Back Home Next    

THE  SPREAD  OF  ISLAM  Among the People of INDIA

INDIA, Part One

A History of the Propagation of the Muslim Faith

T.W. Arnold    Ma. C.I.F

Professor Of Arabic, University Of London, University College.  Written in 1896, revised in 1913

Rearranged by Dr. A.S. Hashim


The Muslim invasions of India and the foundation and growth of the Muslim power in that country, have found many historians, both among contemporary and later writers.

But hitherto no one has attempted to write a history of the spread of Islam in India, considered apart from the military successes and administrative achievements of its adherents.

Indeed, to many, such a task must appear impossible. For India has often been picked out as a typical instance of a country in which Islam owes its existence and continuance in existence to the settlement in it of foreign, conquering Muslim races, who have transmitted their faith to their descendants.


But among the hundreds of millions of Indian Muslims there are vast numbers of converts or descendants of converts, in whose conversion force played no part and the only influences at work were the teaching and persuasion of peaceful missionaries.

This class of converts forms a very distinct group by itself which can be distinguished from that of the forcibly converted and the other heterogeneous elements of which Muslim India is made up.


The entire community may be roughly divided into those of foreign race who brought their faith into the country along with them,


and those who have been converted from one of the previous religions of the country under various inducements and at many different periods of history.

The foreign settlement consists of three main bodies:


first, and numerically the most important, are the immigrants from across the north-west frontier, who are found chiefly in Sind and the Panjab;


next come the descendants of the court and armies of the various Muslim dynasties, mainly in Upper India and to a much smaller extent in the Deccan;


lastly, all along the west coast are settlements probably of Arab descent, whose original founders came to India by sea.[1]

But the number of families of foreign origin that actually settled in India is nowhere great except in the Panjab and its neighborhood.

More than half the Muslim population of India has indeed assumed appellations of distinctly foreign races, such as Sheikh, Beg, Khan, and even Sayyid, but the greater portion of them are local converts or descendants of converts, who have taken the title of the person of highest rank amongst those by whom they were converted or have affiliated themselves to the aristocracy of Islam on even less plausible grounds.[2]

Of this latter section of the community—the converted natives of the country—part no doubt owed their change of religion to official pressure, but by far the majority of them entered the pale of Islam of their own free will.

The history of the proselytizing movements and the social influences that brought about their conversion has hitherto received very little attention, and most of the commonly accessible histories of the Muslims in India, whether written by European or by native authors, are mere chronicles of wars, campaigns and the achievements of princes, in which little mention of the religious life of the time finds a place, unless it has taken the form of fanaticism or intolerance.

From the biographies of the Muslim saints, however, and from local traditions, something may be learned of the missionary work that was carried on quite independently of the political life of the country. But before dealing with these it is proposed to give an account of the official propagation of Islam and of the part played by the Muslim rulers in the spread of their faith.


From the fifteenth year after the death of the Prophet, when an Arab expedition was sent into Sind, up to the eighteenth century, a series of Muslim invaders, some founders of great empires, others mere adventurers, poured into India from the north-west.

While some came only to plunder and retired laden with spoils, others remained to found kingdoms that have had a lasting influence to the present day. But of none of these do we learn that they were accompanied by any missionaries or preachers. Not that they were indifferent to their religion. To many of them, their invasion of India appeared in the light of a holy war.

Such was evidently the thought in the minds of Maḥmud of Ghaznặ and Timur. Timur, after his capture of Delhi, writes as follows in his autobiography:—

"I had been at Delhi fifteen days, which time I passed in pleasure and enjoyment, holding royal Courts and giving great feasts.

I then reflected that I had come to Hindustan to war against infidels, and my enterprise had been so blessed that wherever I had gone I had been victorious.

I had triumphed over my adversaries, I had put to death some lacs of infidels and idolaters, and I had stained my proselyting sword with the blood of the enemies of the faith.

Now this crowning victory had been won, and I felt that I ought not to indulge in ease, but rather to exert myself in warring against the infidels of Hindustan."[3]


Though he speaks much of his "proselyting sword," it seems, however, to have served no other purpose than that of sending infidels to hell. Most of the Muslim invaders seem to have acted in a very similar way; in the name of Allah, idols were thrown down, their priests put to the sword, and their temples destroyed; while mosques were often erected in their place. It is true that the offer of Islam was generally made to the unbelieving Hindus before any attack was made upon them.[4]

Fear occasionally dictated a timely acceptance of such offers and led to conversions which, in the earlier days of the Muslim invasion at least, were generally short-lived and ceased to be effective after the retreat of the invader.

An illustration in point is furnished by the story of Hardatta, a rais of Bulandshahr, whose submission to Maḥmud of Ghaznặ is thus related in the history of that conquerors campaigns written by his secretary.

"At length (about a.d. 1019) he (i.e. Maḥmud) arrived at the fort of Barba,[5] in the country of Hardat, who was one of the rais, that is "kings," in the Hindi language.

When Hardat heard of this invasion by the protected warriors of God, who advanced like the waves of the sea, with the angels around them on all sides, he became greatly agitated, his steps trembled, and he feared for his life, which was forfeited under the law of God.

So he reflected that his safety would best be secured by conforming to the religion of Islam, since Gods sword was drawn from the scabbard, and the whip of punishment was uplifted.

