The Daughter of Islam

Faisal Shahzad Email

Pakistan’s originary myth is tied to a spectacular episode – I have written about this here and here but, let me quote from a Social Studies Textbook for the sixth grade, used nationally in Pakistan:

Before the dawn of Islam, the trade relations had been setup between India and the Arabs. The Muslims invaded the subcontinent in 712 A.D. Prior to this the Arabs used to visit this land for the sale & purchase of their goods. The Arab traders were staunch Muslims and therefore they taught Islam to the people of India. The Arab traders used to carry merchandise from the Indian ports to the other countries of the world. A number of Arab traders had also settled in Sri Lanka and due to trade they had good relations with the people.

With the passage of time some of the traders died. The Raja of Sri Lanka who was kind hearted, he sent the widows and their children and belongings on eight ships along with gifts for the Muslim caliph. When these ships reached near the port of Debal the pirates plundered these ships. The Arab women and children were made captives. Some of the Muslims managed to escape and they made aware of Hajjaj bin Yousaf of the entire incident. Conflict between the Arabs and ruler of Sind started due to this incident.((Social Studies for Class 6. (Lahore: Punjab Textbook Board, 2004), 93-4.))

Here is another account from a popular Heroes of Islam series intended for children and young adults:

The king of Yaqoot Island dispatched a vessel, laden with gifts and Muslim women, born in his country and their fathers died doing trade, to Hajjaj, in order to be closer by them to Muslim world, but the current of air dredged vessels to beaches, nearby to southern valley of Sind regions, and they arrived the port, known in history as Debaal, where the pirates gathered the spoils, killed men, captured women, and children of both sexes were retained in bondage.

There was a woman from “Yarboa” tribe among people, who were wronged and aggressed, and she called “Ya Hajjaj”. When this accident’s news arrived to Hajjaj, he reposed her call by saying “Labbaik”, then he sent a message to king of Sind Dahir requesting him to release Muslim women, captured by pirates, but the king replied on his appeal that those, who arrested them are thieves, and I don’t have any control on them. Therefore this campaign sent by Hajjaj to Sind.

You can see this narrative explicated in a popular TV serial from 2002, Labaik (watch from 5:00 [sorry, no subtitles]):

You can also see a more translated vision put forth by some enterprising youtuber:

The TV-serial is a fascinating reversal, where the scene shifts from Khaldunian time to Ayodha time to finally a frame where the Hindu woman saves a Muslim man’s life by reminding the Hindu mob that they dared sully a Muslim woman centuries before, thus igniting the passion of the Muslim armies to conquer this infidel land. Gripping.

Terror Mom by Lapata

This narrative is woven into the fabric of the Pakistani state and I don’t really have the time, nor the space, to tell you more (you can read my dissertation, I guess) but I do want to quote from it:

The political memory of Muhammad b. Qasim seemed to have retreated from public space – even the Sindhi challenge apparently routinized. However, during this summer of 2008, a new public manifestation of Muhammad b. Qasim emerged. Dr Aafia Siddiqi, a Pakistani woman, accused by the U.S. state of being an al-Qaeda operative was apprehended in Afghanistan, and shipped to New York to stand trial.

Her arrest and deportation has caused immense public scrutiny in Pakistani media and it remains an on-going saga. What caught my attention were the public pleas – by columnists and editorials – for a Muhammad b. Qasim to rescue her, “I wish that this nation had a Muhammad b. Qasim who could hear the screams of Aafia Siddiqui, and help her. We need him and his army.”

Another columnist raised the specter of “Muhammad b. Qasim of the pen”:

In that NY jail, a daughter of my nation, is also calling for a Muhammad b. Qasim or a Mahmud Ghaznavi. She must be re- membering the justice of Umar Farooq. But my dear sister, our leaders cannot break their internal and external agreements with New York and Washington. Because after giving you away, along with 600 others, those agreements are even stronger. And we also got millions of dollars. Now only the American clouds are rain- ing dollars on our thoughts and emotions. But my sister, do not despair, the Muhammad b. Qasims of ”Pen” are coming to your rescue.

Other commentators drew explicit comparisons to the Muslim women kid- napped by pirates in the eighth century

The torch-bearer for this “Aafiya Siddiqa is the Original Daughter of Islam” meme was a columnist from the Daily Jang Ishtiaq Baig whose original column, Prisoner Number 650 Aafiya Siddiqui became the rallying cry of the various religious parties and conspiracy theorists. Two years later, Siddiqui is the cause of the nation, debated in Senate, with the Lahore High Court ordering the government to foot her defense bills. Here is a report, published today, citing the sister of Aafiya Siddiqa, Fauzia, saying we are waiting for a Muhammad bin Qasim to come and rescue Aafiya.

This particular brand of national machismo projected onto a woman’s body is neither new nor unique, yet it is a potent mixture in the oppressive, patriarchal Pakistani middle class. The mullahs can safely rage about the nation’s daughter, and the street urchins can eagerly vow to invade Manhattan.

Yet, until we dismantle the whole edifice underpinning this construction, there is little one can do to fight the narrative. Aafiya Siddiqui may well have caught the nation’s attention without the literary linkage to Pakistan’s originary past – her story is fabulous enough. But it is that very link which sustains it now, gives it immediate historical resonance and, most importantly, predicts the future – an armed struggle to free Aafiya. Such is the power of historical memory, such is the reach of state-sanctioned hegemonic accounts. And this is exactly why we need new histories of Pakistan.

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62 thoughts on “The Daughter of Islam”

  1. An armed struggle to free Aafiyah would surely lead to the A-bomb being dropped on Pakistan or a tirade of just bombs dropped on Pakistan. The country that holds the key to the jail cell, rules the world. Very unfortunate.

  2. Hmm….well nice point of view….but i do not think it is the root cause!.

    One point You totally missed in the blog…..
    “The reason for all the troubles among us is the unjust behavior of leader of the world. Plus the blind-folded, illiterate-Mullah follower “Muslim Society”.

    I totally disagree to this point of yours:
    “this is exactly why we need new histories of Pakistan”

    We do not need to change the history…We need to correct the present!

    people like you and i studied the same things…watched the same drama’s on PTV. Plus tell me honestly…how many do you know who really care what has happened to Afia saddique and want to take a stand for it???

