Afghanistan’s epic history starts when it was an important region of ancient India called ‘Gandhara’. One of its most frequently mentioned cities in the world today is ‘Kandahar’, made infamous by the Taliban. The earlier name of the city was ‘Quandhar’, derived from the name of the region of Gandhara. Erstwhile home to Al-Qaeda today, it was always a strategic site, being on main Persian routes to Central Asia and India. Hence, it has a long history of conquests. Kandahar was taken by Alexander in 329 B.C.E., was surrendered by the Greek to Chandragupta in 305 B.C.E., and is dignified by a rock inscription of Asoka. It fell under Arab rule in the 7th century C.E., and under the Ghaznavids in the 10th. Kandahar was destroyed by Genghis Khan and again by the Turkic conqueror Timur, after which it was held by the Mughals. Mughal Emperor Babur built 40 giant steps up a hill, cut out of the solid limestone, leading to inscriptions recording details of his proud conquests. In 1747 it became the first capital of a unified Afghanistan.
Besides early reference in the Vedas, Ramayana and Mahabharata, Gandhara was the locus of ancient Indian-Persian interaction, a center of world trade and culture. It was a major Buddhist intellectual hub for centuries. The giant Buddhist statues recently destroyed by the Taliban were in Bamiyan, one of the important Buddhist cities of ancient times. Thousands of statues and stupas once dominated its landscape.
Gandharvas are first described in the Vedas as cosmic beings. Later literature describes them as a jati(community), and the later Natyasastra refers to their system of music as gandharva. Gupt explains1:
“Gandharvas, as spoken of in Samhitas and later literature, had derived their name from a geographical people, the Gandharas… Most likely they belonged to Afghanistan (which still has a township called Kandhara)… It was perhaps at this time that the Gandharas raised the art of music to a great height. This region of the subcontinent at the time had become the locus of a great confluence of the musical traditions of the East and the Mediterranean. The very art, thus, came to be known by the name of the region and was so called by it even in the heartland of India. This name, gandharva, continued to be used for music for centuries to come. In the Vayu Purana one of the nine divisions of Bharatavarsa is called Gandharva.”
During the Mahabharata period, the Gandhara region was very much culturally and politically a part of India. King Œakuni, brother of Gandhârî, fought with Pandavas in the famous epic Mahabharata. The battle was fought in Kurukshetra, in the heartland of India. Gandhârî was married to King Dhrtrastra. Exchanges between Gandhara and Hastinapur (Delhi) were well established and intense.
Mehrgarh, located in this region and part of the Indus Valley civilization, is the oldest town excavated by archeologists (8000B.C.E) in the world.
Gandhara was the trade crossroad and cultural meeting place between India, Central Asia, and the Middle East. Buddhist writings mention Gandhara (which included Peshawar, Swat and Kabul Valleys) as one of the 16 major states of northern India at the time. It was a province of the Persian king Darius I in the fifth century B.C.E. After conquering it in the 4th century B.C.E., Alexander encountered the vast army of the Nandas in the Punjab, and his soldiers mutinied causing him to leave India.
Thereafter, Gandhara was ruled by the Maurya dynasty of India, and during the reign of the Indian emperor Ashoka (3rd century B.C.E.), Buddhism spread and became the world’s first religion across Eurasia, influencing early Christianity and East Asian civilizations. Padmasambhava, the spiritual and intellectual founder of the Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, was from Gandhara. Greek historian Pliny wrote that the Mauryans had a massive army; and yet, like all other Indian kingdoms, they made no attempt at overseas conquest.
