Arabs & Persian Sufis Brought Message of Islam to Punjab
Punjabi Muslims (Punjabi: پنجابی مسلمان (Shahmukhi); also spelled Panjabi) are a linguistic, geographic and religious ethnic group living in the region of Punjab, primarily in eastern Pakistan. Forming the majority of the Punjabi ethnicity, Punjabi Muslims are those who profess Islam and speak the Punjabi language. With a population of more than 90 million, they are the largest ethnic group in Pakistan and the third largest Muslim ethnicity, after the Arabs and Bengalis. The majority of Punjabi Muslims are adherents of the Sunni branch of Islam. A minority adheres to Shia and other sects, including the Ahmadiya community which originated in Punjab.
The homelands of Punjabi Muslims are mainly concentrated in the Pakistani province of Punjab. They have a worldwide diaspora, with significant communities in North America and the United Kingdom, and large expatriate populations in the Middle East.
Punjab literally means the land of five waters (Persian:پنج آب panj (“five”) āb (“waters”)). Punjab is often referred to as the breadbasket in both Pakistan and India.
The coalescence of the various tribes, castes and the inhabitants of the Punjab into a broader common “Punjabi” identity initiated from the onset of the 18th century CE. Prior to that the sense and perception of a common “Punjabi” ethno-cultural identity and community did not exist, even though the majority of the various communities of the Punjab had long shared linguistic, cultural and racial commonalities.
Map showing the sites and extent of the Indus Valley Civilisation. Harappa was the center of one of the core regions of the Indus Valley Civilization, located in central Punjab. The Harappan architecture and Harrapan Civilization was one of the most developed in the old Bronze Age.
Punjab during Mahabharata times was known as Panchanada. Punjab was part of the Indus Valley Civilization, more than 5000 years old. The main site in Punjab was the city of Harrapa. The Indus Valley Civilization spanned much of what is today Pakistan and eventually evolved into the Indo-Aryan civilization. The arrival of the Indo-Aryans led to the flourishing of the Vedic civilization along the length of the Indus River. This civilization shaped subsequent cultures in South Asia and Afghanistan. Although the archaeological site at Harappa was partially damaged in 1857 when engineers constructing the Lahore-Multan railroad used brick from the Harappa ruins for track ballast, an abundance of artefacts have nevertheless been found. Punjab was part of the great ancient empires including the Gandhara Mahajanapadas, Achaemenids, Macedonians, Mauryas, Kushans, Guptas, Hindu Shahi, Gurjara-Pratihara and old Rajputana. Agriculture flourished and trading cities (such as Multan and Lahore) grew in wealth.
Due to its location, the Punjab region came under constant attack and influence from the west and witnessed centuries of foreign invasions by the Greeks, Kushans, Scythians, Turks, Arabs, and Afghans. The city of Taxila, claimed to have been founded by son of Taksh the son Bharat who was the brother of Ram. It was reputed to house the oldest university in the world, Takshashila University. One of the teachers was the great Vedic thinker and politician Chanakya. Taxila was a great center of learning and intellectual discussion during the Maurya Empire. It is a UN World Heritage site, valued for its archaeological and religious history.
Central Asian, Greek, and Persian Empire
The northwestern part of South Asia, including Punjab, was repeatedly invaded or conquered by various foreign empires, such as those of Tamerlane, Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan. Having conquered Drangiana, Arachosia, Gedrosia and Seistan in ten days, Alexander crossed the Hindu Kush and was thus fully informed of the magnificence of the country and its riches in gold, gems and pearls. However, Alexander had to encounter and reduce the tribes on the border of Punjab before entering the luxuriant plains. Having taken a northeasterly direction, he marched against the Aspii (mountaineers), who offered vigorous resistance, but were subdued. Alexander then marched through Ghazni, blockaded Magassa, and then marched to Ora and Bazira. Turning to the northeast, Alexander marched to Pucela, the capital of the district now known as Pakhli. He entered Western Punjab, where the ancient city of Nysa (at the site of modern-day Mong) was situated. A coalition was formed against Alexander by the Cathians, the people of Multan, who were very skillful in war. Alexander invested many troops, eventually killing seventeen thousand Cathians in this battle, and the city of Sagala (present-day Sialkot) was razed to the ground. Alexander left Punjab in 326 B.C. and took his army to Persia and Susa.
Arrival of Islam
The Punjabis followed a diverse plethora of faiths, when the Muslim Umayyad army led by Muhammad bin Qasim conquered Sindh and Southern Punjab in 712, by defeating Raja Dahir. The Umayyad Caliphate was the second Islamic caliphate established after the death of Prophet Muhammad. It was ruled by the Umayyad dynasty, whose name derives from Umayya ibn Abd Shams, the great-grandfather of the first Umayyad caliph. Although the Umayyad family originally came from the city of Mecca, their capital was Damascus.
