Category: Muslims in India

Muslims Established Equality and Brotherhood as Principles of Governance in India


In India a most remarkable social change was brought about by the Islamic notion of human equality and brotherhood. Some of salient features of Muslim rule were:

  1. No division of society into permanent classes
  2. No such community as the untouchables among the Muslims.
  3. Their belief was that no one was born unclean into the world
  4. The belief that no one was predetermined to be ignorant
  5. No one was debarred from acquisition of knowledge by the very fact of his birth in a certain class
  6. No trade or occupation was reserved for a particular section of humanity.
  7. Muslims fraternized freely with each other at all levels, the rich strove with the poor in the pursuit of learning and there was freedom of profession for all.

The idea of brotherhood was for the Indian mind and the Indian society a novel experience and a call to renewed thinking which did a lot of good to the country. The bonds of the then existing class-ridden society were relaxed to a considerable extent and there was witnessed a widespread recoil from the excessive rigidity of the caste-system. The advent of Islam acted as a challenge to social reformers in other fields also. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru has offered the following comments on the uplifting influence exerted by Islam and Muslims on the Indian social structure.

“The impact of the invaders from the north-west and of Islam on India had been considerable. It had pointed out and shone up the abuses that had crept into Hindu society—the petrification of caste, untouchability, exclusiveness carried to fantastic lengths. The idea of the brotherhood of Islam and the theoretical equality of its adherents made a powerful appeal especially to those in the Hindu fold who were denied any semblance of equal treatment”1

To quote another writer of repute;

“Islam’s democratic challenge has perhaps never been equaled by any other religious or social system. Its advent on the Indian scene was marked by a profound stirring of consciousness. It modified the basis of Hindu social structure throughout northern India.”2

  1. Jawaharlnl Nehru: The Discovery of India (1946) p. 225
  2. Humayun Kabir: The Indian Heritage (1955). p. 133

P.S. The article has been created from the works of great Islamic scholar Maulana Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi (Ali Miyan).

Extraordinary and Unmatched Sacrifices of Muslim Ulema for Independence of India


In 1601, an East India company trade delegation under the leadership of Vasco da Gama anchored at Bombay Harbour. They requested the government of that time for assistance. They promised to improve trade links with India by exporting Indian goods back to the British market and to then reinvest the profits back to India. The Mogul king of that time, Ahmad Shah Abdali was very short-sighted and failed to understand the policies of the English. He provided this trade delegation with a number of concessions. By 1701, a hundred years later, a number of territories were already under British rule.

Shah Waliyullah: The First cry against British

The British came to India in 1601 and Shah Waliyullah, was born in 1702. By 1740, Shah Waliyullah, realized that the British had already seized control of four main territories. When Shah Waliyullah witnessed the British seizing authority from all four sides, he, for the very first time, translated the Quran into Persian. He realized that if Islamic knowledge was not propagated, the British government will continue consolidating its rule over India. In 1762, after the demise of Shah Waliyullah, Shah Abdul Aziz succeeded his father and for the first time in history planted the seeds of antagonism against the British. He was the first person to pass a fatwa on the validity of jihad against the British and their supporters in India. Due to the fatwa, Fatah Ali Sultan Tippu accompanied by his army eventually fought four battles in Mysore. Sultan Tippu himself engaged in physical combat against the enemy. He was martyred in 1792 while fighting alone right up to the very end. This warrior of India was martyred at the fort of Mysore whilst his chief general, Mir Sadiq betrayed him for 22000 acres of land by the British.

Ulema and First Battle of Independence in 1857

After 1831, when the  ulema (Muslim religious scholars) realized that the British government was getting more and more fortified in the country, they called up a number of meetings first. Many warriors gathered from all parts of the country and many decisive battles were fought against the British. This continued for some time.  In 1856, a meeting of all the senior ulema of India was called up in Delhi. This meeting was attended, amongst others, by Maulana Jafar Thaneseri, Maulana Wilayat  Ali, Haji Imdadullah, Maulana Qasim Nanotwi, Maulana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi and Hafidh Dhamin Shahid.

