/excerpt/hindutva-rise-must-be-pinned-on-historians-who-told-us-hindus-muslims-lived-peacefully-once/248687/

    1. There’s no Tengri believing Mongol minority in Iraq/Iran nor a majority Native American population/religion in the Western Hemisphere. India posits a unique situation in this aspect.

      i think india is unique in its magnitude. but the balkans and russia still have muslim minorities and were under muslim rule/hegemony (spain has few muslims and they’re ‘re all immigrants).

      1. “but the balkans and russia still have muslim minorities and were under muslim rule/hegemony (spain has few muslims and they’re ‘re all immigrants).”

        Good point! I guess India’s Islamicate culture’s longevity and Muslim population has plays a big role today versus those other countries.

        I don’t know much of the Balkans wrt to current Christian-Muslim relations save for the Bosnian-Serbian conflict.

        Russia’s case is interesting with the Chechnyans. I’ve heard Putin is big on the Orthodox Church but has let Chechnya be fairly autonomous.

        Not sure of contemporary attitudes towards Muslims in Spain. Had excellent Lebanese food (made by Moroccans I believe haha) when I was there and didn’t face any discrimination during my trip. Malaga seemed to have a small vibrant Muslim community.

        1. I don’t know much of the Balkans wrt to current Christian-Muslim relations save for the Bosnian-Serbian conflict.

          albanian-non-albanian relations have been fraught in part re: religion. there was a civil war in macedonia which has a 25% albanian muslim minority in 1990s (most non-muslim albanians are in albania proper, 95% of those in kosovo and macedonia are muslim).

          Russia’s case is interesting with the Chechnyans. I’ve heard Putin is big on the Orthodox Church but has let Chechnya be fairly autonomous.

          the orthodox church is part of russian revivalism. chechens are only a small minority. a lot of russsian muslims are tatars etc. about 10-15% of the population. they have been part of the russian empire since the 18th-century (a large number migrated to the ottoman empire to escape christian rule).

          Not sure of contemporary attitudes towards Muslims in Spain. Had excellent Lebanese food (made by Moroccans I believe haha) when I was there and didn’t face any discrimination during my trip. Malaga seemed to have a small vibrant Muslim community.

          spaniards are pretty tolerant/chill about muslims. but the muslims are all rather new migrants. not long-standing immigrant-2nd&3rd gen communities like france and UK

          1. Cheers for the elaboration Razib.

            Will be very interesting to see how Islam grows/interacts with Balkans & Russia in the future.

  11. 1. Indians ( hindus) can be defeated but not conqured, said some one. this appears true.
    2. in reality hindu rule in india has started only 30 years ago in reality. even in early 80’s it was fashionable and easy to bash ‘hinduness’.
    3. hinduism in time will encompass christianity and some sections of muslims as chinese and korean culture has encompassed christianity. ( like celebrating the native new year etc) this is sort of happening in kerala and other pplaces. there are christian churches where worship is beginning to resemble hind practices.

    1. On 3 , i disagree a bit.

      I think that that time of assimilation has gone. Now what u see is a revanchist form of Hinduism which wants to separate itself more and streamlined similar to the Abrahmic faith. ie less of Sai Baba , more of Ramdev,Sadhguru . Assimilation vertically (with lower castes) and less Horizontally (with other religions)

      On Kerala and all, what you see is the de-coupling of Hindu and ethnic symbols. So Onam is less of Hindu festival and more of Mallu festival, so non Hindus can participate it as Malyalle thing. This does not mean “resembling hindu practices” . It happens in Maharastra too where Ganpati is now a Marathi thing rather than just Hindu thing (unlike Shivaji time). Or Baisakhi being a Punjabi thing (where hindus also participate) rather than a sikh thing only.

      1. 1. i am not sure if you are in india. lots of ” hindu” things such as Vastu, astrology, broad superstition eg, amvasya being bad, no new work starts on a tuesday, wearing birth stones in rings, observing rahu kala in south india etc have become now common for all.
        2. yesterday the muslim candidate for a by election had his papers in front of ganesh in a temple before filing them. earlier, hindu candidates would do such things.

        1. What u are saying is not new, all the Vastu stuff and hochpoch has been happening over the years. The beliefs of the majority in any country forms the underling subculture of the country. Thats not specific to India. In USA, its the whole talk of Judeo-Christian value thing.

          What the muslim politician thing shows that actually that larger socio poltical life is so Hindu-ized that u have to show yourself as sort of semi hindu to be elected. That;s not assimilation.

          What i am saying is different, that Hindus themselves will not do the opposite and try to assimilate other folks,traditions any more like Sai Baba or go to Dargah etc. So rather than “hinduism in time will encompass christianity and some sections of muslims “, it will be opposite and Hindus will try to weed out hindu practices which they think are not “Hindu” practices. u can also see the whole thing with beef etc.

