This is the concluding part of the series How Gandhara… The first part can be accessed here
Genocide Part 2: Mahmud of Ghazni
The founder of the Ghaznavid dynasty was a former Turkish slave, recognized by the Iranian Muslims as governor of Ghazni (a town near Kandahar). His son Mahmud (ruled in 998-1030) expanded the empire further into India. A devout Muslim, Mahmud converted the Ghaznavids into Islam, thus bringing Islam into the sub-continent’s local population. In the 11th century, he made Ghazni the capital of the vast empire of the Ghaznavids, Afghanistan’s first Muslim dynasty. The atrocities by Mahmud of Ghazni makes the Taliban look benign by comparison. Will Durant explains:[i]
“The Mohammedan Conquest of India is probably the bloodiest in history. It is a discouraging tale, for its evident moral is that civilization is a precarious thing, whose delicate complex of order and liberty, culture and peace may at any time be overthrown by barbarians invading from without or multiplying within… For four hundred years (600-1000 A.D.) India invited conquest; and at last it came.”
The Sultans drew from the people every rupee of tribute that could be exacted by the ancient art of taxation, as well as by straight-forward robbery…
“In the year 997 a Turkish chieftain by the name of Mahmud became sultan of the little state of Ghazni, in eastern Afghanistan. Mahmud knew that his throne was young and poor, and saw that India, across the border, was old and rich; the conclusion was obvious. Pretending a holy zeal for destroying Hindu idolatry across the frontier with a force inspired by a pious aspiration for booty. He met the unprepared Hindus at Bhimnagar, slaughtered them, pillaged their cities, destroyed their temples, and carried away the accumulated treasures of centuries. Returning to Ghazni he astonished the ambassadors of foreign powers by displaying “jewels and un-bored pearls and rubies shinning like sparks, or like wine congealed with ice, and emeralds like fresh sprigs of myrtle, and diamonds in size and weight like pomegranates.”
“Each winter Mahmud descended into India, filled his treasure chest with spoils, and amused his men with full freedom to pillage and kill; each spring he returned to his capital richer than before. At Mathura (on the Jumna) he took from the temple its statues of gold encrusted with precious stones, and emptied it coffers of a vast quantity of gold, silver and jewelry; he expressed his admiration for the architecture of the great shrine, judged that its duplication would cost one hundred million dinars and the labor of two hundred years, and then ordered it to be soaked with naptha and burnt to the ground. Six years later he sacked another opulent city of northern India, Somnath, killed all its fifty thousand inhabitants, and dragged its wealth to Ghazni. In the end he became, perhaps, the richest king that history has ever known.”
“Sometimes he spared the population of the ravaged cities, and took them home to be sold as slaves; but so great was the number of such captives that after some years no one could be found to offer more than a few schillings for a slave. Before every important engagement Mahmud knelt in prayer, and asked the blessing of God upon his arms. He reigned for a third of a century; and when he died, full of years and honors, Moslem historians ranked him greatest monarch of his time, and one of the greatest sovereigns of any age.”
Genocide Part 3: Post-Ghazni Invaders.
Mahmud of Ghazni set the stage for other Muslim invaders in their orgy of plunder and brutality, as Will Durant explains:[ii]
…eternal vigilance is the price of civilization.
“In 1186 the Ghuri, a Turkish tribe of Afghanistan invaded India, captured the city of Delhi destroyed its temples, confiscated its wealth, and settled down in its palaces to establish the Sultanate of Delhi — an alien despotism fastened upon northern India for three centuries, and checked only by assassination and revolt. The first of these bloody sultans, Kutb-d Din Aibak, was a normal specimen of his kind — fanatical, ferocious and merciless. His gifts as the Mohammedan historian tells us, “were bestowed by hundreds of thousands and his slaughters likewise were by hundreds of thousands.” In one victory of this warrior (who had been purchased as a slave), “fifty thousand men came under the collar of slavery, and the plain became black as pitch with Hindus.””
