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Chapter 2

Rise of Muslims under the Sultanate

Muslim population in India grew with the expansion of Turkish rule in Hindustan. Its rise was due mainly to the immigration of Muslims from abroad and conversion of Hindus to Islam. There were Muslim losses also, in wars, famines, and through reconversions, and there was the growth of Muslim numbers through natural procreation in years and decades. We study all these processes, to begin with between C.E. 1200 and 1400.

Muslim Immigration

In the armies of Turkish conquerors Muslims of many tribes like Khitai, Qara-Khitai, Qipchaqi, Garji and Ilbari came to India,1 and they stayed on here. Fakhre Mudabbir writes that the army of Qutbuddin Aibak was composed of Turks, Ghoris, Khurasanis and Khaljis.2 Thus in the early years of Turkish conquest immigrant soldiers comprised an important segment of Muslim population in India.

Also with the establishment of Muslim rule, batches of other types of Muslim began to arrive in Hindustan from Central Asia, Persia, African Muslim countries, and what is now called Afghanistan. India was rich and fertile as compared with their own lands, and with the extension of Muslim political power, many immigrants - soldiers and traders, saints and scholars, political refugees and adventurers, and even musicians,. jesters and jugglers - attracted by the ‘abundance of wealth in cash and kind’ - began to flock to India.3 Only a few instances of such immigration may be mentioned. Minhaj Siraj says that people from Persia (and adjoining countries) came to India in ‘various capacities’.4 A great scholar of Iltutmish’s reign was Amir Ruhani; he had come from Bukhara to Delhi during Chingiz’s upheaval.5 Qazi Hamid-ud-din Nagori had also come from abroad.6 Fakhr-ul-Mulk Isami, who had been Vazir at Baghdad for thirty years but then had suffered some disappointment, arrived in India and was appointed Vazir by Iltutmish.7 Nuruddin Muhammad Ufi, the author of Jama-ul-Hikayat had also come to Delhi during Iltutmish’s reign.8 Their important positions in India as well as the influence of the Abyssinian slave Yaqut at the court of Raziyah shows the presence of all types of foreign Muslims in India.

During the reign of Iltutmish, the Khwarizmi prince Jalaluddin Mangbarani fleeing before Chingiz escaped into India with 10,000 followers (1221). Even after his return (1224), some of his followers stayed on here.9 Because of the Mongol upheaval, again, in the court of Iltutmish there arrived twentyfive princes with their retinues from Iraq, Khurasan and Mawaraun Nahr.10 During the reign of Sultan Balban fifteen more refugee princes arrived from Turkistan, Mawaraun Nahr, Khurasan, Iraq, Azarbijan, Persia, Rum and Sham.11 It appears that each one came with a large number of followers because Balban allotted for their residence a locality (mohalla) each.12 These followers comprised masters of pen and of sword, scholars and mashaikh, reciters and musicians. The fact that Balban had garrisoned the forts of Gopalgir, Kampil, Patiali, Bhojpur and Jalali with thousands of Afghan troops,13 and in the royal procession 500 Sistani, Ghori, Samarqandi and Arab soldiers with drawn swords used to march by his side, indicates that a large number of foreigners had come to India during his reign.

The Mongols, who had sent central and west Asian refugees fleeing into India, themselves occasionally arrived as invaders and stayed on in the country. Some also came, as in 1244, from the eastern passes of Tibet into Bengal.14 A large number of Mongols who had arrived with large armies and sought service under Balban entered into relationships with Muslim nobles.15 In 1291, the Mongol invader Alghu ‘with 4,000 Mongols and their families’, made India his home.16 The colony of these neo-Muslims came to be called Mughalpura. Under Alauddin Khalji also many Mongol captives embraced Islam and settled down in India. According to Ziyauddin Barani, many needy persons from Khurasan, Iraq, Mawaraun Nahr, Khwarizm, Sistan, Herat, and Demascus came to Hindustan to receive bounty from Muhammad bin Tughlaq.17 Ibn Battuta says that no new comer from Khurasan was allowed to enter into Indian territory unless he came with the express intent of staying permanently in Hindustan. Battuta was himself required to write a bond to that effect.18 Under Muhammad bin Tughlaq especially, foreigners are said to have been preferred to Indian Muslims on important posts and their immigration encouraged.19 Foreign slaves, male and female, too arrived from countries as far off as China and Abyssinia.

Then there is the fact of foreign traders and merchants coming to India in large numbers. They came both by land and by sea. Horse traders in particular came from the north-western side to Sind, Gujarat, Punjab and U.P.; some also came through the eastern passes into Bengal leading to the establishment of an Arab traders’ colony in Chittagong.20 It is said that the ancestors of Lodi rulers in India (1451-1526) were horsedealers.21 We hear a little later that the best houses in Delhi belonged to the Khurasani merchants,22 which shows that they had built permanent homes in India. Such was the position in North India. In the South, the coastal towns like Calicut, Cochin, and Quilon, to mention only a few, were hub of international trade. There were Muslim colonies on the West Coast from very early times. Indigenous converts added to the numerical strength of foreign Muslims. How quickly their numbers swelled may be inferred from the fact that when, early in the fourteenth century, Malik Kafur marched into Maabar (Malabar), about 20,000 Musalmans who had settled in South India for long and were fighting on the side of the Hindus, deserted to the imperialists and were spared.23 During the thirteenth century Muslim territorial expansion was rather restricted. Till the very end of the century Muslim rule could not extend beyond what it had been by 1206. In the fourteenth century, however, Muslim arms penetrated into the south also encouraging Muslim immigration. With the founding of the Bahmani kingdom, in the middle of the fourteenth century, the avenues of Muslim employment increased still further and so also their immigration.

