WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Among the top 10 stories of the millennium, according to the
Religion Newswriters Association, is "Islam's expansion into Africa, Europe and Asia,
including its move into India (1190-1200), resulting in the destruction of most of the
subcontinent's indigenous Buddhist culture."
There's just one problem with this story. Islam did not destroy Buddhist culture.
Buddhism never really caught on in India. It was absorbed into Hinduism.
It's worth reading what Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru said about Islam's expansion in "The
Discovery of India." Pandit Nehru, together with Mahatma Gandhi, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad
(who became India's first Minister for Education), and several others, led India's
independence movement. Pandit Nehru, a Hindu, and India's first prime minister had this
frequent intercourse [trade and cultural relations] led to Indians
getting to know the religion, Islam. Missionaries also came to spread the new
faith and they were welcomed. Mosques were built. There was no objection raised
either by the state or the people, nor were there any religious conflicts.
Mahmud's raids are a big event in Indian history, . . . Above all they
brought Islam, for the first time, to the accompaniment of ruthless military
conquest. So far, for over 300 years, Islam had come peacefully as a religion
and taken its place among the many religions of India without trouble or
conflict. . . Yet when he [Mahmud] had established himself as a ruler . . .
Hindus were appointed to high office in the army and the administration."
It is thus wrong and misleading to think of a Moslem invasion of India
or of the Moslem period in India, just as it would be wrong to refer to the
coming of the British to India as a Christian invasion, or to call the British
period in India a Christian period. Islam did not invade India; it had come to
India some centuries earlier.
As a warrior he [Akbar] conquered large parts of India, but his eyes were
set on another and more enduring conquest, the conquest of the minds and hearts
of the people. . . throughout his long reign of nearly fifty years from 1556
onwards he laboured to that end.
Although Muslims ruled India for several centuries, Hinduism remained the dominant
religion, and Sikhism, a new religion combining Islam and Hinduism, was born. King Akbar
even tried to form a new religion, Din Elahi, combining the best of several religions,
but it attracted few followers.
Islam attracted a following in India for the same reasons that it did in North Africa. According
to Jawaharlal Nehru:
North Africa was torn with internecine conflicts between rival Christian factions,
leading often to bloody struggles for mastery. The Christianity that was practised there
at the time was narrow and intolerant and the contrast between this and the general
toleration of the Moslem Arabs, with their message of human brotherhood, was marked. It
was this that brought whole peoples, weary of Christian strife, to their side."
Perhaps the most striking example of Islam's peaceful spread is Indonesia. The largest
Muslim country, with more than 200 million people spread over 3000 island, was never
invaded by Muslims. Islam was spread by the example of traders. Muslims did conquer
many lands, but they did not impose their religion on the people they conquered.
The Hindu scholar, and noted historian, Dr. Bishambhar Nath Pande said, "history was
compiled by European writers whose main objective was to produce histories that would
serve their policy of divide and rule."
We're reminded of Dorothy Gilliam's column of Dec. 20, 1997 for the Washington
Post. Ms. Gilliam wrote, "Newsrooms that do not reflect America's diversity do their
readers an injustice. They fail to tell the stories of its citizens, they give readers a
distorted image of themselves and they grossly twist the reality of minority groups."
We've asked Debra Mason, Executive Director, Religion Newswriters Association, where are
the facts to support the statement that Islam's expansion into India resulted in "the
destruction of most of the subcontinent's indigenous Buddhist culture?" Ms. Mason has
yet to respond.
If the Religion Newswriters Association is regurgitating discredited history, and can't
be bothered to check their findings with respected Muslim scholars, one has to question
either their competence or their integrity.
[The great Buddhist Sanghas were powerful organizations, and many rulers were
afraid of their political powers; hence their attempts to weaken them. Bhrahminism
ultimately succeeded in almost driving out Buddhism from the country of its birth
by assimilating it to some extent and absorbing it and trying to find a place for
it in its own house. . . .
Mahayana triumphed in northern India, Hinayana in the south, till both of them,
in India, were absorbed by Hinduism. Today the Mahayana form of Buddhism exists in
China, Japan, and Tibet; the Hinayana exists in Ceylon and Burma.--Jawaharlal
Nehru, "Glimpses of World History," 1934, p. 91 and 97]
[Buddhism, which was once very popular in the subcontinent, slowly died out under Muslim
rule. Traditionally, when people wanted to escape the caste system, they would move to
the major population centers and convert to Buddhism. When Islam became an option,
however, people began to convert to Islam instead of Buddhism, while still leaving the
caste system. The myths of Islam violently destroying Buddhism in India are simply
false.--Firas Alkhateeb, "How Islam Spread in
India," islamicity.org, January 1, 1970]
[Naipaul would probably be dumbfounded to find that Aurangzeb, that most bigoted of all
Mughal emperors, had once written to his underlings: "... information has reached our
noble and most holy court that certain persons interfere and harass the Hindu residents
of the town of Benaras and its neighbourhood and the Brahman keepers of the temples...
