December 6, 1999
The Wisdom Fund

Religion Newswriters Association Bashes Islam

'Top 10 Stories of The Millennium' includes event that never took place!

by Enver Masud

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 to say:

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 Truth About Islam
Sharia or Islamic Law
Islam's Contribution To Europe's Renaissance

[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,", January 1, 1970]

"where were the Buddha's followers today? The answer was almost everywhere - Ladakh, Nepal, Tibet, China, Burma, Thailand, and Ceylon - except India,"-- John Keay, India Discovered, First published in Great Britain in 1981, p66

Richard M. Eaton, "Temple desecration in pre-modern India,", Dec. 9 - 22, 2000

[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]

Paul Lewis, "Charting the Lost Innovations of Islam," Guardian, March 10, 2006

John L. Esposito, "Want to Understand Islam? Start Here," Washington Post, July 22, 2007

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,", June 10, 2012

Bhaskar Menon, "Reality Check for David Cameron's India Quest," undiplomatic times, February 21, 2013

"Why Did Muslim Rulers Destroy Hindu Temples? Facts and Myths," The Wisdom Fund, June 18, 2014

"Why Did Muslim Rulers Destroy Hindu Temples? Facts and Myths," June 18, 2014 [alternate site]

[Hindu kings desecrated temples of their rivals because of the close link between the deities they worshipped and their own political authority.--Ajaz Ashraf, "War trophies: When Hindu kings raided temples and abducted idols,", November 7, 2015]

Dr Ram Puniyani, Anhad India, July 9, 2016

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]

Prof. Ram Puniyani, "Aurangzeb," July 18, 2017 [alternate site]

Audrey Truschke, "Mughal emperor Aurangzeb protected Hindu temples more often than he demolished them,", February 24, 2017

[The Cambridge historian Angus Maddison writes in his book, Contours of the World Economy 1-2030 AD: Essays in Macro-economic History, that while India had the largest economy till 1000 AD (with a GDP share of 28.9 per cent in 1000AD) there was no economic growth. It was during the 1000 AD-1500 AD that India began to see economic growth with its highest (20.9 per cent GDP growth rate) being under the Mughals. In the 18th century, India had overtaken China as the largest economy in the world.--Rana Safvi, "No, Mughals didn't loot India. They made us rich,", September 16, 2017]

"The changing share of world GDP 1600-1870" (in million 1990 international $), Angus Maddison, The World Economy, Paris: OECD, 2001, p. 261, Table B-18

"India was richest country in the world when ruled by Muslims," September 21, 2017 [List of regions by past GDP]

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,", March 2, 2019]

Sara Sohail, "Why Dara Shikoh, Aurangzeb's Brother, Translated The Upanishads Into Persian,", March 22, 2019

Faizan Mustafa, "Why temples were destroyed in India?" Sepember 29, 2019

BOOK EXCERPTS: "Why I Am A Hindu," The Wisdom Fund, October 10, 2019

VIDEO: "John Stratton Hawley on His Latest Book, 'Krishna's Playground: Vrindavan in the 21st Century'," The Wire, January 26, 2020

Audrey Truschke, "The Myth and Reality of Emperor Aurangzeb," The Hindu, February 20, 2019

["He gave the highest number of grants for maintaining Hindu temples, he himself was two-thirds Hindu by blood because Akbar, his great-grandfather, had married a Rajput . . . , and there were more Rajputs in higher echelons during his rule than that of any other Mughal."-- Geeta Pandey, "Aurangzeb: Why is a Mughal emperor who died 300 years ago being debated on social media?,", May 21, 2022]

Why is South India more Developed than North India? | Dhruv Rathee, November 27, 2022

Romila Thapar: Why Indian History Cannot be Reduced to 'Hindu vs Muslim', The Wire, January 19, 2023

Shashi Tharoor and Kapil Sibal on the Toxic Cocktail of Politics and Religion That's Poisoning India, The Wire, March 14, 2024

Namit Arora, 'Indians: A Brief History of a Civilization,'' The Wire, March 28, 2024

back button