Excerpt for Muhammad bin Qasim by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

MUHAMMAD BIN QASIM

Naima Sohaib

Muslim Heroes series No. 18



Translated by Rida Sohaib



Copyright  2018 Naima Sohaib

Smashwords Edition



No part of this book may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or otherwise, including photocopying, recording, Internet or any storage and retrieval system without prior written permission from the Publisher.



Available in print at Dawah Books

dawahbooks.com.pk

Translated from the Urdu book “Islami Tareekh ki Qabil-e-Fakhr Shakhsiat” by Naima Sohaib

Foreword

In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.

Every young child raised in the subcontinent knows the name of Muhammad bin Qasim. He is, after all, the brave young warrior who brought Islam to the region. He is the noble general who answered the helpless call of Muslim prisoners and defeated numerous rajas and lords to unite the area under the banner of Islam. He is the compassionate warlord who pardoned his enemies and who won the hearts of his conquered people.

Muhammad’s story is also more than that. He is the dedicated commander who stayed up at nights to pray that Allah grant them victory. He is the brilliant tactician who used his enemies’ superstitions to turn the tide of battle. He is the undaunted invader, and yet the honorable protector. His is the story of glorious triumphs and great victories, brought to a sudden, tragic end. He is the loyal, dutiful subject, obedient to his caliph even as his compliance led to his death.

Reading and translating the story of his life was a tumultuous journey, inspiring a whirlwind of emotions. Joy, pride, admiration, but also sorrow, grief, and anger. He was, and still is, a well-loved and highly esteemed man, and his story is worth a read because it explains why.

I would like to thank Naima Sohaib for inspiring me with her reverence for Muslim heroes which is reflected in her writings, and Sohaib Umar for editing this translation. May Allah SWT accept our efforts.

Rida Sohaib





Muhammad bin Qasim

The Conqueror of Sindh

Who was Muhammad bin Qasim?

His name was Muhammad, and his father’s name was Qasim. He is known in history as the Conqueror of Sindh.

Birth

There is some dispute among historians about Muhammad bin Qasim’s exact date of birth. According to most, he was born in 75 AH (694 CE), while others have shown through their investigation that he was born in 65 AH (684 CE). The latter claim that he had been governor of Shiraz for ten years before he conquered Sindh, and if he had been born in 695 CE, he would have been merely seven when appointed governor. This seems highly unlikely, so perhaps the second date is closer to reality.

Early Life

Not much detail is known about Muhammad’s earlier years. He belonged to the tribe of Banu Thaqeef, and his father Qasim was closely related to Hajjaj bin Yusuf Thaqfi, the governor of Iraq. Many historians believe Qasim to be Hajjaj’s brother and Muhammad his nephew, while others believe that they were related through marriage. Yet others suggest Muhammad was Hajjaj’s cousin.

Muhammad’s father Qasim was considered a brave soldier and a prideworthy son of the tribe. He was young, recently married, and the couple were expecting a child when Qasim was summoned to war. In those days, his wife saw a dream in which there was total darkness. Then a star began to brighten slowly in the sky, after which it fell into their house and lit it up so brightly that it woke her up. This was interpreted to be an omen that she would have a very talented child. It was this child that Qasim was waiting for when he had to leave Basra to join the army to defeat the increasing presence of the Khawarij in Iraq. Merely a few days after he had left, the tragic news of his martyrdom reached Basra, throwing all those who had known the young, courageous man into grief. Qasim’s widow took it specially hard, and just a few days after the news had reached her, she delivered her young son, who was named Muhammad. Young Muhammad opened his eyes to see the world without his father ever having had the opportunity to look upon his child.

Muhammad’s childhood was spent in Basra, and his mother strove to obtain for him the best education possible. This was the golden era (khair al quroon) of Islamic history, and a large number of the Prophet’s companions (sahaba) and their companions (tabaeen) were living in Basra. Historians posit that Muhammad must have seen and been in the company of the famous companion Anas bin Malik, and thus he was a taba’ee himself. Even from childhood, Muhammad showed signs of extraordinary wisdom and maturity. His courage as well as his talent as a warrior caught the eye of Hajjaj bin Yusuf, who wasted no time in making use of his skill, and Muhammad was appointed the governor of Shiraz and the Fars province in Persia. Although Hajjaj had the reputation of ruthlessness and cruelty, he was extremely brilliant in seeking out talented men to expand the Islamic empire. It was he who was behind the discovery and elevation of Qutayba bin Muslim, conqueror of Transoxiana (Turkistan), Musa bin Nusayr, conqueror of the Visgothic kingdom of Hispania (Spain, Portugal, parts of France), and of course, Muhammad bin Qasim, the young conqueror of Sindh.

Apart from the administration of the province, young Muhammad also had to quash the rebellion of various Kurdish tribes, which he did with great success. For ten years, he governed the province very well and with great skill, garnering the respect and good opinion of Hajjaj. That is why, as times became difficult and Hajjaj needed a man of piety, courage, and wisdom, his gaze fell on Muhammad as the man of the hour.

Muhammad was busy with governance when a messenger from Basra arrived with an extraordinary summons. Muhammad had been appointed the commander in chief of the army on the Sindh front, and thus he was ordered to Basra with all haste. Utterly unprepared for such an appointment, Muhammad nevertheless wrapped up his affairs in Shiraz and left for Basra in compliance with Hajjaj’s orders.

Before detailing Muhammad bin Qasim’s invasion and conquest of Sindh, it is important to gain an understanding of the historical background, political conditions and the reasoning behind the conquest of Sindh.

