Article: Jainism and Islam

Contributed by Audrey Truschke

Destruction of Jain images

Enormous Digambara statues of Jinas were carved in the 15th century. The reasons are unclear but the images in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, may have been created to withstand the end of the world. Emperor Babur ordered many of the naked figures mutilated.

Mutilated figures at Gwalior
Image by geohs © CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

Although relations between the two communities were amicable overall, Jains repeatedly encountered Muslim iconoclastic beliefs and practices. At different times Muslims both destroyed temples and criticised the worshipping of images, practised by mūrti-pūjak Jains.

Early on, Muslims based in Central Asia raided parts of the subcontinent, largely in search of wealth. After the establishment of Islamic kingdoms in India, temple destruction was often politically driven. Many modern accounts exaggerate the frequency of Islamic iconoclastic attacks in India and uncritically assume that they were motivated by religious zealotry. Scholars still need to conduct further research to understand the complex interplay of political, cultural, religious and financial factors that fed into Islamic iconoclasm.

Jains responded to these violent episodes in many different ways. Their reactions also changed significantly from the pre-modern to the modern period. Before European colonialism, many Jains viewed attacks on temples and religious statues as signs of inevitable social deterioration in the current era and did not link iconoclasm to Islamic beliefs. Only in the 19th century does clear evidence emerge that Jains began to view iconoclasm as a specifically Islamic religious notion that can be traced to the teachings of Muhammad.

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