is the second largest religion in India, with 14.2% of the country’s population or roughly 172 million people identifying as adherents of Islam (2011 census) as an ethnoreligious group. Islam first came to the western coast of India when Arab traders as early as the 7th century CE came to coastal Malabar and Konkan-Gujarat. Cheraman Juma Mosque in Kerala is thought to be the first mosque in India, built in 629 CE by Malik Deenar. Following an expedition by the governor of Bahrain to Bharuch in the 7th century CE, immigrant Arab and Persian trading communities from South Arabia and the Persian Gulf began settling in coastal Gujarat.
Ismaili Shia Islam was introduced to Gujarat in the second half of the 11th century, when Fatimid Imam Al-Mustansir Billah sent missionaries to Gujarat in 467 AH/1073 CE. Islam arrived in North India in the 12th century via the Turkic invasions and has since become a part of India’s religious and cultural heritage. Over the centuries, there has been significant integration of Hindu and Muslim cultures across India and Muslims have played a notable role in economics, politics and culture of India.
Early history of Islam in India
Trade relations have existed between Arabia and the Indian subcontinent since ancient times. Even in the pre-Islamic era, Arab traders used to visit the Konkan-Gujarat coast and Malabar region, which linked them with the ports of Southeast Asia. Newly Islamised Arabs were Islam’s first contact with India. Historians Elliot and Dowson say in their book The History of India, as Told by Its Own Historians, that the first ship bearing Muslim travellers was seen on the Indian coast as early as 630 CE. H.G. Rawlinson in his book Ancient and Medieval History of India claims that the first Arab Muslims settled on the Indian coast in the last part of the 7th century CE. (Zainuddin Makhdoom II “Tuhafat Ul Mujahideen” is also a reliable work.) This fact is corroborated by J. Sturrock in his Madras District Manuals and by Haridas Bhattacharya in Cultural Heritage of India Vol. IV. It was with the advent of Islam that the Arabs became a prominent cultural force in the world. Arab merchants and traders became the carriers of the new religion and they propagated it wherever they went.Mausoleum of 1 st Wali–ul–Hind:Moulai Abadullah, Khambat, Gujarat, 11th century
Muslim neighbourhood in Delhi c. 1852
Pencil and wash drawing of a mosque at Sambhal in Uttar Pradesh by Thomas (1749–1840) and William (1769–1837) Daniell, 24 March 1789
The first Indian mosque, Cheraman Juma Mosque, is thought to have been built in 629 CE by Malik Deenar although some historians say the first mosque was in Gujarat.
In Malabar, the Mappilas may have been the first community to convert to Islam. Intensive missionary activities were carried out along the coast and many other natives embraced Islam.
In the 8th century, the province of Sindh (in present-day Pakistan) was conquered by an Arab army led by Muhammad bin Qasim. Sindh became the easternmost province of the Umayyad Caliphate.
In the first half of the 10th century, Mahmud of Ghazni added the Punjab to the Ghaznavid Empire and conducted 17 raids on modern-day India. In the 11th century, Ghazi Saiyyad Salar Masud played a significant role in the conversion of locals (Hindus) to Islam. A more successful invasion came at the end of the 12th century from Muhammad of Ghor. This eventually led to the formation of the Delhi Sultanate.
According to legend, two travellers from India, Moulai Abdullah (formerly known as Baalam Nath) and Maulai Nuruddin (Rupnath), went to the court of Imam Mustansir (427–487 AH)/(1036-1094 CE) and were so impressed that they converted to Islam and came back to preach in India in 467 AH/1073 CE. Moulai Ahmed was their companion. Abadullah was the first Wali-ul-Hind (saint of India). He came across a married couple named Kaka Akela and Kaki Akela who became his first converts in the Taiyabi (Bohra) community.
There is much historical evidence to show that Arabs and Muslims interacted with Indians from the very early days of Islam or even before the arrival of Islam in Arab regions. Arab traders transmitted the numeral system developed by Indians to the Middle East and Europe.
Many Sanskrit books were translated into Arabic as early as the 8th century. George Salibain his book “Islamic Science and the Making of the European Renaissance”, writes that “some major Sanskrit texts began to be translated during the reign of the second Abbasid caliph al-Mansur (754–775), if not before; some texts on logic even before that, and it has been generally accepted that the Persian and Sanskrit texts, few as they were, were indeed the first to be translated.”
Commercial intercourse between Arabia and India had gone on from time immemorial, with for example the sale of dates and aromatic herbs by Arabs traders who came to Indian shores every spring with the advent of the monsoon breeze. People living on the western coast of India were as familiar with the annual coming of Arab traders as they were with the flocks of monsoon birds; they were as ancient a phenomenon as the monsoon itself. However, whereas monsoon birds flew back to Africa after a sojourn of few months, not all traders returned to their homes in the desert; many married Indian women and settled in India.
The advent of Muhammad (569–632 CE) changed the idolatrous and easy-going Arabs into a nation unified by faith and fired with zeal to spread the gospel of Islam. The merchant seamen who brought dates year after year now brought a new faith with them. The new faith was well received by South India. Muslims were allowed to build mosques, intermarry with Indian women, and very soon an Indian-Arabian community came into being. Early in the 9th century, Muslim missionaries gained a notable convert in the person of the King of Malabar.
The peaceful spread of Islam was suddenly checked when Muslim armies began to invade India. Mohammed Bin Qasim (672 CE) at the age of 17 was the first Muslim invader and he managed to reach Sindh. Centuries later Mahmud of Ghazni (971 – 1030 CE) was the second, much more ferocious invader, who swept up into Northern India as far as Gujarat.