India-Arab Cultural Relations
(A Historical Perspective)

Extracts from the speech by His Excellency, M. K. Lokesh, Ambassador of India to the UAE at the seminar: Arab-Indo Relations through the Ages in History, Art & Culture, 22nd November 2011.
Venue: Armed Forces Officers Club & Hotel, ‘Al Morayjeb’ Conference Hall, Abu Dhabi, UAE.

"Based on archeological evidence, Indo-Arab interactions can be traced to the third millennium BC. Some of these evidences include artifacts of embellished pottery and sea shells recovered from the Harappa in North India and those of the Dilmun civilization of Bahrain and Oman. One of the three ancient trade routes between India and Europe passed through the Strait of Hormuz and up the Gulf on to Mesopotamia and Aleppo. Upanishads, ancient philosophical works of India declared, “let knowledge and wisdom enter from all windows and doors’. Accordingly, India always kept its doors open for the people and culture from across the world. The philosophy of tolerance and coexistence of all faiths and races had been the essence of its civilization.

Recent excavations at Berenike and Myos Hormos in Egypt show archaeo-botanical evidence of black pepper, which might have been imported from the Malabar Coast of India.

The spread of Islam served to consolidate the historical linkages between India and the Arab World. Islam reached India mainly through the Arab traders who were active in maritime trade on the coastal towns of India. In the seventh and eighth centuries AD, with the advent of Islam and spectacular growth of trade, Arab Muslim merchants became very vital in the coastal trade of India.

When Al-Beruni the Arab traveler and scholar came to India in 11th century AD, he listed quite a few branches of learning that impressed him, such as, philosophy, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, logics, lexicography, drama, fiction, poetics and administration. Some scholars consider Al Beruni as the father of Indology for his remarkable description of 11th Century India.

The establishment of Muslim kingdoms in the north and in the south and the introduction of Arab educational system and the Sharia brought a large number of Arab theologians, jurists and men of learning to India through out the medieval period and some Indian Muslim scholars also visited Arab world and acquired eminent positions in their respective fields... Some Arab travelers, such as Ibn Batuta of Morocco occasionally found themselves elevated to positions of power by their hosts; Ibn Batuta, for a while, was made the Qazi of Delhi, even though he was unfamiliar with the school of Islamic jurisprudence used in India.

In the Abbasid period the translation of books from Indian languages into Arabic and vice versa flourished.

India’s contribution in promotion of Arabic language and literature in India does not need any introduction. The history of learning and teaching of Arabic language in India starts with the arrival of Islam.

Therefore, from the time immemorial, these two civilizations have constantly interacted through exchange of goods, ideas, cultures and people. These contacts continue till present day through trade and massive movement of people from India to the Arab world and vice versa in the form of pilgrimage and labor migration. The purpose of this Seminar is to revisit our rich common heritage and build the future on these strong foundations."

Geeta Chhabra

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