The Situation in Sindh and Initial War Efforts

Sindh and Arabia had a long history of ties between the two areas. In his book “Barr-e-Sagheer Mein Islam Kay Awwaleen Nuqoosh”, Muhammad Ishaaq Bhatti writes,

“In the old times, Persia (modern day Iran) had a strong and powerful presence, and it ruled over part of Arabia. On the other end, local rulers of modern day Sindh and Balochistan were under great influence from the Persian government. This resulted in many Indian citizens joining the Persian army, some of whom settled in the Arab areas under Persian control. Therefore there existed traders who brought Indian goods to trade in Arab cities and towns, thus sparking a trade connection between the subcontinent and Arabia which grew slowly in size and prosperity.”

Trade and barter gave Indian and Arab merchants access to each others’ markets. Indian coconut, black pepper, sandalwood, velvet, swords, and rice were among the most popular trade items in Arabia. This trade was usually done by the Jat people of India, who belonged mainly in Debal and Makran, and some of which had settled in the coastal areas of Oman and Bahrain.

The main trade route was naval, launching from the coast of Sindh. The ships were therefore in constant danger of being set upon by pirates and robbers who knew what valuables these ships carried upon them. These pirates mostly belonged to the ‘Meed’ (?) people of Sindh, who tended to attack Arab ships and boats. To protect themselves from these attacks, Arab merchants often hired guards and bodyguards from amongst the ‘Siabja’ and the ‘Biyasrah’ people of Sindh, who were known for bodily strength.

Additionally, some of the Jat people who had initially been merchants settled in the coastal areas of Arabia, some becoming nomads (bedouins), and others forming villages and towns. Thus before the advent of Islam, trade was a major factor in the connections and ties between the Hindus of Sindh, and the Arabs. As Islam spread and brought with itself a change in the political and living conditions of Arabia, Sindh as all other neighbouring areas felt its impact as well.

The Prophet Muhammad PBUH was sent to all of humanity, and he had begun the efforts to spread the message of Islam to the rest of the world in his lifetime. By the time of his passing, Islam had spread in the Arabian peninsula, and had attracted the attention of surrounding areas. After the Prophet left this world, it was his companions who carried the mantle, and they fulfilled their responsibility very well. Islam was thus conveyed to the edges of the civilized world, its message and guidance available to all those who were willing to see the truth.

India’s importance to the Muslims was thus twofold. Firstly, it was one of the areas where the message of Islam had to be spread, and secondly, it was an important stop on various trade routes, and security was required for the merchant ships to pass unmolested on their way to their destinations. These ships were in danger not only from pirates and looters, but also from the local rulers of thr coastal settlements, who often allied with the pirates to take advantage of and rob the ships of their enemies. For an emerging world power like the Islamic empire, it was essential that their trading routes on the sea and the coastal strips be safe and secure. Thus during the rule of Caliph Umar, the governor of Oman and Bahrain Uthman bin Abi Aas sent his brother Hakam bin Aas to the coastal area of the Bharuch and Kathiawar in the state of Gujrat. This attack was carried out without first obtaining the permission of Caliph Umar. Although it was successful, the Muslims returned with the spoils of war but without attempting to occupy the seaport. When Caliph Umar received news of the attack, he sent a strict reprimand to Uthman bin Abi Aas RA, saying,

“My Thaqfi brother, you sent an ant out into the ocean with only a wooden board as its support. I swear that if the army had run into trouble so far away from home, I would have taken from your tribe Thaqif as many men as you had sent into trouble.”

A while after, Uthman bin Abi Aas obtained permission from Caliph Umar to send the army into Sindh, towards Debal. The army conquered successfully under the command of Mugheera bin Aas, but his martyrdom forced them to return once more without maintaining an occupation. Raja Chuch was the governor of Sindh at the time. Muslims continued the occasional skirmishes, conquering Makran. The governor of Iraq, Abu Musa Ash’ari, sent troops for this purpose. After the conquest, the spoils were sent to the capital of the Caliphate under the supervision of the companion Sahar bin Abbas. When the Caliph Umar asked him about the land that they had conquered, he replied,

“Makran’s land is thirsty. It does not flower, nor does it produce fruit worth eating. The people there tend to loot and rob others – that is their livelihood. If we keep a small part of the army there, they will be robbed. And if we keep a larger number of men, they will die of thirst and starvation.”

Hearing this account, Caliph Umar was resolved. He said firmly,

“Those who fight in God’s way cannot be left to starve. It would be a great insult and a great shame, if the men who have forced the surrender of the caesars of Rome and Persia were robbed while sleeping, or if they were to die for lack of food.”

Therefore a small part of Makran was kept under Muslim rule, and the idea of further expansion was abandoned. The same thing happened under the rule of Caliph Uthman, when he sent Hakeem bin Jabla Abdi to India to scout for a potential military expedition. He gave the Caliph the same advice that the companion Sahar had given Caliph Umar; thus the possibility of further expansion was discarded. Only some coastal strips remained under Muslim control so that their trade routes and ships could be secured. In the rule of Caliph Ali, the Muslim army advanced. They entered Sindh through Makran, and then conquered Kalat. By the end of the Rashidun Caliphate, Muslims had reached into India. Sindh in particular was fortunate in this sense that around 25 companions of the Prophet and 50 or so followers of these companions (taba’een) settled there, for the sake of jihad and spreading the message of Islam.

The Historical Background of Muhammad’s Attack on Sindh

Unlike the Rashidun Caliphate, the Umayyads had monarchical tendencies. Kings do not tolerate opposition and dissent, and this often leads to rebellion in dissatisfied segments of society. Thus was the case in 65 AH under the ruler of Caliph Marwan bin Hakam, where two brothers from a tribe in Oman, Muawiyyah and Muhammad bin Haris Alafi, travelled to Sindh. There they killed the governor of Makran, Sa’eed bin Aslam Kalabi, and had soon brought the whole region under their control. The cause of their rebellion was rooted in the tyranny of the Umaayyad regime. When Hajjaj bin Yusuf was made governor of Iraq, he was also given responsibility for all eastern matters. He sent several letters in succession to various officials in conquered Sindh, instructing them to rule properly and in accordance with the Umayyad rule, but his efforts were in vain and the area remained under control of the Alafi brothers.

