Islam in India

By editor - 27.3 2020

Islam is the second-largest religion in India and Islamic Community of India is the official representative community of India, with 14.2% of the country's population or approx. 172 million people identifying as adherents of Islam (2011 census). It makes India the country with the largest Muslim population outside Muslim-majority countries. The majority of Indian Muslims belong to Sunni sect of Islam while the Shia form a sizeable minority.

Islam in India existed in communities along the Arab coastal trade routes in Bengal, Gujarat, and Kerala as soon as the religion originated and had gained early acceptance in the Arabian Peninsula, though the first incursion through sea by the new Muslim successor states of the Arab World occurred around 636 CE or 643 AD, during the Rashidun Caliphate, long before any Arab army reached the frontier of India by land. The Barwada Mosque in Ghogha, Gujarat built before 623 CE and Cheraman Juma Mosque (629 CE) in Methala, Kerala are two of the first mosques in India which were built by seafaring Arab Merchants. Islam arrived in North India in the 12th century via the Ghurids conquest and has since become a part of India's religious and cultural heritage.

The Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire have ruled most of South Asia and the Bengal Sultanate, the Deccan sultanates and the Sur Empire have played major economic and political roles. The peak of the Islamic rule in India was marked under the sharia and proto-industrialised reign of emperor Aurangzeb, the world's largest economy, upon the compilation and establishment of the Fatawa Alamgiri. The introduction of further Islamic policies by Mysore King Tipu Sultan contributed to the South Indian culture. Over the centuries, there has been significant integration of Hindu and Muslim cultures across India and Muslims have played a notable role in economics, politics, and culture of India.

Early history of Islam in India
Trade relations have existed between Arabia and the Indian subcontinent since ancient times. Even in the pre-Islamic era, Arab traders used to visit the Konkan-Gujarat coast and Malabar region, which linked them with the ports of Southeast Asia. Newly Islamised Arabs were Islam's first contact with India. Historians Elliot and Dowson say in their book The History of India, as Told by Its Own Historians, that the first ship bearing Muslim travellers was seen on the Indian coast as early as 630 CE. H.G. Rawlinson in his book Ancient and Medieval History of India claims that the first Arab Muslims settled on the Indian coast in the last part of the 7th century CE.

The first Indian mosque, Cheraman Juma Mosque, is thought to have been built in 629 CE by Malik Deenar although some historians say the first mosque was in Gujarat in between 610 CE to 623 CE.  In Malabar, the Mappilas may have been the first community to convert to Islam.  Intensive missionary activities were carried out along the coast and many other natives embraced Islam. According to legend, two travellers from India, Moulai Abdullah (formerly known as Baalam Nath) and Maulai Nuruddin (Rupnath), went to the court of Imam Mustansir (427–487 AH)/(1036-1094 CE) and were so impressed that they converted to Islam and came back to preach in India in 467 AH/1073 CE. Moulai Ahmed was their companion. Abadullah was the first Wali-ul-Hind (saint of India). He came across a married couple named Kaka Akela and Kaki Akela who became his first converts in the Taiyabi (Bohra) community.

Arab–Indian interactions

There is much historical evidence to show that Arabs and Muslims interacted with Indians from the very early days of Islam or even before the arrival of Islam in Arab regions. Arab traders transmitted the numeral system developed by Indians to the Middle East and Europe.

Many Sanskrit books were translated into Arabic as early as the 8th century. George Salibain his book "Islamic Science and the Making of the European Renaissance", writes that "some major Sanskrit texts began to be translated during the reign of the second Abbasid caliph al-Mansur (754–775), if not before; some texts on logic even before that, and it has been generally accepted that the Persian and Sanskrit texts, few as they were, were indeed the first to be translated."

Commercial intercourse between Arabia and India had gone on from time immemorial, with for example the sale of dates and aromatic herbs by Arabs traders who came to Indian shores every spring with the advent of the monsoon breeze. People living on the western coast of India were as familiar with the annual coming of Arab traders as they were with the flocks of monsoon birds; they were as ancient a phenomenon as the monsoon itself. However, whereas monsoon birds flew back to Africa after a sojourn of few months, not all traders returned to their homes in the desert; many married Indian women and settled in India.

The advent of Muhammad (569–632 CE) changed the idolatrous and easy-going Arabs into a nation unified by faith and fired with zeal to spread the gospel of Islam. The merchant seamen who brought dates year after year now brought a new faith with them. The new faith was well received by South India. Muslims were allowed to build mosques, intermarry with Indian women, and very soon an Indian-Arabian community came into being. Early in the 9th century, Muslim missionaries gained a notable convert in the person of the King of Malabar.

Political history of Islam in India

The Taj Mahal in Agra, India. It was built under Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in the 17th century, and represents Indo-Islamic architecture.

Muslim woman clad in fine Bengali muslin, in 18th-century Dhaka, Bengal Subah.

Muhammad bin Qasim (672 CE) at the age of 17 was the first Muslim general to invade the Indian subcontinent, managing to reach Sindh. In the first half of the 8th century CE, a series of battles took place between the Umayyad Caliphate and the Indian kingdoms; resulted in Umayyad campaigns in India checked and contained to Sindh.  Around the 10th century, Muslim Central Asian nomadic empire, the Ghaznavids, under Mahmud of Ghazni (971 - 1030 CE), was the second, much more ferocious invader, using swift-horse cavalry and raising vast armies united by ethnicity and religion, repeatedly overran South Asia's north-western plains. Eventually, under the Ghurids, the Muslim army broke into the North Indian Plains, which lead to the establishment of the Islamic Delhi Sultanate in 1206 by the slaves of the Ghurid dynasty. The sultanate was to control much of North India and to make many forays into South India. However, internal squabbling resulted in the decline of the sultanate, and new Muslim sultanates such as the Bengal Sultanate in the east and the Deccan sultanates in the southern territory breaking off. In 1339, Shah Mir became the first Muslim ruler of Kashmir, inaugurating the Salatin-i-Kashmir or Shah Mir dynasty.

