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Trade between Arabia and India

The monsoon birds flying into India from East Africa were a source of joy for the people of the Western Ghats because they indicated arrival of the much awaited rains, the start of the monsoon season. Along with the monsoons, the people of south India were eagerly awaiting another arrival, the Arabian Dhows (sailboats), an event perhaps as old as the monsoon itself. Before the onset of the monsoons, the Arab traders would load their boats (dhows) with dates, frankincense, herbs and other products grown in their oases, take advantage of the sea breeze, and reach the Indian shores just before the arrival of the monsoon rains. Over the years, the Arab traders were able to form a mutually beneficial relationship with the merchant princes of India. Some of the Arab traders married Indian women and permanently settled down in India. A new Indo-Arabian community came into being. The muslims were allowed to build mosques. This peaceful spread of Islam started to move from the south to the northern parts of India. Around 630 AD there were several scattered settlements of Arab Muslims in Western India, including key coastal regions such as Malabar.

What destroyed the age-old healthy Hindu-Muslim relationship in India?

971 to 1030 AD invasions of Mahmud of Ghazni:
Towards the end of 600 AD, muslim invaders started entering Northern India through Baluchistan and Sindh. The invasions of Mahmud of Ghazni (971 to 1030) and subsequent invasions that followed on a regular basis for many years, ravaged Northern India where hindu temples were also destroyed. As a result, the muslims began to be looked upon as foreign invaders who had to be stopped. The peaceful conversions of hindus to muslims through marriage, etc. came to a halt. The hindus started to look upon the muslims as their enemies.

Shankara's call to return to Vedas and Monotheism

The solid and peaceful relationship between the hindus and muslims that had formed because of the time immemorial trade between Arabia and India was destroyed in a short period because of invasions by certain muslim rulers who came from the north.
Shankara (800 AD):
Shankara, a brahmin of Malabar, attempted to provide an answer to the arguments of the muslim conquerors by calling for a return to the Vedas (holy scripture of the hindus). The hinduism of Shankara was an uncompromised monotheism and a rejection of idolatory. The God of Shankara was One, Indefinable, and All-pervasive.

O Lord, pardon my three sins.
I have in contemplation clothed in form
Thee who art formless.
I have in praise described Thee who art ineffable,
And in visiting temples I have ignored Thine Omnipresence.
Shankara

Ramanuja and the Bhakti Movement

Ramanuja (1016 to 1137 AD):
Ramanuja advocated the path of Bhakti (devotion) recommended many centuries ago by the Bhagavad Gita as the best way to salvation. Ramanuja travelled extensively through northern India and left behind a large number of disciples to propogate his teachings. The Alvar and Adyar saints played a key role in influencing the Bhakti Movement. Ramananda popularized the Bhakti Movement in Northern India. Ramananda permitted the lower caste hindus and muslims to become his followers.

Key Beliefs of the Bhaktas
  • God is One though He cannot be described.

  • God is the only reality and the rest is maya (illusion).

  • The best way to serve God is absolute submission to His will.

  • The way to approach God is through meditation and the chanting of hymns.

  • The role of a Guru is important for spiritual guidance.

Kabir (1440 to 1518 AD)

Kabir was the primary person responsible for spreading the message of Bhakti across the entire Indo-Gangetic plain. Kabir who described himself as the child of Rama and Allah played a major part in restoring the broken relationship between the hindus and the muslims. Kabir though born a muslim found no difficulty in worshipping as a hindu. Kabir believed that there could be only One God and he refused to bow before idols. The caste system was not divinely ordained because all human beings were born equal.

From the Words of Kabir:
  • The hindu goes to the temple and the mussalman to the mosque but Kabir goes where both are known. Kabir has taken the higher path abandoning the custom of the two.

  • I am neither a hindu nor a mussalman. I am a body made of five elements where the Unknown plays. Mecca has verily become Kasi, and Rama has become Rahim.

The Sufi Movement

Not many of the Bhaktas practised what they preached. They continued to worship stone idols. Their acceptance of equality was often only symbolic such as by an occasional acceptance of food from the hands of a low caste. Along with the scholars of hinduism who had started the Bhakti movement, some of the muslim preachers also wanted to re-establish the hindu-muslim bond that had been harmed because of the multiple invasions by muslim kings. Such persons of muslim faith studied multiple languages, cultures and religions. They learnt about Christianity, Buddhism and Greek philosophies. These men were known as the Sufis. Around the 15th century some of the popular Sufis were: Chishti, Qadiri, Suhrawardi, and Naqshbandi. As a result of the Sufi movement, a large number of hindus entered into the muslim fold. As a consequence of the Sufi Movement, the muslims of India came closer to the hindus. This can be observed in the similarity of food, language, dress, music, etc. between the hindus and sufi muslims even today. Everything became identical except the place of worship. Someone needed to bridge the gap between the temple and the mosque. The arrival of Sikhism was the next step in the continued effort to encourage true spirituality and do away with the divisive side-effects of organized religion.

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