The famous American Historian Will Durant said: “The Islamic conquest of India is probably the bloodiest story in history. It is a discouraging tale, for its evident moral is that civilization is a precious good, whose delicate complex of order and freedom, culture and peace, can at any moment be overthrown by barbarians invading from without or multiplying within.”
Post-independence, popular discourse among a section of Indian historians and ‘liberals’ has sought to prove that Mughals were not invaders but Indians. The most common argument put forward by them is that they stayed in India, adopted Indian culture, and also married Indian women. Based on this logic the concept of invader and invaded is largely falsified because in most cases invaders stay for personal benefits, and this is especially true in the case of India because of its vast wealth and resources, unless the invaded revolt and succeed. So the first part of the argument is preposterous and needs no further investigation. But the second part of the argument that they adopted Indian culture, married Indian women, and so on, needs to be subjected to a critical analysis. In this article we try to understand whether a section of historians and liberals have failed to live up to their principles by propagating the narrative that Mughals were Indians either by not conducting a sufficient critical analysis as deserved or by ignoring facts.
For centuries India has been a land of sages and higher learning. Before the Islamic conquest of India, India already had seats of higher learning such as Nalanda and Taxila to which scholars from all the over the world travelled in order to study. History is witness to the fact that everyone lived in peaceful coexistence in India. If Mughals championed the Indian culture and ethos why is there evidence that is contrary to this widely propagated belief by a section of India’s historians and liberals? The bedrock of the Indian ethos is Sarvdharm Sambhao, which can be broadly translated as respecting people from all backgrounds. Sanatanis have displayed this behaviour by providing refuge to Parsis, Jews, the family of the Prophet Muhammad, and several others who were persecuted largely due to their religious and cultural beliefs. In fact, the first mosque ever built is in India. We can discount the early Mughal period in this analysis because they were struggling to set foot in India. Instead, let’s examine whether, even at the peak of their power, they followed practices that were against the Indian ethos and culture.
Assimilation with the Indian Ethos & Culture – Slavery and the Mughals
The Slave Trade & the Slavery Laws of the Mughals
Megasthenes, the Greek Ambassador to Ancient India said, and I quote: “All Indians are free, and not one of them is a slave…Indians do not even use aliens as slaves, and much less their own countrymen.” Slavery is the worst form of social evil and has scarred the generations afflicted by it. Dr BR Ambedkar, one of the leading Indian thinkers on social reform and justice, writes on slavery, especially female slavery in Islam, and its practice in Mohammedan homes. In his book Thoughts on Pakistan, Dr Ambedkar quotes from Stobart’s book Islam and its Founder, “In another way also a Mohammedan may really have more than four wives, and yet keep within the law. This is by means of living with concubines, which the Koran expressly permits…… At the present day, as in days of past, in multitudes of Mohammedan homes, slaves are found.” Dr Ambedkar further quotes from Muir’s book, Life of Mahomet: “…so long as this unlimited permission of living with their female slaves continues, it cannot be expected that there will be any hearty attempt to put a stop to slavery in Mohammedan countries.” Dr Ambedkar also quotes 70th sura that reveals living with slaves is not a sin. Dr Ambedkar concludes with the following remarks: “Everybody infers that Islam must be free from slavery and caste. Regarding slavery nothing needs to be said. It stands abolished now by law. But while it existed, much of its support was derived from Islam and Islamic countries.” Given this permission of slavery in the religious text, let’s see if there is evidence that slavery and the slave trade existed in the Mughal era by looking at the following facts that can be found in the historical record:
- Mughal general, Firuz Jang enslaved 200,000 Hindus.
- Akbar’s general, Abdulla Khan Uzbeg enslaved 50,000 men and women.
- Jahangir sent 200,000 Indians as slaves to Iran in 1619–20 alone.
- Shah Jahan sent 100 Hindu slaves as a gift to the Khan of Bukhara.
- Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb clearly laid down rules for slavery in Fatawa-e-Alamgiri, which served as the law and principal guiding document of the Mughal Empire during his reign. It contains laws to encourage slavery, which in brief are as follows: a) The right of Muslims to purchase and own slaves; b)the Muslim man’s right to have sex with a slave girl he owns or is owned by another Muslim (with the master’s consent); c) no inheritance rights for slaves; d)the testimony of all slaves was inadmissible in a court of law; e)slaves require the permission of the master before they can marry; and f)an unmarried Muslim may marry a slave he owns but a Muslim married to a Muslim woman may not marry a slave. In addition, the conditions under which slaves may be emancipated partially or fully are also codified.