He came forth, therefore, with ten thousand men, who all proclaimed their anxiety for conversion and their rejection of idols."[6]


These new converts probably took the earliest opportunity of apostatizing presented to them by the retreat of the conqueror—a kind of action which we find the early Muslim historians of India continually complaining of. For when Quṭb al-Din Ibak attacked Baran in 1193, he was stoutly opposed by Chandrasen, the then Raja, who was a lineal descendant of Hardatta and whose very name betrays his Hindu faith : nor do we hear of there being any Muslims remaining under his rule.[7]

But these conquerors would appear to have had very little of that " love for souls " which animates the true missionary and which has achieved such great conquests for Islam. The Khiljis (1290-1320), the Tughlaqs (1320-1412), and the Lodis (1451-1526) were generally too busily engaged in fighting to pay much regard to the interests of religion, or else thought more of the exaction of tribute than of the work of conversion.[8]

Not that they were entirely lacking in religious zeal: e. g. the Ghakkars, a barbarous people in the mountainous districts of the North of the Panjab, who gave the early invaders much trouble, are said to have been converted through the influence of Muhammad Ghori at the end of the twelfth century. Their chieftain had been taken prisoner by the Muslim monarch, who induced him to become a Muslim, and then confirming him in his title of chief of this tribe, sent him back to convert his followers, many of whom having little religion of their own were easily prevailed upon to embrace Islam.[9]

According to Ibn Baṭuṭah, the Khiljis offered some encouragement to conversion by making it a custom to have the new convert presented to the sultan, who clad him in a robe of honor and gave him a collar and bracelets of gold, of a value proportionate to his rank.[10]

But the monarchs of the earlier Muslim dynasties as a rule evinced very little proselytizing zeal, and it would be hard to find a parallel in their history to the following passage from the autobiography of Firuz Shah Tughlaq (1351-1388):

"I encouraged my infidel subjects to embrace the religion of the Prophet, and I proclaimed that every one who repeated the creed and became a Muslim  should be exempt 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 honors."[11]


As the Muslim power became consolidated, and particularly under the Mughal dynasty, the religious influences of Islam naturally became more permanent and persistent.

These influences are certainly apparent in the Hindu-theistic movements that arose in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and Bishop Lefroy has conjectured that the positive character of Muslim teaching attracted minds that were dissatisfied with the vagueness and subjectivity of a Pantheistic system of thought.

"When Islam, with its strong grasp of the reality of the Divine existence and, as flowing from this, of the absolutely fixed and objective character of truth,

came into conflict with the haziness of Pantheistic thought and the subjectivity of its belief,

it necessarily followed, not only that it triumphed in the struggle, but also that it came as a veritable tonic to the life and thought of Upper India, quickening into a fresh and more vigorous life many minds which never accepted for themselves its intellectual sway."[12]


A powerful incentive to conversion was offered, when adherence to an idolatrous system stood in the way of advancement at the Muslim courts; and though a spirit of tolerance, which reached its culmination under the eclectic Akbar, was very often shown towards Hinduism, and respected even, for the most part, the state endowments of that religion;[13]

and though the dread of unpopularity and the desire of conciliation dictated a policy of non-interference and deprecated such deeds of violence and such outbursts of fanaticism as had characterized the earlier period of invasion and triumph,

still such motives of self-interest gained many converts from Hinduism to the Muslim faith.


Many Rajputs became converts in this way, and their descendants are to this day to be found among the landed aristocracy. The most important perhaps among these is the Muslim  branch of the great Bachgoti clan, the head of which is the premier Muslim noble of Oudh. According to one tradition, their ancestor Tilok Chand was taken prisoner by the Emperor Babar, and to regain his liberty adopted the faith of Islam;[14]

but another legend places his conversion in the reign of Humayun. This prince having heard of the marvelous beauty of Tilok Chands wife, had her carried off while she was at a fair. No sooner, however, was she brought to him than his conscience smote him and he sent for her husband. Tilok Chand had dispaired of ever seeing her again, and in gratitude he and his wife embraced the faith "which taught such generous purity."[15]

These converted Rajputs are very zealous in the practice of their religion, yet often betray their Hindu origin in a very striking manner. In the district of Bulandshahr, for example, a large Muslim family, which is known as the LalKhani Paṭhans, still (with some exceptions) retains its old Hindu titles and family customs of marriage, while Hindu branches of the same clan still exist side by side with it.[16]

In the Mirzapur district, the Gaharwar Rajputs, who are now Muslim, still retain in all domestic matters Hindu laws and customs and prefix a Hindu honorific title to their Muslim names.[17]

Official pressure is said never to have been more persistently brought to bear upon the Hindus than in the reign of Aurangzeb. In the eastern districts of the Panjab, there are many cases in which the ancestor of the Muslim  branch of the village community is said to have changed his religion in the reign of this zealot, "in order to save the land of the village."

In Gurgaon, near Delhi, there is a Hindu family of Banyas who still bear the title of Sheikh (which is commonly adopted by converted Hindus), because one of the members of the family, whose line is now extinct, became a convert in order to save the family property from confiscation.[18]

It should be noted that the only authority for these forced conversions is family or local tradition, and no mention of such (as far as I have been able to discover) is made in the historical accounts of Aurangzebs reign.[21]

It is established without doubt that forced conversions have been made by Muslim rulers, and it seems probable that Aurangzebs well-known zeal on behalf of his faith has caused many families of Northern India (the history of whose conversion has been forgotten) to attribute their change of faith to this, the most easily assignable cause.

