By William, Archbishop of Tyre
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Extra resources for A History of Deeds Done Beyond the Sea Volume 2 (Records of Civilization: Sources and Studies)
The great majority of Muslim artisans and peasants were converts from lower-caste Hindus to whom Islam’s egalitarian appeal had held an attraction. Some recent works on early Islam in India have sought to underplay this dimension on grounds that Muslim conversions were more numerous where inequalities within the social structure were not as great as elsewhere. Yet this hardly invalidates the case about an egalitarian appeal, since it is entirely logical that societies with a history of valuing equality would be more amenable to its attractions.
The Brahmanical tradition on the Hindu side could be equally exclusivist when it could not absorb and dominate and, consequently, averse to accommodation. One Nrisinghacharya was reputed to have told a congregation of high-caste Hindus at a Kumbha Mela – a great religious fair held at the conﬂuence of the Ganga and the Jamuna – to adopt kamathabritti or the habit of a tortoise, in other words withdraw into a shell in order to be impervious to Islamic inﬂuences. Indeed, if one reads the Dharmashastra or Hindu law books of this period, to the exclusion of other sources, one would not even begin to suspect that there were Muslims in India.
But it was also abundantly clear that periods of political decentralization were not necessarily accompanied by social and economic decay. These general observations drawn from a thematic survey of the long term in Indian history can be investigated more closely with reference to the Mughal empire which was established in 1526, enjoyed expansion and consolidation until about 1707 and survived, even if in drastically attenuated form, until 1857. Empires in pre-modern India, we have seen, were not based on rigid centralized domination.