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We began by noting that the sword of Islam was blunted in India. Islam had spread in Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, North Africa and even parts of Europe with a bang. Within a hundred years of the death of the Prophet this spectacular success had been achieved through the instrument of Jihad. It appeared as if there was no stopping the Islamic avalanche on the Globe, both to the east and the west of the land of its birth - Arabia. But contrary to all hopes and expectations, Islam received a check in a most unexpected quarter - Hindustan, a country believed to be divided by caste, tom by dissensions and indifferent to conventionality in religious faith. Persistent efforts were made to Islamize India but to no avail.

At various points of time it was fervently hoped by Muslims that all the Hindus would be converted to Islam. The Arab invasion of Sind saw lot of proselytization, but such conversions proved to be temporary. ‘The tide of Islam, having overflowed Sind and the lower Punjab, ebbed, leaving (only) some jetsam on the strand.’1 Three hundred years later Mahmud of Ghazni’s exertions raised fresh hopes. He promised the Khalifa that he would convert the country through his yearly expeditions. He did his worst. In the words of Alberuni, ‘Mahmud utterly ruined the prosperity of the country, by which the Hindus became like atoms of dust scattered in all directions, and like a tale of old in the mouth of the people.’2 But no, the Hindus did not become a tale of old. They remained entrenched in their country, so that when Timur invaded India at the end of the fourteenth century, the inhabitants of India were found by him to be chiefly ‘polytheists and infidels’. ‘My principal object in the invasion of Hindustan,’ said he, ‘is to lead an expedition against the infidels that, according to the law of Muhammad (upon whom and his family be the blessings and peace of God), we may convert to the true faith the people of that country, and purify the land itself from the filth of infidelity and polytheism; and that we may overthrow their temples and idols and become ghaziz and mujahids before God.’3 He did his worst, and again the Hindus regained their position in the course of time. After one and a quarter century of this, when Babur invaded Hindustan, he found that ‘Most of the inhabitants of Hindustan are pagans. They call a pagan a Hindu  All artisans, wage-earners and officials are Hindu.’4 As late as the end of the seventeenth century, Francois Bernier also found Hindustan tea country containing hundreds of Gentiles to one Mogol, or even to one Mahometan.’5 Even when Aurangzeb from within and Nadir Shah and Abdali from without, determined to strike a final blow for Islamization of Indian population, they could not decimate the Hindus. In such a desperate situation Indian Muslims could only wistfully remember the days of Subuktigin and Mahmud of Ghazni. Muhammad Aslam in his Farhat-un-Nazirin says that during the Third Battle of Panipat (1761), ‘about ninety thousand persons, male and female, were taken prisoners, and obtained the eternal happiness by embracing the Muhammadan faith. Indeed, never was such splendid victory achieved from the time of Amir Mahmud Subuktigin’6 As discussed earlier, the assertion is not correct,7 but as a Muslim Muhammad Aslam did so will, so desire.