Gandhara and Sind were considered parts of India since ancient times, as historian Andre Wink explains:
“From ancient times both Makran and Sind had been regarded as belonging to India… It definitely did extend beyond the present province of Sind and Makran; the whole of Baluchistan was included, a part of the Panjab, and the North-West Frontier Province.”2
“The Arab geographers, in effect, commonly speak of ‘that king of al-Hind…’”3
“…Sind was predominantly Indian rather than Persian, and in duration the periods that it had been politically attached to, or incorporated in, an Indian polity far outweigh Persian domination. The Maurya empire was extended to the Indus valley by Candragupta, laying the foundation of a great Buddhist urban-based civilization. Numerous Buddhist monasteries were founded in the area, and Takshashila became an important centre of Buddhist learning, especially in Ashoka’s time. Under the Kushanas, in the late first century A.D… international trade and urbanization reached unprecedented levels in the Indus valley andPurushapara (Peshawar) became the capital of a far-flung empire and Gandhara the second home of Buddhism, producing the well-known Gandhara-Buddhist art. In Purushapara, Kanishka is supposed to have convened the fourth Buddhist council and to have built the Kanishka Vihara, which remained a Buddhist pilgrimage center for centuries to come as well as a center for the dissemination of the religion to Central Asia and China… in conjunction with Hinduism, Buddhism survived in Sind until well into the tenth century.”4
“Hiuen Tsang… was especially impressed by the thousand Buddhist monks who lived in the caves of Bamiyan, and the colossal stone Buddha, with a height of 53.5 m, then still decorated with gold. There is also evidence of devi cults in the same areas.”5
Shaivism was also an important ancient religion in this region, with wide influence. Wink writes:
“…Qandahar [modern Kandahar]…. was the religious center of the kingdom where the cult of the Shaivite god Zun was performed on a hilltop…”.6
“…the god Zun or Zhun … shrine lay in Zamindawar before the arrival of Islam, set on a sacred mountain, and still existing in the later ninth century …. [The region was]… famous as a pilgrimage center devoted to Zun. In China the god’s temple became known as the temple of Su-na. …[T]he worship of Zun might be related to that of the old shrine of the sun-god Aditya at Multan. In any case, the cult of Zun was primarily Hindu, not Buddhist or Zoroastrian.”7
“[A] connection of Gandhara with the polymorphic male god Shiva and the Durga Devi is now well-established. The pre-eminent character of Zun or Sun was that of a mountain god. And a connection with mountains also predominates in the composite religious configuration of Shiva, the lord of the mountain, the cosmic pivot and the ruler of time… Gandhara and the neighboring countries in fact represent a prominent background to classical Shaivism.”8
From 1st century C.E., emperor Kaniska I and his Kushan successors were acknowledged as one of the four great Eurasian powers of their time (the others being China, Rome, and Parthia). The Kushans further spread Buddhism to Central Asia and China, and developed Mahayana Buddhism and the Gandhara and Mathura schools of art. The Kushans became affluent through trade, particularly with exports to Rome. Their coins and art are witness to the tolerance and syncretism in religion and art that prevailed in the region. The Gandhara school incorporated many motifs from classical Roman art, but the basic iconography remained Indian.9
Ancient Taxila and Peshawar
Gandhara’s capital was the famous city of Takshashila. According to the Ramayana, the city was founded by Bharata, and named after his son, Taksha, its first ruler. Greek writers later shortened it to Taxila. The Mahabharata is said to have been first recited at this place. Buddhist literature, especially the jatakastories, mentions it as the capital of the Gandhara kingdom and as a great center of learning. Its ruins may be visited today in an hour’s taxi ride from Rawalpindi (Pakistan).
Taxila was strategically located at the 3-way junction of the great trade routes from eastern India (described by Megasthenes, as the “Royal Highway”), from western Asia, Kashmir and Central Asia. Greek historians accompanying Alexander described Taxila as “wealthy, prosperous, and well governed”. Soon after Alexander, Taxila was absorbed into the Maurya Empire as a provincial capital, lasting for three generations.
The sage Apollonius of Tyana visited Taxila in the 1st century C.E., and his biographer described it as a fortified city with a symmetrical architecture, comparable in size to the most populous city of the ancient Assyrian Empire. Even a thousand years after Buddha, Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Fa-hsien described it as a thriving center of Buddhism. But by the time Hsuan-tsang visited from China in the 7th century C.E., Taxila had been destroyed by the Huns. Taxila was renowned as a center of learning.
