India before the advent of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him)
Islam was first introduced into India via her coastal regions. Modern historians generally agree that Islam’s introduction came through Arab traders and not Muslim invaders as is falsely believed. They had been coming to the Malabar coast in southern India for a long time, even prior to the advent of Islam in Arabia.
Before the introduction of Islam in India, the teachings of Rama, Krishna, Mahavir and Buddha were completely ignored and forgotten. In the sixth century, India was divided into 22 states and several religious beliefs had found many different types of followers. Brahminism had regained its lost popularity at the expense of Buddhism.
The sixth century ushered in a gloomy period. It is said that Arab Muslims began settling in the towns on the Indian coast in the last part of the seventh century, prior to this, India, which was once a cradle of great civilization, languished and possessed the features of moral degradation that had overtaken the neighbouring lands. The following is a brief summary of some of the characteristics character held only by India which Islam challenged with it’s newly established presence:
1) Idolatry: Although Idolatry is still quite rampant within India, the phenomenon was more widespread for Islam’s core beliefs lie in monotheism unlike that found in any other religion.
2) Caste system: Said to be promulgated by Manu in about 300 B.C., the practice of such a system evolved into a rigid social frame and law had become more rigid. None except Brahmins were permitted to engage in religious learning.
3) Sexual depravity: Obscure subjects occupied a conspicuous place in religion, by the sixth century indecent practices had gone on in the name of religion; sexual accounts were justified and appeared as an art form.
4) The practice of using women in lots: In the law of Manu, women had been referenced in disgraceful terms. By the sixth century the position of the woman was further degraded, they had no civil rights. They were not even allowed to touch religious books. The windows were condemned to a state of perpetual misery. The height of cruelty was that on the death of her husband, the wife was coaxed to burn herself to death on the funeral pyre.
Ahmed, Hasanuddin, A Brief History of Islam, Goodword Books, New Delhi, India, 2006, p.54-55.