The rise of Islam in India began with the conquest of Sind, one of the oldest Indus Valley civilisations, by the Arabs. Among the Muslims, the first to conquer the territories of India were the Arabs. They, by spreading Islam, attained their political and religious unity in India. The conquest of Sind was successful after a number of attempts.
It was under the leadership of Mohammad-bin-Qasim, that Sind, then a part of India along the Indus River (now in Pakistan) was conquered. Muhammad-bin-Qasim was an Umayyad general who conquered the Sindh and Punjab regions at a very young age of 17. Today, Sind is given the nick name “Bab-e-Islam”, the meaning of which is “The Gateway of Islam”
The foundation of Arab domination in Sind in 712 A.D. was the result of a number of efforts to enter India. In fact, Muhammad-bin-Qasim’s exploration to India was actually the third attempt.
After the death of Prophet Muhammad, the Arabs conquered Persia and Herat and formed a large empire. After these conquests, their attention was towards India. During that time, there were commercial trade connections between India and Arabia and the merchants of Arabs were familiar with the sea coast to the west of India.
One prime factor that led Arabs to invade Indian territories was the vast wealth of India. Plus, they also wanted to spread Islam in India. Moreover, in order to form an Islamic empire, the Arabs also followed a policy of conquest, that too very systematically. The immediate cause of India’s invasion was when some Sindi pirates plundered some Arab ships near the coast of Debal.
The king of Ceylone had sent precious gifts to Khalifa of Baghdad and to Hajaj, the Governor of Iraq on these ships. As a result, Hajaj wanted compensation from King Dahir of Sind, which he refused outrightly, as he had no control over the pirates.
Thus, started the first military expedition against King Dahir, under Ubaidullah, which failed. The second invasion also failed and this time it was under Budail. In the third attempt, Hajaj entrusted the responsibility to his son-in-law Muhammad-bin-Qasim, with a powerful army to attack Dahir. He arrived at the coast in 712 A.D. and was successful in defeating and killing Dahir and thus, Debal was occupied.
After Dahir’s death, his wife Queen Rani Bai fought against the Arabs. She was also defeated and she performed the rites of Jauhar to save her honour. In the meantime, Mohammad-bin-Qasim kept on capturing all the neighbouring towns of Debal such as Nirun, Rewar, Brahmanbad, Alor and Multan and Sind as a whole.
During these conquests, Qasim was all of a sudden recalled by the Khalifa and by making him a victim of party politics was put to death. It is said that had he been alive, he would have conquered the entire South Asian region.
Though the Arabs had failed in their first two attempts to conquer Sind and the other Indian territories, in the third attempt, King Dahir could not restrain the powerful army of Mohammand-bin-Qasim. In 712 A.D., when Qasim crossed the river Indus, Dahir had already gathered with an army of 50,000 horses. Both the armies lay opposite to one another and it was a ferocious battle. On the fateful day, Dahir mounted his elephant and marched towards the enemy but an Arab soldier succeeded in shooting Dahir’s elephant with an arrow attached with burning cotton. This terrified the animal and it fled towards the river, which was already been enclosed by the enemy soldiers. Dahir, ultimately had to face death, though he had put up a brave fight against the Arabs.
Some significant impacts of the invasion of Sind by the Arabs in Indian History are as follows:
- The Arab rule in Sind led to the mingling of two essentially different cultures and the Arab culture got enriched by the Hindu culture and civilisation.
- Some historians say that Sind was the birthplace of Sufism.
- Some also say that many rulers did not fight against Arabs and this made easier for Mahumud of Ghazni and Ghori to raid the country.
- After the conquest of Sind, some Hindus were converted to Islam.
- Knowledge on Hindu philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, and medicine became popular with the Arabs.
- Many Indian scholars such as Bhala, Manaka, and Bazigar were invited to Baghdad.
- Also, Indian architects were invited to built mosques and buildings in Baghdad.
- An Indian physician Dhana served as the chief medical officer at Baghdad.
- Abu Mashar, an Arab astronomer came to Benaras to study astronomy there for ten years.
- Many noted Indian works on astronomy such as Brahma Sidhanta and Khanda Khadyaka were translated into Arabic.
- Indian art and architecture always influenced the Arab culture.
- It was a known fact that after Sind invasion, the Hindus and Muslims lived as fellow citizens for many years and there was amity and peace between them.
- The Sind conquest by Muhammad Bin Qasim in 712 AD gave the Muslims a strong dominance in the Indian sub-continent and also showed the tolerance between the two religions.
- The conquest of Sind led the Islamic civilization come in contact with the ancient Vedic civilization of the subcontinent.
Though Qasim had conquered a few territories, the Arabs failed to expand their territories beyond Multan and Sind. To check the invasion of the Arabs in other parts of India, there were Rajput rulers of the North and of the East.
The Arabs did not bring about any new system of administration. Qasim established good administrative structure, peace and order in the places he conquered. He respected other religions, though there were instances of poor Hindus being converted to Muslims. The reason being, he helped the poor people who were impressed by his ruling policies, which made them embrace Islam. During his rule, the Hindu and Buddhist spiritualists were given stipends.