Finding and nurturing strands of humaneness is Firas Alkhateeb’s ‘Lost Islamic History’ : The Tribune India

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Finding and nurturing strands of humaneness is Firas Alkhateeb’s ‘Lost Islamic History’

Finding and nurturing strands of humaneness is Firas Alkhateeb’s ‘Lost Islamic History’



Author: Firas Alkhateeb

M Rajivlochan

A few years ago, I read an interesting book of the same title by the author, with a different cover design. It was written for school students in the United States. Something of a bestseller, within three years, an updated edition was brought out to include the European reader. In it, the author explained the reason for putting together the book on how he, brought up in a conservative Muslim society, after his graduation in India, noticed the ignorance in the US about things Islamic. That book was mainly based on data from India.

Readers should bear in mind, he wrote, that the treatment of non-Muslims by Muslim rulers was the mildest in India. That book began with an epigraph from Imam al-Ghazzali, identified as “the second greatest scholar of Islam after Muhammad”. It said: “…one must go on Jihad at least once a year… One may use a catapult against them when they are in a fortress, even if among them are women and children. One may set fire on them and/or drown them.”

The first epigraph was followed by another. This one from Ibn Khaldun’s book, ‘Muqaddimah’, said: “In the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the (Muslim) mission and (the obligation to) convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force.”

The text that followed documented the manifestation of these thoughts in actual life. Islam was a religion of peace and justice but, the author explained, “Hindus failed to see the message of peace and justice in Islam. If they did, they would have rushed to embrace Islam.” As a result, “Muhammad bin Qasim forayed into India, conquered the cities of Brahmanabad and Multan, and went as far as Kanauj… Ibn Battutah witnessed many Hindu rebels and warriors, who, instead of submitting to Muslim rules or converting to Islam, had taken refuge in inaccessible mountains near Multan and Aligarh, while Mughal Emperor Babur, late in the Muslim rule in India, noted the same in Agra. In the reign of rather kind-hearted Jahangir, hundreds of thousands, probably millions, of Hindus had taken refuge in jungles across India and taken to rebellion; Jahangir hunted down 200,000 of them in 1619-20 and sold them in Iran.”

He quotes Al Biruni: “Mahmud utterly ruined the prosperity of the country and performed exploits, by which the Hindus became like atoms of dust scattered in all direction, and like a tale of old in the mouth of the people. Their scattered remains cherish, of course, the most inveterate aversion toward all Muslims.”

The chapter titled ‘Islamic Imperialism in India’ begins with the line, “The history of the subcontinent since early eighth to the mid-20th century was characterised by two consecutive foreign rules: Islamic and British.” This is embellished by an epigraph: “The Hindu women and children went out begging at the doors of the Musalmans (Egyptian Sufi saint Shamsuddin Turk on Sultan Alauddin’s crushing exploitation of Hindus).” He concluded the chapter thus: “... the Islamic rule in India was as much imperial and colonial as the British.” In the next chapter, he explained its nature: “Mass slaughter of the hapless Hindus, their enslavement and forced conversion to Islam in large numbers, the destruction of countless Hindu temples and their replacement with mosques and the wholesale looting of wealth were not isolated examples. Instead, they were the standard practice in the numerous conquests and wars, which became a familiar feature in India throughout the Islamic rule.”

The crux of the chapter, though, was to highlight the impact on Islam of India’s “tolerant and humane society”. It infused Islam with ideas and practises that were humane. Here are the concluding lines: “Whereas among other nations it is usual, in the contests of war, to ravage the soil and reduce it to an uncultivated waste; among the Indians, on the contrary, by whom husbandmen are regarded as a class that is sacred and inviolable, the tillers of the soil, even when battle is raging in their neighbourhood, are undisturbed by any sense of danger, for the combatants... make carnage of each other but allow those engaged in husbandry to remain quite unmolested. Besides, they never ravage an enemy’s land with fire, nor cut down its trees.” The present book is about finding and nurturing the strands of such humaneness within Islam.