During other times, the capital of Gandhara was Purusapura (abode of Purusha, the Hindu name for the Supreme Being), whose name was changed by Akbar to Peshawar. Near Peshawar are ruins of the largest Buddhist stupa in the subcontinent (2nd century C.E.), attesting to the enduring presence of Buddhism in the region. Purusapura is mentioned in early Sanskrit literature, in the writings of the classical historians Strabo and Arrian, and the geographer Ptolemy. Kaniska made Purusapura the capital of his Kushan empire (1st century C.E.). It was captured by the Muslims in C.E. 988.
Genocide Part 1: The Conquest of Sind
All this glorious past, and Asia’s civilization, changed forever with the bloody plunder of Sind by the Arabs starting in the 7th century:
“In 653-4, …a force of 6000 Arabs penetrated… To the shrine of Zun. The general broke off a hand from the idol and plucked out the rubies which were its eyes… The Arabs were now able to mount frequent plunder and slave expeditions as far as Ghazna, Kabul and Bamiyan… Arab raiding continued and was aimed at exacting tribute, plunder and slaves …Slaves and beasts remained the principal booty of the raids, and these were sent to the caliphate court in a steady stream.”
“In 653-4, …a force of 6000 Arabs penetrated… To the shrine of Zun. The general broke off a hand from the idol and plucked out the rubies which were its eyes… The Arabs were now able to mount frequent plunder and slave expeditions as far as Ghazna, Kabul and Bamiyan… Arab raiding continued and was aimed at exacting tribute, plunder and slaves …Slaves and beasts remained the principal booty of the raids, and these were sent to the caliphate court in a steady stream.”attribution
Andre Wink describes that this aspiration to conquer India had existed since the time of the Prophet, as is evidenced by the sacred texts:
“… in the hadith collections the prophet Muhammad himself is credited with the aspiration of conquering India. Participants in the holy war against al-Hind [the Hindus] are promised to be saved from hell-fire… Thus also an eschatological work which is called the Kitab al-Fitan (‘Book of Trials’) credits Muhammad with saying that God will forgive the sins of the members of the Muslim army which will attack al-Hind, and give them victory.”11
The plunder was also achieved by an ingenious system of leaving the prosperous population alone, so that they would continue to bring donations to the temples, and then the Muslims would loot these temples. In order to save their temple from destruction, many Hindu warriors refused to fight:
“An even greater part of the revenue of these rulers was derived from the gifts donated by pilgrims who came from all over Sind and Hind to the great idol (sanam) of the sun-temple at Multan… When Muhammad al-Qasim conquered Multan, he quickly discovered that it was this temple which was one of the main reasons for the great wealth of the town. He ‘made captives of the custodians of the budd, numbering 6000′ and confiscated its wealth, but not the idol itself – which was made of wood, covered with red leather and two red rubies for its eyes and wearing a crown of gold inlaid with gems –, ‘thinking it best to leave the idol where it was, but hanging a piece of cow’s flesh on its neck by way of mockery’. AI-Qasim built his mosque in the same place, in the most crowded bazaar in the center of the town. The possession of the sun-temple — rather than the mosque — is what in later times the geographers see as the reason why the local governors or rulers could hold out against the neighboring Hindu powers. Whenever an ‘infidel king’ marched against Multan and the Muslims found it difficult to offer adequate resistance, they threatened to break the idol or mutilate it, and this, allegedly, made the enemy withdraw. In the late tenth century however the Isma’ilis who occupied Multan broke the idol into pieces and killed its priests. A new mosque was then erected on its site…”12
Genocide Part 2: Mahmud of Ghazni
The founder of the Ghaznavid dynasty was a former Turkish slave, recognized by the Iranian Muslims as governor of Ghazni (a town near Kandahar). His son Mahmud (ruled in 998-1030) expanded the empire further into India. A devout Muslim, Mahmud converted the Ghaznavids into Islam, thus bringing Islam into the sub-continent’s local population. In the 11th century, he made Ghazni the capital of the vast empire of the Ghaznavids, Afghanistan’s first Muslim dynasty. The atrocities by Mahmud of Ghazni makes the Taliban look benign by comparison. Will Durant explains:13
“The Mohammedan Conquest of India is probably the bloodiest in history. It is a discouraging tale, for its evident moral is that civilization is a precarious thing, whose delicate complex of order and liberty, culture and peace may at any time be overthrown by barbarians invading from without or multiplying within… For four hundred years (600-1000 A.D.) India invited conquest; and at last it came.”