    Plus its not necessary that whenever someone refers to a savior like Muhammad bin Qasim….we take it very literally*.
    The Savior can be the person who takes Pakistan out of this mess and no other Afia is ever taken away!!and honestly i pray and hope that Pakistan gets a savior like that very soon :)

    *(even if taken literally…people are asking for it cause the government is unable to protect its own citizens).

  3. Hi Sepoy, i have been checking out your blog for a while and silently admiring your work , finally got the courage to post my first comment. I have seen similar distortion of historical facts and communal depiction of the medieval period in Indian history books. Medieval rulers are portrayed as foreigners and medieval period is described as a period of great oppression and decline.Some historians have even made absurd claims that Taj Mahal had actually been a Hindu temple and was built pre 17th century and Qutub Minar was built by Samudragupta . Another misrepresentation of facts is that the struggle between Aurangzeb and Sikhs was not political but religious . If swamis and mullahs keep rewriting our history books, we will continue to find facts presented in a distorted way.

    I just want to thank you for making history so interesting and controversy free.While reading your posts on Ahmedis, first thing that came to my mind is Pakistan is lucky to have an academician like you.Do you have any plans to visit India?

  4. Shilay,

    Indian history is not written by swamis.
    It is written by Christian missionaries then by British
    trained Socialist intellectuals.

    Muslims themself wrote that they built mosques on top of temples
    yet we have to keep providing proof for such things. Govt. of India
    can easily show that in Taj Mahal as well but they don’t, so what
    are you cry about them.

    If you need more proof.

    History can’t overcome genetic proof, archeological proof.
    Trying to equate what is going on in India with Pakistan total disregard
    of history prior to 1947 is totally bonkers apologist mindset.

  5. “Yet, until we dismantle the whole edifice underpinning this construction, there is little one can do to fight the narrative.”

    dismantling the whole edifice implies dismantling the fundamentals on which the ‘Idea of Pakistan’ is constructed. New histories, as you advocate, will not alter historical facts. relativism of historical accounts does not mean that historical documents, such as the Lahore resolution of 1940, or the 1973 constitution that declares Ahmadis non-muslims, can somehow be reinterpreted to forge a founding principle fundamentally different from what those resolutions intended to achieve. How much room is there in the Two Nation Theory to write an alternative history? A country founded on the idea that Muslims, by all measures, are a separate nation, had to create its Muhammad bin Qasims and Mahmud Ghaznavis. Unless the foundation of nationhood is altered, an alternative identity cannot be conceived and an alternative history, until then, will be untenable.

  6. Shaily,

    Weren’t mughal’s who imposed jaziya, patronised Farsi and promoted Asrafs in the upper echelons of bureaucracy largely foreign? Anyways, goodness me, what history books did you study from, cos’ those NCERT books i studied from were written by those religiously secular socialists of JNU. Infact Indian history books go as far as to sanitise a lot of things Mughals did, Jafarnama, campaigns of extermination against Sikhs and Marathas etc etc.

    As for the “historian” who claimed Taj was a temple is that Hindutva nutjob PN Oak who is self-published. Can you cite any stare ordained book that uses his work as a source? I doubt you will find any… Attempts to morally equate India with Pakistan by many of my countrymen make me puke… While Indian state is no paragon of virtue, it to its own credit doesnt use its education system for blatant propagandism save for peddling Indian state’s pet talking points about “unity in diversity” and secularism. There is no xenophobic material about any of India’s constituent populations.

    Where it does rewrite history however is deification of Gandhi and Nehru and airbrushing of all their faults while Jinnah is vilified.

  7. Vikrant,

    I haven’t said anything about NCERT history textbooks. I was referring to few biased history books which I came across recently and was shocked to see blatant misrepresentation of the actual history. Yes, I have also studied same NCERT history textbooks and that’s why I know that it was Akbar who abolished jijiya tax and pilgrimage tax .Therefore, he is portrayed as a just and truly ‘Indian’ ruler in the same NCERT history textbooks which we both have read. I have studied history only up to high school but I know this much that Hemu was chief minister of Adil Shah and Todarmal was finance minister of Akbar and I am sure there were many more Hindu ministers during the Mughal period. In our history books, Aurangzeb is portrayed as a religious bigot and his policy of religious intervention which provoked widespread revolts in the empire is held responsible for the gradual disintegration of Mughal Empire. However, it is clearly stated in Prof Satish Chandra’s book that there were economic considerations which played a motivating role in these revolts.

    I was only trying to say that history should never be a part of ideology bent as it will create an extra layer of untruth between us and reality. You cannot cleanse history to suit your own political or religious beliefs. As far as Indo –Pak thing, let’s not forget that we share the same history and culture. The only difference between us is that we read books which present Islam as barbaric and Muslims as temple destroyers and they read books which portray same negative image of Hindus and Hinduism.

    Let’s learn facts first, and then fight.

  8. @Shaily,

    What history books you read in school? I remember nothing of that sort from my NCERT curriculum. I studied in a “pro-Indian/Hindu” school but I still don’t remember any of my teacher preaching hatred against any religion from a textbook or otherwise.

    Please go and read your textbooks again and quote specific sentences and provide links to the PDF copies of textbooks, last I checked, you could download them from NCERT website.

  9. Thanks for clarification Shaily.

    Now that you have cleared that it was not in government-approved textbooks you were talking about….

    As for independent historical accounts, any serious history student will tell you that you just don’t read one book while researching about anything because a single author may be biased about something (which is natural) .

    In this information age, people have all sorts of political agendas and books/content are published with all kind of fact-twisting. But as long as a government is not publishing hate-mongering stuff, correction of errors can be best left to education panel in that country and their pedagogy experts.

    @”The only difference between us is that we read books which present Islam as barbaric and Muslim as temple destroyers…”

    False claim! Please provide specific sentences from the textbooks where you read it. In the jest of being secular, you are being pseudo-secular.

    If concessions given to Muslim community (I’m not against it) post independence are anything to go by, any politically incorrect reference would have been corrected long ago.

  10. Prof Satish Chandra’s book that there were economic considerations which played a motivating role in these revolts.

    Speaking of facts… So you mean to say that Aurangzeb who re-instituted jizya, launched a campaign of extermination against Sikhs and Marathas because their leaders refused to convert to Islam wasn’t a bigot? Why is it no surprise that this Chandra guy is a JNU drudge. Indian socialists have had a long monopoly over historical narrative in India since the independence and they do go over board in their propensity to sanitise anything Mughals or Indias Islamic invaders did in order to promote secularism. But the fact is why shouldn’t we objectively discuss barbarities at Nalanda and Vijaynagar. Mughals or tyrants like Aurangzeb have nothing to do with present day Indian Muslims or Islam in India in general. Only idiots who project such a connection are RSS types.

