Richard M. Eaton

American historian
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Richard Maxwell Eaton (born 1940) is an American historian, currently working as a professor of history at the University of Arizona. He is known for having written the notable books on Indian history before 1800. He is also credited for his work on the social roles of Sufis, slavery, and cultural history of pre-modern India. His research is focused on the Deccan, the Bengal frontier, Islam in India

Richard M. Eaton

Quotes edit

  • Much of the contemporary evidence on temple desecration cited by Hindu nationalists is found in Persian materials translated and published during the British occupation of India. Especially influential has been the eight-volume History of India as Told by its Own Historians, first published in 1849 and edited by Sir Henry M. Elliot, who oversaw the bulk of the translations, with the help of John Dowson. But Elliot, keen to contrast what he understood as the justice and efficiency of British rule with the cruelty and despotism of the Muslim rulers who had preceded that rule, was anything but sympathetic to the “Muhammadan” period of Indian history.
  • The notion that Babur’s officer Mir Baqi destroyed a temple dedicated to Rama’s birthplace at Ayodhya and then got the emperor’s sanction to build a mosque on the site – the Babri Masjid – was elaborated in 1936 by S.K. Banerji. However, the author offered no evidence that there had ever been a temple at this site, much less that it had been destroyed by Mir Baqi. The mosque’s inscription records only that Babur had ordered the construction of the mosque, which was built by Mir Baqi and was described as “the place of descent of celestial beings” (mahbit-i qudsiyan). This commonplace rhetorical flourish can hardly be construed as referring to Rama, especially since it is the mosque itself that is so described, and not the site or any earlier structure on the site.
  • When Firuz Tughluq invaded Orissa in 1359 and learned that the region's most important temple was that of Jagannath located inside the raja's fortress in Puri, he carried off the stone image of the god and installed it in Delhi 'in an ignominious position'.
  • One often hears that between the thirteenth and eighteenth centuries, Indo-Muslim states, driven by a Judeo-Islamic “theology of iconoclasm,” by fanaticism, or by sheer lust for plunder, wantonly and indiscriminately indulged in the desecration of Hindu temples. Such a picture, however, cannot be sustained by evidence from original sources for the period after 1192. Had instances of temple desecration been driven by a “theology of iconoclasm,” as some have claimed, such a theology would have committed Muslims in India to destroying all temples everywhere, including ordinary village temples, as opposed to the highly selective operation that seems actually to have taken place.
  • An inscription dated 1455, found over the doorway of a tomb-shrine in Dhar, Madhya Pradesh [mentions] the destruction of a Hindu temple by one Abdullah Shah Changal during the reign of Raja Bhoja, a renowned Paramara king who had ruled over the region from 1010 to 1053. ... Goel does, however, consider it more likely that the event took place during the reign of Raja Bhoja II in the late thirteenth century rather than during that of Raja Bhoja I in the eleventh century.
  • [T]he demonization of Mahmud and the portrayal of his raid on Somnath as an assault on Indian religion by Muslim invaders dates only from the early 1840s. In 1842 the British East Indian Company suffered the annihilation of an entire army of some 16,000 in the First Afghan War (1839-42). Seeking to regain face among their Hindu subjects after this humiliating defeat, the British contrived a bit of self-serving fiction, namely that Mahmud, after sacking the temple of Somnath, carried off a pair of the temple's gates on his way back to Afghanistan. By 'discovering' these fictitious gates in Mahmud's former capital of Ghazni, and by 'restoring' them to their rightful owners in India, British officials hoped to be admired for heroically rectifying what they construed as a heinous wrong that had caused centuries of distress among India's Hindus. Though intended to win the latters' gratitude while distracting all Indians from Britain's catastrophic defeat just beyond the Khyber, this bit of colonial mischief has stoked Hindus' ill-feeling toward Muslims ever since. From this point on, Mahmud's 1025 sacking of Somnath acquired a distinct notoriety, especially in the early twentieth century when nationalist leaders drew on history to identify clear-cut heroes and villains for the purpose of mobilizing political mass movements. By contrast, Rajendra Chola's raid on Bengal remained largely forgotten outside the Chola country.
  • Ironically, one of the few things that Indian and Pakistani textbooks seem to agree on is in fact a falsehood: namely, that Islam grew in precolonial India through the agency of Sufi saints. There is little contemporary evidence for such a thing. Generally speaking, Sufis were not interested in converting Hindus.
  • But as I mentioned in my published essay, the tables and maps I presented “by no means give the complete picture of temple desecration after the establishment of Turkish power in upper India.” And I concluded that “we shall never know the precise number of temples desecrated in Indian history.” All we can talk about are instances for which there is contemporary evidence, whether it appears in the archaeological record, in the epigraphic record, or in contemporary chronicles. And even those data must be closely interrogated.
  • Think of trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle in which 30% to 50% of the pieces are missing, and you have no border pieces at all. The best you can do is to fit together the few pieces you have in order to construct a reasonable approximation of what the whole picture most likely looked like. An honest historian will admit that the evidence is almost always fragmentary, incomplete, or even contradictory. But what one cannot do is to try to fill in the blank spaces with pieces that don’t exist, or that you think “must have” existed.
  • I have no doubt that more than 80 temples were desecrated by Muslims, just as there were probably more temples desecrated by Hindus than are in the record. Again, to quote myself, “Undoubtedly some temples were desecrated but the facts in the matter were never recorded, or the facts were recorded but the records themselves no longer survive. Conversely, later Indo-Muslim chroniclers, seeking to glorify the religious zeal of earlier Muslim rulers, sometimes attributed acts of temple desecration to such rulers even when no contemporary evidence supports the claims.”
  • On the other hand, there is considerable evidence of colonial-era Muslim communities attributing to Sufi shaikhs – or in many cases, men who were retroactively given a Sufi identity -- the conversion of their ancestors. District gazetteers compiled in the 19th and 20th centuries are full of such narratives. However, such attributions are not supported by contemporary evidence.

