The Middle Way: An Analysis of Why the Delhi Sultanate’s Treatment of Hindus Was One of Moderation
The Republic of India maintains its identity as one of the most pluralistic nations in the modern world, in which people of different religions co-exist under a single national identity.
Part of the origins of this pluralism can be traced back to the time when Muhammad bin Qasim first recorded a Muslim presence in the Indian subcontinent by conquering Sindh province in modern-day Pakistan in AD 712.
About three centuries later, Muslim rule was established in northern India under the leadership of Qutb-ud-din Aibak, who founded the Delhi Sultanate under the Mamluk dynasty in 1206. The Delhi Sultanate, which lasted till 1526, is known as the period of cultural interconnection.
How were Hindus treated during the Sultanate period?
A Muslim minority ruled over a variety of subjects, most of whom were of Hinduism. It is difficult to judge the nature of the subjugation of the Hindus under the Delhi Sultanate, as one must look at various aspects of the Sultanate’s rule to assess their attitude towards the Hindus. Religious perspectives, artistic exchanges, and the fact that Hindus were an integral part of the Sultanate’s economies all influenced how the Sultanate treated its Hindu population; Which ultimately best reflects the sultanate’s subjugation of the Hindus as neither liberal nor oppressive, but moderately tolerant.
Although there was general resentment towards Hindus during the period of the Sultanate, it seems that the different political climates of each dynasty allowed the Muslim authorities to follow the middle path of religious tolerance toward the Hindu population. This restraint is well reflected in the fact that the Islamic rulers of India, even before the start of the Sultanate, had declared their Hindu population heretical. This title protected the rights of non-Muslim citizens in the Islamic State, albeit with some restrictions, such as the jizya tax.
The Hindus maintained this position throughout the period of the Sultanate, which shows how the Muslim sultans did not actually oppress their Hindu subjects, but at the same time were never overly generous towards them. The Sultanate’s first two dynasties, the Mamluks (slave dynasty) and the Khiljis, generally known to be intolerant of their subjects, destroyed many Hindu temples during their reign. However, the third ruler of the sultanate, Shams-ud-din Iltutmish of the Mamluk dynasty was generally able to keep religion free of his politics, unlike his successor rulers.
It shows how politics affected the Sultanate’s tolerance of Hindus. Iltutmish started his rule in 1210 AD, four years after the establishment of the Sultanate. As such, he had to establish some sort of stability in his Hindu subjects, so as to avoid internal and even external conflict with the surrounding Hindu kingdoms. Obviously, this stability could not have been achieved if Iltutmish had taken a tough stand against Hinduism.
Thus, he had to be relatively liberal and keep religion free from his politics according to the political conditions of the time. Once Iltutmish established stability, however, the political climate changed and prompted the later rulers of the Mamluk and Khilji dynasties to engage in less tolerant behavior towards Hindus, evidenced by the destruction of temples and heavy taxation. The rule of the Sultanate’s third dynasty, the Tughlaqs, also shows how the political climate moderated the religious tolerance of the Sultanate.
Sultan Muhammad bin Tughlaq is known to have been the most tolerant sultan during the period of the Delhi Sultanate, which influenced the political environment in which he and his successor ruled, creating an environment of moderate tolerance. Muhammad Tughlaq expanded Hindu religious freedom and even encouraged them, even to participate in the Hindu festival of Holi.