“Another sultan, Balban, punished rebels and brigands by casting them under the feet of elephants, or removing their skins, stuffing these with straw, and hanging them from the gates of Delhi.”
“When some Mongol inhabitants who had settled in Delhi, and had been converted to Islam, attempted a rising, Sultan Alau-d-din (the conquerer of Chitor) had all the males — from fifteen to thirty thousand of them — slaughtered in one day.”
“Sultan Muhammad bin Tughlak acquired the throne by murdering his father, became a great scholar and an elegant writer, dabbled in mathematics, physics and Greek philosophy, surpassed his predecessors in bloodshed and brutality, fed the flesh of a rebel nephew to the rebel’s wife and children, ruined the country with reckless inflation, and laid it waste with pillage and murder till the inhabitants fled to the jungle. He killed so many Hindus that, in the words of a Moslem historian, “there was constantly in front of his royal pavilion and his Civil Court a mound of dead bodies and a heap of corpses, while the sweepers and executioners were weaned out by their work of dragging” the victims “and putting them to death in crowds.” In order to found a new capital at Daulatabad he drove every inhabitant from Delhi and left it a desert….””
“Firoz Shah invaded Bengal, offered a reward for every Hindu head, paid for 180,000 of them, raided Hindu villages for slaves, and died at the ripe age of eighty. Sultan Ahmad Shah feasted for three days whenever the number of defenseless Hindus slain in his territories in one day reached twenty thousand.”
“These rulers… were armed with a religion militaristic in operation… [and made] the public exercise of the Hindu religions illegal, and thereby driving them more deeply into the Hindu soul. Some of these thirsty despots had culture as well as ability; they patronized the arts, and engaged artists and artisans — usually of Hindu origin — to build for them magnificent mosques and tombs: some of them were scholars, and delighted in converse historians, poets and scientists.”
“The Sultans drew from the people every rupee of tribute that could be exacted by the ancient art of taxation, as well as by straight-forward robbery…”
Many Muslim scholars showed great respect for Indian society.
“The usual policy of the Sultans was clearly sketched by Alau-d-din, who required his advisers to draw up “rules and regulations for grinding down the Hindus, and for depriving them of that wealth and property which fosters disaffection and rebellion.” Half of the gross produce of the soil was collected by the government; native rulers had taken one-sixth. “No Hindu,” says a Moslem historian, “could hold up his head, and in their houses no sign of gold or silver… or of any superfluity was to be seen… Blows, confinement in the stocks, imprisonment and chains, were all employed to enforce payment.””
“…Timur-i-lang — a Turk who had accepted Islam as an admirable weapon… feeling the need of more gold, it dawned upon him that India was still full of infidels… Mullahs learned in the Koran decided the matter by quoting an inspiring verse: “Oh Prophet, make war upon infidels and unbelievers, and treat them with severity.” Thereupon, Timur crossed the Indus in 1398, massacred or enslaved such of the inhabitants as could not flee from him, defeated the forces of Sultan Mahmud Tughlak, occupied Delhi, slew a hundred thousand prisoners in cold blood, plundered the city of all the wealth that the Afghan dynasty had gathered there, and carried it off to Samarkand with multitude of women and slaves, leaving anarchy, famine and pestilence in his wake,”
“This is the secret of the political history of modern India. Weakened by division, it succumbed to invaders; impoverished by invaders, it lost all power of resistance, and took refuge in supernatural consolations… The bitter lesson that may be drawn from this tragedy is that eternal vigilance is the price of civilization. A nation must love peace, but keep its powder dry.”
During these genocides for centuries, a certain portion of the fleeing Hindus reached Europe. Today’s Roma people of Europe (popularly called the ‘gypsies’, a term that they regard as a pejorative) are of Indian origin and have lived as wanderers in Europe for nearly a thousand years. It is believed that they originated in Northwest India, in a region including Gandhara, Punjab, and Rajasthan. In Europe, they survived by being musicians and performers, because European society did not assimilate them even after a thousand years. They have accepted their plight as street people without a ‘home’ as such. Their history in Europe is filled with attempts to eradicate them in various ways.[iii]15 (There is much justified criticism of India’s caste system as a way by which diverse ethnicities dealt with each other. However, I have yet to see a comparison with the fact that Europeans dealt with non-European ethnicities using genocide (as in America), or by attempted genocide as in the case of the Roma.)
