Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Sindh: The Gateway of Islam to India (Critical account)

Sindh was one of the important provinces located in today's Pakistan and India border. Sindh is famous for its fertile land and also is covered with green fields. Besides, it is also known with the name 'Mehran' or 'Bab al-Islam'. With the name of the 'Door of Islam', it means that Sindh area had been the first land to be introduced to Islam. Although Islam is not the religion of majority in India, Islam is known to be the second largest one in India besides Hindu. It existed in India since thousand years aback and had contributed a lot in Indian history. This fact was justified with the claim that Sindh became the first province to experience Islamic rule before the other places. 

In the time of Khulafa' al-Rashidun, particularly in the time of Umar r.a., from the suggestion of his governor, he sent a naval fleet to attack a port near Bombay, known as Thana. Not long after the first attack, Caliph Umar sent another naval fleet to Debal in Sindh. From this attack, which was led by Commander Al-Mughira, Raja of Sindh was victorious. Al-Mughira was killed at the battlefield and the Muslims fleet lose. Actually, there was another expedition from Iraq to Makran led by Commander Rabi ibn Ziad al-Harith.

In the time of Uthman r.a., there were numerous ship expeditions of the Arabs went to the west coast of India, insluding Sindh area. Mainly the ship expeditions were to engage in trade businesses and while doing the trade, the Arabs would preach Islam to the local people. Caliph Uthman was once sent a delegation of a Companions group to India, and this group managed to reach Sindh. After made some observation and research of the area, the delegation went back to the caliph and described the condition of Sindh. From their description, Sindh was a land of desert. and it was impossible for them to send any military expedition towards the area unless they would be just killing the soldiers in the desert. Upon hearing the information, Caliph Uthman refrained himself to send military expeditions there. But, however, the coming of Arab Muslims into the area at that time, more or less sparked the recognition of Islam among the local people.

Mainly, Islam was first widely known to come into India through the expansion of territory made by the Arabs during the Umayyad dynasty under the supervision of Caliph Al-Walid ibn Abd al-Malik. Caliph al-Walid under suggestion of his governor, Hajjaj ibn Yusuf al-Saqafi, sent a group of army led by a commander named Muhammad ibn Qasim al-Saqafi in the 706CE. In this expedition, Muhammad ibn Qasim was assisted by Abu al-Aswad Jahm.

Muhammad ibn Qasim

Sindh was actually a wide area consisting a number of smaller provinces including Debal, Armail, Makran and others, led by a Hindu raja, Raja Dahir who was residing in Debal. So, Muhammad ibn Qasim went to Debal and fight against Raja Dahir  as they refused to accept Islam. The Muslims sieged the city with a great resistance from the Hindus. Raja Dahir then realized for his defeat, tried to fled to Makran. Later, Raja Dahir who fled to Makran had to face another difficulties against the Muslims army. The Muslims army who knew about this escape plan, went to the force and captured the Raja. Consequently, Raja Dahir forces were defeated and thus, Muslims moved further into Sindh. More, and more cities came to be under Muslims' hands. The captured of Debal, Qanzbur and Armail helped Muslims to go deeper into Sindh. From there, the army of Muhammad ibn Qasim marched towards the other cities like Sehwan and Multan, until they managed to capture the entire province in Sindh. After the captures, Muhammad ibn Qasim was appointed as the governor of Sindh by Caliph al-Walid.

At Sehwan and Nerun, the Muslims also faced a great resistance from the local people. However, with a strong determination and spirit, they managed to defeat the Hindus. In the cities, Muslims built mosques to replace the Hindu temples. A huge amount of booties were gathered including gold, jewelries, women and children were sent to the central administration to serve the caliphate. This group managed to successfully captured Sindh which situated along the bank of Indus River. This group of Arab people however besides capturing the cities, they also taught Islam to the locals. Muhammad ibn Qasim and his people helped to establish Islamic political ideologies in the province. If they found the Hindus refused to follow Islamic teachings, but still did not fight against them, they would not force them, but would be treated with respect. This idea was all according to the Quran, which says: "There is no compulsion in (acceptance of) Religion." (Surah al-Baqarah; 256). This verse mainly telling a Muslims to not force a non-believer to accept Islam. Islam is a clear religion and clear evidences has been provided to justify Islam, and it is Allah alone that will direct or open a man's heart to embrace Islam.

The people of Sindh at that time became the first persons who lived under the banner of Islam from any other provinces as the Arab Muslims came through this province to enter India. After conquering this place, Muhammad ibn Qasim applied Islamic policy in this region, without forcing the people to change their everyday customs. The Brahmans were allowed to collect taxes and the Buddhists were given opportunity to keep their temples. This policy helped Muslims to be accepted by the locals and they became interested to learn about the religion which led to the conversion of the locals into Islam.

However, there are some critiques saying that Islam came into Sindh before expanded into India through violence and force. But, there is no strong evidence to prove such statements. If the Muslims really brought Islam through force, the local Hindus and Buddhists would not tolerate with them, but what had happened was that, the people voluntarily converted to Islam. And this matter did not occurred only in that region, but also throughout India. 

