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Still Standing for Islam -- and against Terrorism (Continued II) By: Mustafa Akyol
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, October 08, 2004

Mohammed Qasim and The Misquoted "Seat of Cruelty"

About India, Mr. Bostom also informs us that the "Hindu combatants captured during jihad campaigns were killed in orgies of brutal violence" by Muhammad bin Qasim around 711-712 C.E. Mr. Bostom quotes a source which tells us how "(Qasim) sat on the seat of cruelty, and put all those who had fought to the sword," adding yet another bloody episode to his historical survey.

Before looking at these events, let me reveal a very interesting fact. When I checked the original source of Mr. Bostom's quote on Muhammad bin Qasim, I noticed that he deliberately omitted some parts. Just right before and after the sentence starting with, "(Qasim) sat on the seat of cruelty", there a phrases which he preferred not to use. The original quote goes like this:

"Protection was given to the artificers, the merchants and the common people, and those who had been seized from these classes were all liberated; but he sat on the seat of cruelty and put all those who had fought to the sword. It is said that about six thousand fighting men were slain, but according to others sixteen thousand were killed and the rest were pardoned."

Mr. Bostom deliberately omitted the parts that I put in bold, which tell us about people who were spared by Qasim, and he only picked the part that tells us about Qasim's "cruelty." This is a good example of selective usage of knowledge: Mr. Bostom selects the data that seem to support his case, but simply overlooks the data which doesn't fit in his view of history.


On the other, Mr. Bostom takes events out of their contexts. For example, he doesn't tell us why Muhammad bin Qasim was in India and why he acted so. Let's have a closer look on these.

Muhammad bin Qasim was the first Muslim conqueror to the subcontinent. And he went there not to slaughter its inhabitants, but, in the first place, to rescue some captives:

The first Muslim military incursion carried out by Muhammad Bin Qasim also in the 8th century CE was a rescue mission . . . A ship carrying widows and children of Arab traders that had died in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) ran aground at Debul near the modern city of Karachi in Pakistan. Dahir, a Hindu ruler of the area known today as Sindh, took them captive. The first two expeditions sent to free these Muslim women and children failed . . .  This third expedition was lead by Muhammad bin Qasim who defeated Dahir and captured the city of Brahmanabad. He ruled over Sind for only two years between 712 and 714.[i]

The killing of Hindu POWs by Muhammad bin Qasim was actually not his decision, but an order he received from his superior, Al-Hajjaj bin Yousuf, the notoriously brutal governor of Iraq.


Encyclopedia Britannica defines Hajjaj as "fearsome, "stern" and "ruthless". Actually, Muhammad bin Qasim was at the age of seventeen then and he was the nephew and protégé of Al-Hajjaj. The massacre in Brahmanabad was carried out by the direct orders of the latter.


Hajjaj was cruel to Muslims as well. One of the twelve imams of the Shiite school, Mohammed al-Baqir, wrote,

Al-Hajjaj is the worst person mankind has ever known throughout history . . . This sinful criminal (al-Hajjaj) went too far in punishing, forcing, and abasing the people. He made them submit to oppression and injustice. He created in the country, under his influence, an atmosphere of crises the people had never seen.[ii]

"When Hajjaj died, some 20,000 women and 50,000 men were found unjustly imprisoned."[iii] Soon after his death, the Caliphate passed from al-Walid I, Hajjaj's boss, to Sulieman, who was a more generous ruler. Muhammad bin Qasim, the conqueror India and Hajjaj's naive apparatchik, was called back and killed.


However, not withstanding the fact of the killing of Hindu POWs in Sindh, Muhammad bin Qasim had established a tolerant rule in India during his short reign. In Medieval India under Mohammedan Rule, historian Stanley Lane-Poole writes the following about the conquest of Qasim,

The fall of Multan laid the Indus valley at the feet of the conqueror. The tribes came in, 'ringing bells and beating drums and dancing,' in token of welcome. The Hindu rulers had oppressed them heavily, and the Jats and Meds and other tribes were on the side of the invaders. The work of conquest, as often happened in India, was thus aided by the disunion of the inhabitants, and jealousies of race and creed conspired to help the Muslims. To such suppliants Mohammad Kasim gave the liberal terms that the Arabs usually offered to all but inveterate foes. He imposed the customary poll-tax, took hostages for good conduct, and spared the people's lands and lives. He even left their shrines undesecrated: 'The temples,' he proclaimed, 'shall be inviolate, like the churches of the Christians, the synagogues of the Jews, and the altars of the Magians.' "[iv]


Other Episodes in India


The state founded by Mohammed Qasim in India was short lived. Several centuries later, there was a second Muslim penetration into the subcontinent and some bloody episodes that Mr. Bostom quotes about are from this second period. Two Muslim rulers, Mahmud Ghaznavi and Mohammad Ghori carried out bloody campaigns into Hindu lands. Mr. Bostom refers to those massacres and, as usual, assigns the blame to "jihad." There are many similar arguments put forward by other critics of Islam and by radical Hindus.


