What are the greatest moments of Sikhism


Dr. Dietrich Reetz

Dr. Dietrich Reetz is a private lecturer at the Free University and a research assistant at the Zentrum Moderner Orient Berlin (ZMO), where he works on Islam in South and Southeast Asia, Central Asia and Europe. Since 2011 he has also been involved in the management of the "Crossroads Asia" competence network. More information about the author HERE.

About 500 million Muslims live in South Asia, over a third of them in India

India has also been shaped by Islam for centuries. At times the Mughal emperors ruled almost the entire subcontinent. Several influential Islamic schools have their origins here. Today the more than 160 million Indian Muslims are the largest religious minority in the country.

Prayer for Eid al-Adha in New Delhi (& copy picture-alliance / AP)

When you talk about India, you probably think of the Hindus first and foremost when it comes to religion. With their traditions and rites, they largely determine the German public's perception of the country. It is forgotten that India and the entire South Asian subcontinent are among the regions where most of the Muslims in the world live. After Indonesia, India has the second largest number of Muslims - around 160 to 180 million, which corresponds to a share of the population of 13.4 percent (as of 2001 census). [1] India is roughly on a par with Pakistan and Bangladesh. Around 500 million Muslims live here - around two to three times more than in the Arabic-speaking world.

Influences of Islam can not only be found among the various Muslim communities of India, who live unevenly across the country - especially in Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Assam, Andhra Pradesh, on the west and east coast of the country in the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, and the Lakshadweep archipelago. Islam also shaped many areas of culture such as literature and languages ​​or architecture, even the cinema industry in Mumbai (Bombay). To this day, the North Indian language Urdu, which is closely related to Hindi, plays a central role in communication among the Muslims of India and South Asia. However, Muslims are on average considered to be socially and economically disadvantaged and are underrepresented in the growth sectors of the economy. Despite uniform legal relationships in India, Muslims have the option of regulating questions of personal status separately under the Sharia Civil Law Act of 1937.

Muslim minority as a domestic political factor

Taj Mahal in Agra
Photo: Stefan Mentschel
The Muslim minority has remained a factor in India's domestic politics as well as in international relations. Although there is no national Muslim party in India, smaller, often local parties have established themselves at the local and regional level in Kashmir, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Assam and West Bengal Partly also ruled as a coalition partner in the states. In nationwide elections, the major parties seek the votes of the Muslims, who form a majority in ten constituencies and can be considered decisive in another ten constituencies with 30 to 40 percent of the vote. Although many Muslims have traditionally voted for the Congress Party, the slowly forming Muslim middle class is also open to the development rhetoric of the Hindu nationalist Indian People's Party BJP, even if it often seeks to distinguish itself through anti-Muslim slogans.

Besides the union territory of Lakshadweep in the Arabian Sea, the Himalayan state of Jammu and Kashmir is the only one with a Muslim majority. Pakistan has controlled one and India two thirds of Kashmir since the 1948/49 wars with Pakistan. Separatist Muslim groups also play a role in the conflict, including the local Islamic Party (Jama'at-i Islami). The most active militant groups like Lashkar-e Taiba (Holy Army) and Jaish-e Muhammadi (Muhammad's army) apparently also receive support from Pakistan. Several groups joined the opposition party alliance in Kashmir in 1993 All Parties Hurriyat Conference affiliated, some of which take a pro-Pakistani position.

Muslims as victims of inter-religious violence

India's Muslims are repeatedly victims of inter-religious violence, most recently in 2013 in Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh and, to a particularly large extent, in early 2002 in the pogroms in the western state of Gujarat, which according to official information fell victim to 800 Muslims and 250 Hindus. Non-governmental organizations even speak of more than 2,000 deaths. Although Muslims are often declared to be "enemies of the nation" by radical Hindu nationalists, coexistence between the religious groups is largely peaceful in all of India.

In the past, India also had to deal with the claims of individual political forces in Pakistan against Indian Muslims. Derived from their common history, they demanded a say in dealing with Muslims in India. Since the 1990s, however, Pakistani governments have also been trying to find solutions to the old problems in relations, most recently by expanding trade, although mutual distrust has now become deeply rooted. This was not least due to the terrorist attacks on the Indian parliament in Delhi in 2001 and in Mumbai in 2008, for which forces in Pakistan are held responsible. As a counterbalance, India, for its part, has close ties with a number of Islamic countries such as Iran, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. In the Middle East conflict, India has traditionally been on the side of the Palestinians, although it has also been developing its relations with Israel for several years.

In order to properly understand the role of Islam in India and South Asia, one must also see the country in the context of its neighbors Pakistan and Bangladesh. All three were part of the British Indian colony until 1947. At that time, the predominantly Muslim areas had split off as an independent state of Pakistan. Its eastern part, in turn, gained independence in 1971 as a separate state, Bangladesh. In this process of partition, however, a significant number of Muslims remained in India.

Islamic influences shape India for centuries

Muslims in a mosque in Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh). (& copy Rainer Hörig)
The majority of Indian Muslims are heavily secularized. Nevertheless, the religious institutions have experienced a great deal of differentiation and have regained greater popularity in the last few decades. Islam came to India during the Prophet's lifetime, apparently through Arab traders, especially on the west coast of India and later through Muslim troops from Afghanistan in the area of ​​today's Sindh province in Pakistan (711) and in Punjab (10/11 Century). Missionaries in the Sufism tradition also contributed significantly to the spread of Islam. It is not uncommon for entire sections of the population to join forces under the leadership of their caste, clan or tribal chiefs. So areas emerged in which Islam dominated. In other areas, Muslims represented certain professions, such as textile workers and some trader groups in Gujarat, as well as farmers and landowners in other areas.