Similarly in the Deccan, Aurangzeb shares with Ḥaydar Ali and Tipu Sulṭan (these being the best known of modern Muslim rulers) the reputation of having forcibly converted sundry families and sections of the population, whose conversion undoubtedly dates from a much earlier period, from which no historical record of the circumstances of the case has come down.[22]

Tipu Sulṭan is probably the Muslim monarch who most systematically engaged in the work of forcible conver­sion. In 1788 he issued the following proclamation to the people of Malabar:

" From the period of the conquest until this day, during twenty-four years, you have been a turbulent and refractory people, and in the wars waged during your rainy season, you have caused numbers of our warriors to taste the draught of martyrdom.

Be it so. What is past is past. Hereafter you must proceed in an opposite manner, dwell quietly and pay your dues like good subjects; and since it is the practice with you for one woman to associate with ten men, and you leave your mothers and sisters unconstrained in their obscene practices,

and are thence all born in adultery, and are more shameless in your connections than the beasts of the field,

I hereby require you to forsake these sinful practices and to be like the rest of mankind; and if you are disobedient to these commands, I have made repeated vows to honor the whole of you with Islam and to march all the chief persons to the seat of Government."


This proclamation stirred up a general revolt in Malabar, and early in 1789 Tipu Sulṭan prepared to enforce his proclamation with an army of more than twenty thousand men, and issued general orders that

  1. "every being in the district without distinction should be honored with Islam,

  2. that the houses of such as fled to avoid that honor should be burned,

  3. that they should be traced to their lurking places,

  4. and that all means of truth and falsehood, force or fraud should be employed to effect their universal conversion."

Thousands of Hindus were accordingly circumcised and made to eat beef; but by the end of 1790 the British army had destroyed the last remnant of Tipu Sulṭans power in Malabar, and this monarch himself perished early in 1799 at the capture of Seringapatam. Most of the Brahmans and Nayars who had been forcibly converted, subsequently disowned their new religion.[23]

It is impossible even to approach the religious side of the Muslim  position in India without surveying first its political aspect,"we undoubtedly find that Islam has gained its greatest and most lasting missionary triumphs in times and places in which its political power has been weakest, as in Southern India and Eastern Bengal.

Of such missionary movements it is now proposed to essay some account, commencing with Southern India and the Deccan, then after reviewing the history of Sind, Cutch and Gujarat, passing to Bengal, and finally noticing some missionaries whose work lay outside the above geographical limits. Of several of the missionaries to be referred to, little is recorded beyond their names and the sphere of their labors; accordingly, in view of the general dearth of such missionary annals, any available details have been given at length.


Advent of Islam in South India and Malabar

The first advent of Islam in South India dates as far back as the eighth century, when a band of refugees, to whom the Mappillas trace their descent, came from Iraq and settled in the country.[28]

The trade in spices, ivory, gems, etc., between India and Europe, which for many hundred years was conducted by the Arabs and Persians, caused a continual stream of Muslim influence to flow in upon the west coast of Southern India.

From this constant influx of foreigners there resulted a mixed population, half Hindu and half Arab or Persian, in the trading centers along the coast. Very friendly relations appear to have existed between these Muslim traders and the Hindu rulers, who extended to them their protection and patronage in consideration of the increased commercial activity and consequent prosperity of the country, that resulted from their presence in it,[29] and no obstacles were placed in the way of proselytizing, the native converts receiving the same consideration and respect as the foreign merchants, even though before their conversion they had belonged to the lowest grades of society.[30]

The traditionary account of the introduction of Islam into Malabar, as given by a Muslim historian of the sixteenth century, represents the first missionaries to have been a party of pilgrims on their way to visit the foot-print of Adam in Ceylon; on their arrival at Cranganore the Raja sent for them and the leader of the party, Sheikh Sharaf b. Malik, who was accompanied by his brother, Malik b. Dinar, and his nephew, Malik b. Ḥabib, took the opportunity of expounding to him the faith of Islam and the mission of Muhammad,

"and God caused the truth of the Prophet's teaching to enter into the kings heart and he believed therein; and his heart became filled with love for the Prophet and he bade the Sheikh and companions come back to him again on their return from their pilgrimage to Adams foot-print."[31]

On the return of the pilgrims from Ceylon, the king secretly departed with them in a ship bound for the coast of Arabia, leaving his kingdom in the hand of viceroys.

Here he remained for some time, and was just about to return to his own country, with the intention of erecting mosques there and spreading the faith of Islam, when he fell sick and died.

On his death-bed he solemnly enjoined on his companions not to abandon their proposed missionary journey to Malabar, and to assist them in their labors, he gave them letters of recommendation to his viceroys, at the same time bidding them conceal the fact of his death.


