The Emergence of the Safavids

The Emergence of the Safavids

Contributed by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed, PhD

The origins of the Safavid dynasty in Persia must be sought in the folk Islam that developed in the immediate aftermath of the Mongol devastations and in the political convulsions in the border areas of Persia and Anatolia after the Timurid invasions. Between the year 1219 when Genghiz Khan’s troops crossed the Amu Darya in Kazagistan, and 1261 when the Mamlukes finally stopped the Mongol forces at Ayn Jalut, the central mass of Islam was obliterated. Central Asia, Persia, Iraq, Afghanistan, as well as parts of Syria and Pakistan lay in ruins. In some areas, as much as ninety percent of the population was killed. Major centers of learning like Bukhara, Samarqand, Herat, and Baghdad were razed to the ground. Libraries were burned, scholars butchered, monuments demolished, dams destroyed, and the general population was enslaved. To grasp the magnitude of the calamity from a global Islamic perspective, it must be recalled that this was the same period when the Christians captured much of Spain, including Seville and Cordoba.

Faced with this enormous calamity, Muslims turned to their own spiritual roots. Gone were the ulema who could discuss the fine details of theology or argue the relative merits of the various mazhabs. The Abbasid Caliphate, which had become an empty shell, disappeared. Faced with total obliteration, the schisms between the various sects and mazhabs were temporarily shelved. In the pre-Mongol period, Persia, Iraq and Syria had witnessed countless feuds among followers of the Shafi’i, Hanafi and Ithna Ashari schools of Fiqh. What emerged in place of a theological Islam dominated by the ulema was a folk Islam nurtured by the Sufis.

Sufic Islam was different from pre-Mongol theological Islam in its emphasis on the spiritual content of faith as contrasted with its ritualistic content. The warriors of Central Asia had failed to prevent the triumph of the Mongols. The ulema, who depended on the warrior rulers for their survival, had been obliterated. A religious vacuum was thus created. Times were hard and it was not clear whether Islam itself would survive in Central Asia and Persia. The faithful therefore turned to the reservoir of their inner souls. The sword of the Mongol could decapitate a ruler but it could not touch the spirit of a believer. The common folk, in search of leadership, gravitated to the Sufi masters.

The Sufic approach, from its very infancy, had stayed above the political infighting that has characterized Shi’a-Sunni relations since the assassination of Ali ibn Abu Talib (r). Sufi practices were an amalgam of Shi’a and Sunni practices. The Sufis, always suspect in the eyes of the theological establishment, had to be circumspect in their practices. In their emphasis on the transmission of knowledge through a teacher (murshid,pir, qutub), the Sufis were closer to the Shi’a approach. In their adherence to the Shariah, they were closer to the Sunni methodology. Furthermore, Ali ibn Abu Talib (r) was accepted by most Sufi orders as the patron-Imam and special honor was accorded to Ahl-al Bait (household of the Prophet).

Esoteric knowledge of God’s presence through irfan (intuitive, immediate, personal knowledge of the Divine Presence) was emphasized as much as the exoteric knowledge of the Divine through adherence to Shariah. To escape persecution, elements of taqiyya (concealment of true religious faith from the enemy) were also accepted. Some tareeqas incorporated music and sama’a in their practices. It was this folk Islam, incorporating in it the spirituality of Islam, but with a lesser emphasis on its outward shell, that survived the Mongol age. And it was this Sufic Islam that was introduced into Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and much of Africa. The Arab core of the Islamic world was less influenced by this approach because it escaped the Mongol devastations thanks to the victory of the Mamlukes at Ayn Jalut. Even to this day, in a melting pot such as America, one sees this difference in emphasis among Muslim groups. Those from the Arab world emphasize the Shariah and strict adherence to its rules, whereas those from the Indo-Pak subcontinent, Indonesia, Malaysia and Africa emphasize its spiritual content.

