Delhi Sultanate

1206–1526 empire in the Indian subcontinent
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The Delhi Sultanate (Persian:دهلی سلطان, Urdu: دہلی سلطنت‬) was a Muslim sultanate based mostly in Delhi that stretched over large parts of the Indian subcontinent for 320 years (1206–1526).


  • Islamic law was far from monolithic, with different schools providing competing accounts. Nevertheless, it was agreed that non-Muslims living under non-Muslim rule could readily be enslaved by Muslims, and their status was heritable, although owners could free as well as bequeath, sell and give slaves. However, although, even among orthodox Muslims, the notion that slaves were properly secured by conquest alone was very far from being observed, non-Muslims living under Muslim rule were protected from enslavement, Christians and Jews being regarded as Peoples of the Book, and thus related to Muslims, and enjoying religious freedom on payment of a poll tax. Thus, for the purposes of ensuring slave labour, Muslim societies were not able to draw on the bulk of the population under their control and had to rely on the slave trade. In India, Islamic rulers, such as the sultans of the Delhi sultanate (1206–1526), used enslavement as a form both of extracting revenues and of punishment, not least for not paying taxes. Fiscal factors were to the fore and territorial expansion was in part financed by the sale of slaves.
    • Jeremy Black, A Brief History of Slavery: A New Global History (2011)
  • The continued dynamism of successive Islamic societies produced fresh bouts of conquest that led to new sources of slaves. Thus, on the eastern end of the Islamic world, Mahmud of Ghazni, south-west of Kabul (r.971–1030), whose empire stretched from the River Oxus to the River Indus, launched numerous raids into northern India from the 990s, annexing the Hindu state of Sahi to the east by 1021. Religious factors played a role in his attacks, which in 1022 extended far down the Ganges valley and in 1026 into Gujarat. Chroniclers claimed that his campaign of 1024 yielded over 100,000 slaves. Such numbers fed a major slave trade into Central Asia, Persia and Iraq, as well as bringing wealth to the army. The Delhi sultanate (1206–1526), established by Qutb-ud-din Aybak, who had been a military slave of the Churid Sultan Muizz u-Din, so that it is sometimes referred to as the Slave Dynasty, in turn, used Turkic slave soldiers from Central Asia as well as local Hindu soldiers. This sultanate took part in largescale slave raiding in India.... The island of Bali in the East Indies (Indonesia) was a source of Hindu slaves for the Muslim world... The campaigns in India of the Mughals and the Deccan sultanates produced many Hindu slaves, some of whom were sold on to Central Asia and Persia... In India, the Mughals enslaved rebels and those deemed rebels, for example, Hindus who rejected attempts at proselytism, as at Benares in 1632. Those captured in Mughal campaigns were often given to the troops for their use or for them to sell. Enslavement was also the fate of peasants who could not meet their taxes and rents, with men, women and children often sold to Muslim lords as a consequence. Further south in India, enslavement was used by the Deccan sultanates, notably Bijapur and Golconda, in suppressing opposition. These major Muslim states campaigned extensively into southern India and enslaved Buddhists, Hindus and others. Thus, in the 1640s, Golconda seized much of the state of Vijayahagara and Bijapur that of Mysore. However, the Mughal conquest of the Deccan sultanates of Bijapur and Golconda in the 1680s led to the end of military slavery there... India was also a source of slaves, for example with girls taken to Afghanistan and the Middle East and, from the mid-seventeenth century, forced labour moved to plantations in the Dutch-ruled coastlands of Sri Lanka.
    • Jeremy Black, A Brief History of Slavery: A New Global History (2011)
  • Seeing the canonization that success had brought to this magnificent thief, other Moslem rulers profited by his example, though none succeeded in bettering his instruction. In 1186 the Ghuri, a Turkish tribe of Afghanistan, invaded India, captured the city of Delhi, destroyed its temples, confiscated its wealth, and settled down in its palaces to establish the Sultanate of Delhi—an alien despotism fastened upon northern India for three centuries, and checked only by assassination and revolt.
  • It is in the nature of governments to degenerate; for power, as Shelley said, poisons every hand that touches it. The excesses of the Delhi Sultans lost them the support not only of the Hindu population, but of their Moslem followers. When fresh invasions came from the north these Sultans were defeated with the same ease with which they themselves had won India.
    • Will Durant, Our Oriental Heritage. Ch. XVI : From Alexander to Aurangzeb, § VII : Akbar the Great
  • There was persecution, partly religious and partly political, and a stubborn resistance was offered by the Hindus… The state imposed great disabilities upon the non-Muslims… Instances are not rare in which the non-Muslims were treated with great severity… The practice of their religious rites even with the slightest publicity was not allowed, and cases are on record of men who lost their lives for doing so.
    • Ishwari Prasad. History of Medieval India (Allahabad, 1940 Edition), pp.509-513. quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 3
  • [The Sultanate of Delhi] “was an Islamic State, pure and simple, and gave no religious toleration to the Hindus… and indulged in stifling persecution.”