In this meeting, Maulana Qasim Nanotwi is reported to have said,

Aren’t you aware that the British are sitting right on our heads? They have laid a snare of their rule throughout the country. Be prepared for some rather decisive battles against them. We will either be cut up into pieces or fight against them right up to the end. We will not allow the British to live in this country“.

As a result of this meeting of the ulemas, the battle of Independence in 1857 was fought on two fronts, one in Ambala under the leadership of Maulana Jafar Thaneseri and the other in Shamli under Haji Imdadullah Makki. However due to their limited resources and betrayal of a few people, the ulema failed to win this battle. The spirit of freedom however still remained alive.

Unmatched Sacrifices of Ulema in Battle against British

At the termination of this battle of 1857, the British viceroy to India requested his own ministers and counselors of India to submit a report on how they can firmly secure the British government’s hold over India in the post-war period. One of the leading politicians of India, Doctor William Yur submitted a report to the viceroy. He wrote:

Of the entire population of India, the Muslims are the most spirited and vigilant. The battle of independence was fought mainly by the Muslims. As long as the Muslims cherish the spirit of jihad, we will not be able to impose our rule upon them. Hence, first and foremost, the snuffing out of this spirit is imperative. The only way this can be achieved is by weeding out the ulema and by eradicating the Qur’an.

Acting on this advice, in 1861 the government launched a campaign against the Qur’an. 300 000 copies of the Noble Quran were set alight by the government. Thereafter, they made a resolution to eradicate the ulema. An English historian, Mr. Thompson writes in his memoirs:

From 1864 to 1867, the British government firmly resolved to eradicate all the ulema of India. These three years are one of the most heart-wrenching periods of Indian history. The British hanged 14000 ulema to death. From Chandi Chowk of Delhi up to Khaibar, not a single tree was spared the neck of the ulema. The ulema were wrapped in pig-skin and hurled alive into blazing furnaces. Their bodies were branded with hot copper rods. They used to be made to stand on the backs of elephants and tied to high trees. The elephants would then be driven away and they would be left hanging by their necks. A makeshift gallow was set up in the courtyard of the Shahi Mosque of Lahore and each day up to eighty ulema were hanged. The ulema were at times wrapped up in sacks and dumped into the Rawi river of Lahore after which a hail of bullets would be pumped into each sack.

Thompson writes further;

“As I got into my camp at Delhi, I perceived a stench of putrefied flesh. As I stepped out and went behind my camp, I saw a blazing fire of live coals. I saw a group of forty naked ulema being led into the fire. As I was witnessing this scene, another group of forty ulema were brought onto the field. Right before my eyes, their clothes were taken off their bodies. The English commander addressed them thus: O Molvies! Just as these ulema are being roasted over this fire, you will also be roasted. To save yourselves, just one of you must proclaim that you were not part of the 1857 uprising of freedom. I will release all of you the moment I hear just one of you affirming this.

Thompson writes;

By the Lord who has created me! Not one of the ulema said any such thing. All of them were roasted over the fire and another group was also brought and roasted over the blazing fire. Not a single alim surrendered to the demands of the British.

By 1867 not a single Islamic institute remained. One would be quite astonished to realize that in 1601 when the British arrived in India for trade, there were a thousand Islamic institutes in Delhi alone.