It was this folk Islam, neither Shi’a nor Sunni, that was the preeminent religion in 13th and 14th century west central Asia. And it was from its womb that the Safavid, the Moghul and the Ottoman Empires emerged. The confluence of Shi’a-Sunni ideas in tasawwuf makes it easier for a determined organized group to swing the populace one way or the other. Thus it was that the Safavids found it easier to tilt to the Ithna Ashari Fiqh in Persia, whereas their cousins among the Great Moghuls of India and the Ottomans tilted towards the Hanafi Fiqh. What was initially a tilt in a social political movement was hardened into bitter Shi’a-Sunni rivalry in later centuries as the Ottomans and the Safavids fought over the control of Azerbaijan and Iraq, while the Moghuls and the Safavids crossed swords over control of southern Afghanistan. Political and military ambitions were clothed in religious slogans and expressed in religious jargon, further widening a rift that runs through Islamic history like an earthquake fault. The Shi’a-Sunni differences were political, not religious, which were amplified by interested rulers and theologians.

It is noteworthy that the emergence of folk Islam sustained one of the greatest periods of creativity in Islamic literature, poetry, music, mathematics and art. It was during this period that the Farsi language attained its linguistic zenith and developed into the lingua franca in much of Asia. Turkish literature flourished and the Urdu language was born in India. Many of Timur’s descendants, Shah Rukh, Abu Said, Ulugh Beg and Hussain Baiqara, were patrons of art and literature. Some of the greatest literary figures of this age were Hafiz of Shiraz (d. 1389, author of Diwan e Hafiz), Abu Ishaq Inju of Shiraz (d. 1355, author of Muwaqqif), Emir Khusro of Delhi (author of numerous ecstatic poems), Jalaluddin Rumi of Turkey (d. 1273, author of Masnavi); Abu Ishaq of Shiraz (d. 1424, author of Kanz e Ishtiha), Abdur Rahman Jami (d. 1492, author of Nafhatul Uns);Mir Ali Navai (d.1490, author of Mahbul Qulub); Nuruddin Ghazani of Samarqand (d. 1407, author of Zafar Nama); Shihabuddin Abdallah (d. 1430, author of Majma e Tavarish); andZaheeruddin Babur, founder of the Moghul dynasty of India (d. 1528, author of Babur Nama).

The area around the Caspian Sea, from Tabriz to Jeelan, was a center for Sufi activities. It was in this milieu that Shaykh Safiuddin Ishaq (1252-1334), after whom the Safavid dynasty is named, was born. Shaykh Safiuddin received his ijaza from Shaykh Tajuddin Jeelani, a member of the Qadariya order. Shaykh Jeelani saw in the young Safi a combination of Sufic rectitude, political astuteness, and mundane practicality, and gave his daughter in marriage to him. Shaykh Safi established his own religious order in Ardabil, a city about 200 miles east of Tabriz. Those were unstable times, when the Il Khanid dynasty had ended and various Turkish tribes were jostling for political power. Under Shaykh Safiuddin, Ardabil became a refuge for many who were fleeing the tumult in the surrounding countryside. Shaykh Safi’s fame spread, bringing him the patronage of the courts and donations from the rich. The Shaykh used this wealth to provide relief to the poor and succor for the oppressed. The Safaviyya brotherhood grew and developed a widespread following among the Turks, Persians, Syrians, Iraqis and Kurds of Azerbaijan and eastern Anatolia. To this brotherhood, Shaykh Safi was the Pir and Murshad e Kamil (supreme spiritual leader) as well as its temporal ruler. The followers accorded the Murshad their unquestioned loyalty and total trust. The origins of the zeal with which the Safaviyya brotherhood followed Shah Ismail a hundred years later (circa 1500), is to be found in the discipline, comradeship, loyalty and organization that was established by Shaykh Safiuddin.

