He came by sea?

Published: January 11, 2013
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The writer is author, most recently, of The Apricot Road to Yarkand (Sang-e-Meel, 2011) and a member of the Royal Geographical Society
salman.rashid@tribune.com.pk

The writer is author, most recently, of The Apricot Road to Yarkand (Sang-e-Meel, 2011) and a member of the Royal Geographical Society salman.rashid@tribune.com.pk

The common misconception is that, because he attacked Debal (Bhambore) on the seaboard, Mohammad bin Qasim (MbQ) came by sea leading an armada. This fallacy came up again when my friend Husain Qazi returned recently from a road trip in Makran. Among his collection of images is one of a sign declaring a cluster of graves “Tombs of the soldiers of Mohammad bin Qasim … ”.

This sign sits near village Aghor in the lower reach of the Hingol River, about 10 kilometres (km) upstream of the river’s mouth. The ruinous tombs are crafted with slabs of worked sandstone in the same style as the Chaukundi tombs of Sindh — tombs that can also be found at several sites in adjacent parts of Balochistan.

I do not know who caused that sign to be put up but whoever he is, he clearly is a moronic ignoramus. He has no idea of history and is too full of himself to ask and be informed. For one, we know the genesis and evolution of the Chaukundi style funerary art and we know that it originated in Gujarat and blossomed to exquisite perfection in the hands of Sindhi craftsmen in the 16th century. We know that the Arabs were simply incapable of making such ornate burials in the early eighth century.

Secondly, and more importantly, MbQ did not come by the sea because the Chachnama, the history of the Arab conquest of Sindh, clearly spells out his route. Now, this book is the oldest extant history of the conquest of Sindh considered authentic as a record of those distant times.

The Coastal Highway, today a first-class artery for which we are beholden to the Frontier Works Organisation, follows an ancient alignment, but the Chachnama very clearly tells us that this was not the way MbQ came to Sindh. Since we are debunking fallacy, this road, as commonly believed, was also not taken by Alexander on his exit from his Indian Campaign.

As he set out of Iraq, MbQ was instructed by the governor, Hujaj bin Yusuf, to travel by way of Shiraz (Iran) in order to collect forces already stationed there. Thence his route was just south by east by way of Kech (Turbat), where Mohammad bin Haroon was the Arab overseer. Though the latter was unwell, he obeyed orders to accompany the invading army to Sindh. When they arrived at Armanbela (today’s Lasbela), his illness aggravated and the man died. His tomb is remembered today as that of Ari Pir and sits in what used to be a quiet place just outside town.

Now, this great east-west axis was a much-travelled road since prehistory. It was this way (and by another route that went through Gandava to Besima and Panjgur and into Kerman), that trading caravans from Mohenjo Daro plied en route to the cities of Mesopotamia. Alexander went through Lasbela to Turbat and then down to Pasni and Gwadar. Likewise, MbQ came east by this artery, but not through Gwadar. He made Turbat direct from Shiraz.

As he marched south from Armanbela to Debal, MbQ received further instructions from Hujaj: at his objective, he was to dig a protective trench to safeguard against surprise attacks. This would surely not have been an order had MbQ sailed to the battle of Debal and was anchored outside in the sea. The Chachnama explicitly tells us the order of march on the 230km journey from Armanbela to Debal, giving out the names of the leaders of the various divisions of the army.

The alignment followed by our Coastal Highway was a very hard way for the infrequent traffic that ever ventured on it. Beyond Sonmiani Bay, the route passed through a terrible desolation of waterless sand dunes until it reached the Hingol River 70km distant. Thereafter, though there are several streams draining the dry stony slopes of the Makran Coastal Range, water was hard to come by all the way to Gwadar.

Because the ignorant spread ‘knowledge’ in this country, the fallacy persists about the Arabs having come by sea or by the coastal route. However, this is not the only untruth we love to believe about the Arab invasion. We also believe that they just upped and came because some kidnapped woman screamed for them.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 12th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (26)

  • Saad BP
    Jan 11, 2013 - 11:06PM

    You would be a good read if you were not so proud and arrogant about the knowledge you possess. The tone and style of your articles is always mocking and irritating.

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  • Foreign Leg
    Jan 11, 2013 - 11:22PM

    At this time of heightened tensions, your article brings me a lot of solace and some assurance that at least one sane, temperate and knowledgeable person lives in Pakistan.
    .
    I do fret about what would happen when you are gone; how long before a revisionist counter-narrative becomes accepted as the gospel truth?

