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India was ruled by Muslims from around 12 century to 1857 and then by British till 1947 but India still have a large number of Hindus. Countries like Indonesia, Afghanistan, Malaysia now have Islam as the dominant religion.

Many countries in Africa which were ruled by Europeans have more Christians then any other religion.

Given that Indians were ruled by Muslims or Christians for 9 centuries, why weren't the Hindus converted to Islam or Christianity?

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Neither was it for Islam for the most part. – Lennart Regebro Aug 3 '13 at 14:09
@LennartRegebro - I see that this is correct.The Moghuls were not particularly interested in proselytization. I have removed. – user2590 Aug 3 '13 at 20:51
Was conversion really widespread anywhere during colonization except South-America? I'm sceptical to the claim that India is an exception here. I think The Americas and Australia/New Zealand are the exceptions. – Lennart Regebro Aug 3 '13 at 21:04
Maharana Pratap was the one hero which you all forgot. He fought extensively against Mughals as he always considered themselves as invaders. History itself speaks out the courage of Maharan Pratap, the boldest king of Rajasthan. Even Prithviraj Chauhan later joined hands with Akbar but Maharan Pratap lived a life of exile to free his country from mughals. Akbar's men killed around 30,000 people in Chittor for not transforming into Muslim religion. They destroyed temples and built Mosques and that's the reason why Ajmer is having very high percentage of muslim population as Pratap was not able – user3152 Nov 13 '13 at 5:37
It makes no sense to compare the situation with e.g. Australia or New Zealand, where the population now consist mostly descent of European immigrants and not indigenous people. – Greg Nov 7 '14 at 2:29

10 Answers 10

up vote 38 down vote accepted

First, the easier part on Christianity. As the other reply says, the British were (mostly) unwilling to convert Indians in order to avoid inflaming local religious sentiments. In fact, the British were so cautious on this that they would probably even tolerated the practices of sati and child marriage had some Indian reformers (such as Ram Mohan Roy) not goaded them into stopping it. However, the regions where the Portuguese had power (sometimes before the British), such as Goa have substantial number of Christians.

As for conversion to Islam, the question is more difficult. Almost 90% of India was occupied by the Islamic rulers at some point or another, many of them intolerant of other religions, and it is difficult to say why much of India remained unconverted. One reason that many historians cite is Hinduism's rigid caste hierarchy, which created a social structure that was difficult to dismantle.

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But why were the British unwilling to convert Indians, they did not care about backlash in Africa, North America and Australia. – St. SJ Aug 3 '13 at 19:24
Because, unlike Africa, India was controlled directly not by the British government, but by the East India Company till 1858. Their main aim was profits, not propagation of religion. – Arani Aug 4 '13 at 8:29
I am unsure why, historically, the caste-based structure is considered difficult to dismantle. Won't it be a motivation of the lower caste members to convert to other religions? – phaedrus Aug 10 '13 at 18:48
Even throughout Muslim India, the caste system carried on, and parts of the caste system and culture worked its way into Islamic teachings. Culture and religion often intertwine. – Muz Aug 27 '13 at 8:03
@phaedrus The caste system ensured that people who changed their religion would not only have to change their belief system, but would also separate themselves from members of their own community. This was a major factor behind lowering the number of conversion to Islam. But, even then, most of those who converted were from lower castes. – Arani Aug 27 '13 at 11:16

Time and again India has seen some reformers who revolutionize the thoughts of the masses. When Buddhism was in full force in India, Adi Shankara was born to revive Hinduism. During the Mughal Period, Tulsidas, Surdas and others deeply imposed the faith of Hindus in God. Tulsidas wrote Ram Charitra Manas whereas Surdas composed many devotional songs about Lord Krishna. During the British administration of India, Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Ishwar Chandra VidyaSagar deeply influenced the religious sentiments of the Hindus. So, this trend continued and as a result, India despite being the birth place of Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism is still dominated by Hindus.

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Excellent information, but I'm not sure it answers the question. – Mark C. Wallace Aug 7 '13 at 19:00
@MarkC.Wallace shows something about how a culture can be resilient towards outside attempts to change it into something entirely different. – jwenting Aug 28 '13 at 6:20

The Religion Factor

To understand this, you have to understand Hinduism. Let me take up my own case- a Kokanast Maharashtrian Brahman. This is a sub-caste. The point of interest to us here is the amazing similarity in diversity in India.