Muslim Arabs and Persian Sufis were the first to bring message of Islam to the population of Punjab. Over the next millennium Punjab was part of Muslim Empires consisting mostly of Turko-Persians in cooperation with local Punjabi tribes and others, which facilitated a millennium long Islamic dominance across South Asia and with its peak during large parts of the Mughal Empire . During the reign of Mahmud of Ghazni, the province became an important center with Lahore as its second capital of the Ghaznavid Empire based out of Afghanistan. The Punjab region became predominantly Muslim due to missionary Sufi saints whose dargahs dot the landscape of Punjab region.
The Mughals controlled the region from 1524 until around 1739 and implemented building projects such as the Shalimar Gardens and the Badshahi Mosque, both situated in Lahore. Muslim soldiers, traders, architects, theologians and Sufis came from the rest of the Muslim world to the Islamic Sultanate in South Asia. Later, the Afghan conqueror Ahmad Shah Durrani made the Punjab a part of his Durrani Empire lasting until 1762.
The Indian state of East Punjab was created in 1947, when the Partition of India split the former British province of Punjab between India and Pakistan. The mostly Muslim western part of the province became Pakistan’s Punjab province; the mostly Sikh and Hindu eastern part became India’s East Punjab state. Many Hindus and Sikhs lived in the west, and many Muslims lived in the east, and the fears of all such minorities were so great that the Partition saw many people displaced and much intercommunal violence.
Lahore and Amritsar were at the center of the problem; the Boundary Commission was not sure where to place them – to make them part of India or Pakistan. The Commission decided to give Lahore to Pakistan, whilst Amritsar became part of India. Some areas in Punjab, including Lahore, Rawalpindi, Multan, and Gujrat, had a large Sikh and Hindu population, and many of the residents were attacked or killed. On the other side, in East Punjab, cities such as Amritsar, Ludhiana, Gurdaspur, Malerkotla, Ambala, Karnal, Hisar and Jalandhar had a majority Muslim population, of which thousands were killed or emigrated.
In 1947 the Punjab province of British India was divided along religious lines into West Punjab and East Punjab. Western Punjab was assimilated into the new country of Pakistan, while East Punjab became a part of modern-day India. This led to massive rioting as both sides committed atrocities against fleeing refugees.
Punjab (Pakistan), which once formed a major region of British Punjab, was home to a large minority population of Punjabi Sikhs and Hindus up to 1947 apart from the Muslim majority.
Migration between India and Pakistan was continuous before independence. By the 1900s Western Punjab was predominantly Muslim and supported the Muslim League and Pakistan Movement. After independence, the minority Hindus and Sikhs migrated to India while Muslim refugees from India settled in the Western Punjab and across Pakistan.
Since the 1950s, Punjab industrialized rapidly. New factories were established in Lahore, Multan, Gujrat, Gujranwala, Sialkot and Wah. In the 1960s, the new city of Islamabad was founded north of Rawalpindi.
Agriculture continues to be the largest sector of Punjab’s economy. The province is the breadbasket of the country as well as home to the largest ethnic group in Pakistan, the Punjabis. Unlike neighboring India, there was no large-scale redistribution of agricultural land. As a result, most rural areas are dominated by a small set of feudalistic land-owning families.
In the 1950s there was tension between the eastern and western halves of Pakistan. In order to address the situation, a new formula resulted in the abolition of the province status for Punjab in 1955. It was merged into a single province West Pakistan. In 1972, after East Pakistan seceded and became Bangladesh, Punjab again became a province.Punjab witnessed major battles between the armies of India and Pakistan in the wars of 1965 and 1971. Since the 1990s Punjab hosted several key sites of Pakistan’s nuclear program such as Kahuta. It also hosts major military bases such as at Sargodha and Rawalpindi. The peace process between India and Pakistan, which began in earnest in 2004, has helped pacify the situation. Trade and people-to-people contacts through the Wagah border are now starting to become common. Indian Sikh pilgrims visit holy sites such as Nankana Sahib.
Starting in the 1980s, large numbers of Punjabis migrated to the Middle East, Britain, Spain, Canada and the United States for economic opportunities, forming the large Punjabi diaspora. Business and cultural ties between the United States and Punjab are growing.
Regions with significant populations
India 500,000 est.
United Kingdom 500,000
United Arab Emirates 300,000 est.
Saudi Arabia 500,000 est.
United States 263,699
South Korea 25,000
Netherlands 19,408 est.
Hong Kong 13,000
(majority Sunni, while 5% being Shia)