So, all through the medieval period, Foreign and Indian Muslims strove hard to make India a Muslim country by converting and eliminating the Hindus. They killed and converted, and converted and killed by turns. In the earlier centuries of their presence here, the picture was sombre indeed. Turkish rule was established in northern India at the beginning of the thirteenth century. Within fifteen years of Muhammad Ghori’s occupation of Delhi, the Turks rapidly conquered most of the major cities of northern India. Their lightening success, as described by contemporary chroniclers, entailed great loss of life. Qutbuddin Aibak’s conquests during the life-time of his master and later on in the capacity of king (c.1200-1210) included Gwalior, parts of Bundelkhand, Ajmer, Ranthambhor, Anhilwara, as well a parts of U.P. and Malwa. In Nahrwala alone 50,000 persons were killed during Aibak’s campaign.8 No wonder, he earned the nickname of killer of lacs.9 Bakhtiyar Khalji marched through Bihar into Bengal and massacred people in both the regions. During his expedition to Gwalior Iltutmish (1210-36) massacred 700 persons besides those killed in the battle on both sides. His attacks on Malwa (Vidisha and Ujjain) were met with stiff resistance and were accompanied by great loss of life. He is also credited with killing 12,000 Khokhars (Gakkhars) during Aibak’s reign.10 The successors of Iltutmish (Raziyah, Bahram, etc.) too fought and killed zealously. During the reigns of Nasiruddin and Balban (1246-86) warfare for consolidation and expansion of Turkish dominions went on apace. Trailokyavarman, who ruled over Southern U.P., Bundelkhand and Baghelkhand, and is called ‘Dalaki va Malaki’ by Persian chroniclers, was defeated after great slaughter (1248). In 1251, Gwalior, Chanderi, Narwar and Malwa were attacked. The Raja of Malwa alone had 5,000 cavalry and 200,000 infantry and would have been defeated only after great loss of life. The inhabitants of Kaithal were given such severe punishment (1254) that they ‘might not forget (the lesson) for the rest of their lives.’ In 1256 Ulugh Khan Balban carried on devastating warfare in Sirmur, and ‘so many of the rebellious Hindus were killed that numbers cannot be computed or described.’ Ranthambhor was attacked in 1259 and ‘many of its valiant fighting men were sent to hell.’ In the punitive expedition to Mewat (1260) ‘numberless Hindus perished under the merciless swords of the soldiers of Islam.’ In the same year 12,000 men, women and children were put to the sword in Hariyana.

As a minister Balban was not softhearted. When he became the Sultan, he followed the policy of blood and iron, which means that his killings became even more sanguinary. His sphere of operations was, however, confined to the Ganga-Jamuna doab and Avadh, Katehar and Mewat. In Katehar large sections of the male population were massacred and, according to Barani, in villages and jungles heaps of human corpses were left rotting. During his expedition to Bengal, ‘on either side of the principal bazar (of Lakhnauti) in a street two miles in length, a row of stakes was set up and the adherents of Tughril were impaled upon them.’

Alauddin Khalji and Muhammad bin Tughlaq (c. 1296-1350) were great warriors and killers. Alauddin’s conquest of Gujarat (1 299) and the massacres by his generals in Anhilwara, Cambay, Asavani, Vanmanthali etc., earned him, according to the Rasmala, the nickname of Khuni. His contemporary chronicler proclaims that Alauddin shed more blood than the Pharaohs did.11 He captured Ranthambhor after very heavy casualties.12 Chittor’s capture was followed by a massacre of 30,000 people, after Jauhar had been performed and the Rajputs had died fighting in large numbers. When Malwa was attacked (1305), its Raja is said to have possessed 40,000 horse and 100,000 foot.13 After the battle, ‘so far as human eye could see, the ground was muddy with blood.’ Many cities of Malwa like Mandu, Ujjain, Dharanagari and Chanderi were captured after great resistance. The capitulation of Sevana and Jalor (1308-1311) were accompanied by massacres after years of prolonged warfare. In Alauddin’s wars in the south, similar killings took place, especially in Dwarasamudra and Malabar. In the latter campaign Malik Kafur went from place to place, and to some places many times over, and in his rage at not finding the fleeing prince Vira Pandya, he killed the people mercilessely.14 His successor Mubarak Khalji once again sacked Gujarat and Devagiri.