What could be the quantum of this immigration? It is true that ever since the inception of Muslim rule in India we come across references to Abyssinians (Habshis), Arabs, Afghans, Mongols, Persians, people from Khurasan, Rum and Sham, and of course the Turks, as constantly arriving or living in Hindustan. It is also true that the whole atmosphere of the courts of the Turkish sultans was Islamic; all high officers were Muslim. Their repeated mention in the chronicles creates the impression that they were flooding the country. But repeated references to foreign Muslim elements may not have been due so much to their large numbers as to the important positions they held. It appears that the number of actual immigrants could not have been large. A somewhat detailed discussion on this point will follow later on.


One important mission of Islam was to spread throughout the world. The Quran, the Hadis, the Hidaya and the Sirat-un-Nabi, the four all important works of Islam, direct the faithful to fulfill the above task. Therefore, ‘there was never any doubt in the minds of the Muslims of their right to spread over the earth  The Hidayah is quite explicit about the legality of jihad (holy war) against infidels even when they have not taken the offensive  The Muslim Turks found the moral justification for their advance into India in the induction to propagate Islam. As this could not, in the opinion of kings and warriors, be achieved without the subjugation of non-Muslims and occupation of their territory, the propagation of Islam became identical with war and conquest.’24 In simple language, conquerors and rulers converted people by force. It has been seen that during the Arab invasion of Sind and the expeditions of Mahmud of Ghazni, defeated rulers, garrisons of captured forts, and civilian population were often forced to accept Islam. Turkish rule in Hindustan was established in the teeth of Rajput opposition and the process of war and conversion never ceased. Malik Kafur, the general of Alauddin Khalji, gave the Raja of Dwarsamudra a choice between Islam, death or payment of a huge idemnity.25 But under Muhammad bin Tughlaq there is greater insistence on the vanquished Hindu princes to embrace Islam. The most glaring example of this is that during the Warangal campaign all the eleven sons of the Raja of Kampila were made Muslims. Muhammad bin Tughlaq converted many people in this fashion. When Firoz Tughlaq invaded Jajnagar (Orissa), he captured the son of the Rai of Sikhar, converted him to Islam, and gave him the name of Shakr Khan.26

Ordinarily, captivity for a Rajput was out, of the question; his sense of honour and the dire punishments with which he was visited in case of captivity,27 excluded any attempt on his part to save his life by surrender. He either died on the field of battle or escaped. But in war civilians and non-combatants could easily be taken. Kafur Hazardinari from Gujarat or Hasan (Khusrau Khan) from Malwa would not be the only ones who were captured. They rose into prominence and therefore the circumstances of their enslavement and conversion are known. Large numbers became Musalmans in this way. Muslim rulers were keen to obtain captives in war and convert them. During warfare it was still more easy to enslave women and children. It was almost a matter of policy with the Turkish rulers and their commanders, from the very start of Muslim rule, to capture and convert or disperse and destory the male population, and carry into slavery women and children. Ibn-ul-Asir says that Qutbuddin Aibak made ‘war against the provinces of Hind  He killed and returned home with prisoners and booty.’28 In Banaras, according to Ibn-ul-Asir, Shihabuddin’s slaughter of the Hindus was immense, ‘none was spared except women and children,’29 Who were destined to be made slaves. No wonder that slaves began to fill the household of every Turk from the very inception of Muslim rule in Hindustan. Fakhre Mudabbir informs us that as a result of the Turkish achievements under Muhammad Ghori and Qutbuddin Aibak, ‘even a poor householder (or soldier) who did not possess a single slave (before) became the owner of numerous slaves ’30

In 1231 Sultan Iltutmish attacked Gwalior, and ‘captured a large number of slaves’.31 Minhaj Siraj Jurjani writes that ‘his (Balban’s) taking of captives, and his capture of the dependents of the great Ranas cannot be recounted.’32 Talking of his war in Avadh against Trailokyavarman of the Chandela dynasty (Dalaki wa Malaki of Minhaj), the chronicler says: ‘All the infidel’s wives, sons and dependents  and children  fell into the hands of the victors.’33 In 1253 in his campaign against Ranthambhor also Balban appears to have captured many prisoners.34 In 1259, in an attack on Hariyana (the Shiwalik hills), many women and children were enslaved.35 Twice Balban led expeditions against Kampil, Patiali, and Bhojpur, and in the process captured a large number of women and children. In Katehar he ordered a general massacre of the male population above eight years of age and carried away women and children.36

The process of enslavement during war went on under the Khaljis and the Tughlaqs. Alauddin had 50,000 slaves37 some of whom were mere boys,38 and surely many captured during war. Firoz Tughlaq had issued an order that whichever places were sacked, in them the captives should be sorted out and the best ones (fit for service with the Sultan) should be forwarded to the court.39 Soon he was enabled to collect 180,000 slaves.40 Ziyauddin Barani’s description of the Slave Market in Delhi (such markets were there in other places also) during the reign of Alauddin Khalji, shows that fresh batches of slaves were constantly replenishing them.41

Muhammad bin Tughlaq became notorious for enslaving women, and his reputation in this regard spread far and wide, so that Shihabuddin Ahmad Abbas writes about him thus: ‘The Sultan never ceases to show the greatest zeal in making war upon the infidels  Everyday thousands of slaves are sold at a very low price, so great is the number of prisoners.’42 Ibn Battuta’s eyewitness account of the Sultan’s arranging the enslaved girls’ marriages with Muslims on a large scale on the occasion of the two Ids, confirms the statement of Abbas.43 Such was their influx that Ibn Battuta writes: ‘At (one) time there arrived in Delhi some female infidel captives, ten of whom the Vazir sent to me. I gave one of them to the man who had brought them to me, but he was not satisfied. My companion took three young girls, and I do not know what happened to the rest.’44 Thousands of non-Muslim women45 were captured in the minor yearly campaigns46 of Firoz Tughlaq, and under him the Id celebrations were held on lines similar to those of his predecessor.47 In short the inflow of such captives never ceased, and it need hardly be stated that in the hands of their Muslim masters the slaves, whether captured or purchased, became Musalman sooner or later.