    Comparing historical narratives in India and Pakistan is like comparing apples and oranges. The level of propagandism and xenophobia is no where near same. When i came to states and socialised with Pakistanis for the first time did i realise how divisive the historical narrative in Pakistan is. Most of them like to think they are descended from Arabs *snort*. My funniest convo was this one time when this fresh off the boat Pakistani girl asked me whether i was an Indian Muslim… apparently all Indian Hindus are short and dark!

  11. Vikrant: I was not expecting such overreaction when I posted my comment. It is a known fact that a large number of countries have rewritten their history to make themselves look good, and no wars are fought to save the oppressed . There were always economic motivations. Indian History is so very incredible and complex, it can’t just be broken down into two different communities , with each community arguing over which community is better.I was not trying to compare Indian history books with Pakistani books .My whole point was that our history books suffer from bias and wish we could all learn history more objectively.

    Just one more thing I’d like to add.I think it’s interesting how historical events are looked differently by two people and how easy it is for them to come up with two completely opposite interpretations.

    Seth: I have read the NCERT book authors response to controversy over the deletion of few chapters from old text books and addition of new facts during the BJP regime .They have vehemently criticized Murli Manohar Joshi who was HRD minister at that time and the writers of new book for portraying Muslims in a negative light. You will find it on the web also.

    I think calling me ” psuedo secular” is way over dramatic, but what’s the point?

  12. Shaily,

    The reaction to your comments was because you didn’t just say that there is a nationalist bias in Indian history as there would be in any country’s view of itself. You made the specific allegation that the standard history taught in Indian schools is that of presenting Islam as barbaric which is not the case, and were unable to back up that statement with any evidence.

  13. Re: “Infact Indian history books go as far as to sanitise a lot of things Mughals did, Jafarnama, campaigns of extermination against Sikhs and Marathas etc etc.”

    Campaigns of extermination against the Marathas is a bit much: even Aurangzeb’s army featured thousands of Maratha soldiers, indeed, given the size of the Mughal armies, there were (by the later stages of Aurangzeb’s reign) more Marathas in his army than in Sivaji’s forces. Nor are we only talking about lowly soldiers. The rank of “commander of 5,000″ (a pretty high position; once upon a time among the very highest, although by the time of Aurangzeb “commander of 7,000″ and “…of 10,000″ had also been created) included Marathas from the time of Jahangir onward. According to Abraham Eraly’s history of the first six Mughals, at one point during Shah Jahan’s reign, 5 Marathas had this designation, and by the time of the latter half of Aurangzeb’s reign, 96 Marathas had this designation (although none had the “commander of 7,000″ designation that the likes of the Amber Rajput rulers did). To the extent “campaign of extermination” suggests the sort of genocidal impulse that we are familiar with in the context of the Nazis or in some of the European colonial conflicts in Africa, the intense, complicated/shifting, and bitter Deccan power struggle between the Mughals and the Maratthas does not qualify. At all. There is no need to assimilate Aurangzeb to the history of modern genocides in order for one express disapproval of his intolerance or bigotry. Both of those are undeniable (even in the relative sense of his peers/relatives), and equally, it is irresponsible to speak of his “campaigns of extermination” against the Marathas.

  14. Aside: on jizya, to put this tax in its proper perspective where the Mughals were concerned, it was abolished (during the reign of Akbar) in 1564. Aurangzeb re-instituted it in 1679, and Farrukhsiyar again abolished it in 1713; it was re-introduced in 1717 and finally abolished in 1720. If we consider the “Great Mughals” alone, it was in place for about 50-51 years of the 165 or so years the six emperors ruled (I am excluding the years of the Suri interregnum). Nor were the Mughals alone: the Deccan state of the Qutb Shahis did not collect jizya from the mid-16th century onwards (I do not know if the law remained on the books and was not enforced; or if it was repealed), and there is considerable scholarly debate over the extent to which the Delhi Sultanate did or did not collect jizya (to be fair, in the last instance, one has to consider the Sultanate’s far more meager resources; jizya-collection might not have been feasible). I am not suggesting any grand narrative one way or the other about jizya; but I think a lot of people are under the mistaken belief that jizya-practices were uniform and that Akbar was the only “bright spot”. In fact, there was a great diversity of practice on this front.

  15. I have been browsing through John Keay’s “A History of India” ( I do not remember what school text books I had; that was before 1954. But I vaguely remember that Cholas were considered great). From page 214 onwards, Keay compares some of the campaigns of Rajaraja 1 , and later his son’s, to those of Mahmud of Ghazni:
    “… by a successful invasion of Budhist Sri Lanka in which Anurathapura, the ancient capital, was sacked and its stupas plundered with a rapacity worthy of the greart Mahmud.
    According to a Westeren Chalukyan inscription, in The Bijapur district the Chola army behaved with exceptional brutality, slaughtering women, children and brahmans and raping girls of decent caste.
    To the Cholas as to Ghznavids, plunder was evidently a necessity and so a prime motive in military adventures.. Indeed it has been argued that the prsetige of conducting rewarding raids, and the subsequent liberality which they made possible, were what held the Chola kingdom together.”

  16. Sam,

    I’ve never said that our textbooks present Islam as barbaric. I have read the response of NCERT authors in which they have made the allegation that new textbooks contains communal bias . They have severely criticized Murli Manohar Joshi who was then HRD minister and the NCERT Director, J.S Rajput for trying to rewrite Indian history. You can read it here –

    And the link where they have ‘ claimed’ that new NCERT writers have tried to ‘portray Islam as barbaric’.

    You can read the article mis oriented textbooks published in Frontline, magazine of Hindu–

    Qalandar, I totally agree with you that Akbar was not the only secular ruler during the Mughals but unfortunately, most of us in India know him as the only pro Hindu ruler and the decline of Mughal empire is primarily attributed to the religious policy of Aurangzeb.

