Medieval Hangover Of Indian Muslims

Adapted from Text Source @ :

The popular version of history of Medieval India was proposed by European scholars through the British Raj era and accepted by native understudies. Projected images of the medieval time period were subsequently reiterated through the Nehru years and later remained unchallenged in recommended educational texts, making the narration firm in the mind of generations of Indians.

It has been suspect before : the entire narrative had been reduced to successive foreign invasions and relative ease with which they occupied the land, subjecting a passive people to their respective authority… starting with Aryans, Iranians, Greeks, Parthians, Scythians, Kushanas, Huns, Arabs, Turks, Pathans, Mughals, Persians, Portuguese, Dutch, French, and ending with the British. The consistent impression was that India has always been a no-man’s land, which any armed bandit could come and occupy at any time; and, that Hindus have been a ‘meek people’ who have always bowed before the ‘superior’ occupying races.

For instance, Muslim clerics and scribes have led their co-religionists to believe that the conquest of India by Islam started with invasion of Sindh by Muhammad bin Qasim in 712 AD, resumed later by Mahmud Ghaznavi in 1000 AD, and was complete in the last decade of 12th Century with Muhammad Ghori’s victory over the Chauhans of Ajmer and over the Gahadvads of Kanauj. The sense, in particular, lends to generations of Muslims in present-day India  a feeling of pride in themselves, as one belonging to the same community wedded to the same religious ideology of Islam that ‘won’ over Hindustan, over these Hindus who this day might have become their equal in democratic India post-1947, who have even excelled over them by far. That, through close to six centuries, it was they — their co-religionist emperors —  who ruled over both the land and the people.

Consider how such a belief blows up in imagination, in combination with the community’s heightened sense of denial : one, the British rulers are looked upon as mere temporary intruders who cheated Islam of its Indian empire for a hundred years or so; two, the British interlude also saved them from being swamped over by Hindu domination through the Maratha resurgence years at end of 18th Century. That affinity with the British saw the Muslim League’s insistence for a separate nation in 1947; and it is the same sense Muslims continue to harbour in independent India, harangued as they are every day in every mosque and madrassa not to rest till they reestablish their sway over the land and the people… which dominant position, they are told, rightfully belongs to Islam.

In academe, the way historians have painted political events and described the Indian situation through the centuries only serves to reinforce the Muslim belief today : yes, they affirm, India was ruled by Muslim monarchs from the last decade of 12th Century to the end of the 18th. Standard textbooks narrate of Muslim imperial dynasties ruling from Delhi – the Mamluks (Slaves), Khaljis, Tughlaqs, Sayyids, Lodis, Surs, and the Mughals. In between, during periods of imperial decline, provincial Muslim dynasties fill in with seats at Srinagar, Lahore, Multan, Thatta, Ahmedabad, Mandu, Burhanpur, Daulatabad, Gulbarga, Bidar, Golconda, Bijapur, Madurai, Gaur, Jaunpur, and Lucknow.

In this version of medieval Indian history, the persistently recurring Hindu resistance to Islamic invaders, imperial as well as provincial, is made to look like a series of sporadic revolts occasioned by some minor grievances of purely local character, or led by some petty upstarts for purely personal gain. Repeated Rajput resurgence in Rajasthan, Bundelkhand and the Ganga-Yamuna Doab; renewed assertion of independence by Hindu princes at Devagiri, Warrangal, Dvarasamudra and Madurai; rise of Vijayanagara Empire; the fights offered by the Marathas; and the mighty movement of the Sikhs in Punjab – all these are then readily fitted into the framework of an enduring Muslim empire, with the Hindu heroes reduced to being ridiculous rebels who disturbed public peace at from time to time, place to place, but who were always swatted down with ease, as mosquitoes and flies !

It would take a much longer paper to establish that this version of medieval Indian history is, at its best, only an interpretation found on preconceived premises and highly selective summarisation, and even invention of facts. That, there are adequate premises to suggest an alternate interpretation based on known facts. What are the facts ? Do they establish that India was fully and finally conquered by Islam, that the Muslim empire in India was a finished fabric before the British stole it for themselves by fraudulent means ? Let us unravel a couple of instances.

