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The Historical Role of Islam by M N Roy: Chapter Seven - An Essay on Islamic Culture

By MN Roy

Published: 1939

Transcription: Mohammad Basirul Haq Sinha

HTML Markup: RF for MIA, 2006

 Chapter Seven: Islam and India

ALTHOUGH Islam came to India after it had played out its progressive role, and its leadership had been wrested from the learned and cultured Arabs, the revolutionary principles of the days of its origin and ascendancy were still inscribed on its flag; and a critical study of history might reveal that the Muslim conquest of India was facilitated by similar native factors as In the case of Persia and the Christian countries. No great people, with a long history and old cIv1lIsatIon, can ever succumb easily to a foreign invasion, unless the invaders command the sympathy and acquiescence, If not active support, of the masses of the conquered people. Brahmanical orthodoxy having overwhelmed the Buddhist revolution, India of the eleventh and twelfth centuries must have been infested with multitudes of persecuted heretics who would eagerly welcome the message of Islam.

Mohammad Ibn Kassim conquered Sindh with the active assistance of the Jats and other agricultural communities oppressed by the Brahman rulers. Having conquered the country, he followed the policy of the early Arab conquerors. "He employed the Brahmans in pacifying the country by taking them into confidence. He allowed them to repair their temples and to follow their own religion as before, placed the collection of revenue in their hands, and employed them in continuing the traditional system of local administration." (Elliot, "History of India) when even the Brahmans, some of them at any rate, were prepared to go over to the side of the mlechha conquerors, the social conditions of the country could not be very normal. Evidently, society was in such a disintegrated and chaotic state as to make the position even of the most privileged class insecure. That is usually the result of counter-revolution. A revolution may be defeated by a combination of forces; but that does not enable the triumphant forces of reaction to remove the causes of social disintegration which brought about the revolution. In India, the Buddhist revolution was not defeated; it was miscarried owing to its internal weakness. Social forces were not sufficiently mature to carry the revolution to victory. Consequently, after the downfall of Buddhism, the country found itself in a worse state of economic ruin, political oppression, intellectual anarchy and spiritual chaos. Practically, the entire society was involved in that tragic process of decay and decomposition. That is why not only the oppressed masses readily rallied under the banner of Islam which offered them social equality if not political liberty; even the upper classes offered their services to the foreign aggressor out of selfish motives. That shows that, while the masses were in a state of despair, the upper classes were thoroughly demoralized.

As regards the spread of Islam in India, an ardent admirer of ancient Hindu culture like Havell, who cannot be suspected of any sympathy or even fairness to the Muslims, gives the following highly interesting testimony: "Those who did so (embraced Islam) acquired all the rights of a Musalman citizen in the law courts, where the Quran and not Aryan law and custom decided dispute in all cases. This method of proselytism was very effective among the lower castes of Hindus, specifically among those who suffered from the severity of Brahmanical Jaw with regard to the 'impure' classes," ("Aryan Rule in India.")

This is certainly not a very complimentary remark wrung from a firm believer in the perfection of Brahminical law. In any case, it is clear that In the time of Mohammedan conquest, there lived In India multitudes of people who had little reason to be faithful to Hindu laws and the traditions of Brahman orthodoxy, and were ready to forsake that heritage for the more equitable laws of Islam which offered them protection against the tyranny of triumphant Hindu reaction.

In another place, Havell chooses to deco precate the spiritual values of the teaching of the Arabian Prophet. But at the same time makes a very significant statement regarding the spread of those teachings in India. "It was not the philosophy of Islam but its sociological program, which won so many converts for It in India." Of course, for the masses philosophy has no appeal. They are always attracted by a "sociological program" which offers them something better than the given conditions of their life. And a bad philosophy, that to say, a reactionary outlook of life, cannot be associated with a sociological program which secures the support of the downtrodden masses. If the sociological program of Islam found support of the Indian masses, it was because the philosophy behind that program was better than the Hindu philosophy which had been responsible for the social chaos from which Islam showed a way out for the masses of the Indian people. By the above statement, Havell admits that even in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, when Islam was winning adherence in India, it had not altogether played out its social-revolutionary role, and that it was by virtue of its social revolutionary character that it struck So deep a root in India. That is to say even in its days of degeneration and decay, Islam represented spiritual, ideological and social progress in relation to Hindu conservatism.

Havell is a famous eulogist of Indo-European culture which he considers to be the noblest product of the creative genius of man. On the other hand, he has bitter antipathy for the Muslims. His opinion cannot be dismissed as biased against the Hindus. As a matter of fact, his bias is entirely on the Bide of the Hindus. So, if even a historian like him found distasteful things happening in India in the past, conditions were very deplorable indeed. He writes: "But the victorious progress of Islam in India Is not to be accounted for by external reasons. It was mainly due to the political degeneration of Aryavarta which set in after the death of Harsha... The social program of the Prophet… Gave every true believer an equal spiritual status made Islam a political and social synthesis and gave it an imperial mission… Islam was a rule of life sufficient for the happiness of average humanity content to take the world as it is. Islam reached the zenith of its political strength at the critical period when the conflict between Buddhist philosophy and that of orthodox Brahaminism was a potent cause of political dissension in northern India." (Ibid).

King Harshavardhan died in the middle f the seventh century. Thus, the political disintegration of India was a process parallel o the rise of Islam. The death of a king, however great, does not mark the turning point of history. The process had been going on for many centuries. The Buddhist revolution arrested it for a time, only to be aggravated, accentuated and accelerated on its defeat. Indeed, the monastic degeneration of Buddhism and its disintegrating influence on the entire Indian society greatly helped the Muslim conquest just as Chr1stia~ monasticism had done elsewhere.