Muslim dynasties ruled India for more than 600 years, first as rulers of the Sultanate of Delhi (1211-1315), later as emperors of the Mughal Empire (from 1526). With the beginning of British domination (1756), the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah II was ousted. He was formally deposed after the Indian uprising in 1857/58, before the British Queen Victoria was also proclaimed Empress of India in 1877. While Muslim rule coexisted with Hindu empires for a time, it united almost the entire subcontinent during its greatest expansion. Especially the reigns of the Mughal emperors Akbar (1556-1605) and Aurangzeb (1658-1707) are seen as the highlight. Especially under Akbar, the arts reached a heyday, for which the well-known miniature painting stands, among other things. Famous architectural monuments such as the Taj Mahal in Agra, a tomb for a Mughal princess, are influenced by Islam.

The coexistence of Islam with other religions in a mixture of rulership and personal minority beliefs gave rise to different currents early on. While Akbar stood for reconciliation with and far-reaching tolerance towards the other religions, Aurangzeb marked the return to a conservative, book-based interpretation of Islam. With the expansion of British rule over India in the course of the 19th century, Indian Islam organized itself into various groups and movements that have largely survived to this day. In view of the Western and Christian influence, Muslims as well as Hindus and Sikhs made it clear in this way their claim to preserve their own identity. Together they laid the foundations for a modern Indian nation and the struggle for independence.

Deoband, Lucknow, Bareli - influential schools of Islam

Their movements were often organized around specific schools that produced several hundred offshoots across the country and beyond. The Deoband Religious Seminar in North India was founded in 1867 and has since stood for an orthodox, purist interpretation of Islam, which is about the strict interpretation of the scriptures and strict adherence to religious regulations. The one named after it Deobandis it is also about the elimination of foreign cultural influences on the practice of faith.

It deserves a separate mention Nadwa, the Islamic religious seminar from Lucknow (1893). Although there are many Deobandi principles shares, it achieved relative independence with its emphasis on modern language skills. Its rector traditionally plays a prominent public role in the Muslim Council for Civil Status Law (All India Muslim Personal Law Board), which brings together various Islamic groups in order to interpret Islamic law for Indian conditions.

The also has a growing influence Deobandi tradition following missionary movement of the Tablighi Jama'atwhich has a rather pietistic character. It was created in 1926 in the course of the dispute with Hindu reformers about the conversion of Muslim tribal groups. Today it operates worldwide from its center in New Delhi and primarily addresses Muslims whom it wants to induce to lead a religious life. The Afghan Taliban's appeal to the country has received political attention Deobandi-Tradition excited, although there is no direct connection to the leading seminar in Deoband.

In the neighboring town of Bareli, the movement named after it arose Barelwisfounded in 1900 by Ahmad Raza Khan (1856-1921). She defends the religious practices that are typical of South Asia and are closely related to Sufism. These also include the worship of shrines and special emphasis on the prophet, which the Deobandis take offense at. While both groups, Deobandis and Barelwis, despite their rivalry as supporters of the Sunni Hanafi- Law schools in Islam have a lot in common theological terms, other groups are more clearly demarcated.

The also Sunni sect of Ahl-i hadith (People of Tradition) rejects all four recognized schools of law and demands direct reference to the Koran and the traditions of the prophets (Hadith). It was created around 1864 in Bhopal. Their religious schools are concentrated in India in the northern and central states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. Since the 1970s she has had increasingly close theological and political ties to Saudi Arabia, for which she is often criticized by other groups.

Aligarh - religious creed and secular education

The sect of the sect raises numerous controversies Ahmadiya which was also made in Punjab in northern India around 1889. Its founder, Ghulam Ahmad Khan (1839-1908), is controversial among most Muslims, primarily because of his prophetic claims. Radical Sunnis persecute the sect as "deviants" with sometimes militant methods. The Islamic Party followed modern political principles Jama'at-i Islami, which was founded in 1941 by Sayyid Abu'l 'Ala Maududi (1903-1979). Theologically influenced by the Deoband movement, it nevertheless bears strongly independent traits due to its modernization requirements.

While the aforementioned groups put religious principles at the center of their activities, followers of the Aligarh-Movement rather worldly claims. In the city of Aligarh, not far from Deoband and Bareli, the first was established in 1877, thanks to the energetic commitment of Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817-1898), modeled on English educational institutions Muslim College, which rose to become the Muslim University in 1920, which continues to this day. His aim was to reconcile religious denomination with modern secular education. Later the politicians of the Muslim League under Mohammad Ali Jinnah (1876-1948) based their demands for a separate state for the Indian Muslims, Pakistan, on his ideas of the special role of the Indian Muslim community. At the same time, many Muslim modernizers still refer to the Aligarh School.

The various directions of the Shiites form an integral part of the Islamic spectrum in India. Their share is estimated at 12 to 15 percent of Muslims. Their centers are also located in Uttar Pradesh and on the west coast.


The 160 to 180 million Muslims are not only the largest religious minority in India (13.4 percent), but also an important factor in an international comparison. They live unevenly all over the country and are particularly concentrated in the north and on the coasts. The state of Jammu and Kashmir, known from the conflict with Pakistan, has a Muslim majority. Although there is no national Muslim party, Muslim politicians play a role in many parties, especially at regional and local levels. Muslims are seen as disadvantaged in education, business and administration. Religious currents and schools of Islam (Deobandis, Tablighi Jama'at, Barelwis, Ahl-i Hadith) have retained considerable influence and expanded it to other Islamic countries. Despite occasional local outbreaks of violence during tensions with representatives of other religions, coexistence in India is mostly peaceful.