Muslim history: Some lesser known facts

Shahid M Amin

The demand for creation of Pakistan in 1940 was not a sudden development. It had behind it the rationale of centuries of Muslim presence in India. Many of our narratives focus on the Mughal rule over India, but there was a long Muslim history before Babur won the First Battle of Panipat in 1526 and established the last and the greatest Muslim dynasty. Some lesser known facts about Muslim history in the subcontinent make for an interesting reading.
Arab sailors had been coming to western Indian ports for centuries. When Islam spread in Arabia, some newly converted Muslims, sailors and merchants, visited the sub-continent during the lifetime of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). In 629 AD, the first mosque was built in India: the Cheraman Juma Masjid in the present Indian Kerala state. On a visit to Saudi Arabia in April 2016, Indian Prime Minister Modi presented a model of that mosque to King Salman.
It is generally believed that Muhammad bin Qasim first established Muslim rule in India in 712, when he conquered Sindh, also known as Bab-ul-Islam. But there is evidence to show that Muslim rule was first established in Baluchistan. In 644 AD, Caliph Umar (RA) sent an expedition under Suhail ibn Adi who conquered western Balochistan. Some other expeditions under the Khulafa-e-Rahideen later conquered the rest of Balochistan.
Muhammad bin Qasim was only 17 years old when he was sent by his paternal uncle Hajjaj bin Yusuf, the powerful governor of Iraq, with an army of 6,000 horsemen to conquer Sindh. He belonged to Thaqif tribe in Taif (near Mecca). He succeeded in conquering the territory up to Multan. However, the new Umayyad caliph, who hated Hajjaj, recalled Muhammad bin Qasim and put him to death at the young age of 22. But Muslim rule would continue in Sindh from the 8th century onwards (till the British conquest in 1843). However, Sindh was under the nominal rule of caliphates in Damascus and Baghdad. Around the 10th century, some of its rulers adopted the Ismaili/Fatimid faith.
The Muslim conquest of northern India came under Mahmud Ghaznavi who invaded 17 times, usually in winter, from 1000 to 1030. One of his first military objectives was to defeat the Fatimid ruler of Multan to win approval of the Sunni Abbasid caliph in Baghdad. Mahmud was never defeated. While he did not make an empire in India, he broke the military power of Hindu kingdoms. Mahmud was an ethnic Turk from central Asia, as was Muhammad Ghori, the real founder of Muslim rule over the Indian heartland. Ghori defeated Hindu Rajput armies led by Prithviraj in the Second Battle of Tarain in 1192. This decisive victory marked the beginning of centuries of Muslim rule over India, with Delhi as the capital.
Ghori’s general Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khilji conquered Bengal, with a force of only 18 horsemen. Since Ghori preferred to stay in Afghanistan, he left the rule of India to his slave general Qubuddin Aibak who founded the Slave Dynasty in 1206. Aibak died playing polo near Lahore. It was his successor Iltutmish who really consolidated Muslim rule over India. Iltutmish’s capable daughter Raziya Sultana was the only woman ruler of Delhi. The Delhi Sultanates ruled India for over 300 years till the rise of the Mughal Dynasty. The majority of Muslim rulers of Delhi were ethnic Turks from Central Asia and most of them spoke Turkish as their mother tongue. The exceptions were the Syed dynasty (1414-1451) and the Lodi dynasty (1451-1526) and the brief interregnum of Suri dynasty (1540-1555). The latter two were ethnic Pathans.
South India was conquered by a Muslim army of 7000 soldiers under Alauddin Khilji in 1296. Though the Delhi Sultanates were unable to maintain control of the Deccan, several local Muslim dynasties would continue to rule the south for centuries. The Bahmani Sultanate ruled from 1347 to 1527. Thereafter, five Muslim sultanates ruled most of south India viz. Bijapur, Golkonda, Ahmadnagar, Bidar and Berar. They were finally defeated by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb who spent the last 25 years of his rule in the south fighting against Muslim kingdoms. This expansion was a strategic mistake since after Aurangzeb’s death in 1707, the power vacuum in south India was filled by the Marathas.
The Maratha rule was established by Shivaji who first ignited Hindu nationalism. Due to the decline of the Mughal Empire, the Marathas had reached Delhi by 1720 and were controlling Punjab by 1750. A Muslim religious scholar, Shah Waliullah, appealed to Afghan King Ahmad Shah Abdali to rescue the Muslims. In the Third battle of Panipat in 1761, the Marathas were decisively defeated, which delayed the Hindu rule over India by nearly 200 years.
The centuries-long Muslim rule over India influenced many Hindus, leading to the emergence of Bhakti movement from 14th to 16th century, a mixture of Muslim and Hindu religious ideas. The Sikh religion and Akbar’s short-lived Din-e-Ilahi were products of the same thinking. Another outcome of the long Muslim rule was the Urdu language. Amir Khusro (1253-1325) was the iconic figure in the early Muslim history. He is remembered as the father of both Urdu and Hindi languages. Khusro was a poet, musician, courtier and a Sufi.
Though Muslims and Hindus lived together for centuries, they never genuinely integrated and were like two parallel streams flowing side by side, but never becoming one. The Urdu language did provide a bridge but the rise of Hindu nationalism saw a sustained Hindu campaign against Urdu from around 1867. This led Sir Syed Ahmed Khan to expound the two-nation theory, which was the ideological base that influenced the Muslim political agenda for the next many decades. The Muslims demanded separate electorates and percentage representation. They insisted on securing their minimum national rights within united India. Division of India was not their first preference. It was the refusal of the Hindu majority to accept the minimal Muslim demands — and the scare spread by the dictatorial Congress rule in 1937-39 — that convinced most Muslims that their future was not safe in a Hindu-dominated, independent India. This led eventually to the Lahore Resolution of 1940 and the demand for the partition of India and the creation of a sovereign Muslim-majority state.
— The writer served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, the ex-Soviet Union, France, Nigeria and Libya.

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