Advent of Islam in the Sub-Continent
The last Prophet of Islam, Prophet Muhammad (SAW), completely changed the intellectual outlook of Arabia. Within a span of 23 years he transformed the barbarous and impious Arabs into a civilized and religious nation. During his life and also after his death, Muslims took the message of Islam to every corner of the world and within a few years Muslims became the super power of the era.
Trade relations between Arabia and the Sub-continent dated back to ancient times. Long before the advent of Islam in Arabia, the Arabs used to visit the coast of Southern India, which then provided the link between the ports of South and South East Asia. After the Arab traders became Muslim, they brought Islam to South Asia. A number of local Indians living in the coastal areas embraced Islam. However, it was the Muslim conquests in Persia, including the provinces of Kirman and Makran, which brought the Arabs face to face with the then ruler of Sindh, who had allied with the ruler of Makran against the Muslims. But, it was not until the sea borne trade of the Arabs in the Indian Ocean was jeopardized that serious attempts were made to subjugate Sindh.
During the reign of the great Umayyad Caliph Walid bin Abdul Malik, Hajjaj bin Yousaf was appointed as the governor of the Eastern Provinces. At that time, Raja Dahir, a Brahman, ruled Sindh. However, the majority of the people living in the region were Shudders or Buddhists. Dahir treated members of these denominations inhumanly. They were not allowed to ride horses or to wear a turban or shoes. Sindhi pirates, protected by Dahir, were active on the coastal areas and whenever they got a chance, they plundered the ships passing by Daibul.
During those times, some Muslim traders living in Ceylon died and the ruler of Ceylon sent their widows and orphans back to Baghdad. They made their journey by sea. The King of Ceylon also sent many valuable presents for Walid and Hajjaj. As the eight-ship caravan passed by the seaport of Daibul, Sindhi pirates looted it and took the women and children prisoner. When news of this attack reached Hajjaj, he demanded that Dahir return the Muslim captives and the looted items. He also demanded that the culprits be punished. Dahir replied that he had no control over the pirates and was, therefore, powerless to rebuke them. On this Hajjaj decided to invade Sindh. Two small expeditions sent by him failed to accomplish their goal. Thus, in order to free the prisoners and to punish the guilty party, Hajjaj decided to undertake a huge offensive against Dahir, who was patronizing the pirates.
In 712, Hajjaj sent 6,000 select Syrian and Iraqi soldiers, a camel corps of equal strength and a baggage train of 3,000 camels to Sindh under the command of his nephew and son in-law, Imad-ud-din Muhammad bin Qasim, a young boy of just seventeen years. He also had a ‘manjaniq’, or catapult, which was operated by 500 men and could throw large stones a great distance. On his way the governor of Makran, who provided him with additional forces, joined him. Also, a good number of Jats and Meds, who had suffered at the hands of native rulers, joined the Arab forces.
Muhammad bin Qasim first captured Daibul. He then turned towards Nirun, near modern Hyderabad, where he easily overwhelmed the inhabitants. Dahir decided to oppose the Arabs at Raor. After a fierce struggle, Dahir was overpowered and killed. Raor fell into the hands of the Muslims. The Arab forces then occupied Alor and proceeded towards Multan. Along the way, the Sikka (Uch) fortress, situated on the bank of the Ravi, was also occupied. The Hindu ruler of Multan offered resistance for two months after which the Hindus were overpowered and defeated. Prior to this, Muhammad bin Qasim had taken Brahmanabad and a few other important towns of Sindh. Muhammad bin Qasim was planning to proceed forward when the new Caliph Suleman bin Abdul Malik recalled him. After the departure of Muhammad bin Qasim, different Muslim generals declared their independence at different areas.
The Muslim conquest of Sindh brought peace and prosperity to the region. Law and order was restored. The sea pirates of Sindh, who were protected by Raja Dahir, were crushed. As a result of this, sea trade flourished. The port of Daibul became a very busy and prosperous commercial center.
When Muhammad bin Qasim conquered Sindh, the local people, who had been living a life of misery, breathed a sigh of relief. Qasim followed a lenient policy and treated the local population generously. Everyone had full religious freedom and even the spiritual leaders of local religions were given salaries from the government fund. No changes were made in the local administration and local people were allowed to hold offices – particularly in the revenue department. All taxes were abolished and Jazia was imposed. Everyone was treated equally. Poor people, especially Buddhists, were very impressed by his policies and many of them embraced Islam. A number of Mosques and Madrasas were constructed in important towns. In a short period of time Sindh became a center of Islamic learning. A number of religious scholars, writers and poets were emerged and they spread their knowledge. The Muslims learned Indian sciences like medicine, astronomy and mathematics. Sanskrit books on various subjects were translated into Arabic. During the reign of Haroon al Rasheed, a number of Hindu scholars were even invited to Baghdad.
The establishment of Muslim rule also paved way for future propagation of Islam in Sindh and the adjoining regions. Later Sindh also attracted Ismaili missionaries who were so successful that Sindh passed under Ismaili rule. With the conquest of Lahore by Mahmud of Ghazni, missionary activity began again under the aegis of Sufis who were the main agents in the Islamization of the entire region.
This article was last updated on Sunday, June 01, 2003