The numbers thus captured and converted during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries cannot be ascertained. But from the details given by the chroniclers, it appears that enslavement during war brought the largest number of converts and, as years passed by, they and their progency seem to have formed the bulk of the Muslim population. Only two instances may suffice to show how this agency contributed to the rapid rise of Muslim numbers. Bashir Sultani was originally a Hindu slave. He converted to Islam and became an important nobleman (Imadul Mulk) under Firoz Tughlaq. He purchased 4,000 slaves.48 Later on they were all manumitted and married, and could have produced other thousands of Muslims in a single generation. Khan-i-Jahan Maqbul too was originally a Hindu. He converted, became Prime Minister, and collected 2,000 women in his harem. How many slaves he had is not known, but for such a high dignitary’s household of two thousand, at least a few thousand slaves would have been required. The point to note is that all these women and slaves, if not originally Muslim, would have embraced Islam in course of time.

Proselytizing Activity of the Government

It was not during expeditions and wars alone that conversions were effected. For increasing the number of their co-religionists, Muslim rulers made free use of the governmental machinery in peace time. This was done not only by the sultans of Delhi, but by all Muslim rulers - of Bengal, Kashmir, the Deccan - wherever Muslim rule was established. Another step was the building and maintenance of mosques, Khanqahs and Sarais from government funds. The buildings were often constructed on the sites of Hindu shrines and from materials obtained by demolishing them. These mosques, besides being houses of worship and centres of Islamic learning, often provided asylum to the needy and the indigent, who could be potential converts. Sometimes conquests were undertaken with a ‘missionary’ motive.49 Some rulers like Sikandar Butshikan of Kashmir (1394-1417) just compelled their subjects to embrace Islam.50

An important and effective means of obtaining converts was economic temptation or pressure. Ibn Battuta writes that Sultan Qutbuddin Mubarak Shah Khalji (1316-1320) used to encourage Hindus to accept Islam by presenting a convert with a robe of honour and a gold ornament.51 In Bengal the landlords and Rajas who could not deposit land revenue by a certain date had to convert to Muhammadanism.52 Under Frioz Tughlaq (1351-88) the state openly became an agency of conversion. Shams Siraj Afif says that he ordered his Amils to convert Hindus to Islam.53 Firoz Tughlaq himself writes that he rescinded the Jiziyah to lure people to become Muhammadans, and this measure brought him groups of converts ‘day by day from every quarter.’54 And so were Indian Muslims made.

Contemporary sources do not supply any figures of the converted in this way. But the number of converts was perhaps not small. Ibn Battuta’s assertion that Qutbuddin Mubarak Shah’s system of proselytization provided a convenient handle to his enemies to murder him by introducing into the palace a large number of Hindus declaring them to be possible converts, shows that Qutbuddin was accustomed to converting large numbers.55

Voluntary Conversions

Side by side the efforts of the Muslim ruling classes was the proselytizing activity of the Sufi Mashaikh. It is, however, not known to what extent the Sufis were interested in the work of conversion, and this problem will be taken up in some detail at a later stage. Here it would suffice to point out that not many reliable references to their proselytizing activity are available in genuine hagiological works. They may have helped those who showed any inclination to become Muslims. Occasionally they resorted to force also to convert people.56

Closely related to the work of missionaries is the question of voluntary conversions. There are some references in the chronicles about individual Hindus accepting Islam because of dissatisfaction with their own faith. Al Biladuri mentions such a case. ‘The son of (a) king fell sick, and he desired the ministers of the temples to pray to the idol for the recovery of his son  But  the youth died. Then the king attacked the temple, destroyed  the idol, and slew the ministers. He afterwards invited a party of Muhammadan traders who made known to him the unity of God  and (he) became a Musalman.’57 Tarikh-i-Tahiri mentions the case of the younger brother of Dalu Rai, the ruler of Sind, who, of his own accord, became a Musalman and got married at Mecca.58 Similarly one hoping through conversion to obtain his object of love, succession to property., etc, would have voluntarily embraced Islam. Some, whose relatives had converted but who were not prepared to cut themselves off from them, too would have followed suit. These are solid assumptions, often backed by references in Persian chronicles.

The ‘groups’ which converted to get relief from the Jiziyah, referred to by Firoz Tughlaq, obviously belonged to the poor, economically vulnerable sections. The few caste groups which converted to Islam did so because of professional and vocational compulsions. Such conversions took place mostly in urban areas, especially among artisans, mechanics, handicraftsmen. The Zamorin ordered some fishermen of Malabar to convert to Islam in order to man his warships.59 Some urban tailors also converted. The inter-dependence of cotton-carders, weavers (dhunia, julaha) and tailors would have encouraged the former to embrace Islam. Beggars accepting cooked food from Muslims would have become Musalmans automatically. Butchers would have become Musalmans because their vocation found a ready and sympathetic clientele among Muhammedans.

Muslim Losses

Side by side the rise in Muslim numbers through immigration and conversion, there was decimation of Muslim population also. Muslim rulers had to struggle hard to preserve and expand their territory not only against Hindu Rajas but also against rebel Muslim governors and adventurers. There were wars against Hindu rulers for extension of Muslim political power and there were wars of succession and military campaigns against defiant Muslim governors. Withal foreign invaders had to be kept in check All these processes entailed loss of Muslim lives.