01 Conquest of Sindh 

Having tried a naval invasion of India through Thana, Broach, and Debal from 634 to 637 AD, the Arabs attempted the land route on the north-west during AD 650 – 711. They found the Khyber Pass blocked by Hindu princes of Kabul and Zabul, who inflicted several defeats and forced them to sign treaties of non-aggression. The Bolan pass was held by the Jats of Kikan. AI Biladuri writes in his Futûh-ul-Buldãn :

“At the end of 38 H. or the beginning of 39 H. (659 A.D.), in the Khilafat of Ali Harras, went with the sanction of the Khalif to the same frontier. He and those who were with him, saving a few, were slain in the land of Kikan in the year 42 H. (662 A.D.). In the year 44 H. (664 A.D) and in the days of Khalif Muawiya, Muhallab made war on the same frontier. The enemy opposed him and killed him and his followers. Muawiya sent Abdullah to the frontier of Hind. He fought in Kikan and captured booty. He stayed near the Khalif some time and then returned to Kikan, when the Turks (Hindus) called their forces together and slew him.

Next, the Arabs tried the third land route, via Makran. Al Biladuri continues : ‘In the reign of the same Muawiya, Chief Ziyad appointed Sinan. He proceeded to the frontier and having subdued Makran and its cities by force, he stayed there. Ziyad then appointed Rashid. He proceeded to Makran but he was slain fighting against the Meds (Hindus). Abbad, son of Ziyad, then made war on the frontier of Hind by way of Seistan. He fought the inhabitants but many Musulmans perished. Ziyad next appointed Al Manzar. Sinan had taken it but its inhabitants had been guilty of defection. He (Al Manzar) died there. When Hajjaj was governor of Iraq, Said was appointed to Makran and its frontiers. He was opposed and slain there. Hajjaj then appointed Mujja to the frontier. Mujja died in Makran after being there a year. Then Hajjaj sent Ubaidullah against Debal. Ubaidullah being killed, Hajjaj wrote to Budail, directing him to proceed to Debal. The enemy surrounded and killed him. Afterwards, Hajjaj during the Khilafat of Walid, appointed Mohammad, son of Qasim, to command at the Sindh frontier.’

That was in 712 AD.

Now compare this Arab record on the frontiers of India with their record elsewhere : within eight years of the Prophet’s death, they had conquered Persia, Syria, and Egypt; by 650 AD, they had advanced upto the Oxus and the Hindu Kush; between 640 and 709 AD, they had brought the whole of North Africa under their sway; and they had conquered Spain in 711 AD. But it took them 70 long years to secure their first foothold on the soil of India. No historian worth his salt should have the cheek to say that the Hindus have always been an easy game for invaders !

Muhammad bin Qasim succeeded in occupying some cities of Sindh. His successors led raids towards the Punjab, Rajasthan, and Saurashtra. But they were soon defeated and driven back. Arab historians admit that ‘a place of refuge to which the Muslims might flee was not to be found’. By the middle of the 8th century, they controlled only the highly garrisoned cities of Multan and Mansurah. Their plight in Multan is described by AI Kazwin in Asr-ul-Bilãd in the following words : ‘The infidels have a large temple there, and a great idol. The houses of the servants and devotees are around the temple, and there are no idol worshippers in Multan besides those who dwell in those precincts. The ruler of Multan does not abolish this idol because he takes the large offerings which are brought to it. When the Indians make an attack upon the town, the Muslims bring out the idol, and when the infidels see it about to be broken or burnt, they retire.’  So much for Islamic monotheism of the Arabs and their military might ! They, the world-conquerors, failed to accomplish anything in India except a short-lived raid.

It was some two hundred years later, in 963 AD, that Alptigin the Turk was successful in seizing Ghazni, the capital of Zabul. It was his successor Subuktigin who seized Kabul from the Hindu Shahiyas shortly before he died in 997 AD. His son, Mahmud Ghaznavi, led many expeditions into India between 1000 and 1027 AD. The details of his destructive frenzy are too well-known to be repeated. What concerns us here is the facile supposition made by historians, in general, that Mahmud was not so much interested in establishing an empire in India as in demolishing temples, plundering treasures, capturing slaves, and killing the kãfirs. This supposition does not square with his seizure of the Punjab, west of River Ravi, and the whole of Sindh. The conclusion is unavoidable : though Mahmud went far into the heartland of Hindustan and won many victories, he had to beat a hasty retreat every time in the face of Hindu counterattacks. This point is proved by the peril in which he was placed by the Jats of the Punjab during his return from Somnath in 1026 AD.

