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July 02, 2005

The Legacy of Jihad in India

By Andrew G. Bostom
The phenomenon of modern Islamic terrorism has forged an inchoate strategic alliance between the Israeli and Indian governments, while heightening the awareness of a common threat—the institution of jihad—among the civilian populations of these nations.

Rarely understood, let alone acknowledged, however, is the history of brutal jihad conquest, Muslim colonization, and the imposition of dhimmitude shared by the Jews of historical Palestine, and the Hindus of the Indian subcontinent. Moreover, both peoples and nations also have in common, a subsequent, albeit much briefer British colonial legacy, which despite its own abuses, abrogated the system of dhimmitude (permanently for Israel and India, if not, sadly, for their contemporary Muslim neighboring states), and created the nascent institutions upon which thriving democratic societies have been constructed. Sir Jadunath Sarkar (d. 1958), the preeminent historian of Mughal India, wrote with admiration in 1950 of what the Jews of Palestine had accomplished once liberated from the yoke of dhimmitude. The implication was clear that he harbored similar hopes for his own people.

Palestine, the holy land of the Jews, Christians and Islamites, had been turned into a desert haunted by ignorant poor diseased vermin rather than by human beings, as the result of six centuries of Muslim rule. (See Kinglake’s graphic description). Today Jewish rule has made this desert bloom into a garden, miles of sandy waste have been turned into smiling orchards of orange and citron, the chemical resources of the Dead Sea are being extracted and sold, and all the amenities of the modern civilised life have been made available in this little Oriental country. Wise Arabs are eager to go there from the countries ruled by the Shariat. This is the lesson for the living history. [1]

Earlier, I reviewed at length the legacy of Muslim jihad conquest and imposition of the Shari’a in historical Palestine. The current essay provides a schematic overview of the same phenomena in India, focusing on the major periods of Muslim conquest, colonization, and rule.

A Millennium of Jihad and Dhimmitude on the Indian Subcontinent

The 570 year period between the initial Arab Muslim razzias (ordered by Caliph Umar) to pillage Thana (on the West Indian coast near Maharashtra) in 636—637 C.E., and the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate (under Qutub—ud—din Aibak, a Turkish slave soldier), can be divided into four major epochs: (I) the conflict between the Arab invaders and the (primarily) Hindu resisters on the Western coast of India from 636—713 C.E.; (II) the Arab and Turkish Muslim onslaughts against the kingdom of Hindu Afghanistan during 636—870 C.E.; (III) repeated Turkish efforts to subdue the Punjab from 870 C.E. to 1030 C.E. C.E. highlighted by the devastating campaigns of Mahmud of Ghazni (from 1000— 1030 C.E.); and finally (IV) Muhammad Ghauri’s conquest of northwestern India and the Gangetic valley between 1175 and 1206 C.E. [2]

This summary chronology necessarily overlooks the very determined and successful resistance that was offered by the Hindus to both the Arab (in particular) and Turkish invaders, for almost four centuries. For example, despite the rapidity of Mahmud of Ghazni’s conquests—spurred by shock—tactics and the religious zealotry of Islamic jihad—his successors, for almost 150 years, could not extend their domain beyond the Punjab frontiers. Even after the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate (1206—1526), and the later Mughal Empire (1526—1707), Muslim rulers failed to Islamize large swaths of Indian territory, and most of the populace. [3] The first Mughal Emperor, Babur (1483—1530), made these relevant observations upon establishing his rule in India: [4]

[Hindustan] is a different world…once the water of Sindh is crossed, everything is in the Hindustan way— land, water, tree, rock, people, and horde, opinion and custom…Most of the inhabitants of Hindustan are pagans; they call a pagan a Hindu.

Buddhist civilization within India, in stark contrast, proved far less resilient. Vincent Smith has described the devastating impact of the late 12th century jihad razzias against the Buddhist communities of northern India, centered around Bihar, based on Muslim sources, exclusively: [5]

The Muhammadan historian, indifferent to distinctions among idolators, states that the majority of the inhabitants were ‘clean shaven Brahmans’, who were all put to the sword. He evidently means Buddhist monks, as he was informed that the whole city and fortress were considered to be a college, which the name Bihar signifies. A great library was scattered. When the victors desired to know what the books might be no man capable of explaining their contents had been left alive. No doubt everything was burnt. The multitude of images used in Medieval Buddhist worship always inflamed the fanaticism of Muslim warriors to such fury that no quarter was given to the idolators. The ashes of the Buddhist sanctuaries at Sarnath near Benares still bear witness to the rage of the image breakers. Many noble monuments of the ancient civilization of India were irretrievably wrecked in the course of the early Muhammadan invasions. Those invasions were fatal to the existence of Buddhism as an organized religion in northern India, where its strength resided chiefly in Bihar and certain adjoining territories. The monks who escaped massacre fled, and were scattered over Nepal, Tibet, and the south. After A.D. 1200 the traces of Buddhism in upper India are faint and obscure.

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