  12. razib, i know i have difference of opinion with you on this topic, so i will never be able to convince you. but let me give you one example any way.

    yes, but i know a lot more about this topic than you. so my opinion matters a lot more.

    after sikandar butshikan conquered kashmir, he spent one entire year just to demolish the martanda sun temple of kashmir. (poor guy must have spent half of his war booty on the enterprise 🙂 ). so obviously there were more goals beyond just the extraction of taxes. some sort of ideological impulse is always present in imperial projects.

    ideology is not zero. you also confuse public/elite acts of domination with ideological reprogramming.

    to give a concrete example: the roman state ceased public subsidies to the pagan cults in 380. in 391 a major pagan temple in in alexandria was destroyed.

    but this does not mean there was a program of forced conversion. most of the conflicts re: religion in the late empire were between christians, and involved elite factions with different beliefs. conversion of the pagan masses happened gradually over time and with periodic missions by the churches into hinterlands.

    tldr; the christianization of the roman empire mostly consisted of homogenization of the elite around the religion. the people came later. in areas where other types of elites survived, the pagan religion did so as well (in haran, modern raqqa, pagans lasted until the 9th-century, cuz this city’s cults were protected by the nearby persians).

    re: islam. you actually accept in toto what is probably just muslim mythology. the arabs almost certainly did not conquer the byzantine territories and persian empire due to ideology. rather, their conquest was one of just another barbarian group. probably some sort of christianish group of north arabians.

    so what happened? islam developed *in situ* through synthesis through a stepwise process, and evolved to becoming the regnant ideology.

    why does this matter? because the arabs were a lot like the mongols. it just so happens that the religious landscape of Late Antiquity wasn’t as well-formed and crystallized, and so a new religion precipitated out of that.

    in regards to your point about the sun temple, clearly there was an ideological ax that the muslims had. this is human nature and occurred in various forms forever (temple desecration and idol-kidnapping go back to the bronze age). and islam gave the turks a cohesion that made them less assimilable compared to earlier conquerors. BUT IT DID NOT DRIVE THEIR MIGRATION. that was material conditions.

    the same sort of analysis could be done with the iberian expansion in the 1500s, and these ventures did have an explicit ideological rationale which emerged in the context of the counter-reformation and reconquista. when material considerations were on the line, colonial settlers just ignored the metropolitan demand that they be more humane and christian. christianization occurred in large scale only where the local religion was mostly non-institutionalized (phillipines had begun to islamicize as far north as luzon, and that was reversed, but was too entrenched in the south).

    basically, you think ideology is the cause or prime mover. in some cases this is true. but in most cases, ideologies emerged after the conquest to justify material gains.

  13. Will be very interesting to see how Islam grows/interacts with Balkans & Russia in the future.

    in russia it’s basically a subordinate subaltern subculture of various minority ethnicities (though some russians convert now and then). the balkan situation is more complex and unstable (it’s the balkans!).

  14. “yes, but i know a lot more about this topic than you. so my opinion matters a lot more.”

    @razib. LoL. doesn’t have the same sting as a well honed jibe at your opponent’s low IQ. 🙂

    since I am in a mood to pick a quarrel today, I will throw the gauntlet. you seem to spend a lot of ink on historical development of islam and conversion of roman empire to christianity and such. all that may be true, but how is it relevant to the discussion?

    when hindus see mosques constructed on top of the ruins of their temples, where walls and pillars with hindu motifs are still visible under the monstrous domes of these mosques, it enrages them. this is what causes them to feel like a “wounded civilization”. why would they care if the islam that left behind these symbols of subjugation was abbasid islam or ummayad islam or turkic islam?

    you can hide behind the euphemism of “elite domination”, but if the elite themselves called it the domination of their faith, who are we to dispute them? (why are the mosques constructed on top of these temple ruins always called “quwwat-ul-islam” mosque, but not quwwat-ul-turk” mosque?)

    sometimes i wonder if it would have been better for india had india fallen under the subjugation of shamanist mongols instead of islmicized turks and mongols. may be they would have destroyed a quarter of india’s population, but left its culture relatively unscathed. they would have assimilated into hindus within 2 generation and hinduism would have developed unhindered.

    this is what exactly happened in china when it fell to kublai khan. mongols didn’t damage its confucius core. had it fallen to timur (and it came scaringly close to it. timur died en-route to china.), then the chinese and world history would have been different.

    1. @razib. LoL. doesn’t have the same sting as a well honed jibe at your opponent’s low IQ. 🙂

      the comment about IQ has to do with what i see as a incoherence in some of your arguments. your arguments here are coherent, i just think they are uninformed. in a way it’s worse since you should just read some books before commenting on the human condition.

