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Persecution of Hindus


Hindus have experienced historical and current religious persecution and systematic violence. These occurred in the form of forced conversions, documented massacres, demolition and desecration of temples, as well as the destruction of educational centres.

Mahmud (971-1030 AD)

Mahmud of Ghazni, Sultan of the Ghaznavid empire, invaded the Indian subcontinent during the early 11th century. His campaigns across the Gangetic plains are often cited for their iconoclastplundering and destruction of temples. Mahmud’s court historian Al-Utbi viewed Mahmud’s expeditions as a jihad to propagate Islam and extirpate idolatry.[28][29][30] 

Since Mahmud never kept a permanent presence in the northwestern subcontinent, he engaged in a policy of destroying Hindu temples and monuments to crush any move by the Hindus to attack the Empire; Nagarkot, Thanesar, Mathura, Kannauj, Kalinjar, 1023 AD [10] and Somnath all submitted or were raided.

Mahmud may not have personally hated Hindus, but he was after the loot and welcomed the honours and accolades in the Islamic world obtained by desecrating Hindu temples and idols.[31] Of his campaign on Mathura, it is written: Orders were given that all the temples should be burnt with naphthala and fire and levelled with the ground. The city was given up to plunder for twenty days. Among the spoil are said to have been five great idols of pure gold with eyes of rubies and adornments of other precious stones, together with a vast number of smaller silver images, which, when broken up, formed a load for more than a hundred camels.[32] The loot from Mathura is estimated at 3 million rupees and over 5,000 slaves.[32] According to military historian Victoria Schofield, Sabuktagin, the Turkish ruler of Ghazni and father of Mahmud, “set as his goal the expulsion of the Hindus from the Kabul valley and Gandhara (Khandar), as the vale of Peshawar was still called. His son and successor, the Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni, continued his work, carrying the so called, “holy war” against the Hindus into India."[33] Till the year 980 CE, this area of Gandhara was under Hindus until Sabuktagin from Ghazni invaded it and displaced its last Hindu Shahi king Jaya Pala.[34] Hindu Shahi was an important kingdom in Northwest India at that time. According to some sources (like Ibn Batuta[35]) the name of the Hindu Kush mountains of the region means “Hindu killer”[36][37]because raiders would capture Hindu slaves – all Indians were termed Hindu in Islamic literature – from the plains and take them away to West Asia, with large numbers of boys and girls dying from icy cold weather in these mountains.[38][39][40] Mahmud of Ghazni sacked the second Somnath Temple in 1026, looted it, and the famous Shiva lingam of the temple was destroyed .[41] Following the defeat of the Rajput Confederacy, after deciding to retaliate for their combined resistance, Mahmud had then set out on regular expeditions against them, leaving the conquered kingdoms in the hands of Hindu vassals annexing only the Punjab region.[42] By 1665, the temple, one of many, was once again ordered destroyed by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb.[43] Mahmud utterly ruined the prosperity of the country, and performed there wonderful exploits, by which the Hindus became like atoms of dust scattered in all directions, and like a tale of old in the mouth of the people.[44] Alberuni, a historian who accompanied Mahmud of Ghazni, described the conquests in North Western India by stating that Mahmud impoverished the region and that the civilisation of the scattered Hindus declined and retreated from the North West.[45] This is the reason, too, why Hindu sciences have retired far away from those parts of the country conquered by us, and have fled to places which our hand cannot yet reach, to Kashmir, Benares, and other places.[44]

Mohammed Ghori (1173-1206 AD)

Mohammed Ghori raided north India and the Hindu pilgrimage site Varanasi at the end of the 12th century and he continued the destruction of Hindu temples and idols that had begun during the first attack in 1194.

Qutb-ud-din Aibak (1206-1287 AD)


Historical records compiled by Muslim historian Maulana Hakim Saiyid Abdul Hai attest to the religious violence during Mamluk dynasty ruler Qutb-ud-din Aybak. The first mosque built in Delhi, the “Quwwat al-Islam” was built with demolished parts of 20 Hindu and Jain temples.[30][31][32] This pattern of iconoclasm was common during his reign

Alauddin Khilji (1290-1320 AD)


Alauddin Khilji demanded from his “wise men in the court” to create “rules and regulations in order to grind down the Hindus, so as to reduce them to abject poverty and deprive them of wealth and any form of surplus property that could foster a rebellion; the Hindu was to be so reduced as to be left unable to keep a horse to ride on, to carry arms, to wear fine clothes, or to enjoy any of the luxuries of life”. Alauddin’s taxation system was probably the one institution from his reign that lasted the longest, surviving indeed into the nineteenth and even the twentieth century.