Hinduism (Sanaatan Dharm) is an individual, a highly individual religion. it is common to have the Father worship Lord Hanuman, the Mother Worship Lord Ganapati, the Son to worship Maa Durgaa, and the Daughter to worship Lord Krishna. No one forces anything on anyone; there are no dictats or dogmas; no specific days to attend, and compulsion to pray. It is an individual choice.

Further, beliefs of Hinduism have roots deep in the ancient past - going back 6000 years and more. This means a deeply-set range of beliefs and attitudes, mores of behaviour, cultural traits etc that are totally different from any other religion. Thus, only the downtrodden can be a realistic target for religion change. General change from the local populace is not a consideration.

However, the downtrodden also have historically enjoyed total freedom to worship the Lord of their choice. They, too were never under any compulsion; they were persecuted - true, but persecution was not on praying; it was on praying in the higher-caste temples. Thus, they had no basic complaint against the religion per se, only the overall societal structure.

The Caste Factor

We have seen the nature of Hinduism, and its amazing diversity and total individuality. And yet, strangely, within this individualism is hidden a strange cohesion that is stronger than any known religious bond. Coming to myself, we kokanast brahmans, exhibit some peculiar traits that are identified with us: stingy behaviour, general reservedness in family functions (our functions are rather small affairs), tall, usually fair, our functions are rather contained affairs. Contrast this with the other main Brahman sub-caste in us Marathis: The Deshasth. These people are lively, you will find their functions full of energy, gift-giving, deep and extensive contacts. This is indicative of a deep cohesion due to in-breeding; the preferred match for a Kokanast is still a Kokanast even in the 21st century.

The point is that this is 2012, and nothing substantial has changed. if we are so cohesive now, what must we have been like 1000 years ago? in 2003, I shaved my moustache: and believe you me I got dirty looks from quite a few family members who gave me hell. These essentially caste-internal interactions create a deeply connected society, and this acts as an extremely powerful support base against as well as protector from subversive change. An individual has to after all live in the same society. Add to the the inherent religious freedom, and deep-rooted cultural and religious ethos. This cohesion combined with total individual freedom is further complicated by difficulties in marriage even today. In the old days. this must have been compounded by career and vocational hurdles as well. This creates a further barrier to change, keeping the religion intact

This factor means that there is societal pressure from within each sub-caste not to change; while no one will object to your decision, no one will agree to marry you (or you will find difficulty in getting a suitable match within your community). Further, the caste also pressurises in subtle (as well as not-so-subtle) ways the family members. In my case, Dad lowered the paper, gave me a look (no moustache), and raised the paper again without a word. Mom glared (apparently, only fatherless people shave off moustaches). This is modern india we are talking about - the case of an Army Colonel, MD in Anaesthesia, Mom being a post graduate gold medallist, sister a gynaecologist, self a postgraduate, and brother a graduate. Well, after Mom-Dad were taken away to the heavenly abode, I attempted it again - and told my wife. Her response to my no-moustache declaration of independence (I was on tour): so you are away for 3-4 months now? My wife is a double Postgraduate in Economics. And this is in the case of a moustache. Just imagine the reactions in case of religion! This is modern India, AD 2012. A family I know has one condition for a match for their son: the girl must be fluent in Marathi.

These, and innumerable other societal pressures still operate in India. What do you think it must have been like in 1400AD? Such pressures both insulate the individual as well as erect powerful barriers to change. You see, for a Hindu, worshipping a different deity is one thing; changing your religion quite another

The Historical Perspective

Yes, there was persecution by Muslim invaders. But the people to change their religion were, by and large, the downtrodden who had a powerful motivator to change. And even among them, change was restricted to a percentage due to the caste factors and religious factors discussed above. Then, the invaders were on a mission to rule, and loot. The objective was not conversion, it was a byproduct. The noblemen and ministers in the medieval muslim rulers' courts were totally turks and other muslims from outside India. Even local muslims were not included; both local hindus and muslims were treated with contempt. India was already home to a sizable muslim community by the time the invaders arrived; the earliest Muslim community in India dates back to around The Prophet's time (The Mopillahs). Furthermore, India had massive trade links through both Sea and Land routes to the Muslim world, and there were already muslim settlers who came for trade in the Northwest, and a few other isolated pockets. Yes, conversion also happened, and is good numbers, as discussed above. Further, the main interest areas were cities for the invaders and rulers, rural India was not touched by some of these developments

Thus we can see that the interaction of these three forces ensured that India remained a predominantly Hindu country.

