chapter  8
Cult Saints, Heroes, and Warrior Kings: South Asian Islam in the Making
Pages 18

Islamists who are unfamiliar with South Asia often find it a shock to be told that southeastern India had been home for many centuries to a complex and sophisticated Muslim society. Of course Robert Frykenberg's work has long pointed to the importance of convert populations in south India . But it should be remembered that those who know Islam only in its Arab or west Asian forms may not recognize that it is possible to go to this apparently non-Islamic extremity on the sub-continent to contribute to debates about the nature of religious conversion and the historical development of Islam in its many regional manifestations. This is because Tamil and Telugu­ speaking southern India, and specifically the area which came to be ruled as the eighteenth century nawabi of Arcot, has been widely thought of as a domain of orthodox high Hinduism. The region is best known for its opulent Hindu temples, its ancient tradition of Hindu kingship, and the supposed pervasiveness and rigidity of its Brahmanical caste ranking schemes. So if these ethnographic "facts" constitute the central core of south India 's indigenous cultural tradition, it would follow that any Muslims who somehow found their way to the region as converts or conquerors must therefore be perceived as outsiders, as peripheral people deriving their identity from the universal and transcendent traditions of the Islamic "heartland" . Such people would not therefore constitute an indigenous Muslim society with its own coherent religious culture and value system.