Ten Gifts by Muslims to India


The noted historian, Sir Jadunath Sircar, has, in a paper entitled ‘Islam in India’, enumerated ten gifts, which, according to him, the Muslims conferred on India. Some of these we have already discussed in this blog; the gifts are as follows:

  1. The establishment of contact with the outside world
  2. Concept of divine unity (belief in only one God)
  3. Concept of equality and brotherhood (no caste system & untouchability)
  4. Rights of women and other social reforms
  5. Introdcution of new branches of learning in India
  6. Political unity and uniformity of culture and dress specially in the upper classes
  7. A common official language and an easy, simple style of prose in the evolution of which both the Hindus and Muslims have taken part
  8. The promotion of regional languages under the aegis of the Central Government so that there may ensue general peace and contentment and equal opportunities for literary and cultural advancement may be made available to all
  9. The revival of maritime trade which was originally in the hands of the people of South but had been lying suspended for a long time
  10. The formation of the Indian navy

P.S. The article has been created from the works of great Islamic scholar Maulana Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi (Ali Miyan).

Unani Tibb- Muslims Gift of Most Advanced Contemporary Disease Treatment system to India


The Muslims brought to India a new system of medicine, the Unani system—which, before the dawn of modem medicine, was universally recognized as the most advanced and scientific system for the treatment of diseases. During their hey-days, the countries of Iraq, Iran and Turkestan were the most important centers of the Unani system of medicine in the world, and it was there that its greatest exponents and practitioners were born during the medieval age. After the establishment of Muslim power in India, and encouraged by the generous patronage the Muslim rulers extended to men of learning and ability, a steady stream of outstanding masters of the system poured into the country for a period stretching over five hundred years. Due to the priceless services rendered by these worthy men and their pupils—their spirit of dedication and high proficiency—the Unani system touched its peak in India. The indigenous systems faded into insignificance before the Unani system. No city or town was left without a practitioner of the Unani school. This system was cheap, simple, and in harmony with the Indian climatic and temperamental conditions. So it spread in India very quickly and did a wonderful service to the people, composed as they were mainly of the poorer classes. The Indian physicians, by their contribution, lent further glory to it. During the declining phase of Muslim rule, Delhi and Lucknow were its two major strongholds and now India remains the only country where this system is still in vogue.

Unmatched and Massive Public Welfare Works by Muslim Rulers of India


We can obtain an elaborate idea of the good work done by Muslim rulers in India along the lines of public welfare from historical records like Tuzuk-i-Jehangiri and Ain- i-Akbari. They built numerous hospitals, poor-houses, public parks, and gardens, tanks and canals. Maulana Syed Abdul Hai has furnished, in his unique work, Jannat-ul-Mashriq1, a long list of hospitals and other benevolent and public welfare institutions set up and development projects undertaken in India during the so-called Muslim Period.

All the huge highways that connect the western parts of the sub-continent with its eastern parts were given to it by Muslim kings and emperors. The most important of them is the one built by Sher Shah. It is 3,000 miles (or 4,832 Kilometers) long, and runs from Nilab in Sind to Sonargaon2 in what is now Bangladesh. At every second mile of the road there was a caravanserai (resting place for travelers) with separate charitable grub houses for Hindu and Muslim travelers and a mosque. The Muezzin3, Imam4 and Hafiz5 for the mosque were appointed by the State. A pair of speedy horses were stationed at each caravansarai to carry the mail so that letters and messages could be sent regularly from Nilab to the distant borders of Bengal. Fruit­ bearing trees were planted on either side of the road whose fruit and shade were a great boon to the travelers. In addition to this, Muslim rulers also achieved great success in the training of animals and the improvement of livestock.

Cleaner and Better Mode of Living

Over and above all this, the Muslims acquainted the original inhabitants of India with a cleaner and better mode of living. They taught them the refinements and luxuries of taste and of food and drink. They taught them the principles of hygiene and sanitation, the advantage of building airy houses and the use of cups and other vessels of food. Till then the Indians used to take their meals, even at large feasts, from leaves of trees, a custom which is still prevalent at some places. The Muslims, in brief, brought about a big change in Indian social customs, living habits, domestic comforts and home- decoration. They ushered in a new style in architecture which, in the delicacy of its design, grace, symmetry and dignity, was distinguished from what traditionally obtained here. The Taj Mahal offers a classical instance of the new Mohammedan architecture. In the words of Pandit Nehru:

The coming of Islam and of a considerable number of people from outside with different ways of living and thought affected these beliefs and structure. A foreign conquest, with all its evils, has one advantage: it widens the mental horizon of the people and compels them to look out of their shells. They realize that the world is a much bigger and a more variegated place than they had imagined. So the Afghan conquest had affected India and many changes had taken place. Even more so the Mughals, who were far more cultured and advanced in the ways of living than the Afghans, brought changes to India. In particular, they introduced the refinements for which Iran was famous.”6

 The same view was expressed by Dr. Pattabhi Sitaramayya in his Presidential Address to the Fifty-fifth Session of the Congress held at Jaipur in 1948. He said that the Muslims had

Enriched our culture, strengthened our administration, and brought near distant parts of the country………..It (the Muslim Period) touched deeply the social life and the literature of the land.”

  1. This book is still unpublished.
  2. Sonargaon was the capital of East Bengal during the Muslim rule. Now it is known as Painam and forms part of the District of Dhaka.
  3. Public caller to Prayers.
  4. Official priest in mosque.
  5. One who has memorized the whole Quran by heart.
  6. Jawaharlal Nehru : The Discovery of India, p. 219

P.S. The article has been created from the works of great Islamic scholar Maulana Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi (Ali Miyan). The detailed descriptions of public welfare works would be presented in future posts.

Modernization of Agriculture, Industry and Trade by Muslim Rulers in India


When Mughals came to India they saw that even though the soil was fertile but, few fruits were found in India and those too were of a poor quality. Most of them were grown wild. People did not take enough interest in the development of horticulture. The Mughals, on the other hand, were possessed of a refined taste and there was a great abundance of fruit in their native land. Fruit-cultivation, accordingly made rapid progress in India with coming of Mughals. Details of it can be found in the famous memoirs of Emperors Babar and Jahan­gir—Tuzuk-i-Babari and Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri respectively. The Mughals developed several new and delicious varieties of fruits by making extensive experiments in grafting. The mango is a well-known Indian fruit but, before the arrival of the Mughals, only one variety of mangoes, the seed-variety (Tukhmi) was in existence. It was the Mughals who developed the beautiful, luscious grafted mangoes. This step, in course of time, led to the introduction of numerous varieties of the fruit.

Development of Agriculture, Trade and Industry


The same was the case with textile. Before coming of Muslims dresses in India were generally made from rough, coarse, cloth. A number of textile factories were set up in Gujarat by Sultan Mahmud Shah, better known as Mahmud Baigrah (d. 1511), where cloth weaving, dyeing, printing and design-laying were undertaken. He also established industrial centers for stone and ivory carving and paper-making. Gifted as he was with an advanced, constructive mind, the Sultan had succeeded in arousing a rare enthusiasm for progress in trade, industry and agriculture among his subjects.

Maulana Syed Abdul Hai says:

‘‘Among the outstanding works of the Sultan for the development of the country were included the construction of mosques and schools and the planting of fruit-bearing trees and orchards. He aroused the people magnificently for these tasks. He also built wells and canals for irrigation. Skilled artisans and craftsmen came to him from Iran and Turkestan and set up their crafts and industries in his kingdom. As a result, Gujarat had become a rich, fertile stretch of greenery with flourishing gardens, dense groves and delicious fruit as well as an important trading center which exported cloth to foreign lands. This was due entirely to the ceaseless efforts of Sultan Mahmud and the keen interest he took in the welfare of his people.”1

Reforms by Akbar and Sher Shah

Cloth-weaving factories were, also, established during the reign of Akbar. The great Mughal emperor, further, introduced many valuable agrarian reforms appertaining to the measurement of land, and the assessment and collection of land revenue. The improvements made by Sher Shah and Akbar in the field of finance, especially in coinage and currency, had not been heard of in India before. Sher Shah had a unique gift for legislation and administrative organisation. In fact, it was his example which Akbar followed later.