First written here : http://www.quora.com/History-of-India/Why-is-India-still-a-Hindu-majority-nation-even-after-800-years-of-Muslim-rule/answer/Vishal-Kale-2?srid=3d5N&share=1

As regards the British non-attempts to convert, that is a myth. It is a documented fact that the British had a) full intentions to go on a massive conversion drive and b) populate India with Europeans. A note to this effect was known to have been raised in the late 1840s. This is a matter of documented record. That this did not happen is largely due to The First War Of Independence 1857 - 1859.

The longest attempted conversion was the Goa Inquisition, for a continuous period of 200 years in full brutality. Despite this, a large segment of Goanese remained Hindu - nearly 40 - 50%.

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Welcome to History Stack Exchange! Please take the time to read the help center and familiarize yourself with the way we do things here. In particular, please mark off quoted text clearly as a quote. It must be immediately clear to the reader which are your own words and which are someone else's words that you are quoting. Again, welcome and hope you enjoy yourself here! – Eugene Seidel Sep 22 '13 at 0:32
Could you please source your statement re British intentions as I am unfamiliar with any plans of the British to force convert all of the Indian sub-continent to (Protestantism?) – CGCampbell Oct 15 '14 at 14:35
Goa was a Portuguese colony, not a British one. How is the Goa Inquisition related to British intentions? – Arani Jul 4 '15 at 6:04

The Moghuls ruled only the northern half or 2/3 of India, not the entire sub-continent, and practiced a more tolerant version of Islam than the Arabs further West.

Reading further on Aurangzeb reveals that in fact he did actively attempt conversion of his subjects to Islam. They took so nicely to the attempted proselytization that they constantly rebelled.

Consequently Aurangzeb spent virtually his entire reign subduing rebellions, and failed to create any sort of stable administration for his empire. Upon his death, the empire rapidly disintegrated.

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Mughal empire under Aurangzeb covered almost whole of India (see this map) and before Mughals there was Delhi Sultanate during which Nalanda University was destroyed, and moreover Aurangzeb was not at all tolerant like Akbar. – St. SJ Aug 3 '13 at 19:23
@user979685: But how much of that was direct rule, as compared to (mostly autonomous) vassal kingdoms paying tribute? – Pieter Geerkens Aug 3 '13 at 20:01
I did some search and didn't find anything that says that Mughals (especially Aurangzeb) had any king paying tribute, I might be wrong but as far as I know they directly controlled any land under them. See this – St. SJ Aug 3 '13 at 20:13
@St.SJ No, the Mughals controlled a large part of the land through vassals. The Rajputs, for example, controlled a large part of modern-day Rajasthan. – Arani Aug 4 '13 at 8:28

I would like to give some historical facts:

  1. Prithviraj Chauhan from Chauhan Dynasty was ruling Rajasthan and Delhi and he fought against Md. Ghori. Prithviraj defended Hindus at that time. After his death there were many kings in North India but were not as strong as him. Because of this North Indian culture is completely different from South. States like Uttar Pradesh, Kashmir, Delhi have more Muslim population now.

  2. Where as in South India it was totally different. With Bay of Bengal, Arabian Sea and Indian ocean covering it from three sides Mughals had to come from North India. But Vijayanagara Empire dominated and defended South India for 3 centuries and Chatrapati Shivaji from Marathas saved Hindu religion from Mughals.

Not only these Kingdoms saved Hindu religion, there were also regional revolutionaries who fought for defending the religion and nation. Mughals destroyed Hindu temples and built mosques on it. This was the reason why Hindus stayed in their religion and many among those who got converted forcefully, committed suicide. From time to time religious reformers were successful in reconverting them to Hinduism.