“In the year 997 a Turkish chieftain by the name of Mahmud became sultan of the little state of Ghazni, in eastern Afghanistan. Mahmud knew that his throne was young and poor, and saw that India, across the border, was old and rich; the conclusion was obvious. Pretending a holy zeal for destroying Hindu idolatry across the frontier with a force inspired by a pious aspiration for booty. He met the unprepared Hindus at Bhimnagar, slaughtered them, pillaged their cities, destroyed their temples, and carried away the accumulated treasures of centuries. Returning to Ghazni he astonished the ambassadors of foreign powers by displaying “jewels and un-bored pearls and rubies shinning like sparks, or like wine congealed with ice, and emeralds like fresh sprigs of myrtle, and diamonds in size and weight like pomegranates.””
“Each winter Mahmud descended into India, filled his treasure chest with spoils, and amused his men with full freedom to pillage and kill; each spring he returned to his capital richer than before. At Mathura (on the Jumna) he took from the temple its statues of gold encrusted with precious stones, and emptied it coffers of a vast quantity of gold, silver and jewelry; he expressed his admiration for the architecture of the great shrine, judged that its duplication would cost one hundred million dinars and the labor of two hundred years, and then ordered it to be soaked with naptha and burnt to the ground. Six years later he sacked another opulent city of northern India, Somnath, killed all its fifty thousand inhabitants, and dragged its wealth to Ghazni. In the end he became, perhaps, the richest king that history has ever known.”
“Sometimes he spared the population of the ravaged cities, and took them home to be sold as slaves; but so great was the number of such captives that after some years no one could be found to offer more than a few schillings for a slave. Before every important engagement Mahmud knelt in prayer, and asked the blessing of God upon his arms. He reigned for a third of a century; and when he died, full of years and honors, Moslem historians ranked him greatest monarch of his time, and one of the greatest sovereigns of any age.”
Genocide Part 3: Post-Ghazni Invaders.
Mahmud of Ghazni set the stage for other Muslim invaders in their orgy of plunder and brutality, as Will Durant explains: 14
“In 1186 the Ghuri, a Turkish tribe of Afghanistan invaded India, captured the city of Delhi destroyed its temples, confiscated its wealth, and settled down in its palaces to establish the Sultanate of Delhi — an alien despotism fastened upon northern India for three centuries, and checked only by assassination and revolt. The first of these bloody sultans, Kutb-d Din Aibak, was a normal specimen of his kind — fanatical, ferocious and merciless. His gifts as the Mohammedan historian tells us, “were bestowed by hundreds of thousands and his slaughters likewise were by hundreds of thousands.” In one victory of this warrior (who had been purchased as a slave), “fifty thousand men came under the collar of slavery, and the plain became black as pitch with Hindus.””
“Another sultan, Balban, punished rebels and brigands by casting them under the feet of elephants, or removing their skins, stuffing these with straw, and hanging them from the gates of Delhi.”
“When some Mongol inhabitants who had settled in Delhi, and had been converted to Islam, attempted a rising, Sultan Alau-d-din (the conquerer of Chitor) had all the males — from fifteen to thirty thousand of them — slaughtered in one day.”
“Sultan Muhammad bin Tughlak acquired the throne by murdering his father, became a great scholar and an elegant writer, dabbled in mathematics, physics and Greek philosophy, surpassed his predecessors in bloodshed and brutality, fed the flesh of a rebel nephew to the rebel’s wife and children, ruined the country with reckless inflation, and laid it waste with pillage and murder till the inhabitants fled to the jungle. He killed so many Hindus that, in the words of a Moslem historian, “there was constantly in front of his royal pavilion and his Civil Court a mound of dead bodies and a heap of corpses, while the sweepers and executioners were weaned out by their work of dragging” the victims “and putting them to death in crowds.” In order to found a new capital at Daulatabad he drove every inhabitant from Delhi and left it a desert….””
