3.) Bhakti as a Bridge Between Hinduism and Islam: Some Complicating Considerations

It is commonplace to regard the Bhakti movement as promoting a kind of rapprochement between Hinduism and Islam. Those who do so, however, need to satisfactorily explain the following counter-illustrations.

(1) The Dādūpanthīs

Of all the Bhakti figures, Dādū Dayāl (1544-1603), is said to come “nearest to Sūfism”.[1] He may have been born in a family of recent converts to Islam but “Dādū did not find his spiritual home within Hindu orthodoxy but in the Bhakti movements that were reinvigorating the religious life of North India at the time”.[2] His teachings are collected in a work known as “Bani or inspired speech. This is revered as scripture by many sects of modern India, one of the most curious of these was a group of warrior ascetics who, in the nineteenth century, served as border guards for Jaipur state”.[3]

What is considered curious here leads into something serious. Aziz Ahmad notes:

The Dādūpanthī sect was syncretic in the beginning, one of its early exponents being Rajjabdās, a re-convert to Hinduism. Gradually it transformed itself from an esoteric to a militant orientation under the influence of the Vairāgīs and the Sikhs. Towards the end of the eighteenth century it led a predatory existence in the area around Jaipur. ‘They went into battle with the name of Dādū on their lips. But of the aims and spirit of the early movement scarcely a vestige remained.’ It is ironical that a quietist Bhakti sect which was so close to Sūfism in the mystical experience of its founder, ended up as a gang of mercenary robbers and soldiers of fortune.[4]

(2) The Maratha Saints

The history of the Bhakti movement in Maharashtra is well documented but of particular interest for the point at issue is the following statement by Aziz Ahmad:

…The Mahārāshtrian Bhakti movement centered around the shrine of Vithobā at Pandharpur. It encouraged the growth of Marāthī literature, loosened the rigidity of caste, subordinated ritual to devotion in worship and brought about a certain measure of reconciliation with the presence of Islam in India. The most influential of Marāthā saints was Tukārām (b. 1608) whose conception of God was very much like that of Kabīr and who occasionally used Sūfī terms in his hymns. And yet according to Tara Chand ‘he was a contemporary of Shivājī and one of the inspirers of the spirit which welded the Marāthās into a people’. Here we have another interesting case of Bhakti eclecticism paving the way for anti-Muslim militarism.[5]

And all this without even the name of Rāmdās being mentioned!

(3) The Caitanya Movement

Here again we have to deal with the following facts:

Popular anti-Muslim elements wove themselves into the Bhakti thought of Bengal from the very beginning. Thus, a popular legend arose about the poet Candīdās (fifteenth century), that he was persecuted by a Muslim Sultan for the love offered to him by that Sultan’s wife. It has recently been pointed out that after becoming a sanyasin, Caitānya (sic) (1485-1533) spent twenty years of his life in the Hindu Kingdom of Orissa away from Muslim Bengal. He also engaged himself actively in re-absorbing and re-converting Muslims to Krishnaite Bhakti Hinduism.[6]

(4) The Sikhs

The Sikh example of a pacific devotional sect, converting itself into a martial core, is too well known to require documentation.

All the four examples raise the point that efforts which started out perhaps as bridges between Hinduism and Islam may have ended up by becoming barriers in some way. Why?

Aziz Ahmad regards all four as examples of failures, with the Sikhs as the extreme example. S.M. Ikram is more willing to admit the role of historical events in the process with the exception of the Caitanya movement, which he considers opposed to Islam ab initio. Ikram writes:

In general the attitude of the Marthas to Muslim saints was one of respect, the most vivid example of this being the great faith Shivaji’s grandfather had in Shah Sharif of Ahmadnagar. In honor of the saint he gave his sons the names of Shahji and Sharif. While a full study of the religious and social ferment of Maharashtra in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries has yet to be made; it seems certain that the new religious life did not take the form from Islam. Antagonism toward Muslims came later, and, as was the case with the Sikhs, had definite antecedents in particular historical events. The creative spiritual and literary movement provided the basis on which the Maratha nation could be built, and its emergence as the great antagonist of Muslim power in India was based on political, not religious, factors. The evidence from the songs of Namadeva and Tukaram strongly suggests that they were not reacting in any hostile fashion to Islam. For this reaction one must look to Chaitanya and the Vaishnavite movement in Bengal.[7]

This exercise remains to be completed in Medieval studies.


