Islam in India
The first Arab raids into Indian territory immediately followed the great conquests that occurred under Caliph Omar in the 7th century and continued under the Umayyads. However, the real Muslim conquest was the work of the Turks, to whom Islam had given the strength of internal cohesion and strong political and cultural ties with other Islamic peoples. The driving force behind their power was Ghazni in Afghanistan, the capital of a vast empire which, with Mahmud of Ghazni (998-1030), extended from Lahore in Punjab to Ispahan in Persia. Religious zeal and the need to bring wealth to Ghazni led Mahmud to destruction and looting. Another conqueror of Turkish-Afghan origin, Muhammad al-Ghuri, put an end to the Ghaznavid domination between 1175 and 1186, who, overcoming the Hindu resistance of the Rajputs, unable to unite against the common enemy, he took over the whole Ganges plain. In the absence of a regulating principle in the dynastic succession, Turkish slaves assumed great political importance, who held administrative positions of great prestige. Among the latter emerged the figure of Iltumish (1210-36), founder of the sultanate of Delhi, which from then on constituted the most important center of Indian Islam. With the following dynasties the sultanate expanded to all of northern India, to the Deccan, and further south to Madura. If the military conquest was carried out quickly, consolidating the sultan’s authority proved to be a difficult undertaking. Soon the South became independent, while the Deccan and other small territorial entities formed themselves into autonomous Muslim kingdoms. More than the complicated events of the Muslim kingdoms of India, the frequent changes of dynasties and the continuous internal and external wars, the cultural innovations brought with them by the conquerors changed the general conditions of Indian civilization. The Islam they professed had taken on a strong Persian imprint for centuries and it was therefore essentially the Persian civilization (naturally in its Islamic phase) that spread in India; however, this civilization merged only to a small extent with the indigenous one, both for the resistance of this, tenacious though passive, and for the tendencies of the rulers themselves, aimed at oppressing and exploiting rather than at earning and amalgamating the population they dominated., considered as idolatrous and therefore treated much worse than that, predominantly Christian.
The dynastic disputes opened the way, in 1398, to the invasion of Tamerlane, whose descendants gave birth to a new dynasty. Although Tamerlane had built a vast empire from the Mediterranean to the borders of China, neither he nor his descendants imposed anything more than indulgent sovereignty on India. The decline of the Delhi sultanate came to a halt with the advent of the Afghan Lodi dynasty (1451-1526), which ended Zahir ad-Din Muhammad, nicknamed Babur (“tiger”), descendant of Tamerlane and Genghis Khan, of Turkish and culturally Persianized lineage, which from Kabul, the center of his power, descended to India, where he founded the Moghul (Mongol) dynasty. This reigned without interruption, although ultimately in full decline, until the middle of the 19th century,
A refined artistic and literary culture flourished under the Mughals, born from the encounter between two worlds, even if irreconcilable in some ways. The rule of the new dynasty was generally severe but tolerant and soon the needs of a vast administrative system, based on Persian models, opened the participation in it of many educated Hindus. Conversion to Islam was not required, but it was an advantage; however, even among the unconverted of the higher castes a complete and adequate education included the study of Persian; in rural society, burdened by problems of poverty and exploitation, conversion to Islam was often considered a way to escape from disadvantageous caste conditions. There was also no lack of attempts at syncretism, such as Sufism; under Muslim influence, Sikhism was also born.
From the Mughals to British India
According to directoryaah, the Mughals extended their dominion to all of northern India, and to parts of Afghanistan and the Deccan; they developed an imperial administrative organization, integrating local authorities and institutions into it; they sought to tax land income fairly and to enforce the law through a network of officials reporting directly to the emperor. The maximum expression of the tendency to syncretism of the culture of the Mughal era was the emperor Akbar (1556-1605). Grandson of the founder Babur, he owes his fame, more than to his conquests (eastern Afghanistan, Bengal, Kashmir, most of the Deccan), to the attempt of a bold religious and social reform aimed at equalizing Muslim and Hindu subjects in front of the state ; adopted an eclectic cult, restricted to a few trusted courtiers, and promoted debates between exponents of different religions. However, his attempt was not followed up. Islamic orthodoxy was restored by Awrangzeb (1658-1707), who also restored the gizya, the tax that Islamic law imposes on unconverted subjects, abolished by Akbar. Awrangzeb completed the conquest of the Deccan, but the resulting political demands led to an expansion of the bureaucracy disproportionate to economic possibilities. The wars, the struggle against the nascent Hindu state of Maratha (which arose in the Deccan from the 17th century), the repressive policy against Hindus and Sikhs marked the decline of the empire. On the death of Awrangzeb, the Mughal empire fragmented into a constellation of small Muslim states, while the Maratha power was consolidated. For a time it seemed that this could conquer hegemony, but a policy of severe exactions prevented the cohesion of the annexed or subjugated states. Northern India was the scene of new invasions. Between 1748 and 1757 the Afghan Ahmed Shah Durrani took possession of Delhi; the Maratha intervened, convinced of seizing the right opportunity to establish themselves definitively, but they found themselves isolated, without the support of the last Mughals, and suffered a disastrous defeat that marked their decline.
While India was divided by conflicts, the presence of the European India Companies, especially the French and English, grew. It was the weakness of the Indian states that gave Europeans the impetus to enter the political scene and attempt colonial expansion. Quickly defeating the French in the game of alliances and political strategy, in 1757 the British East India Company took effective control over Bengal, which it soon began to extend to the rest of India. The only attempt at an alliance between Indian powers against the British, led by the Maratha, ended in failure. The Maratha empire quickly disintegrated, only to be definitively annexed by the British in 1818. The refusal to sanction the adoption of heirs by childless sovereigns – a right that the India Company reserved as the highest Indian power – allowed the annexation of other territories. In 1849 the Punjab was annexed, after a struggle against the Sikhs, who had formed a sort of independent kingdom. In 1857 the discontent of the Indians broke out in open revolt with the mutiny of the army of Bengal. It is the great insurrection of the sepoys, the indigenous troops enlisted by the Company, which for a few months put the very fate of the English domination of India at severe risk with the lives of British subjects. By 1858 the revolt was completely suppressed and the last of the Mughals, Bahadur Shah II, whom the insurgents had chosen as their banner, served the brief dream of his dynasty’s imperial resurrection by deposition and life imprisonment. The following year, the sovereignty of India passed from the Company directly to the British crown.