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Updated on October 28, 2012


Indian contact with Islam was in two ways----one through conflict and the other by peaceful trade and conversion. The first violent contact took place in 712 CE with the Arab conquest of Sind by Mohammed Bin Kassim. He made repeated attempts but met with stiff resistance. His decisive defeat in 738 CE by the Chalukya king blunted aggressive designs of Islamic invaders for nearly three centuries. But the next major invasion was rather different. Mahmud of Ghazni in 1026 CE marched with a cavalry of 30,000 and a multitude of jihadists mounted a frontal attack on Somnath Temple located in the Gujarat coast. Though the temple was protected by 50,000 armed faithful with little military training, Mahmud of Ghazni scored a stunning victory by using superior strategy. The temple was immensely rich and, so rich that, Ghazni made a total of seventeen invasions looted its riches. The psychological impact was that, it revealed that India was immensely rich but poorly defended---- a place which was ripe for loot. Further invasions were in quick succession, Mohammad Ghauri easily defeated Prithviraj Chauhan in his second attempt at the Second battle of Tarain in 1192 CE.


Muslim rule was consolidated only in 1206 CE with the establishment of the Slave dynasty by Qutab-ud-Din Aibak. For nearly three centuries India witnessed a quick succession of Islamic rulers. The Tughlak dynasty, the Sayyids, the Lodi’s and lastly the Mughals invaded India and ruled the country from Delhi.

During this period non-Muslims had three options. First embrace Islam and accept Muslim rule. Or become a Dhimmi and pay JAZIYA tax as protection money. But this was an option available to only those who believed a revealed text (AHLUL –KITAB). As the Hindus did not qualify in this regard they had to either embrace Islam or fight Islamic rule. But as this was not uniformly applied by all Muslim rulers, the majority of the people remained Hindus.


It would wrong to say that Islam entered India only through violent conflict. Decades before the Arab invasion of Sind, they had trade contacts with India. They came for trading and settled down in places like Anhilwara, Calicut and Quilon. They married local non-Muslim woman and that was how the Moplah’s of Malabar and Nawait (Natia) of Konkan coast came into being. East coast too witnessed the emergence of such communities like Labbais etc.

The other major influence was through the missionary zeal of itinerant preachers. Some of the noteworthy ones were, Sheik Ismail of Bukhara (1005 CE), Abd Allah of Yemen (1067 CE),Sayyad Jalal Ud-din of Bukhara(1190 CE) Khwaja- Muin- ud-Din Chisti of Ajmer who was originally from Persia, Sheik Jalal-ud-Din Tabrizi (1244 CE),Baba Farid-ud-Din , Ahmed Kabir, Bulblul Shah, Pir Mahabir Khamdayat, Gisu Daraz and many more. In fact the tomb of Khwaja Muin ud din Chisti is so popular that even people from Pakistan and Bangladesh continue to visit the DARGA.


The two major sects of Islam were Sunnis and Shias. This schism took place during the early days of Islam over the succession to the Caliphate. The sultans of Delhi who were Sunni disapproved the Shias who were a force in Sind and Multan. During the rein of Queen Razia, the Shias revolted but it was firmly put down and ceased to be a threat ever since. But the Sunnis faced threat from another quarter—they were the Sufis. Sufis came into prominence in Persia around tenth century. They held the view that union with God can be achieved through love. This was contrary to the orthodox Islamic view and so was branded as heretics. They in turn disassociated themselves from the established centers of orthodoxy. They never thought in terms of confrontations and most Sufis lived a reclusive life. As ascetic existence was common among Hindus; the Sufi Pirs had many Hindu followers. The Sufis were of three orders, the CHISTIS, SUHRAWARDI and FIRDUASI. The members of each order were called ‘fakirs’ or mendicants. They had in fact far greater influence over people, particularly non-Muslims than the ulemas who denounced the liberal ideas and mysticism of the Sufis. They greatly influenced the BHAKTI MOVEMENT in Hinduism of the medieval period. Poets like Kabirdas and spiritual leaders like Guru Nanak were greatly influenced by Sufi teachings, which in a way resulted in a strange intermingling of two unlike religions, a strictly monotheistic Islam and an apparently polytheistic Hinduism. Listen to the poetic outpourings of Kabirdas.