A great deal has been written by Safavid chroniclers to claim that Shaykh Safi was a Shi’a. This appears to be social history written in retrospect. It is more likely that Shaykh Safi was neither Shi’a nor Sunni but belonged to that universal folk Islam, based on tasawwuf, that had emerged in the post-Mongol period and had brought about an amalgam of Sunni and Shi’a elements. It was also claimed by the Safavids that Shaykh Safi was a Sayyid, a person in the lineage of Ali and Fatima. This claim, whether true or not, is relevant only to the extent that throughout Islamic history, kings and emperors have sought to establish the legitimacy of their rule by claiming to be descendants of the Prophet. Compare, for instance, the desire of Indonesian and Malaysian Sultans, during the 14th and 15thcenturies, to marry their daughters to Sayyids from Arabia so as to establish the legitimacy of their rule. The Sayyids who seized power in Delhi following the withdrawal of Timur provide yet another example of this practice.

Into the lineage of Shaykh Safi was born Ismail I in 1487, claiming his descent from the family of Ali ibn Abu Talib (r) and his spiritual legacy from Shaykh Safi. Ismail I was the founder of the Safavid dynasty of Persia, which lasted until 1736, and influenced cultural and political developments in much of Asia.

A second major element in the emergence of the Safavids was the migration of the Turkish tribes. We have observed earlier that the paramount religious-historical events of the last thousand years occurred towards the end of the first millennium, when the Germans were converted to Catholic Christianity (9th century), the Turks accepted Islam (8th and 9th centuries), and the Russians joined the Eastern Orthodox Church (10th and 11th centuries). The movement of Turkish tribes across Central Asia into Persia, Anatolia, India, Syria and Egypt had an impact on global history similar to that of Germanic movements in Europe. The Turks, a dynamic, resilient, restless people, moved in waves in search of pastures for their herds and room for their growing populations. The first wave, led by the tribe of Oghuz, crossed the Amu Darya in the 11th century and was responsible for the disintegration of the Ghaznavi Empire and the emergence of the Seljuk Empire. The Seljuks moved further west, established their capital at Konya in Turkey, and from there dominated much of Central and West Asia for more than a hundred years. It was the shield of the Seljuks that protected the Muslim heartland from the sword of the Crusaders. The collapse of the Seljuk Empire by 1308 may be compared with the explosion of a star. The Turks who had fought under a single banner now divided themselves up into dozens of smaller groups, each group headed by a chief, and marched out from their Turkish heartland in all directions. Military allegiance often shifted depending on the reputation of the chief and the opportunities provided by him. Expansion into Byzantine territories in Europe, and Georgia and Armenia to the northeast was sanctioned by the doctrine of ghazza. To justify encroachments into neighboring Muslim territories to the east, the Turkish chiefs were always careful to obtain a fatwa from the local kadis under one pretext or the other. It was one of these tribes, led by Uthmanali, which founded the Uthmania (Ottoman) Empire.

In the Battle of Ankara (1402), Timur decimated the Ottoman armies. Turkish power in Anatolia receded. The death of Timur in 1405 brought on a struggle for power among his sons and grandsons. It was a tradition among the Tatars, and among the Turks, that all the sons of a ruler had an equal claim to the throne. A kingdom was like a joint trust. The death of a ruler set off a scramble for power. The prince who won would become the next king. We see this pattern for succession among the Moghuls of India down to the time of Aurangzeb, and up until the 17th century among the Ottomans. Timur’s vast empire had been won and was held by the iron will of a single man. His death created a political vacuum. Timur’s son Shah Rukh held onto the core of Timurid territories in Central Asia and Persia. But the Mamlukes reclaimed Syria. India split off and established its own independent rule under the Sayyids. And in Anatolia, the Turks moved back in.

