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Islamic Expansion into India in 13th through 17th Centuries

Page history last edited by Robert W. Maloy 4 months, 1 week ago

Mongol Empire in India Coins

Mongol Empire in India Coins



Topics on the Page


  • Early Islam in India and the Role of the Mongols


  • Genghis Kahn, Kubiia Kahn, Marco Polo


  • The Delhi Sultanate
    • Rezia Sultana, the First Woman Sultanate of India


  • The Mongol Empire


  • Relationships between Muslims and Hindus in India


  • Akbar the Great
    • Modern Day Hindu and Muslim Conflicts in India and Pakistan



Focus Questions:


  • How did Islam expand into India between the 13th and 17th centuries?



  • What was the role of the Mongols?



  • What prompted the rise and fall of the Moghul Empire in this period?



  • What was the relationship between Muslims and Hindus in this period?

external image 500px-Hebrew_timeline.svg.png For an interactive timeline and general resources, see The Mongols in World History: 1000 to 1500 from Columbia University. 



Early Islam in India and the Role of the Mongols


Islam made its presence known in India between the 7th and 12th centuries.


  • Muslim armies were, however, unable to establish dominance in that area because of many forces working against them including the common threat of the Mongols [2].
    • They had created an empire in northern India along with parts of what is now Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan but not the entire Indian region. They were not able to expand throughout most of India until the beginning of the 13th century.


  • For the next 320 years Islamic empires were the dominant force in most of India and were all grouped under the title, the Delhi Sultanate [3].


  • It was not until 1526 that the Moghul Empire [4], who were descendants of the Mongols but were also converts to Islam, were able to take over the area through a series of battles.
    • They created the largest Muslim empire in India capturing much more area then any of the empires involved in the Delhi Sultanate. Islamic influence in India is obviously very present during this period of time and can be seen in the many changes made during the Islamic dominance.



Maps, dynasty trees, and writing about the Delhi Sultanate teacher understanding resource


Genghis Khan


Genghis Khan
The Islamic conquest of India begins with Muslims entering into the area as early as the 8th century CE and trying to assert themselves politically and socially. They were only really able to do so somewhat in northern India at first.

The Mongols were located in most of Eurasia during the 13th and 14th centuries and their empire was huge and was also constantly growing.


  • Their power and threat were able to keep Islamic dominance out of most of India since they too were in the northern area of India.


  • The Muslims were able to gain power, though, and after a series of successful battles led by Arabs, Turks and Afghans in the early years of the 12th century,
    • They established the Delhi Sultanate, a broad term used to identify this period of Muslim dynasties.
    • At first they were only able to control northern India but later dynasties were able to go deep into central India and even into southern India during the Moghul Empire.


 Watch a crash course in the history of Islam here.

Genghis Kahn, Khubilia Kahn and Marco Polo

The Mongols were a strong force in Eurasia, especially during the reign of Chinggis (Genghis) Khan (1167-1227).


Climate and Conquest: How Did Genghis Kahn Rise?

Ghengis Khan National Geographic piece: Click Here


Portrait of young Kublai Khan
Portrait of young Kublai Khan




Marco Polo in Costume


Marco Polo in Costume


Marco Polo


Marco Polo was Venetian merchant who journeyed across Asia during the height of the Mongol Empire. 

Marco Polo (1254-1324). This link includes excerpts from The Book of Ser Marco Polo: The Venetian Concerning Kingdoms and Marvels of the East.

Marco Polo, PBS World Explorers

Marco Polo: Italian Trader at the Court of Kublai Kahn

Photo Gallery: The Adventures of Marco Polo, National Geographic


Interactive Map of Marco Polo's Expedition and Travels



The Delhi Sultanate (1206 - 1526)


The Islamic dynasties that ruled India from the 13th-mid 16th centuries are all now referred to at large as the Delhi Sultanate.

Following the death of Muhammed Ghuri [6], a prominent Muslim leader in Asia at the time, his successors established the first of many dynasties during this period.

The dynasty that emerged was The Slave Dynasty, named after the fact that their leaders were all former slaves. Although the Mongol threat was still there at this time, the Muslims were more unified and were able to fight off invasion attempts. During this period Islam spread into most of India but was never able to get down into southern India.


 Razia Sultana


There was actually a powerful female Muslim ruler during the Delhi Sultanate name Razia Sultana.


  • Read her biography here.


The Mongol Empire


The Mongol Dynasty: When Kublai Khan Ruled China


In 1526 the Mongols made their reappearance in the area but many things about them had changed. They had converted to Islam and had adopted many new customs, also the name change reflected the fact that most of the group were now of Mongol-Turkish origin.


