Thomas Walker Arnold

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Thomas Walker Arnold

Sir Thomas Walker Arnold (19 April 1864–9 June 1930) was a British orientalist and historian of Islamic art. He taught at Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College, later Aligarh Muslim University, and Government College University, Lahore.


  • [In many cases] there is no doubt that the shrine of a Muslim saint marks the site of some local cult which was practised on the spot long before the introduction of Islam.
    • Quoted in P.M. Currie, The Shrine and Cult of Mu‘in al-Dîn Chishtî of Ajmer, OUP, 1989 p. 86 also quoted in Ram Swarup, Hindu View of Christianity and Islam (1992)
  • "The tomb of alae ‘Masud is said to occupy the site of a former temple of the sun, and the mosque of Shaykh Saddu at Amroha was also originally a temple. The Panj Pir are undoubtedly reminiscent of the Pandavas, the five hero brothers of the Mahabharatta, and it is significant that the shrine of Sakhi Sarwar (in the Dera Ghazi Khan District) contains, besides the tomb of the saint and his wife, a shrine dedicated to Babu Nanak, and a temple to Vishnu, and that Hindus believe that Shah Madar is an incarnation of Lakshman, the brother of the God Rama.’
    • ‘Saints and Martyrs (Muhammadan)’, Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, vol. II, p. 72. Quoted in P.M. Currie, The Shrine and Cult of Mu‘in al-Dîn Chishtî of Ajmer, OUP, 1989 p. 86.
  • Their energies at all times impetuous were now solely concentrated upon executing the injunctions of the 'king of fierce countenance, understanding dark sentences' that they should enforce belief at the point of the sword which was emphatically declared to be 'the key of heaven and of hell.
    • Sir Henry Elliot, Appendix to The Arabs in Sind (Vol. Ill, Part 1 of the Historians of India, Cape Town, 1853), 1. quoted in Hardy, P. (1977). Modern European and Muslim Explanations of Conversion to Islam in South Asia: A Preliminary Survey of the Literature. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, 2, 177–206.

The Preaching of Islam: a History of the Propagation of the Muslim Faith (1913)

The Preaching of Islam: a History of the Propagation of the Muslim Faith, Constable & Robinson Ltd, 1913.
  • In the hours of its political degradation, Islam has achieved some of its most brilliant spiritual conquests: on two great historical occasions, infidel barbarians have set their feet on the necks of the followers of the Prophet, - the Saljūq Turks in the eleventh and the Mongols in the thirteenth century,- and in each case the conquerors have accepted the religion of the conquered. Unaided also by the temporal power, Muslim missionaries have carried their faith into Central Africa, China and the East India Islands.
    • p. 2.
  • [T]he jizyah was levied on the able-bodied males, in lieu of the military service they would have been called upon to perform had they been Musalmans; and it is very noticeable that when any Christian people served in the Muslim army, they were exempted from the payment of this tax. Such was the case with the tribe of al-Jurājima, a Christian tribe in the neighborhood of Antioch who made peace with the Muslims, promising to be their allies and fight on their side in battle, on condition that they should not be called upon to pay jizyah and should receive their proper share of the booty.
    • pp. 61-62
  • Muslim Spain had written one of the brightest pages in the history of mediæval Europe. Her influence had passed through Provence into the other countries of Europe, bringing into birth a new poetry and a new culture, and it was from her that Christian scholars received what of Greek philosophy and science they had to stimulate their mental activity up to the time of the Renaissance.
    • p. 131
  • Official pressure is said never to have been more consistently brought to bear upon the Hindus than in the reign of Aurangzeb. In the eastern districts of the Punjab, there are many cases in which the ancestor of the Musalman branch of the village community is said to have changed his religion in the reign of this zealot in order to save the land of the village. …. Many Rajput landowners in the Cawnpore district, were compelled to embrace Islam for the same reason to save the family property from confiscation. In other cases, the ancestor is said to have been carried as prisoner or hostage to Delhi, and there forcibly circumcised and converted. It should however be noted that the only authority for these forced conversions is family or local traditions and no mention of such is made in the historical accounts of Aurangzeb’s reign. It is established, without doubt, that forced conversions have been made by Muhammadan rulers, and it seems probable that Aurangzeb’s well known zeal on behalf of his faith has caused many families of Northern India (the history of whose conversion has been forgotten) to attribute their change of faith to this, the most easily assignable cause.
    • T.W. Arnold, The Preaching of Islam, 2ndnd 61. as quoted in Bhatnagar, V. S. (2020). Emperor Aurangzeb and Destruction of Temples, Conversions and Jizya : (a study largely based on his court bulletins or akhbārāt darbār muʻalla)

