Wasn’t Muslim India a Secular State?

Dr. Mohammad Ghitreef*

The Indo-Muslim age is generally seen as an unsecular era, while historian Mubarak Ali insists on this era being a secular age in spirit. I use the term “secular” here for a polity not interfering in people’s religious creeds, customs, and rituals, not in the modern European philosophical sense. One may differ from this viewpoint, yet I found Mr. Ali’s theory accentuated on many counts.

First of all, the state was not a theocracy. Some religious or semi-religious portfolios, such as Shaikhul Islam, Qazis, and others, cannot make it unsecular and theocratic. Once, some Ulema insisted on Alauddin Khilji for imposing sharia law on his subject. He retorted that you people may be experts in your field, but politics is not your domain, so it would be better if you keep yourself out of that. I would better know what suitable policy is for my subject. (1) Yes, I concede, there were some exceptions too, like Aurangzeb Alamgeer, Ferozshah Tughlaq, et al.

Islam reached India in two ways: through conquests and through merchants and Sufis. In the conquests, there were wars with Hindus, bloodshed, and unhappy events, which are natural in the atmosphere of war. The amicability and cultural richness of Islam were manifested by the merchants and Sufis, and the local people were more impressed by it. Since then, Hindus and Muslims have been living together in this country for centuries with occasional clashes, confrontations, and conflicts between the two communities, but the proportion of exchanges of clashes has been less than that of exchanges of knowledge, respect for religion, reconciliation, tolerance, and humane behavior. Now Muslims are being declared traitors of the country, guilty of dividing the motherland by hard-line Hindutva elements. This is apparently a matter of concern for every patriotic citizen. The question is that the animosity, hatred, and resentment between the two nations is now being seen to the extent that people belonging to a particular ideology want to change the names of the cities, historic buildings, mosques, etc. everything that reminds one of the Muslim past of the country. This tense situation between the two communities demands that its causes be assessed in-depth and that the happy facts of the past of our mutual life be brought to the notice of the people again, when the Khwaja Dill Mohammad of Lahore, wrote Dill ki Gita, a commentary on Gita. When this exponential treatise was presented to a great Hindu seer of the time, he was not only impressed to read it and praise the work, but he also went to the Khwaja’s house to meet him.(2). On the other hand, many Pandits and Hindu sages and scholars wrote on the biography of the prophet of Islam, and some did translations of the Holy Qur’an too. This rich contribution is still going on.

Here are some misconceptions and misinformation about the whole Muslim rule needing an explanation. 

Among the Muslim rulers of India, most of the antagonistic propaganda has been directed against Aurangzeb Alamgir. Yes, he was in a religious frenzy and did misbehave with some dissident Hindus, but the fact of the matter is that he did not sideline the Hindu nation as a whole due to his strict policies. In his book “Aurangzeb Alamgir at a Glance,” Shibli has listed the names of those Hindus who held important positions, especially military posts and positions of trust.

In the reign of Akbar, in the Mughal court, we see that Raja Toddurmal was the minister of finance. And Raja Man Singh was the army chief. He won many forts for the Mughals.Raja Mansingh had built a prominent temple in Mathura, Bridaban (See Richard Eaten: (3)

Mahmud of Ghazna was an invader who concurred and, of course, plundered many cities in India. Nonetheless, there are some prominent Hindu figures in his court. Tilak Rai, who took part in many campaigns of the Ghaznavids and was always considered loyal, also acted as an interpreter in their court. And according to the well-known historian Romela Thapar, the incident of Somnath was also a common occurrence like other incidents and did not affect Hindus much, yet it has now been widely propagated unproportionately. She has written a whole book on it. (4)

As far as Hindu religion and Hindu culture are concerned, Muslims, despite being victorious, did not ignore them. Apart from rendering famous Indian Sanskrit works in mathematics, philosophy, astronomy, political science, and Aurvada, produced by great Indian minds like Arya Bhatta, and Barhumgupta, the Sanskrit literature book Lilavati, and the Sanskrit verse collection Nal Waman, into Arabic and Persian, Among the works translated into Arabic and Persian were Bhagwat Purana, Mahabharta, and Panjtantra. Darashikoh, the Mughal scion who had many different interests, translated the Upanishads into Persian. He was a prolific calligrapher too. He wrote a book on Islam and Indian thought, Majma ‘al-Bahrain. Its Hindi translation is available under the name Samadrasangam. In addition, he has been visiting or visited by many Hindu Pandits and Jogis. (5) Regarding his conflict between the two brothers, Dara Shikoh and Alamgir, some religious zealots, untowardly adding salt and pepper to it, have made it a war of disbelief and Islam.