Their influence was partially due to the ruler of Sindh, Raja Dahir, son of Raja Chuch. He ruled almost the entire area, with the exception of some coastal strips which were under Muslim control. Raja Dahir backed the Alafi brothers, because when the Raja of Ramal had attacked him, the Alafi brothers had helped him fight and win. He thus understood the utility they held, and supported their control of Makran. Soon this area was teeming with rebels who had fled from the Umayyad dynasty, and they settled in the coastal areas of Sindh and Makran.

Hajjaj bin Yusuf was a strong ruler and a hard man. It was utterly unbearable for him to countenance that conspirators against the government should have a stronghold in neighbouring countries, and that these countries should not only give them refuge but also encourage rebellion and conspiracy in the Muslim world. Raja Dahir found it very convenient to have his enemy, the powerful Muslim empire, at odds with its own rebelling people, and to witness both factions destroy each other. Hajjaj bin Yusuf soon gained control over the situation, and Makran once again flew the Muslim empire’s banner. The political environment had become relatively stable when an event occurred which left indelible marks on the history of Sindh.

The isle of Serendib (Ceylon), modern day Sri Lanka, held a significant amount of Muslims. Some traveling merchants from the Muslim world had stopped here a while, and they liked the atmosphere and the friendly people enough to settle permanently. The ruler of Serendib wished for friendly relations with the Muslims, and was always on the lookout for opportunities to improve ties. Such an opportunity arose when an Arab man living there died, and the women and children of his family expressed a desire to return to their Arab homeland. Some merchants were also intending to visit the Arabian peninsula for the sake of pilgrimage. When the ruler heard of the impending expedition, he decided to provide the ships for their travels, and offered some more boats laden with gifts to be sent to the Muslim Caliph to gain his good will.

These ships were traveling from Serendib towards the Persian Gulf when strong winds blew them off course onto the shores of Debal. The pirates roaming the waters were always on the prowl, and they caught wind of the misfortune of these ships. Very quickly they made their presence known, and after looting the ships they began attacking and capturing the travellers, most of whom were women and children. One of the Arab women belonging to the tribe Bani Yarboo’ began screaming out of fear, calling for the governor of Iraq to rescue her, “O Hajjaj! O Hajjaj! Help me!” The pirates imprisoned the Muslims in Debal according to one account, and in Aror according to another.

The matter soon came to Hajjaj’s attention. He was also informed that the captives have reached Raja Dahir, and that the pirates have his full support and backing. When he heard that a daughter of Arabia had called for him by name, he was suffused by passionate anger. “Labbaik (I am here),” he cried in reply, and dictated a letter to Raja Dahir where he demanded the immediate return of the captives and the money that they had been robbed of, as well as a compensation amount for having captured innocent Muslims without provocation.

When Hajjaj’s messenger read out the letter in Raja Dahir’s court, he calmly replied,

“The people that robbed the ships are a majestic and strong people. It is very difficult to obtain back the wealth and people that they have taken. Sindh’s law does not apply to them.”

Raja Dahir wished to show from his reply that he carried no blame for the incident, nor did he have any interest or sympathy for the plight of the captives.

Hajjaj had not expected such a reply. He was the governor of an emerging superpower which had spread to Europe in the west, Africa in the south, and Constantinople (Turkey) in the north. Furious and seething, he wrote a long letter to the Caliph Walid bin Abdul Mulk in which he expounded upon the events that had occurred, and asked permission for an attack on Sindh. The Caliph refused to grant this permission. Hajjaj wrote again, promising that he would send double the cost of this campaign back to the Caliphate. Finally, reluctantly, the Caliph was persuaded and gave his permission for the army to advance into Sindh.

Hajjaj had prepared for the attack already. At once he sent out troops under the leadership of Abdullah bin Banhan, who attacked immediately after reaching Sindh. The first day of the fighting saw the martyrdom of Abdullah bin Banhan, which caused a loss of morale amongst the fighters, and they were forced to retreat. Hajjaj sent another army under Badeel bin Tehfa towards Debal, but the same thing occurred. Badeel fought very well and courageously, but he too was martyred, and the remaining Muslims were unable to rally without a center. They retreated as well.

Two successive defeats were unacceptable to Hajjaj. His face reddened with anger and humiliation when he was given news of the second army’s defeat, and he resolved to not give up. He would prepare better this time, and he would send the army under the command of Muhammad bin Qasim, in whom he had full trust.

When the news of the two defeats reached the Caliph, he was very displeased. He wrote a strict reprimand to Hajjaj, and summoned him immediately to Damascus, the capital. Instead of obeying the summons, Hajjaj wrote to him another letter, presenting himself thus:

“I obtained your permission for the attack on the condition that I would send twice the cost of the campaign to the royal coffers. I will obey your summons when I am able to fulfill this condition. The importance of gaining control over Sindh has increased. Now I will send my nephew Muhammad bin Qasim on the Sindh campaign. I hope that your honor will not allow any less, and that I will not be stopped. I wish for the chance to acquit myself honourably in front of my nation.”

Caliph Walid knew his governor very well, and he knew Hajjaj was an obstinate man. When set on a course, it was very difficult to detract him from his chosen path. Therefore the Caliph once more reluctantly gave Hajjaj permission to attack Sindh.

Muhammad bin Qasim at the Sindh Front

After committing to a full attack on Sindh, Hajjaj threw himself into preparations with a passion. He summoned Muhammad bin Qasim to Basra from Shiraz where he had been governor, and gave him the particulars of the situation. Hajjaj was not in a rush anymore; he wanted to attack only after the utmost preparation and planning.

