In countries in the Middle East, Indonesia and many North African countries, the onset of Islamic rulers spread Islam in a rapid manner, eventually wiping off the local religion. However in spite of widespread Muslim rule for several centuries, Islam seemed to have co-existed with Hinduism in India.

How was this possible? Was India lucky that it had tolerant rulers?

  • India got lucky that they were able to keep their own religion going underground more likely, and were too large for a widespread campaign of murdering everyone who didn't become a muslim quickly enough to be feasible.
    – jwenting
    Apr 16, 2013 at 6:09
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    I don't know that I would describe it as "thriving". You know when Tamerlane invaded India he made a mountain of skulls. All of India's technology was wiped out by Mongols. You know before the Mongols came the Indians had the most advanced mathematics and astronomy in the world and it was all destroyed. The Mongols created a dark ages in India for 600 years. Dec 9, 2015 at 16:54
  • @StuartAllan Sikh beliefs and practices are by no means as simply explained as that. You may find this Wiki article helpful. Some recognition is given by Sikhs to the Islamic god - Allah. And unlike Hinduism it is a monotheistic religion. Sikhs are also the most Western-leaning community in India, the NCO class of the old (British) Indian Army. We even have a Sikh policeman in our village in England. He looks very smart in his official turban in police-force blue.
    – WS2
    Dec 10, 2015 at 12:11
  • @StuartAllan I felt that your little potted misunderstanding of Sikhism could have benefitted from Wikipedia. Oh, and by the way - do cheer up - Christmas is coming!
    – WS2
    Dec 10, 2015 at 16:54
  • @TylerDurden Taimur Lane attacked only part of India (up to Delhi) which was already under muslim rulers. Ruling Mughals arrived only after 1526AD and before Babur arrived India was already being ruled by several muslim kings since 1300AD. Those Turks/Afgans were responsible for destroying India's technology. Dec 18, 2015 at 14:02

6 Answers 6


I completely disagree with Lennart. Islam has traditionally been expansionist and were big on forced conversions. This is evident if you see the history of India starting with Timur. These forced conversions had been rampart in all of India including the South. An account by Ibn Battuta : South India and Her Muhammadan Invaders

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    1. Note that Ibn Battutta condemns this behavior. 2. This is not a "forced conversion". 3. Your claim that Islam was big on forced conversion is contradicted by other sources, and not supported by the source you give. Feb 24, 2014 at 17:54
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    2. Devi Chand, the zamindar of Manoharpur, was dispossessed from his position and thrown into prison. Aurangzeb sent his Kotwal (executioner) instructing him that if Devi Chand becomes a Muslim, spare him; if he refused, kill him. Reference2
    – user3813
    Feb 24, 2014 at 20:10
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    You have examples of conversions. Some of these may have been forced. But your claim is that Islam was big on forced conversions. That claim is not supported by your sources. There is no doubt that forced conversions have happened, but claiming that this was prevalent throughout Islams occupations is another issue. Feb 25, 2014 at 11:35
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    -1 insufficient evidence Dec 9, 2015 at 19:42
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    - 1 insufficient evidence and poor discussion of time periods. At certain times Islam and Hinduism did coexist peacefully during other dynasties their was mass slaughter and forced conversion. It is highly dependent on time period and which leaders you are discussing. Sikhism should be included as well - the entire religion revolved around stopping the Muslim invaders. Dec 9, 2015 at 23:16

Hinduism is not a religion but a culture. There is no compulsion to attend a particular temple to worship. You can worship at home or even place a stone and imagine it as a god and start worshiping it.

The first wave of Islamic invaders cut 10s and 100s of thousands of 'non-believers' and history suggest many took vows not to eat/drink until they have seen 10,000 hindu heads piled every day (source : Cambridge History of India - Part III). They tried to demolish temples and built Mosques on top of them. This didn't prevent Hindu's worship or follow their culture which they continued practicing privately.

The killing of hundreds of thousands of priest class of hindu did reduced Sanskrit speakers and spread of Sanskrit scholars but gave rise to local vernacular languages (Ram Charit Manas by Tulasidas is simple Hindi translation of complex Ramayana which was in sanskrit)

On some perception that Islam was not traditionally big on forced conversions. I recommend reading Cambridge History of India part 3 covering history of modern day Afghanistan to Bangal between 800 AD to 1500AD. It covers the actual reasons for invading India being spreading Islam buy force. Many Rulers from Delhi sultanate failed to do so and that give reasons for further wave of islamic invaders to try it themselves.