It was the movement of these Turkish tribes that provided the social thrust for the emergence of the Safavid Empire.Three major waves of Turkish movements may be identified between the death of Timur (1405) and the entry of Shah Ismail I into Tabriz (1501). The first wave was under the leadership of the Kara Kuyunlu (Turkish, meaning the keepers of black sheep). The Kara Kuyunlu had moved out from central Anatolia and northern Syria to Azerbaijan towards the beginning of the 14th century. By 1380, their leader Kara Muhammed established his authority over Mosul, Sinjar and Erzurum. Nominally, Kara Muhammed had accepted the protection of the Mamluke Sultans of Egypt and had ordered that the name of Mamluke Sultan Barquq be mentioned in the juma’a khutba. Kara Muhammed died in 1389 and was succeeded by his son Kara Yusuf. The same year, Timur invaded Persia. Advancing towards Azerbaijan and eastern Anatolia he demanded submission from Kara Yusuf. But Kara Yusuf resisted, took the field against Timur and was defeated. He fled westward and sought the protection of the Ottoman Sultan Bayazid I. Timur demanded from Bayazid the return of Kara Yusuf. Bayazid refused.

It was the flight of Kara Yusuf into Ottoman territories and the Ottoman refusal to surrender him to Timur that was responsible for the events leading up to the Battle of Ankara (1402). After the death of Timur, Kara Yusuf returned and re-established his authority. In 1410 he occupied Tabriz and made it his capital.In 1412 he added Baghdad to his dominions. By 1420, parts of Georgia and Armenia were under his control. At its zenith in 1430, the Kara Kuyunlu Empire extended from the Black Sea to the Persian Gulf and included Azerbaijan, Iraq, and parts of Turkey and Syria. The eastern thrust of the Kara Kuyunlu did not escape the attention of Shah Rukh who had not abandoned his claims to the Timurid Empire. Moving west at the head of a large army, Shah Rukh drove away Kara Iskandar, son of Kara Yusuf who had succeeded his father, and installed Jehan Shah, another Kara Kuyunlu prince in Tabriz. When Shah Rukh died in 1447, Jehan Shah threw off his allegiance to the Timurid court in Samarqand and asserted his independence. Moving eastward, he captured Kirman, Fars, Isfahan and Herat. Assuming the title of Sultan and Ka-khan, he sought to establish the legitimacy of his rule in the eyes of the Turks, Persians and Mongols alike.

Jehan Shah was the greatest of the Kara Kuyunlu rulers and is known not only for his military exploits but also for his patronage of art, architecture and literature. He embellished Tabriz with mosques and madrasas. The blue mosque of Tabriz stands to this day. It was also a golden age for Farsi literature. Poets and writers of repute received his patronage and his protection. Jehan Shah was a follower of the Ithna Ashari Fiqh and it was his legacy in Persia and Iraq that was inherited and adopted by the Safavids. (Shah Quli, one of the descendants of Jehan Shah, fled to India in 1478, and established the Qutub Shahi dynasty of Golkunda in southern India. The patronage of the Ithna Ashari Fiqh in the courts of the Deccan became a factor in the political rivalries between the Moghul and Safavid courts in the 17th century.)

Jehan Shah died in a battle with the rival tribe of Aq Kuyunlu (Turkish, meaning, keepers of the white sheep). The migration of the Aq Kuyunlu constitutes the second major movement of Turkish tribes from their heartland in Anatolia to the east. The Aq Kuyunlu territories lay to the west of the territories held by the Kara Kuyunlu and included the modern cities of Erzurum, Diyarbakr, Urfa, Mardin and Sivas. Since the two tribes were neighbors, they constantly jostled with each other for turf. The Aq Kuyunlu, like their Ottoman cousins, carried on their ghazza against the Byzantine territories of Trebizond, located on the Black Sea. When Timur invaded the territories of the Kara Kuyunlu, the Aq Kuyunlu sided with Timur. Their chief, Uthman Beg accepted the overlordship of Timur (1399) and sided with him against the Ottomans at the Battle of Ankara (1402). After the death of Timur, Uthman Beg continued his alliance to the Timurid court, and worked against his Kara Kuyunlu neighbors to the east.

The Aq Kuyunlu territories lay in areas where the mutual interests of the Mamlukes of Egypt, the Timurids of Central Asia and the Ottomans of Turkey overlapped and sometimes collided. Uthman Beg had to play his hand carefully. His military exploits soon attracted a large following. He expanded his territories, often with the help of the Timurid princes, but was killed in a battle with the rival Kara Kuyunlu in 1435. The usual scramble for power happened, and it was not until 1469 that the Aq Kuyunlu regained their territories under Uzun Hassan, a grandson of Uthman Beg.

