Iconoclasm: Not a Muslim Monopoly

Both Hindu and Muslim conquerors destroyed temples of their opponents as acts of political vendetta.

In recent years, ever since the campaign to destroy the Babri Masjid was launched, people in India have been fed with the constant propaganda that the destruction of places of worship was a fine art that Muslims, fired with an irrepressible iconoclastic zeal, had mastered. Historical records show that some Muslim kings did indeed destroy Hindu temples, something Muslims themselves would hardly dispute. In assessing the historical record, however, it is important to draw a distinction between Islamic commandments and the acts of individual Muslims. The Qur'an in no way sanctions the destruction of the places of worship of people of other faiths.

For the most part, Muslims have abided by the Qur'anic injunction that 'There is no compulsion in religion'. For instance, after Muhammad bin Qasim, leading the first Muslim army to India, had subdued Sind, he granted the local Hindus and Buddhists full religious freedom and guaranteed the protection of their shrines. When Sultan Sikander of Kashmir, egged on by his Brahmin prime minister, Suha Bhat, set about pulling down temples on a large scale, the leading Kashmiri Muslim Sufi, Hazrat Nuruddin Nurani, bitterly protested, arguing that Islam did not sanction this. This opinion was shared by several other Muslim 'ulama and sufis. Thus, the Tabaqat-I Akbari tells us that when they heard that Sultan Sikander Lodi (r. 1489-1517) was planning to destroy some temples, a group of high-ranking 'ulama protested, saying, 'It is not lawful to lay waste ancient idol temples'.

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Himal Southasian