When we look at our history, the Islamic conquest of India from the 11th century to 18th century is always seen with bitter resentment. Names such as Ghazni, Timur, Aurangzeb, Nadir Shah and Abdali bring to our mind horrible memories of these marauders, looting our country and destroying our temples and universities.
A lot of us blame ourselves for this. We blame our culture’s weakness, division, social practices and passivity for the Islamic Conquest. There is definitely some truth in these claims, however is that the full picture? Let’s dig a little deeper.
Here is a comment over the Internet from an Indian commenter on the success of Islamic invaders in India
“We never prepared ourselves to world standard in technique of warfare in early days. We have been fighting among ourselves. Most of the defeats, we had through out history, was treachery and inside information to aggressors.”
Here is another one,
“Islamic conquerers were living on Silk route in between Europe and China. They had better Knowlege of technology. They knew about Gun powder, Guns, Artilery (Cannon), Damascus steel/metallurgy (World’s best steel to make Swords) and they ate Wheat over rice which had better nutrition. They were non vegetarian (muslim ate high Protein diet) and had many more other qualities.
Islamic invader’s battle formations and tactics were superior than Indian Straight Head-on formation. Their unseen cannons just destroyed Elephant line that was First line of attack of Hindus. Muslim guns put fear in the minds of Hindu soldiers. Invaders always took help of Indian kings who want to get rid of their arch enemies. Invaders had diplomatic Superiority.”
Such statements clearly show how we blame ourselves for our defeat. Having such a view is good in the sense that we should learn from our mistakes so that we never repeat them again. The problem comes when we internalize these errors and blindly just blame ourselves for it without understanding the full picture. This way we start to look at everything in our culture negatively and develop low self-esteem.
To really understand everything let’s start from the spread of Islam
Spread of Islam
Islam came into existence in the early 7th century. Between 615 and 630 AD, when Prophet Muhammad established it in the Saudi Arabia. How he did it is very interesting and maybe I will cover it in some other post. For this article we should know that by 630 AD Islam was pretty well established in Saudi Arabia. Within 30 years of its existence, Islam made a great achievement of defeating two major empires in the world, the Byzantine Empire in the west and the Sassanid Empire in the east. This is a mind-boggling achievement. It is as if the Eskimos were to get together today and defeat both US and Russia in just a period of 30 years.
This was almost a miracle and early Muslims would have been convinced that the God was on their side. With such a high morale, over the next hundred years Islam spread rapidly over to Northern Africa, Spain and Central Asia.
By 650 AD Islam had arrived in the modern day Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, beyond this they could not move for next 350 years. It is only later at the time of Mahmud of Ghazni in early 11th century that Muslims started to move into our current India. The actual Muslim Rule of our India happens much later in 1192 when Muhammad Ghori defeats Prithviraj Chauhan in second battle of Taraian.
So where nations after nations fell to Islam elsewhere in the world, Islam had to wait for centuries to really make its way into India. Yet we curse our forefathers for easily losing to Islam. The assumption that India was just sitting there ready to be conquered by Muslims is incorrect. Muslims had to struggle for centuries and even then, they were never able to conquer the whole India ever.
Moreover by 1700s we see Sikhs, Marathas and Jats rising up to power and overthrowing the Muslims.
Why Islam Spread so Fast
Such a fast growth of an empire happens rarely in history. This was a major event in the history. It is widely believed that most of this initial spread of Islam did not happen by force, but was voluntarily embraced by people of the conquered nations. Even when the outsiders attacked the Islamic Caliphate, they themselves converted to Islam, examples are Turks and Mongols. Surely there was something in the religion of Islam that appealed them.
Islam’s Spread in India
Whatever it was that Islam offered to people of other nations, it did not appeal to our forefathers. We can conclude this from the fact that force had to be used for conversion when Islam reached India. This clearly shows the strength of our culture. Even after many centuries of oppression we still did not lose our faith. Now isn’t that something to be proud of and yet we feel that our culture was weak and divided.
Islam was Successful Everywhere
Islam is right now going through some really rough times. It is evident from the fact that most of the politically unstable countries right now are Islamic. In fact to be precise, Islam went on the decline from the time it started forcing people to convert. Things were not like this always. The period of 750 AD to 1200 AD is considered the golden age of Islam. It was during this time that Islam created some great scholars such as Al Jabar, Omar Khayyam, Firdausi and Al Beruni, to name a few.
Islam was a phenomenon at the global level beyond the control of one ruler or person. A series of Muslim conquest occurred all over the world. Not only India, but many other great cultures such as Greece and Egypt also came under the influence of Islam. So even if Prithviraj Chauhan had defeated Mohammad Ghori in the second battle of Taraian, some other Muslim invader would have later come and invaded India. So feeling shame for our defeat and considering our culture weak and incapable is totally unfounded.
Instead of feeling the bitterness, we should appreciate that
1. Great resistance was presented to an unstoppable force of Islam in India
2. Even after many centuries of enslavement, our culture and identity survived and still stands firm and solidly grounded.
That being said, it is still our responsibility to critically look at our culture and understand what we could have done better to avoid such catastrophes. It is a very good thing that we objectively look at our shortcomings in the past; just have to keep in mind that at the same time we should also appreciate the courage and valor of our forefathers and never feel that we are inferior to others in any respect.