    • A.L. Srivastava . The Mughal Empire (Agra, 1964), p.568. quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 3
  • After the Delhi Sultanate had been set up, India found itself within the cultural orbit of the so-called Moslem world. The ideas of Islam started to penetrate Sind in the seventh century and other parts of Northern India in the ninth century. But in the Delhi Sultanate Islam was made the state religion that was foisted upon the local population by force. Various sections of the Hindu population adopted the new religion, a small part under force and others because of the privileges to which it gave them access, since only Moslems were able to hold prominent posts. A third group took this step in order not to pay the jizya or poll-tax on non-Moslems, while members of the lower castes did so in the hope of avoiding the disadvantages attendant on their status.
    • K. Antonova, G. Bongard-Levin, G. Kotovsky, A History of India, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1973, English translation 1979. I:224, quoted from Shourie, Arun (2014). Eminent historians: Their technology, their line, their fraud. Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India : HarperCollins Publishers.
  • Throughout the period of the Sultanate of Delhi, Islam was the religion of the State. It was considered to be the duty of the Sultan and his government to defend and uphold the principles of this religion and to propagate them among the masses ... even the most enlightened among them [the Sultans], like Muhammad bin Tughlaq, upheld the principles of their faith and refused permission to repair Hindu (or Buddhist) temples.... Thus even during the reign of the so-called liberal-minded Sultans, the Hindus had no permission to build new temples or to repair old ones. Throughout the period, they were known as dhimmis, that is, people living under guarantee, and the guarantee was that they would enjoy restricted freedom in following their religion if they paid the jizya. The dhimmis were not to celebrate their religious rites openly ... and never to do any propaganda on behalf of their religion. A number of disabilities were imposed upon them in matters of State employment and enjoyment of civic rights.... It was a practice with the Sultans to destroy the Hindu temples and images therein. Firoz Tghlaq and Sikander Lodi prohibited Hindus from bathing at the ghats [river bank steps for ritual bathers] in the sacred rivers, and encouraged them in every possible way to embrace the Muslim religion. The converts were exempted from the jizya and given posts in the State service and even granted rewards in cash, or by grant of land. In short, there was not only no real freedom for the Hindus to follow their religion, but the state followed a policy of intolerance and persecution. The contemporary Muslim chronicles abound in detailed descriptions of desecration of images and destruction of temples and of the conversion of hundreds and thousands of the Hindus. [Hindu] religious buildings and places bear witness to the iconoclastic zeal of the Sultans and their followers. One has only to visit Ajmer, Mathura, Ayodhya, Banaras and other holy cities to see the half broken temples and images of those times with their heads, faces, hands and feet defaced and demolished.
    • AL Srivastava, Sultanate of Delhi, pp. 304-305., also quoted in Bostom, A. G. M. D., & Bostom, A. G. (2010). The Legacy of Jihad: Islamic Holy War and the Fate of Non-Muslims. Amherst: Prometheus.
  • The popular notion that after the conquest of Muhammad Ghauri, India formed a Muslim Empire under various dynasties, is hardly borne out by facts ... barring the two very short lived empires under the Khaljis and Muhammad bin Tughlaq which lasted respectively, for less than twenty and ten years, there was no Turkish empire of India. The Delhi Sultanate, as the symbol of this empire, continued in name throughout the period under review [i.e., 1206-1526] but, gradually shorn of power and prestige, it was reduced to a phantom by the invasion of Timur at the end of the fourteenth century AD.
    • R. C. Majumdar, ed., The History and Culture of the Indian People, vol. 6: The Sultanate of Delhi (Bombay, 1960), p. xxiii, also quoted in Bostom, A. G. M. D., & Bostom, A. G. (2010). The Legacy of Jihad: Islamic Holy War and the Fate of Non-Muslims. Amherst: Prometheus.
  • THE FIRST THREE centuries of Turkish rule in India exhibit a “similarity to the course of human life with its three stages of birth and adolescence, vigorous youth, and crabbed old age. During the first century the Empire established by men like Muhammad Ghori and Qutbuddin Aibak was nourished and nurtured by men like Iltutmish and Balban (1200-1290). In its period of youth (£290-1380) it was consolidated and strengthened by rulers like Alauddin Khalji, Muhammad Tughlaq and Firéz. Then came old age. It had just set in when Timir’s invasion (1398) struck it like palsy; thereafter for half a century the Sultanate began to live as if on crutches. It showed some signs of recovery under the Lodis (1451-1526); but that was like the last flicker of the dying lamp. Babur’s guns at Panipat sounded its death-knell.
    • K.S. Lal, Twilight of the Sultanate (1963) p. 1
  • Particularly the Delhi Sultanate was hardly a functioning empire but rather an uneasy foreign occupation, with the occupiers settled in citadels and the countryside prey to unending and uncontrollable unrest.
    • Decolonizing the Hindu Mind (2001), Elst K. New Delhi: Rupa. p. 402-404
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