  17. In the context of Hindu/Buddhist political philosophy/ etiquette and rules of war, the Cholas were the exception. In the case of the Muslim ghazis, Mahmud of Ghazni was the holy warrior par excellence as exemplified in the “Mirror for Princes” exhorting practically every Muslim Sultan of Hindustan after the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate to emulate his actions and life of Islamic righteousness. The plundering raids of precious metals and kafir slaves that every single Muslim ruler engaged in, the razzia in Arabic , was an institutionalized and legitimated part of Islamic doctrine of war. In other words, it was the rule. Nice try though. Go read Finbarr Flood’s “Objects of Translation” where he also tries the Chola/Ghaznivad false equivalency and see how well he succeeds in that argument in light of the elucidation of Hindu rules of war in his book and Majid Khadduri’s “War and Peace in the law of Islam” to get a bit more knowledge.



  18. Hell as long as I’m giving reading lists and in light of talk above about “bitter Deccan power struggles” in the comments above, the most brilliant book I’ve recently read on Indian History is “Xenophobia in Seventeenth Century India” by Grij Kruijtzer. Solidly empirical and analytically scrupulous without all that cant about “syncretism” and other presentist and therefore anachronistic concerns of historians who see history as tool for mitigating contemporary conflicts.

  19. Correction: “razzia” is the Anglicized form of the French “razzier” which is a corruption of the Arabic “ghazya” hence ghazi as per Reuven Firestone.

  20. Everyone has their version of the historical truth – you pick what you are comfortable with. Its a helpful crutch, the present can be conveniently blamed on that version of history. And one fine day, you are wondering, why does the world hate us, or think so poorly of us. It takes 2 hands to clap. If you are going to say, “our innocent countrymen were fooled by foreigners”, you are living in a fool’s world.

    You are in your present circumstance, good or bad, due to your own countrymen’s actions in the past. This applies to any country in this world. If you are failing to get a proper explanation of why your country is held in poor opinion, then what you have been taught is crap – your teachers, parents, and elders in society have brainwashed you… Because your mental model, and how the world sees it, are two different things – and *everybody* else *cannot* be wrong.

    Take responsibility – dont duck it.

    And religion is the last solution to a problem – the further away from religion you get, the better you are.

  21. Mahavir: is your position that any talk of “syncretism”is “presentist”cant? Such a sweeping statement is itself ahistorical (I do of course agree that concepts like “secularism”or perhaps any “-ism” did not have relevance in the periods we are speaking of; but no serious scholar speaks of “syncretism”as some kind of medieval political project; it is used to refer to particular cultural formations — if used in the latter sense, I do not see what is anachronistic about it). Not to mention that the insistence on setting up “Hindu/Buddhist political philosophy” across the ages — ranging from Maurya to Chola to Vijaynagar etc. — as a seamless category is no less “anachronistic”and “presentist”…

  22. Aside: I remember reading somewhere that one of Mahmud of Ghazni’s generals was a Brahmin — does anyone know if this is true?

    Re: “The plundering raids of precious metals and kafir slaves that every single Muslim ruler engaged in, the razzia in Arabic , was an institutionalized and legitimated part of Islamic doctrine of war.”

    Aside 2: one must presumably draw a distinction between wars waged by Muslims and “Ïslamic wars”: i.e. it seems to me that the plunder and pillage you refer to was happening even in contexts removed from those of “religious wars” (I’m thinking here of the Mughal destruction of the kingdowm of Malwa, or of the Quli Qutb Shah kingdom). Heck, by the time of the sack of Golconda and the end of the Quli Qutb Shah kingdom, Rajputs etc. were fighting on the Mughal side… I know you were talking about Mahmud of Ghazni and not the Mughals, but it seems to me your comments (both in this thread and elsewhere on this blog) have a tendency to not draw any distinctions when it comes to Muslim rulers/kingdoms, such that Ghazni in the 11th century or x in the 16th century or y in the 18th century become all the same. Nothing could be less historical than this, positing “Islam” as a kind of unchanging and inalterable category that replicates a certain order no matter what century or context we are talking about. [For instance, if Ghazni is the norm, then why does he register in non-Muslim historical consciousness/popular imagination as such as an aberration? Why isn’t every other “Islamic” ruler remembered the same way?] At the same time, I do not regard it as disputable that the relationship of “orthodox” Islam to “idolatry” is one of the constitutive tensions at the heart of the former, a tension and a problematic legacy that cannot be brushed aside simply by resorting to examples drawn from Islam’s encounters with Judaism and Christianity…

  23. @Qalandar: When I speak about “syncretist cant” I don’t dispute the empirical reality of phenomena such as Hindus frequenting Sufi shrines and your previous example of “Hussain” Brahmins and other such mixing. I mean “syncretism” as an explicitly political category and a kind of normative position where the exclusivity of religious beliefs and rituals is something improper and the only worthy religious experience worth applauding is the ambiguous and the paradoxical; where the boundaries are broken and everyone is part of religious potluck with a little Hinduism, a sprinkling of Islam, a little taste of Buddhist tantra, etc. Every single time one encounters the word “sycnretism” it is used always with a positive connotation and association as if it is intrinsically good.
    Speaking about Hindu rules of war, I am speaking of the medieval era. And the rejoinder, “well you grant historical and ideologically development to Hinduism and yet Islam is immune from the forces of historical change.” To that I say, the changes in the medieval period in rules of war were not that great from practices of previous eras. If you want a discussion of such matters albeit in brief form but nonetheless as an introduction Daud Ali’s “Courtly Culture and Political Life in early medieval India” is good. To put in terms of probability for Muslim practices and rules of war, I don’t posit Islam as something suprahistorical and therefore the Islam of 7th century Mecca is the same as the Islam of 18th century Delhi. However, it isn’t completely different either. But there is a central tendency[sharia and Islamic doctrine] and then there are outliers, and of course there were Muslims who followed there own “rules of war” due to the exigencies of different contexts and environment, subject populations with different religious beliefs, but to highlight aberrations and outliers as equal in importance historically and in terms of influence to the central tendency is well bad history. And this same criticism applies to the “syncretism” of Muslim overlords of India with Akbar being is essence doing the work of being the “true” Muslim or the “real” Muslim and the rest of ‘em being the exceptions when in reality it was manifestly the other way around. For evidence of “syncretism” as normative category read this essay from the grand peddler of syncretism himself, that Dalrymple fellow.