Whereas British ruled India for short period of time and they were not aggressive as Mughals. Also their intention was to get natural resources like spices. They were mostly trade oriented. But Portuguese were bit different and in Places like Goa and Calicut [Kerala] they forced Christianity. But we see some unique Persons like Swami Vivekananda, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa who have contributed a lot to save Hinduism. There are thousands of stories on how Hindus defended their religion from invaders.

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While mentioning South India you missed Hyderali and Tippu Sulthan, who were keen at destroying temples and looting them. – AskingStory Sep 6 '13 at 19:46
@AskingStory: Exactly ! Both of them have done enough to threaten Hinduism. But Tippu was there during British rule so I forgot to mention about them. I just concentrated on British rule more. – Pradeep Sep 6 '13 at 23:22
I don't agree that Swami Vivekananda or Ramakrishna "saved" Hinduism. In fact "as many routes as opinions", the basic tenet of Ramakrishna clearly is an acceptance of all faiths. And that has been the refrain of Hinduism often. Contrarily, it may be suggested that the "looseness" of boundaries may have allowed many to view other religions as un-alien, and get along merrily without protest. – Rajib Dec 19 '13 at 15:04

This is a simple question, it's because Hindusim is not a religion at all.(and I hope this can be asked as a separate question) Actually it is a culture which is passed by ancient rishis and yogis in India.

Some questions proving that Hhindusim is not a religion.

  1. Who is the founder of Hindusim? As for christianity - Jesus, Buddhism -Buddha, Muslim - Muhammad Nabi, Jainism -Jinan.
  2. Which is the holy book of hinduism? As for Christian -Bible, Muslim -Quran, Buddhism - Thripitaka, etc.

Even if you try to convert a culture to a Semitic religion like Christianity or Islam, it does not have a meaning at all.

Hinduism is teaching as how to live a perfect life. It do have a lot of teachings and inventions in a vast collections of books like Vedas, Upanishads, Maharashtra, Sreemad Bhagavatha, etc. which can be applied in our daily life.

Also Hindus are not compelled to go to temples for praying. They can if they want to, but no one insist them to follow these practices. Also they have no restrictions in going to other religious places like churches or Muslim churches.

It is vast enough to accept any religions. That's why there are many Christians and Muslims live in India with all their freedom.

See here explanation of one of the practice in this culture, it about the cremation of bodies. There are many such practices which prove that it is a culture. In this world, no other country have developed this kind of culture, so they are converted to RELIGIONS,but not INDIA.

P:S:These are not just assumptions but the basic facts about Hinduism. Founder, holybook, no restrictions in going to other religious places, and the last point cremation of bodies, these are the basic facts about Hinduism. I am sure that people living in India can easily follow these points. For others, you may simply do a google search on these points to know whether these are true, there are no need of special evidences to prove the basics. To understand the assertions about culture and religion, will require some effort because it needs a study of hinduism, but considering it simply as a religion will not help.

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Specify reason for downvote...and pls don't say this is theology or hinduism campaign – AskingStory Aug 28 '13 at 9:14
The heart of the answer is here in this sentence"Even if you try to convert a culture to a religion like christian or muslim it does not have a meaning at all" – AskingStory Sep 6 '13 at 7:29
If you feel it has a "meaning" is not relevant to the question. – Lennart Regebro Sep 6 '13 at 7:50
IMHO All religions are a part of a cultural package. Rulers officially convert their country when they want to tie themselves to that culture. (so I'd say this answer is really on the right track) – T.E.D. Nov 13 '13 at 13:10
Lots of assertions based on some assumptions about what "religion" and "conversion" mean, and the difference between "religion" and "culture". Interesting and thought provoking, but in the absence of evidence, not particularly persuasive. – Mark C. Wallace Oct 15 '14 at 13:07

I believe it also to be of significance to the question that the British did not generally inter-marry with their non-European colonial subjects.

This was in contrast to the Spanish in Latin America, and the Philippines, who both converted (often bloodily) and inter-married. Similarly the Portuguese (someone mentioned Goa) in their colonies, and to some extent the French in Indo-China.

The British never attempted to 'settle' Asia with large white communities, probably because they had huge territories like Australia, Canada and Africa south of the Zambezi, more suitable to European settlemt. An exception was parts of East Africa, such as Kenya, which were considered suitable climatically and agriculturally for white settlement.