“Firoz Shah invaded Bengal, offered a reward for every Hindu head, paid for 180,000 of them, raided Hindu villages for slaves, and died at the ripe age or eighty. Sultan Ahmad Shah feasted for three days whenever the number of defenseless Hindus slain in his territories in one day reached twenty thousand.”
“These rulers… were armed with a religion militaristic in operation… [and made] the public exercise of the Hindu religions illegal, and thereby driving them more deeply into the Hindu soul. Some of these thirsty despots had culture as well as ability; they patronized the arts, and engaged artists and artisans — usually of Hindu origin — to build for them magnificent mosques and tombs: some of them were scholars, and delighted in converse historians, poets and scientists.”
“The Sultans drew from the people every rupee of tribute that could be exacted by the ancient art of taxation, as well as by straight-forward robbery…”
“The usual policy of the Sultans was clearly sketched by Alau-d-din, who required his advisers to draw up “rules and regulations for grinding down the Hindus, and for depriving them of that wealth and property which fosters disaffection and rebellion.” Half of the gross produce of the soil was collected by the government; native rulers had taken one-sixth. “No Hindu,” says a Moslem historian, “could hold up his head, and in their houses no sign of gold or silver… or of any superfluity was to be seen… Blows, confinement in the stocks, imprisonment and chains, were all employed to enforce payment.””
“…Timur-i-lang — a Turk who had accepted Islam as an admirable weapon… feeling the need of more gold, it dawned upon him that India was still full of infidels… Mullahs learned in the Koran decided the matter by quoting an inspiring verse: “Oh Prophet, make war upon infidels and unbelievers, and treat them with severity.” Thereupon, Timur crossed the Indus in 1398, massacred or enslaved such of the inhabitants as could not flee from him, defeated the forces of Sultan Mahmud Tughlak, occupied Delhi, slew a hundred thousand prisoners in cold blood, plundered the city of all the wealth that the Afghan dynasty had gathered there, and carried it off to Samarkand with multitude of women and slaves, leaving anarchy, famine and pestilence in his wake,”
“This is the secret of the political history of modern India. Weakened by division, it succumbed to invaders; impoverished by invaders, it lost all power of resistance, and took refuge in supernatural consolations… The bitter lesson that may be drawn from this tragedy is that eternal vigilance is the price of civilization. A nation must love peace, but keep its powder dry.”
During these genocides for centuries, a certain portion of the fleeing Hindus reached Europe. Today’s Roma people of Europe (popularly called the ‘gypsies’, a term that they regard as a pejorative) are of Indian origin and have lived as wanderers in Europe for nearly a thousand years. It is believed that they originated in Northwest India, in a region including Gandhara, Punjab, and Rajasthan. In Europe, they survived by being musicians and performers, because European society did not assimilate them even after a thousand years. They have accepted their plight as street people without a ‘home’ as such. Their history in Europe is filled with attempts to eradicate them in various ways.15 (There is much justified criticism of India’s caste system as a way by which diverse ethnicities dealt with each other. However, I have yet to see a comparison with the fact that Europeans dealt with non-European ethnicities using genocide (as in America), or by attempted genocide as in the case of the Roma.)
Islamic Scholarship on India
The Arabic, Turkish, and Persian invaders brought their historians to document their conquests of India as great achievements. Many of these historians ended up loving India and wrote excellent accounts of life in India, including about the Gandhara and Sindh regions. Their translations of Indian texts were later retranslated into European languages and hence many of the European Renaissance inputs from Islam were actually Indian contributions traveling via Islam.
