The Alafis in Sindh

Published: February 8, 2013
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The writer is author of Jhelum: City of the Vitasta (Sang-e-Meel, 2005)
salman.rashid@tribune.com.pk

The writer is author of Jhelum: City of the Vitasta (Sang-e-Meel, 2005) salman.rashid@tribune.com.pk

The Alafi tribe of western Hejaz were among the earlier converts to Islam. Since before 680 CE, a large body of them frequently travelled back and forth between their country and Makran. Now, Makran at that time seems to have been very much like modern day Fata. Though part of the kingdom of Sindh under Raja Chach, it appears to have been only loosely held with a substantial foreign element running wild in the country.

In 684, when Abdul Malik bin Marwan took over as caliph, his deputy in Iraq, Hujaj bin Yusuf, appointed one Saeed of the family Kilabi to Makran. The man was entrusted with collecting money from this country as well as neighbouring regions wherever he could exercise pressure.

Somewhere in Kirman on his way east, Saeed met with one Safahwi Hamami. The Chachnama is not explicit about this man, but gives the understanding that while he had “no army under (him)”, he was nevertheless a man of significant social standing. The man may, therefore, have been a merchant.

Armed as he was with caliphal fiat, Saeed ordered Safahwi to join him in his raids. Upon the latter’s refusal, an altercation ensued in which Safahwi rebuked Saeed: “I will not obey your command; I consider it below my dignity to do so.”

An incensed Saeed killed the man. Then he had the body skinned and beheaded, sending the two trophies to Hujaj in Iraq. We hear echoes of this activity today in Fata where beheadings are commonly exercised by foreign ‘guests’. Thereafter, arriving in Makran, Saeed established himself and began his plundering raids.

One day on his travels, he was perchance met by a party of Alafis. Now, these people, distantly related to the Hamamis, harboured a grudge against Saeed for killing their kinsman. What began as a squabble quickly degenerated into a full-blooded melee in which Saeed was killed and his cortege repulsed to Iraq.

Hujaj was infuriated at the loss of a trusted lieutenant. More so, when his party, fearful of punishment, expressed ignorance about Saeed’s fate. Hujaj, well-known for his ruthless cruelty and predilection for torture and murder to elicit information, beheaded a few of the men, upon which the remainder told him of the clash with the Alafis. In retaliation, the governor executed one Suleman Alafi, a local resident who had nothing to do with the affair other than belonging to the same clan as Saeed’s killers.

Hujaj now passed a decree to persecute the Alafis. When he appointed Mohammad bin Haroon as overseer of Makran, he expressly instructed him: “Find out the Alafis, and try your best to secure them, and exact the vengeance due to Saeed from them.” This was the year 704.

With Arab hold consolidated on Makran, the Alafis fled east to Sindh, where their leader Mohammad bin Haris became a close and trusted confidante of Raja Dahar’s. Seven years later, in 711, when the Arabs finally came calling to stay for good, this man became the king’s advisor on all matters concerning the invading army.

So great was the trust reposed in the Alafi that when Dahar placed the man under his son Jaisiah’s command, he instructed the prince to follow every advice forthcoming from the Arab “whether it be (for) an advance, or a retreat”. Living up to this trust, the Alafis gave a fairly good account of themselves in the final battle for Alor (east of Rohri). However, one of their number betrayed the castle in the end: as Jaisiah abandoned the fight and stole away from the fortified city, an unnamed Alafi tied a note to an arrow saying the castle was undefended and shot it into Arab lines.

The Alafi leader with a large number of followers, however, had already fled to Kashmir where he petitioned the ruler for asylum. This seems to have been granted because we read from the Chachnama that the Alafi built many mosques in Kashmir and that he was highly respected in the court.

Now, between 684 when the Alafis murdered Saeed Kilabi and 704 when they fled Makran for Sindh, they would surely have known they were marked. And so, they built themselves a safe haven secreted away in the dusty brown gorges of the Kech Bund.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 9th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (21)

  • John B
    Feb 9, 2013 - 12:20AM

    Now, having driven out of Kashmir, the modern day Alafis built many mosques in Lahore and Sindh …………

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  • ruby
    Feb 9, 2013 - 12:54AM

    Nice piece Sir. Looking forward to more such historical stories.