I agree with them in denouncing the savagery inflicted on countless Hindu civilians. However, as in Temur's case, the perpetrators of these crimes were acting for political and economic interests, not for religious belief. The fact that they were newcomers to Islam, who retained some of their pagan Turkish and Mongol inclinations for violence, also was a factor.


Historian Stanley Lane-Poole points out to this fact. About the "rule of the Turks" in India, he writes, "Their invasion was no part of the expansion of Islam as a religious movement. It was merely the overflow of the teeming cradle-land of Central Asia."[v]


Secular Indian historians such as Mohammad Habib or Mahdi Husain also much emphasized the worldly motives behind the "Islamic" conquests of rulers such as Mahmud Ghaznavi and Mohammad Ghori. According to Islam in Asia, a publication of Jerusalem University,

These historians do not deny that invaders such as Mahmud of Ghazna (971-1030) destroyed many Hindu temples and looted their treasures, took large numbers of Hindus into slavery for sale in the markets of central Asia and perpetrated numerous acts of indignity against the Hindus, but these should be viewed as acts of Turks or Persians or Afghans who were, incidentally, also Muslims and used Islam as a justification for their atrocities.[vi]

Mohammad Ghori was cruel to Muslims as well. Before attacking the Hindus, "he rid himself of all Muslim rivals in India", a policy which included the slaughter of the preceding Gahznavids.[vii] On Ghori and his commanders, Lane-Poole writes, "The wealth of India could not satisfy these hungry hill men."[viii] Therefore they tried to invade Khwarizm, the modern Khiva, but utterly failed.


There are other examples of Muslim violence against Muslims in Ýndia. "In 1155 Ala-ad-din Husain, reprobated for all time by the title of 'World-burner' (Jahan-soz), burst into Ghazni on a wave of slaughter and destruction, slew the men without mercy, enslaved the women and children."[ix] These may help us to see that the violence in question derived from political, not religious, motives and creeds.


These details help us to see that incidents that are bluntly labeled as "jihad wars" by Mr. Bostom are in fact outcomes of many historical factors, in which secular motives and the nature of the individual rulers played a great role. One can find brutal tyrants and invaders in virtually every episode of human history and Islam has its share, too.


Mr. Bostom also mentions Buddhists, who, according to him, became the victims of "jihad campaigns waged by Muslim armies against infidel" in the Indian subcontinent. By asserting so, he once again picks a single episode and presents it as the Islamic norm. Marshall G. S. Hodgson, in his 1600-page monumental work, The Venture of Islam, warns us against such biased views:

The record of the massacre of one monastery in Bengal, combined with the inherited Christian conception of Muslims as devotees of the sword, has yielded the widely repeated statement that the Muslims violently "destroyed" Buddhism in India. Muslims were not friendly to it, but there is no evidence that they simply killed all the Buddhists, or even all the Buddhist monks. It will take much active revision before such assessments of the role of Islam, based largely on unexamined preconceptions, are eliminated even from educated mentalities.[x]

Perhaps, the well-educated Mr. Bostom should take a hint.


The Ottomans and The Fall of Constantinople


Mr. Bostom also writes about the horrific scenes played out during the conquest of Constantinople — today called Istanbul, the city where I live — by Ottoman Turks in 1453. That massacre of innocents deserves denunciation and I would condemn it with all my heart. Yet we have to put the event in context and see how much, if any, of this is related to Islamic principles.


In his book The Ottomans, British historian Andrew Wheatcroft tells us about that context and points to the motive of revenge — a secular sentiment — that drove the Turkish soldiers who raided Constantinople:

The Turkish troops had suffered from the long siege almost as much as the Christian defenders, and they had not forgotten the bodies of Turkish prisoners hanging from the tower and battlements. The chronicler Kritovoulos tells how the janissaries and other soldiers killed 'without rhyme or reason', because they had been roused by the 'taunts and curses' hurled at them from the city walls all through the siege.[xi]

Wheatcroft also reminds us that, "the Turks were soldiers of Islam, but most had come for the booty."[xii] He also tells us about Byzantine eyewitnesses who "told how young girls and boys were raped on altar tables" by the invading soldiers.[xiii] Those evils would count as adultery and sodomy in Islamic law and they could have been committed only despite Islamic teachings, not because of them.


We should also note that the whole event was a plunder, not extermination. Once the city was taken under full control, the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed initiated a policy of tolerance to his non-Muslim subjects:

Mehmet the Conqueror, once his conquest was complete, wished to show that he regarded the Greeks as well as the Turks his loyal subjects. The Christian Empire was ended; but he saw himself as the heir to its emperors, and as such he was mindful of his duties. First among these duties was to see to the welfare of the Orthodox Church. . . [The Greeks] were to form a millet, a self-governing community within his empire, under the authority of their religious head, the Patriarch, who would be responsible for their good behaviour before the Sultan.[xiv]

It is a widely known fact that Christians and Jews were tolerated in the Ottoman Empire as distinct millets, which had the right of self-governance and private property. In fact, the Ottoman Empire is often hailed for being tolerant and multi-cultural, especially when compared with the more repressive and homogenizing states of Europe at the time. In the last decade of the Ottomans, the parliament included many Jewish, Greek or Armenian MPs and some non-Muslims supported the Turks even during their War of Liberation (1918-22).