  • This new group came into India and took on the Delhi Sultanate dynasty then in place, the Lodhi Dynasty, in the First Battle of Panipat [7]. The Moghuls were successful and over the course of the next 330 years they were able to continue spreading Islam through India and also were known for reaching the furthest into the south out of any other Islamic empire.


    • The Fall of the Moghul Empire
    • Religious policy of Aurangzeb and heavy taxation
    • Lack of strong leadership following Aurangzeb: wars of successions led to moral degeneration of leadership
    • Treasury sapped by war, building projects, and excess
    • Rebellion of Local principalities
    • Ultimately British and French took advantage of weakness as their military presence grew


 Women's Role in the Mongol Empire 


The Relationship between Muslims and Hindus in India


Muslim and Hindu relations [8] have been noticeably strained throughout the time they have been in contact.


  • Under the Delhi Sultanate a heavy tax was placed on non-Muslims, and occasionally even more repressive measures were taken against the Hindu masses.


  • Still, for the most part, the Islamic rulers were tolerant of other religions, including Hinduism, even as tensions remained and separation remained between the Islamic ruling class and the Hindu masses.


  • During the period of Islamic rule in India a great many Hindus did convert to Islam.


    • And in the 16th century a new religion, Sikhism[12], was founded perhaps originally as a combination of elements of Islam and Hinduism, although it became a separate religion in its own right.


 video and article on the affects of sikhism in America in current times.




Under the Moghul Empire even greater efforts were made to reconcile religious differences.


  • Under the rule of Akbar (1556-1605), a period of greater religious tolerance was ushered in.


  • The tax on non-Muslims was removed, Hindus were allowed to participate in the empire's administration, and Hindu settlements were freed from Shari'a, Islamic law. Unfortunately, much of this was later undone under the rule of Aurangzeb (1658-1707).

You can watch the spread of the religions of Islam and Hinduism in this timeline video.



The Mughal Empire at Akbar's death in 1605
The Mughal Empire at Akbar's death in 1605



Akbar the Great

Akbar the Great
In recent times the Muslim population has continued to grow within India and the tensions still exist. There have been occasional battles between the two some even reaching a pretty large scale. There was noticeable help from the Muslim community during India’s fight for independence from Britain but even the reasons behind that have become questionable.

  • Islam is monotheistic while Hindu is polytheistic


  • Islam preaches egalitarianism while Hindu structure is hierarchical


  • Islam places no man between god and follower: Hindu tradition involves priests


  • Certain practices of one religion were offensive to the other (consumption of beef by Muslims, and sexual freedom of the Hindus)


Additional Resources and Akbar the Great

Internet Indian History Sourcebook includes links to some historical writings from the Moghul period.

Akbar's Debate is a lesson plan on Akbar's religious views, based on the PBS/BBC documentary The Story of India.

Brief biography of Akbar the Great (1542-1605)

Asia for Educators has links to several valuable resources on history, religion, women and art during this period.

Crash Course Moghul Empire: Click Here

Modern Day Hindu and Muslim Conflicts in India and Pakistan

The Partition: The British Game of Divide and Rule


  • Thinking about this conflict through the years, what was the impact of British colonialism on Hindu-Muslim relations?



Map of present-day India and Pakistan border at night. Visible from space
Map of present-day India and Pakistan border at night. Visible from space

.One major legacy of British colonialism is to exacerbate this inter-religious conflict through the centuries

.Result in Partition of 1947 - the colonial goal of preventing a united India

.Though in more ancient history there is examples of collaboration and efforts to live in very sustainable peace one major legacy of the colonial period was to use these differences to drive and irreparable wedge between what ended up becoming two societies


[2] Invictus (2007). The Mongol Empire. Retrieved February 25, 2007, from All Empires online history community Web site: http://www.allempires.com/article/index.php?q=The_Mongol_Empire
[3] Delhi sultanate. (2007). In Encyclopædia Britannica.Retrieved March 5, 2012, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online:
[4] (10/02/2007). The Mughal Empire. Retrieved February 25, 2007, from BBC Web site: http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/islam/history/mughalempire_1.shtml
[5] May, Timothy (2001). Genghis Khan. Retrieved February 25, 2007, from Explorations in Empire Web site: http://www.accd.edu/sac/history/keller/Mongols/empsub1.html
[6] Mu'izz-ud-Din Muhammad ibn Sam. (2007). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved February 25, 2007, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online: http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9054185
[7] (February 23, 2007). First Battle of Panipat. Retrieved February 25, 2007, from Wikipedia Web site: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_battle_of_Panipat
[8] Perry, Alex (August 4, 2003). India's Great Divide. Retrieved February 25, 2007, from Time Asia Web site: http://www.time.com/time/asia/covers/501030811/story.html
[12] http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/sikhism/




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