Many Muslim scholars showed great respect for Indian society. For instance:
“The Arabic literature identifies numerous ministers, revenue officers, accountants, et cetera, in seventh- and eighth-century Sind as ‘brahmans’ and these were generally confirmed in their posts by the conquerors. Where these brahmans came from we do not know, but their presence was regarded as beneficial. Many cities had been founded by them and Sind had become ‘prosperous and populous’ under their guidance.”16
“Of caste divisions very little mention is made. The stereotype social division is in professional classes rather than a ritualized caste-hierarchy: ‘priests, warriors, agriculturists, artisans, merchants’.”17
Of all these Muslim scholars, Alberuni left the most detailed accounts of India’s civilization. In the introduction to his translation of Alberuni’s famous book, Indica, the Arabic scholar Edward Sachau summarizes how India was the source of considerable Arabic culture:18
“The foundations of Arabic literature was laid between AD 750 and 850. It is only the tradition relating to their religion and prophet and poetry that is peculiar to the Arabs; everything else is of foreign descent… Greece, Persia, and India were taxed to help the sterility of the Arab mind… What India has contributed reached Baghdad by two different roads. Part has come directly in translations from the Sanskrit, part has traveled through Eran, having originally been translated from Sanskrit (Pali? Prakrit?) into Persian, and farther from Persian into Arabic. In this way, e.g. the fables of Kalila and Dimna have been communicated to the Arabs, and book on medicine, probably the famous Caraka.”
“As Sindh was under the actual rule of Khalif Mansur (AD 753 – 774), there came embassies from that part of India to Baghdad, and among them scholars, who brought along with them two books, the Brahamsiddhanta to Brahamgupta (Sirhind), and his Khandkhdyaka (Arkanda). With the help of these pandits, Alfazari, perhaps also Yakub ibn Tarik, translated them. Both works have been largely used, and have exercised a great influence. It was on this occasion that the Arabs first became acquainted with a scientific system of astronomy. They learned from Brahamgupta earlier than from Ptolemy.”
“Another influx of Hindu learning took place under Harun, AD 786 – 808. The ministerial family Barmak, then at the zenith of their power, had come with the ruling dynasty from Balkh, where an ancestor of theirs had been an official in the Buddhistic temple Naubehar, i.e. nava vihara = the new temple (or monastery). The name Barmak is said to be of Indian descent, meaning paramaka i.e. the superior (abbot of the vihara).”
“Induced by family traditions, they sent scholars to India, there to study medicine and pharmacology. Besides, they engaged Hindu scholars to come to Baghdad, made them the chief physicians of their hospitals, and ordered them to translate from Sanskrit into Arabic books on medicine, pharmacology, toxicology, philosophy, astrology, and other subjects. Still in later centuries Muslim scholars sometimes traveled for the same purposes as the emissaries of the Barmak, e.g. Almuwakkuf not long before Alberuni’s time…”
“Many Arab authors took up the subjects communicated to them by the Hindus and worked them out in original compositions, commentaries and extracts. A favorite subject of theirs was Indian mathematics, the knowledge of which became far spread by the publications of Alkindi and many others.”
Alberuni leaves no doubt as to the origin of the so-called Arabic system of numbers:
“The numerical signs which we use are derived from the finest forms of the Hindu signs… The Arabs, too, stop with the thousand, which is certainly the most correct and the most natural thing to do… Those, however, who go beyond the thousand in their numeral system are the Hindus, at least in their arithmetical technical terms, which have been either freely invented or derived according to certain etymologies, whilst in others both methods are blended together. They extend the names of the orders of numbers until the 18th order for religious reasons, the mathematicians being assisted by the grammarians with all kinds of etymologies.”
In Islamic Spain, European scholars acknowledged India very positively, as evidenced by an important and rare 11th century book on world science commissioned by the ruler of Spain19. Its author, Said al-Andalusi focused on India as a major center for science, mathematics and culture. Some excerpts:
“The first nation (to have cultivated science) is India. This is a powerful nation having a large population, and a rich kingdom. India is known for the wisdom of its people. Over many centuries, all the kings of the past have recognized the ability of the Indians in all the branches of knowledge.”
“The Indians, as known to all nations for many centuries, are the metal (essence) of wisdom, the source of fairness and objectivity. They are peoples of sublime pensiveness, universal apologues, and useful and rare inventions.”
“To their credit, the Indians have made great strides in the study of numbers and of geometry. They have acquired immense information and reached the zenith in their knowledge of the movements of the stars (astronomy) and the secrets of the skies (astrology) as well as other mathematical studies. After all that, they have surpassed all the other peoples in their knowledge of medical science and the strengths of various drugs, the characteristics of compounds and the peculiarities of substances [chemistry].”
