Conversion of Hindus to Islam: Mostly it was Voluntary
Some facts of history are not palatable to many people, but then one can't brush such facts under the carpet. History does throw up facts and figures which are subject to interpretation, yet there are some incontrovertible facts that can only be interpreted in one way. One of these facts concerns the conversion of Hindus en masse to Islam. I am afraid, I have to use the word en masse , as that is the only word, that can describe, as on date nearly 40% of the population of the sub-continent converting to Islam. The sub-continent includes the states of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
How did this happen? Many writers and historians have their own theories and some Hindus say that Islam in India was spread by the sword. However a reading of history does not reveal this. If the Muslims who ruled India for close to 900 years had wanted to convert the entire population to Islam, it was pretty easy as the Hindu subjects were a docile people as brought out by Frank Moraes, who coined the word" meek and mild Hindus". What did happen? It is worth thinking and pondering about it. If we study this aspect in its proper spirit, we may be able to stem the tide of conversion. It must be remembered that at some places the Muslim armies did use the sword to convert the locals, like in Iran and North Africa as well as Central Asia. At these places they converted 100% of the population to Islam. Again no Muslim army went to places like Indonesia, yet Indonesia is the country with the largest Muslim population in the world.
The first contact the Muslims had with the Hindus was around the 9th century. At that time they came just to plunder and loot the country. Mahmud of Ghazni led 17 expeditions into India, but his main purpose was to loot the wealth of the temples. He was not interested in conversion, though he was against idol worship. In due course some of the Turk and Mongols settled in India as rulers. This was because of the richness of the country and its wealth, which contrasted sharply with the bleak and desolate areas from where they came. Again they were the rulers and were content to rule a defeated race. They made no mass scale plan of conversion as they wanted to create a divide between the ruled and the rulers.
The advent of Islam brought in a string of Sufi saints to India like Baba Farid and Chisti. The Sai Baba of Shirdi was also part of this clan.These men were saints and they prolestilised against Hinduism by example, song and verse. It was here that Hinduism could not face Islam. Hinduism had a caste system which was water tight and allowed no social intercourse, while Islam propagated a classless society. The caste system effectively created a barrier and the Laws of Manu as codified in the Manusmriti ruled supreme. Some verses of the Manusmriti are obnoxious in the extreme as it gives the right to a brahmin to take to bed a lower caste woman, wife or daughter, but in case a lower caste was even to touch a higher caste woman, it merited death.
In addition there were other ills in the Hindu society and that included Sati, Child marriage and debar of marriage of widows. Islam did not recognize these aberrations and the appeal to Hindus of lower caste was immense. The most obnoxious of the rituals Sati was sanctified and temples were erected in honor of some women who committed Sati. I have seen so many of such temples in Rajasthan. Till the arrival of the English, there is only one instance of Sati being banned in India. This was done by the great Aurangzeb, who in his Firman of 1664 , outlawed Sati. This practice reverted back after he died.
India was fertile ground for the Sufi saints who also spread into Bengal and there was mass scale conversion of Hindus to Islam. The lower caste fed up with the atrocities of the higher castes, saw a ray of hope in a classless Islam and readily converted. There was also no prohibition on widow remarriage and overall the appeal of Islam transcended all barriers.
The Sufi saints were supported by the rulers, who were Muslim. But there was no mass scale conversion, though during certain periods like in Kashmir, the sword was used to convert and there 95% of the population converted to Islam. In contrast during this period no Hindu leader or saint emerged. One can only think of Baba Nanak who appeared in the 15th century, but he also wore a choga ( robe) that eulogized Mohammed as the true apostle of god. His " mool Mantra" is a verbatim copy from the Koran. He was not a Muslim, but he realised that there were many ills in Hinduism and accordingly he preached against them. His influence was limited to Punjab.
No great Hindu saint or leader emerged during this period and it was left to Lord Bentick to ban Sati as an act of murder. It is recorded that the Hindu leaders of Bengal were aghast at the legislation equating Sati with murder and appealed to the Governor General and the Privy Council against the banning of Sati, stating it was part of their heritage an practice. The appeal was rejected. I bring this out, only to show how bigoted the Hindu system had become.
In such an atmosphere, the Sufi saints were able to convert millions to Islam. The same set of Sufi saints went to the Far East and converted Buddhists and Hindus to Islam in Indonesia and Malaya. These nations were Hindus and Buddhists, but the appeal of Islam transcended all the barriers.
Till the 1857 mutiny, Hindus and Muslims lived together and as is well known all the Hindu and Muslim kings and chieftains accepted the Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar as the emperor of Hindustan. It was only later that the seeds of communialism were sowed by the English to perpetuate their rule.
Coming to the conversion of Hindus to Islam, it was an ongoing process. There was no compulsion, but the lower caste Hindus thought they would get a better deal in Islam. For this, the blame lies at the door of the Hindu religion. No leader emerged to show the light. Sadly the much touted Hindu leaders like Gandhi and Vivekananda espoused the caste system. This has been the bug bear of Hindu society and even now the entire nation is bedeviled with it. I wonder whether the Hindu leaders take any lessons from history. The future may not be all that rosy.
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