From history, we know that there were Muslims came into India, especially in the southern and western shores of India to do trading business. And, those Muslims might contributed in some extent to preach Islam while doing their businesses. How long they have travelled across India while living there to reach Sindh and introduce Islam to the people? Or did they really have a deep knowledge of Islam to be able to preach it? And besides, as merchants, maybe their scope of mingling might be around those people who got involved with their trade business only. So, when Islam arrived Sindh through the Arabs conquest, it marked the starting point when the local people of Hindu and Buddhism to live within the Muslims presence. 

The Arab Muslims that came into Sindh who were appointed as administrators, governors or supervisor in administration would reside among the locals as their neighbours to be an easy access for the people if they have any problem to consult these officials. Besides, they were also shops owned by Muslim traders. Muslim traders were considered as more trustworthy in business. From there, the local people started to learn about the beauty of Islam and some of them even converted to Islam. Moreover, the interactions of locals and the Muslim traders led to the cultural mixing and Islam started to established in Sindh.

Alongside with the administrators, the Muslims came into this area were also included with a numerous number of ulama' and dai'e. There were numerous missionaries visited Sindh during the Arab period. The ulama' and dai'e in the missionaries were responsible in the process of converting the people of Sindh. A number of Sindh lords, rajas and the prominent Hindus were attracted and converted to Islam under their supervision. And, it is believed that the most successful missionary was the one that had been joined by Muhammad Alfi, the earliest Sufi reached the Indian land together with Muhammad ibn Qasim.

Under the Islamic rule, the non-Muslim government had to pay for annual tribute as a sign of loyalty to the Islamic Caliphate. Apart from that, any non-Muslim who refused to convert into Islam would have to pay jizyah. Jizyah is a kind of tax imposed over the non-Muslims for their protection while living under the Islamic administration. The people who need to pay for it were the non-Muslims men or the head of the family, who actually suitable and physically fit to serve in the army, but did not serving in it. Another tax imposed was kharaj or the land tax. This is also a tax for the non-Muslims but did not really burden the people with its low percentage from a person's income.

Besides that, when Islam arrived Sindh, it abolished the caste system that had been practiced by the local Hindus. Islam promotes equality and justice so all the people would be on the same level and only faith would differentiate people. Before Islam came, the Hindus who would like to run away from the caste system would take refuge under Buddhism, but when Islam came into Sindh, the chose Islam.The coming of Islam into Sindh was actually benefited the local people in abolishing the caste system that humiliated people from under privileged class. The group of higher class people or the Brahmans controlled the administration and did not let the people from  lower class to particpate in any political activity. So, that was why there were also local people who were willingly supported the Muslims to come into their region. 

Besides, the caste system did not also affect the political field. The lower class people were prohibited in learning how to write and read. In much simple words, they were left illiterate. From the fact of their illiteracy, they could not even read their own Holy Scriptures. In fact, the reading of Holy Scriptures itself was prohibited to be done by the lower class citizens. From the history, we can see that during the early period of Muslims conquest of Sindh, the Buddhists themselves received the Muslims with a big hand because they did not favour the Hindu ruler, Raja Dahir who chose to fight against them. 

In the records, Muhammad ibn Qasim's administration was described as the most liberal in the Indian history. He treated the non-Muslims with justice and equality. Of course in some provinces, he appointed Hindus to be the senior officials to help the Muslim governors in managing the state's affairs. But, there were also some provinces that he did not change the administration system. The current Hindu or Buddhist ruler would stay to be the ruler and they would have to pay their allegience towards the Islamic Caliphate. Besides, there were also Brahmanas that became so loyal to Muhamamd ibn Qasim. They even voluntarily went from village to villages to promote their supports for the Muslims. What is to be said, when the news of Muhammad ibn Qasim's death reached them,these people even built his statue and embraced it for a long period of time to show their respect and sincerity. 

Muhammad ibn Qasim expedition map
After Muhammad ibn Qasim died, the Muslims expedition to continue from Sindh into the greater India had been slowed down. There was no qualified ruler or commander to perform this duty. It was then until three centuries later that another Muslims expedition came into India. It was led by Sultan Mahmud al-Ghaznavi from Afghanistan. These expeditions by Sultan Mahmud again raise Islam to its expansion and put the whole India under Muslims' hands. There were also larger number of ulama' and dai'e came into Sindh and India to preach Islam during Sultan Mahmud's time. 

As a conclusion, we may say that Sindh could be the gateway for Islamic expansion in India. Although the Arab Muslims influence was just temporary, but their effort by making Sindh as a fort for a launching pad before entering the larger India had been a success. From there, they managed to enter Indian lands and that was why Sindh is called 'The Gateway of Islam' and maybe it was suitable to be known as the gateway for India too. However, there is also another view stated that Kerala was actually the earliest part of India that had received Islam. It refers to the story of one group from the Prophet s.a.w's Companions came into India in the 7th CE, and they built a mosque there. Today, that mosque is known as the first mosque in India, named Masjid Cheraman Juma. Another view available stated that Islam might be arrived earliest in Kalakari, Tamil Naidu with the building of another mosque that is believed to be oldest mosque in India; The Old Jumma Masjid. This mosque was built by the Yemeni traders settled in the area in 7th CE by the request of a Yemeni governor resided there at that time.

Keith Syakil, Dec 10, 2015.

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