After Mahmud’s death, the same Jats and Gakkhars troubled endlessly the Muslim occupants of Sindh and the Punjab region. After 150 years, another Islamic invader planned a conquest of India : Muhammad Ghori. His first attempt towards Gujarat in 1178 AD met with disaster, at the hands of the Chaulukyas, and he barely escaped with his life. And he was carried half-dead from the battlefield of Tarain in 1191 AD. It was only in 1192 AD that he won his first victory against the Hindus, by resorting to a mean stratagem that the chivalrous Rajputs failed to see through, largely because they were inheritors of a tradition in which even wars had inviolable rules for honour and against wanton destruction.

02 The Imperial Start

Muhammad Ghori conquered the Punjab, Sindh, Delhi, and the Doab upto Kanauj. His general Qutbuddin Aibak extended the conquest to Ajmer and Ranthambhor in Rajasthan, Gwalior, Kalinjar, Mahoba and Khajuraho in Bundelkhand, and Katehar and Badaun beyond the Ganges. His raid into Gujarat was a failure in the final round, though he succeeded in sacking and plundering Anahilwar Patan. Meanwhile, Bakhtyar Khalji had conquered Bihar and Bengal north and the region west of River Hooghly. He suffered a disastrous defeat when he tried to advance into Assam.

By that time however, Muhammad Ghori was assassinated by the Gakkhars… in 1206 AD. Aibak assumed power over the former’s domain in India : Kalinjar had been reconquered by the Chandellas; Ranthambhor had renounced vassalage to Delhi; Gwalior had been reoccupied by the Pratihars; the Doab was up in arms under the Gahadvad prince Harishchandra; and the Katehar Rajputs had reasserted their independence beyond the Ganges. The Yadavbhatti Rajputs around Alwar had cut off the imperial road to Ajmer.

Aibak was not able to reconquer any of these areas before he died in 1210 AD.

03 At The End

“Let us transcend the barren Deccan and conquer central India. The Mughals have become weak, insolent, womanisers and opium-addicts. The accumulated wealth of centuries, in the vaults of north, can be ours. It is time to drive from the holy land of Bharatvarsha the outcastes and the barbarians. Let us throw them back over the Himalayas, back to where they came from. The saffron flag must fly from the Krishna to the Indus. Hindustan is ours”. Thus did Peshwa Bajirao I declared.

Reviewed as a whole, the period between the last decade of the 12th century and the first quarter of the 18th – the period which is supposed to be the period of Muslim empire in India – is nothing more than a period of long-drawn-out war between Hindu freedom fighters and the Muslim invaders. The Hindus — Rajputs, Marathas, Sikhs, Jats, and chiefs in north and south, east and west — lost many battles, retreated, but they recovered every time and resumed the struggle untill the enemy was worn out, defeated and finally dispersed.

Browsing through the history of medieval India, we find Muslim historians cite many instances of how the Hindus burnt or killed their womenfolk, and then died fighting to the last man. In several encounters, Muslim forces were decisively defeated by heroic adversaries. Mostly, Muslim expeditions were of the nature of raids, the impact of which did not last, despite their brutality and rapaciousness. The accounts we have of the period from practically all over the country — Assam, Rajasthan, Bundelkhand, Orissa, Telingana, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra, and the Punjab — describe successive waves of resistance and recovery, the like of which do not have many parallels in human history.

In conclusion, therefore, it would be a travesty of truth to say that Islam enjoyed an empire in India for six centuries. In fact, Islam struggled for six centuries to conquer India for good but finally failed in the face of stiff and continued Hindu resistance.

Hali was not wrong when he mourned that the invincible armada of Hijaz, which had swept over so many seas and across so many mighty rivers, met its watery grave in the Ganges.

Iqbal also wrote his Shikwah in sorrowful remembrance of the same failure. In fact, there is no dearth of Muslim poets and politicians who weep over the defeats of Islam in India in past and look forward to a reconquest of India in future.

Hindus have survived as a majority in their motherland not because Islam spared any effort to conquer and convert them but because Islamic brutality met more than its equal in Hindu tenacity for their tradition, values and love for freedom.


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