Indian Religion, Religions in India

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Islam in India

Muslims are the largest minority of India. There are about 150 million muslims in India, which is one of the largest Muslim population in the world. They are found in majority in the Kashmir Valley and are evenly spread in the various regions in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The Arab traders sowed the first seeds of Islam in India in the 7th century AD, and brought the news of the recently founded faith of Prophet Mohammed. They also brought the muslim canon, the Quran, a collection of messages from Allah (God) spoken to Mohammed. Islamic contact with India was first established by the natives of the Arab Mohammed bin Qasim.

These conquerors of Sind made very few converts, although they did have to develop a legal recognition for the status of non Muslims in a Muslim ruled state. From the creation of the Delhi Sultanate in 1206, by Turkish, Islam became a permanent living religion in South Asia. The main feature of Islam was its forceful zeal to spread the word by persuasion and, if it did not work then by the sword. The main mission of the Islamites was conversion as conversion in Islam is very easy. In order to become a Muslim, one needs to only utter the words like there is no God but Allah and Mohammed is His prophet. Early in its history, Islam experienced a separation that is still prevalent today. The majority of Muslims are Sunnis, who are the descendants of Mohammed’s direct successor, the Caliph, while other Muslims are Shiaites who follows the descendants of the Prophet’s son in law, Ali. Both these sects make a pilgrimage to Mecca, prophet Mohammed’s birth place, and wish to become Hajji. In India and Pakistan, there are frequent wars between the followers of the two sects.

Across North India and Pakistan the imprint of Muslim political power forms a major part of the modern legacy. Some of the most striking architectural achievements of the North were designed and built by the Muslims. However, they were not simply imported from elsewhere in the Muslim world. They developed out of the skills cultivated in Muslim India, many of which reflected the contact between Hindu and Muslim cultures through successive generations. This pattern of artistic development would not have been predicted either from the history of Muslim conquest or from the nature of Islamic and Hindu faith. The victory of the Turkish ruler of Ghazni over the Rajputs in 1192 AD established a 500 year period of Muslim power in South Asia. Within only eight years of the victory the Turkish sultans had captured Bihar in the East and destroyed Buddhism, and also captured Benaras and Gwalior. Within 30 years Bengal was added to the Turkish empire, and by 1311 AD a new Turkish dynasty, the Khaljis, had extended the power of the Delhi Sultanate to the doors of Madurai in the extreme south. The extension of Muslim political power provided the conditions for transforming many features of the cultural and political life of South Asia. The contact between the courts of the new rulers and the indigenous Hindu population produced innovative developments in art and architecture, language and literature. This blending and development is evident in an enormous variety of ways. Hindus and Hindu culture was greatly affected by the spread and exercise of Muslim political power, but there were also major modifications in Islam in response to the new social and religious context in which the Muslim rulers found themselves. 

Muslim population
The majority of Muslims were found in the plains of the Indus, West Punjab, and in parts of Bengal. In the other parts of India, mainly in the Lucknow they formed the important minorities. The East and West ends of the Ganga valley reflected the policies pursued by successive Muslim rulers in colonizing forested and uncultivated land. In the central plains there was already a densely populated, Hindu region, where little attempt was made to achieve converts. The Mughals wanted to expand their territory and their economic base. To pursue this they made enormous grants of land to those who had served the empire. Both in Sind and Punjab in the West, and in Bengal in the East, new land was brought into cultivation. At the same time, shrines were established to Sufi saints who attracted peasant farmers. The mosques built in East Bengal were the centers of devotional worship where saints were venerated. By the 18th century many Muslims had joined the Sunni sect of Islam. The characteristics of Islamic practice in both these regions continues to reflect this background. 

Islam in South India 
The most important route for Muslim influence in India was from the North West. However, not all Muslim contact was by land through the passes of Afghanistan or Baluchistan. In the Deccan of South India, where the power of the Delhi based empires was always much weaker than in the Northern plains, a succession of Muslim-ruled states maintained strong contact with Arab communities through trade. From the 15th century to the 18th century much of South India was ruled under independent Muslim kings. Hyderabad, for example, developed a distinctive cultural and artistic life, drawing on a mixed population of Indian Muslims and Hindus, Turks, Persians, Arabs and Africans. Until the Mughals conquered the Deccan kingdoms in 1687, Hyderabad was one of the great centers of Arab learning outside the Middle East, a link was maintained through trade across the Arabian Sea with Egypt, Yemen and Iraq. In some of the areas, Muslim society shared many of the characteristic features of the Hindu society from which the majority of them came. Many of the Muslim migrants from Iran or Turkey, the elite Ashraf communities, continued to identify with the Islamic elites from which they raced their descent. They held high military and civil posts in imperial service. In sharp contrast, may of the non-ashraf Muslim communities in the town and cities were organized in social groups very like the jatis of their neighboring Hindu communities. While the elites followed Islamic practices close to those based on the Qu’ran as interpreted by scholars, the poorer, less literate communities followed devotional and pietistic forms of Islam. The importance of the veneration of the saints can be seen at tombs and shrines across Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. 

Muslim beliefs 
In the Semitic tradition, the beliefs of Islam (which means “submission to God”) are very different from those of Hinduism. Islam has a fundamental creed that states that there is no God but God and Mohammad is the Prophet of God (la illaha illa ‘llah Mohammad Rasulu ‘llah). One book, the Qu’ran, is the supreme authority on Islamic teaching and Islam preaches the belief in bodily resurrection after death, and in the reality of heaven and hell. The idea of heaven as paradise is clearly pre-islamic. Alexander the Great is believed to have brought the word into Greek from Persia, where he used it to describe the walled Persian gardens that were found even three centuries before the birth of Christ. 

Jama Masjid, Mosque in India

For Muslims, Paradise is believed to be filled with sensuous delights and pleasures, while hell is a place of eternal terror and torture, which is the certain fate of all who deny the unity of God. There are four obligatory requirements imposed on Muslims. Daily prayers are prescribed at daybreak, noon, afternoon, sunset and nightfall. Muslims must give alms to the poor. They must observe a strict fast during the month of Ramzaan. They must not eat or drink between sunrise and sunset. Lastly, they should make the pilgrimage to the Ka’aba in Mecca, known as the Hajj. Those who have done so are entitled to the prefix Hajji before their name. Islamic rules differ from Hindu practice in several other aspects of daily life. Muslims are strictly forbidden to drink alcohol. Eating pork, or any meat from an animal not killed by draining its blood while alive, is also prohibited. Meat prepared in the appropriate way is called Halal. Finally usury (charging interest on loans) and games of chance are forbidden. The authority of Imams is derived from social custom, and from their authority to interpret the scriptures, rather than from a defined status within the Islamic community. Islam also prohibits any distinction on the basis of race or colour, and there is a strong antipathy to the representation of the human figure. It is often thought, inaccurately, that this ban stems from the Qu’ran itself. In fact it probably has its origins in the belief of Mohammad that images were likely to be turned into idols.

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