  24. Qalandar,
    A quick google search shows some contradictory references to one General Tilak and a couple of others. The following account about a contemporary historian who took his historical writings seriously, in his own way:
    “Bayhaqi appears to be a bit of a social snob, or perhaps we should say that he likes his nobles to be noble. His comments on the Indian Tilak, who rose to favour under Sultan Mahamud and was promoted to high military command by Sultan Mas’ud, are interesting.” Throughout his career” , says Bayhaqi,” the fact that he was the son of phlebotomist (or surgeon-barber; hajjam) did not operate to his detriment. “”

  25. i havent read through this entire argument, but as some one who did read the NCERT book i would vouchsafe those books did misrepresent history, in the sense never did they mention that muslim rulers attacked temples when that was the norm – only when i started digging up deep in ayodhya issue did i realize this.

    I dont understand why we never hindus/ muslims/ any one else can come to terms with the fact, the world wasnt always going by the beliefs we hold today. Shaily cant come to terms with the fact that the muslim rulers did destroy temples and people like that got on NCERT board and wrote the book and likes of Murli manohar got on the board and distorted in the other direction. Either which way students are bound to read only distorted versions.

  26. Qalandar:

    Re “I remember reading somewhere that one of Mahmud of Ghazni’s generals was a Brahmin — does anyone know if this is true?”

    I am reading Aziz Ahmad’s “Studies in Islamic Culture in the Indian Environment” these days, and read the following at lunch that pertains to your question, though any of the three generals being Brahmins is not specified.

    “While [Mahmud] sacked Hindu temples he also mobilized three Hindu divisions in his forces and at least three Hindu generals, Sundar, Nath, and Tilak rose to positions of high responsibility in the Ghaznawid army. Sundar was the commander of Hindu troops under Masud (1030-40). Tilak, the son of a low-caste barber, who would have had no opportunities to distinguish himself in the caste-ridden Brahminical society, took up service in Mahmud of Ghazna’s court, and by his eloquence in Hindi as well as in Persian, his ability as an interpreter, his alertness of mind, and his capacity of securing the loyalty of the scattered Hindu military communities in the Ghaznawid kingdom he rose to a position of trust and power. His great opportunity came when he was appointed by Masud in suppression of Muslim generals, to lead a punitive expedition against Ahmed Yanaltgin, a Ghaznawid governor who had occupied Banares, and who was reputed to be an illegitimate son of Mahmud, and therefore suspected by Masud and intrigued against by Qazi-yi Shiraz and other Muslim nobles. Tilak defeated and killed Yanaltigin with a force which was preponderently Hindu, and in the process he mobilized the support of Hindu Jats for the Ghaznawid cause reducing Muslim Trurkmans to submission; and he continued tto be held in great esteem by Masud for having re-established Ghaznawid hold on its Indian provinces.”
    (p. 101)

  27. Mahavir: if we must speak in terms of trends — and you seem to categorize Muslim rulers as either hewing to the theological iconoclastic mainstream or as being aberrant/outliers — and even conceding that Akbar is an outlier, why should a Mahmud of Ghazni be the norm? i.e. what is the historical evidence for that? Wouldn’t it be more reasonable to have the occasionally (temple) destructive Shah Jahan be the norm? Certainly seems to me to be more “representative” than Mahmud of Ghazni — I doubt there would have been too many temples left in Northern India if there had been half a millennium of that kind of zealous activity. I am arguing against a mindset that seizes upon (taking the e.g. of the Mughal dynasty) Aurangzeb as “representative”; actually, both he and Akbar seem somewhat un-representative of the Mughals, and the rulers in between and around them — prohibiting cow slaughter; destroying the occasional temple; destroying kingdoms, whether Hindu or Muslim, that stood in their way; marrying Rajput princesses and elevating Rajput generals to some of the highest positions in the military hierarchy — seem more typical to me of the Mughal dynasty. [Aside: none of this is “syncretism”, and in fact to use the categories of “good” or “bad” to describe this system simply points to the way historiography is always implicated in contemporary politics. It was simply the Mughal way, at least post-Akbar (pre-Akbar, the Mughal polity did not have any Rajput “pillar”; after him, it did, right through Aurangzeb’s own reign.]

    The point that I am really trying to make is that rather than citing evidence for the “master-rule”, you start from the “given” nature of the master-rule and then pick examples from the historical record that buttress that rule, dismissing counter-examples as outliers. The historical record is a lot more complicated, although taken at a high level of generality, I certainly don’t disagree that the monotheistic faiths have long had an intellectual contempt for “idolatry”, and that the latter is a kind of anathema to orthodox Judaism and Islam in particular that suggests a deep anxiety. That cannot be ignored, but one should be careful of ascribing the power of destiny to texts, however sacred these are (at least if one is writing history from outside the paradigm) — else one would be led to the ahistorical conclusion (based on the Torah) that the exhortations to murder and extermination of polytheistic peoples in scripture “must” find their material/political reflection in Judaism throughout the ages. But the Judaism of the 1st-2nd centuries AD is a very different animal than the Talmudic Judaism of the medieval periods, and yet again different from the ultra-orthodoxies of today. You say it is not completely different, but that is a straw man — no-one has said it is. But we should be careful of a frame that ascribes less agency/more fixity to one group than to another — no-one seriously says “Let’s read Leviticus” to try and account for the varieties of Christian experience in contemporary Latin America or the USA; and any historian worth her salt should be deriding those who write on caste politics in contemporary India and frame the narrative with the Manusmriti. No less is required where the Islams of the world are concerned. [Aside: while irrelevant to this discussion, I have a personal stake in the argument; those who lend too much credence to the eternal/unchanging “core” of Islam are themselves unwittingly implicated in contemporary politics — of “Islamist” movements, which, like far too many “revivalist” movements that we have seen over the course of the last century or more, promise radicality masquerading as a restoration…]

  28. I am amply aware of Eaton’s (frankly and I think accurate the term for his arguments) apologetics for Islamic iconoclasm and that’s the main crux of the phenomenon that he completely misses in his focus on temple destruction as a essentially political act is the fundamental doctrinal and religious basis (hence the term ICONOCLASM); not only does he argue that temple destruction (and the concomitant construction of mosques on sites of destroyed temples but also utilization of the spoila of the destroyed temples themselves in the construction) as just a political act but it is homologous to certain instances when Hindu’s engaged in temple desecration and therefore he has the temerity to argue that systematic, the key word here SYSTEMATIC iconoclasm is in a way a continuation of (occasional) Hindu political practices. (I am sorry but such blatant hackery masquerading as scholarship I find repugnant.) But that completely effaces the fundamental differences in meaning between the phenomena. To use an example, the sign of “nigger” is the same coming out of the mouth of a white person and black person but the fact that the significance and meaning of the same sign is incredibly disparate should be so incredibly obvious to any historically informed person. Likewise with the destruction of a temple at the hands of Hindu has an incredibly different signification since there is no theologically legitimated doctrine for iconoclasm (obviously, because if Hinduism is anything it is iconoPHILLIC). For Islam, on the other hand , iconoclasm is basically constitutive of the religion itself as the supreme truth and the imperative thereby to “eradicate kufr” to properly establish its supremacy and a mode of construction of Islamic identity (shirk etc) hence the proper word “anxiety” mentioned above.