    2. you seem to spend a lot of ink on historical development of islam and conversion of roman empire to christianity and such. all that may be true, but how is it relevant to the discussion?

      “Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto”, or “I am human, and I think nothing human is alien to me.” – Terrence

      to understand indian history you must understand human history, as it is an instance of a general pattern.

    3. you can hide behind the euphemism of “elite domination”, but if the elite themselves called it the domination of their faith, who are we to dispute them? (why are the mosques constructed on top of these temple ruins always called “quwwat-ul-islam” mosque, but not quwwat-ul-turk” mosque?)

      your particular point is important. i think the muslims did think of themselves as muslims, and had a certain self-conception. but i really object to “this is what people say about their motivations so we should trust them.” this is an idiot path. most people say they care about personality and humor (in the USA) for their partner. BUT THE SOCIAL SCIENCE IS CLEAR THAT PEOPLE ‘BAG’ THOSE WHO ARE AS GOOD-LOOKING AS THEM.

      iow, ppl are sincere, but they also don’t want to admit that physical characteristics matter A LOT ad constrain their choices mostly (this varies by culture).

      1. if the elite themselves called it the domination of their faith, who are we to dispute them?

        to illustrate the failure of this view, southeast asia was once all hindu and buddhist. now much of it is muslim. the muslims will tell you that they muslim because it is more persuasive or whatever (famously it did not come through external conquest).

        but, the area that became muslim was only maritime austronesian (malayish) southeast asia. islam spread through austronesian peoples (it spread to the inland chams of cambodia, but not the majority khmers, because the chams descend from malays; the chams in vietnam remain hindu because they were isolated). the exception is the phillippines, where filipinos are catholic (mostly).

        what’s going on? the clear explanation is that between 1000 and 1500 the indian ocean trade was taken over by muslims. maritime southeast asian polities benefited from integration into the network of west asian and indian muslims (these muslims were earlier hindus). land states like burma and thailand were innured to these dynamics.

        in the case the phillippines the spaniards arrived. luzon was already islamicizing, but lightly so. the spaniards turned the tie, and pulled the phillippines out of the material network of the fringe indian ocean, reconstituting it as part of its famous galleon trade. (parts of muslim mindanao were not conquered unti the 19th-century).

    4. this is what exactly happened in china when it fell to kublai khan. mongols didn’t damage its confucius core. had it fallen to timur (and it came scaringly close to it. timur died en-route to china.), then the chinese and world history would have been different.

      muslims say this about timur. he’d make a huge difference. mebee. but i doubt it. it took the mongols two generations to conquer china, and timur and his turks were relatively weaker compared to what genghis ad his sons brought to the fore (for complicated reasons). i think a more plausible outcome would be the jurchen conquest of the 12th century.

      also, the reality is that the mongol period was REALLY bad for confucianism. they had no means of support, and most public officials were not promoted on merit at all. the mongols used muslims to do a lot of the work because they trusted him. most of the muslims in modern china actually date to the mongols.

      the key thing about china, like india, is there are elites who continue to patronize indigenous ‘high culture’. the mongols couldn’t destory all chinese elites and the muslims didn’t destroy indian elites. if they had, then islamicization or de-confucianization would proceed much much faster, since folk culture is weak.

  15. “this is false for iran. a strong strain of resurgent secular hyper-nationalism combines anti-arab racism with anti-islamic views.”

    your reading of iranian psyche is also wrong. iranians look down on arabs, but it is ridiculous to suggest that they hold anti-islamic views or dislike islam in any way. OTOH, they want to seize the leadership of islam from the hands of arabs. they want to mould islam in their own image.

    If iranians were indifferent to islam, they would be westward looking ( i mean, towards europe and north america). Instead, they are constantly focused on middle-eastern issues. (hence their attempts to bottle up saudi arabia and their pathological obsession with israel).

    1. pretty much all iranians look down on arabs. but a subset of nationalists are secularized and anti-islamic. they are the equivalent of right-wing pagans in the west, who are post-christian. they ARE somewhat LARPy and unrealistic. otoh, they are a real strand of thought at elite intellectual levels and that has knock-on effects….

      19th & early 20th-century post-christian quasi-pagan european right-wingers are away enriched in the early nationalists. they didn’t change the religion of the successor nations, but e.g., lithuania exists in part due to the efforts of these weirdos to ‘raising consciousness.’

    2. I think there may be a significant minority that Razib is referring to (possibly significant to spur the cauldron of revolution tho that may be far off, currently seems to be acute protests).

      Tho you are correct in how Iran wields (Shia) Islam as a geopolitical and theological tool.