“Their kings are known for their good moral principles, their wise decisions, and their perfect methods of exercising authority.”
“What has reached us from the work of the Indians in music is the book… [that] contains the fundamentals of modes and the basics in the construction of melodies.”
“That which has reached us from the discoveries of their clear thinking and the marvels of their inventions is the (game) of chess. The Indians have, in the construction of its cells, its double numbers, its symbols and secrets, reached the forefront of knowledge. They have extracted its mysteries from supernatural forces. While the game is being played and its pieces are being maneuvered, there appear the beauty of structure and the greatness of harmony. It demonstrates the manifestation of high intentions and noble deeds, as it provides various forms of warnings from enemies and points out ruses as well as ways to avoid dangers. And in this, there is considerable gain and useful profit.”
Even as late as the 12th century C.E., al-Idrîsî (1100-1166), a geographer and scholar from Spain and Sicily, included the Gandhara region, including Kabul, with India20. The region was famous for the export of its three local products: indigo, cotton, and iron.21
The Lessons of History
Is the history of Islam in Afghanistan repeating itself a thousand years later? The Arab and Turk atrocities in India, done in the name of Islam a thousand years ago, may be compared to the past ten years in Afghanistan: In the times of Mahmud of Ghazni, India was, relative to other countries, as rich as the United States is today, and hence a comparable target. The Taliban dress code is what earlier Muslim plunderers also enforced in India. The same interpretation of the Koranic verses was used then as is now taught in thousands of madrassas in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. The main plunderers then were not indigenous to Afghanistan, but were largely Arabs/Turks; today, again, they are not mainly Afghanis, but tens of thousands of Pakistanis and Arabs with their own agendas.
Where does all this history lead us today? First of all, I emphatically believe that history should not be the burden of contemporary society, and this means that South Asian Muslims are not to be blamed for the past, in which they, too, were victims. Germans are taught about Nazism without being made to feel guilty. U.S. schools teach slavery with black and white kids together in class. Suppressing the past evils from history would be irresponsible, and an invitation to unscrupulous political forces to exploit ignorant people.
More importantly, Indianized Islam is probably the most sophisticated and liberal Islam in the world, because of its prolonged nurturing in the Indian soil. Islam needs the same kind of Reformation as Christianity underwent in the past few centuries. India, with its long experience of Islam co-existing with other religions, its large Muslim population, and its Hindu-Buddhist experience, is the ideal environment for Islamic liberalization. Islamic majority nations lack the experience of pluralism, democracy, and the Hinduism-Buddhism environment. Western countries have too small a Muslim population, and too recent an encounter, to be incubators. India is the ideal climate for a breakthrough.
In the big picture, the struggle is not against Islam, but is about the kind of Islam that emerges. It is also about conflicting identities within Pakistan: Arabization versus Indianization. For lasting peace in the region, Afghanistan should once again become a buffer between Arabic-Persian and Indic civilizations. Pakistan has always been unstable, sandwiched between the two very ancient civilizations of India and Arabia-Persia, and obsessed by the need to differentiate itself from both. What Macaulayism is to elitist Indians, Arabization of identity is to Pakistanis, the difference being that in the latter case it pervades all tiers of society. Pakistan’s complexes, due to its lack of heritage and sense of identity, drive much of its insecure behavior.
One would like that the hundreds of media personnel covering the war would be better equipped to explain the history of the region. That they do not know even the fundamentals is not surprising. But what is disturbing is the way SAJA (South Asian Journalists Association), a 500-member association of Indian journalists in North America, has failed to play any role in educating the American public about this region. Is it ignorance, or is it the complex of being seen as too ‘Indian’?