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  • Mirza
    Jan 11, 2013 - 11:42PM

    Thanks for an informative Op Ed and dispelling several myths. There is another truth that MbQ was not the first Muslim in Sind but there were mosques already in Sind. If invaders could spread Islam then Spain would still be a Muslim country. The “religion of peace” was spread from Arabia, India to Indonesia by traders and not invaders.Recommend

  • Mirza
    Jan 12, 2013 - 12:30AM

    Thanks for an informative Op Ed and dispelling several myths. There is another truth that MbQ was not the first Muslim in Sind but there were mosques already in Sind. If invaders could spread Islam then Spain would still be a Muslim country. The “religion of peace” was spread from Arabia, India to Indonesia by saints and traders and not invaders.Recommend

  • Majid Sheikh
    Jan 12, 2013 - 12:36AM

    Pakistan is full of stories people like to believe.

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  • Arifq
    Jan 12, 2013 - 12:43AM

    Brilliant Salman, I always enjoy your fallacy shattering articles, keep writing and many thanks

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  • imran bhatt
    Jan 12, 2013 - 1:56AM

    It wouldn’t surprise me if they would say MbQ came from heavens to save an Arab damsel in distress.

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  • Jan 12, 2013 - 2:54AM

    Not only was MBQ not the 1st Muslim in Sindh, by some account some Quraish were living in Debal who fled to Multan & later to Kashmir when Arab army attacked.

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  • pi
    Jan 12, 2013 - 4:00AM

    You are a becon of hope among revitionist historians peddling fairy tale stories to the gullibles.

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  • gp65.
    Jan 12, 2013 - 9:53AM

    I always enjoy what you write and learn greatly. Thank you for your labour of love.

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  • Maulana Tharra
    Jan 12, 2013 - 10:29AM

    Chachnama is not an authentic history text and is utterly unreliable.
    “Chachnama” or “Fatahnama e Sind was translated from an Arabic manusript by one Ali Bin Hamid Bin Abi Bakr Kufi. The original Arabic manuscript appears to be a motley collection of oral accounts written long after the invasion; has been lost long time ago and there is only one known copy of it’s Persian translation at The Punjab University Library at Lahore.
    Ali Kufi treated this as a work of fiction and played fast and loose with the text. He not only butchered the history but has mutilated geography of Sindh as well.
    Dr. Nabi Bakhsh Khan Baloch has done extensive autopsy of Ali Kufi’s work in his introduction to Sindhi translation by Makhdoom Amir Ahmed Sahab.
    Naval invasion is highly unlikely since Khalifa Umar had srtictly forbidden any such expeditions and later rulers seem to have adhered to his doctrine.
    Exceptions were the Arab traders’ maritime activities but they suffered greatly at the hands of Sea pirates because of the absense of any Arab Naval force to protect them.
    This has been addressed by Dr. Baloch as well as by Maulvi Noor Muhammed Nizamani in his scholerly book “Sindh Ji Tareekh” published in 1932.
    There are numerous other texts and sources such Ibne Atheer, Yaqubi, Biladhuri and Madaini
    but they have been ignored because they do not substantiate myths such as Hujjaj coming to the rescue of captured Muslim women and children or Dahir marrying his sister.

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  • sabi
    Jan 12, 2013 - 12:03PM

    Author
    I have tremendous respect for people like you, taking great pain, to keep us abreast of truth.Knowldge is power and thanks a lot for giving us this free of cost.
    Wish you long healthy workable life.

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  • observer
    Jan 12, 2013 - 1:29PM

    We also believe that they just upped and came because some kidnapped woman screamed for them.

    Sir,

    Looking forward to ‘Why’ did he come?

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  • bmniac
    Jan 12, 2013 - 5:33PM

    The problem is not with your “tone and style” but the exposure of fantasies. For many who read you what seems to hurt is the truth which punctures fiction which passes for history among those who have a problem with their ancestry.It is quite sad,but you must continue to do what you are doing in such a brilliant fashion

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  • Bewildered
    Jan 12, 2013 - 6:26PM

    @Author:

    “For one, we know the genesis and evolution of the Chaukundi style funerary art and we know that it originated in Gujarat and blossomed to exquisite perfection in the hands of Sindhi craftsmen in the 16th century. We know that the Arabs were simply incapable of making such ornate burials in the early eighth century.”

    I am just wondering what made you conclude that Arab soldiers could not use the local expertise and artisan. Don’t you hire the services of others for your work?

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  • Bewildered
    Jan 12, 2013 - 6:36PM

    “However, this is not the only untruth we love to believe about the Arab invasion. We also believe that they just upped and came because some kidnapped woman screamed for them.”

    You have the right not to believe the screams of a kidnapped women, as there is no way now to prove it or otherwise. Your regrets for their coming to the sub-continent are so obvious from your lines, one wonders who is stopping you to undo their wrongs and revert back. However, I, along with millions other, will always be thankful to him for what we are now.