Under Muhammad Tughlaq, wars and rebellions knew no end. Even an enhancement of land-tax ended in massacres in the Doab. Many more perished on the way when the capital was shifted to Daulatabad. His Qarachal expedition cost him a whole army. His expeditions to Bengal, Sind and the Deccan, as well as ruthless suppression of twenty-two rebellions, meant only depopulation.15 From all accounts it is certain that in the thirteenth and first half of the fourteenth century the loss of population was immense. For one thing, in spite of constant efforts no addition of territory could be made by Turkish rulers from 1210 to 1296, for another while the weapons of the Turkish period were not as sophisticated as those of the Mughal, the Turkish rulers were more ruthless in war and less merciful towards rebels, with the result their killings were heavy. Hence the extirpating campaigns of Balban, and the repeated attacks on regions already devastated but not completely subjugated. Bengal was attacked by Bakhtiyar, by Balban, by Alauddin, and by all the three Tughlaqs - Ghayas, Muhammad and Firoz. Malwa and Gujarat were repeatedly attacked and sacked. Almost every Muslim ruler invaded Ranthambhor until it was subjugated by Alauddin Khalji (1301, again temporarily). Gwalior, Katehar and Avadh regions were also repeatedly attacked. Rajputana, Sind and Punjab (also because of the Mongol invasions), knew no peace. In the first decade of the fourteenth century Turkish invaders penetrated into the South, carrying death and destruction. When the sultans of Delhi lost their hold on the South, Bahmani and Vijayanagar kingdoms came to grips with each other. The wars between these two kingdoms generally ended in massacres. Only one instance should suffice to give an idea of this. Mulla Daud of Bidar vividly describes the fighting between Muhammad Shah Bahmani and the Vijayanagar king in 1366 in which ‘Ferishtah computes the victims on the Hindu side alone as numbering no less than half a million.’16 According to Ferishtah, Muhammad ‘So wasted the districts of Carnatic that for several decades they did not recover their natural population.’17

Despite such killings, the Hindus could not be eliminated or reduced to a minority. Despite forcible conversions, India could not be Islamised. How did it happen? Alberuni has solved this riddle. ‘They (the Hindus),’ says he, ‘differ from us in religion  There is very little disputing about theological topics among themselves; at the most they fight with words, but they will never stake their soul or body or their property on religious controversy.’ On the contrary ‘in all manners and usages they differ from us to such a degree as to frighten their children with us  and as to declare us to be devil’s breed and our doings as the very opposite of all that is good and proper,’ so that ‘they call all foreigners as mleccha, i.e. impure, and forbid having any connection with them, be it by intermarriage or any other kind of relationship, or by sitting, eating, and drinking with them, because thereby they think, they would be polluted  They are not allowed to receive anybody who does not belong to them, even if he wished it, or was inclined to their religion.’18 In brief, the Hindus believed in peaceful discussions about religious matters. They believed in freedom of religious thought and higher spirituality. They hated those who killed in the name of religion and they shunned those who believed in conversions.

That is how Hindu non-violence succeeded over forcible conversions; that is how culturally the Hindu won against strong and aggressive adversaries. The proof of this lies in Mughal emperor Babur’s testimony. ‘Compared with our countries,’ writes he when he had settled in India, ‘(Hindustan) is a different world  once the water of Sind is crossed, everything is ‘m the Hindustan way (tariq) - land, water, tree, rock, people and horde, opinion and custom.’19 And to repeat his words, ‘Most of the inhabitants of Hindustan are pagans; they call a pagan a Hindu.’20 And this after centuries of Muslim effort at changing the dar-ul-harb into dar-ul-Islam.!

The scenario has never changed to the extreme disappointment of the Indian Muslims. So that, more than anything else the endeavour of the Indian Muslims is to increase their numbers. The decadal census figures from 1881 to 1941 show a constant rise in Muslim numbers. This is a feature common with medieval times, and the pattern of modern Muslim demography can be seen in the following Table.

Showing the rate of rise of Muslim population during 1881-1941

Year of the Census Number of21 Muslim in 000‘5 % age to22 total population calculated by J.M.Datta Inter-Censal difference % age23 calculation by K. Davis
1881 49,953 19.74 - 19.97
1891 57,068 19.96 +0.22 20.41
1901 62,110 21.22 +1.26 21.88
1911 67,835 21.26 +0.04 22.39
1921 71,005 21.74 +0.48 23.23
1931 79,306 22.16 +0.42 23.49
1941 94,447 23.81 +1.65 24.28

At the time of partition in 1947 the population of Indian Muslim was 9 and half crores. Millions of Muslims migrated to Pakistan, but those who stayed in India, have continued to increase at a fast rate in the following order.