So, throughout the Mughal period not only was slavery practised by Mughals within India, but Indians were also sent as slaves to the Caliph in Arabia. While a section of Indian historians has glorified the Mughal Empire and its emperors for their art and architecture –an issue which also requires greater critical analysis and is addressed later in this article – the highly controversial and condemnable aspects of their rule such as slavery have not been dealt with at all or, if dealt with, have not been given the due importance they deserve. Given that slavery was practised throughout the Mughal period and detailed laws were even established in accordance with their religious text to regulate aspects of this inhumane practice, it did not remotely fit the culture and ethos of India. Research should have been conducted on the effect of slavery on the Indian populace, the various aspects slavery, and how it came to be abolished. But slavery has been brushed under the carpet in favour of the glorification of Mughals. If Mughals are Indian, then practising slavery, sending your own countrymen as slaves to Arabia and also formulating rules for slavery are not only outrightly non-Indian, it is in fact inhuman. This alone should be sufficient to declare them invaders, but we must take this analysis further.
The Harems & Multiple Wives of the Mughals – Symbol of Female Slavery
We have already discussed earlier, how Dr BR Ambedkar and other academicians considered female slavery via harem and concubines as the worst form of female exploitation practised in Islamic countries. Let us now analyse the extent of female slavery during the Mughal period.
Bano, in his paper for the Indian History Congress in 1999, writes, and I quote: “It was, however, the size of the Mughal harem, its elaborateness in pomp and style and the mode of its management that attracted the attention, and to some extent the imagination, of especially the European observers who have left graphic descriptions. By Akbar’s time the harem became real colossal in size compared to the earlier days of the dynasty.” According to Abul Fazl (who was the grand vizier of the Mughal emperor, Akbar, and author of the Akbarnama, the official history of Akbar’s reign in three volumes), there were 5,000 women in Akbar’s harem. Akbar had 300 wives. The rest were dancing girls, concubines and sex slaves. His son, Jahangir had 300 wives and around 1,000 women resided in his harem.
Meena Bazaar was an annual fair started by Akbar. The fair drew 30,000 women every year. The fair was observed inside the fortress which was closed to the outside world. The Mughal emperor was the only man inside the fortress with 30,000 women. “Jahangir held Meena Bazar to catch the sight of pretty ladies of the town”, so said Thomas Coryat, an English writer and traveller during the Mughal period. This fact has also been stated by a famous Italian writer and traveller, Niccolao Manucci, who visited India during the Mughal period. He describes how the objective of the Meena Bazaar was the recruitment of women as wives and concubines into the Mughal emperor’s harem.
This painting depicts Shah Jahan with concubines in his harem. It was commissioned after the death of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal.
Throughout the Mughal period, the emperors had huge harems of women. Therefore, the liberal argument that they married Indian women hence they are Indian is both simplistic and shallow because it does not take into account the horrible aspect of this arrangement, namely female slavery, and also the sheer number of marriages that each Mughal emperor had clearly indicates that these were mostly military alliances to keep their empire secure, which is a common strategy adopted by invaders. The status of women in the Indian culture is supreme and we pray to several aspects of woman. The idea of treating them simply as slaves for pleasure was taken to its highest limits by the Mughals. Liberals champion the cause of feminism and women’s empowerment and their reasons for ignoring this horrible practice of female slavery can best be answered by them. But surely it can be said that this was inhuman and in every aspect it did not and does not reflect the Indian culture and ethos.
The Destruction of Cities, Depopulation, and the Sending of Money to the Caliph by Mughals
We find from the accounts of travellers during the Mughal period that contrary to the popular belief that the Mughals developed cities, they in fact depopulated them and created army cantonments. This half-baked truth that the Mughals were builders of cities has been part of the Indian discourse and needs greater attention. Let’s look first at the journal of DR Thomas Roe who visited India as late as during the rule of Jahangir, by which time the Mughals had ample opportunity to develop cities as well as system for public welfare. DR Thomas Roe says that present Mughal Emperor Jahangir has ruined Indian cities, depopulated them and also issued orders not to allow the repair of the destruction done. DR Thomas Roe further states, “Jahangir seeks to destroy everything that hasn’t already been destroyed by his ancestors.” This statement by DR Thomas Roe is worth analysing because DR Thomas Roe is implying that the destruction of Indian cities had been going on under the ancestors of Jahangir, and that Jahangir further added to this destruction. Commenting on the living conditions of ordinary Indians, DR Thomas Roe states that Indians live in mud houses which are not fit for living while Jahangir lives in a lavish stone house. DR Thomas Roe also states that there is no law of inheritance, Jahangir owns all property and wealth and only leaves what he wishes for widows and daughters. Jahangir robs all. DR Thomas Roe is stating this about the same Jahangir who has been glorified by the liberals and in Indian history textbooks as a champion of justice.
|Rank||City||Population in Year 1500|
|Rank||City||Population in Year 1895|
If you look at table for the year 1500, two Indian cities Vijaynagar features at number 2 and Gauda at number 6 on the list most populous cities before Babur attacked India. By the end Aurangzeb’s rule (ended in 1707), not even one Indian city features in the top 10.