To begin the first stage, six thousand men on foot and on horses were selected under Hajjaj’s particular supervision, and their training commenced in Basra. A proclamation was sent to the various cities and towns of Iraq and Syria, claiming that those who would distinguish themselves in tournaments involving horseriding, spear throwing, weapon fighting and wrestling would be selected for joining the Sindh army, and they and their family would receive special dispensations and benefits. The offer of reward along with the emotional appeal was so attractive that the greatest and most skilled fighters in the region began to pay attention.

Another stage of the preparations involved obtaining food supplies and weaponry. Hajjaj knew that the area into which he was sending his precious army was barren and poor, and that the air and water might be utterly unsuited to the Arab constitution. Thus any and all supplies that could be potentially needed were gathered and packed, down to needles and thread to repair torn clothing. Vinegar was not available in the region of Sindh, so bread was soaked in vinegar and then dried and packed, so that in times of hunger, the bread could be dampened before eating and the soldiers would be able to enjoy a flavor of vinegar in their bread rather than plain.

For the part of the army that was on foot, six thousand fast camels were arranged so that long distances could be crossed with speed and with less fatigue. High quality horses were selected for the riders to maximise their performance on the battlefield. Among the weaponry, the most impressive and prominent were the cannons. The cannon named ‘Uroos’ (bride in Arabic) was considered to be the biggest and most dangerous. It was so heavy that dozens of men had to pull it to make it move, and it had the capability of creating a hole in a castle’s outer walls by throwing incredibly heavy stones at a very fast velocity.

Eventually, the army was readied with all its supplies and weapons, and it set off from Basra towards Shiraz, where Muhammad bin Qasim was waiting for it. Muhammad took over the organization of the army affairs, and sent scouts into Sindh to gauge the political situation. To gain all the information, finalize the strategy, and put the finishing touch on supplies took another couple of months, and then the army was finally ready for advancement into Sindh.

Muhammad himself travelled on land to get to Sindh, while his naval force, bearing one of the time’s best armies, reached the coast of Makran some time later. The governor there, Muhammad bin Haroon Nameeri, came out personally to welcome the army. Muhammad bin Haroon was in very poor health at the time, but he pushed aside health concerns to guide Muhammad bin Qasim, having long discussions about the area’s political climate, conditions, and dangers. Muhammad and his army received full support and cooperation from the Muslims in Makran.

The Alafi brothers and the threat they had posed to the Umayyad dynasty has been mentioned earlier. Although they no longer ruled Makran, they carried significant influence in the area. Muhammad bin Qasim worried that if they backed Raja Dahir in the fight, it could create a huge problem for the Muslim army and potentially ruin the campaign. In secret, therefore, he sent them a request for a truce. In return, the Alafi brothers assured him of their support, but added the condition that their support must be kept secret due to their delicate situation. Some historians have considered this bald-faced hypocricy, since they had previously indicated to Raja Dahir that he would have their support at any sign of danger.

Another month passed while the ground reality and local information provided by the governor of Makran was incorporated into strategy and planning. Now ready, Muhammad bin Qasim advanced towards Debal. On his way, he conquered some small districts like Qanzpur (modern day Panjgur in Pakistan) and then Armaeel (modern day Bela in the Lasbela district of Balochistan, Pakistan). During this, Muhammad bin Haroon Nameeri passed away, and was buried in Bela. Muhammad’s sights were now on Debal, his first destination.

The Conquest of Debal – a Milestone in Sindh’s History

On a Friday in the month of Ramadan, in the year 93 AH (712 CE), Muhammad bin Qasim stepped into the boundaries of the city Debal with his army. The army, consisting of 8,000 very well trained fighters, was brimming with resolution and a determination to win. Hajjaj was in constant contact with Muhammad and the army generals. Outposts had been established along the way from Makran to Basra(?) which allowed messages to travel at more than twice their normal speed. Before the fight, Hajjaj instructed his general and his army in these words,

“... And when you go into Sindh, watch your camps. As you near Debal, increase your caution. Wherever you camp, dig trenches. Stay awake and alert at night. Sleep less. The soldiers who can recite the Quran should do so. The rest, spend your time in prayer and worship. Remember God at all times. Ask Him for success. Be humble, but hope for victory.”

Along with some more instructions, the letter conveyed the order to commence an attack immediately. Soon the city was surrounded. Debal’s ruler paid homage to Raja Dahir and was utterly loyal to him. Thus he decided to allow the city to be besieged and fight from inside the castle walls.

Muhammad installed cannons all around the city walls, but whenever the Muslim soldiers tried to load and fire the cannons, the archers on top of the city battlements shot arrows at and injured them, forcing them to retreat. The other strategy that Debal’s ruler adopted was to repeatedly have men on fast horses ride out suddenly from the castle, launch a lightning fast attack on the Muslim troops, and then return as quickly as they had arrived, leaving little time for a counterattack. The fight was thus being prolonged, and endangering the lives of Muslim soldiers for no gain. Muhammad bin Qasim thus decided to change tactics.

Muhammad formulated a plan to bring the cannons very close to the castle walls. This close, the Muslim and Hindu soldiers were in hearing range of each other, and they exchanged words. The Hindu soldiers mocked the Muslims, saying that the Muslims had better give up on the idea of conquering Debal, because the city was under the protection of the Hindu gods and thus could not be harmed. When these conversations were reported to Muhammad bin Qasim, he investigated further, finding that there was a huge shrine (called Deval) in the middle of Debal city, and that the city had been named after the shrine, which later became Debal. The people of the city were superstitious and utterly convinced of the omniscience and magnificence of their gods and their temple. The temple itself was a masterpiece of grandeur and resplendence, stunning all those who saw it. The domes in particular were majestic and eye-catching, visible from a large distance. The largest dome had a huge flag flying from a pole attached to its top. Whenever the wind blew, the large shadow that the flag cast vibrated and moved across the city, striking awe into the denizens of the city.