Therefore, our royal command is that, after the arrival of this lustrous order, you
should direct that, in future, no person shall in unlawful way interfere and disturb the
Brahmans and other Hindu residents at these places, so that they may, as before, remain
in their occupation and continue with peace of mind to offer prayers for the continuance
of our god-gifted empire, so that it may last forever."--Amulya Ganguli, "V. S. Naipaul Sees the
Light!," Hindustan Times, January 26, 2003]
[India's new government is poised to rewrite the history taught to the nation's
schoolchildren after a panel of eminent historians recommended scrapping textbooks
written by scholars hand-picked by the previous Hindu nationalist
administration.--Randeep Ramesh, "Another
rewrite for India's history books," Guardian, June 26, 2004]
[Recounting the destructions caused by Mahmud of Ghazni and other invaders
cannot make us forget the long history of religious tolerance in India, and the
fact that the Muslims, despite a fiery and brutal entry, soon developed - with a
few prominent exceptions - basically tolerant attitudes.--Nobel Laureate
Amartya Sen, "The Argumentative Indian," Farrar, Straus and Giroux, October
12, 2005, p. 58]
IN THE BEGINNING. THERE WERE TWO NATIONS. ONE WAS A VAST, mighty and magnificent empire,
brilliantly organized and culturally unified, which dominated a massive swath of the earth. The other was
an undeveloped, semifeudal realm, riven by religious factionalism and barely able to feed its illiterate,
diseased and stinking masses. The first nation was India. The second was England. . . .
Though governed by Muslims under a legal system based loosely on sharia law, its
millions of non-Muslim subjects - Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists - were allowed freedom of
conscience and custom.
This empire was ruled by the world's most powerful man, Akbar the Great. Akbar was one
of the most successful military commanders of all time, a liberal philosopher of
distinction and a generous patron of the arts. . . . His hobbies were discussing
metaphysics, . . . ,Alex Von Tunzelmann, "Indian Summer: The
Secret History of the End of an Empire," Henry Holt and Co.; 1st edition (August 7, 2007)
[Historian S. R. Goyal has attributed the decline and disappearance of Buddhism from
India to the hostility of the Brahmanas.
. . . though Moghuls are accused of destroying Hindu temples, most of these temples
were actually built on Buddhist shrine sites.--Shenali Waduge, "Why
Buddhism prospered in Asia but died in India," buddhistchannel.tv, June 10, 2012
The portrayal of Muslims as Islamist idol-breakers, driven to destroy temples because of
religious fanaticism, . . . is far from the truth (page 136)--Shashi Tharoor, "An Era of
Darkness: The British Empire in India," Aleph Book Company (October 27, 2016)
["A country that was the world leader in at least three industries - textiles, steel and
ship building. A country that had everything . . . And after 200 years of exploitation,
expropriation and clean outright looting, this country was reduced to one of the poorest
countries in the world by the time the British left in 1947," he said.--"British reduced India to one of
the poorest countries: Shashi Tharoor," Indian Express, December 21, 2016]
My generation grew up in an India where our sense of nationhood lay in the slogan, 'unity in
diversity.' (read pages 185-192)--Shashi Tharoor, "Why I Am A Hindu," AlScribe US; US edition (October 2, 2018)
[The first mosque of India, the Cheraman Juma Masjid, was built in 629 (during
the life of Prophet Muhammad) in Kerala, by the first Muslim from India, Cheraman
Perumal Bhaskara Ravi Varma. . . .
He encountered little resistance as he made his way into India. When he reached the city
of Nerun, on the banks of the Indus River, he was welcomed into the city by the Buddhist
monks that controlled it. Most cities along the Indus thus voluntarily came under Muslim
control, with no fighting. In some cases, oppressed Buddhist minorities reached out to
the Muslim armies for protection against Hindu governors. . . .
Traditionally, when people wanted to escape the caste system, they would move to the
major population centers and convert to Buddhism. When Islam became an option, however,
people began to convert to Islam instead of Buddhism--Firas Alkhateeb, "How Islam Spread
in India," islamicity.org, March 2, 2019]