‘If God be within the mosque, then to whom does this world belong?

If Ram be within the image which you find upon your pilgrimage,

Then who is there to know what happens without?

Hari is in the East, and Allah is in the west. Look within your heart ,

For there you will find both Karim and Ram;

All the men and women in the world are his living forms.

Kabir is the child of Allah and of Ram:

He is my guru, he is my Pir. ‘

This was strongly resisted by the orthodox Ulemas and Brahmins. Kabir and Nanak were not merely trying to build bridges between these two religions, but were silently trying to bring about a social revolution in a society which was rigidly stratified on the basis of caste and creed. Their followers naturally called themselves ‘KABIRPANTHIS’ and ‘SIKHS’. A less successful experiment was made by the Mughal emperor Akbar by introducing a new religion called Din-i-Illahi which after his life time faded away.


Islam is a casteless religion, but in India a strange metamorphosis took place in Islamic society. There were categories of Muslims. Families of foreign extraction like Arabs, Afghans, Persians and Turks were highest in the hierarchy and were called ASHRAF (meaning Honorable in Arabic). The next in the hierarchy were upper caste Hindu converts like Rajputs. The last were those from the lower Hindu castes called AJLAF

There are numerous Muslim communities in India a few of which is listed below:





Iraqi biradri








Nagar muslims

Some social structures are very different from conventional Muslim communities. For example the Koyas in Kerala, are Nair converts, and retain the matrilineal system that still exists in Nair communities. It is to be noted that the above list is only indicative in nature and not exhaustive.


Though Islam is iconoclastic and its aggressive nature viewed negatively by other religions. Its contribution in many fields cannot be ignored.

The most visible contribution is in the field of architecture. The best example of this is of course the Taj Mahal but there are hundreds of other structures spread all over the country. Delhi of course tops the list. But it is no less impressive in the south were the Golconda Fort and the Salar Jung Museum are just a few examples of this.

Mughal paintings are the next important contribution in the field of art, this is a style of south asian painting which is basically confined to miniatures. It has been greatly influenced by Persian miniature paintings and is found in either books or albums.

Hindustani music which is very popular in north India is the next major Muslim influence in Indian art and culture. Distinguished Hindu musicians are called Pandits and Muslim musicians Ustads. The Sufi influence is visible in the fact that Muslim ustads have no inhibitions in singing composition in praise of Hindu deities. Sufi composers like Amir Khusro and Tansen enriched Hindustani music. Some of the popular modern exponents of Hindustani music are Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. Mughals were great patrons of music and later many small princely states. In fact in the process of the evolution of Hindustani music a unique system of social organization linking musicians through apprenticeship to a particular style of music came into being which was called GHARANA. A few of these GHARANA are INDORE GHARANA, DELHI GHARANA, and PATIALA GHARANA etc.

Another art form which evolved during Muslim rule was the QAWWALI. Originally performed in Sufi shrines it is of Persian origin. It is popular in Delhi and Hyderabad and other parts of northern india.

The other noteworthy contribution was in the field of administration. Mughals had inherited an administrative set up, particularly at the local level which was uniquely Indian. They modified it to meet an empire of sub-continental nature which the British later streamlined and modernized it.

It should not be forgotten that URDU is a unique byproduct of Hindu Muslim interaction. Though Persian was usually the language of the court and aristocracy, Urdu evolved out of a beautiful blend of Hindi and Persian.

moplah fish biriyani (malabar meen biriyani)
moplah fish biriyani (malabar meen biriyani)

ustad ali akbar khan



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  • AbhijeetMohapatra profile image

    AbhijeetMohapatra 4 years ago from Bhubaneswar, India

    Sir each of the hub you wrote is quite wonderful. Sir, If you can devote some of your precious time and energy to have a chat i would be happy.

    Sincerely Yours

    Young Friend

  • ram_m profile image

    ram_m 5 years ago from India

    Thank you jxb7076 I'm happy you found the hub useful

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    James Brown 5 years ago from United States of America

    This was an excellent historical timeline of India. I learnd a lot. Thanks for sharing.