The campaign of violence, abasement and humiliation was not merely the works of Muslim army, the kazis, muftis and court officials of Allauddin Khilji recommended it on religious grounds.[42] Kazi Mughisuddin of Bayánah advised Allauddin to “keep Hindus in subjection, in abasement, as a religious duty, because they are the most inveterate enemies of the Prophet, and because the Prophet has commanded us to slay them, plunder them, and make them captive; saying - convert them to Islam or kill them, enslave them and spoil their wealth and property.”

Alauddin Khilji enforced four taxes on non-Muslims in the Sultanate - jizya (poll tax), kharaj (land tax), kari (house tax) and chari (pasture tax).[32][33] He also decreed that his Delhi-based revenue officers assisted by local Muslim jagirdars, khuts, mukkadims, chaudharis and zamindars seize by force half of all produce any farmer generates, as a tax on standing crop, so as to fill sultanate granaries.

In 1298, between 15,000 and 30,000 people near Delhi, who had recently converted to Islam, were slaughtered in a single day, due to fears of an uprising.

Over time, farmers quit farming for income and shifted to subsistence farming, the general food supply worsened in north India, shortages increased and Delhi Sultanate witnessed increasingly worse and extended periods of famines.[20][41] The Sultan banned private storage of food by anyone.[29] Rationing system was introduced by Alauddin as shortages multiplied; however, the nobility and his army were exempt from the per family quota-based food rationing system.[41] The shortages, price controls and rationing system caused starvation deaths of numerous rural people, mostly Hindus. However, during these famines, Khilji’s sultanate granaries and wholesale mandi system with price controls ensured sufficient food for his army, court officials and the urban population in Delhi.

Tughlaq Dynasty (1321-1394 AD)


Muhammad bin Tughluq raised taxes to levels where people refused to pay any. In India’s fertile lands between Ganges and Yamuna rivers, the Sultan increased the land tax rate on non-Muslims by tenfold in some districts, and twentyfold in others.[21] Along with land taxes, dhimmis were required to pay crop taxes by giving up half or more of their harvested crop. These sharply higher crop and land tax led entire villages of Hindu farmers to quit farming and escape into jungles; they refused to grow anything or work at all.[31] Many became robber clans.[21] Famines followed. The Sultan responded with bitterness by expanding arrests, torture and mass punishments, killing people as if he was “cutting down weeds”.[31]

Ibn Battuta noted in his memoir that Muhammad bin Tughlaq paid his army, judges (qadi), court advisors, wazirs, governors, district officials and others in his service by awarding them the right to force collect taxes on Hindu villages, keep a portion and transfer rest to his treasury.[45][46] Those who failed to pay taxes were hunted and executed.

Under Firuz Shah Tughluq’s rule, Hindus who were forced to pay the mandatory Jizya tax were recorded as infidels and their communities monitored. Hindus who erected a deity or built a temple and those who praticised their religion in public such as near a kund (water tank) were arrested, brought to the palace and executed.[50][53] 

Shams-i Siraj ‘Afif, his court historian, also recorded Firoz Shah Tughlaq burning Hindus alive for secretly following their religion and for refusing to convert to Islam.[54] In his memoirs, Firoz Shah Tughlaq lists his accomplishments to include converting Hindus to Sunni Islam by announcing an exemption from taxes and jizya for those who convert, and by lavishing new converts with presents and honours. Simultaneously, he raised taxes and jizya, assessing it at three levels, and stopping the practice of his predecessors who had historically exempted all Hindu Brahmins from jizya tax

Firuz Shah Tughlaq wrote in his autobiography,

Some Hindus had erected a new idol-temple in the village of Kohana, and the idolaters used to assemble
there and perform their idolatrous rites. These people were seized and brought before me. I ordered
that the perverse conduct of this wickedness be publicly proclaimed and they should be put to death
before the gate of the palace. I also ordered that the infidel books, the idols, and the vessels used
in their worship should all be publicly burnt. The others were restrained by threats and punishments,
as a warning to all men, that no zimmi could follow such wicked practices in a Musulman country.