    Recommend

  • ShriRamShivajisindhu
    Feb 9, 2013 - 2:59AM

    Salman, why are you so obsessed with these myths regarding the arab invaders.

    Shivajis army will soon control Pak

    Recommend

  • Dq
    Feb 9, 2013 - 8:06AM

    @ShriRamShivajisindhu: Haha…Hilarious….Recommend

  • Zalim singh
    Feb 9, 2013 - 8:48AM

    good article.

    Recommend

  • Dq
    Feb 9, 2013 - 9:22AM

    @ShriRamShivajisindhu:
    Haha…Hilarious…

    Recommend

  • SK
    Feb 9, 2013 - 10:03AM

    Sir,
    History comes alive when you narrate it.
    thanks
    SK,
    Navi Mumbai, India

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  • Feb 9, 2013 - 12:15PM

    Instructive and informative. Now we have to raise our guard against these ‘columnists.’ Salman Sahib, please write more on the Alafis. Thanx and Salams

    @John B: You really are anti-Muslim, are you not? Do not worry my dear your hatred will soon turn into admiration and love. Have a nice day, chump. Salams

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  • raji
    Feb 9, 2013 - 1:09PM

    Being originally from UP…I remember this conspiracy theory and similar ones first started by deobandi mullahs almost like 25-30 years back to seek more legitimacy in UP’s minority populations…looks like its now made its way into pakistan as well…

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  • Diggvijay Singh
    Feb 9, 2013 - 1:46PM

    Thanks author Salman Rashid for narrating this interesting bit of history.

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  • PapaJohn
    Feb 9, 2013 - 2:12PM

    All of this has been taken from one book called “Chach Nama”. What a scholarly article! Where is the research that you did on your own? or is it enough to read one book?

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  • bmniac
    Feb 9, 2013 - 3:57PM

    Quite interesting Please continue with such articles

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  • Deb
    Feb 9, 2013 - 4:36PM

    @PapaJohn

    At least it is of some help to people who never read ‘Chachnama’. Thats not bad.

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  • C for culture
    Feb 9, 2013 - 5:08PM

    @John B:
    Moronic comment

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  • C for culture
    Feb 9, 2013 - 5:11PM

    @ShriRamShivajisindhu:
    Get a life

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  • John B
    Feb 9, 2013 - 11:20PM

    @C for culture: @the Skunk:

    Who are Alafis and what were they doing in Sind before the arrival of Arab army. This is the question Mr. Rashid is asking the readers to ponder.

    The Alafis were living in Sind before its conquest ( the land of 1/10 tribute) and Alafis ‘ taking refuge in Sind was incidental footnote in the history.

    Alafis, about whom very little is known, are one of the early converts to Islam, were from Baghdad, likely a Merchant family of Baghdad Jews and they are in Sind to buy slaves.

    A passing reference to their business is mentioned in : ” A History of Sind, Embracing the period from AD 710 to AD 1590″ by Mahomed Masoom, page 15.
     

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  • Prabhjyot Singh Madan
    Feb 9, 2013 - 11:27PM

    At least he is commenting from chachnama, not tintin comics. Good piece of history for us.thank you

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  • rajah
    Feb 10, 2013 - 12:12AM

    Fantastic, if any one has doubts read the history of Abbasi’s.

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  • gp65
    Feb 11, 2013 - 2:44AM

    I look forward to Salmanazars saab’s scholarly articles each week.

    Recommend

  • Ali Tanoli
    Feb 11, 2013 - 3:55AM

    @srirama ji sindhu
    Like u said sivaji army soon occupy the pakistan who gonna lead them i guess the trusted
    Salmanji only….haha

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  • observer
    Feb 11, 2013 - 9:59AM

    @PapaJohn:

    or is it enough to read one book?

    You seriously want to ask that question? Aren’t you afraid of Blasphemy Laws?

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