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Hinduism and Islam

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The Oxford Dictionary of Islam What is This? Covers the religious, political, and social spheres of global Islam in the modern world

    Hinduism and Islam

    Depicted commonly as antagonistic opposites, these religio-cultural traditions have interacted, usually peacefully, since the seventh-century Islamic conversion of Arab merchants settled in coastal Indonesia and South Asia. The ancient Persians originated the term Hindu for “those beyond the Indus River,” referring to a population, not a religion. In 711 Muslim Arab armies arrived in Sind, and in 1001 Mahmud of Ghazna initiated a series of Turkish incursions from Afghanistan throughout the Indo-Gangetic plain. Although these invaders and their various indigenous enemies occasionally defined one another in terms of religion, they more commonly differentiated themselves through ethnicity. Religious sites were more likely to be destroyed for political and economic purposes than because of religious animosity. In both Indonesia and South Asia, conversion of Hindus to Islam occurred most often through conviction, as Sufis inculcated a native interest in Islam by bridging local and Islamic beliefs and practices, while the development of Muslim-dominated states encouraged conversion for status advancement. Local cultures flourished with integrated and composite communities of Hindus and Muslims, which often shared devotion at Sufi shrines but seldom at mosques and temples. While South Asians remained predominantly Hindu, Indonesians became overwhelmingly Muslim by the eighteenth century. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, British rule in India heightened political tensions through policies that defined and enumerated religious communities as competing constituencies. The nationalist movement aroused Muslim anxiety when it promoted the Hindu majority's interests (e.g., cow protection) and employed Hindu symbols (e.g., India as mother goddess). Apprehensive of Hindu cultural and religious hegemony, many Muslims supported Islamic reform movements (e.g., the Deobandis) and political parties (e.g., the Muslim League, which supported the establishment of the Muslim state of Pakistan in 1947 ). The religious nationalism of South Asian political groups such as Jamaat-i Islami and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) increasingly threatens to sacrifice shared local cultures for polarized national politics. In India, the meteoric rise of the BJP and similar organizations has encouraged a hardening of anti-Muslim sentiment among rural and urban dwellers alike. In response to the demand that the very definition of “Indian” be “Hindu” and the claim that all who resist such identification are unpatriotic, many contemporary Indian Muslims respond with a more demonstrative Indian nationalism and an increasingly austere vision of Islam.

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