Muhammad bin Qasim

Muhammad  bin Qasim Labels:  history Muhammad bin Qasim was among the finest  colonialists in the Arab history, and a worthy soldier. Unfortunately, our  modern writers have tried to paint him as a saint, and in the process they have  lost all those features that made this Arab general an interesting human being.  It is high time we restore his true picture from authentic sources of history  written by the earliest Muslim historians.Muhammad bin Qasim was born around 694 AD (if  we are to believe the tradition that he was seventeen when he attacked Sindh in  711 AD). He belonged to the Saqqafi tribe that had originated from Taif in  Arabia, and he was also a close relative of Hajjaj bin Yousuf (possibly a second  cousin, but not a nephew as narrated in the popular tradition). Much because of  the influence of Hajjaj, the young Muhammad bin  Qasim was appointed the governor of  Persia while in his teens, and it is said that he did a good job at  crushing the rebellion in that region. Sometime around the same period he got  married to a girl in the Tamim tribe. There is also a popular tradition that  presents him as the son-in-law of Hajjaj bin Yousuf, but some scholars discredit  this tradition since an authentic pedigree of Hajjaj doesn’t mention any  daughter. It is more likely that the young hero was married to a woman of Banu  Tamim, and although the name of his wife does not appear in recorded history it  is certain that she gave him two sons who later became famous for their own  exploits.When Muhammad bin Qasim invaded Sindh, Hajjaj arranged for special messengers between Basra and Sindh,  and told the general never to take any step without his advice. This order was  followed to the letter during the campaign. “When you advance in the battle, see  that you have the sun behind your backs,” Hajjaj wrote to his cousin just before  the famous storming of Debal. “If the sun is at your back then its glare will  not prevent you from having a full view of the enemy. Engage in fight  immediately, and ask for the help of God. If anyone of the people of Sindh ask  for mercy and protection, do give it to them but not to the citizens of Debal,  who must all be put to the sword.”Debal was the first important town in  Sindh captured by the Arabs under Muhammad bin  Qasim. It is also said that just before the final attack, a Brahmin came  out to inform the invaders that the flag on the temple is a talisman and if they  strike it down the city will hold no longer. “When the army of Islam scaled the  walls of the fort, the Debalese opened the gates and asked for mercy,” says the  writer of Chachnameh, the primary source on Muhammad bin Qasim written on the  orders of his descendants. “Muhammad bin  Qasim replied that he had no orders to spare anyone in the town, and that  his soldiers had to do the slaughtering for three days… 700 beautiful females,  who were under the protection of the temple, were all captured along with their  valuable ornaments and clothes adorned with jewels.” The women and children thus  captured from Debal were included in the spoils of the war. Some of them were  distributed among the soldiers, while one-fifth was sent to the Caliph through  Hajjaj bin Yousuf in accordance to the Islamic law that proclaimed that  one-fifth of the spoils of the war belonged to the Caliph for rightful use.  These spoils included two daughters of the deceased ruler of Debal, who were  handpicked for the Caliph’s harem.The fate of Debal sent shockwaves  across Sindh. People consulted their astrologers, and soon the word was out:  fate has ordained the country to fall to the Arabs. It is more likely than not  that the Arab invaders sponsored the rumour after seeing at Debal how local  superstition could be exploited as a war strategy. The Buddhist population of  Sindh was the first to make secret alliances with the Arabs, since they had  little stake in the rule of the Brahmin dynasty. Hajjaj Bin Yousuf carefully  dictated the Arab terms of mercy to Muhammad bin  Qasim all the way from Basra. “Whoever submits to you, let him retain his  power and wealth and family,” Hajjaj ordered his cousin. “And whoever does not  submit, treat him brutally and torture him till he submits.”This  strategy was carried out with great success. Nothing weakens the spirit of a  human being more than existing on a borderline of hope and fear. All  colonialists have known this fact of human psychology, and exploited it to make  traitors of their enemy. The colonialisation of Sindh by the Arabs is a superb  example of this policy, and the Arab historians proudly narrate many instances.  One such case is the story of Kaka Kotak, a Buddhist of some influence in  Siwistan (Sehwan). Kaka made a secret alliance with the Arabs and then went to  the Brahmin ruler of the town, telling him that it was written in the ancient  books of India that the country of Sindh would fall to the Arabs at a certain  time, and that time had now arrived. “Our religion forbids us to shed blood,”  the cunning Buddhist told the governor. “We are afraid that when the Arab horde  storms the city, they will take us for your followers and deprive us of our life  and domestics. We have come to know that Lord Hajjaj, under the orders of the  Caliph, has ordered this army to grant pardon to those who ask for it, and the  Arabs are said to be faithful to their word.” He then asked for the governor’s  permission to make an alliance with the Arabs. When permission was refused, Kaka  continued to serve as a spy to the Arabs, and never failed to remind his  governor that the fall of Sindh was foretold in books written hundreds of years  ago. The governor soon lost hope, and fled to his cousin Raja Dahar while the  Arab army marched on and occupied the city. True to their word, they spared the  family of Kaka and his friends while the rest of the population was sold into  slavery or distributed among the soldiers. Kaka was then raised to the rank of a  local chief, something he might not have dreamt of under the Brahmin rulers.  “When Kaka put on this dress of honor, all the noblemen in the surrounding  places were inspired to accept his influence,” writes the author of Chachnameh.  “Kaka secured immunity from the Arab army for those who submitted while he led  the Arabs to those who refused to submit, so that the stubborn could be  punished.”Muhammad bin Qasim’s advance towards Dahar was very careful.  The Arab ensured that his supply line was safe, moving ahead only after each  city on the way was secured in possession and its population either annihilated  or won over with generosity. To Hajjaj, who was sitting several thousand miles  away, it might have seemed that his cousin was wasting time. “Now give up other  towns and march against Dahar,” Hajjaj wrote in a rather frustrated mood. There  is a subtle, almost vague indication that Muhammad bin Qasim wanted Raja Dahar  to submit to him and rule over Sindh as the Caliph’s viceroy. Hajjaj saw this as  a waste of time. “I am shocked at the weakness of your policy,” Hajjaj wrote to  him. “People will think that you are trying to bring about peace! You should  inspire fear.”“O Men of Arabia,” Muhammad bin Qasim charged his armies  to the final contest with Dahar. “These crowds of infidels have come prepared to  fight with us. You must use all your strength, for they will put up a furious  resistance for the sake of their wealth and families. Ride against them… With  the help of God, we hope to make them all food for our sharp swords, take away  their wealth and their families, and obtain large booty. Do not show weakness,  and remember that God makes the end of the pious happy.”Dahar was killed  at the Battle of Rawar. “It is related that when the fort of Rawar was taken,  all the treasures and arms that were in it were secured, except what had been  taken away by Dahir’s son Jaisingh,” narrates the author of Chachnameh. “All  this booty was brought to Muhammad bin Qasim. The slaves were counted, and their  number came to 60,000. Out of these, 30 were young ladies of royal blood  including Raja Dahar’s niece whose name was Husna (Sundri). Muhammad bin Qasim  sent all these to Hajjaj, together with Dahar’s head, and one-fifth of the  booty, as the royal share… When the head of Dahar and women and the treasure  were brought to Hajjaj, he placed his forehead on the ground and offered prayers  of thanks-giving, saying: Now I have got all the treasures of the world. I rule  the world.” It is said that one of Dahar’s wives, Ladi, married Muhammad bin  Qasim, but there is another tradition according to which Ladi killed herself by  jumping down the rampart when she saw the Arabs.The conquest of Sindh  was completed with occupation of the remaining major cities, especially  Brahmanabad and Multan. This brought more serious responsibilities. So far,  Sindh was treated as an enemy country, and in his earlier conquests Muhammad bin  Qasim had torn down temples, replacing them with mosques. “Now that the people  of this land have placed their heads in the yoke of submission,” Hajjaj  instructed his general. “I do not see what further rights we have over them  beyond the usual tax. Therefore, permit them to build the temples of those they  worship. No one is prohibited from, or punished for, following his own religion,  and let no one prohibit it, so that these people may live happily in their  homes.” This edict of Hajjaj bin Yousuf had a lasting influence in the history  of Muslim India. By giving the Buddhists and Hindus the status of “zimmis,” and  imposing “protection tax” (or “jizya”) on them, the Arabs had accepted them as  “People of the Book,” hence acknowledging both Buddhism and Hinduism as divinely  revealed religions. However, the Muslim psychology could never come to terms  with the practice of idol-worship by the Hindus. Hence a paradoxical situation  existed throughout the Muslim rule in India where Hinduism was accepted as a  divinely revealed religion for the purpose of tax collection but was seen as the  creed of the infidels in all other matters. It is difficult to conclude from the  edict of Hajjaj what he or other Muslims of his age actually thought about  Hinduism, but it is obvious that the Arabs as colonialists had to make pragmatic  compromises.Muhammad bin Qasim completed the annexation of Sindh in  three years, enlisting a large cohort of loyal followers from the native  population. He then prepared plans to annex other states of India, beginning  with Qannauj, which lied just across the Rajasthan desert. Of course, these  states had given no provocation, and since the Hindus had just been accepted as  “People of the Book,” there was no justification of a religious war against them  either. But clearly, Muhammad bin Qasim was serving the interests of the Arab  Empire as a worldly-wise general.It was about this time that he lost  both of his sponsors at the court. His cousin Hajjaj was the first to die, soon  followed by the master himself, Caliph Walid. The successor on throne, Caliph  Sulieman bin Abdul Malik, was a generous monarch who owed his throne to the  opponents of the late Hajjaj bin Yousuf. Most of these were relatives of people  killed or tortured by Hajjaj (some 20,000 women and 50,000 men were found  unjustly imprisoned when Hajjaj died). They demanded revenge, and there was no  way, nor enough reason, for Sulieman to stop them. Muhamamd bin Qasim was high  on the hit list due to his close association with Hajjaj.It is said that  the young general was about to invade an Indian state when the Caliph’s  messengers arrived to take him back in chains. True to the soldier’s honor, like  always, Muhammad bin Qasim obliged. His followers wept bitterly, warning him  that he was going back to a certain death. We don’t know what he said in reply,  if he said anything. We do know, however, that shortly afterwards, just before  he died of torture in the prison of Wasit, he recited an Arabic couplet to the  effect: “They wasted me at the prime of my youth, and what a youth they wasted:  the one who was a defender of their borders.”

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