According to historians, Muhammad bin Qasim, realizing the importance of the temple and the flag to the morale of the citizens, he decided to make it a potential target. This decision had three benefits. The citizens of the city would lose morale and be greatly affected psychologically if the flag or temple went down. Targeting the flag also meant less civilian casualties, which was always an important consideration to the Muslim army. Finally, the fall of the so-called all-powerful gods’ temple would help remove the superstitions of the people, exposing to them the truth of what they had been led to believe and inclining their hearts more towards the monotheistic message of Islam. To bring this idea to life, the cannon named ‘Uroos’ was chosen. A Syrian soldier named Ja’oona Salmi, an excellent marksman, directed dozens of soldiers in aiming and firing the cannon at the flag on top of the biggest dome on the temple in the middle of the city. The cannonball hit its mark and the dome collapsed amongst its rubble with a loud explosion. The flag came down, and the Muslim army raised a huge cry of “Allahu Akbar!”

The situation was entirely unprecedented and totally unexpected for the castle’s residents and soldiers. In great chaos and disorganization, they came out of the castle gates to attack, where the Muslim soldiers were lying in wait. The counterattack was so strong that the defending soldiers were forced to retreat back into castle walls, closing the gates. Inside, the city’s residents were panicked and frightened. Using the chaos to their advantage, the Muslim soldiers threw lassoed ropes over the castle walls and began climbing. Sa’di bin Khazeema had the honour of being the first man to reach the top of the castle wall. One by one, the other Muslim soldiers followed, and soon the castle gates had been opened and the Muslim army had flooded the city.

Seeing the tide turn, the ruler of the city, Hakim Samni, had already fled for Hyderabad. Muhammad bin Qasim forbade anyone from harming the women, the children, and the elderly. Non-combatant civilians were not prosecuted, in fact, only a couple of the top army officials were put to death. A historical account suggests that this was when the Muslim prisoners were released from Debal and sent back to Arabia under protection, while other historians have written that the Muslim prisoners were in reality in Raja Dahir’s captivity and thus were only released after decisive victory.

Debal’s conquest was the first big milestone in the campaign for Sindh. The spoils obtained from the city were grand. Several citizens also expressed an interest in learning about Islam, and many became Muslim. Muhammad bin Qasim supervised the building of a mosque in the city, then left some Muslims there to supervise education and administration, leaving with the rest for his next destination.

Debal was a majestic city of historical Sindh. Some people consider a castle on the mount of Manora Island as the geographical location of Debal, while others believe the area Dhabeji, located 50 km north of Karachi, as the more likely location. It is difficult now to determine the exact historical location of this grand city, when thirteen hundred years ago it was important enough to have Muhammad bin Qasim spend much time and effort conquering it before he continued on his campaign for Sindh.

Raja Dahir’s Letter to Muhammad bin Qasim

After the conquest of Debal, Raja Dahir’s messenger brought a very threatening letter to Muhammad bin Qasim. An excerpt from his letter is as follows,

“This message is from Dahir, son of Chuch, the king of Sindh and a raja of India. This letter is from Dahir, whose rule of law is obeyed by the rivers, the jungles, the deserts, and the mountains. This message is towards the young, inexperienced Arab general Muhammad bin Qasim, who is merciless in killing humans, and greedy for material goods, and who has been a fool by throwing his army into death and destruction.”

After thus starting the letter, Raja Dahir warned Muhammad not to be too boastful about his victory in Debal, because Debal was a city of merchants, not warriors. If there had been even a single of his army generals there, not one of the Muslims would have survived. At the end of the letter, Raja Dahir announced his intention to send his son Jaisiah to fight Muhammad, not forgetting to mention that his army would have elephants, which he thought would pose a major problem for the Muslim army from Arabia.

Muhammad sent his own letter in reply. It is too long to be quoted here, but suffice to say that he was not in the least intimidated by the arrogance or contempt that Raja Dahir’s letter dripped with. He very clearly presented his position, saying,

“I know that you have might, weapons, and elephants. You rely on them. Our power is less, and we have no elephants. But our greatest power lies in the trust we have in God, and His help and blessings that we carry with us.”

At the end, he mentioned his reasons for coming to India, writing,

“It was your unfriendly actions that forced me to come here to teach you a lesson. I have invaded your country not for the sake of conquest or to gain land and wealth, but to struggle in the way of God, and to gain His pleasure.”

The Conquest of Neroon

After the conquest of Debal and the arrangement of administrative affairs, Muhammad bin Qasim went on his way to Neroon (Hyderabad). This area is around 60 to 65 miles far from Debal. Neroon’s ruler, Sandar Shimni, paid tribute to Raja Dahir, but he was of the Buddhist inclination and therefore preferred to avoid war and conflict as much as possible. Most residents of Neroon were Buddhist as well. They did not care about Raja Dahir’s rule, nor were they willing to die to defend his power. When Sandar Shimni heard the reports of Muhammad bin Qasim travelling in his direction, he came to the conclusion that it would be foolish to put the lives of his people in the path of danger. He had previously sent a message of goodwill to Hajjaj. Now, he was willing to pay tribute too. Raja Dahir had been informed of these developments, but he had not taken any decisive action immediately because coastal rulers often took such steps to protect themselves from local enemies.