Major Religious communities Growth Rate 1951-61 Growth Rate 1961-71 Growth Rate 1971-81
Total population 21.51% 24.80% 24.69%
Hindus 20.29% 23.69% 24.15%
Muslims 25.61% 30.85% 30.59%
Christians 27.38% 32.60% 16.77%
Sikhs 25.15% 32.28% 26.15%
Buddhists 16.70% 17.20% 22.52%
Jains 25.17% 28.48% 23.69%

Muslims form the second largest community after the Hindus. According to the 1981 census the number of Hindus and Muslims was as follows:

Religious community Population % of total population
Hindus 549,779,481 82.64%
Muslims 75,512,439 11.35%

A study in some depth shows that the growth rate among the Hindus is the lowest and among Muslims the highest24 as seen in the above Table.

Thus even in modern times at no census have the Muslim numbers failed to improve, or the Hindu failed to lose. This phenomenon has been attributed besides vigorous proselytization, to polygamy, remarriage of widows, and higher fecundity among the Muslims.25 Kingslay Davis thinks it due to the Hindus having taken to western education and secularism with alacrity as against the general backwardness of the Muslims.26 The insistence of the Muslims on their Personal law, their reluctance to Family Planning, their pacts of privileges with political parties at the time of elections in particular and their receiving millions of Petro-Dollars to help in proselytizing endeavours all point to their desire and determination to grow in numbers and Islamize Hindustan. Their greatest chagrin is that in spite of their best efforts for more than a thousand years, they have ever remained a minority in India. Therefore, just as they have reconciled themselves to the peculiar circumstances of their conversion, if: they could also learn to live as a minority with India’s tolerant Hindu majority, there will be peace for them and for all.


  1. Wolseley Haig, Com. Hist. India, III,p.10. 

  2. Alberuni’s India, p.22. 

  3. Mulfuzat-i-Timuri, E and D, III, p.397, also p.394. 

  4. Babur Nama, trs. Mrs. Beveridge, II, p.518. 

  5. Bernier, Travels, p.209. 

  6. Trs. in E and D, VIII, p.171. 

  7. K.S. Lal, Growth of Muslim Population , pp.14, 154n. 

  8. Ferishtah, op. cit., I, p.62. 

  9. Minhaj Siraj, Tabqat-i-Nasiri, Bib, Ind. (Calcutta, 1864), p.138. Also A.B.M. Habibullah, The Foundation of Muslim Rule in India (Allahabad, 1961), p.91.

    Since most of the facts and figures for the period upto 1260 are from the Tabqat-i-Nasiri, references would be given only sparingly to avoid cluttering up the narrative. 

  10. Ferishtah, op. cit., I, p.65. 

  11. Barani, op. cit., pp. 251-52. Isami, op. cit, p.243.

    For detailed references see K.S. Lal, History of the Khaljis, pp.69-71. 

  12. For detailed reference see Ibid., p.94. 

  13. Ibid., p.113. 

  14. Ibid., pp.252-53. 

  15. Mahdi Hussain, Tughlaq Dynasty, pp.195-257. 

  16. Sewell, op. cit., pp.30-31. 

  17. Ferishtah, op. cit., I, p.295. Also Sewell, p.38. 

  18. Alberuni, I, pp.19-20. 

  19. Babur Nama, p.484. 

  20. Ibid., p.518. 

  21. Based on the figures of K. Davis, op. cit., p.193. 

  22. J.M. Datta, ‘Proportion of Mahammadans in India Through Centuries’, In Modern Review, op. cit., p.33. 

  23. K. Davis, op. cit., p.70. 

  24. See The Hindustan Times, 4 June, 1986 and Organiser, 23 July, 1989. Of course Census Reports provide detailed information. 

  25. Beni Prasad, Modern Review, 1921, p.17n.

    Also Hazard, Altas of Islamic History (Princeton, 1954), p.5. 

  26. Davis, op. cit., p.193.