Sufis of Bijapur 1300-1700 edit

Sufis of Bijapur 1300-1700: Social Roles of Sufis in Medieval India. Princeton University Press: New Jersey, 1978.
  • Although we often hear the rather glib assertion that medieval Indian Sufis were primarily responsible for converting Hindus to Islam, the issue has not been at all closely examined. (...) In sum, the Warrior Sufi may be seen as one of the earliest products that arose from the contact between Arab Islamic and Indie civilizations. In their psychological appeal, philosophical underpinnings, and historical development, these two civilizations are diametrically opposed. Where the one is ardent, dogmatic, and austere, the other is reflective, syncretic, and sentimental. Where Arab Islam centers upon the submission to a single discipline and perceives society, the universe, and the divine principle in terms of unity, Indie Hinduism diffuses into an elusive aggregate of metaphysical systems, folk beliefs, customs, symbols, and traditions that collectively perceive society, the universe, and the divine principle in terms of plurality. By the early fourteenth century the Arab Islamic and Indie traditions had only just begun their long and tortuous process of fusing into what later was to become “Indian Islam.” Hence the Warrior Sufi did not represent a synthesis of the Islamic and Indie traditions, but only a transplant of the former into the world of the latter. (...) More than that, the phenomenon of Sufis using their prestige to lead, or as was more likely the case, to legitimize a jihad spelled the ultimate breakdown of relations between landed Sufis and non-Muslims. There is no record of any landed or orthodox Sufi in the kingdom at this time urging the policy of “peace with all” ( suhl-i kitll), a slogan that many writers have attributed to Indian Sufis generally. (...) Some of [the Sufis of Bijapur] wielded a sword, others a pen, others a royal land grant, and still others a begging bowl... Some were orthodox to the point of zealous puritanism, others unorthodox to the point of heresy. Indeed, this study demonstrates that the stereotyped conception of medieval Indian Sufis as pious and quietistic mystics patiently preaching Islam among Hindus is no longer valid. It is simply not possible to generalize about the Sufis of medieval Bijapur, much less of India as a whole, as any unitary group relating in any single or predictable way to the society in which they lived. They clearly played a variety of social roles.
  • ‘During the period of Ala al-Din Khalaji (Alauddin Khilji, d. 1316), the Shah of Delhi, he (Pir Ma’bari) accompanied the camp of the army of Islam in the year A.H. 710 (A.D. 1310–11) when buried treasures of gold and silver came to the hands of Muslims and the victory of Islam was effected.’
    • Quoting Muhammad Ibrahim Zubairi’s Rauzat al-Auliya (1825–26), p. 28.
  • (Pir Ma’bari) came here and waged Jihad against the rajas and rebels (of Bijapur). And with his iron bar, he broke the heads and necks of many rajas and drove them to the dust of defeat. Many idolaters, who by the will of God had guidance and blessings, repented from their unbelief and error, and by the hands of (Pir Ma’bari) came to Islam.
    • Quoting hagiographic record, p. 30.
  • A local oral tradition collected in 1844 further attributed to Pir Ma‘bari Khandayat the expulsion of a group of local Brahmins from their agrahar, or Brahmin village, at Bijapur.” Notwithstanding this portrayal of Pir Ma‘bari as a fierce wager of jihad wielding an iron bar, some recent works have interpreted the Sufi in a peaceful light. The Bombay Gazetteer for 1884 stated that around 1305 he came to the Deccan as a “missionary’ and converted to Islam a large number of Jains whose descendants are among the cultivating classes of Bijapur District... His name, Khandayat, literally means “blunted bar.’
    • 30-31
  • This passage was cited by Thomas W. Arnold in his Preaching of Islam to support his contention that the most important agents in the spread of Islam in the Deccan were peaceful Muslim saints. While Arnold's general argument may have a good deal of valid- an argument that will be explored in greater depth in the present study, it would seem that in the case of Pir Ma‘bari he ‘chose the wrong example to illustrate it. For the question arises: why did Arnold cite a tradition, the 1884 Bombay Gazetteer, which presented only one side, the “peaceful missionary” side, ‘of Pir Marais life? One possibility is that the hagiographic traditions such a the one quoted above were unknown to Arnold and that he had available to him only the Gazetteer version. Another possibility is that Arnold was aware of the Sufi’ militancy in the hagiographic traditions but chose to ignore it, an interpretation that would accord with the general effort in his books to revise the simplistic nineteenth-century image of Islam as religion of the sword. But it does not suffice to correct one distorted view by presenting an equally distorted, if opposite, view. If the Sufis peaceful character can be supported by both ‘written and oral traditions, so can his militancy. In view of the tendency of both oral and written traditions to extol or even fabricate the pious qualities of Sufis, it is most likely that Pir ‘Matbari like Sufi Sarmast, was in reality a militant Sufi and only acquired the reputation of peaceful missionary through generations of oral transmission of his life story.
    • 30-31

