The Indian Subcontinent: The Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire: A Brief History from the Tenth to the Nineteenth Century.


One of the distinct features of Islam in India, contrary to Iran or the Ottoman empire, was that its pluralistic religious society escaped bureaucratization and state control. This history began in 711-13 when Muslim rule was established in Sind. However, it was one of the Ghurid generals, Qutb al-Din Aybeg, the conqueror of Delhi who founded the first of a succession dynasties known as the Delhi Sultanates in 1206. Under Ala al-Din Khalji (1290-1316) the Delhi regime extended its power to Gujarat, Rajhastan, the Deccan, and some parts of South India. The Khalji regime was succeeded by the Tughluq dynasty (1320-1413), which under Muhammad b. Tughluq were the first to appoint non-Muslim to military and government offices and permit the construction of Hindu temples. Following a strong Sunni policy, he was generally favourable to the Ulama (religious scholars) and he was the first to integrate Turkish warlords, Hindu feudatories, and Muslim scholars into the political elite. It is important to note that whilst the Delhi Sultanate leaned to Muslim supremacy, the provincial Muslim regimes fostered the integration of Muslim and Hindu cultures and the formation of an Indian version of Islamic civilization.

Under pressure form revolts by governors, the Tughluq Empire disintegrated while struggles over the Delhi sultanate led to the intervention of Babur (a descendant of Timur) who, after having defeated the Lodis at Panipat in 1526, became the ruler of Delhi. His son had lost the throne to the Afghan lord Sher Shah (1540-55) but was able to re-establish himself in Delhi and Agra where he handed his rule to Akbar. It was this Akbar who became the true founder of the Mughal Empire.

The policy of conciliation of Hindus and religious pluralism of the Mughal Empire lasted until Aurangzeb, who became known for sponsoring the codification of Islamic laws called the Fatawa Alamgiri. The succession struggles after the death of Aurangzeb and a succession of feeble rulers gradually led to the weakening of the Mughal Empire. Eventually, in 1772 Warren Hastings, the British governor of Bengal, took charge of the British factories (the British East India Company had been trading since 1600) and created a unified regime for the factories in India. This marks the beginning of a British Indian Empire. If anything, the Mughal era bequeathed to modern India a distinctive variant of Muslim institutions and cultures.

Taken and adapted from Lapidus, I. M. (2002). A history of Islamic societies, Cambridge University Press.


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