Over the past fifteen years, governmental, academic, and private funding agencies sponsored research on South Asia that focused on caste, cows, exotica, sati, and Hindu revolts against Proselytizers, thereby propagating the stereotype of the “Evil/Primitive Hindus”. In the process, they completely ignored vital topics such as Wahhabi Islam and other movements spawned by the ISI. Consequently, few South Asian experts seem to have even rudimentary knowledge of the 39,000 madrassas of Pakistan, some of which were the breeding grounds of the Taliban, or the related religious movements that are the genesis of today’s crisis. These events are about religion, when seen from the perspective of those engaged in terrorism and their vast network of sympathizers worldwide. Yet the academy is ill-equipped to perform its mission to interpret these events and to educate the world about them. After September 11, I wrote privately to the professional association of scholars called RISA (Religions In South Asia), since Afghanistan and Pakistan fall under their definition of South Asia, to suggest that at their November annual conference, they should have a major discussion on Wahhabism-Talibanism in South Asia. Despite being the world’s premier association of scholars who objectively study South Asian religions, they failed to include this topic. Instead, they had a whole panel on how Hinduism textbooks and web sites ignore Islam!
Scholars and the media seem afraid to explain that the soil of Afghanistan is historically sacred to Buddhists and Hindus, in the same manner as Jerusalem is to Jews and the Kaaba is to Muslims. Today’s infamous caves were once home to thousands of Buddhist monks and Hindu rishis, who did their meditation and attained enlightenment there. How such sacred geography ended up in evil hands is something I am still trying to come to terms with.
1 “Dramatic Concepts: Greek and Indian – A Study of Poetics & Natyasastra”, By Bharat Gupt. D.K. Printworld (P) Ltd., New Delhi, India, 1994. Pages 21-23.
2 “The Making of the Indo-Islamic World. Volume I – Early Medieval India and the Expansion of Islam 7th-11th Centuries”, by Andre Wink. Oxford University Press, New Delhi 1999. p.144-146.
3 Wink pp. 112-114.
4 Wink pp.148-149.
5 Wink. pp. 117-118.
6 Wink pp. 112-114.
7 Wink p.118.
8 Wink p.119.
9 References on Gandhara are: John Marshall, Taxila, 3 vol. (1951, reprinted 1975), provides the most exhaustive material for the history and archaeological excavations of Taxila. Radha Kumud Mookerji,Ancient Indian Education. 4th ed. (1969), includes a comprehensive account of Taxila as a centre of learning. For a general study of Taxila as an ancient city, see Stuart Piggot, Some Cities of Ancient India(1945); B.N. Puri, Cities of Ancient India (1966); Ahmad Hasan Dani, The Historic City of Taxila (1986); and Saifur Rahman Dar, Taxila and the Western World (1984). Encyclopaedia Britannica. 1993. Vol. 11, pp. 585-586; Vol. 9, p. 321; Vol. 6, pp. 710-711; Vol. 21, p.41. “Students’ Britannica India”. Vol. 2, pp. 137-138. Vol. 5, p. 121-123.
10 Wink p.120.
11 Wink p.192-193.
12 Wink pp.187-188
13 “The Story of Civilization: Our Oriental Heritage“, by Will Durant. MJF Books, NY. 1935. pp. 459-463
15 See the following Roma web site for details on their genocides in Europe, including many genocides officially sanctioned by governmental authorities:
16 Wink p.150
17 Wink p.151
18 Alberuni (AD 973 – 1048), a Muslim scholar, mathematician and master of Greek and Hindu system astrology, wrote twenty books. In his seminal work, “Indica” (c. 1030 AD) he wrote (“Alberuni’s India”, by Edward Sachau. Low Price Publications, New Delhi, 1993. (Reprint). First published 1910 — translated in 1880s.)
19 In the eleventh-century, an important manuscript titled “The Categories of Nations” was authored in Arabic by Said al-Andalusi, who was a prolific author and in the powerful position of a judge for the king in Muslim Spain. A translation and annotation of this was done S.I. Salem and Alok Kumar and published by University of Texas Press: “Science in the Medieval World”. This is the first English translation of this eleventh-century manuscript. Quotes are from Chapter V: “Science in India”.
20 Ahmad, S. Maqbul, Indian and the Neighbouring Territories in the Kitâb Nuzhat al-Mushtâq Fi` Khtirâq al-`Âfâq of Al-Sharîf al-Idrîsî, E. J. Brill, Leiden, 1960. p. 58.
21 Ahmad. p. 67.
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