  1. Nuzhatul Khawatir, VoL IV, p. 345

P.S. The article has been created from the works of great Islamic scholar Maulana Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi (Ali Miyan)

Cultural Conditions in India During Babar’s Reign  

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In order to appreciate adequately the extent and value of Muslim influence on the Indian culture it is necessary to obtain some idea of the picture India presented before the arrival of Islam and the Muslims. Fortunately Babar has left behind a vivid description of cultural decadence that was evident on all sides and this makes the task of judging the worth and merit of Muslim contribution easy. It may, however, be borne in mind that Muslims had begun their development activities in India quite a long time before the coming of the Mughals. Writes Babar in his memoirs, Tuzuk-i-Babari:

There are neither good horses in India, nor good flesh, nor grapes, nor melons, nor ice, nor cold water, nor baths, nor candle, nor candlestick, nor torch. In the place of the candle, they use the divat*. It rests on three legs: a small iron piece resembling the snout of a lamp is fixed to the top end of one leg and a weak wick to that of another; the hollowed rind of a gourd is held in the right hand from which a thin stream of oil is poured through a narrow hole. Even in case of Rajas and Maharajas, the attendants stand holding the clumsy divat in their hands when they are in need of a light in the night.

There is no arrangement for running water in gardens and buildings. The buildings lack beauty, symmetry, ventilation and neatness. Commonly, the people walk barefooted with a narrow slip tied round the loins. Women wear a dress consisting of one piece of cloth, half of which is wrapped round the legs while the other half is thrown over the head.”

Commenting on Babar’s observations on the cultural insolvency and backwardness of India, Jawaharlal Nehru has said :

“…..…..his account tells us of the cultural poverty that had descended on North India. Partly this was due to Timur’s destruction, partly due to the exodus of many learned men and artists and noted craftsmen to the South. But this was due also to the drying up of the creative genius of the Indian people. Babar says that there was no lack of skilled workers and artisans, but there was no ingenuity or skill in mechanical inven­tion.”1

*A crude sort of lamp made of clay, wood or iron in which mustard oil is generally burnt.

  1. Nehru, Jawaharlal: The Discovery of India, p. 218

P.S. The article has been created from the works of great Islamic scholar Maulana Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi (Ali Miyan)

Introduction of Modern branches of Learning in India by Muslims


Muslims brought with them several modern branches of learning to India, One of the most important of  which was history. Before the arrival of Muslims the writing of history was almost an unknown art in India, there being hardly anything to speak of in the line save religious treatises and a few epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Muslims produced a whole library of historical works that could compare favorably in authenticity and comprehensiveness with the endeavors made in this branch in any other country. A glance through Maulana Syed Abdul Hai’s monumental book in Arabic, Es-Saqafal-ul-Islamia-Fil-Hind1 (Islamic Culture in India), will indicate what tremendous efforts were made by Muslims for the compilation of the history of India.

To quote Dr. Gustave le Bon :

There does not exist a history of ancient India. Their books contain no historical data whatever, except for a few religious books in which historical information is buried under a heap of parables and folk-lore, and their buildings and other monuments also do nothing to fill the void for the oldest among them do not go beyond the third century B. C. To discover facts about India of the ancient times is as difficult a task as tile discovery of the island of Atlantis, which, according to Plato, was destroyed due to the changes of the earth.”2

The writer, after admitting that the epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, do shed some light on the conditions obtaining during those days, goes on to add that

The historical phase of India began with the Muslim invasion. Muslims were India’s first historians.2

New Techniques in Poetry and Literature


Liberality of the mind, originality of thought and new techniques of poetry and literature were taught to the Indians by Muslims. A new angle of vision and a new horizon of thought could not be possible without intellectual and literary integration. To the credit of Muslims also goes the birth of a most beautiful living, growing and expanding language which became the medium of intercourse among people of the various parts of the country and an excellent vehicle of literary expression. By it, we mean Urdu whose richness and elegance begs no description.

