In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Islam in South Asia

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Novels and Memoirs
  • Films

Islamic Studies Islam in South Asia
Francis Robinson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 June 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 September 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0079


The growth of Islam in South Asia has been one of the more important geopolitical developments of the past millennium. It began in the 7th and 8th centuries, when Arab-Muslim traders settled on the subcontinent’s southwestern coast and Arab-Muslim military expeditions probed the Makran coast and the Indus Valley. Now, one third of the world’s Muslims live in South Asia, which has become a major source of Islamic ideas and organizations across the world. Muslim power produced the greatest of the Muslim empires of the premodern world, that of the Mughals, which at its height ruled 100 million people, as compared with the 22 million of the Ottoman Empire and the 6 million of the Safavid Empire. Islam itself showed a capacity to interact fruitfully with South Asia’s many regional cultures. Nevertheless, as the centuries went by, more and more of the indigenous inhabitants of South Asia came to embrace an Islamic religio-cultural milieu, with many converting to Islam. By the 18th century, South Asia had begun to export people and ideas to the rest of the Islamic world. From the early 19th century, South Asian Muslims had the new experience of striving to sustain an Islamic society under colonial non-Muslim rule. In this context, a remarkable revival developed and the ulama, the learned men of Islam, came to have a greater say in affairs than ever before. Some of the movements that emerged from the revival, like the Tablighi Jamaʿat, have come to have a worldwide significance. At the political level, Muslim separatist politics grew and South Asia was partitioned into India and Pakistan in 1947. In these states—and that of Bangladesh, which emerged from Pakistan in 1971—where possible, Islam has endeavored to engage with the modern state, but its fate has always been subject to the political context, both national and international.

General Overviews

Overviews of the development of Islam and the Muslim communities of South Asia are provided in Qureshi 1962, Mujeeb 1967, and Schimmel 1980. Ahmad 1964 addresses major themes that run through the Muslim presence in South Asia. Metcalf 2009 illustrates the many different ways of being Muslim, while De Bary, et al. 1958 illustrates religious change among Muslims in the all-important context of change among the subcontinent’s other faiths.

  • Ahmad, Aziz. Studies in Islamic Culture in the Indian Environment. Oxford: Clarendon, 1964.

    An important collection of essays by an authority on Islamic culture. Reprinted in 1999.

  • De Bary, William Theodore, Stephen Hay, and I. H. Qureshi, eds. Sources of Indian Tradition. New York: Columbia University Press, 1958.

    A classic collection of documents that is well introduced and has stood the test of time.

  • Metcalf, Barbara D., ed. Islam in South Asia in Practice. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009.

    An outstanding collection of readings that sets out the extraordinary variety of expressions of Islam in South Asia through time and space, and in so doing enables the reader to make contact with Muslim lives as they are lived.

  • Mujeeb, Mohammad. The Indian Muslims. London: Allen and Unwin, 1967.

    A magisterial survey of South Asia’s Muslim history from an “Indian Muslim” post-partition point of view.

  • Qureshi, Ishtiaq Hussain. The Muslim Community of the Indo-Pakistan Subcontinent, 610–1947: A Brief Historical Analysis. The Hague: Mouton, 1962.

    An overview from a Pakistani perspective.

  • Schimmel, Annemarie. Islam in the Indian Subcontinent. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1980.

    A good overview that is informed, in particular, by the author’s deep knowledge of literature and Sufism.

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