[1] Aziz Ahmad, Studies in Islamic Culture in the Indian Environment (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964) p. 148. For a somewhat different perception, sees Ainslie T. Embree, ed., The Hindu Tradition (New York: Random House, 1966) p. 268.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Aziz Ahmad, op. cit., p. 148.

[5] Ibid, p. 151.

[6] Ibid., p. 150.

[7] S.M. Ikram, Muslim Civilization in India (edited by Anslie T. Embree) (New York and London: Colombia University Press, 1965) p. 129.

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2 Responses to “3.) Bhakti as a Bridge Between Hinduism and Islam: Some Complicating Considerations”

  1. qwert18 Says:

    Mirabai was known for her bhakti, though she was Love Incarnate who taught the world what bhakti is. checkout this site about Mirabai for more about her and her teachings.

  2. yogesh saxena Says:

    IF ISLAM IS BUILT ON VIOLENCE, AND AT OUR COST; WE SHOULD
    DESTROY IT, AND RECLAIM OUR PAST.
    *Name of the structure:**Quwwat al-Islam Masjid*
    Location: Delhi in Uttar Pradesh
    Inscription:
    “This fort was conquered and the Jami Masjid built in the year 587 by
    the Amir(*), the great, the gloriuous commander of the Army,
    *Qutub-ud-daula wad-din*, the *Amir-ul-umara Aibeg *, the slave of
    the Sultan, may Allah strengthen his helperes. The materials of 27
    idol temples, on each of which 2,000,000 Delhiwals(**) had been spent
    were used in the construction of the mosque.”
    *The Amir mentioned above was *Qutubud-Din Aibak*, slave of *Muhammed
    Ghori*.
    **”Delhiwal” was a high denomination coin current at that time in
    Delhi.
    2. *Name of the structure:**Mansuri Masjid*
    Location: Vijapur in Gujrat
    Inscription:
    “The Blessed and Exalted Allah says, ‘And verily, mosques are for
    Allah only; hence invoke not anyone else with Allah.’ This edifice
    was originally built by the infidels. After the advent of Islam, it
    was converted into a mosque. Sermon was delivered here for
    sixty-seven years. Due to the sedition of the infidels, it was again
    destroyed. When during the reign of the Sultan of the time, *Ahmad*,
    the affairs of each
    *Iqta*attained magnificence, Bahadur, the Sarkhail, once again carried
    out
    repairs. Through the generosity of Divine munificence, it became like
    new.”
    3. *Name of the structure:**Masjid at Manvi*
    Location: Manvi in Karnataka
    Inscription:
    “Praise be to Allah that by the decree of the Parvardigar, a mosque
    has been converted out of a temple as a sign of religion in the reign
    of the world- conquering emperor, the Sultan who is the asylum of the
    Faith and the possessor of the crown, who’s kingdom is young, viz.
    *Firuz Shah Bahmani*, who is the cause of Exuberant spring in the
    garden of religion, Adu’l-Fath the king who conquered. After the
    victory of the emperor, the chief of chiefs, *Safdar *(the valiant
    commander) of the age, received the fort. The builder of this noble
    place of prayer is *Muhammad Zahir Aqchi*, the pivot of the Faith. He
    constructed in the year 809 from the Migration of the Chosen (prophet
    Muhammdad) this Ka’ba like momento.”
    4. *Name of the structure:**Mausoleum of Shykh ‘Abdullah Shah
    Changal* Location: Dhar in Madhya Pradesh
    Inscription:
    “The centre became Muhammadan first by him(*) (and) all the banners
    of religion were spread… This lion-man came from the centre of
    religion to this old temple with a large force. He broke the images
    of the false deities, and turned the idol temple into a mosque. When
    Rai Bhoj saw this, through wisdom he embraced Islam with the family
    of his brave warriors(**). This quarter became illuminated by the
    light of the Muhammadan law, and the customs of the infidels became