    Finbarr Flood, the scholar of Islam, who wrote the book “Objects of Translation” I referenced in my previous comments properly deals with Eaton’s false arguments in his chapter titled “Remaking Monuments” focused on Islamic iconoclasm in India.

    Andre Wink in Volume 2 of “Al-Hind: The making of the Indo-Islamic World” in the chapter aptly titled “The Idols of Hind” also offers the necessary corrective to Eaton and others.

  29. Somewhat off-topic, but speaking of “anxieties”, shirk/iconoclasms etc.:

    [“The Marriage of Lât Bhairava and Ghâzî Miyã: Sexuality, Death and Transgression in Hinduism and Islam”]

    As a general matter, I find the insight that “idolatry” is not so much Islam’s “other” as it is the ambiguity — i.e. at once seductive and repellent — at Islam’s core (represented with startling literalism in the form of the Kaabah, an “idolatrous” house that had to be “cleansed” but could never be transcended or rendered irrelevant), to be enormously suggestive. [Aside: to the extent these ambiguities and anxieties are often mapped into (artificial?) distinctions between “orthodox” and “popular”/”folk” Islams, the latter can be seen as no less “essential” than the former (i.e. as no less the product of those constitutive anxieties), which in turn has implications for the claim that orthodoxy’s self-image should be accorded a normative value that we all too often tend to deny to its (Siamese) twin(s) by grouping them under the sign of “heterodoxy”…]

  30. Just a doubt. With all the pillging, where did the welath come from after awhile and how did people manage? I guess that there was a lot of surplus in the early days and trade balances in India’s favour. About the second point, there are some contradictory hints in Grij Kruijtzer’s “Xenophobia in Seventeenth Century India”.At one point, he says that farmers were going about their work even though some army was marching to war nearby. At another place, he says that Shivaji banned slave trading from his domains and the Dutch interpretation was that it might depopulate the domains and prevent any sort of extraction. In any case, I would be grateful for references about the lives of the common people.

  31. Qalandar: “Aside 2: one must presumably draw a distinction between wars waged by Muslims and “Ïslamic wars”: i.e. it seems to me that the plunder and pillage you refer to was happening even in contexts removed from those of “religious wars” (I’m thinking here of the Mughal destruction of the kingdowm of Malwa, or of the Quli Qutb Shah kingdom).”

    I find this argument of there being a precise and rigid difference between wars “waged by Muslims and “Islamic wars” to be illogical. Implicit in this conception is that whereas “Islamic wars” were genuine holy wars, “wars by Muslims” however were I suppose “strictly political” as if somehow there was a very fine grained view among pre-modern/medieval Muslims and political actors of all kinds in general during this time period of the strict separation of political and religious modes of thinking and action; that they were rights bearing individuals conscious of their subjectivity, no more constrained in their mentalities by frameworks and structures of religion and culture than actors of the modern world. I suppose on what evidentiary grounds are you positing to know that medieval Muslims were self-conscious of their motivations in their actions in a compartmentalized fashion such as “pure looting and plunder in the siege of this city” here, “revenge for interfering and meddling in my kingdom there”, and ” slaying the kafir for the greater glory of Allah and vanquishing infidelity”; it is no contradiction to say all could have been constitutive at the same time and and the debate therefore being which motives were primary for certain actors. Mahmud of Ghazni, “pure looting and plunder” was a probably a factor and being a dutiful and righteous ghazi was nonetheless primary is uncontroversial, I hope. Shah Jahan motivations were probably a bit more complicated than that but still he was a Muslim and therefore Islam by definition still important. This whole line of critique applies even more urgently to the artificial distinction between the political and religious modes of actions in Eaton’s apologetics for Islamic iconoclasm since his whole damn argument is predicated on just that false binary. Same goes for the entire “secular school” of Indian historiography with all their baffling anachronisms. (Also for whats its worth, wasn’t the Qutb Shah kingdom Shia? you know “heretics” and all that jazz…)

  32. RE: “Shah Jahan motivations were probably a bit more complicated than that but still he was a Muslim and therefore Islam by definition still important…”

    This is exactly what I’m talking about: without any evidence, you are willing to assimilate Shah Jahan to the same paradigm as Mahmud of Ghazni or _____ simply because “he still was a Muslim” (and of course, if “Islam by definition is still important” then pillage of kafirs and eradication of kufr has to be uppermost in one’s mind). By this logic, one would never need to look at the evidence of the actual historical record — after all, that record “could” only show differences in degree; the only thing we would have to determine is whether or not someone were Muslim — for if one were, the almost mechanistic drive would automatically manifest itself in some way shape or form no matter what.

    I find it especially galling that you should be suggesting that it is I who am drawing a “rigid difference between wars “waged by Muslims and “Islamic wars” ” — I am doing no such thing. It is you who repeatedly insinuate that there is no real distinction between the two, and I have disagreed with that position. Rather than cite any evidence to support your position, you set up straw men by writing as if disagreement with that position was endorsement of an “opposite” untenable position (namely that there is rigid difference/absolute demarcation; you did it earlier in this thread also when you responded to claims that there were important distinctions to be drawn between different periods/Islam-in-different-places/times, by suggesting that it was wrong to say they were “completely different”, even though no one had said as much).