Armed with these letters, Sharaf b. Malik and his companions sailed for Cranganore, where the kings letter secured for them a kindly welcome and a grant of land, on which they built a mosque. Malik b. Dinar decided to settle there, but Malik b. Ḥabib set out on a missionary tour with the object of building mosques throughout Malabar. " So Malik b. Ḥabib set out for Quilon with his worldly goods and his wife and some of his children, and he built a mosque there; then leaving his wife there, he went on to Hili Marawi,[32] where he built a mosque ";

and so the narrative continues, giving a list of seven other places at which the missionary erected mosques, finally returning to Cranganore. Later on, he visited all these places again to pray in the mosque at each of them, and came back "praising and giving thanks to God for the manifestation of the faith of Islam in a land filled with unbelievers."[33]

But the legend certainly bears witness to the peaceful character of the proselytizing influences that were at work on the Malabar coast for centuries. The agents in this work were chiefly Arab merchants, but Ibn Baṭuṭah makes mention of several professed theologians from Arabia and elsewhere, whom he met in various towns on the Malabar coast.[37]

The Zamorin of Calicut, who was one of the chief patrons of Arab trade, is said to have encouraged conversion to Islam, in order to man the Arab ships on which he depended for his aggrandizement, and to have ordered that in every family of fishermen in his dominion one or more of the male members should be brought up as Muslims.[38]

At the beginning of the sixteenth century the Mappillas were estimated to have formed one-fifth of the population of Malabar, spoke the same language as the Hindus, and were only distinguished from them by their long beards and peculiar head-dress. But for the arrival of the Portuguese, the whole of this coast would have become Muslim, because of the frequent conversions that took place and the powerful influence exercised by the Muslim merchants from other parts of India, such as Gujarat and the Deccan, and from Arabia and Persia.[39]

Another community of Muslims in Southern India: Ravuttans:  Another community of Muslims in Southern India, the Ravuttans,[42] ascribe their conversion to the preaching of. missionaries whose tombs are held in veneration by them to the present day. The most famous of these was Sayyid Nathar Shah[43] (a.d. 969-1039) who after many wanderings in Arabia, Persia and Northern India, settled down in Trichinopoly, where he spent the remaining years of his life in prayer and works of charity, and converted a large number of Hindus to the faith of Islam; his tomb is much resorted to as a place of pilgrimage and the Muslims renamed Trichinopoly Natharnagar, after the name of their saint.[44]


Another community of Muslims in Southern India: Dudekulas Another group of Muslims in Southern India, the Dudekulas, who live by cotton cleaning (as their name denotes) and by weaving coarse fabrics, attribute their conversion to  Baba Fakhr al-Din, whose tomb they revere at Penukonda.

Legend says that he was originally a king of Sistan, who abdicated his throne in favor of his brother and became a religious mendicant. After making the pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, he was bidden by the Prophet in a dream to go to India; here he met Nathar Shah, of Trichinopoly, and became his disciple and was sent by him in company with 200 religious mendicants on a proselytizing mission. The legend goes on to say that they finally settled at Penukonda in the vicinity of a Hindu temple, where their presence was unwelcome to the Raja of the place, but instead of appealing to force he applied several tests to discover whether the Muslim saint or his own priest was the better qualified by sanctity to possess the temple.

As a final test, he had them both tied up in sacks filled with lime and thrown into tanks. The Hindu priest never re-appeared, but Baba Fakhr al-Din asserted the superiority of his faith by being miraculously transported to a hill outside the town. The Raja hereupon became a Muslim, and his example was followed by a large number of the inhabitants of the neighborhood, and the temple was turned into a mosque.[46]

There is no reason to doubt that constant conversions by peaceful methods were made to Islam from among the lower castes,[47] as is the case at the present day when accessions to Islam from time to time occur:


from among the Tiyans, who are said to form one of the most progressive communities in India, the Mukkuvans or fisherman caste,


as well as from the Cherumans or agricultural laborers,


and other serf castes, to whom Islam brings deliverance from the disabilities attaching to the outcasts of the Hindu social system;


occasionally, also, converts are drawn from among the Nayars and the native Christians.

In Ponnani, the residence of the spiritual head of the majority of the Muslims of Malabar, there is an association entitled Minnat al-Islam Sabha, where converts are instructed in the tenets of their new faith and material assistance rendered to those under instruction; the average number of converts received in this institution in the course of the first three years of the twentieth century, was 750.[48]

So numerous have these conversions from Hinduism been, that the tendency of the Muslims of the west as well as the east coast of Southern India has been to reversion to the Hindu or aboriginal type, and, except in the case of some of the nobler families, they now in great part present all the characteristics of an aboriginal people, with very little of the original foreign blood in them.[49]

In fact the Mappilas on the west coast are said to be increasing so considerably through accessions from the lower classes of Hindus, as to render it possible that in a few years the whole of the lower races of the west coast may become Muslims.[50]

Islam in Laccadive and Maldive Islands:

It was most probably from Malabar that Islam crossed over to the Laccadive and Maldive Islands, the population of which is now entirely Muslim. The inhabitants of these islands owed their conversion to the Arab and Persian merchants, who established themselves in the country, intermarrying with the natives, and thus smoothing the way for the work of active proselytism. The date of the conversion of the first Muslim Sultan of the Maldive Islands, Aḥmad Shanurazah,[51] has been conjectured to have occurred about a.d. 1200, but it is very possible that the Muslim merchants had introduced their religion into the island as much as three centuries before, and the process of conversion must undoubtedly have been a gradual one.[52] No details, however, have come down to us.

