Colonial historiography and the roots of Islamophobia: Unveiling distorted narratives in contemporary India

Credit: AA

By Murshid Amarayil

The roots of rising Islamophobia in contemporary india spread by extreme hindutva ideologists can be traced back to colonial historiography, while there are many reasons behind the growth of Islamophobia both contemporary and historical but the role played by colonial narratives is clear and often deliberate.

The Islamophobia inherent in Savarkar’s construction of ‘self’ and the ‘other’ and reinforced by his followers Hedgewar and Golwalkar took rootes in Indian society due to the constant interaction of prevailing Hindutva national ideology in politics. The Hindutva ideology emerged as a response to British colonization based on politics of resistance, but in the post-partition era it evolved into politics of domination by a particular construct of ‘Hindu Nationalism’ as the very idea has been demonstrated by portraying Muslims as an internal challenge to Hindutva ideology and their aspects of nation building.

Many historians had already condemned the agendas of hindu nationalists insisting that the Muslims in India are foreigners and the religious oppression must have been the signature of muslim rule in india, the portrayal of Mughal rulers as cruel tyrannical temple destroyers soon became a trend

R.R Mahalakshmi criticising the narrative of exclusive hindutva identity trying to rewrite history and running behind the agenda of indianising history, says that the narrative was borne out of a European colonial mindset that had entrenched Islamophobia .

It is very clear from the words of Romila Tapar who concluded saying it is colonial scholarship which is at the foundation of this new so-called indigenous history .

Rewriting of indian history reflects the truth fear of Hindutva as Indian history as it is doesn’t contribute much to their claims and attempts made on concealing the truth that the tolerance kept by Mughal rulers and their inclusiveness was the pillar of their rule in India, and the problem always rest on focusing on a single dimension of history as that only supports the ideology they want people to know.

The issue of Mughal rulers like babur and Aurangazeb always came first for hindutva ideologists to portray Mughal rule of india or muslim rule of india as British historians classified as tyrannical or completely despotic and to insist upon they forcefully coverted Indians.

Especially babur who had a superior mentality over indians in his writing is taken in a religious manner to spread Islamophobia by some hindutvas, instead of reading a complex history like babur’s multi dimensionally they focus on a single dimension, observing his writings on india it is clear that his ideas was not sprout out from a religious mind but it should be noted in his sense of aristocracy or racial superiority.

For the legitimisation of British rule of india as civilised and beneficial for Indians the British historians had to depict indian rulers came before them as barbaric or despotic or uncivilized , particularly Muslim rulers , these are reflected in their historiography of india and their translations of indian history according to their on view.

The basic problem lies in their periodization of Indian history, by which they divided indian history into Hindu Muslim British eras as part of the legitimisation by portraying British as saviours who came to save india from despotic rulers.

The historiographic works of Sir William Jones applied the ancient Indian history into Hindu history and then James Mill brought the tripartite compartment into the history by periodization, which was basically faulty that it describes the first two divisions as Hindu and Muslim periods in a religious basis and the later British period was associated with that of a nation .

The imperial and colonial interest worked behind this so-called periodization to emphatically work out the divide and rule policy by equating Hindu with Indian and Muslim with foreigners or invaders , this fabricated theme was massively adopted by many nationalists historians and now Hindutva narratives exploit it extremely.

One of the British historians Stanley lane Poole put the battle of Buxar as a dividing line in indian history as it was the culmination of Mughal rule of india and revival of hindus in india , taking the Buxar as a chronological refference they took significant steps towards thier political domination over india .

H.m Elliot and John dowsons work on Indian history,a flawed translation of persian chronicles overstated the negative aspects of muslim rule was a major supporter to the periodization of James mill, although The Hindutva scholars have stuck to this periodization, some mainstream historians have attempted to distance themselves away from it.

Influenced by Oriental ideology many colonial historians had a biased and a negative attitude towards islam and muslims of india , William Muir in his biography of prophet Muhammad tries to establish that muhammed was an ambitious imposter and islam was a religion spread primarily through military conquest and invasions but his biased narratives on Islamic history and muslims had been criticised for its tendency to reflect eurocentric biases.