    To be blunt, your comments on this and other threads suggest to me that you are not interested in history per se as much as in locating a rule/master-key for history; and there seems to be a default rule — of the Muslim polity as primarily engaged in living out its fate and destiny as a warrior against unbelief — in place. To that end, all counter-evidence (to your default rule) is disregarded as aberrant and/or marginal, while everything that remains is strung together — I mean, are you seriously suggesting that the Mughal conquest of the Muslim sultanates of the Deccan was the result of a desire to combat Shiism? You mean, as opposed to Sunni obstacles to imperial expansion that would have been dealt with differently? To say things like that Shah Jahan “probably” had “more complicated motivations” (than the primal, savage, monolithic ones we may otherwise ascribe to Muslim rulers — they are, after all, Muslim) betrays the un-historical nature of the enterprise you are engaged in. In case my point is unclear, let me stress that an examination of the (e.g.) destructive impact of the Central Asian/Muslim conquests of North India would be a serious historical endeavor; here, however, all that is apparent to me is the desire to set up a formula, with “Islam” as the irredeemable virus that manifests itself in pretty much the same way wherever the conditions exist.

  33. Re: Shiites: given the influx of Persians in the Mughal court by the second half of Akbar’s reign, would be surprising if all of these were drawn from Persia’s Sunni population (granted Iran was not as overwhelmingly Shiite then as it is today). Even among the post-Mughal polities, Shiites were very comfortably part of the power structure (in fact my sense is that in places like lucknow/avadh, the majority of the Muslim elites were Shiite). Aurangzeb’s espousal of a particularly Sunni-inflected religiosity was in fact unusual among the Mughals (it might well be that this was due to the indifference to sectarian doctrine of his predecessors).

  34. Salman, I agree with the gist of your comments, but I think we should also guard against the opposite fallacy: the notion that there is nothing particular about Islam and its history…its all just history. The same politics, the same wars and the same results. I think its worth pointing out that the early Islamic state, from the Medina period to the Ummayad conquests, was a very warlike enterprise. If it were a European state, we would clearly regard it as colonialist and imperialist, and the mainstream of the religion at that point was clearly a very different matter from mainstream Christianity in the days of Paul or whatever you may wish to regard as early Hinduism. And that has consequences. The ideology clearly picked up a lot of other stuff along the way and did become very varied and perhaps at that point was not so easily set apart from other religious groups, but its early history does provide a rather warlike and aggressive ideal…..

  35. I see an embarrassing number of “clearlies” in my comment. Clearly, I am writing and posting without thinking and revising…sorry about that.

  36. Re: comment 45: Omar: I generally agree with you that ideology matters (a position that should be kept distinct from the position that people or polities from/representing groups are engaged primarily in the performance of the ideology). On Christianity, of course, the limitation was that the sect did not have access to state resources and official sanction early on. When it did, the consequences were not good for “pagans”, not just during the late Roman period but for centuries after, as “pagan” belief systems were wiped out in Europe (and, even later, in Latin America). In fact, the sort of incorporation into the official state structure that we see in several instances where the Islamic polities of India were concerned, were basically unknown in early medieval Europe.

    On “early Hinduism” as with Judaism, the record is too sparse, although, depending on which “origin narrative” one subscribes to, violence, displacement/subordination can certainly be gleaned (both from the record and from foundational texts). Extermination of unbelief is definitely not a relevant category where the Hindu belief systems are concerned, but the connection of that with polities being less warlike/expansionist is not borne out by the historical record (although it does mean that certain kinds of violence would be ruled out)…

  37. What is the historical record on *comparative* temple/mosque destructions during the period in question ? Did the Sultanate, the Mughals, the Marathas and the Sikhs indulge in this sport equally often ? If temple destructions were just politics by other means, did the same actors – Hindu *and* Muslim – perform mosque destructions as often ?

  38. Re: “If temple destructions were just politics by other means…”

    This IMO would be over-stating the case. I do not know of large-scale mosque destructions by Muslim rulers, although mosques were not spared pillage when during the sacks of Malwa and Golconda. The reverse — mosque destruction by Hindu rulers — is a trickier question, because Hindu rulers during much of the last millenium did not have the same opportunities along those lines. In the Deccan, where such opportunities were presented to “both sides”, there most certainly are instances of mosque destruction by Vijaynagar forces (as there are of the reverse; the long conflict has of course been over-shadowed by the denouement: the complete destruction of Vijaynagar in one of the most catastrophic acts of vandalism in the sub-continent during the last millenium).

  39. Re: “This IMO would be over-stating the case.”

    Meant to write: “This IMO would be over-stating the case, if by “politics” one imagines a secular space “unsullied” by religious considerations.”

  40. This discussion makes me wonder whether history matters that much. I started taking some interest in history when I noticed on trips home, in the Maulipatam area, people ( unfortunately by now all the remaining acquintances and friends are Hindu) still have practices like that they should not eat eggplant during a cerain month etc and do not really know how the practices started. Even agnostics and atheists still seem to go through the Hindu rituals for marriage, cremation and on the so called auspicious accasions. Now I read Grij Kruijtzer’s “Xenophobia in Seventeenth Century India” and about the Muslim rule and colonial politics at that time. But at home nobody remembers that it was under Muslim rule ; in fct a lecturer of political history told me that area was never under Muslim rule. Just wondering.

  41. Qalandar,
    I am well aware of what Christian states did when they came into being. Thats part of my point, that over time, in similar societies, similar trends seem to occur. Lots of violence and exclusion and suppression and whatnot on every side. But what I meant is something different. I meant that Christianity has a founding myth (if you like that term) and an early history which is very un-warlike. Hinduism has no common (at least commonly accepted) early history. But Islam has a very particular early history (IF the classical accounts are true….of course, if they are not true, that raises other problems for many Muslims) and that early history involves a very conscious program of war and conquest.
    we are in a position that reminds me of the uncertainty principle (the one from physics): If one accepts the traditional version of Islamic origins, then it includes very warlike and politically incorrect things (which may be all fine to a historian with his jaded palate, but many people seem not to like to admit such things. Of course, most modern Muslims are simply unaware of them, but whether they like it or not, they are likely to be reminded of them soon enough). If the traditional version is NOT true, then it regains the “honor” of “organic development” and muddled origins but loses the wonderfully effective consensus enforced by the traditional version. Either way, something’s gotta give…..

  42. RE: “With all the pillging, where did the welath come from after awhile and how did people manage? I guess that there was a lot of surplus in the early days and trade balances in India’s favour. About the second point, there are some contradictory hints in Grij Kruijtzer’s “Xenophobia in Seventeenth Century India”.At one point, he says that farmers were going about their work even though some army was marching to war nearby.”