Each military campaign and raid on non-Muslim kingdoms yielded loot and seizure of slaves. Additionally, the Sultans patronized a market (al-nakhkhās[69]) for trade of both foreign and Indian slaves.[70] This market flourished under the reign of all Sultans of Tughlaq dynasty, particularly Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq, Muhammad Tughlaq and Firoz Tughlaq.[71] Both Ibn Battuta’s memoir and Shihab al-Din ibn Fadlallah al-‘Umari texts recorded a flourishing market of non-Muslim slaves in Delhi. Al-‘Umari wrote, for example, The Sultan never ceases to show the greatest zeal in making war upon the infidels. Everyday thousands of slaves are sold at very low price, so great is the number of prisoners (from attacks on neighboring kingdoms). — Shihabuddin al-Umari, Masalik-ul- Absar[72]

Timur invasion of India (1398-1399 AD)

The Turko-Mongol ruler Timur’s attack of India was marked by systematic slaughter and other atrocities on a truly massive scale inflicted mainly on the subcontinent’s Hindu population.[55] Leaving the Muslim populated areas aside, his army looted rest of the habits. The Hindu population was massacred or enslaved.[56] One hundred thousand Hindus prisoners were killed by his army before he attacked Delhi for fear of rebellion and many more were killed afterwards.

(Timur’s) soldiers grew more eager for plunder and destruction. On that Friday night there were about 15,000 men in the city who were engaged from early eve till morning in plundering and burning the houses. In many places the impure infidel gabrs (of Delhi) made resistance. (…) Every soldier obtained more than twenty persons as slaves, and some brought as many as fifty or a hundred men, women and children as slaves of the city. The other plunder and spoils were immense, gems and jewels of all sorts, rubies, diamonds, stuffs and fabrics, vases and vessels of gold and silver. (…) On the 19th of the month Old Delhi was thought of, for many Hindus had fled thither. Amir Shah Malik and Ali Sultan Tawachi, with 500 trusty men, proceeded against them, and falling upon them with the sword despatched them to hell. – Sharafuddin Yazdi, Zafarnama

Sikandar the Iconoclast (1399-1416 AD)

After Timur left, different Muslim Sultans enforced their power in what used to be Delhi Sultanate. In Kashmir, Sultan Sikandar began expanding, and unleashed religious violence that earned him the name but-shikan or idol-breaker.[63] He earned this sobriquet because of the sheer scale of desecration and destruction of Hindu and Buddhist temples, shrines, ashrams, hermitages and other holy places in what is now known as Kashmir and its neighboring territories. He destroyed vast majority of Hindu and Buddhist temples in his reach in Kashmir region (north and northwest India).[64][65] Encouraged by Islamic theologian, Muhammad Hamadani, Sikandar Butshikan also destroyed ancient Hindu and Buddhist books and banned followers of dharmic religions from prayers, dance, music, consumption of wine and observation of their religious festivals.[66][67] To escape the religious violence during his reign, many Hindus converted to Islam and many left Kashmir. Many were also killed.

Sikandar won the sobriquet of but-shikan or idol-breaker, due to his actions related to the desecration and destruction of numerous temples, caityas, viharas, shrines, hermitages and other holy places of the Hindus and Buddhists. He banned dance, drama, music and iconography as aesthetic activities of the Hindus and Buddhists and fiated them as heretical and un-Islamic. He forbade the Hindus to apply a tilak mark on their foreheads. He did not permit them to pray and worship, blow a conch shell or toll a bell. Eventually he went on burning temples and all Kashmiri texts to eliminate Shirk. Sikandar stopped Hindus and Buddhists from cremating their dead. Jizya (poll-tax) equal to 4 tolas of silver was imposed on the Hindus.