A glance at a few historical events can give an idea of this loss. During the first year of their conquest the Muslims had captured Ajmer, Hansi, Kuhram, Sarsuti, Baran, Meerut, Kol and Ranthambhor. But in 1193 the Chauhan prince Hariraja, ‘collected a Rajput force and besieged Ranthambhor where, earlier in the year, Aibak had placed a garrison under Qivam-ul-Mulk’.60 The Chauhans also occupied Ajmer. In 1194 Aibak is stated to have crossed the Jumna a second time to capture Kol, but the next year again he had to proceed to the relief of its garrison. On his return to Delhi in 1195 ‘news arrived of fresh trouble in Ajmer,’ which was again besieged by the Rajputs in 1195 and Aibak had to fight hard for its relief; and it could be saved only by the timely arrival of reinforcements from Ghazni.61 But a little later, in Ghazni itself Yaldoz was creating trouble for the Delhi Sultan. Such troubles recurred constantly; as a consequence of which there was loss of Muslim numbers. The best instances of such losses are found in the east where Bakhtiyar Khalji’s ambition to conquer ‘Tibet and China’ destroyed his whole army,62 or in the west where a Hindu king, after defeating a Muslim army shorly after the initial Turkish conquest, openly regarded himself as restoring to India its original name of Aryavarta by killing off the mlechchhas.63

Sultan Iltutmish’s accession (1210) was resisted by Delhi Jandars, and in the battle he ‘put most of their horsemen’ to the sword. His wars with Yaldoz and Qubacha again must have meant depletion of Muslim numbers (fighting on both sides) continually. In his attack on Malwa - Vidisha, Ujjain etc., again some Muslim soldiers would have perished. During his attack on Nagda, the capital of the Guhilots, he was driven away by its ruler Kshetra Singh, with heavy losses. But the most interesting fact is that Kalinjar, Gwalior, Ranthambhor and even Badaon and Kanauj, which had been captured earlier, had to be reconquered by him.64 Obviously the Muslim garrisons in these places had been destroyed by the Rajputs. Minhaj Siraj makes mention of a Hindu Raja of Avadh, Bartu (?) by name, ‘under whose hands and sword (in 1226) more than 120,000 Musalmans had received martyrdom’.65 The figure may be inflated, but the fact is important. Raziyah’s rule was full of bloodshed. Armies of Delhi, Lahore, Bhatinda and Sirhind were involved in war. Karmatians had created trouble in Iltutmish’s reign: in Raziyah’s reign a thousand of them openly attacked the Muslims in the Jama Masjid, killed many of them and then were themselves killed. Ranthambhor had once again to be evacuated during her reign. Since perhaps during the period of the early sultans there was not muh Indianisantion of the army, the losses in war may have been mainly of the Muslims. Alauddin Masu’d Shah had acquired the habit of seizing and killing his nobles66 (and certainly other Muslims too). In Nasiruddin’s reign two attempts on Ranthambhor (1248, 1259) seem to have been made without success67 but surely entailing loss of Muslim soldiers. In wars in Avadh, Narwar, Gwalior, Chanderi, Malwa etc., again, many Muslims would have lost their lives.

Add to these losses the Mongol killings in India. In 1241 the Mongols under Tair Bahadur captured Lahore, ‘slaughtered the Muhammadans and made their dependents captive’.68 Hasan Qarlugh wrested Multan in 1245 and ‘the whole of Sindh was lost to the Mongols.’69 It was recovered by Ulugh Khan (Balban) but the next year the Mongols70 again arrived under Sali Bahadur. By 1254, the territory up to and including Lahore had been taken by them. During Balban’s reign the Mongol pressure increased all the more. His son, the Prince Martyr, lost his life fighting them. So great was the loss on this occasion, that according to Amir Khusrau, ‘in Multan, in every house there was some dead to be wept for.’71 Vigorous Mongol attacks.72 continued right up to the first decade of the fourteenth century; and this alone can give an idea of the losses suffered by Muslim (and Hindu) population.

Meanwhile fighting at home never ceased. Balban did not mount any major attacks on neighbouring rulers, but even so his campaigns against the rebellious Bengal and Mewat would have only added to the depletion of Muslim numbers. Barani says that the Mewatis had killed a hundred thousand of his personal troops.73 Jalaluddin Khalji’s accession was attended by loss of Muslim lives. What Ranthambhor meant to him (and had surely meant to his predecessors too), is candidly confessed by him. He had marched to it in 1291, but recoiled from attacking it because he feared that its capture would entail great loss of Muslim lives.74 With murdering Mongols he purchased peace. Although Alauddin Khalji rarely suffered defeat, yet there is no doubt that Muslim soldiers lost their lives in good numbers in the Bengal campaign, at Ranthambhor and Chittor and against the recurring terrific Mongol invasions.75 The rebellions of Ikat Khan, Haji Maula and Umar and Mangu Khan too would have killed many Muslims. The massacres of neo-Muslims under Balban and Alauddin (30,000 under Alauddin only) would have added to the depreciation of Muslim numbers, and so also in Ghayasuddin Tughlaq’s expeditions to Warangal, Jajnagar, Tirhut, and Bengal.

Muslim blood was shed most recklessly under Muhammad bin Tughlaq. Many of his schemes were costly in terms of human life. In the ‘Qarachal’ venture 100,000 soldiers are said to have perished. Many of these, if not all, would have been Muslims. A modern historian recounts twenty-two rebellions during his reign, twenty of which were of Muslim nobles or governors, and the details point to loss of Muslim lives on both sides, rebel as well as royalist.76 During the transfer of the capital, according to the same scholar, it were mainly Muslims who were asked to go from Delhi to Devagiri, and it is they who suffered and died in the exodus.77 Ibn Battuta and Ferishtah credit this Sultan with a love for shedding blood. Not a little of this blood was Muslim.