    I think more than one historian has noted (claimed?) that the wars of the period were far less “total” than our own modern wars for the most part. This isn’t of course to romanticize the past (Thirty Years’ War, anyone? The last 25-30 years of the deccan wars towards the end of aurangzeb’s reign’ and the last conflcits in South India during the second half of the 18th century appear to have been catastrophically wide-ranging), and perhaps modern wars are simply the product of the sort of technology/destructive potential we now have — but it should, I think, give “us moderns” pause. The American Civil War is in many ways a useful cusp: despite years of (perhaps more “traditional”) warfare, people clearly seem to have been stunned by (what we now recognize as the harbinger of) more modern warfare of the war’s final phases, Sherman’s march to the sea, etc…. [I suppose Arendt offers a useful corrective in some ways, with her suggestion that the “total wars” of modern times were prefigured in the colonial conflicts of the 19th century, and simply represented a wider application of the same sort of (especially in Africa) increasingly exterminatory war…]

  43. Re: Comment 52: Omar: ah, I see your point, I think I had misunderstood your earlier comment, thanks for clarifying. One place where I nevertheless disagree is about Christianity’s foundational “thought” so to speak. i.e., the message of Jesus as represented in the Gospels is pretty non-violent as a literal matter, but conceptually, the same potential violence exists as in other exclusionary ideologies. This isn’t simply a question of latent potential, but comes out quite explicitly in the Book of Revelations — in the end times (and remember, many scholars agree that the first generation of Judeo-Christians believed those to be pretty imminent; a bit like the first Shiite adherents of the Mahdi), there would be a cosmic reckoning with those who hadn’t gotten with the program. Stated differently, unlike with the Torah, the violence is not part of some cosmic pre-history, but part of some cosmic FUTURE project. That sort of cosmic reckoning is very much part of the schema, and that is a huge distinction from (e.g.) something like Buddhist doctrines that we may call non-violent.

    I do agree on the wider point, which is why I had said earlier that the “difference” between (e.g.) Hinduism and Islam means that certain kinds of violence are less likely in the former than the latter. I tried to be careful: i.e. I think in popular discourse a lot of folks make the leap that ALL kinds of violence are more likely under one system than under the other, but that’s only so if we are trying to think this difference in order to rank religions/belief systems, rather than try and think the differences/points of contacts. [e.g. destruction of places of worship is unquestionably more likely under the signs of Islam than under the signs of Hindu belief systems; but daily ritual humiliations — such as requiring Dalits to carry their own spittoons and jhaadus so that they not spit on the street and sweep away their own footprints; as was implemented by the Maratthas in the 18th century — are more likely under the caste Hindu belief systems.] Obviously, it’s possible to say that certain ideologies are in some grand sense more violent than others — and among the most violent of all is the creation of a centralized bureaucratic nation-state in a milieu that has not previously known it; as the popular legends of Ashoka demonstrate, empire-building is bloody business.

  44. “The reverse — mosque destruction by Hindu rulers — is a trickier question, because Hindu rulers during much of the last millenium did not have the same opportunities along those lines.”

    Temple destructions were certainly topical throughout Maratha period. (Kashi Vishwanath by Aurangzeb, Tulzapur by Afzal Khan). Marathas had ample opportunities to destroy mosques (and also temples – considering the apparent Hindu custom of destroying enemy temples) – starting from the early days of Maratha sovereignty.

    The same can be said of Ranjit Singh, although that is admittedly a later date and sensibilities may have changed by then.

    It ought to be a simple matter to do a count. For extra credit one can throw in the contemporaneous record of the Portuguese in Goa, Daman etc.

  45. Ajith: I do not know about the Marathason this issue (beyond Shivaji’s own great chivalry, that is), so can’t really say, although even they generally did not have access to the major urban centers-with-their-major mosques (until rather late, when they were often allies of the decrepit Mughal order) — and even most of the Muslim rulers are not alleged to have destroyed the minor ones too. Certainly there are instances of Vijaynagar engaging in mosque destruction. [Aside: Some of this might be a consequence of the odd nature of relations between the Maratthas and the Mughal state: not really at peace, often at war, and yet the Maratthas seemed markedly reluctant to supplant the Mughal order completely, well well into the eighteenth century, and forego the benefits of symbolic legitimacy. Even a far more radical(ly new) sort of power — the East India Company — was unwilling to break with the “system”, really extraordinary testimony to the prestige of the Mughal throne well after it represented any meaningful authority outside Delhi’s immediate confines.]

  46. Re: comment 44: I was chided by someone far better informed than I am for not being able to state more definitely that Shiite nobles were hardly uncommon under the Mughals — and I kicked myself when I was reminded that Safdarjung and the whole line that ultimately formed the rulers of the “successor state” of Avadh was/were, of course, about as Shiite as one can be.

  47. #56: The Marathas are a particularly interesting case study. Peshwa rule could be regarded as the only significant example of Hindu orthodoxy in a ruling position over several centuries – in contrast to the early years of Maratha sovereignty, when Shivaji himself was victimised by Brahmins.

    Peshwa behaviour in regards to temple/mosque destruction arguably represents the orthodox Hindu stand on this matter.

  48. Speaking of daughters of Islam, here is one view from “the other side”. Perhaps of some interest to history buffs, movie buffs and movie history buffs. Note how the language shifts seamlessly between Marathi and Urdu – albeit a Marathified Urdu (a bit like today’s Bollywood patois) This kind of language eclecticism is historically accurate.

  49. @Shaily

    Why do you think that the claims of Qutub Minar and Taj Mahal pre-existing are absurd just because they do not meet your world view? Even I reacted by thinking that these are ridiculous claims but now have come around to the fact that there is a strong case for these buildings pre-existing the Islamic invasions. There is no Islamic compulsion for destroying any temple and building a new building (right from the days of Ka’aba). It is entirely possible that most of the monuments in north India/Pakistan were pre-existing and their name plates changed and Quranic Inscriptions done later on. The dome architecture became associated with mosque/tomb architecture and now it’s even unthinkable to think of a mosque/tomb without a dome where as they could have been pre-existing buddhist stupas or temples. A lot of Indian history has been distorted and needs to be corrected in the right climate. Read up on Sofia Hagia in Istanbul and Cordoba in Spain.

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