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7th Grade Social Studies / Lesson 10 - Muslims in India

 What will we be learning in this unit?
  • What impact did the Delhi sultanate have on India?
  • did Muslim and Hindu traditions clash and blend?
  • did Akbar strengthen Mughal India?


   The Delhi Sultanate
  • After the Gupta empire fell in about 550, India again fragmented into many local kingdoms. Rival princes battled for control of the northern plain. Despite power struggles, Indian culture flourished. Hindu and Buddhist rulers spent huge sums to build and decorate magnificent temples. Trade networks linked India to the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and China.


 The Delhi Sultanate
  • Although Arabs conquered the Indus Valley in 711, they advanced no farther into the subcontinent. Then about 1000, Muslim Turks and Afghans pushed into India. At first, they were adventurers like Mahmud, who pillaged much of the north. However, in the late 1100s, the sultan of Ghur defeated Hindu armies across the northern plain. He made Delhi his capital. From there, his successors organized a sultanate, or land ruled by a sultan. The Delhi sultanate, which lasted from 1206 to 1526, marked the start of Muslim rule in northern India.


The Delhi Sultanate
  • Why did the Muslim invaders triumph? They won on the battlefield in part because Muslim mounted archers had far greater mobility than Hindu forces, who rode slow-moving war elephants. Also, Hindu princes wasted resources battling one another instead of uniting against a common enemy. In some places, large numbers of Hindus, especially from low castes, converted to Islam. In the Hindu social system, you will recall, people were born into castes, or social groups from which they could not change.


The Delhi Sultanate
  • Muslim rule brought changes to Indian government and society. Sultans introduced Muslim traditions of government. Many Turks, Persians, and Arabs migrated to India to serve as soldiers or officials. Trade between India and the Muslim world increased. During the Mongol raids of the 1200s, many scholars and adventurers fled from Baghdad to India, bringing Persian and Greek learning. The newcomers helped create a brilliant civilization at Delhi, where Persian art and architecture flourished.


The Delhi Sultanate
  • In 1398, Tamerlane invaded India. He plundered the northern plain and smashed into Delhi. "Not a bird on the wing moved," reported stunned survivors. Thousands of artisans were enslaved to build Tamerlane's capital at Samarkand. Delhi, an empty shell, slowly recovered. But the sultans no longer controlled a large empire, and northern India again fragmented, this time into rival Hindu and Muslim states.


   Muslims and Hindus
  • The Muslim advance brought two utterly different religions and cultures face to face. Hinduism was an ancient religion that had evolved over thousands of years. Hindus recognized many sacred texts and prayed before statues representing many gods and goddesses. Islam, by contrast, was a newer faith with a single sacred text. Muslims were devout monotheists who saw the statues and carvings in Hindu temples as an offense to the one true god. 
  • Hindus accepted differences in caste status and honored Brahmans as a priestly caste. Muslims taught the equality of all believers before God and had no religious hierarchy. Hindus celebrated religious occasions with music and dance, a practice that many strict Muslims condemned.


 Muslims and Hindus
  • The Muslim advance brought two utterly different religions and cultures face to face. Hinduism was an ancient religion that had evolved over thousands of years. Hindus recognized many sacred texts and prayed before statues representing many gods and goddesses. Islam, by contrast, was a newer faith with a single sacred text. Muslims were devout monotheists who saw the statues and carvings in Hindu temples as an offense to the one true god. 
  • Hindus accepted differences in caste status and honored Brahmans as a priestly caste. Muslims taught the equality of all believers before God and had no religious hierarchy. Hindus celebrated religious occasions with music and dance, a practice that many strict Muslims condemned.