Under Muhammad Tughlaq’s successor Firoz Tughlaq, Shams Siraj Afif notices a demographic recovery.78 When he wrote about it, he was naturally thinking in terms of his co-religionists also. But after Firoz’s death civil wars and other disorders began to decimate Muslim numbers. Most of the 180,000 slaves were done away with by his son Nasiruddin Muhammad Shah.79 Muhammad Bihamad Khani gives vivid details of how with the weakening of the Sultanate, Muslim forces were repeatedly defeated and destroyed by even local rulers like Adharan and Sumer, and how Muslims were ousted from Chandwar, Bhongaon, Bercha, Kalpi and many other places, of course with great losses in men.80 As the fourteenth century closed, Timur arrived to kill indiscriminately, not only Hindus but also Muslims.81 Muslim numbers would also have contributed their share to famines, pestilences etc. commonly recurring in India.

Natural Growth of Muslim Population

These contradictory scenes in Muslim demography apart, about one thing one can be sure. While the overall demographic trend of India showed a decline, the Muslim population showed only an upward tendency. It is true that many a time statistical victories through conversions were scored off by losses in wars, yet an overall rise in Muslim population - sometimes slow, at others accelerated - is clearly discernible.

The rise seems to be slow between 1200 and 1300, and rapid between 1300 to 1400. Historical facts vouch for this behaviour. Up to the end of the thirteenth century, government effort towards proselytization is hesitant.82 For example, when some Ulema approached Iltutmish and suggested to him to confront the Hindus with a choice between Islam and death, Nizam-ul-Mulk Junaidi, the Wazir, replied: ‘But at the moment in India  the Muslims are so few that they are like salt (in a large dish). If the above orders are to be applied  the Hindus might combine  and the Muslims would be too few in number to suppress (them). However, after a few years when in the Capital and in the regions and the small towns, the Muslims are well established and the troops are larger, it will be possible to give Hindus, the choice of ‘death’ or ‘Islam’.’83 Iltutmish, Balban and Alauddin Khalji were practical administrators, and but for the captives and converts obtained by them during wars, they did not act as royal missionaries. Besides, with the Hindus politically strongly entrenched right up to the end of the thirteenth century, Muslim proselytizing activity had to be cautious. Alauddin subdued the major Hindu powers. With their submission and extension of Muslim political power to most parts of the country Hindu vulnerability to proselytization increased. Therefore, between 1300 to 1400, under Qutbuddin Mubarak, Muhammad and Firoz Tughlaq, conversions were effected at an accelerated pace, and immigrants also arrived in larger numbers.

In brief till about the end of the thirteenth century, Muslims in India were only like ‘salt in a large dish’. The main reason for this phenomenon was that during the whole century there was little Muslim territorial expansion. To what had been acquired by 1206, nothing substantial was added till about 1300, and all the energies of the Sultanate were concentrated on preserving their acquisitions rather than expanding territorially. Such a situation was discouraging both to proselytization and even immigration. Even in the capital city of Delhi and its environs the Muslims were few, a fact which probably made Barani suffer from an incurable Hindu-phobia.84 From the time of Alauddin Khalji, however, Muslim population in India began to grow a little faster due to the spreading of the Muslim rule to almost the whole of India after 1300, and it is rightly claimed that the establishment of the Vijayanagar Empire in the South was effected with a view to preserve Hinduism from the onslaughts of Islam. But contemporaneously the Bahmani kingdom of the South was also founded and it took to proselytising work usual with a Muslim regime.

By the close of the fourteenth century, the situation was like this. Kashmir’s introduction to Islam had started since the days of Mahmud of Ghazni. Sind and Punjab were being effectively Islamised by rulers and Mongol invaders. In Gujarat, Deccan and Malwa also, because of the campaigns of local Muslim rulers against Hindu chiefs, the number of Muslims had risen. By the last years of the century, in the heartland of Muslim power, Muslim population of Delhi and its adjoining regions rose greatly, a fact which prompted Afif to write ‘from the qasba of Indrapat (present Indraprastha Estate) to the Kaushik-i-Shikar (present Delhi University area), five kos apart all the land was occupied   There were eight public mosques, and one private mosque  The public mosques were each large enough to accommodate 10,000 suppliants’.85 This clearly indicates a fairly large Muslim population in the capital city.

There is yet another, though indirect and not unimpeachable, evidence for this rise. Alauddin Khalji had abolished the jagir system, lest local officials should turn contumacious. But by the time of Firoz Tughlaq the number of dependable Muslims (or Muslims of a few generations) had increased, and he could safely entrust jagirs to them, ‘and during the forty years of his reign he devoted himself to generosity and the benefit of Musalmans, by distributing villages and lands among his followers’ in lieu of salary.86

Indian Muslims around CE 1400

So, between C.E. 1200 and 1400 especially in the fourteenth century, Muslim population had grown at an accelerated pace. The agencies which contributed to this growth are, well-known. Historical facts giving an idea of this rise too are on record. But the quantum or percentage of rise during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries is not possible to estimate with any amount of accuracy for want of specific data. However, it has been estimated by me elsewhere that there were more than thirty lakh Muslims in India around the year 1400 C.E.87 These Indian Muslims were not a coalesced lot. The Musalmans of Gujarat, Malabar or Bihar had little communication among themselves. The interests of merchants were different from the other classes. Even in the Central region of Delhi-Agra Muslims had broken up into groups of vested interests. In theory all Muslims are equal; in practice some have always been more equal than the others. Foreign Muslims tried to dominate over Indian Muslims. At the top were the Ulema or the learned, nobles and army commanders. They were all foreigners or descended from migrant Muslims. It was from the Ulema class that the high officers, of government as well as religious institutions were chosen. Their presence was indispensable to a Sultan, who was generally uneducated, if not unlettered. They assisted him in the interpretation and execution of the law. It was through these men that the regime systematized the religious and social life of the Muslim community just as it organized the extension and administration of Muslim dominions in India through the nobility.