Updated- More on topic : There were resistance from some of the Hindu Kings (Rana's of Mewar) and in down south from Vijaynagar Empire. At the same time there were more invasions by Moughals or Afgans on one of other pretext about conversion of "non-believers" however this gave rise to internal conflicts among Muslim rulers and some time they had to take support of Hindu kings. (e.g. Rana of Mewar supporting cause of Malwa ismalic king against Gujrat Muslim king or in Deccan Bijapur taking help of Vijayanagar to attack Adil Shahi of Ahmadnagar) Or in later part in 1700AD Marattha uprising against Mughals

sources: siyar-ul-mutaakhirin, Cambridge history of India, History Of Marattha (James Grant Duff)

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    Organized worship isn't required to be a religion. Dec 9, 2015 at 20:57
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    This is not a discussion forum. If you wish to reply to my answer, do that with a comment. If you wish to answer the question, don't refer to my answer. Also you present no evidence for what you claim. Jan 14, 2016 at 11:16
  • I listed several of books some of them referring Islamic writers writing about their conquests. If you at all cared to read my response. Jan 14, 2016 at 16:19
  • 1. Please remove the reference to me in the answer, this is not a discussion forum. 2. Please make a difference about victims of conquest and victims of religious persecution, those are not the same thing. 3. You can disagree as much as you like if you don't have sources to support you. You are not a world leading scholar, and neither am I. Our opinions are not relevant. Jan 20, 2016 at 11:09

The first few Islamic rulers in India were more focused on land expansion than religious ideals. When the 3rd generation emperor, Akbar, arrived in power, he was famed for promoting religious peace and even creating his own religion Din-i Ilahi, a mix between many different religions. He even married a Hindu princess. After that, most of the Islamic rule in India continued the ideals of their greatest emperor.

More information:


Since your question asks us to concern ourselves specifically with the Middle Ages (5th to the 15th century), I will not venture to comment on the Mughal Dynasty and the shaping of identities in the modern world. However, to ground all of this in present-day observable context, I'd like you to give this a read.

Islam's contact with India can be traced back to the 7th century. For the time-period being observed, and throughout all of history, Islam has come to India through the following two pathways:

  • Sea route i.e Arabian Sea
  • The North-West Corridor of India

Before the Islamic conquests began in earnest with the Raja of Sindh's battle against Muhammad bin Quasim, the Eastern Hemisphere looked something like this:

enter image description here

India appears pretty fragmented at this point. This is because much of her political history has been that of chiefdoms gaining excessive power and breaking away from their kingdoms. There was also great hostility between them.

India, in its modern form, would emerge only in the 13th century, under the Delhi Sultanate. Before that would happen, Muslims were indeed looked at with leeriness by the Hindu population. The Central Asian traveller Al-Biruni attributed it to the fact that the Arabs had, in their conquests, taken several Indians as hostages and there was a general climate of mistrust prevalent among the people.

This wasn't all unsound though, considering that Mahmud of Ghazni and his commanders had plundered and laid waste several Hindu temples that had once boasted great riches.

In 1206, with the coming onto the throne of the Mamluk Dynasty, former kingdoms that were now annexed and under Muslim control, for the first time came under a centralised force. Up until the end of the Medieval Era, Hindus in India easily outnumbered the Muslims. Very early on, it was realised by the Muslim rulers that force wouldn't get them very far.

This is what the Delhi Sultanate looked like at its apex:

enter image description here

Being a highly feudal state, the rulers had no other option but to incorporate Hindus into the administrative system, in light of the fact that most of the land was owned by them. Hindus also had exclusive control over several markets. Also being a theocracy governed by Quranic injunctions, the rulers took it upon themselves to try and bring Islam to as many people as possible and allow people freedom of religion. The kings felt that doing so was executing the will of God. This is why many Islamic holy places (to this day, I believe), guarantee free passage and protection to people of all faiths. Seeing how good a system of checks-and-balances they had established, they had no reason to worry about any province gaining too much power.

Around this time, movements like Sufism also gained ground and Islam as a religion became much more appealing to Hindus, especially those of the lower-castes who were stuck in an establishment that did not permit social mobility.

Another reason why I think there were so few spars between the two religions is because religion isn't the dominant cultural identifier for Hindus. They view themselves of a particular ethnic group and/or region first and foremost.

While it is true that conversion to Islam in India wasn't usually forced, it was almost always implied, as evidenced by this page on Islamic taxes. The rest of the picture isn't as clearly formed either. Many rulers destroyed Hindu temples to provide for materials needed to build mosques and other Islamic sites. Moreover, the frequent change of central power meant that the attitude towards Hindus always remained in a flux, and varied from one emperor to the other.

However, all in all, Islam and Hinduism shared a quite unparalleled cultural bonding in the Middle Ages, the effects of which can be felt to this day.


Islam has traditionally not been big on forced conversion. Generally Muslim rulers have been OK with allowing other religions. Especially since non-Muslims often was made to pay extra taxes.

The claim that Islam spread rapidly everywhere else there was Islamic rulers is not a really correct statement from that point of view. It took many hundreds of years there as well. I can't find any support for the position that conversion somehow was slower in India than in most other Islamic empires.