Records Baharistan-i-Shahi: “Immediately after his (Sufi Mir Mohammad’s) arrival, Sultan Sikandar, peace be on him, submitted to his supremacy and proved his loyalty to him by translating his words into deeds. He eradicated aberrant practices and infidelity. He also put an end to the various forbidden and unlawful practices throughout his kingdom. Thus during the entire period of his rule, all traces of wines and intoxicants and instruments of vice and corruption, like the cord of canticle, lyre and tamborin were wiped out. The clamour of the drum and the trumpet, the shrill notes of the fife and the clarion no longer reached people’s ears, except in battles and assaults.” “Hindus were forcibly converted to Islam and were massacred in case they refused to be converted’,” writes Hasan, a Muslim chronicler. He further observes, “And Sikandarpora (a city laid out by Sultan Sikandar) was laid out on the debris of the destroyed temples of the Hindus. In the neighbourhood of the royal palaces in Sikandarpora, the Sultan destroyed the temples of Maha-Shri built by Praversena and another by Tarapida. The material from these was used for constructing a ‘Jami’ mosque in the middle of the city.” “Towards the fag end of his life, he (Sultan Sikandar) was infused with a zeal for demolishing idol-houses, destroying the temples and idols of the infidels. He destroyed the massive temple at Beejbehara. He had designs to destroy all the temples and put an end to the entire community of infidels,” puts Bharistan-i-Shahi. In his second Rajtarangini, the historian Jonraj has recorded, “There was no city, no town, no village, no wood, where the temples of the gods were unbroken. When Sureshavari, varaha and others were broken, the world trembled, but not so the mind of the wicked king. He forgot his kingly duties and took delight day and night in breaking images.” Writes Ajit Bhatracharjee, “Sikandar (1389–1413) equalled the most blood-thirsty and iconoclastic Muslim conquerors anywhere in his zeal to obliterate all traces of the Hindu religion and convert its followers to Islam on pain of death. Temples were levelled and some of the grandest monuments of old damaged and disfigured. Thousands of Hindus escaped across the borders of Kashmir, others were massacred.” He further records, “Hindu temples were felled to the ground and for one year a large establishment was maintained for the demolition of the grand Martand temple. But when the massive masonry resisted all efforts, fire was applied and the noble buildings cruelly defaced.” According to M.Mujeeb, Sikandar, the iconoclast of Kashmir, made forcible conversions a sustained political policy. To quote Firishta, “Many of the Brahmans rather than abandon their religion or their country poisoned them selves, some emigrated from their homes while a few escaped the evil of banishment by becoming Mohamadans.” Puts A.K. Mujumdar, “These Sufi Muslim immigrants brought with them that fanatic iconoclastic zeal which distinguished Islam in other parts of India, but from which Kashmir was happily free up to this time.” He further records, “Sikandar’s reign was disgraced by a series of acts, inspired by religious bigotry and iconoclastic zeal for which there is hardly any parallel in the annals of the Muslim rulers of Kashmir."[2]

Sayyid dynasty (1414-1451 AD)

After the massacres of Timur, the people and lands within Delhi Sultanate were left in a state of anarchy, chaos and pestilence.[68] Sayyid dynasty followed, but few historical records on religious violence, or anything else for that matter, have been found. Those found, including Tarikh-i Mubarak-Shahi describe continued religious violence. Over 1414 through 1423, according to the Muslim historian Yahya bin Ahmad, the Islamic commanders “chastised and plundered the infidels” of Ahar, Khur, Kampila, Gwalior, Seori, Chandawar, Etawa, Sirhind, Bail, Katehr and Rahtors.[69] The violence was not one sided. The Hindus retaliated by forming their own armed groups, and attacking forts seized by Muslims. In 1431, Jalandhar for example, was retaken by Hindus and all Muslims inside the fort were placed in prison. Yahya bin Ahmad, the historian remarked on the arrest of Muslims by Hindus, “the unclean ruthless infidels had no respect for the Musulman religion”.[70]The cycle of violence between Hindus and Muslims, in numerous parts of India, continued throughout the Sayyid dynasty according to Yahya bin Ahmad.

Lodhi dynasty (1451-1526 AD)

Religious violence and persecution continued during the reign of the two significant Lodhi dynasty rulers, Bahlul Khan Lodhi and Sikandar Lodhi. Delhi Sultanate whose reach had shrunk to northern and eastern India, witnessed burning and killing of Hindus for their religion, in Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.[71] In 1499, a Brahmin of Bengal was arrested because he had attracted a large following among both Muslims and Hindus, with his teachings, “the Mohammedan and Hindu religions were both true, and were but different paths by which God might be approached.” Sikandar, with his governor of Bihar Azam Humayun, asked Islamic scholars and sharia experts of their time whether such pluralism and peaceful messages were permissible within the Islamic Sultanate.[72] The scholars advised that it is not, and that the Brahmin should be given the option to either embrace and convert to Islam, or killed. Sikandar accepted the counsel and gave the Brahmin an ultimatum. The Hindu refused to change his view, and was killed.[72]

Elsewhere in Uttar Pradesh, a historian of Lodhi dynasty times, described the state sponsored religious violence as follows,[73]