The nobility laid the foundation of Muslim rule in India. It was also sustained by the endeavours and exertions of foreign warriors and nobles. These foreign nobles belonged to Turkic, Persian, Arab, Afghan, Mongol, Abyssinian and Egyptian stocks but were known by the generic title ‘Turk’. They constituted the ruling oligarchy of the early Sultanate. They were army commanders-cum-civil administrators, officers in charge of provinces and districts and holders of other similar appointments of various grades and ranks. Many of them had risen from humble beginnings; some of them were originally slaves. But conquest of Indian kingdoms had proved to be very lucrative. So greatly had they benefited during campaigns and wars, and so great was their need to hold and administer the newly acquired territories, that they all became men of power and influence. They were known by the generic term Turks and they insisted on monopolizing all key posts and important positions, and maintaining their racial and exotic identity. This attitude was also shared by their children and children’s children, who though born in India, psychologically felt that they were Turks of foreign stock. On the other hand the foreign Muslims treated the Indian Muslim converts with contempt. They were so class conscious that Ziyauddin Barani, who was born in India but belonged to a family of nobles, credits the Turks, both in his Tarikh-i-Firoz Shahi as well as Fatawa-i-Jahandari, with all possible virtues and the Indian Muslims with all kinds of vices.

The Indian converted Muslims manned the subordinate occupations. The socially rejected tradesmen were weighers, camel and donkey drivers, changers, falconers, cuppers, leather-workers and tanners, geomancers, jugglers, and barbers.88 The menials included scavengers, entertainers, funeral workers. Wrestlers, clowns, players, story tellers, and singing women, moving about in the streets, irregularly employed, knocking about for a living, associated with vice and begging, were part of this low class.89 Tailors, weavers and carpenters were a little better off. Somewhere in between can be placed saddlers, bow-makers, blacksmiths, rope-makers, butchers, wool-dealers, bakers, gardeners, domestic slaves, beggars, labourers and pedlars of all kinds.

These professions were almost exclusively manned by backward classes neo-converts. Conversion to Islam did not change their status, and foreign Muslims looked down upon them. The foreigners especially were not prepared to treat them on equal terms at all. To add insult to injury, the chronicler Ziya Barani, a confirmed believer in the racial superiority of the so-called Turks and baseness of the Indian Muslims, recommends: ‘Teachers of every kind are to be sternly ordered not to thrust precious stones down the throats of dogs  that is, to the mean, the ignoble, the worthless. To shopkeepers and the low born they are to teach nothing more than the rules about prayer, fasting, religious charity and the Hajj pilgrimage along with some chapters of the Quran and some doctrines of the faith without which their religion cannot be correct and valid prayers are not possible. They are to be instructed in nothing more. They are not to be taught reading and writing for plenty of disorders arise owing to the skill of the low-born in knowledge ’90 ‘The low-born, who have been enrolled for practising the baser arts and the meaner professions, are capable only of vices ’91 Indeed all neo-Muslims were called by the generic but contemptuous term julaha. Surely all the converts could not have come from the weaver caste, but the word julaha became synonymous with the despised low-born Indian Muslim convert.

On the other hand the foreign Muslims (or Turks) ‘alone are capable of virtue, kindness, generosity, valour, good deed, good works, truthfulness, keeping of promises  loyalty, clarity of vision, justice, equity, recognition of rights, gratitude for favours and fear of God. They are, consequently, said to be noble, free born, virtuous, religious, of high pedigree and pure birth. These groups, alone are worthy of offices and posts in the government  Owing to their actions the government of the king is strengthened and adorned.’ On the other hand the ‘low-born’ (Indian) Muslims are capable only of vices - immodesty, falsehood, miserliness, misappropriation, wrongfulness, lies, evil-speaking ingratitude, shamelessness, impundence  So they are called low-born, bazaar people, base, mean, worthless, plebian, shameless and of dirty birth’.92 Now neither the one could be so good nor the other that bad, but Ziyauddin Barani rightly depicts the prevailing attitudes and consequent tensions. What worried him most was that the Indian Muslims were appointed to ‘high offices and are successful in their work  they will make people of their own kind their helpers, supporters, colleagues. They will not allow (Turkish) nobles and free-born men and men of merits to come anywhere near the affairs of the government.’93

In short, there was a constant and bitter struggle of wit and influence for power going on between the ‘foreign’ Turks and Indian Muslims - Indian Muslims both high and low. Although the claim of nobility of birth by purchased slaves makes little sense, the Turks felt that they belonged to blue blood and as founders of Muslim rule in India, they deserved special consideration. It was their right to keep to themselves all high offices, for they possessed merit and were superior to the julahas. The Indian Muslims knew that the Turks were good fighters, but for administrative work the indigenous Muslims were better suited if not indispensable. Muhammad bin Qasim and Mahmud Ghaznavi used to employ Hindus in administration and army. But with the permanent establishment of Muslim rule in India and the growth of Muslim population, the policy of the early sultans was to keep the Hindus excluded from offices and appoint only Muslims. Consequently, many ambitious Hindus converted to Islam to obtain offices. They were originally Brahmans or Kshatriyas or of other high classes and perhaps belonged originally to raja, zamindar or warrior families. Such converts had good chances of entering official positions because isolation from original homes and communities made them all the more reliable servants. They had intelligence and experience on account of their being sons of the soil. They carried with them their caste pride. In short, the Indian Muslim officers did not feel inferior to the Turks. While the poor sections of the neo-Muslims could bear any humiliation at the hands of the Turks, the higher class Indian Muslims hit back.

