India has long been ranked among the most dangerous nations for religious minorities and it has become all the more intense in recent years. Arguably then, in writing the political history of Islam in India, historians and scholars often fall into the trap of extreme ideological prejudices. For a few, Islam’s relationship with Hindu culture was gloriously intermingled, epitomising a splendid, pristine union of two great traditions. For the others, Islam is the sole, wicked cause of every disaster that reared its head anywhere in the vicinity of this country. India is situated between the earliest river valley civilisations of Egypt and Mesopotamia on the west and China on the east. Bound on the south, south-east, and south-west by a vast ocean and the seas and on the north, north-west and north-east by massive mountain ranges marked by some of the highest peaks of the world, India enjoyed a degree of protection and unique isolation. Yet its mountain passes, breaking through the great barrier at a number of places, particularly on the north-western frontier, provided a natural access to Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asia and from there either to West Asia and the Mediterranean world or to Turkistan and China. However, the more formidable mountain barrier on the north-east, while effectively discouraging easy movement of peoples, could not completely block the aggressors from the north. It all began with the invasion by Sultan Mahmud Ghazni in about 1000 AD, which resulted in the establishment of the Muslim rule in the Indian subcontinent that lasted for several centuries. Not only did they bring about Islamic imperialism, but they also triggered a struggle between two civilisations — one ancient and indigenous, the other medieval and migrant. However, over time, the two cultures amalgamated and it touched all aspects of human society. The invasions brought to India an advanced legal system, pride in one’s own religion, introduction of equality in society that led to outright rejection of the caste system and untouchability. It also influenced indigenous music, art and architecture, poetry, language, literature, food and craftsmanship. In due course, the impact gained significant ground and was juxtaposed cosily for the world to witness the emergence of a long intrinsic association of the two. Today, India’s secular credentials are taking a beating. Since the creation of independent India and Pakistan in 1947, there have been innumerable episodes of horrific sectarian violence that made millions of refugees overnight. Then, in perspective, it is important for us to uphold the multicultural narrative of this great country and “lead a political campaign over Indian history that seeks to reinvent the idea of India itself.”
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