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  • Rakib
    Jan 12, 2013 - 6:44PM

    @Maulana Tharra: Could it be that “ChachNama” may have been disapproved by some on grounds other than reliability too?. For one, it is the only one named, unlike other “Nameh” after a Hindu king (father of Dahir),and that may be irksome. For another, al-Biladuri is preferred by many since unlike author of Chachnama he doesn’t indulge in much theatrics, his chronicle appears rather staid which provides a dry account of the violent end of MbQ rather than the sensational tale of revenge by Dahir’s daughters & the dramatic death in buffalo-hide etc.

    @Author..Thank you Sir! Brilliant as usual, from one of the most fascinating writers on ET!

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  • Aijaz Haider
    Jan 12, 2013 - 9:14PM

    “We also believe that they just upped and came because some kidnapped woman screamed for them.”
    Then please tell explicitly the reason behind the Arab invasion. You have given an incomplete narration.

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  • Rakib
    Jan 12, 2013 - 10:59PM

    @Aijaz Haider:

    Then please tell explicitly the reason behind the Arab invasion.

    Good observation. One would yield to Salman Rashid Sahib of course.. But the explanation as it is in my part of the world (where there are probably more Hindu Sindhis than in Sindh), that if I may share, is simple enough.. Excuses & spin were needed then as they are required now for any belligerent power to justify action to one’s own people back home. Real clue lies in the name Chachnama itself. Chach was dead a full 35 years when MbQ attacked Debal ruled by Chach’s son Dahir (or Dahar). Why then name the chronicle after him? Both out of grudging admiration for Chach (who was an exception to his pacifist “caste” of Brahmins), & as continuity of the Saga that went on to next generation. Arabs never forgave Clan Chach for the defeat he had inflicted on them in AD 663 at Bolan Pass but deferred a revenge action to a later date..The Ommayads at Damascus were meanwhile busy consolidating positions at Libya (643), followed by North Africa, Afghanistan (661) & Transoxania Central Asia (706) & for the great campaign of Spain. Meanwhile Chach had died (674). By 708 Arabs had begun to be better prepared than ever before for attack having learnt from Bolan & other skirmishes. al-Biladuri describes in detail how well equipped was the new army with crack troops of Syrians & possessing everything from thread & needle to a gigantic mechanical mobile catapult..(It was certainly not brought by sea) And the defending King chose to ride to war atop an attention catching albino elephant befitting his status but inviting sharpshooters & death! A catapult, en elephant, a temple, a flag… That’s how history is made, kingdoms are unmade, or, from Pak point of view, a nation of future was made!

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  • Maulana Tharra
    Jan 12, 2013 - 11:16PM

    @Rakib:
    Seems that the title was chosen by Ali Kufi himself.
    “Nameh” is Persian so likelihood is that it was not chosen by an Arab or local person.
    Original Arabic manuscript has been lost and what we know about it is through Ali Kufi’s account.
    I have seen references to Maulana Abdul Haleem Sharar Sahab’s “Tareekh e Sind” published in 2 volumes in 1907 and 1909. Maulna Nizamani has spoken very highly of Sharar Sahab’s work and it would be interesting what his views were. I have not been able to find it in published form or on line.
    Chachnama’s account of Dahir’s daughters exacting revenge on MbQ appears to be total fabrication and figment of imagination.
    Reason for MqQ’s removal was that Hajjaj had supported Waleed Bin Abdul Malak’s desire to install his son Yazid as khalifa as opposed to Suleman as arranged before.
    When Suleman succeded Waleed; he ordered capture of Hajjaj’s clan. Hajjaj had died by this time.
    Muhammed bin Qasim was ordered back by Khalifa Suleman, not Waleed who was patron of Thaqafi clan.
    Ali Kufi liberated himself of any constraints of time and geography.
    He initiated a misconception about Kashmir being next door to Sindh.
    Granted historical Sindh boundaries were much wider than current adminstrative Sind province but they did not touch Kashmir.
    Ali Kufi describes Kashmir being to the East of Sindh.
    He has made a grave error.
    I think the referenced area is “Kachh” and “Jesalmir.”
    There is no phonetic equivalent of “Chh” in Arabic. It has been substituted with either “S” or “Sh.”
    Likelihood is that in original Arabic manuscript the area was referred to “Kash o Jesalmir” which got condensed to “Kash o mir” and then just “Kashmir.”
    He has described Chitor (also Chitror) as being in the vicinity of Kashmir.
    Later writers just ran with it.
    I would not take any historic account as fact since there is so much confusion and also the authors had their own ax to grind.

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  • Maulana Tharra
    Jan 12, 2013 - 11:29PM

    @Aijaz Haider: “Then please tell explicitly the reason behind the Arab invasion. You have given an incomplete narration.”