Islamic Scholarship on India
The Arabic, Turkish, and Persian invaders brought their historians to document their conquests of India as great achievements. Many of these historians ended up loving India and wrote excellent accounts of life in India, including about the Gandhara and Sindh regions. Their translations of Indian texts were later retranslated into European languages and hence many of the European Renaissance inputs from Islam were actually Indian contributions traveling via Islam.
Many Muslim scholars showed great respect for Indian society. For instance:
“The Arabic literature identifies numerous ministers, revenue officers, accountants, et cetera, in seventh- and eighth-century Sind as ‘brahmans’ and these were generally confirmed in their posts by the conquerors. Where these brahmans came from we do not know, but their presence was regarded as beneficial. Many cities had been founded by them and Sind had become ‘prosperous and populous’ under their guidance.”[iv]
“Of caste divisions very little mention is made. The stereotype social division is in professional classes rather than a ritualized caste-hierarchy: ‘priests, warriors, agriculturists, artisans, merchants’.”[v]
Of all these Muslim scholars, Alberuni left the most detailed accounts of India’s civilization. In the introduction to his translation of Alberuni’s famous book, Indica, the Arabic scholar Edward Sachau summarizes how India was the source of considerable Arabic culture:[vi]
“The foundations of Arabic literature was laid between AD 750 and 850. It is only the tradition relating to their religion and prophet and poetry that is peculiar to the Arabs; everything else is of foreign descent… Greece, Persia, and India were taxed to help the sterility of the Arab mind… What India has contributed reached Baghdad by two different roads. Part has come directly in translations from the Sanskrit, part has traveled through Eran, having originally been translated from Sanskrit (Pali? Prakrit?) into Persian, and farther from Persian into Arabic. In this way, e.g. the fables of Kalila and Dimna have been communicated to the Arabs, and book on medicine, probably the famous Caraka.”
“As Sindh was under the actual rule of Khalif Mansur (AD 753 – 774), there came embassies from that part of India to Baghdad, and among them scholars, who brought along with them two books, the Brahamsiddhanta to Brahamgupta (Sirhind), and his Khandkhdyaka (Arkanda). With the help of these pandits, Alfazari, perhaps also Yakub ibn Tarik, translated them. Both works have been largely used, and have exercised a great influence. It was on this occasion that the Arabs first became acquainted with a scientific system of astronomy. They learned from Brahamgupta earlier than from Ptolemy.”
“Another influx of Hindu learning took place under Harun, AD 786 – 808. The ministerial family Barmak, then at the zenith of their power, had come with the ruling dynasty from Balkh, where an ancestor of theirs had been an official in the Buddhistic temple Naubehar, i.e. nava vihara = the new temple (or monastery). The name Barmak is said to be of Indian descent, meaning paramaka i.e. the superior (abbot of the vihara).”
“Induced by family traditions, they sent scholars to India, there to study medicine and pharmacology. Besides, they engaged Hindu scholars to come to Baghdad, made them the chief physicians of their hospitals, and ordered them to translate from Sanskrit into Arabic books on medicine, pharmacology, toxicology, philosophy, astrology, and other subjects. Still in later centuries Muslim scholars sometimes traveled for the same purposes as the emissaries of the Barmak, e.g. Almuwakkuf not long before Alberuni’s time…”
“Many Arab authors took up the subjects communicated to them by the Hindus and worked them out in original compositions, commentaries and extracts. A favorite subject of theirs was Indian mathematics, the knowledge of which became far spread by the publications of Alkindi and many others.”
