Every single Muslim in the subcontinent believes s/he is of Arab descent. If not direct Arab descent, then the illustrious ancestor had come from either Iran or Bukhara. Interestingly, the ancestor is always a great general or a saint. Never ever have we heard anyone boasting of an intellectual for a forebear. We hear of the progeny of savage robber kings, but there is no one who claims Abu Rehan Al-Beruni or Ibn Rushd as a distant sire.
Arab origin is the favourite fiction of all subcontinental Muslims. Most claim their ancestor arrived in Sindh with the army under Mohammad bin Qasim (MbQ). But, I have heard of lineages reaching back to Old Testament prophets as well. An elderly Janjua (Rajput), from the Salt Range told me of a forefather named Ar, a son of the Prophet Isaac. Ar, he said, was the ancestor of the races that spoke the Aryan tongue!
Touted as a local intellectual, this worthy was unmindful of the fact that Aryan was not a tribal name but a linguistic classification. Neither could he tell me how the name Ar, not being in the Old Testament, had reached him. He insisted this name headed his family tree and was, therefore true. The chart, written on a piece of rather newish paper had been, the Janjua insisted, copied from an old original. The original was of course destroyed after the copy was made.
The Arains flaunt Salim al Raee as their father — the clan being called after his surname. A great and valiant general in the army of MbQ, this man was from an agricultural family of Syria, so the Tarikh-e-Araian tells us. Closer to our times, the Arains are indeed acclaimed for their green thumb for which reason Shah Jehan relocated a large bunch of them to mind the newly laid out Shalimar Garden of Lahore. Today, they are a very rich clan in Baghbanpura.
The Tarikh expounds on this fictional ancestor’s noble background and courage in battle to the extent that he almost outshines MbQ. But it does not give us any source or reference for the rubbish that sullies its pages. There are two authentic histories of the Arab conquest of Sindh. Ahmad Al Biladhuri’s Futuh ul Buladan (written circa 860) and Hamid bin Ali Kufi’s Tarikh-e-Hind wa Sindh, translated first into the Persian as Fatehnama Sindh and then into Sindhi as the Chachnama (written circa 1200).
There are dozens of names sprinkled across the pages of both works, but no mention is made of a blue-blooded warrior called Salim al Raee. There are other histories besides these two works which also disregard this name for the only reason that such a man never existed.
The Awans, similarly, have a fictional ancestor called Qutb Shah from the line of the last caliph of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs. My friend Kaiser Tufail, an Arain, has had himself genetically tested from the US. He has no trace of Arab blood. His line comes from what is now Uzbekistan and has lived from early historic times in the subcontinent. The rest of us of this clan will see similar results should we go through this exercise. Kaiser had his son-in-law, an Awan, also tested. He, too, is singularly clean of Arab genes.
Most of us are the progeny of converts. In their need to escape the discrimination of the so-called higher castes, our ancestors converted to a religion that in theory claimed to profess human equality regardless of colour or caste. I use the words ‘in theory’ because even as the Arabs converted our ancestors to Islam, they discriminated against them for being “Hindis” as we learn this from Ibn Batuta’s own prejudices. And he is not alone.
Consequently, even after conversion, my ancestors, poor agriculturists, were looked down upon by the Arabs and even those who had converted earlier the same way as they were by the Brahmans when they professed their Vedic belief. Within a generation or two, those early converts began the great lie of Arab ancestry to be equal to other converts and the Arabs. This became universal with time.
The challenge then is for all those, Baloch, Pathan, Punjabi et al, who have invented illegitimate fathers for ourselves to get ourselves tested and know the bitter truth.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 7th, 2012.