      Although, Ayatollah Khomeini actually made it a point to say that the Iranian Revolution was on behalf of all Muslims, not just Shia. I think as Sunni-Shia demarcations festered in the Saudi-Iran conflict, Iran pivoted to be more Shia-centric.

      Wrote about it in a (VERY) lengthy post about the Saudi-Iran conflict on my blog: https://theemissary.co/a-tale-of-oil-and-fire/

  16. . I think as Sunni-Shia demarcations festered in the Saudi-Iran conflict, Iran pivoted to be more Shia-centric.

    it was pregnant for a long time, but it blew up when the iranian revolutionary regime turned a blind eye to the massacre in hama in 1982 where the assad gov. exterminated the muslim brotherhood. the syrian-iranian alliance goes back to the 70s, and has maintained itself in part on the shia affinity of the alawites to the iranians. in the 70s some iranian ayetollahs made a ruling that the alawites were twelvers, though that’s a total lie.

    the insults sunnis make about alawites that they are marginally muslim seems correct on the merits (unless they are wahabbi they never say this about twelvers).

  17. Razib, what books do you recommend reading first to begin to obtain better general understanding of world history? I have some time now in my 4th year to do stuff other than memorize medicine for exams

    Last time I read an actual classic history book was my American Pageant textbook in 11th grade lol. It’s very sad. I read some philosophy for college classes, but outside of articles here and there, no social science texts beyond that.

    1. I could assume that you are interested in Serbian history, what is confirmed by your link which you recommended to the warlock. But, you should tell him that these books probably present the history selectively and that many things remain hidden.

      Very briefly, let’s see some names on your recommendations list:

      • Justinian – he was a Serbian East Roman Emperor, born in Kosovo and his name was Upravda (what was translated to Latin and later in English as justice, Justin, etc)

      • Vandals were a Serbian tribe which had the most advanced civilisation at that time. They lived in today’s Tunisia, the island Serba (or Djerba, in arabic). Justinian sent his the best general Velizar (Belisarius) to conquer the vandals. The book says:

      “The rebellion crushed, Justinian I then sent Belisarius against the Vandals in 533 CE to win back African provinces to the empire and ‘liberate’ Trinitarian (Nicene) Christians from the perceived tyranny of the Vandals who practiced Arian Christianity. The Vandals had conquered the African provinces of the former Roman Empire under the leadership of their king Gaiseric (r. 428-478 CE). The Arian Christian Vandals, after establishing themselves, systematically persecuted the Nicene Christians who were considered followers of the ‘Roman’ brand of Christianity….etc…”

      • When reading ‘Greeks’ be aware what is NOT Greek – Alexander, Crete, Mino civilisation, Mycenae, Troy, Iliad, Odyssey, Spartans, Homer (Omir), Orfeo (Sorbey), Tales from Millet, 7 sages, Thucydides, Delphi, replicated mythology…

      ….Soon, more information about Greeks’ role in ‘Byzantines’ fall (e.g. one Greek dynasty invited Turks much before the fall of Constantinople to capture the followers of other dynasty and allowed them to sell them as slaves on the slave market in Constantinople, plus many other things)

      • Andalusia – Andalusia in the original semantics means ‘The Land of Lusitanians’. Today’s Extramadura east of Portugal was in ancient times called Serbia and Luzice, Lusitania, as well as the whole southern Spain, which is still called Andalusia. The confirmation is given by the Arabic writer of Massoud who reports that in Andalusia live Serbs (9-10th century) as well as ancient writers who also say that the Luzicki Serbs lived in Portugal and Spain (Diodor, Strabon Pliny). Luzicki Serbs were for centuries subjected to genocides by Germans, in 1941 there were 500.000 Serbs in Gemany, Hitler killed 90% and now there is about 60.000 Lusitanian Serbs in Germany.

      • Many Serbian toponyms in Spain – Cordoba (Sordoba), Carmona (Sarmona), Carteja (Sarteya), Sevilla (Sibilia). In the past, it was common for the nobility to be named by the place of birth. Thus, the father of Katarina the Great, who was the Prussian admiral, had a family name from the region of Serbiste (=Zerbst) as well as two sons Barbarossa: Federico de Serbia and Filipe de Serbia (Catalan history).

      A city that is considered Miguel Serbantes’ place of birth is called Veles. There are also the mountain Veles and the Veles River (Rio de Veles). Veles is an old Serbian god and its name has hundreds of Spanish settlements today. The name of the place now is Veles-Malaga. In the Planet maps, the name of the region is Cabrilla (Sabria). The place in which Serbantes was born, has the meaning: from Serbia (i.e. Michael from Serbia). After the development of the Castilian (not Spanish) language, this settlement was named Cabrilla (Sabria), still written with Serbian ‘S’. Cabrilla is Sabria or Serbia.

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