Seeing the change in currents, Raja Dahir could not find it prudent to rely on Sandar Shimni’s loyalty towards him, and summoned him to court with several trumped up excuses. These multiple summons left Sandar Shimni no choice, and he was forced to present himself to his ruler. Instead of sending him back with royal orders, Raja Dahir forcibly detained him at court. On the other hand, he sent his loyal people to Neroon to turn the opinions of the people in his favour. When Muhammad reached Neroon with his army, Sandar Shimni was trapped between his enemies, and the city was without a ruler and in the protection of guards. The army, apparently filled with Raja Dahir’s supporters, refused to open the city gates. When Sandar Shimni heard of the ongoing tension in Aror, he escaped quietly and snuck into Neroon. As soon as he was seen by the people, their spirits recovered. Raja Dahir’s people subsided, and after taking his people into confidence, Sandar Shimni opened the gates for the Muslims. Sandar himself welcomed Muhammad and accompanied him into the city.

Using his innate wisdom, Muhammad bin Qasim kept Sandar as the governor of the city, but appointed his own man as the sheriff. This strategy and the respectful treatment of the people impressed and amazed the citizens of Neroon. Thus when Muhammad announced the building of a mosque in the city, the people were eager to contribute. Some troublemakers tried to turn the people against the Muslims, but they were caught red-handed and stopped.

After arranging the administrative affairs of Neroon, Muhammad wrote a detailed letter to Hajjaj and obtained permission to advance further. History books say that when Hajjaj received this letter, he had just read another from the great general Qutaiba bin Muslim Bahli, telling him of the Muslim army’s entry into the boundaries of China, and the victories in the Eastern areas of the land. Muhammad’s letter bore the good tidings of a victory in Neroon. Both of his generals were asking permission to advance. Hajjaj sent the same reply to both of them. “Move forward… as much as you can.”

Advance towards Siwistan

The next destination of the Muslims was Siwistan (modern day Sehwan Sharif). The ruler of Siwistan was Buddhist too, as were the majority of the citizens. Having learnt his lesson from Neroon, Raja Dahir deposed the local ruler at once, and sent his own nephew Bajay Raai there in his place. There were several small Budhdhist settlements around the main city. As soon as they got wind of Muhammad bin Qasim’s impending arrival, they sent a delegation to Bajay Raai, saying that they wanted to avoid conflict and bloodshed, and they would appreciate if Bajay Raai could spare some of his army for their protection. This request was viewed by much contempt by Bajay Raai, who sent them away with a definite refusal. This same delegation now went to Muhammad bin Qaism, extending a hand in friendship, and offered to pay tribute in exchange for protection. Their offer was accepted by Muhammad, who agreed to take on the responsibility for their protection.

The situation inside the city boundaries was no different. The people of the city conferred with each other and decided upon sending a delegation of Buddhist monks to Muhammad bin Qasim instead of to Bajay Raai. When he heard, Bajay Raai was incensed at the perceived treachery of his people. He threw the chosen delegation into prison and instead began to prepare for the upcoming battle with great pomp and circumstance. A part of his strategy was to use the tactics of the Muslim army against them to unsettle and outrage them. For this purpose, one of the cannons of the Muslim army was chosen and smuggled into the city. The cannons were considered to be a trademark weapon of the Arabs and had never been used before in Sindh. By the time the Muslims reached the city walls and surrounded them, the cannon they had lost was staring down at them from the castle wall – a slap in the face. Muhammad sensed the danger immediately. To allow the enemy to keep the cannon and reverse engineer more for their use would be disastrous. With this in mind, he took immediate action. The cannon ‘Uroos’ was brought into the field once more, and with a single blast, the stolen cannon on the castle wall had been obliterated.

The castle was very well-fortified, and its walls appeared strong and impenetrable. It was apparent to Muhammad that to conquer this city would be no easy task. The enemies had engaged as soon as the Muslims arrived, and after heavy losses on the Indian side, they had retreated within the castle with the gates tightly sealed. Archers positioned on top of the castle battlements were raining down arrows on the Muslim army. When a few days had passed without a change in the standoff, Muhammad began to look for a new strategy.

It so happened that one of the sympathizers from inside the castle indicated to Muhammad a position where the ground was a marsh, and where pungent water always gathered. Both armies had been giving the area a wide berth because of that reason. This was the weak spot, where a tunnel could be dug to reach inside the castle. The strategy appealed to Muhammad. Under the cover of darkness, he directed his best experts in tunnel digging to arrange this as quickly as possible. During the digging, the water repeatedly seeped in, filling up the tunnel and making it difficult to continue. An emergency drainage system for the water was constructed, allowing the diggers to continue with their work. They were in a great hurry, because with the break of dawn, their cover would be exposed and their plan obvious for the world to see. Before morning had arrived, several Muslim soldiers had made their way inside the boundaries of the castle wall. As soon as they could, they launched an attack on the guards manning the castle gates, who were totally unprepared for an attack from within. The courageous soldiers defeated the slight resistance that they faced with the utmost ease and threw open the gates. The Muslim army waiting outside flooded in at once, throwing the castle guards and soldiers into chaos and anarchy. Hearing the sounds of battle cries and the clashing of swords, Bajay Raai realized what had happened and fled from the castle. Siwistan had been conquered, and the Muslim flag flew proudly from atop the castle.

According to Muslim conventions in war times, Muhammad treated the non combatants of the city with gentleness and compassion. Some of the prisoners of war and army generals were punished. The tax introduced was set at a small amount so as not to impose upon the people. Hajjaj was sent a detailed letter about the victory, setting out an overview of the battle, the number of casualties and injured, an account of the spoils, and the administration of the area. Sending a fifth of the spoils to the caliphate’s treasury, Muhammad set his sights upon Sisum, the ruler of which had granted refuge to Bajay Raai.