    Same reason Mughals invaded India and Mongols invaded Iraq; they had power and they could do it; simple.

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  • Rakib
    Jan 13, 2013 - 1:23AM

    @Maulana Tharra:

    Chachnama’s account of Dahir’s daughters exacting revenge on MbQ appears to be total fabrication and figment of imagination.

    I will go along with that. But this & other averments that have been challenged by other writers do not address one mystery. Why on earth a Muslim chronicler cook up (& quite a few other Muslim writers lend credence to) such a story. It shows a Muslim general & potentate in a bad light & Hindus in an honourable way,considering the mores of the times. That goes against normal practice. Even an adversary of Caliph or of MbQ would not have praised a Hindu so much. The story eulogises the girls to a high degree. (considering the premium on honour & vendetta plus romance associated with supreme sacrifice in Asian psyche) . Not only couple of “nonbelievers” (to choose a non offensive word) but worse,young women at that,made a fool out of the governor of the Caliph. And the tale survived for well nigh a thousand years! That’s unusual. Someday we may know or mayn’t. Good one though for screenplay for an IndoPak joint venture film. Thanks for the rest of the post too.

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  • Aijaz Haider
    Jan 13, 2013 - 7:44AM

    @Maulana Tharra: I agree Muhammad bin Qasim (RA) had the power to do it but he also had the will to spread Islam and establish the rule of Islam in Sindh. I hope this is not a ‘myth’.

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  • Maulana Tharra
    Jan 13, 2013 - 10:03AM

    @Rakib:

    It would be difficult to speculate as to why this account was fabricated. There may be a variety of reasons but it appears quite absured at the face value.
    Bladhuri’s main source is Al Madaini. The narrator and subsequent writers ignore a very basic fact. The girl (Sarya Devi?) appears to be conversing on one to one basis with the khalifah without any intertreter. Did she master Arabic language within a span of few months or the khalifa (again if it was Waleed or Suleman?) learnt Sindhi without setting foot in Sindh and was able have one to one conversation?
    Almadiani’s account narrated by Bladhuri indicates a subtle and nuanced conversation which would require mastry of the language be it Arabic or Sindhi.
    There were other factors at work as well. Lot of “Ajami” historians wrote in Arabic as it was the official language. There was no love loss between conquering Arabs and conquered Ajamis.
    Is it possible that it was intentional attempt to bad mouth, give bad press and malign Banu Ummaya who were the mortal enemies of Hashimites? Who knows!
    By the way are you familiar with Maulana Sharar’s “Tarikh e Sindh” in Urdu? It was commissioned by Nawab Wiqar ul umra of Hyderabad Dakhan who granted Rs. 5000 in ealry 20th century and was published in 2 volumes in 1907 and 1909.
    Is it available in India?

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  • Rakib
    Jan 13, 2013 - 7:36PM

    @Maulana Tharra:

    Familiarity with Arabic & Persian is probable if you consider that commercial interaction of Gulf either by land or with the ports of Sindh, Gujarat, Konkan, Malabar & Lanka predated Islam.(Contrary to some beliefs Islam was not brought to India by a fire breathing soldier on steed with scimitar & scripture but in peace, and so received, firstly in Malabar in Kerala.) Even non Arabs would have hired Arab Dhows & crew for logistics to Hind/Sindh. Arabic & Persian or admixture of a street-language were probably not unknown in Debal though one doubts a Rajkumari in a sheltered life would have mixed with hoi polloi enough to learn to render a speech! (b) However,I have some doubts about the story because it is not absurd enough. Reality of life is far more absurd. This subcontinent is a continuous theatre of the absurd anyway & it is on going still. Trouble is the story is too perfect, too pat, too lovely, to be wholly true. And it is not Indian creativity. No ancient Indian story ever ended in a tragedy. And flights of fancy among Muslim chroniclers did not go beyond some exaggerations. This has the touch of a Sophocles or it’s similar to a Shakespearean one or a Sicilian folk tale of sweet vengeance to bitter end. We will never know would we? (c) Maulana Abdul Haleem Sharar is mentioned with respect by those who know his work. If I know of availability of the books I will get back soon. I don’t know his work but I understand he became a historian by accident. He had written about 25 historical novels & for writing them he conducted research. That eventually led him to write his best work Tarikh-e-Sindh. Very unfair to make a remark without reading him but meaning no disrespect, in my view unless endowed with professional objectivity of a historian no man of piety would like a tale that may besmirch the glory of a Ghazi.

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  • Prerna
    Jan 14, 2013 - 2:04AM

    We also believe that they just upped and came because some kidnapped woman screamed for them

    Is this what they believe in Pakistan? Unbelievable.

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