Uzun Hassan is the best known of the Aq Kuyunlu dynasty. Through diplomacy and war, he expanded the territories of the Aq Kuyunlu in every direction. He married Catherine, the daughter of the Byzantine ruler Johannes of Trebizond, thereby forming a marriage alliance with a former enemy. However, it was another of his marriage ties that was to have a far greater historical impact. He gave his sister, Khadija Begum in marriage to Shaykh Junaid who belonged at the time to the Safaviyya Sufi order of Ardabil. Shaykh Junaid, himself a chief of the Turkomans based in Ardabil, had sought to expand his military-political influence, which had brought him into conflict with Jehan Shah, the Kara Kuyunlu Sultan. Shaykh Junaid’s marriage to Khadija Begum gained for Uzun Hassan the support of the expanding Safaviyya order. In a series of military campaigns, Uzun Hassan consolidated his hold on eastern Anatolia and made inroads into territories of the Kara Kuyunlu to the east, the Mamlukes to the south and the Ottomans to the west. It was during one of these campaigns that he defeated the Kara Kuyunlu Sultan Jehan Shah. Jehan Shah died in battle (1467) and the territories of Aq Kuyunlu expanded to include most of modern Persia.

The rise of Uzun Hassan attracted the attention of the European powers that were still chafing from the loss of Istanbul (1453). Pope Nicholas V declared a Crusade against the Ottomans in 1453 and, seeking to isolate the Ottomans, sent an envoy to Uzun Hassan proposing a military alliance. Uzun Hassan’s response was positive. The anti-Ottoman alliance, concluded in 1464, included the Vatican, Venice, Naples, Armenia and the Empire of Uzun Hassan.

War commenced in 1463 and lasted for sixteen years. The Ottomans had the upper hand in the hostilities and expanded their territories in all directions. Sultan Mehmet II captured Trebizond (1461), Morea (1464) and Lesbos (1469). The European powers, desperate for help, asked Uzun Hassan to invade Ottoman territories from the east. As a quid pro quo, Uzun Hassan requested guns and artillery from the Venetians, weapons that he desperately lacked. An understanding was reached, and in 1471, he advanced against Karaman in south central Anatolia while the Venetian navy bombarded the Turkish coast. Mehmet II realized that between the Venetians and the Aq Kuyunlu, the latter presented by far the greater threat. In a pitched battle at Bashkent in 1473, the Ottomans under Mehmet II crushed Uzun Hassan. The latter retreated after concluding a peace treaty recognizing the Euphrates as the border between the Ottomans and the Aq Kuyunlu territories.

Just as Jehan Shah was the best known of the Kara Kuyunlu Sultans, Uzun Hassan was the best known of the Aq Kuyunlu Sultans. He organized his empire along sound fiscal and administrative lines and documented his methodology in Qanun Nama ye Hassan Padisha, a treatise which was used by both the Safavids and the Ottomans in their administrative practices. Uzun Hassan died in 1478 and his empire went into rapid decline. Between 1493 and 1501, no less than six princes ascended the Aq Kuyunlu throne one after the other. It was in this unstable environment that the Safaviyya order expanded its political influence.

Shaykh Junaid, the Safaviyya Sufi who had married the sister of Uzun Hassan, traveled extensively through Azerbaijan, eastern Anatolia and northern Syria, gaining additional followers. Military conflicts with the established powers were inevitable and the Safaviyya order had its share of victories and defeats. Shaykh Junaid’s son Shaykh Haider and grandson Shaykh Ali continued the struggle. Political alliances often shifted, and when Shaykh Ali was killed in a battle with the Turkomans in 1493, the leadership of the Safaviyya order passed on to Ismail, brother of Shaykh Ali.