The relatively small British populations in Asian cities lived lives largely segregated socially from local communities. E.M.Forster's novel 'A passage to India', and George Orwell's 'Burmese Days' very aptly describe the juxtaposition of British and Asian societies of the sub-continent.

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There are some interesting answers here however none contesting the question itself. I would rather like to put a contradictory view on this.

India, in fact, was mass converted by Islam and to a lesser extent by Christianity. I believe most of the answers here see India as it is present in the current form. However if you historically see, the entire subcontinent could be called as India and sub-continental religions (Hinduism/Jainism/Budhism) even reigned far beyond the sub continent to cover most of South-east Asia as we know today. The boundaries would be roughly bordering the Persian empire in the west to Indonesia in the east, which was ruled by enterprising empires from South that had brilliant naval capabilities.

Mass conversion was more successful in the extremities and that is clearly visible from the current religion map of the region including present day India. The reason why the entire populace is not yet converted can be multiple as mentioned by the other answers but one major factor is the vast area and the true population of the entire region. Both of which would make it one of the largest ever in the history.

As we know today only the core was able to withstand the continuous onslaught for over a millennium now.

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You have a point, most of the answers does not consider Pakisthan and Bengaladesh. But even if two countries was formed by this conversions. A large part of that old India remain and have most number of Hindus over the world. – AskingStory Nov 7 '14 at 7:46
You still missed Afghanistan in the west and entire SE Asia in the east. – PravinCG Nov 7 '14 at 10:02

Although Islam and Christianity are more egalitarian than Hinduism, there was a caste system in India in both these religions. I'm a Tamilian and I know that there is a caste system among Tamil and Kerala Christians just like Hinduism. An upper caste Christian/Muslim will never marry a lower caste Christian/Muslim in India. Yet many Dalits did convert because they found these religions more attractive and less ridden with social evils which are widespread in Hinduism.

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I'm not sure what you're talking about here. There are no castes/classes in Christianity and I'm pretty sure Islam doesn't have any castes either (I'd have to double-check that one, though). – American Luke Dec 19 '13 at 14:54
@American Luke I'm afraid he is right, though. On paper, of course there are no castes, but in reality the all-pervasive caste system does have penetration within the converted populations- not everywhere, but most certainly in many pockets. Of course, that still does not make this answer relevant- it does not answer the original question. – Rajib Dec 19 '13 at 15:10
Can you explain your "all-pervasive caste system"? – American Luke Dec 19 '13 at 15:14
@American Luke If your question means why I call it "all-pervasive", the answer is that large parts of society has not shaken it off, in spite of being "modernized" in many other respects. If your question means explain the entire system- well that's too large an answer to fit here. If your question is something else- I have not understood. To find examples of the caste system one needs to look no further than matrimonial (arranged marriages) advertisements in newspapers. Although now much of it has moved online. :) – Rajib Dec 19 '13 at 17:35

Every nation and religion has its own nature. Nature of Indian religions (such as Hinduism) is to mix with others and tolerate. This is the fundamental reason for their contunued existence for the past 5000 years. Besides the Muslims and British, India has been attacked by many other nations and all of them assimilated and became Indian later.

Muslims came to India. They forced Hindus to convert. As a result a large part of India (modern Pakistan and Bangladesh) became Muslim. At that time a socio-religious movement (called Bhakti and Sufi movement) was started by some Hindu and Muslim leaders. These prevented Hindus from converting to Islam. As a result India became the country of both Hindus and Muslims. Such leaders were Sri-Chaitanyadev (in Bengal), Guru Nanak (In Punjab), Santa Ramadash, Khaja Mainuddin Chisty (Muslim in Rajastan)etc.

In British period many Hindus were converted to Christian in Bengal, Assam and other places. Same type of movement was started which is called Indian Renessaince. In Bengal Shri Ramakrishnadeva and his follower Swami Vivekananda (called The Father of Indian Nationalism) played a creative role which prevented Hindus from becoming Christian all over India. Slowly many Christian Indians came to the main flow of Indian life.

Moreover the religious and philosophical foundations on which various Indian religions are standing is very rich. This is the main reason. Otherwise they may have become Muslim many years ago.

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Difficult to even read this... please work on your grammar and spelling. – Eugene Seidel Aug 10 '13 at 13:33

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