Piety and Politics in The Early Indian Mosque

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Item Code: IDK973
Author: Finbarr Barry Flood
Publisher: Oxford University Press, New Delhi
Edition: 2008
ISBN: 0195695127
Pages: 342 (21 Illustrations in B/W)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.0" X 5.9”
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Book Description
From the Jacket

This volume focuses on a series of mosques constructed after north-west India came under the political control of the Ghurid sultanate of Afghanistan in the 1190s. The most famous of the group is the Qutb Mosque in Delhi. The book explores the complex relationship between pre-modern architecture, history, and modern historiography. It brings together divergent voices that have enriched nineteenth-and twentieth-century scholarship on some of the earliest surviving mosques in South Asia.

Piety and Politics analyses the different tradition that contributed to the development of the earliest mosques in South Asia. It examines the evidence exchange, identity formation, and political polemics in the Ghurid and early Delhi sultanates in order to understand the context of contemporary debts, memories, and perceptions related to the mosques that form subject of the volume. Presenting a range of perspectives on the meaning of pre-modern monuments, it contributes to broader debates on the nature of modern historical writing.

The collection includes writings on the beginnings of mosque architecture in South Asia (Alka Patel); the socio-political milieu of these structures (Andre Wink and Richard M. Eator); controversies concerning the origins of the Qutb Mosque and Qutb Minar (Alexander Cunningham and J.D. Beglar); continuities and innovations in early Rajasthani mosques (Michael W. Meister and Robert Hillenbrand); and recent approaches to interpreting the Qutb complex in Delhi by Mohammad Mujeeb, Fritz Lahmann, Sunil Kumar, Anthony Welch, Hussein Keshani, and Alexandra Bain.

Highlighting both continuities and ruptures in the architectural traditions of the period, Finbarr Barry Flood’s introduction constructs a socio-political context for the various academic positions represented in the volume. Flood underlines the need for multiple narratives and variant readings of the monuments.

Part of the prestigious Debates in Indian History and Society series, this reader will interest scholars, teachers, and students of medieval Indian history particularly those concerned with Islam and Indian and Islamic architecture.

Finbarr Barry Flood is Associate Professor, Institute of Fine Arts Department of Art History, New York University.


Editor’s Note

The Debates Indian History and Society series focuses on the diversity of interpretations in historical discourse. The series addresses widely debated issues in South Asian history (including contemporary history) through edited volumes centering around sharply focused themes or seminal writings that have generated arguments and counter-arguments resulting in worthwhile debates. In this context, the debates represent not simply differences in opinions but also offer important interpretative frameworks, which result in them acquiring a certain historiographic status. The approach encourages the interrogation of history as distinct from presenting history as a collection of ‘given’ facts. The aim is to bring to students bridge-heads into research.

The present volume, edited by an art historian barry Flood, addresses some of the most charged questions informing the modern history of South Asia. How are we do understand the mosques patronized in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries by north India’s earliest Muslim rulers? How did the patrons of these monuments seek to situate themselves with respect to that region’s cultural milieu, and especially the built environment that was already there? In the end, do these monuments reflect an alien intrusion, a ‘clash of civilization’, or something rather different?

Modern historians have been sharply divided over whether patrons of north India’s earliest mosques sought to stamp an essentially foreign, especially Persian, aesthetic vision upon the landscape they ruled, or whether they sought to establish continuity with pre-conquest cultures and traditions. At issue here are not only matters of form and style, but also the builders’ intent in re-using material from former temples. Essays included in the present volume provide readers with arguments and evidence supporting both perspectives. They also suggest future directions of research in this on-going debate.



Although much of the current academic debate about the nature of South Asian Islam centres on textual constructions of Islam, the popular focus has been on architecture. The demolition of the Baburi Masjid at Ayodhya in 1992 provided a violent illustration of the mosque as a nexus between divergent views of Islam, its culture and history in South Asia. While the medieval past and its histories can often seem arcane and remote, these events demonstrated how both could be mobilized in the service of the present to dramatic effect. In addition, they underlined how medieval monuments could be taken to instantiate tendentious histories, competing narratives that appear to be written in stone.