Followed by the orientalist Montesquieu’s related proposition that all asian goverments are despotic , hypothesis of Alexander Dow a British East India company employee elaborated that the‘faith of Mahommed is peculiarly calculated for despotism and further he similarly regarded ‘ Mahommed’as a pretender whose politicking ‘effected a revolution and change in the human mind, as well as in states and empires’. This ‘enslavement of the mind’ manifested itself in the customs established by the ‘legislator’, such as the ‘unlimited power’ conferred on the male head of each household, which habituated all to arbitrary rule and further interpreted Qur’an as a flawed legal documents.

In the time of Anglo Afghan war, Edward law ellenborough governor-general of the East India Company brought the gates of somanath temple back to India to lure indian Hindus to the traps of discord by convincing them that the British is always the protector of Hindu indians against the tyrannical muslim foriegners , thus using Sindh British could cast doubts on identity and belonging of Indian muslims.”The insult of 800 years…the gates of the temple of Somnath, so long the memorial of your humiliation, are become the proudest record of your national glory ” the governor, returning back from Sindh, purposefully addressed the Hindus .

Richard F. Burton produced three monographs on his time in Sindh Burton depicted Sindh a paradise of ancient history, destroyed by the fanaticism of the foreign Muslims,and darkage was casted on sindhs from Muslim invasion onward. Burton’s rewriting of Muslim history went further, emphasizing in tremendous detail the ancient wartime atrocities allegedly committed by Muslims against Hindus.

“One of the most tyrannical tormentor perpetrator of Intolerant Inhuman Barbaric crimes in India”, was the explanation given on Aurangzeb for a successful petition in 2015 to rename Aurangzeb road in Delhi.

The Hindu nationalists described Aurangzebs demolitions as the cause behind why North India lack tallest temples, these narratives formed a common concept on Aurangzeb as cruel , religious fanatic, but according to the famous historian benevolent to Aurangzeb ,Aundrey Truschke, the British spread many falsehoods about him and other premodern Indian Muslim kings to establish how barbarous Aurangzeb was, in contrast to how civilised British colonial administration appeared to be. With misleading scholarly effort, such as selective and occasionally blatantly incorrect translations of Mughal history intended to stress Aurangzeb’s purported hatred for Hindus, the British encouraged their portrayal of Aurangzeb as a cartoonish bigot.

The policies of Akbar and execution of his brother Dara shikoh has been widely used to make Aurangzeb a tyrannical ruler by portraying Dara shikoh as a Hindu representative and Akbar as a liberal tolerant.

In the case of Hindu nationalists confronting Akbar, he is as successfull leader who liberalised islam and Aurangzeb is a religious bigot and In case of Pakistanis the matter came to supporting Aurangzeb as a good pious ruler, this categorisation of Akbar and Aurangzeb as either “good” or “bad” Muslims rather than as kings whose decisions were influenced by a variety of factors, is brought by some colonial narratives.

The colonial scholars’ biases and motivations influenced the portrayal of indian muslim rulel and Islamic influences, perpetuating Eurocentric worldviews and religious differences. The selective emphasis on certain aspects of Mughal rule, along with the periodization of Indian history, contributed to the demonization of Muslims and Mughal emperors. The consequences of these misrepresentations continue to influence contemporary understandings of Mughal history and its relation to Islamophobia in India


1. Audrey Truschke, Aurangazeb the man and myth 2017. (enguin Random House India, Gurgaon, India, 2017

2. MichelguglielmoTorri . For a New Periodization of Indian History: The History of India as Part of the History of the World, University of Turin’

3. Harbans mukhia, Mughals of india, 2004

4. Audrey Truschke, a much maligned Mughal , aeon,2017

5. Amin, O. (2021). Reimagining the Mughal Emperors Akbar and Aurangzeb in the 21st Century. Journal of South Asian Studies, 9(3), 153-161.

6. Khaund, A. (2017). Akbar And Aurangzeb- The “Saint” And The “Villain”? IOSR Journal of Humanities and Social Science (IOSR-JHSS), 22(3), 01-10.

7. Seema Alavi, The Eighteenth Century In India (Debates in Indian History, 14 November 2002)


Murshid Amarayil is a PG Scholar of the Department of civillisational studies at Darulhuda Islamic University, Chemmad.


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