The Number of Indian Cities Named after Mughals
We are also discounting the fact that most Indian cities of importance had their Indic names changed to Islamic ones to change the identification of India, again going against the culture of India which respects diversity. While Mughal emperors were destroying and renaming of Indian cities, they were also sending money out of India especially to the Caliph to solidify their position in the Islamic world power hierarchy.
Emperor Babur writes in his autobiography Baburnama: “Suitable money gifts were bestowed from the treasury on the whole army, to every tribe there was, Afghan, Hazara, Arab, Balluch etc. to each according to its position. Every trader and student, indeed every man who had come with the army, took ample portion and share of bounteous gift and largess”. In 1576, a Mughal Haj caravan left Agra with its party of sponsored pilgrims and an enormous donation of Rs 600,000. In 1577, another Haj caravan left with a double bounty of Rs 500,000 and Rs 100,000 for the Sharif of Mecca, who was a descendant of Prophet Mohammad’s grandson Hasan ibn Ali. In just one instance in 1659, Aurangzeb exported to Mecca Rs 660,000 in an era when one rupee was worth 280 kilograms of rice. This same Aurangzeb hanged to trees all Indian peasants who had defaulted on their taxes.
The Unspeakable Atrocities Perpetrated by Mughals
From the slaughtering of the Sikh gurus to the trampling of Indian fighters under an elephant, the countless conversions, payments of jazia, hangings of farmers, etc. the Mughal period was full of atrocities and injustice. But we are not discussing these aspects in this article, primarily because we are trying to analyse the liberal argument that Mughals were Indians because they stayed in India and adopted Indian culture.
The Constructing of Islamic Structures by the Destroying of Hindu Monuments by Mughals
Monuments built during the Mughal era are commonly pointed out by liberals as adding richness to the Indian culture. On the surface, this argument seems valid especially when one looks at the Taj Mahal and how liberals have successfully promoted the Taj Mahal as the singular symbol of India. But should destroying Hindu architecture and replacing it with Islamic architecture be categorized as Mughals adding to richness of India? It’s not addition, it is at best replacement. The scars it has left on the Hindu masses can still be seen with multiple court cases going on for decades with Hindus demanding that their holiest of sites, which have Islamic architecture built on them, be returned to them.
The true testament to Mughals being Indians would have been their adding to India’s landscape and not first destroying the beautiful and sacred Hindu structures and replacing them with their own. Not only were Hindus’ holiest places destroyed; to further shame the Hindus, Islamic structures were built on those very spots. For example, Somnath Temple in West India, Kashi Vishwanath and Krishna Janambhoomi in Central India, and Jagannath Puri in the South are some of the holiest temples that were destroyed on the orders of Mughal emperors, and in many of these places the Islamic structures still stand. An estimate says that over 40,000 Hindu monuments were destroyed during the Islamic invasion of India.
It should also be noted here that Hindu temples have always been a centre of cultural activity and so the destruction of these temples should be seen as an attack on Indian cultural activities as well. For example, Bhaskar Mishra, a researcher of the Jagannath culture states that the Jagganath Rath Yatra (a major Hindu festival) did not take place 32 times between 1558 and 1735 due to Mughal invasions. In the early phase of the Mughal Empire we can understand the destruction because of looting, and that destruction is part of the consolidation of power. But the claim of the liberals that the Mughals became Indians falls flat when we see that the destruction of monuments and cities throughout the later Mughal period as well. Even, Taj Mahal was not dedicated to the Indian public in the sense that till the Mughal rule it was a private architecture and only a selected few from the Mughal court were allowed access. If the Taj Mahal was conceived and built as a public architecture it would have been viewed differently. Also when Shah Jahan was spending an enormous amount of the public exchequer’s money, the country was going through its worst-ever famine which took the lives of around seven million people.