In his sensitive reading of the Qutb Mosque in Delhi, first published over thirty years ago and republished here, Mohammad Mujeeb warned against permitting ‘the rhetoric of the medieval historian and the political slogans of our own times’ to provide the lens through which medieval monuments were viewed. Nevertheless, in the past decades, nineteenth and twentieth-century scholarship on early Indo-Islamic architecture has been directly implicated in the targeting of mosques by religious nationalists seeking to replace them with temples, and thereby redress a perceived historical injustice. If, as Richard Eaton has suggested, the project for modern historians of South Asia ‘has as much to do with unraveling complicated historiographies as it does with writing histories’, the same is true of pre-modern architecture and its histories.

As a way to exploring the interrelationships between architecture, history, and historiography, this volume brings together divergent voices that have contributed to nineteenth, and twentieth-century scholarship on some of the earliest surviving mosques in South Asia. The chronological and geographical range of the volume is narrow, focusing on four mosques constructed for Turkic patrons in northwest India in the decades between 1192 and 1220. The dingle exception is the opening essay, which sets the tone for the volume by providing an overview of the (generally scant) material evidence for South Asian mosques in the period before 1192. This date has been considered a watershed in South Asian history, marking the victory of the Shansabanid or Ghurid sultan Mu’izz al-Din Muhammad ibn Sam (better known in modern South Asia as Muhammad Ghuri) over a confederation of Rajput armies led by the Chauhan raja Prithviraja III at Tar’ain (modern Tarori) in Rajsthan. The victory opened up the Gangetic Plain to the armies of the sulthan, and by the time that Mu’izz al-Din was assassinated in 603/1206, his Turkic generals had extended the sultan’s dominion from Ghazana to the Turkic generals had extended the sulthan’s dominion from Ghazana to the borders of Bengal.

In South Asian historiography Ghurid expansion into north India has traditionally been represented as an (or even the) ‘Islamic’ invasion of India as it often was in the rhetoric of medieval historians. Implicit in the paradigm is a teleological view of history in which the exploits of the Ghurids continue and culminate a project of ‘Muslim’ expansion begun by Arab armies in eighth-century Sind, the ‘slow progress’ of Islam in South Asia as D.R. Bhandarkar famously put it. The teleology operates through a collapse of all possible identities into a unitary sectarian identification. In doing so, also aspects of intra-Muslim factionalism that undermine the notion of a monolithic Muslim self, and are directly relevant to the aggrandizement of Ghurid authority.

The rise of the Ghurids (named after the remote mountainous region of central Afghanistan from whence they hailed) had begun in 545/1150 with the sack of Ghazna, the eponymous capital of the Ghaznavid sultanate that had dominated the eastern Islamic world for a century-and-a-half. This dramatic event earned the Ghurid malik (chief) ‘Ala al-Din Husayn the sobriquest Jahan-suz (World-burner). It also marked the abrupt entry of these mountain chiefs onto the wider political stage. The apogee of the sultanate was reached under Ghiyath al-Din Muhammad ibn Sam (r. 558-99/1163-1203) and Mu’izz al-Din Muhammad ibn Sam (r. 569-602/1173-1206), brothers whose joint rule came to define the apogee of Ghurid power. The brothers ruled in a condominium, the elder partner Ghiyath al-Din overseeing the westward expansion of the sultanate from Firuzkuh in west-central Afghanistan, while Mu’izz al-Din expanded the Ghurid’s dominations eastwards from the former Ghaznavid capital. A third line based in Ramiyan was celebrated for its patronage of Persian literati, but is less immediately relevant to the Indian conquests. The floruit of the sultanate was brief (roughly between 1175 and 1205) and its existence ephemeral, for the death of Mu’izz al-Din in 1206 effectively marked the end of Ghurid sovereignty. In its aftermath the neighbouring Khwarazmshahs of Central Asia incorporated large areas of the western Ghurid territories into their domains. In the east, the Turkish slave generals on whom the Ghurids had relied during their Indian campaigns assumed power in their own right, establishing an independent sultanate based in Delhi.

As the ambitions of the Ghurid sultans outgrew the confines of their mountain kingdom, their self-representations grew increasingly bombastic, marked by a dynamic process of self-fashioning designed to project their claims to authority in the wider-world. The phenomenon is most apparent in the titulature of the Ghurids who, soon after the sack of Ghazana, assumed of the title of sultan to complement their traditional but less impressive claim to be malik al-jibal (king of the mountains).

