In our subcontinent, Islam was first introduced mainly by Sufis and Ulema from Persia. Islam was in its liberal form in Persia rather than in Arabian Peninsula. Persians were far more civilised than the Bedouin Arabs. Even after converting to Islam, the Persians did not abandon their pre-Islamic culture and heritage.

Islam became more liberal in Persia than in Arabia. There were two trends of Islam in the Indian subcontinent. One trend was from Persia; they preached Islam as a religion of peace, harmony and humanity and accepted some norms and rituals of other local religions. But the Turko-Afghan Muslim conquerors of the subcontinent were noted for their plundering activities.

copy20of20mapSultan Mahmud of Ghazni looted the temple of Somenath in northern India 17 times, because it was full of precious stones and material wealth. Bakhtiar Khilji invaded Bengal during the rule of Lakkhan Sen and looted the riches. There was a myth that he defeated Lakkhan Sen only with 17 armed horsemen, but the historians later denied such glorifications and blamed Bakhtiar Khilji for torturing and savaging ordinary people of Bengal.

These Muslim conquerors could not force non-Muslims at their will to convert into Islam, whereas the Persian Sufis and Ulema were far more acceptable and appealing to mass people, who willingly followed their paths. Because of the caste system among the locals in the subcontinent, untouchables and socially outcast strata of people who were oppressed by the higher class Brahmins readily embraced Islam that spoke of equality.

IRAQ-UNRESTThe Persians came to the subcontinent for trade and preaching religion but not to conquer. Gradually the Muslim invaders of Turkish and Mongolian descent, conquered much of the subcontinent, established their rule and started colonizing it.

Islam became part of this colonization and lost much of its human face. The orthodox Islamic clergies emerged during early Mughal Rule and they became so powerful that they challenged the liberal rule of Akbar.

Akbar had the foresight to realise that his empire can only last through the unity of different religious communities. To unite them, he spearheaded a new religion called Din-e-Elahi that was based on a belief in one God but was a conglomeration of local rituals and practices with Islam. He married a number of Hindu Rajput women and encouraged inter-religious marriages.

His two ministers Abul Fazl and Faizi were great secularists. Abul Fazl first enacted Ain-e-Akbar, a secular constitution for the Mughal Empire. This was not tolerated by the orthodox clerics, who conspired and killed both the ministers. In his later life, Akbar was a lonely figure. He predicted that Mughal Empire will collapse if religious extremism cannot be thwarted.

FGDHGSDGDGGESTRRTGRTDuring the reign of Aurangzeb, these extremist clerics became powerful. They wanted to rule the empire with strict religious laws. Jijiya (taxation) that was previously abolished by Akbar was again imposed on non-Muslims and the discrimination against other sects of Muslims apart from Sunnis started.


This encouraged Shivaji, a Maratthi Hindu leader, to revolt against Mughal Empire. He was gaining support from other regions of the empire. After the collapse of the Mughal Empire, with the advent of British Rule, there was a hope that in spite of divisive policies of Aurangzeb era, there could be a form of unity among Muslim and majority non-Muslim inhabitants of the subcontinent.

The proof of this unity was Sepoy Mutiny in 1857. It was a unified struggle of Muslim and non-Muslim soldiers revolting against British Rule, although it failed. The British authorities realised that without dividing these two sizeable communities, they would not be able to sustain their rule over the subcontinent.

So they started patronizing a section of Muslim clerics who were extremists and used them against liberal clerics, those who were against British Rule. With the patronization of British Raj, the great seat of Islamic education Deoband was divided into two sections of Ulema. One section supported the British Rule saying they are better than the Hindu rule and that there is affinity between Christianity and Islam. The other section did not accept British rule, English education and they planned to join movements with Hindu, Sikh and other communities to oust British Raj.

front-Untitled-1It was seen that when Sir John Herbert was governor of undivided Bengal, he used to visit a Pir of Shorshina in South Bengal and obtained his support for British Rule. On the other hand, those ulema who were the followers of the likes of Pir Dudumiya, who was a revolutionary figure, were opposing British Rule. The last British tactics was importing Wahabism from Saudi Arabia and those Wahabists started preaching that Indian Muslims should form a separate nation, and that they cannot co-exist with non-Muslims and cannot follow local rituals that were prevalent dismissing them as un-Islamic.

Under the influence of Wahabism the majority of Indian Muslims started to distance themselves from Congress. When Gandhi started Independence movement, he could not draw the support of majority Indian Muslims. He had to devise a policy to attract these Muslims in the name of restoration of Khilafat. When Congress launched movement against British Raj demanding independence, Indian Muslims under the leadership of Ali Brothers joined that movement demanding the restoration of old and medieval Khilafat in Turkey.

das-2-1-20142Though these two movements were against British Raj, the same did not unite the two communities. Gradually All India Muslim League dissociated from Congress and under Jinnah’s leadership, demanded the creation of Pakistan on the basis of religious nationhood.


DECEMBER 14, 2014



About Ehsan Abdullah

An aware citizen..

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