Cultural Revolution

The impress of Muslims is most prominent in the sphere of culture, social manners and general mode of living. The Muslims revolutionized the pattern of life in the country and gave it a new form which was entirely different from what was known here formerly, just as the design of life in modern Europe is totally dissimilar to what prevailed there in the Middle Ages.

  1. The book has recently been published by the Arabic Academy, Damascus, Syria.
  2. Gustave te Bon : Les Civilisations de L’Inde (Urdu Translation by Syed Ali Bilgrami) Book III, p. 146.

P.S. The article has been created from the works of great Islamic scholar Maulana Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi (Ali Miyan)

Efforts of Indian Muslim Rulers against Barbarous Hindu Customs and Women Oppression


When Muslims came to India they gave proper recognition to the dignity of women of India and their rights as respectable members of the family and life-partners of men. The huge significance of the rights bestowed by Islam on the softer sex in a country where the practice of barbarous custom of Sati in which widows of noble families used to immolate themselves on the funeral pyres of their husbands since in the eyes of society, as well as in their own eyes, they forfeited the right to live with the death of their husbands, does not stand in need of an elaboration. We are however, reproducing the under-mentioned lines from Burnier’s travel accounts to show what infinite pains did the Muslims take, for instance, for the suppression of the custom of Sati from the earliest days of their rule.

“…………….the number of victims is less now than formerly; the Mahometans, by whom the country is governed, doing all in their power to suppress the barbarous custom. They do not, indeed, forbid it by a positive law, because it is a part of their policy to leave the idolatrous population which is so much more numerous than their own in the free exercise of its religion; but the practice is checked by indirect means. No woman can sacrifice herself without permission from the governor of the province in which she resides, and he never grants it until he shall have ascertained that she is not to be turned aside from her purpose; to accomplish this desirable end the governor reasons with the widow and makes her enticing promises; after which, if these methods fail, he sometimes sends her among his women, that the effect of their remonstrances may be tried. Notwithstanding these obstacles, the number of self-immolations is still very considerable, particularly in the territories of the Rajas, where no Mahometan governors are appointed.1

  1. Francois Burnier: Travels in the Mogul Empire (189l), pp. 306-7

P.S. The article has been created from the works of great Islamic scholar Maulana Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi (Ali Miyan)

Muslim’s Gift to India: The Concept of Divine Unity


When Muslims came to India they brought with them many priceless gifts and virtues to India. The most valuable of these gifts was the sovereign and unalloyed Islamic concept of Divinity, which in one stroke, dispensed with all intermediaries between man and the Creator in respect of prayer and supplication. There is emphatically no place in the Islamic creed for beliefs like Polytheism, Incarnation of God and ‘the merging of man in the Almighty and becoming one with Him’. Islam declares, plainly and once for all, the Sovereignty and Absolute Oneness of the Divine Being— One and Everlasting—Who beget not nor is He begotten, and nor does He take partners in the discharge of the functions of Divinity; the creation, the sustenance, the management and the ownership of the universe lie in His hands alone. It was but natural for a belief like this to make a powerful impact on the Indian mind out of touch as it had been with pure monotheistic doctrine for hundreds of years. Says: Prof. K. M. Panikkar,

“One thing is clear. Islam had a profound effect on Hinduism during this period. Medieval theism is in some ways a reply to the attack of Islam and the doctrines of medieval teachers by whatever names their gods arc known are essentially theistic. It is the one supreme God that is the object of the devotee’s adoration and it is to His grace that we are asked to look for redemption.”1

  1. Panikkar, K. M. : A Survey of Indian History (1947), p. 163

P.S. The article has been created from the works of great Islamic scholar Maulana Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi (Ali Miyan)