Armenian Genocide?


Mr. Bostom speaks about the Armenians, too. But in a different way. He writes about the "Armenian genocide committed by the Ottoman Turks during the initial two decades" of the 20th century, adding yet another link to his chain of evil.


But that is an argument by assertion. "Armenian genocide" is not an established historical fact, it is the "Armenian thesis" that some prominent historians such as Bernard Lewis find erroneous. The Turkish thesis is that there was not an extermination policy against the Armenian population of Turkey in 1915, as has been alleged, but rather the tragedy was mutual killing in war conditions. The slaughter of tens of thousands of Muslim (Kurdish and Turkish) civilians by the Armenian militias aligned with the invading Russian army gives credence to that assessment. 


Justin McCarthy, professor of history at Louisville University, in his book titled Death and Exile: The Ethnic Cleansing of Ottoman Muslims, 1821-1922, documents this view. As historian Daniel Pipes well summarizes, McCarthy's book, "Puts into perspective the deportation of Armenians in 1915 and turns this from an act of hatred into one motivated by fear (had the Armenians, with Russian support, rebelled, Ottoman Muslims could have expected to be slaughtered)."


In his book, Justin McCarthy examines many of those incidents in which Armenian rebels killed local Muslim populations. During the Armenian revolt, which preceded the alleged "Armenian genocide,"

Everything Islamic in Van was destroyed. With the exception of three antique buildings, all the mosques were burned or torn down. The entire Muslim quarter was destroyed. When the Armenian work and the battle between Ottomans and Armenians were finished, Van more resembled an ancient ruin than a city . . .

When the Armenians attacked Muslims' own villages or nearby villages, Muslims fled with whatever moveable property they could carry. On the road, Armenian bands first robbed them, then raped many of the women and killed many of the men. Usually, but not always, a number of women and young children were killed as well.[xv]

In fact, "After the Armenian retreat, much of eastern Anatolia was a graveyard."[xvi]


What is called the "Armenian genocide" was partly the attacks of revenge on the Armenian population by local Turks and Kurds. That was indeed inter-communal violence. On the other hand, the decision by the Ottoman government to deport the Armenians in Eastern Turkey caused many deaths and that is horrible, but it was not a genocidal policy either. According to McCarthy,

The Ottoman response to the Armenian Revolution was approximately the same as that taken by other twentieth-century governments faced with guerrilla war: isolate the guerrillas from local support by removing local supporters.[xvii]

Thus, McCarthy concludes, "The blame for the deaths of Armenians in the convoys must be shared by the Ottomans -- shared with the Armenian revolutionaries and their supporters and with the Russians"[xviii]


Finally, Mr. Bostom tells us about "the genocide of southern Sudanese Christians and Animists committed by the Arab Muslim Khartoum government during the final two decades." Well, I am no fan of the Khartoum government and I agree with Mr. Bostom in his critiques against it. However we should note that the authoritarian regime of Sudan is led not only by its — erroneous, in my view — Islamism, but also by its sheer racism, which became apparent in its recent ethnic cleansing in the Muslim area of Darfur.




To finish reading this article, click here.

[i] Javeed Akhter, "Muslim Legacy In India: Do Muslims Deserve The Hatred Of Hindus?". Available online.

[ii] Available online.

[iii] Available online.

[iv] Stanley Lane-Poole, Medieval India under Mohammedan Rule, 712-1764, G.P. Putnam's Sons. New York, 1970. p. 9-10

[v] Stanley Lane-Poole, Medieval India under Mohammedan Rule, 712-1764, p. 13

[vi] Yohanan Friedmann, Makhon le-meohokar shem, Heri S. Truman (editors), Islam in Asia, vol I, International Conference on Islam in South, Southeast, and East Asia, Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 1984. p.152

[vii] Stanley Lane-Poole, Medieval India under Mohammedan Rule, 712-1764, p. 48

[viii] Stanley Lane-Poole, Medieval India under Mohammedan Rule, 712-1764, p. 53

[ix] Stanley Lane-Poole, Medieval India under Mohammedan Rule, 712-1764, p. 47

[x] Marshall G. S. Hodgson, The Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilization, vol. II, The Expansion of Islam in the Middle Periods, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1977,  p. 557

[xi] Andrew Wheatcroft, The Ottomans: Dissolving Images, Penguin Books, London, 1995, p. 20

[xii] Andrew Wheatcroft, The Ottomans: Dissolving Images, p. 22

[xiii]  Andrew Wheatcroft, The Ottomans: Dissolving Images, p. 22

[xiv] Steven Runciman, The Fall of Constantinople 1453, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1987, p. 154

[xv] Justin McCarthy, Death and Exile: The Ethnic Cleansing of Ottoman Muslims, 1821-1922, Darwin Press, Princeton, NJ, 1995, p. 189

[xvi] Justin McCarthy, Death and Exile, p. 202

[xvii] Justin McCarthy, Death and Exile, p. 193

[xviii] Justin McCarthy, Death and Exile, p. 196. Also see an online article by Justin McCarthy.

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