In this strife, the foreign Muslims had an edge. They were closer to the sultan and wielded influence with him. They were ever doing research on the ancestry of Indian Muslim officers, and informing the king about their origins and genealogy with a view to denigrating them and attempting at the removal of those who had ‘infiltrated’ into it. Ziyauddin Barani derives a cynical pleasure in writing about the exclusion and expulsion of low-born Muslims from state employment. He says that Iltutmish dismissed thirtythree persons from government service by one stroke of the pen on account of their low birth. He also writes that the Vazir Nizamul Mulk Junaidi had appointed one Jamal Marzuq as the Mutsarrif (Superintendent) of Kannauj. The sultan not only cancelled the appointment of Marzuq, he even went into the antecedents of Nizamul Mulk himself on the representation of Malik Qutbuddin Hasan the Barbak and Malik Izzuddin Salari the Vali-i-Dar, who had some personal score to settle with the Vazir. Nizamul Mulk is highly praised by Muhammad Ufi, who dedicates his book the Jami-ul-Hikayat to the Vazir. This shows that he was high born. But it was not difficult for vested interests to prove that the Vazir’s grandfather had descended from the julaha class. It is said that the latter lost the confidence of the sultan. But not his office. Obviously, the sultan dared not remove him. Barani wrongly writes that no Indian Muslim could be retained on an iqta or appointed to the post of khwajgi, mutsarrifi or Mir Muharriri. It is true that Balban also made detailed enquiries about the families of all his officers. He refused to grant audience to a low-born officer (Amir-i-Bazariyan) for ‘granting him an interview would reduce the status of the king in the eyes of the common people and diminish the prestige of the throne’,94 and removed one Kamal Maiyher from the khwajgi of Amroha. The situation never changed, and Francois Bernier, late in the seventeenth century, talks of originally ‘real Mongols’, ‘White men, foreigners’. He also says ‘that children of the third and fourth generation, who have the brown complexion… are held in much less respect than new comers, and are seldom invested with official situations: they consider themselves happy, if permitted to serve as private soldiers in the infantry or cavalry.’95


Ibn Battuta, op. cit., p. 63. Hindi translation by A.A. Rizvi in Tughlaq Kalin Bharat, part I, Aligarh, 1956, p. 189.

Also Ishwari Prasad, Qaraunah Turks, p.331.

Also see K.R. Qanungo, Historical Essay (Agra, 1968), p.151 for proselytizing efforts of the militant mashaikh in Bengal and Richard Maxwell Eaton, Sufis of Bijapur (1300-1700), Princeton, 1978, for the Deccan.

  1. Minhaj Siraj, Tabqat-i-Nasiri, pp. 238, 242, 247, 249, 256, 258, 262, 276, 281. 

  2. Tarikh-i-Fakhruddin Mubarak Shah, ed. Sir Denison Ross, (London, 1927), p. 33. 

  3. Ferishtah, op. cit., I, p.84. Also p. 66. 

  4. Minhaj, op. cit., pp.157-60. 

  5. Ferishtah, I, p. 66. 

  6. Ibid., p. 67 

  7. Ibid. 

  8. Loc. cit. 

  9. A.B.M. Habibullah op. cit., pp. 95,97. 

  10. Ferishtah, I, p. 73. 

  11. Ferishtah, I, p.75. Also Habibullah, op. cit., p.272. 

  12. Thus fifteen mohallas (localities) were colonized in Delhi. These were named as Abbasi, Sanjari, Khwarizm Shahi, Delmi, Alvi, Atabaki, Ghori, Chingezi, Rumi, Sunquri, Mosuli, Samarqandi, Kashgari, and Khitai. Ferishtah, I, p. 75. 

