Arabs used to travel to the Indian subcontinent even before the advent of Islam and the Prophet (SAW). Traders would take their goods by sea to the west coast of present day India to sell their spices, gold, and African goods. This contact between the Arabs and the shores of India naturally brought this budding religion to India.
The First Foothold
The major incursion of Islam into the Indian subcontinent happened during the times of the Umayyads.
One may ask what prompted such a military incursion by the Umayyads when they already had fronts open towards the west.
The basic reason was that the trade of the Muslims was being hampered because of attacks from the Sindhi Raja Dahir on Muslim ships and the imprisonment of Muslim men and women. This issue was aggravated when Meds (a tribe in Sindh) began preying upon Arab ships from Kutch, Debal and Kathiawar.
Muhammad bin Qasim
In 711 AD, a 17 year old Muhammad bin Qasim was put in charge of the army to India after which there was literally no turning back for the expansion of Islam in the sub-continent.
Initially there was very little resistance that he faced. In fact, in the Buddhist controlled city of Nerun he was literally welcomed by the monks. This was the case with most cities along the Indus as they voluntarily came under Muslim control without a fight. Buddhists in some cases asked the Muslims for protection against Hindu governors.
However, not everyone was happy with this intrusion of the Muslim armies. The Raja of Sindh, Dahir, marched his armies out against Muhammad bin Qasim and in the year 712 AD the two armies met in the battle field with a resounding victory to the Muslims. With this victory, all of Sindh came under the control of the Muslims.
Spreading it to the Masses
Contrary to popular belief, the Hindus and Buddhists under the control of Muhammad bin Qasim were not forced into converting rather they were promised security and religious freedom. This freedom continued with successive waves of Muslim armies moving forward into India and leaders such as Mahmud of Ghazni and Muhammad Tughluq expanded the Muslims hold without actually changing the religious or social fabric of the society.
The proof of this is evident as all through Muslim history in the Indian subcontinent there were always huge numbers of non-Muslims living under their rule. If there was forced conversions shouldn’t they have been wiped out?
It was actually the travelling preachers that brought Islam to the masses here. These preachers traveled throughout the Indian subcontinents with only one goal: to educate people about Islam.
Photo Credit: Mukul Banerjee