At Malē, the seat of government, is found the tomb of Sheikh Yusuf Shams al-Din, a native of Tabriz, in Persia, who is said to have been a successful missionary of Islam in these islands. His tomb is still held in great veneration, and always kept in good repair, and in the same part of the island are buried some of his countrymen who came in search of him, and remained in the Maldives until their death.[53]

The introduction of Islam into the neighboring Laccadive Islands is attributed to an Arab preacher, known to the islanders by the name of Mumba Mulyaka; his tomb is still shown at Androth and as the present qaḍi of that place claims to be twenty-sixth in descent from him, he probably reached these islands some time in the twelfth century.[54]


Deccan dynasties and Islam

The Deccan also was the scene of the successful labors of many Muslim missionaries. It has already been pointed out that from very early times Arab traders had visited the towns on the west coast; in the tenth century we are told that the Arabs were settled in large numbers in the towns of the Konkan, having intermarried with the women of the country and living under their own laws and religion.[55]

Under the Muslim dynasties of the Bahmanid (1347-1490) and Bijapur (1489-1686) kings, a fresh impulse was given to Arab immigration, and with the trader and the soldier of fortune came the missionaries seeking to make spiritual conquests in the cause of Islam, and win over the unbelieving people of the country by their preaching and example, for of forcible conversions we have no record under the early Deccan dynasties, whose rule was characterized by a striking toleration.[56]

  1. One of these Arab preachers, Pir Mahabir Khamdayat, came as a missionary to the Deccan as early as a.d. 1304, and among the cultivating classes of Bijapur are to be found descendants of the Jains who were converted by him.[57]

  2. About the close of the same century a celebrated saint of Gulbarga, Sayyid Muhammad Gisudaraz,[58] converted a number of Hindus of the Poona district, and twenty years later his labors were crowned with a like success in Belgaum.[59]

  3. At Dahanu still reside the descendants of a relative of one of the greatest saints of Islam, Sayyid Abd al-Qadir Jilani of Baghdad; he came to Western India about the fifteenth century, and after making many converts in the Konkan, died and was buried at Dahanu.[60]

  4. In the district of Dharwar, there are large numbers of weavers whose ancestors were converted by Hashim Pir Gujarati, the religious teacher of the Bijapur king, Ibrahim Adil Shah II, about the close of the sixteenth century. These men still regard the saint with special reverence and pay great respect to his descendants.[61]

  5. The descendants of another saint, Shah Muhammad Ṣadiq Sarmast Ḥusayni, are still found in Nasik; he is said to have been the most successful of Muslim missionaries; having come from Medina in 1568, he traveled over the greater part of Western India and finally settled at Nasik—

  6. in which district another very successful Muslim missionary, Khwajah Khunmir Ḥusayni, had begun to labor about fifty years before.[62]

  7. Two other Arab missionaries may be mentioned, the scene of whose proselytizing efforts was laid in the district of Belgaum, namely Sayyid Muhammad b. Sayyid Ali and Sayyid Omar Aydrus Basheban.[63]


Missionary movement around the city of Multan

Another missionary movement may be said roughly to centre round the city of Multan.[64] This in the early days of the Arab conquest was one of the outposts of Islam, when Muhammad b. Qasim had established Muslim supremacy over Sind (a.d. 714).

During the three centuries of Arab rule there were naturally many accessions to the faith of the conquerors. Several Sind princes responded to the invitation of the Khalifa Omar b. Abd al-Aziz to embrace Islam.[65]

The people of Sawandari—who submitted to Muhammad b. Qasim and had peace granted to them on the condition that they would entertain the Muslims and furnish guides—are spoken of by al-Baladhuri (writing about a hundred years later) as professing Islam in his time; and the dispatches of the conqueror frequently refer to the conversion of the unbelievers.


That these conversions were in the main voluntary, may be judged from the toleration that the Arabs, after the first violence of their onslaught, showed towards their idolatrous subjects. The people of Brahmanabad, for example, whose city had been taken by storm, were allowed to repair their temple, which was a means of livelihood to the Brahmans, and nobody was to be forbidden or prevented from following his own religion,[66] and generally, where submission was made, quarter was readily given, and the people were permitted the exercise of their own creeds and laws.

During the troubles that befell the Khilaafah in the latter half of the ninth century, Sind, neglected by the central government, came to be divided among several petty princes, the most powerful of whom were the Amirs of Multan and Mansura. Such disunion naturally weakened the political power of the Muslims, which had in fact begun to decline earlier in the century. For in the reign of al-Mu’tasim  (a.d. 833-842), the Indians of Sindan[67] declared themselves independent, but they spared the mosque, in which the Muslims were allowed to perform their devotions undisturbed.[68]

The Muslims of Multan succeeded in maintaining their political independence, and kept themselves from being conquered by the neighboring Hindu princes, by threatening, if attacked, to destroy an idol which was held in great veneration by the Hindus and was visited by pilgrims from the most distant parts.[69]

But in the hour of its political decay, Islam was still achieving missionary successes. Al-Baladhuri[70] tells the following story of the conversion of a king of Usayfan, a country between Kashmir and Multan and Kabul.

The people of this country worshipped an idol for which they had built a temple.

The son of the king fell sick, and he desired the priests of the temple to pray to the idol for the recovery of his son.

