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The Making of the Indian Muslim Civilization

Today roughly 500 million Muslims inhabit South Asia, although the process of Islamization began in the eighth century, the region developed a distinct Indo-Islamic civilization that culminated in the Mughal Empire. In the Gulf, while paying lip service to the power centres, including Mecca and Medina, this civilization cultivated its own variety of Islam, which was based on Sufism.
‘The Islamic Connection’ gathers together some of the best specialists on the pan-Islamic ties and explores  ideological, educational and spiritual networks, which have gained momentum due to political strategies, migration flows and increased communications.
Revisiting the old notion of ‘acculturation’ from the point of view of the ‘connected history’ school of thought,5 Sanjay Subrahmanyam argues that when civilizations meet, ‘Time and again, then, we are forced to come to terms with a situation that is not one of mutual indifference, or of a turning of backs, or of a deep-rooted incomprehension, but of shifting vocabularies, and changes that are wrought over time by improvisations that eventually come to be part of a received tradition.’ In South Asia, Muslims have invented their own ‘brand’ of Islam soon after their arrival in the region, following their encounter with the dominant civilization, Hinduism.
Certainly, the Caliphate played a role in the initial conquest of South Asian territories by Arabs in the eighth century. It was the Khalifah al-Walid b. ‘Abdul Malik who, hearing that Arab traders had been captured by the ruler of Sind, asked the governor of Baghdad to send an army to liberate them in 711. The soldiers of Muhammad b. Qasim did more than that and conquered the whole of Sind. The social structure of the Muslims of South Asia, who became dominant in spite of their remaining a minority, reflects their attachment to the Arabian peninsula: the upper strata was made of those (the Syed) who claimed that they descended from the Prophet. Another source of prestige came from the accomplishment of the Mecca pilgrimage (the Hajj), the title ‘Hajji’ being affixed to the name of those who had done it.
However, the Muslims who brought Islam to South Asia in a sustainable manner were not those who used the sword to conquer the region and/or who looked back, but the Sufis who made India a sacred land for Muslims, as mentioned in the introduction of this volume, after the establishment of khanqahs (buildings designed for the gathering of Sufis saints’ disciples) and dargahs (tombs of saints) which became major pilgrimage centres.
Not only did Muslims of medieval India distance themselves from the holy cities of Arabia and develop sacred sites across ‘their’ land, they also initiated spiritual relations with the Hindus. While orthodox scholars developed forms of Islamic proselytization in order to convert these ‘infidels’ (kafirs), some Sufis and several Muslim rulers promoted a very substantial spiritual dialogue with Hindus. The encounter of Sufis and Yogis resulted in rich spiritual exchanges.For making possible this dialogue, which reached its culminating point during the Mughal Empire under Akbar, spiritual treaties were translated from Sanskrit to Persian and Arabic. Besides, after 1579, Akbar appeared as a competitor for the Caliph himself as suggested by Sanjay Subrahmanyam:
In early September 1579, a group of theologians, including the Shaikh ul-Islam, were pressurized into signing a text claiming for Akbar a special status of Padshah-i Islam, beyond that even of a Sultan-i Adil. […] one of the epithets used for him was now Mujtahid, as also Imam-i Adil, the latter startlingly close to the usages favoured at one time by Süleyman. Indeed, the challenges was directed in good measures at the Ottomans, who had claimed superior status as the Khalifas of the east, with their conquest of Egypt.
These words and the spiritual innovations of Akbar reflected the great autonomy of the Indo-Islamic civilization vis-à-vis West Asia, including the holy cities of the Arabian peninsula and Istanbul, the seat of the Caliphate. But the fact that Akbar claimed that he was a kind of Caliph also shows that the Indian Muslims were deeply attached to the idea of the Caliphate, that they somewhat tried to replicate. And when the Mughal Empire started to wane, the attitude of the Muslim Indians towards the Ottomans changed.
Local Muslim rulers threatened by the Europeans turned to the Ottoman Sultan for help and recognition in the eighteenth century, including those of the Malabar coast and Tipu Sultan, the warlord of southern India who put up the most successful resistance to the British. Tipu Sultan sent an ambassador to Constantinople in 1785 requesting that he bring back a letter of investiture from the Ottoman Sultan and military support. He got the former, but not the latter. The declining Mughal dynasty also turned towards the Ottoman Sultan. In fact, the less power the dynasty retained, the more Indian Muslims turned to the Caliph as their protector. In the first half of the nineteenth century, ‘the name of the Ottoman sultan definitely came to be mentioned in the Friday khutba in some Indian mosques.’ Gradually, Indian ulama recognized the Ottoman sultans as the holder of the universal caliphate. This trend reached its logical conclusion after the last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah II (1775–1862) was deposed and exiled to Rangoon in the wake of the 1857 Mutiny which marked the final phase of the Mughal decline.
Find this book: The Islamic Connection: South Asia and the Gulf

5 Reasons why Rabindranath Tagore was Ahead of His Time

More lovingly called Gurudev, Rabindranath Tagore is one of India’s most cherished renaissance figures. He is credited with putting India on the literary map when he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913.
While best known as a poet, Rabindranath Tagore was also a gifted painter, a novelist, dramatist, essayist, an educator, and a philosopher. His works continue to help people dream of a better world, even in the darkest of times.
As we countdown to his birthday, here are 5 reasons that prove that this great man was way ahead of his time.
The time he returned his knighthood
How many artists would’ve had the courage to do this?
His views on women
Here’s someone born more than a hundred years ago whose views on women are, arguably, still ahead of the times.
His take on the dangers of nationalism
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A message that will never cease to be apt.
Gurudev and the society
His works for social reform has been largely overshadowed by his literary achievements, but there are fewer voices bigger who tried to remove the evils from Indian society.
A deserving and Nobel man
He was the first Asian to win the Nobel Prize.
Rabindranath Tagore’s life and his works are examples where excellence is enshrined, and yet, at their core are inspiringly human.
For more amazing facts of the remarkable Rabindranath Tagore, you’d want to pick Sabyasachi Bhattacharya’s Rabindranath Tagore: An Interpretation.

7 Quotes by Perumal Murugan that Describe a Difficult Childhood

Perumal Murugan’s works provide a poignant commentary on the religious and caste practices prevalent in the society. His stories vividly capture the pain a person from the lower strata of society goes through every day.
His novel Seasons of the Palm, which was shortlisted for the Kiriyama Award, is merciless in its portrayal of the daily humiliations of untouchablility. It also evokes the grace with which the oppressed come to terms with their dark fate. Shorty, the central character of Murugan’s novel is one such young untouchable who is in bondage to a powerful landlord.
Here are a few quotes from the book that will give you a glimpse of Shorty’s hardships:
Being Awakened by a Stinging Whiplash
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When You Can’t Wash Off Your Stink
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Untouchable and Barred from Touching
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When the Bare Necessities Turn into Luxury
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A Paid Slave
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When Your Days Are Like Empty Bowls
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Aren’t they painful yet powerful? Tell us what do you think.
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