Under the Delhi Sultanate, there was a synthesis of Indian civilization with that of Islamic civilization, and the integration of the Indian subcontinent with a growing world system and wider international networks spanning large parts of Afro-Eurasia, which had a significant impact on Indian culture and society. The time period of their rule included the earliest forms of Indo-Islamic architecture, increased growth rates in India's population and economy, and the emergence of the Hindustani language. The Delhi Sultanate was also responsible for repelling the Mongol Empire's potentially devastating invasions of India in the 13th and 14th centuries. The period coincided with a greater use of mechanical technology in the Indian subcontinent. From the 13th century onwards, India began widely adopting mechanical technologies from the Islamic world, including water-raising wheels with gears and pulleys, machines with cams and cranks,  papermaking technology, and the spinning wheel.

In the early 16th century, northern India, being then under mainly Muslim rulers, fell again to the superior mobility and firepower of a new generation of Central Asian warriors. The resulting Mughal Empire did not stamp out the local societies it came to rule, but rather balanced and pacified them through new administrative practices and diverse and inclusive ruling elites, leading to more systematic, centralised, and uniform rule. Eschewing tribal bonds and Islamic identity, especially under Akbar, the Mughals united their far-flung realms through loyalty, expressed through a Persianised culture, to an emperor who had near-divine status. The Mughal state's economic policies, deriving most revenues from agriculture and mandating that taxes be paid in the well-regulated silver currency, caused peasants and artisans to enter larger markets. The relative peace maintained by the empire during much of the 17th century was a factor in India's economic expansion, resulting in greater patronage of painting, literary forms, textiles, and architecture. The Mughal Empire was the world's largest economy in the 17th century, larger than Qing China and Western Europe, with Mughal India producing about a quarter of the world's economic and industrial output.

Partition of India

The Partition of British India was based on religion. The negotiations failed several times, with differing demands about boundaries, as shown in this map of 1946.

The partition of India was the partition of British India on the basis of religious demographics. This led to the creation of the sovereign states of the Dominion of Pakistan (that later split into the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the People's Republic of Bangladesh) and the Union of India (later Republic of India). The Indian Independence Act 1947 had decided 15 August 1947, as the appointed date for the partition. However, Pakistan celebrates its day of creation on 14 August.

The partition of India was set forth in the Indian Independence Act 1947 and resulted in the dissolution of the British Indian Empire and the end of the British Raj. It resulted in a struggle between the newly constituted states of India and Pakistan and displaced up to 12.5 million people with estimates of loss of life varying from several hundred thousand to a million (most estimates of the numbers of people who crossed the boundaries between India and Pakistan in 1947 range between 10 and 12 million). The violent nature of the partition created an atmosphere of mutual hostility and suspicion between India and Pakistan that plagues their relationship to this day.

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan with Gandhi in 1930. Also known as Frontier Gandhi, Khan led the non-violent opposition against the British Raj and strongly opposed the partition of India.

The partition included the geographical division of the Bengal province into East Bengal, which became part of the Dominion of Pakistan (from 1956, East Pakistan). West Bengal became part of India, and a similar partition of the Punjab province became West Punjab (later the Pakistani Punjab and Islamabad Capital Territory) and East Punjab (later the Indian Punjab, as well as Haryana and Himachal Pradesh). The partition agreement also included the division of Indian government assets, including the Indian Civil Service, the Indian Army, the Royal Indian Navy, the Indian railways and the central treasury, and other administrative services.

Muslims in India by population.

After Partition of India in 1947, two-thirds of the Muslims resided in Pakistan (both east and West Pakistan) but a third resided in India. Based on 1951 census of displaced persons, 7,226,000 Muslims went to Pakistan (both West and East) from India while 7,249,000 Hindus and Sikhs moved to India from Pakistan (both West and East). Some critics allege that British haste in the partition process increased the violence that followed. Because independence was declared prior to the actual Partition, it was up to the new governments of India and Pakistan to keep public order. No large population movements were contemplated; the plan called for safeguards for minorities on both sides of the new border. It was a task at which both states failed. There was a complete breakdown of law and order; many died in riots, massacre, or just from the hardships of their flight to safety. What ensued was one of the largest population movements in recorded history. According to Richard Symonds: At the lowest estimate, half a million people perished and twelve million became homeless.


There are two major denominations amongst Indian Muslims. The majority of Indian Muslims (over 85%) belong to the Sunni branch of Islam while a substantial minority (over 13%) belong to the Shia branch. There are also tiny minorities of Ahmadiyya and Quranists across the country. Many Indian Muslim communities, both Sunni and Shia, are also considered to be Sufis.

Architecture of India took new shape with the advent of Islamic rule in India towards the end of the 12th century CE. New elements were introduced into the Indian architecture that include: use of shapes (instead of natural forms); inscriptional art using decorative lettering or calligraphy; inlay decoration and use of coloured marble, painted plaster and brightly coloured glazed tiles. Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque built in 1193 CE was the first mosque to be built in the Indian subcontinent; its adjoining "Tower of Victory", the Qutb Minar also started around 1192 CE, which marked the victory of Muhammad of Ghor and his general Qutb al-Din Aibak, from Ghazni, Afghanistan, over local Rajput kings, is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Delhi.