Similarly, rulers, princes, and nawabs also used to participate in Hindu festivals and fairs like Holi, Diwali, Dussehra, Basant, and Shivaratri, which were celebrated with all the fanfare. Jahangeer, for example, used to celebrate Dewali and dance in it. He mentioned these things in his Tozak. Humayun also celebrated this festival. Apart from the royal court, if we come to the Indian masses, Hindus, Muslims, and others, the folk Urdu poet Nazira Akbarabadi’s poems on Hindu festivals are very popular.

From the declining Mughal Empire in the 17th century, new states rose in Bengal, Awadh, Mysore, and the Deccan, in which the Asif Jahi Empire of the Deccan and the Kingdom of Mysore were the two most powerful states. Wherein Hindu loyalists and office bearers were many, the most visible name that comes to the fore is that of  Pandit Purnia in Sultan Tipu’s court. In South India, during Daulat Asif Jahi (Asafjahi rule), Maharaja Sir Kishan Pershad was the state’s Madaar-ul-Maham or Prime Minister, and his name is well-known for his patronage of knowledge and literature.

In Awadh, there were a large number of Hindus among the ministers, army generals, and courtiers. These nawabs and feudal satraps were equally popular and dear to the Muslim and Hindu masses. Unfortunately, a distorted version of history is now being used to create animosity between both communities. Keeping in mind this highly harmonious and rich cultural Indo-Persian tradition developed in pre-British India, the prominent European scholar Sir John Marshal observed:

Seldom in the history of mankind has the spectacle been witnessed of two civilizations, so vast and so strongly developed, yet so radically dissimilar as Mohammadan and the Hindus, meeting and mingling together. The very contrast that existed between them, the wide divergence in their culture and their religions, makes the history of their impact peculiarly instructive. (6,)

Muslim scholars and intellectuals also understood the dire need for reconciliation between the Muslims and Hindus of the country. For example, a prominent alim from the Deoband school of thought, Husain Ahmad Madani, unlike other ulama and Muslim scholars, advocated bonhomie among all Indians. He also endorsed events that are generally strongly opposed. For example, the actions of Akbar the Great can be He wrote:

But the Mughal emperors paid special attention to this (interfaith understanding), especially Akbar, who wanted to uproot this idea and belief (ie Muslims are enemies of Hindus). Had his trick been successful and had the propaganda that Muslims are enemies of Hindus been buried, then the situation of the country would have been wholly changed and the well-wishers of Islam would be in the majority in India today.”.(7) 

In terms of Hindus, men like Munshi Nawal Kishore of Lucknow were instrumental in publishing Arabic, Urdu, and Persian literature, as well as printing the Qur’an with diligence after the mutiny of 1857, when Muslims of North India were on the receiving end and felt all the burnt of that failed freedom movement.

Iqbal, the philosopher-poet, called Ramchandraji the Imam of Hind (the great leader of India). In praise of India, he wrote, “Sare Jahan Se acha Hindustan Hamara” (Our India is the best place in the whole world). Hasrat Mohani, a graduate of Aligarh, Sufi, king of a rare kind of genre called “ghazals” and relentless freedom fighter, performed Hajj several times, and each time he visited Mathura, the city of Shri Krishnji, as he felt soulful peace of mind there.

At the end of British rule, the distance between the two nations began to widen for various reasons. Some English historians were also among the first to spread negative propaganda about the Mughal era, and now Hindutva historians are painting a bleak picture of it for the public.

I would like to end this article with the noble words of Nobel Lauriat Professor Amartya Sen:’’I think it is important to emphasize that we cannot talk about the history of this period as if it could be split into Muslim activities and Hindu activities. Really in every brand of art or intellectual study, you will find Hindu and Muslim activists, artists, and scholars working side by side and interacting with each other. (8)

Notes and references:

1-Mubarak Ali, Ulema, and Siasat Fiction House, 18 Musing Road, Lahore, p. 49.

At least seven Urdu translations of the Bhagwad Gita are now available. For the details, see: Rafiq Zakariya, Indian Muslims Where have they gone wrong? P:38

3-Richard Eaton, The Desecration of Temples in Muslim India. He said that the demolition of temples was purely for political reasons and not for religious purposes. He also said that many temples were built under the supervision and patronage of Mughal emperors. The Govinddevka Temple of Brandaban was built in 1550 at Mathura, a famous Hindu shrine by Man Singh.

4-Romila Thaper: Somanath: The Many Voices of a History Verso Books, 2005

5-Supria Gandhi, Dara Shikoh, the Emperor who Never Was, Apart from the book, you can also see her lecture on YouTube on the same subject, hosted by Carwan India.

Rafiq Zakariya is an Indian Muslim. Where have they gone wrong? Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan, p. 9.

7-Najmuddin Islahi, Maktoobat ShaikhulIslam Moulana Madni, published by Maarif Azamgarh in 1952.

8-Rafiq Zakariya Rafiq Zakariya is an Indian Muslim. Where have they gone wrong.12th:

*Research Associate with the Centre for Promotion of Educational and Cultural Advancement of Muslims of India, AMU Aligarh.

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