Muhammad bin Qasim in Sisum

Sisum was the biggest stronghold in the area of Bodhia. Historians suggest it was located somewhere around Lake Manchar in modern day Pakistan. The ruler here, Kaka, much like the majority of his citizens, was also Buddhist. According to the teachings of his religion, he was also against conflict and war, but ever since he had given refuge to Bajay Raai, the former ruler had been whispering in his area, inciting him to fight to defend his country from these barbaric invaders. He assured the Sisum ruler that he and the few soldiers that had escaped with him would support him in his endeavours. His insistence even took him to announce that he would conduct military training within the citadel. Some people from the Jaat tribe had also arrived to meet with Raja Kaka, ready to fight the Muslims and offer their cooperation in case of war. The Jaat tribe was considered to be fierce, and they were famous for their warrior skills and for being willing to die to defend their honour and country. Taking advantage of their reputation, Bajay Raai succeeded in persuading Raja Kaka to make a stand against the Muslims. The Jaats planned to attack Muslims under the cover of darkness, when they would be sleeping. Raja Kaka, on the say so of Bajay Raai, selected a thousand talented men from his army to accompany them.

A lot of preparations were required before the mission could take place. The pandits were asked which hour would be the blessed hour for attacking, and according to Hindu traditions, an innocent person was killed as a sacrifice to please the gods and increase chances of victory. After all this, a company of around 1800 men, including the Jaats, Bajay Raai’s soldiers, and Raja Kaka’s soldiers, left in the dark of the night to surprise the Muslim army camp with an attack. Bajay Raai and Raja Kaka spent that night in agonizing suspense, waiting to hear the good news of the defeat of Muhammad bin Qasim and his army.

Muhammad and his army were camped a few miles away, unaware of the conspiracy and spending the night in prayer and worship. They had been ordered to do so by Hajjaj, and it was part of a Muslim army’s routine in any case. The night passed by uneventfully, and after dawn prayers, Muhammad received the news that an attack had been planned for last night, but that it never came to pass. Apparently the Jaat soldiers and Raja Kaka’s men had returned defeated after spending the night wandering around, looking for the Muslim army campsite. Although their scouts had pinpointed their exact location earlier, the darkness of the night had confused them totally and protected the unsuspecting Muslims. When Raja Kaka received back his embarrassed men, humiliation and anger overtook him completely. Flatly, he told Bajay Raai that he would not be a part of this conflict any longer, and he would atone for his earlier foolishness by saving his people from any further bloodshed. He ordered Bajay Raai to leave, now convinced that the Muslim army matched the description detailed in their ancient texts of the conquering army that would one day overtake the land. He sent a truce offering to Muhammad bin Qasim and assured him of his cooperation and obedience. Muhammad gladly accepted the peace offering, with generous terms and conditions. Judging the Raja to be sincere in his intentions, Muhammad retained him as the local ruler in a ceremony.

Bajay Raai, on the other hand, had not yet given up. He visited the nearby tribes and their leaders, inciting them to violence and rebellion against the change in leadership, using the success of the Muslims to ignite their passions. He was somewhat successful in his efforts, and rebellion broke out in surrounding areas which Raja Kaka was unable to quell despite his best efforts. Muhammad bin Qasim was eventually forced to send some of his representatives to bring the rebellion under control. After a few skirmishes, Bajay Raai was killed by his own supporters and the entire area came under Muslim control.

After the Muslim victory, some of the local leaders expressed an interest in converting to the new religion. They were treated with great courtesy, and Muhammad himself taught them about the teachings of Islam and heard their testimony as they became Muslim. After the administrative affairs had been settled, he sent a victory letter to Hajjaj detailing the events that had occurred, and sent the required amount from the spoils of war. In his reply, Hajjaj persuaded Muhammad that the Muslim army needed rest before they faced direct conflict with Raja Dahir’s army.

The Young General on the Path to Success

Giving his soldiers some rest before the big confrontation did not mean Muhammad was ready to be idle. He was an active, energetic general, so he decided to travel towards Neroon. Conquering the smaller castles along the way, he reached the area of Ashihar. The political situation there was odd, revolving around Raja Vasayo and his two sons Raasil and Moko. Raja Vasayo was the ruler of the citadel named Bait in the area Rankuch. Despite being under Raja Dahir’s authority, he had managed to establish some degree of autonomy for himself. Raja Vasayo had clashed with his son Moko about his marital status, and Moko had taken his share and separated from his father. Being a principled man and a compassionate ruler, he was very much loved by his people. When he heard of the arrival of the Muslims, the good character that their army exhibited, and the Islamic teachings that often matched with his own world view, he decided to give them his loyalty.

When Muhammad reached the castle Ashiha in Rankuch and forced Raja Vasayo to surrender arms within a week, Moko sent a secret message to Muhammad bin Qasim. He explained that to yield without a fight would be humiliating and demoralising to his people, so he wanted to put on a show of being arrested by Muhammad’s forces. Muhammad obliged this request, and his subordinate Bananah bin Hanzala placed Moko under arrest. As traditional, Muhammad treated him with respect and courtesy, and appointed him as his representative rule of the whole citadel of Bait.

Having conquered the surrounding areas, Muhammad now wanted to deal with his original enemy. Raja Dahir too was seething after the numerous defeats of his appointed rulers, and he was eager to confront Muhammad himself.

Raja Dahir – A Cornered Lion

In Aror, his seat of power, Raja Dahir could be compared to a wounded lion, roaring with anger and frustration, but helpless to change his situation. When Muhammad bin Qasim had first stepped into Sindh, he had barely paid any attention. Muslims had tried before to enter Sindh, and the coastal strips that they had brought under control had been enough for them. He had believed that even if Muhammad had the audacity to advance further, one of his numerous rajas with their armies would stop and defeat him before he got too far. His alarm only rose when Muhammad succeeded in conquering one area after the other, only to begin advancing towards his own center of power. This time, he himself would enter the field, having realized that his rule of Sindh was in actual danger. The last and decisive battle seemed to be at hand.

