The making of Islam in India

The making of Islam in India

By RAZIUDDIN AQUIL | 5 December, 2015
It is the duty of historians to explain the story of Islam in India.

Ideology-driven research agenda, left or right of the centre, and divergent Hindu-Muslim interpretations of India’s medieval past have less to do with any serious attempt at understanding how the past might have been like and more of an exercise in abusing the past for the politics in the present. The desperation to show the past in a particular manner in popular histories of the public domain is understandable, for it serves the purpose of identity-politics and political aspirations of people, ethnic or religious, but professional historians falling in the same trap is against the protocol of their discipline, the primary purpose of which is to contribute to knowledge production, mainly for experts in the field, but also for some diffusion in public.
Consider the example of conversion and Islamization in medieval India. Politically-motivated popular Hindu and Muslim interpretations can be easily dismissed as biased and unverifiable propositions. On the other hand, unfortunately, serious historians have tried to hush up this communally sensitive topic, instead of applying rigorous historical methods to analyse and interpret whatever little evidence available and come to some conclusion even if that conclusion may not be consistent with one’s preferred political position in, say, a context like the current Hindutva aggression.
For instance, it is the responsibility of the historians to examine and illustrate how such a vast Muslim population has come to happen in the Indian subcontinent — India, Pakistan and Bangladesh taken together. These are mainly local converts to Islam and not immigrants from Central Asia, Iran and the Arab world, despite claims from sections of Muslims of their being of Turkish, Iranian and Arab descent. Their DNA test might reveal it to be a far-fetched genealogical claim as part of a process of Islamization, which is perhaps still continuing.
This process, beginning from around the 13th century when various Muslim Sultanates emerged, needs to be analysed and explained, but even the best of the historians have been in a denial mode: that Muslims are not foreign immigrants, that sword was not used by rulers to convert people, that sections of Muslim religious leaders, ulama, would have wanted to use political power for proselytization but did not get that support, and that it would be erroneous to say that Sufis were responsible for conversion, for they always worked for communal harmony and tolerance. Thus the question remains that if neither rulers, nor ulama and not even Sufis were responsible for conversion and Islamization, how do we explain the making of Islam and such a huge population of Muslims in large parts of the subcontinent, not only in mainland Hindustan, but also in Punjab, Bengal and the Deccan?
My own understanding developed over the past couple of decades is that Sufis have shown the way, taking Islam culturally and peacefully to most remote corners of erstwhile Sultanate and Mughal rule, being part of the political process, yet maintaining critical distance from politics, which often involved violence especially in conquests and control of areas offering resistance. Sufi traditions have been claiming and showing at least since mid-14th century that Islam has spread in localities wherever Sufis of various spiritual genealogies were settling down, carving their own sacred geographies with large numbers of followers, with no demand or pressure to formally convert to Islam. Over time, these communities of people have undergone multifaceted processes of religious change and many formally adopting Islam without abandoning cultural practices of localities they inhabited. Thus, for example, Punjabi Muslims would remain culturally Punjabis as would be Bengali Muslims Bengalis, with various aspects of their cultures shared with fellow Punjabis and Bengalis, who subscribed to some other religious worldview and rituals abhorred by Islamists.
Self-styled reformists have risen from time to time to put pressure on these Muslim communities, telling them that they were not Muslim enough and that all the “innovations” in their religious rituals have to be purged for them to be proper Muslims of the Arabic kind; they also identified non-Muslims as hostile kafirs, infidels, who were to be eliminated in the most violent manner possible. Such reformist streaks are now being organised in terror groups of the kind the world is confronted with, rupturing older traditions and bringing such a bad name to Islam even if the ideal for them is an understanding of 7th century Arabia ideologically developed since the 18th century. At the root of the struggle is political control for forcibly implementing a particular kind of Arabic Islam, a flawed and wicked strategy creating so much difficulty wherever it can.
Historians need to stand up, authoritatively confront and educate the public on the complexities involved in these issues, rather than attempting to sanitise or exploit them in conformity with their ideological positions, which they wish to upheld.

There is 1 Comment

For example, a historian cannot be qualified as being "serious" if he or she cannot publish and teach what genuine research would reveal in the subject of conversions. There is no evidence of Indian historians having sufficient acquaintance with the anthropological, economic, philosophical and theological, linguistic and literary affinities with the history of the past of the Indian sub-continent. It appears that the language barrier has prevented Indian historians to emulate the Historians of the Annales School as obtains in France. In a study of the Middle Ages, in POURQUOI LE MOYEN AGE? Jacques Le Goff analyses the literary, theological, philosophical, economic, anthropological aspects of Medieval Europe to prove that capitalism did exist in the Catholic enrivronment, which demolishes Max Weber ́s attributing to Protestantism the motivation for the rise of Capitalism. Such historians are not standard in India. Why is it that William Dalrymple would write a convincing history of Bahadur Shah while no native historian would have done so before him? Because of the lack of the knowledge of the languages needed to explore the archives stored in Rangoon̂? Why have communist historians held sway for so long as the carriers of the historical truths about India, without a serious challenge of the philosophical basis of their bias? Depriving instead their organisation of public funding has been an ineffective critique of their anti-intellectualism passing for infallible knowing? It is astonishing that historians have not confronted the impact of Myths on the historical comportment of Indian Buddhist- Hindu -Jaina history! When I asked one of the 'star' Leftist historians when did the history of Sycophancy begin in India, she replied that it began with Hanuman, the Chamcha! A historian, equipped with the intellectual tools of the Annales School, for example, would never even have dreamt of such dismal ignorance of the psychology of the Indian nurtured amidst the prevalence of the indigenous philosophical traditions. Why would Charles Allen, in his book ASHOKA write about the catastrophic destruction of Nalanda, while no one referred to Muhammad Bakhtiyar ́s action in 1179, even when Nitish Kumar proclaimed his commitment to reconstruct and revive the importance and glory of Nalanda? How is it that the myth - this is a real myth - that Śaṅkarācārya and Vedanta would have absorved Indian Buddhism, when that is absolutely false, for there were no Śaṅkara or Vedanta in those lands where Buddhism disappeared : Indonesia, Afghanistan, Central Asia, Den Huang. What is the worth of all those leftist JNU historians, that an entire way of life based on the profound Humanism of the Buddhist disappeared from India and they have not written a single page on this useless genocide? That Indian civilisation still remains incomplete without the resurrection of the glorious presence of the Bauddha Dharma while Indian historians would have maintained silent on this major lacuna is, to say the least, utterly disgraceful. What is the meaning of anyone preening to be a star hisorian, in the presence of this gaping incompleteness of Indian civilisation?

Add new comment

This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.