  13. Ziyauddin Barani, Tarikh-i-Firoz Shahi, (Calcutta, 1862) pp.57-58. 

  14. Ferishtah, op. cit., I, p.70. 

  15. Ibid., p. 85. 

  16. Barani, op.cit., p.218. Isami, Futah-us-Salatin, pp. 205-06. 

  17. Ibid., p.462. 

  18. Ibn Battuta, Rehla, Trs, Mahdi Husain (Baroda, 1953), pp.14-15. 

  19. Yahiya Sarhindi, Tarikh-i-Mubarak Shahi, pp.107-108. 

  20. Abdul Karim, Social History of the Muslims in Bengal, Asiatic Society of Pakistan (Dacca, 1959), p.147. 

  21. Lal, Twilight of the Sultanate, p.132. 

  22. Yahiya Sarhindi, op.cit., pp.107-108. 

  23. Lal, History of the Khaljis, p.250. 

  24. M. Mujeeb, The Indian Muslims (London, 1967), pp.67-68. 

  25. Lal, Khaljis, p. 247. 

  26. Yahiya, p.129. Ferishtah, I, p.147. 

  27. Alberuni, II, pp. 162-163. 

  28. Ibn Asir, Kamil-ut-Tawarikh, p.250. 

  29. Ibid., p.251. 

  30. Tarikh-i-Fakhruddin Mubarak Shah, op. cit., p.20 has ‘jauq jauq ghulam har jins’

  31. Ferishtah, I, p. 66. Also Minhaj, op. cit., p.175. 

  32. Minhaj, E and D, II, p348. 

  33. Ibid., 367. Also Ferishtah, I, 71. 

  34. Ibid., p. 371. 

  35. Ibid., pp. 380-81 

  36. Barani, op. cit., p. 59, Ferishtah, I, p.77. 

  37. Shams Siraj Afif, Tarikh-i-Firoz Shahi, Bib., Ind., Text (Calcutta, 1890), p. 272. 

  38. Barani, op.cit, p.318. Lal, Khaljis, op.cit., pp.214-15. 

  39. Afif, op. cit., p. 267. 

  40. Ibid., p.270. 

  41. Barani, op. cit., pp.314-15. 

  42. Masalik-ul-Absar, op. cit, p. 580. 

  43. ‘First of all, daughters of Kafir (Hindu) Rajas captured during the course of the year, come and sing and dance. Thereafter they are bestowed upon Amirs and important foreigners. After this daughters of other Kafirs dance and sing  the Sultan gives them to his brothers, relatives, sons of Maliks etc. On the second day the durbar is held in a similar fashion after Asr. Female singers are brought out  the Sultan distributes them among the Mameluke Amirs. On the third day relatives of the Sultan are married and they are given rewards. On the sixth day male and female slaves are married. On the seventh day he (the Sultan) gives charities with great liberality.’ 

  44. Ibn Battuta, op. cit., p.123. 

  45. Afif, op. cit., p.265 has ‘chandin hazar aurat musturat va makhdarat musalmanan nasib mikardand’. Also see pp. 119-20. 

  46. Ibid., p.180. 

  47. Ibid., p. 360. 

  48. Ibid., p. 144. 

  49. Amir Khusrau, Khazain-ul-Futuh, English trs. by Mohammed Habib under the title Campaigns of Alauddin Khilji (Bombay, 1933), p.80. 

  50. Ferishtah, op. cit., II, p. 341. 

  51. Ibn Battutah, Voyages, ed. C. Defremery and B.R. Sanguinetti (Paris, 1857), Ill, pp.197-98. Also Lal, Khaljis, op. cit., p. 305. 

  52. Satya Krishna Biswas, Banshasmriti (Bengali), Calcutta, 1926, pp.6-10. 

  53. Afif, op. cit., pp. 268-69. 

  54. Fatuhat-i-Firoz Shahi of Firoz Tughlaq, E and D, III, p. 386. 

  55. Lal, Khaljis, op.cit., p.305; Ferishtah, op.cit., I, p.127. 

  56. For instance Raju Qattal’s efforts to convert Nahawan, the Darogha of Uchch; the latter’s resistance and murder. Jamali, Siyar-ul-Arifin (Delhi, 1311 H.), pp.159-60. Also Ferishtah, op. cit., II, pp.417-18. 

  57. Biladuri, Futuh-ul-Buldan, op.cit., pp.129-30. 

  58. E and D, I, pp. 258-59. 

  59. Titus, op. cit., p. 39. 

  60. Habibullah, op. cit., p. 63. Fakhr-i-Mudabbir, op. cit, p.22. 

  61. Habibullah, 64-67. 

  62. Minhaj, op. cit., pp. 152-157. 

  63. R.C. Majumdar, ‘Study of Indian History’ in the Journal of The Bombay Branch of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1957, p. 150. 

  64. Habibullah, op. cit., pp.100-104. 

  65. Minhaj E and D, II, p.329. Also . D.C. Ganguly in The Struggle For Empire, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan (Bombay), p.55. 

  66. Ibid., Minhaj, p. 345. 

  67. Ibid., pp. 349,368-69. 

  68. Minhaj, pp.. 340-41. 

  69. Habibullah, op.cit., p. 213. 

  70. Ibid., p. 215. 

  71. Wahid Mirza, Life and Works of Amir Khusrau (Calcutta, 1935), p. 63. 

  72. Habibullah, op. cit., pp.216-25. 

  73. Barani, op. cit., p.57. 

  74. Ibid., p.213. 

  75. Lal, Khaljis, op. cit., p.144, n.66. 

  76. Mahdi Husain, Tughlaq Dynasty (Calcutta, 1963), pp.195-257. 

  77. Ibid., pp.144-64, esp.149. 

  78. Afif, op. cit., pp.95, 99, 264-65, 321. 

  79. Muhammad Bihamad Khani, Tarikh-i-Muhammadi, 425b, trs. Rizvi, op. cit., p.233. 

  80. Ibid., fols. 418b-419b, and corresponding pp.228-29 in Rizvi. 

  81. Lal, Twilight, op. cit., pp.17-43, 320. 

  82. Barani, pp. 42-44. 

  83. Ziyauddin Barani, Sana-i-Muhammadi, Medieval India Quarterly, I, pt. III, pp. 100-105. 

  84. Barani, pp.41-42, 44 and 216-17. Similar sentiments are expressed on pp.72-75. 

  85. Afif., p.135. 

  86. Afif, op. cit., p. 95. 

  87. K.S. Lal, Growth of Muslim Population, pp. 125-26. 

  88. Ira Mervin Lapidus, Muslim Cities in the Later Middle Ages (Cambridge, Mass, 1967), p. 83. 

  89. Loc. cit. 

  90. Barani, Fatawa-i-Jahandari, p. 49. 

  91. Ibid., p.98 

  92. Loc. cit., p. 98. 

  93. Barani, Fatawa-i-Jahandari, pp. 97, 98, 99. 

  94. For detailed reference see Lal, K.S., Early Muslims in India (New Delhi, 1984), pp.129-132. 

  95. Bernier, Travels in the Mogul Empire, p.209.