He (Lodi) was so zealous of a Musulman that he utterly destroyed diverse places of worship of the
infidels. He entirely ruined the shrines of Mathura, the minefield of heathenism. Their stone images
were given to the butchers to use them as meat weights,[74] and all the Hindus in Mathura were strictly
prohibited from shaving their heads and beards, and performing ablutions. He stopped the idolatrous
rites of the infidels there. Every city thus conformed as he desired to the customs of Islam.
  – Táríkh-i Dáúdí

Babur, Humayun, Suri dynasty (1526-1556)

According to autobiographical historical record of Emperor Babur, Tuzak-i Babari, Babur’s campaign in northwest India targeted Hindu and Sikh civilians as well as non-Sunni sects of Islam, and immense number of people were killed, with Muslim camps being described as building “towers of skulls of the infidels” on hillocks.[76] Baburnama, similarly records massacre of Hindu villages and towns by Babur’s Muslim army, in addition to numerous deaths of both Hindu and non-Sunni Muslim soldiers in the battlefields.

Akbar (1556-1605 AD)

Akbar is known for his religious tolerance.

Jahangir (1605-1627 AD)

Nur-ud-din Mohammad Salim (Jahangir) was the fourth Mughal Emperor under whose reign religious violence was targeted at Hindus, Jains and Sikhs. A companion of Jahangir, and Muslim historian, described the religious violence as,[83] Temple idols were destroyed and by the order of the Emperor, to disgrace the infidels.

Aurangzeb (1658–1707)


The reign of Aurangzeb witnessed one of the strongest campaign of religious violence in the Mughal Empire’s history. Popular historian Matthew White claims an estimated 4.6 million people were killed under his reign.[84] (6 Million Jews died in the Holocaust) Aurangzeb banned Diwali, re-introduced jizya (tax) on non-Muslims,[85] led numerous campaigns of attacks against non-Muslims, forcibly converted Hindus to Islam and destroyed Hindu temples.[86][88][89]

Aurangzeb issued orders in 1669, to all his governors of provinces to “destroy with a willing hand the schools and temples of the infidels, and that they were strictly enjoined to put an entire stop to the teaching and practice of idolatrous forms of worship”.[90] These orders and his own initiative in implementing them led to the destruction of numerous temples, contributing to the list of temples destroyed during Islamic rule of India.[91][92] Some temples were destroyed entirely; in other cases mosques were built on their foundations, sometimes using the same stones. Idols in temples were smashed, and the city of Mathura was temporarily renamed as Islamabad in local official documents.

Impact on Hindus

Historian K. S. Lal states that medieval invasions on India led to killings of millions of Hindu men and women[24][27][page needed][25][26] and left a deep impact on social aspects and religions customs of Hindu population. Until end of first millennium Hindu philosophy and traditions enjoyed a significant amount of flexibility and adaptability.[110] Research and representation of sex (viz. Kama Sutra and Khajuraho) was not a taboo. Debates of different religious and philosophical aspects were organized and cherished. Hindu sciences and research in Yoga, Ayurveda, Spiritual research, Mathematics[111] and Philosophy achieved great heights in this golden age[112]

The invasions, wars, conversions, massacres and destruction of temples and universities led to social insecurity and political instability. With fall of Hindu kings, research of sciences and philosophy faced some setback due to lack of funding, royal support and open environment.[113][114] Many rituals and customs were restricted as a natural reaction of self defense and survival. The religious sects lost facility of debates and exchange of ideas.

Idols in numerous temples were unarmed, temples were desecrated.[115] Several ancient temples that were considered architectural masterpiece of those times were demolished.[116] Most of the great temples in North India were destroyed and no great temples were built under Muslim rulers except the Vrindavan temples under Akbar which lack ornamentation as imagery was generally prohibited.[117] The architecture of Hindu temples underwent change under the Muslim rulers and incorporated Islamic influences.[118] It is speculated that the flexible varna system that existed in India for centuries, slowly converted into the modern caste system by 15th century. The medieval era Islamic Sultanates in India utilized social stratification to rule and collect tax revenue from non-Muslims. Richard Eaton[119] states that, “Looking at Bengal’s Hindu society as a whole, it seems likely that the caste system - far from being the ancient and unchanging essence of Indian civilization as supposed by generations of Orientalists - emerged into something resembling its modern form only in the period 1200-1500”