Like many parvenu dynasties, the Ghurids portrayed themselves as purveyors of Sunni orthodoxy. Writing in another context, the Ottoman historian Cemal Kafadar has noted the utility of championing the faith, which constituted a form of symbolic capital that could turn a title into (political and economic) entitlement. The standing of the Ghurid sultans in the dar al-islam was inseparable from their engagement with the territories of the dar al-harb, the latter providing both the financial and symbolic capital essential to efforts to refashion and reposition themselves in the late twelfth century. Framed within the thetoric of idolatry, Indian victories were useful for bolstering the orthodox credentials of the Ghurid sultans in Baghdad and the wider Islamic world. Te historians aggrandize Mu’izz al-Din’s role as champion of the faith, identifying him as sultan-i-ghazi (the sultan of the holy warriors) and depicting the Indian campaigns of the sultan as a confrontation between the army of Islam (lashkar-i Islam) and the army of unbelief (lashkar-i kuffar). However, campaigns against heterodox co-religionists were no less instrumental to the Ghurids in their endeavour to present themselves as champions of Sunni orthodoxy. Indeed, the titles of the Ghurid sultan Ghiyath al-Din describe him as ‘victor over the unbelievers and the heretics’ (qahir al-kafara wa’l-mulhidin), enshrining a common linkage between the suppression of heresy and the chastisement of unbelievers.

The self-fashioning of the Ghurid sultans included a major religious realignment when, in 595/1199, they shifted their allegiances away from realignment in the remote mountainous region of medieval Ghur (central Afghanistan) but considered theologically unsophisticated (and even unorthodox) in the wider Islamic world for their anthropomorphist views concerning God’s nature. In their stead, the sultans embraced the Shafi’i and Hanafi madhhabs (schools of jurisprudence), two of the four orthodox schools of Sunni Islam, which could boast of celebrated thinkers and transregional networks of authority and patronage. Although unpopular in Ghur, this shift aligned the Ghurids more closely with their Sunni contemporaries to the west, a reorientation that was also reflected in the contemporary introduction of coin types based on those then circulating in the eastern Mediterranean.

The erection of congregational mosques was among the normative duties of Muslim kingship, and architectural patronage was integral to the ostentatious promotion of Sunni orthodoxy. The last decade of the sixth/twelfth century saw a major architectural programme undertaken in the name of the Ghurid sultans in both Afghanistan and India. Following a fire, in 597/1200-1 the Great Mosque of Heart, one of the four great cities of Khurasan, was rebuilt and delivered into the hands of the Shafi’is. Ghurid patronage of mosques and funerary shrines in the Indus Valley during the same period may have been intended to encourage outlets for expressions of orthodox Sunni piety in an area known for its strong Iama’ili loyalties.




  List of Planets vii
  Series Editor’s Note ix
  Finbarr Barry Flood xi
I. Mercantile Communities and Early Mosque
1. The Mosque in South Asia: Beginnings  
  Alkan Patel 3
II. Temple, Mosque, and Conquest
2. The Idols of Hind  
  Andre Wink 29
3. Temple Desecration and Indo-Muslim States  
  Richard M. Eaton 64
III. The Qutb Mosque, The First Friday Mosque of Delhi
4. The Origins of the Qutb Mosque and Qutb Minar: A nineteenth-century controversy  
  Debate between Alexander Cunningham and J.D. Beglar 97
5. The Qutb Complex as a Social Document  
  Mohammad Mujeeb 120
6. Architecture of the Early Sultanate Period and the Nature of the Muslim State in India  
  Fritz Lehmann 130
7. Qutb and Modern Memory  
  Sunil Kumar 150
8. Epigraphs, Scripture, and Architecture in the Early Delhi Sultanate  
  Anthony Welch, Hussein Keshani, and Alexandra Bain 179
IV. Early Mosques in Rajasthan
9. The ‘Two-and-a-half-day’ Mosque  
  Michael W. Meister 225
10. Political Symbolism in early Indo-Islamic Mosque Architecture: The Case of Ajmir  
  Robert Hillenbrand 231
11. Indian Islam’s Lotus Throne: Kaman and Khatu Kalan  
  Michael W. Meister 253
  Index 263
  Acknowledgements 270
  Contributors 272
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