Alberuni leaves no doubt as to the origin of the so-called Arabic system of numbers:
“The numerical signs which we use are derived from the finest forms of the Hindu signs… The Arabs, too, stop with the thousand, which is certainly the most correct and the most natural thing to do… Those, however, who go beyond the thousand in their numeral system are the Hindus, at least in their arithmetical technical terms, which have been either freely invented or derived according to certain etymologies, whilst in others both methods are blended together. They extend the names of the orders of numbers until the 18th order for religious reasons, the mathematicians being assisted by the grammarians with all kinds of etymologies.”
In Islamic Spain, European scholars acknowledged India very positively, as evidenced by an important and rare 11th century book on world science commissioned by the ruler of Spain[vii]. Its author, Said al-Andalusi focused on India as a major center for science, mathematics and culture. Some excerpts:
“The first nation (to have cultivated science) is India. This is a powerful nation having a large population, and a rich kingdom. India is known for the wisdom of its people. Over many centuries, all the kings of the past have recognized the ability of the Indians in all the branches of knowledge.”
“The Indians, as known to all nations for many centuries, are the metal (essence) of wisdom, the source of fairness and objectivity. They are peoples of sublime pensiveness, universal apologues, and useful and rare inventions.”
“To their credit, the Indians have made great strides in the study of numbers and of geometry. They have acquired immense information and reached the zenith in their knowledge of the movements of the stars (astronomy) and the secrets of the skies (astrology) as well as other mathematical studies. After all that, they have surpassed all the other peoples in their knowledge of medical science and the strengths of various drugs, the characteristics of compounds and the peculiarities of substances [chemistry].”
“Their kings are known for their good moral principles, their wise decisions, and their perfect methods of exercising authority.”
“What has reached us from the work of the Indians in music is the book… [that] contains the fundamentals of modes and the basics in the construction of melodies.”
“That which has reached us from the discoveries of their clear thinking and the marvels of their inventions is the (game) of chess. The Indians have, in the construction of its cells, its double numbers, its symbols and secrets, reached the forefront of knowledge. They have extracted its mysteries from supernatural forces. While the game is being played and its pieces are being maneuvered, there appear the beauty of structure and the greatness of harmony. It demonstrates the manifestation of high intentions and noble deeds, as it provides various forms of warnings from enemies and points out ruses as well as ways to avoid dangers. And in this, there is considerable gain and useful profit.”
Even as late as the 12th century C.E., al-Idrîsî (1100-1166), a geographer and scholar from Spain and Sicily, included the Gandhara region, including Kabul, with India[viii]. The region was famous for the export of its three local products: indigo, cotton, and iron.[ix]
The Lessons of History
Is the history of Islam in Afghanistan repeating itself a thousand years later? The Arab and Turk atrocities in India, done in the name of Islam a thousand years ago, may be compared to the past ten years in Afghanistan: In the times of Mahmud of Ghazni, India was, relative to other countries, as rich as the United States is today, and hence a comparable target. The Taliban dress code is what earlier Muslim plunderers also enforced in India. The same interpretation of the Koranic verses was used then as is now taught in thousands of madrassas in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. The main plunderers then were not indigenous to Afghanistan, but were largely Arabs/Turks; today, again, they are not mainly Afghanis, but tens of thousands of Pakistanis and Arabs with their own agendas.
Where does all this history lead us today? First of all, I emphatically believe that history should not be the burden of contemporary society, and this means that South Asian Muslims are not to be blamed for the past, in which they, too, were victims. Germans are taught about Nazism without being made to feel guilty. U.S. schools teach slavery with black and white kids together in class. Suppressing the past evils from history would be irresponsible, and an invitation to unscrupulous political forces to exploit ignorant people.
More importantly, Indianized Islam is probably the most sophisticated and liberal Islam in the world, because of its prolonged nurturing in the Indian soil. Islam needs the same kind of Reformation as Christianity underwent in the past few centuries. India, with its long experience of Islam co-existing with other religions, its large Muslim population, and its Hindu-Buddhist experience, is the ideal environment for Islamic liberalization. Islamic majority nations lack the experience of pluralism, democracy, and the Hinduism-Buddhism environment. Western countries have too small a Muslim population, and too recent an encounter, to be incubators. India is the ideal climate for a breakthrough.
