Muslim Presence in Early Medieval India: Merchant Communities

According to David Pingree, epigraphic evidence attests to the presence of Persian (either Zoroastrian or Muslim) merchants on the Konkan coast of western India as early as the late 7th century.*

[* David Pingree, ‘Sanskrit evidence for the Presence of Arabs, Jews, and Persians in Western India: ca. 700-1300’, Journal of the Oriental Institute M S University of Baroda, 1981, p. 177]

The geographer al-Masūdi visited Saymur (modern Chaul, south of Mumbai) in AH 304 / AD 916 and saw there a large community of Muslims comprising merchants from Basra, Baghdad, Oman, Siraf, and Yemen.*

[* Abul Hasan Ali al-Masūdi, Murūj al-Dhahab WA Mada’adin al-jawhar, (9vols ed & tr C Barbier de Meynard and Pavet de Courteille, Paris, 1861/77, vol I, p. 187; Buzurg ibn Shahryat Ramhurmuzi, Kitāb ‘ajā’ib al-Hind, ed. P A van der Lith and L. Marcel Devic, Leiden, Brill, 1883-86, pp. 142-44]

During this period the denizens of Sirāf were active in the maritime trade as far east as China, and the best documented of the Sirāf merchants, Ramisht (d. AH 537 / AD 1142), is said to have made a future in the Indian trade, with some of which he endowed and embellished the sanctuary at Mecca.*

[* Hugh R. Clark, ‘Muslims and Hindus in the Culture and Morphology of Quanzhou from the Tenth to the Thirteenth Centuries, Journal of World History, vol. 6, no. 1, 1995, (pp. 49-74), po. 59-60; SM Stern, ‘Rāmisht of Sirāf, a Merchant Millionaire of the Twelfth Century’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1967, pp. 10-14]


Selections from Finbarr Barry Flood, Objects of Translation, Princeton, 2009

A ship manned by Indian sailors, Maqāmāt of al-Hariri, Baghdad (?), 1237, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Ms. Arabe 5847, fol. 199 v