    obsolete and abolished.”
    **Shykh ‘Abdullah Shah Changal*
    **In this case the Hindu King was Bhoj II and during his reign
    *Jalalu’d-Din
    Khalji *(AD 1290-1296) of Delhi invaded Malwa. Changal was the
    Muslim missionary who accompanied Khalji’s army. This army after
    plundering and looting the kingdom of *Bhoj II *converted a Hindu
    temple into a mosque and forced the ruler and his subjects to accept
    Islam.
    5. *Name of the structure:**Jami’ Masjid*
    Location: Malan in Gujrat
    Inscription:
    “…(The Prophet), on him be peace, says ‘He who builds a mosque in
    the world, the Exalted Allah builds for him a palace in Paradise.’ In
    the auspicious time of the government and peaceful time of *Mahmud
    Shah*, son of *Muhammad Shah*, the sultan, the Jami’, mosque was
    constructed on the hill of the fort of Malun (or Malwan) by
    *Khan-i-Azam Ulugh Khan*…at the request of the thandar *Kabir*,
    (son of *Diya*), the building was constructed by the son of Ulugh
    Khan who is
    magnimonius, just, generous, brave and who suppressed the wrteched
    infidels. He eradicated the idol-houses and mine of infidelity, along
    with the idols… with the edge of his sword, and made ready this
    edifice… He made its walls and doors out of the idols; the back of
    every stone became the place for prostration of the believer…”
    6. *Name of the structure:**Jami’ Masjid*
    Location: Amod in Gujrat
    Inscription:
    “Allah and His grace. When divine favour was bestowed on *Khalil
    Shah*, he constructed the Jami’ Masjid for the decoration of Islam;
    he ruined the idol-house and temple of the polytheists, (and)
    completed the Masjid and pulpit in its place. Without doubt, his
    building was accepted by Allah.”
    7. *Name of the structure:**Shrine of Shah Madar*
    Location: Narwar in Mdhya pradesh
    Inscription:
    “*Dilawar Khan*, the chief among the king’s viceroys, caused this
    mosque to built which is like a place of shelter for the favourites.
    Infidelity has been subdued, and Islam has triumphed because of him.
    The idols have bowed to him and the temples have been razed to the
    ground along with their foundations, and mosques and worship houses
    are flowing with riches.”
    8. *Name of structure:**Hamman Darwaza Masjid*
    Location: Jaunpur in Uttar Pradesh
    Inscription:
    “Thanks by the guidance of Everlasting and the Living Allah, this
    house of infidelity became the niche of prayer. As a reward for that,
    the Generous Lord constructed an abode for the builder in
    paradise…”
    9. *Name of structure:**Jami Masjid*
    Location: Ghoda in Maharashtra
    Inscription:
    “O Allah O Muhammed ! O Ali ! When Mir Muhammed Zaman made up his
    mind, he opened the door of prosperity on himself by his own hand. He
    demolished thirty-three idol temples and by divine grace laid the
    foundation of a building in the abode of predition.”
    10. *Name of structure:**Gachinala Masjid*
    Location: Kurnool District of Andhra Pradesh
    Inscription:
    “He is Allah, may be glorified..During the august rule of…*Muhammed
    Shah*, there was a well established idol-house in Kuhmum…*Muhammed
    Salih*…razed to the ground, the edifice of the idol-house and broke
    the idols in a manly fashion. He constructed on its site a suitable
    mosque, towering above the building of all.”
    The above was a presentation of inscriptions on mosques and other
    Islamic structures in India. These inscriptions, as you clearly read,
    glorify and justify the acts of the barbaric Muslim invaders by invoking
    Allah and the Koran. Thus this leads us to the conclusion that Islam
    openly supports the criminal acts of loot, plunder, rape, murder,
    torment, torture and destruction!!

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