They retired for a short time, and then returned saying: "We have prayed and our supplications have been accepted." But no long time passed before the youth died. Then the king attacked the temple, destroyed and broke in pieces the idol, and slew the priests.

He afterwards invited a party of Muslim traders, who made known to him the unity of God; whereupon he believed in the unity and became a Muslim.


A similar missionary influence was doubtless exercised by the numerous communities of Muslim merchants who carried their religion with them into the infidel cities of Hindustan. Arab geographers of the tenth and twelfth centuries mention the names of many such cities, both on the coast and inland, where the Muslims built their mosques, and were safe under the protection of the native princes, who even granted them the privilege of living under their own laws.[71]

The Arab merchants at this time formed the medium of commercial communication between Sind and the neighboring countries of India and the outside world. They brought the produce of China and Ceylon to the seaports of Sind and from there conveyed them by way of Multan to Turkistan and Khurasan.[72]

It would be strange if these traders, scattered about in the cities of the unbelievers, failed to exhibit the same proselytizing zeal as we find in the Muslim trader elsewhere. To the influence of such trading communities was most probably due the conversion of the Sammas, who ruled over Sind from a.d. 1351 to 1521. While the reign of Nanda b. Babiniyyah of this dynasty is specially mentioned as one of such "peace and security, that never was this prince called upon to ride forth to battle, and never did a foe take the field against him,"[73] it is at the same time described as being "remarkable for its justice and an increase of Islam." This increase of Islam could thus only have been brought about by peaceful missionary methods.


Sind and Islam

One of the most famous of these missionaries was the celebrated saint, Sayyid Yusuf al-Din, a descendant of Abd al-Qadir Jilani, who was bidden in a dream to leave Baghdad for India and convert its inhabitants to Islam. He came to Sind in 1422 and after laboring there for ten years, he succeeded in winning over to Islam 700 families of the Lohana caste, who followed the example of two of their number, by name Sundarji and Hansraj; these men embraced Islam, after seeing some miracles performed by the saint, and on their conversion received the names of Adamji and Taj Muhammad respectively. Under the leadership of the grandson of the former, these people afterwards migrated to Cutch, where their numbers were increased by converts from among the Cutch Lohanas.[74]

Sind was also the scene of the labors of Pir Ṣadr al-Din, an Ismaili missionary, who was head of the Khojah sect about the year 1430.

Pir Ṣadr al-Din was not however the first of the Ismailian missionaries who came into India. He was preceded by Abd Allah, a missionary sent from Yemen about 1067; he is said to have been a man of great learning, and is credited with the performance of many miracles, whereby he convinced a large number of Hindus of the truth of his religion.[76]

The second Ismaili missionary, Nur al-Din, generally known by the Hindu name he adopted, Nur Satagar, was sent into India from Alamut, the stronghold of the Grand Master of the Ismailis, and reached Gujarat in the reign of the Hindu king, Siddha Raj (a.d. 1094-1143).[77] He adopted a Hindu name but told the Muslims that his real name was Sayyid Saadat; he is said to have converted the Kanbis, Kharwas and Koris, low castes of Gujarat.[78]

Bohra and Islam
As Nur Satagar is revered as the first missionary of the Khojahs, so is Abd Allah believed by some to have been the founder of the sect of the Bohras, a large and important community of Shi'a, mainly of Hindu origin, who are found in considerable numbers in the chief commercial centers of the Bombay Presidency.

But others ascribe the honor of being the first Bohra missionary to Mulla Ali, of whose proselytizing methods the following account is given by a Shi'a historian:


"As the people of Gujarat in those days were infidels and accepted as their religious leader an old man whose teaching they blindly followed


Mulla Ali saw no alternative but to go to the old man and ask to become his disciple, intending to set before him such convincing arguments that he would become a Muslim, and afterwards to attempt the conversion of others.


He accordingly spent some years in the service of the old man, and having learned the language of the people of the country, read their books and acquired a knowledge of their sciences.


Step by step he unfolded to the enlightened mind of the old man the truth of the faith of Islam and persuaded him to become a Muslim . After his conversion, some of his disciples followed the old mans example.


Finally, the chief minister of the king of that country became aware of the old mans conversion to Islam, and going to see him submitted to his spiritual guidance and likewise became a Muslim.


For a long time, the old man, the minister and the rest of the converts to Islam, kept the fact of their conversion concealed and through fear of the king always took care to prevent it coming to his knowledge; but at length the king received a report of the ministers having adopted Islam and began to make inquiries.


One day, without giving previous notice, he went to the minister's house and found him bowing his head in prayer and was vexed with him. The minister recognized the purpose of the kings visit, and realized that his displeasure had been excited by suspicions aroused by his prayer, with its bowing and prostrations; but the guidance of God and divine grace befitting the occasion, he said that he was making these movements because he was watching a serpent in the corner of the room.


When the king turned towards the corner of the room, by divine providence he saw a snake there, and accepted the ministers excuse and his mind was cleared of all suspicions.