Before the fight, according to Islamic tradition, Muhammad sent two of his special representatives to Raja Dahir’s court to ensure all other venues had been exhausted. Molana Islami and Shaikh Shami were the two he chose to send as a delegation. Molana Islami was a local citizen from the city of Debal. He had embraced Islam at the hand of Muhammad after the conquest of his city He had then thrown himself into learning the teachings and traditions of Islam from the Muslims stationed there, astonishing them with the depth of the knowledge he was able to gain in such a short while. Muhammad bin Qasim had given him the title Molana Islami for his dedication to the religion and to gaining and understanding knowledge. Shaikh Shami, on the other hand, was a confidant of Muhammad and an eloquent and persuasive speaker. These representatives stepped into the court of Raja Dahir boldly and without any trace of fear, under the protection of twenty spearmen on horses.

Raja Dahir was incensed at this perceived lack of courtesy and disrespect. His voice cracked like a whip in the silent room as he said, “Perhaps you have not been taught the etiquettes of entering the court of a king!” In reply, Molana Islami said in the local dialect, “We know only the etiquettes of entering the court of God.”

This reply only infuriated Raja Dahir further.

“You were our servant. You know very well that you should bow in the presence of your king!”

Molana Islami replied,

“When I was your servant, I did bow to you. Now that I am a Muslim, I understand that the only entity deserving to be bowed to is God. Your way is wrong. I come to show you the right path, because that is what Islam has done for me.”

This was beyond the pale to the king. “If killing a messenger was not against all traditions, I would have you beheaded on the spot,” he said, spitting with anger. In answer to this threat, Shaikh Shami asked Molana Islami to convey in the local tongue the sentiment that if you had us killed, it would not be a big loss to the Muslim army, but you would have to pay a heavy price for our blood. This reply served only to boil the king’s blood further, but he had enough control over himself not to explode, biting out, “Say what you have come to say and leave!”

The messengers said, “Our general asks if you will cross the river to our side, or if we should cross the river to yours. He also says that whoever crosses the river, the other should allow him to cross in peace.”

Consulting with his advisors, Raja Dahir decided that the Muslims should cross the river. The messengers left, leaving the raja in great turmoil and anxiety. He could see his control slipping, could almost taste the danger in the air. He gave the orders for the war preparations to be intensify. The citizens were already nervous about the incoming army, having heard enough tales of their daring and victories to have some idea about how this was going to play out. The religious priests dedicated their days and nights to prayers of victory and triumph over the Muslims. Offerings and sacrifices were made to various gods. The fear and dread had permeated every level of society, and this now appeared to be a war between two religions.

A Period of Trials

On one side of the battle, Raja Dahir was absorbed in the preparations for war, while on the other, Muhammad bin Qasim was also fully invested in ensuring victory in the upcoming battle. After the open challenge to Raja Dahir had been ensued, a trial awaited the Muslims. The horses that the Muslim army had brought with them happened to graze upon some grass that turned out to be poisonous. Soon the horses had become weak, falling ill and then eventually dying. Within a couple of days, there had been a massive amount of deaths. This was highly worrying – an army without horses against an army on horses and elephants stood very little chance of success; indeed, it would be a slaughterhouse. Muhammad was restless and worried, his nights sleepless. He stayed up late worshipping God and praying for a solution and a victory. An answer to the problem had not yet been found when reports of an uprising in Sisum reached Muhammad. The young general refused to panic, instead reacting with the utmost calm and composure. He sent an experienced officer of his army, Muhammad bin Mus’ab along with a hundred riders and two hundred men on foot to Sisum to get there as fast as possible and ensure that it stayed under Muslim occupation.

Muhammad had wanted to keep the news of the horses falling sick as quiet as possible, but his intentions were foiled and Raja Dahir’s scouts sent him the good news that the Muslim army was in trouble. Raja Dahir immediately sent Muhammad a message saying that he still had time for a retreat before his army was trampled by the elephants the Indians had as part of theirs. Muhammad’s reply to this threat was hard and uncowed, along the lines of, “if I were to return, I would take your head with me.”

Muhammad’s approach and impression had been so bold and undaunted from the beginning that Raja Dahir could not help but feel apprehensive. He took no immediate advantage of the news and refrained from attacking the Muslims just then. The situation soon took a turn for the better. The news arrived from Sisum that the the city had been freed from the rebels, while Hajjaj had sent 2000 refreshed horses and a vet to aid the Muslim army. In addition, he had also sent dried cotton that had been soaked in vinegar, with instructions to soak them in water and then give that water to the horses before they feed. This was meant to help them recover from the poison that was making them so ill. In his letter, Hajjaj also gave the command to commence attack as soon as the horses were well-recovered. Muhammad obeyed these instructions, setting off as soon as the horses were better once more. Raja Dahir’s army was already camped on the eastern bank of the Indus River. It was now up to the Muslims to cross the river to the other side.

The Bridge of Ships

It was no easy feat to arrange for a large army and their supplies and weapons to cross the river. The enemy held a strong, favourable position on the other bank, and their archers stood at the ready to cut down as much of the Muslim army as they could while they crossed the river one by one. Muhammad came up with a unique solution to this dilemma. He chose a part of the river which was narrow but where the water was relatively deep. A large amount of boats were obtained from Moko, who had by now become a staunch ally of the Muslims. Each boat was then attached to thick, heavy rope, and this rope was used to bind the boats to each other. In the darkness of the night, some of the Muslim soldiers were sent to cross the river, taking with them the other end of the rope which was then tied to heavy linchpins at the other bank. The boats on the Muslim side of the river were thus bound to each other and also to the linchpins at the other side of the river. Muslim soldiers gently pushed the boats into the river.