Article: Jainism and Islam

Contributed by Audrey Truschke

Two of the minority religions in Hindu-dominated India, Jains and Muslims have interacted in interesting, diverse ways for more than a millennium. Jain communities in Gujarat were among the targets of periodic attacks by Arab and Central Asian raiders from the eighth century onwards. Beginning in the 13th century, Islamic monarchs, including the Delhi Sultanates and Mughal Empire, ruled significant portions of the subcontinent. During these six hundred years, Muslim rulers and Jain subjects developed a wide range of hostile, co-operative and warm relationships.

The two religious communities first encountered one another during Muslim raids to seize wealth in the eighth to 12th centuries. More substantial relations developed during the late 13th and 14th centuries as the Tughlaqs, one of the Delhi Sultanate kingdoms, gained control over western India. During this time, Gujarati Jain monks visited the royal court at Delhi, and Jain intellectuals and merchants associated with local Islamicate elites. This range of complex connections expanded after the Mughals came to power in 1526. During the colonial and modern periods, Jains and Muslims continued to converse over religious questions, such as the practice of idol worship.

Under the Delhi Sultanates and the Mughals, Śvetāmbara Jains exerted political influence over some rulers to promote their religious values and regional interests. This influence peaked in the reign of the third Mughal Emperor, Akbar, when a number of representatives from both the Tapā-gaccha and Kharatara-gaccha were present at the royal court. During the rule of Jahangir, Akbar’s successor, the Jain presence at court faded, as did Jain political weight.

Other types of interactions between Jains and Muslims also flourished throughout Delhi Sultanate and Mughal rule, even after the collapse of consistent links with the political centre. Jains frequently enjoyed good relations with local Islamic officials, particularly in Gujarat, and commercial alliances prospered. Additionally, Islamicate culture stimulated Jain art and literature. Persianate influences can be found in works from Gujarat in particular. Jains also wrote a great deal about their contacts with the Mughals.

In addition to these positive connections, Muslim rulers also presided over the destruction and defacement of Jain temples and religious objects. However, Jains also suffered iconoclasm from members of other religions. Rather than link such attacks with Islam or other faiths, many Jains viewed these events as signs of the deterioration of morals in the current era, which is a time of depravity according to traditional Jain notions of the cycles of time. Only during the British Raj and later did Jains consider Muslim iconoclasm to be an idea that emerged from Islam.

Early contacts

A 12th-century bronze figure of Lord Śānti, the 16th Jina. His deer emblem is on the ornate jewelled cushion while his silver eyes were probably once set with gems and crystal.

Lord Śānti
Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Jains first encountered Muslims when the latter began raiding western India in the late eighth century. In 782 Arabs moved against Vallabhi, a rich city in Saurashtra that was a centre of Jain learning. At the start of the second millennium, the Ghaznavids of Central Asia engaged in similar activities, such as Mahmud of Ghazna, who sacked Somanatha in Gujarat in 1025 to 1026. Some Jain authors later produced accounts of this event, although they tended to focus on rivalries with Hindu sects during this period.

The campaigns in Gujarat intensified under the Ghurids, the Ghaznavids’ successors. It is uncertain how many Jain temples were harmed or destroyed during these raids, but Jain statues were carried back to present-day Afghanistan. It is likely that they were publicly displayed as war trophies there, alongside Hindu images.

Delhi Sultanate

Jains and Muslims initiated more substantial and varied relations during the late 13th and 14th centuries as the Tughlaqs, the third Delhi Sultanate, expanded into western India. Trade relations thrived during this period, and individual Jain and Muslim merchants often developed commercial connections. Temples and religious images were still occasionally attacked, although the extent and frequency of iconoclasm is uncertain.

During Sultanate rule, Gujarati Jain monks visited the imperial court at Delhi and gained royal decrees supporting Jain interests. Jain intellectuals also associated with local Muslim elites, particularly in Gujarat. Jains authored various texts that demonstrate the impact of ties with the Islamic world in their language, content and style.

Mughal rule

View of the temple-city of Mount Shatrunjaya in Gujarat, which is one of the most popular pilgrimage centres for Śvetāmbara Jains. Some of the temples were damaged in 1313 by soldiers in the pay of the Khalji sultan but were later repaired.

Shatrunjaya temples
Image by Audrey Truschke © Audrey Truschke

When the Mughals rose to power in the 16th century, Jain relations with Muslims intensified. Members of several Śvetāmbara sects frequented the courts of Akbar and Jahangir. Leading monks from the Tapā-gaccha and Kharatara-gaccha gained political concessions from the Mughals, including:

Jains also performed a variety of additional roles at the Mughal court, including writing Sanskrit texts for imperial figures and conducting Jain religious rituals for the royal family.

Sustained Mughal relations with Jain ascetics ended during Jahangir’s reign, although Jain authors wrote about their imperial affiliations for several more decades. The tastes and practices of the Mughal court and broader Islamicate culture also continued to impact Jain writings and art.

Jains also engaged with the Mughals in other ways. Jain merchants forged connections with imperial officials well into Aurangzeb’s rule in the second half of the 17th century. Perhaps unwillingly, they even bankrolled certain state operations, such as Murad Bakhsh’s 1657 bid for the imperial throne while he was governor of Gujarat.

Commerce also remained one of the main areas in which Jains interacted with Muslims beyond the imperial elite. Business dealings prospered and may have helped to foster amicable relationships.

Although Digambaras do not appear to have established direct connections with the Mughal elite, they were highly aware of political developments. They wrote about the Mughals in Sanskrit and vernacular texts, such as Rayamalla's Jambū-svāmi-carita and the memoirs of Banārasīdās. Muslim disapproval of public nakedness seems to have made it risky for Digambara monks to practise traditional nudity in some locations. This may have boosted the institution of the bhaṭṭāraka, Digambara clerics who wore clothes and lived in monasteries.

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