Quotes about Thomas Walker Arnold

  • This passage was cited by Thomas W. Arnold in his Preaching of Islam to support his contention that the most important agents in the spread of Islam in the Deccan were peaceful Muslim saints. While Arnold's general argument may have a good deal of valid- an argument that will be explored in greater depth in the present study, it would seem that in the case of Pir Ma‘bari he ‘chose the wrong example to illustrate it. For the question arises: why did Arnold cite a tradition, the 1884 Bombay Gazetteer, which presented only one side, the “peaceful missionary” side, of Pir Marais life? One possibility is that the hagiographic traditions such a the one quoted above were unknown to Arnold and that he had available to him only the Gazetteer version. Another possibility is that Arnold was aware of the Sufi’ militancy in the hagiographic traditions but chose to ignore it, an interpretation that would accord with the general effort in his books to revise the simplistic nineteenth-century image of Islam as religion of the sword. But it does not suffice to correct one distorted view by presenting an equally distorted, if opposite, view. If the Sufis peaceful character can be supported by both ‘written and oral traditions, so can his militancy. In view of the tendency of both oral and written traditions to extol or even fabricate the pious qualities of Sufis, it is most likely that Pir ‘Matbari like Sufi Sarmast, was in reality a militant Sufi and only acquired the reputation of peaceful missionary through generations of oral transmission of his life story.
    • Richard Eaton, Sufis of Bijapur 1300-1700: Social Roles of Sufis in Medieval India. Princeton University Press: New Jersey, 1978. p 30-31
  • It was from this and much other material that Arnold reached his conclusion that vast number of Indian Muslims are descendent of converts in whose conversion force played no part and in which only the teaching and persuasion of peaceful missionaries were at work.
    • Hardy P (1979) Modern European and Muslim Explanations of Conversion to Islam in South Asia: A Preliminary Survey, In N. Levtzion ed., p. 85
  • Then, too, although Arnold was sceptical of the many stories of conversion under pressure to Islam in the time of Aurangzib, he did not extend the same questioning spirit towards stories of peaceful conversion by saints. In 1965, Dr. S. A. A. Rizvi was to suggest that zamindars retailed these stories in order, in the period when the British were making revenue settlements, to establish their proprietory rights over larger areas of land by an assertion of superior ancestry through connexion with Muslim saints.... But even he whose avowed intention was to portray Islam as a peaceful missionary religion analogous to missionary Christianity of the 19th century, finds that "It is established without doubt that forced conversions have been made by Muhammadan rulers in India."
    • Hardy, P. (1977). Modern European and Muslim Explanations of Conversion to Islam in South Asia: A Preliminary Survey of the Literature. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, 2, 177–206. , citing Saiyid Athar Abbas Rizvi, Muslim revivalist movements in Northern India, Agra, 1965, 18.
  • Another lofty claim of mythic proportion being perpetuated about conversion to Islam is that a heterodox variety of Muslims, namely the Sufis, had propagated Islam through peaceful missionary activity. British historian Thomas Arnold (1864–1930)—desperate to alter the centuries-old European discourse of Islam as a violent faith—initiated this propaganda in the 1890s, which has been embraced by numerous Muslim and non-Muslim historians and scholars.
    • Khan, M. A. (2011). Islamic Jihad: A legacy of forced conversion, imperialism and slavery. Chapter IV
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