The question of why people convert to Islam has always generated intense feeling. Earlier generations of European scholars believed that conversions to Islam were made at the point of the sword, and that conquered peoples were given the choice of conversion or death. It is now apparent that conversion by force, while not unknown in Muslim countries, was, in fact, rare. Muslim conquerors ordinarily wished to dominate rather than convert, and most conversions to Islam were voluntary. (...) In most cases worldly and spiritual motives for conversion blended together. Moreover, conversion to Islam did not necessarily imply a complete turning from an old to a totally new life. While it entailed the acceptance of new religious beliefs and membership in a new religious community, most converts retained a deep attachment to the cultures and communities from which they came.

-- Hourani, Albert, 2002, A History of the Arab Peoples, Faber & Faber, pg 198

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    The Jizya was made to make dhimmis lives more miserable compared to muslims, and this combined with the fact that dhimmis were inferior on a legal level as well means that it was a strong incentive toward conversion. So if this is not forced conversions, then what is? Also, at least in the Middle East pagans were considered not worthy of the title of dhimmis and exterminated during the muslims conquests if they didn't convert..
    – Shautieh
    Jan 13, 2016 at 3:44
  • Forced conversion means violence. Jan 14, 2016 at 11:13
  • Being treated legally as a sub human is not violent? Under Ottoman rule, having his children arbitrarily taken to serve as janissaries (the kids were forced to become muslims and then raised to despise all non muslims) is not violent?
    – Shautieh
    Jan 14, 2016 at 14:11
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    If you read History of India (all I read about) you will notice that skull mountains were erected if people refused to convert. Islamic invasion always gave option to convert to islam or get killed as per sharia laws (or interpretation of rulers). Jan 14, 2016 at 16:22
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    I don't understand why invasion was not considered at par with religious persuasion here? Islamic invasion was done solely on principle to spread the religion. All the killings listed in resources provided talks about common public being forced to either convert or failing to do so killed or sold in slavery. What more proof you need in this? I strongly suggest to read before claiming others for being prejudice. Jan 21, 2016 at 10:47

A couple of ridiculous answers here — such as Islam not being heavy on forced conversions, which is nonsense. The conversion of Persia into Islam is one of the most brutal events in history. Anyone who thinks otherwise is a delusional apologist. The idea that Muslim rulers grew more tolerant is also nonsense. The policies of Aurangzeb in the seventeenth century, of Tipu Sultan in the late eighteenth century and the general popularity of Nizams like the Nizam of Junagadh and Hyderabad in 1947 should be more than enough proof to trash that theory. I can count all the 'secular' Muslim rulers throughout Indian history on one hand with several fingers to spare.

I'm not sure of how organised Indonesian Buddhism was.

But in the case of Sassanid Persia, there was a rigid and highly organised Zoroastrian system present. It was rather easy for Arab invaders to destroy this for a couple of reasons. Fundamentally, the Persians did not see them as the greatest threat, and were more focussed on their civil war. This allowed the Arabs to easily infiltrate most of Persia. From there, they destroyed the holiest cities of the faith like Eshtakhr and killed the priests en masse. Then the Zoroastrians were given a choice, convert or die. A few Zoroastrians did manage to escape, either to Central Asia or to India (Central Asian ones were cleansed in repeated waves by Turkic migrations and later by the Safavids). The Zoroastrians who could not escape were either converted forcibly, enslaved and shipped off elsewhere or were killed.

A genocide of a smaller scale happened in Armenia about three centuries before under the reign of Tiridates III, where Zoroastrians were butchered by the Christians.

In its present state, Hinduism is not a single religion — to assume so is wrong. The word Hindu was first used by Arab invaders to refer to the inhabitants of the plains beyond the Sindhu river (Indus). They called the land 'Hind' and its people Hindus. Therefore, Hinduism is a blanket term for multitude of beliefs held by the people beyond the Sindhu river. There is no central authority to speak for all the Hindus, and neither is there any specific holy book for Hindus like the Avesta for Zoroastrians — there are many, and there is no consensus on which among the many is more important than the rest. This is case in the twenty first century. Back in the eighth century, when the Ummayads first attacked Sindh, it was even less organised.

I believe that the reason why Hinduism as a whole survived repeated invasions by Muslim invaders was because of the lack of organisation, not because of the rulers growing more tolerant with time or any nonsense. Harder to break something if you don't know what to destroy — not that anyone can ever accuse them of not trying hard enough.

There are plenty of records which show that Islamic rulers did not, in fact, grow "more tolerant" as time passed. Aurangzeb, the last of the Mughals to rule over a substantial part of the Indian subcontinent reintroduced the Jaziya tax, and plundered several temples throughout his reign. Tipu Sultan, a hundred years later, started massive pogroms which resulted in some areas on the south western coast becoming dominated by Muslims — a demographic that persists to this day.

  • You are mistaking the Muslim conquest of Persia with conversion into Islam. Two different events, two very different processes. You also make a lot of vague claims, but provide no sources. Jan 14, 2016 at 11:20

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