In the big picture, the struggle is not against Islam, but is about the kind of Islam that emerges. It is also about conflicting identities within Pakistan: Arabization versus Indianization. For lasting peace in the region, Afghanistan should once again become a buffer between Arabic-Persian and Indic civilizations. Pakistan has always been unstable, sandwiched between the two very ancient civilizations of India and Arabia-Persia, and obsessed by the need to differentiate itself from both. What Macaulayism is to elitist Indians, Arabization of identity is to Pakistanis, the difference being that in the latter case it pervades all tiers of society. Pakistan’s complexes, due to its lack of heritage and sense of identity, drive much of its insecure behavior.
One would like that the hundreds of media personnel covering the war would be better equipped to explain the history of the region. That they do not know even the fundamentals is not surprising. But what is disturbing is the way SAJA (South Asian Journalists Association), a 500-member association of Indian journalists in North America, has failed to play any role in educating the American public about this region. Is it ignorance, or is it the complex of being seen as too ‘Indian’?
Over the past fifteen years, governmental, academic, and private funding agencies sponsored research on South Asia that focused on caste, cows, exotica, sati, and Hindu revolts against Proselytizers, thereby propagating the stereotype of the “Evil/Primitive Hindus”. In the process, they completely ignored vital topics such as Wahhabi Islam and other movements spawned by the ISI. Consequently, few South Asian experts seem to have even rudimentary knowledge of the 39,000 madrassas of Pakistan, some of which were the breeding grounds of the Taliban, or the related religious movements that are the genesis of today’s crisis. These events are about religion, when seen from the perspective of those engaged in terrorism and their vast network of sympathizers worldwide. Yet the academy is ill-equipped to perform its mission to interpret these events and to educate the world about them. After September 11, I wrote privately to the professional association of scholars called RISA (Religions In South Asia), since Afghanistan and Pakistan fall under their definition of South Asia, to suggest that at their November annual conference, they should have a major discussion on Wahhabism-Talibanism in South Asia. Despite being the world’s premier association of scholars who objectively study South Asian religions, they failed to include this topic. Instead, they had a whole panel on how Hinduism textbooks and web sites ignore Islam!
Scholars and the media seem afraid to explain that the soil of Afghanistan is historically sacred to Buddhists and Hindus, in the same manner as Jerusalem is to Jews and the Kaaba is to Muslims. Today’s infamous caves were once home to thousands of Buddhist monks and Hindu rishis, who did their meditation and attained enlightenment there. How such sacred geography ended up in evil hands is something I am still trying to come to terms with.
[i] “The Story of Civilization: Our Oriental Heritage“, by Will Durant. MJF Books, NY. 1935. pp. 459-463
[iii] See the following Roma web site for details on their genocides in Europe, including many genocides officially sanctioned by governmental authorities: http://www.geocities.com/~patrin/
[iv] Wink p.150
[v] Wink p.151
[vi] Alberuni (AD 973 – 1048), a Muslim scholar, mathematician and master of Greek and Hindu system astrology, wrote twenty books. In his seminal work, “Indica” (c. 1030 AD) he wrote (“Alberuni’s India”, by Edward Sachau. Low Price Publications, New Delhi, 1993. (Reprint). First published 1910 — translated in 1880s.)
[vii] In the eleventh-century, an important manuscript titled “The Categories of Nations” was authored in Arabic by Said al-Andalusi, who was a prolific author and in the powerful position of a judge for the king in Muslim Spain. A translation and annotation of this was done S.I. Salem and Alok Kumar and published by University of Texas Press: “Science in the Medieval World”. This is the first English translation of this eleventh-century manuscript. Quotes are from Chapter V: “Science in India”.
[viii] Ahmad, S. Maqbul, Indian and the Neighbouring Territories in the Kitâb Nuzhat al-Mushtâq Fi` Khtirâq al-`Âfâq of Al-Sharîf al-Idrîsî, E. J. Brill, Leiden, 1960. p. 58.
[ix] Ahmad. p. 67.