In the end the king also secretly became a Muslim , but for reasons of state concealed his change of mind; when however, the hour of his death drew near, he gave orders that his body was not to be burnt, as is the custom of the infidels. Subsequently to his decease, when Sulṭan Ẓafar, one of the trusty nobles of Sulṭan Firuz Shah, king of Delhi, conquered Gujarat, some of the Sunni nobles who accompanied him used arguments to make the people join the Sunni sect of the Muslim faith; so some of the Bohras are Sunnis, but the greater part remain true to their original faith."[79]


Several small groups of Muslims in Cutch and Gujarat trace their conversion to Imam Shah of Pirana,[80]  Many of the Cutch Muslims that are of Hindu descent reverence as their spiritual leader Dawal Shah Pir, whose real name was Malik Abd al-Latif,[82] the son of one of the nobles of Maḥmud Bigarah (1459-1511), the famous monarch of the Muslim dynasty of Gujarat, to whose reign popular tradition assigns the date of the conversion of many Hindus.[83]

[1] Census of India, 1891. General Report by J. A. Baines, p. 167. (London, 1893.)

[2] Id. pp. 126, 207.

[3] Elliot, vol. ii. p. 448.

[4] Muḥammad b. Qāsim invited the Hindu princes to embrace Islam, and the invaders who followed him were probably equally observant of the religious law. (Elliot, vol. i. pp. 175, 207.)

[5] Or Baran, the old name of Bulandshahr.

[6] Elliot, vol. ii. pp. 42-3.

[7] Gazetteer of  the N.W.P., vol. iii. part ii. p. 85.

[8] "The military adventurers, who founded dynasties in Northern India and carved out kingdoms in the Dekhan, cared little for things spiritual; most of them had indeed no time for proselytism, being continually engaged in conquest or in civil war. They were usually rough Tartars or Moghals; themselves ill-grounded in the faith of Mahomed, and untouched by the true Semitic enthusiasm which inspired the first Arab standard bearers of Islam. The empire which they set up was purely military, and it was kept in that state by the half success of their conquests and the comparative failure of their spiritual invasion. They were strong enough to prevent anything like religious amalgamation among the Hindus, and to check the gathering of tribes into nations; but so far were they from converting India, that among the Mahommedans themselves their own faith never acquired an entire and exclusive monopoly of the high offices of administration." (Sir Alfred C. Lyall: Asiatic Studies, p. 289.) (London, 1882.)

[9] Firisbtah, vol. i. p. 184.

[10] Ibn Baṭūṭah, tome iii. p. 197.

[11] Elliot, vol. iii. p. 386.

[12] Mankind and the Church, p, 286. (London, 1907.)

[13] Sir Richard Temple : India in 1880, p. 164. (London, 1881.) Punjab States Gazetteers. vol. xxxvi a, Bahawalpur, p. 183.

[14] Manual of Titles for Oudh, p. 78.    (Allahabad, 1889.)

[15] Gazetteer of the Province of Oudh, vol. i. p. 466.

[16] Gazetteer of the N.W,P., vol. iii. part ii. p. 46.

[17] Gazetteer of the N.W.P., vol. xiv. part ii. p. 119. In the Cawnpore district, the Muslim  branch of the Dikhit family observes Muhammadan customs at births, marriages, and deaths, and, though they cannot, as a rule, recite the prayers (namāz), they perform the orthodox obeisances (sijdah). But at the same time they worship Chachak Devī to avert small-pox, and keep up their friendly intercourse with their old caste brethren, the Thakurs, in domestic occurrences, and are generally called by common Hindu names. (Gazetteer of the N.W.P., vol. vi. p. 64.)

[18] Ibbetson, p. 163.

[19] Gazetteer of the N.W.P., vol. vi. p. 64. Compare also id. vol. xiv. part iii. p. 47." Muhammadan cultivators are not numerous; they are usually Nau-Muslims.    Most of them assign the date of their conversion to the reign of Aurangzeb, and represent it as the result sometimes of persecution and sometimes as made to enable them to retain their rights when unable to pay revenue."

[20] Ibbetson, p. 163.

[21] Indeed Firishtah distinctly says : " Zealous for the faith of Mahommed, he rewarded proselytes with a liberal hand, though he did not choose to persecute those of different persuasions in matters of religion." (The History of Hindostan, translated from the Persian, by Alexander Dow, vol. iii. p. 361.) (London, 1812.)

[22] The Bombay Gazetteer, vol. xxil. p. 222; vol. xxiii. p. 282.

[23] Innes, pp. 72-3, 190.

[24] Sir W. W. Hunter: The Religions of India.    (The Times, February 25th, 1888.)

[25] Gazetteer of the N.W.P., vol. vi. p. 518.

[26] Gazetteer of the N.W.P., vol. v. part i. pp. 302-3.

[27] Sir Alfred C. Lyall: Asiatic Studies, p. 336.

[28] A tomb in the cemetery of Pantalāyini Kollam bears an inscription with the date A.H. 166. (Innes, p. 436.)

[29] Zayn al-Dīn, pp. 34-5.

[30] Id. p. 36 (init).

[31] Id. p. 21.

[32] The modern Madāyi.

[33] Zayn al-Dīn, pp. 23-4.

[34] Id. p. 25.

[35] Innes, p. 41.

[36] Id. p.398.

[37] Ibn Batutah, tome iv. pp. 82, 88, etc.

[38] Innes, p. 190.

[39] Oboardo Barbosa, p. 310.

