Andre Wink

Saints of the Indus: The Rise of Islam in South Asia’s Borderlands

This lecture explores the geography and history of the Indus borderlands in order to throw new light on the age-old question why and how their populations were the only ones in South Asia to convert to Islam. The reasons for this unique religious and social transformation are fundamentally rooted in geography. The Indus borderlands — from Kashmir to Baluchistan — were the only part of South Asia able to sustain pastoral nomadism on a large scale. They were invaded and long occupied by the Mongols in the thirteenth and fourteenth century, with the result that their ancient Indian heritage was almost entirely destroyed. Islam spread in the wake of this destruction. But this was an Islam of saints and tombs, not the Islam of the Taliban. The paper argues that such Muslim saints were instrumental in the restoration of society, the arbitration of land rights among settled and migrant groups, and community building, as well as religious conversion.

Andre Wink is a professor of history at UW-Madison, He is the author of Al-Hind: The Making of the Indo-Islamic World.