Quotes about Richard Eaton edit

  • Thapar and Eaton also provide cases in which Hindu kings destroyed the temples of other Hindu rulers, rather than capturing them. As scholars of India in the late twentieth century, their aim in doing so is to counter the accusations by Hindu nationalists that Muslim rulers had uniquely violated the sensibilities and rights of Hindus by destroying temples, by showing that Hindu rulers had done much the same thing before Muslims reached India. From the perspective of the AT (Antagonistic Tolerance) project, of course, it would be surprising had Hindu rulers not done so. Tantalizingly, Eaton (2000a: 293) mentions that temples not identified with royal patrons were normally left unharmed. Eaton’s observations suggest that political patronage of cultic establishments was an important factor in defining the faith of the conquered temples.
    • R. Hayden, Antagonistic Tolerance: Competitive Sharing of Religious Sites and Spaces, 2016.
  • One Western author who has become very popular among India's history-rewriters is the American scholar Prof. Richard M. Eaton. Unlike his colleagues, he has done some original research pertinent to the issue of Islamic iconoclasm, though not of the Ayodhya case specifically. A selective reading of his work. focusing on his explanations but keeping most of his facts out of view, is made to serve the negationist position regarding temple destruction in the name of Islam. Yet, the numerically most important body of data presented by him concurs neatly with the classic (now dubbed “Hindutva”) account.
  • According to the cover text on his book, Eaton is professor of History at the University of Arizona and “a leading historian of Islam”. Had he defended the thesis that iconoclasm is rooted in Islam itself, he would have done justice to the evidence from Islamic sources, yet he would have found it very hard to get published by Oxford University Press or reach the status of leading Islam scholar that he now enjoys. One can easily become an acclaimed scholar of Hinduism by lambasting and vilifying that religion, but Islam is somehow more demanding of respect.
  • Regardless of this change in emphasis, it is important to note that not all Western Sufi scholarship of the last half century avoids discussing Sufi support of and active involvement in the martial jihad; in fact, there are some notable exceptions. In particular, Richard Eaton’s study of Sufi s in the Deccan region of India, The Sufi s of Bijapur: 1300–1700: Social Roles of Sufi s in Medieval India (Princeton, 1978) stands out in Western Sufi scholarship, in that it argues convincingly in the chapter “Sufi s as Warriors” that Sufi s were at the forefront of the conquest that brought Islam to the Deccan region of India. Eaton makes an important point in his book with regard to the methodology necessary for studying the social roles of Sufi s in that he critiques the “classical approach to Sufi studies.”... Eaton also points out the error of most Western scholarship in assum- ing that mysticism necessarily precludes martial endeavors. 10 Eaton’s book was the first significant Western study of Sufis to discuss at length the phenomenon of Sufis as warriors and to make use of sources from the popular tradition, such as vernacular hagiography; however, it concentrates solely on Sufi s in India and does not pretend to be a monograph on the history of Sufi jihad. Though Eaton’s book was well received, it was not without its critics.
    • Neale, Harry S. (2017). Jihad in Premodern Sufi Writings. Chapter 2
  • One intriguing thing about Eaton is that his own research of the medieval literatures on Indian Sufis for his Ph.D. thesis, published in Sufis of Bijapur 1300–1700, failed to find any trace of peace in the views and actions of Sufis and in their method of conversion. He found that all the revered Sufis, particularly the earlier ones to arrive at Bijapur, were fierce Jihadis and persecutor of Hindus..
    • Khan, M. A. (2011). Islamic Jihad: A legacy of forced conversion, imperialism and slavery.

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