 Muslims and Hindus
  • Eventually, the Delhi sultans grew more tolerant of their subject population. Some Muslim scholars argued that behind the many Hindu gods and goddesses was a single god. Hinduism was thus accepted as a monotheistic religion. Although Hindus remained second-class citizens, as long as they paid the non-Muslim tax, they could practice their religion. Some sultans even left rajahs, or local Hindu rulers, in place. 
  • During the Delhi sultanate, a growing number of Hindus converted to Islam. Some lower-caste Hindus preferred Islam because it rejected the caste system. Other converts came from higher castes. They chose to adopt Islam either because they accepted its beliefs or because they served in the Muslim government. Indian merchants were attracted to Islam in part because of the strong trade network across Muslim lands.


 Muslims and Hindus
  • During this period, too, Indian Muslims absorbed elements of Hindu culture, such as marriage customs and caste ideas. A new language, Urdu, evolved as a marriage of Persian, Arabic, and Hindi. Local artisans applied Persian art styles to Indian subjects. Indian music and dance reappeared at the courts of the sultan.
  • An Indian holy man, Nanak, sought to blend Islamic and Hindu beliefs. He preached "the unity of God, the brotherhood of man, the rejection of caste, and the futility of idol worship." His teachings led to the rise of a new religion, Sikhism, in northern India. The Sikhs later organized into military forces that clashed with the powerful Mughal rulers of India.


Mughal India
  • In 1526, Turkish and Mongol invaders again poured through the mountain passes in India. At their head rode Babur, who claimed descent from Genghiz Khan and Tamerlane. Babur was a military genius, poet, and author of a fascinating book of memoirs. 
  • Just north of Delhi, Babur met a huge army led by the sultan Ibrahim. "I placed my foot in the stirrup of resolution and my hands on the reins of confidence in God," recalled Babur. His force was small but had cannons, which he put to good use.


Mughal India
  • In no time, Babur swept away the remnants of the Delhi sultanate and set up the Mughal dynasty, which ruled from 1526 to 1857. (Mughal is the Persian word for "Mongol.") Babur and his heirs conquered an empire that stretched from the Himalayas to the Deccan Plateau.


  Mughal India
  • The chief builder of the Mughal empire was Babur's grandson Akbar. During his long reign, from 1556 to 1605, he created a strong central government, earning the title Akbar the Great. 
  • Akbar was a leader of unusual abilities. Although a Muslim, he won the support of Hindu subjects through his policy of toleration. He opened government jobs to Hindus of all castes and treated Hindu princes as his partners in ruling the vast empire. He ended the tax on non-Muslims and himself married a Hindu princess.


Mughal India
  • Akbar could not read or write, but he consulted leaders of many faiths, including Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians. Like the early Indian leader Asoka, he hoped to promote religious harmony through toleration. By recognizing India's diversity, Akbar placed Mughal power on a firm footing. 
  • Akbar strengthened his empire in other ways as well. To improve government, he used paid officials in place of hereditary officeholders. He modernized the army, encouraged international trade, standardized weights and measures, and introduced land reforms.


  Mughal India
  • Akbar's son Jahangir was a weaker ruler than his father. He left most details of government in the hands of his wife, Nur Jahan. Fortunately, she was an able leader whose shrewd political judgment was matched only by her love of poetry and royal sports. She was the most powerful woman in Indian history up until the twentieth century.


Mughal India
  • The high point of Mughal literature, art, and architecture came with the reign of Shah Jahan, Akbar's grandson. When his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, died at age 39, Shah Jahan was distraught. "Empire has no sweetness," he cried, "life itself has no relish left for me now." He then had a stunning tomb built for her, the Taj Mahal. It was designed in Persian style, with spectacular white domes and graceful minarets mirrored in clear blue reflecting pools. Verses from the Quran adorn its walls. The Taj Mahal stands as perhaps the greatest monument of the Mughal empire.


  Mughal India
  • Shah Jahan planned to build a twin structure to the Taj Mahal as a tomb for himself. However, before he could do so, his son Aurangzeb usurped the throne in 1658. Shah Jahan was kept imprisoned until he died several years later.