Commenting on Mahmud of Guzni's invasions, Havell further writes: "The almost invariable success of his arms added immensely to his prestige and brought Islam many adherents among the uncultured warrior classes of the North-Western Provinces to whom fighting was a religion and victory in the field the highest proof of inspiration." (Ibid). Mahmud's exploit could not but deal a staggering blow to the faith in the divinity of the shrines where the Indians had brought their offerings from times immemorial. Consequently, the religious feeling which found expression in the worship at the shrines, and the faith in their presiding deities were rudely shocked and inevitably shaken. In such circumstances, "religious feelings' and spiritual instincts" induced the masses to transfer their devotion 1rom the gods of demonstrated impotence to the more mighty one, the belief in, and worship for whom, incidentally, was rewarded so magnificently. For ages, millions had believed in the supernatural power of the gods worshipped at the famous temples of Thaneswar, Muttra, Somnath etc. The priests of those temples had amassed fabulous riches at the expense of the believing multitude by virtue of their pretensions to the ability of invoking the protection of the powerful divinities. Suddenly, the whole venerable structure of belief and tradition collapsed like a house of cards under the cruel blow of the invading Infidel. When Mahmud's hosts approached, the priests told the people that the invaders would be devoured by the fiery wrath of the gods. The people confidently expected a miracle which failed to happen. Indeed, it was performed by the God of the Invader. Being based upon miracle, faith necessarily is transferred to the most miraculous. Judged by all the traditional standards of religion. Those who embraced Islam at that crisis were the most religious.

A critical Investigation of the Internal as well as the external causes of the Muslim conquest of India is of practical value today. It will remove the prejudice that makes the orthodox Hindu look upon his Muslim neighbor as an Inferior being. Freed from preconceived ideas, the Hindus will be in a position to appreciate the constructive consequences of the Muslim conquest of India. That will enable them to live down the hatred of the conquered for the conquerors. Unless a radical change of attitude 18 brought about by a sober sense of history, the communal question w1ll never be solved. The Hindus w1ll never be able to look upon the Muslims as integral parts of the Indian nation until they come to appreciate the contribution they made towards the emergence of Indian society out of the chaos caused by the breakdown of the antique civ1l1sation. Besides, a proper understanding of history derived from a correct understanding of the successful advent of the Muslims in India will enable us to ascertain and stamp out the deeper causes of our present misfortune.

On the other hand, few Muslims of our days may be conscious of the glorious role played on the stage of history by the faith they profess. Many may disown and repudiate the rationalism and skepticism of the Arabs as deviations from the teachings of the Koran. But Islam occupies a memorable place in history thanks rather to its original-unorthodoxy and irreligiosity made evident by the Arab philosophers, than to the later growth of a reactionary priesthood or to the barbarous fanaticism of the Tartar converts. Islam had played out its progressive role before it penetrated India. Its nag was planted on the banks of the Indus and the Ganges not by revolutionary Saracen heroes, but by Persians demoralized by luxury and the barbarians of Central Asia who had embraced Islam, both had subverted the Arab Empire—that magnificent monument to the memory of Mohammad. Still, it was welcomed as a message of hope and freedom by the multitudinous victims of the Brahminical reaction which had overthrown the Buddhist revolution and had consequently thrown the Indian society in a state of chaos. Neither the Persians nor the Mogul conquerors of India were entirely devoid of the traditional nobility, toleration and liberalism of the Saracen heroes. The very fact that comparatively small bands or predatory invaders from distant lands could make themselves the rulers of a vast country for such a long time, and their alien faith found millions of converts, proves that they did satisfy certain objective requirements of the Indian society. Even when much of its original revolutionary fervor had been overwhelmed by reaction. Islam still exercised certain revolutionary influence on the Hindu society. The Mohammedan power was consolidated in India not so much by the valour of the invaders' arms as owing to the propagation of the Islamic faith and the progressive significance of Islamic laws.

Even the fiercely fanatical anti-Muslim Havell grudgingly admits...The e1fect of the Musalman political creed upon Hindu social life was twofold: It increased the rigor of the caste system and aroused a revolt against it. The alluring prospect which it held out to the lower strata of Hindu society was as tempting as it was to the Beduins of the desert "(It) made the Sudra a free man and potentially a lord of the Brahmans. Like the Renaissance of Europe, it stirred up the intellectual waters, produced many strong men, and some men of striking originality of genius. Like the Renaissance also, it was essentially a city cult; it made the nomads leave his tent and the Sudra abandon his village. It developed a type of humanity full of joie de vivre. ..." ("Aryan Rule in India").

To the above highly illuminating statement, it may only be added that the rise of reformers like Kabir, Nanak, Tukaram, Chaitanya, etc. who evidenced a popular revolt against Brahminical orthodoxy, was to a great extent promoted by the social ecects of Mohammedan conquest.

In view of this realistic reading of history, Hindu superciliousness towards the religion and culture of the Muslims is absurd. It insults history and injures the political future of our country. Learning from the Muslims, Europe became the leader of modern civilization. Even to-day, her best sons are not ashamed of the past indebtedness. Unfortunately, India could not be fully benefited by the heritage of Islamic culture, because she did not deserve the distinction. Now, in the throes of a belated Renaissance, Indians, both Hindus and Muslims, could profitably draw inspiration from that memorable chapter of human history. Knowledge of Islam's contribution to human cultured and proper appreciation of the historical value of that contribution would shock the Hindus out of their arrogant self-satisfaction, and cure the narrow-mindedness of the Muslims of our day by bringing them face to face with the true spirit of the faith they profess.

Chapter Six:  The Historical Role of Islam by M N Roy: Chapter Six - An Essay on Islamic Culture

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