Delhi Sultanate History and the Coming of Islam

In the early seventh century, the Prophet Muhammad was the one who spread the teachings of Islam over the deserts of Arabia. Less than a century after the religion’s founding, the influence of Islam could be felt not only in the Middle East and North Africa, but also in Spain, Iran, and Central Asia. In the year 711, Arab armed troops defeated local resistance in Sindh’s Indus Delta area and subsequently created an Indo-Muslim empire there. In spite of the fact that Sindh became an Islamic outpost where Arabs developed trading relations with the Middle East and were subsequently joined by instructors or sufis (see Glossary), the Arab influence was rarely noticed in the rest of South Asia (see Islam, ch. 3). The adoption of Islam’s message and purpose by the Turkic-speaking communities of Central Asia towards the end of the eleventh century brought about a sea shift on a massive scale. These violent people first started their migration into Afghanistan and Iran, and then subsequently moved into the northwest of India via India. Between the years 997 and 1027, Mahmud of Ghazni, commonly known as the “Sword of Islam,” led seventeen raiding expeditions into North India. He annexed Punjab as his eastern province as a result of his invasions. Mahmud lived from 971 to 1030. The invaders were able to gain a significant edge over their Indian adversaries, the Rajputs, because to their proficient use of the crossbow while galloping. In spite of the fact that Mahmud’s conquest of Punjab foretold ominous consequences for the rest of India, the Rajputs appear to have been both unprepared and unwilling to change their military tactics, which ultimately resulted in their downfall in the face of the swift and punitive cavalry of the Afghans and Turkic peoples.

In the thirteenth century, a former slave-warrior named Shams-ud-Din Iletmish (or Iltutmish; r. 1211-36) established a Turkic kingdom in Delhi, which enabled future sultans to push in every direction. Within the next one hundred years, the Delhi Sultanate extended its sway east to Bengal and south to the Deccan, while the sultanate itself experienced repeated threats from the northwest and internal revolts from dis The Mamluk or Slave Dynasty (1206-90), the Khalji Dynasty (1290-1320), the Tughluq Dynasty (1320-1413), the Sayyid Dynasty (1414-51), and the Lodi Dynasty (1414-51) all emerged and fell over the course of the sultanate’s existence (1451-1526). The Khalji Dynasty, which was led by Ala-ud-Din and reigned from 1296 to 1315, was successful in bringing the majority of South India under its rule for a period of time, but portions that were captured rapidly broke away and formed their own independent states. In Delhi, power was often attained by the use of force—nineteen of the city’s thirty-five sultans were killed—and it was legitimised through the reward of tribal allegiance. Rivalries among factions and court intrigues were as common as they were dangerous; territory held by the Sultan grew and decreased depending on his character and fortunes at the time.

Both the Quran and sharia (Islamic law) provided the basis for enforcing Islamic administration over the independent Hindu rulers; however, the sultanate made only sporadic progress in the beginning, when many campaigns were undertaken for the purpose of plundering and temporarily reducing the number of fortresses. The ability of a sultan to exert effective rule was primarily contingent on his capacity to collect the yearly land tax, retain personal power over military and provincial governors, and take possession of important locations that commanded military roadways and commercial routes. The attempts of Sultan Ala-ud-Din to reevaluate, standardise, and integrate land income and urban taxes as well as to impose a highly centralised system of administration over his realm were unsuccessful. His kingdom was not adequately governed as a result of his efforts. Despite the fact that the construction of new canals and irrigation methods, such as what became known as the Persian wheel, led to an improvement in agricultural production in Northern India, the peasantry was brutalised as a result of prolonged political instability and parasitic methods of tax collection. Trade and a market economy, however, gained additional momentum both domestically and internationally as a result of the lavish spending habits of the nobility. This was true for both markets. The artisans who specialise in working with metal and stone, as well as those who make textiles, reacted positively to the new patronage.

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