Here, it is worth mentioning the current case of the Hagia Sophia in Turkey, which has exposed the hypocrisy of the liberals once again. While they opposed the conversion of the museum to a mosque that was once a church and before that a pagan temple, they support the presence of thousands of mosques that have been made by destroying temples in India. The liberals championing the cause of diversity and justice completely ignore the fact that the Mughals, instead of respecting the diversity of architecture, were destroying it and replacing it with their own. Their dual standards on diversity and justice stand exposed.
Conversion through Sufism during the Mughal Era
In popular culture, especially through Bollywood movies, Sufism has been primarily promoted as a spiritual mystical aspect of Islam. Indeed, many of its songs and poems are spiritual and do connect with the ordinary Indian. But it’s another matter that many of these songs are songs about conversion to Islam. As our primary aim in this article is to discuss the Mughals, let’s now analyse the nature and role of Sufism during the Mughal era.
Khan, in his book Islamic Jihad: A Legacy of Forced Conversion, Imperialism, and Slavery, writes that none of the Sufi saints came to India with the idea of ‘peace and love’. Instead, they arrived as a part of an invading army or participated in Jihadi wars against Hindu kings, aimed at capturing their kingdoms and wealth and enslaving their people.
Two of the most respected Sufis in India are Nizamuddin Auliya and Moinuddin Chishti. From Mughal emperor Akbar who came praying for a son to a relentless stream of around 12,000 people who throng every day, the pull of the 12th century Sufi shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti remains undiminished. Indian historians did a great disservice to the people of India, especially Hindus by hiding the following facts about Chisti. All this while, Hindus have been praying to someone who not only fought against their own ancestors but also destroyed their monuments and converted them.
Moinuddin Chisti fought for Mohammad Ghauri and Nizamuddin Aulia fought for Sultan Alauddin. Moinuddin Chishti came to India with the invading army of Mohammad Ghori and helped them in their jihαd. He and his followers used to slaughter cows and cook kebab inside Hindu temple premises. His followers abducted and presented Hindu queens as gifts to Chishti. According to Sufi literature, it was Moinuddin Chishti himself who captured Prithviraj Chauhan in the battle of Tarain and “handed him over to the army of Islam”. Also, Ajmer Sharif Dargah was built on a Hindu temple. Specifically, the Buland Darwaza has sculpted idols which according to local tradition was earlier the site of a Mahadeva temple.
While the liberals of India propagate the Sufi culture through songs and poems, they completely ignore the context of the arrival of Sufism in India and how it became a channel of conversion of the Indian masses both by use of force and persuasion. We can see that the liberal class has become the torchbearer of celebrating diversity, and yet they overlook the role of Sufism in attacking the very core of diversity by converting people to one singular identity.
An honest and critical analysis of the Mughal period would certainly have delved deeper into the highly inhumane and horrible aspects of their empire and how it left scars of torture and fear among the Indian masses. But the race to prove the secular credentials of the Mughals has meant that these facts have been ignored and worse refuted. This has led to further disharmony between communities because, in the collective subconscious of society, the pains of our ancestors live on. In the field of psychology this is known as transgenerational trauma, a concept well researched and beautifully explained by Dr Rajat Mitra. The one-sided narrative has continued for many years, and despite the school history textbooks that were written during the eras of Nehru and Indira Gandhi paddling the same narrative (and that it has been estimated that the Mughals were around for 6% of the total time in Indian history but occupy 48% of the space in Indian history books), it has been surprising to see through social media that the common Indian has not been willing to buy into this narrative.
Here I leave it to the reader to decide if the Mughals were Indians or invaders who attacked the soul of Bharat and Bharatwasis and stayed because of the vast wealth and the power it gave them especially in the Islamic world. By hiding the wound, the pain won’t be stopped. Instead it will continue to fester and get deeper. So acknowledge the wound exists, and treat it with love and care for a real composite India.
- Fatawa i-Alamgiri, Sheikh Nizam, al-Fatawa al-Hindiyya, 6 vols.
- Marriage and Concubinage in the Mughal Imperial Family, Shadab Bano, Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, Vol. 60, Diamond Jubilee (1999), pp. 353-362
- Akbarnama, Abraham Eraly
- Maasir-I-Alamgiri of Aurangzeb’s court historian Saqi Mustad Khan. Translated by Jadunath Sarkar(1947), p. 60.
- The shrine and cult of Moinuddin Chisti of Ajmer, Oxford University Press 1993.
- MA Khan (2009) Islamic Jihad: A Legacy of Forced Conversion, Imperialism, and Slavery
- JW McCrindle, Megasthenes’ Indica
- BR Ambedkar (1941) Thoughts on Pakistan
- Rajat Mitra (2019) The Infidel Next Door