Similarly it has been conjectured that but for the arrival of the Portu­guese, Ceylon might have become a Muhammadan kingdom. For before the Portuguese armaments appeared in the Indian seas, the Arab merchants were undisputed masters of the trade of this island (where indeed they had formed commercial establishments centuries before the birth of the Prophet), and were to be found in every sea-port and city, while the facilities for commerce attracted large numbers of fresh arrivals from their settlements in Malabar. Here as elsewhere the Muslim traders intermarried with the natives of the country and spread their religion along the coast. But no very active proselytising movement would seem to have been carried on, or else the Singhalese showed themselves unwilling to embrace Islam, as the Muhammadans of Ceylon at the present day appear mostly to be of Arab descent. (Sir James Emerson Tennent: Ceylon, vol. i. pp. 631-3.) (5th ed., London, 1860.)

[40] Qur'ān, xvi. 126.

[41] Abd al-Razzāq : Maṭla' al-sa'dayn, fol. 173.

[42] They are found chiefly in the Tamil-speaking districts of Madura, Tinnevelly, Coimbatore, North Arcot and the Nilgiris.

[43] The Imperial Gazetteer of India (vol. xxiv. p. 47) spells his name Nādir Shah; Qādir Ḥusayn Khān calls him Nathad Vali.

[44] Madras District Gazetteers,   Trichinopoly, vol. i. p. 338.    (Madras, 1907) Qādir Ḥusayn Khān: South Indian Muslim s, p. 36. (Madras, 1910.)

[45] ) Qādir Ḥusayn Khān, pp. 36-8.

[46] Qādir Ḥusayn Khān, op. cit. pp. 39-42.    Madras District Gazetteers. Anantapur, vol. i. pp. 193-4.    (Madras, 1905.)

[47] Zayn al-Din, pp. 33 (l 4), 36 (l I).

[48] Innes, p. l90. Census of India, 19II. Vol. xii. Part. I. p. 54.

[49] Report on the Census of the Madras Presidency, 1871, by W. R Cornish, pp. 71. 72, 109. (Madras, 1874.)

[50] Report of the Second Decennial Missionary Conference held at Calcutta 1882-3 (pp. 228, 233, 248). (Calcutta, 1883.)

[51] Ibn Baṭūṭah, tome iv. p. 128. Ibn Baṭūṭah resided in the Maldive Islands during the years 1343-4 and married " the daughter of a Vizier who was grandson of the Sulṭan Dā'ūd, who was a grandson of the Sulṭān Ahmad Shanūrāzah " (tome iv. p. 154); from this statement the date a.d. 1200 has been conjectured.

[52] H. C. P. Bell: The Maldive Islands, pp. 23-5,57-8, 71.  (Colombo, 1883.)

[53] Memoir on the Inhabitants of the Maldive Islands. By J. A. Young and W. Christopher. (Transactions of the Bombay Geographical Society from 1836 to 1838, p. 74. Bombay, 1844.)

[54] Innes, pp. 485, 492.

[55] Mas'ūdī, tome ii. pp. 85-6.

[56] The Bombay Gazetteer, vol. x. p  132; vol. xvi. P. 75

[57] Id. vol. xxiii. p. 282.

[58] Sometimes called Sayyid Makhdūm Gīsūdarāz.

[59] The Bombay Gazetteer, vol. xviii. p. 501; vol. xxi. pp. 218, 223.

[60] Id. vol. xiii. part i. p. 231.

[61] Id. vol. xxii. p. 242.

[62] Id. vol. xvi. pp. 75-6.

[63] Id. vol. xxi. p. 203.

[64] At the time of the Arab conquest the dominions of the Hindu ruler of Sind extended as far north as this city, which is now no longer included in this province.

[65] Balādhurī, p. 441 (fin.)

[66] Elliot, vol. i. pp. 185-6.

[67] Probably the Sindān in Abṝasa, the southern district of Cutch.

[68] Balādhurī, p. 446.

[69] Istakhri. PP. 173-4

[70] Balādhurī, p. 446.

[71] Istakhrī, loc.cit. Ibn Ḥawqal, p. 230 sq. Idrīsī (Géographie d'Édrisi, traduite par P. A. Jaubert, vol. i. p. 175 sqq.).

[72] Mas'ūdī, vol. i. p. 207.

[73] Elliot, vol. i. p. 273.

[74] Bombay Gazetteer, vol. i. p. 93.

[75] Khojā Vṛttānt, p. 208. Sir Bartle Frere: The Khojas : the Disciples of the Old Man of the Mountain. Macmillan's Magazine, vol. xxxiv. pp. 431, 433-4. (London, 1876.)

[76] Bombay Gazetteer, vol. ix. part ii. p. 26.

[77] K. B. Fazalullah lutfullah conjectures that Nūr Satāgar came to India rather later, in the reign of Bhīma II (a.d. 1179-1242.) (Bombay Gazetteer, vol. ix. part ii. P. 38.)

[78] Khojā Vṛttānt, p. 154-8.

[79] Nūr Allāh al-Shūlshtarī: Majaliis al-Mu'minīn, fol. 65. (India Office MS. No. 1400.)

[80] A town ten miles south-west of Ahmadabad.

[81] Bombay Gazetteer, vol. ix. part ii. pp. 66, 76.

[82] Bombay Gazetteer, vol. v. p. 89.

[83] Id. vol. ii. p. 378; vol. iii. pp. 36-7.