The advent of Islam in India has generally been regarded as a peaceful and mostly non violent process under which the various Sufi saints arrived in India from various parts of West Asia, and settled down here. Their interaction with the local people, who were at various times willing and at others reluctant disciples, relays the story of a mixed approach by these Sufis and other influencers who helped in the spread of Islam in this region.  There is a concept of homogenous empty time, as suggested by Benedict Anderson, who says that this empty time is available to be filled with information and the colour given to this time period is dependent on the predominant cultural aspects, leaning of the historiographers as well as those of the scholars of the time.

Anderson mentions in his works that when the printing business became big in Europe in the 1500s, one of the prime objectives of the publishers was to make money. So they published books in Latin language as the monied class was well versed in this language. Therefore the readership remained limited to those who could read Latin. In a similar fashion, one of the largest works of history of the subcontinent was called ‘Chachnama’, a compilation of historical happenings, and which provides details on Islam’s arrival in India. The book was written in Arabic during the 8th century, was translated into Persian in 1226 by Ali Kufi, and then Mirza Kalichbeg Fredunbeg (1853-1929) in 1900.

According to Mannan Ahmed Asif, author of “A book of Conquest’, the early historiographers and post colonial scholars like H. T. Lambrick, Peter Hardy, and Yohanan Friedmann portrayed the content of the book in such a manner that

“The notion of Chachnama as a carrier text became the overarching consensus of the field.”

Manann also states that Romila Thapar, Gyanendra Pandey, Uma Chakravarti, Richard Eaton, Cynthia Talbot, and Shahid Amin are some of the key·figures who in all probability also used Chachnama’s reduced depiction as laid out by Kufi, in addition to some other important works of the era, in their historical works which are widely followed as rendered pioneering in scholarly world.

The advent of Arabs in India started to take place before the beginning of Islam in Arabia, which emerged as the first Islamic State at the beginning of the 7th century. The Muslim polities made their presence known in Sindh in the 8th century. But before that there were many Arab families who were settled in Aden, Muscat, Diu, and Thana. However there are no major accounts available of Hindus and other religions converting to Islam in the early days of the religion. It can be said that at time the religion was still in its infancy and did not have the machinery through which its message could be spread. Various Muslim scholars, travelers and merchants, who visited India during the early centuries of Islam, were not able to find it within themselves to influence the locals with their faith.

The legacy of King Chach carried forward by his son Raja Dahir in Sindh, Multam and Uch, was challenged by Hajjaj Bin Yousuf who sent his young lieutenant Muhammad Bin Qasim to spread Islam’s conquests into India. In 712 Islamic rule came to India for the first time, when Qasim defeated Raja Dahir and imprisoned his daughters. After Qasim was arrested on the orders of Hajjaj Bin Yousuf and later, when he died in prison, the Muslims quickly starting to lose territory.

An important aspect of why non Muslims turned towards Islam in many areas is said to be the impact of paying Jizya, and the toll this took on the economic affairs of these people. During Muhammad Bin Qasim’s tenure, there are different opinions on whether he had imposed Jizya on non Muslims or not, and what was the total impact of it. However it was not until much later in the 13th century that strong evidence and repercussion of pay Jizya, and even more crushing custom of paying kharaj. The purpose of Jizyah was to humiliate the non Muslims and to remind them of their place in the society as Dhimmis, but according to M A Khan, it was still lighter on the pocket.

However, he narrates

“the peasants had literally become bonded slaves of the government, since up to 50–75 percent of the produce was taken away in taxes, mainly as kharaj.”

The condition was so bad that the Hindus were running away from populated areas and hiding in forests to escape from the tax collecting army of the King. During this time, it was easier for the non Muslims to convert to Islam and be saved from the economic burden. This tactic worked in the spread of Islam to a large extent, as is shared by Feroze Shah Tughlaq who ruled in the mid 15th century. He writes in his memoir Fatuhat-i-Firoz Shahi:

“I encouraged my infidel subjects to embrace the religion of the prophet, and I proclaimed that everyone who repeated the creed and became a Musalman should be exempted from the jizyah, or poll-tax. Information of this came to the ears of the people at large, and great numbers of Hindus presented themselves and were admitted to the honor of Islam. Thus they came forward day by day from every quarter, and, adopting the faith, were exonerated from the jizyah, and were favored with presents and honor.”

Auragzeb inflicted a lot of regressive tactics upon non Muslims and was actively responsible for the forced conversions in his era. Many of his tactics were economically depriving. He ordered to expel all Hindus working at the royal court to be expelled, hence giving them the option to convert to Islam in order to save their livelihood. He also offered money to non Muslims to convert to Islam, which was Rs. 4 for males and Rs. 2 for females. This was equivalent to a month’s salary at that time.

(This is part 1 of a three-part article)

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