Tabriz fell to the Safaviyya in 1501 and the Safavid Empire was born. Ismail, the founder of the Safavid dynasty, had Turkish blood from his grandfather Shaykh Junaid, and Persian blood from his grandmother, Khadija Begum, sister of Uzun Hassan. Thus he combined in himself the spiritual legacy of the Safaviyya order, the tribal legacy of the Turks, and blood relationships with the Persians. In addition, he claimed his descent fromAli ibn Abu Talib (r). This was a powerful combination of claims to establish the legitimacy of his rule in accordance not only with religious tradition but also with the dynastic tradition of Persia and the tribal tradition of the Turks.

Constantinople, the Conquest of

Constantinople, the Conquest of

Contributed by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed, PhD

The Battle of Ankara (1402) decimated Ottoman power in Anatolia. Bayazid I, who might very well have been remembered in history as the Napoleon of the era, was captured by Timur and died in captivity. The eruption of Timur had taken place just as Constantinople was negotiating a surrender of the city to Bayazid. The Battle of Ankara postponed the conquest of the Byzantine capital by more than fifty years.

It is a tribute to the resilience of the Turks that the Ottomans were the only ones who survived the Timurid onslaughts and went on to regain their former possessions. Even though the Ottomans had lost their territories in Anatolia, their European holdings were intact, and they were able to move back into Anatolia once the Tatar threat receded. The strong central administration staffed by loyal slaves, set up by Bayazid, survived him. These slaves, ich oghlans in Turkish, captured as young boys in eastern Europe during the Balkan campaigns, were brought to the Ottoman courts, trained and freed, eventually rising up to occupy important administrative and military positions. The janissars, elite military corps, were similarly constituted. The ich oghlans and the janissars remained loyal to the Ottomans and provided the nucleus for reconstruction, and the Turkish spirit de corps built around loyalty to the tribe, provided the cement for a larger communal enterpriseonce the threat of Timur receded.

After the Battle of Ankara, the Ottoman territories were divided among the surviving sons of Bayazid I. Sulaiman ruled from Erdirne in Europe, Mehmet from Amasya in eastern Anatolia, and Isa from Bursa near Constantinople. Of these, Erdirne had the advantage in that it lay in Europe, in territories that had not been ravaged by the Tatars. As a result, it was favored by the Turkish Sultans and served for a time as the Ottoman capital. There was the customary contest for power, but by 1411 Mehmet had rallied most of the Ottoman chiefs around him and had consolidated his hold on the empire. His son Murad II (1421-1451) continued the process of recovery and consolidation. After a series of successful campaigns in Anatolia, he laid siege to Constantinople (1422). At this time, the Beys of Anatolia rebelled and installed Murad’s brother Mustafa as their leader. Murad lifted the siege of the capital and in a series of campaigns between 1422 and 1425 brought Izmir, Erkeshehir, Alashehir and Akshehir under his control. War broke out with Venice in 1423 over Solonica and lasted until 1440. Meanwhile, the Hungarians crossed the Danube in 1428 and invaded Serbia. The Sultan took the field and forced the Hungarian King Sigismund to retreat. In 1440 Murad made an unsuccessful attempt to capture Belgrade. Encouraged by the Ottoman retreat, the Hungarians crossed the Danube once again, occupied Sophia and advanced as far as the outskirts of Edirne. Murad met the invading armies and defeated them at the Battle of Izladi (1443). Thereafter, he signed a peace agreement with the Hungarians and the Venetians. Turning his attention to the east, he signed a similar peace agreement with the Prince of Karaman.

Having stabilized the Ottoman frontiers and concluding peace treaties with his enemies, Murad felt that his work was done. It was now time for him to retire and he stepped aside in favor of his son Mehmet II. The European powers misunderstood this as a sign of Ottoman weakness. Pope Nicholas V called for a Crusade, and a combined Hungarian-Walachian land force advanced towards Erdirne while the Venetians blockaded the sea.

At the counsel of his senior advisors, Mehmet II called on his father Murad to come back from retirement and reassume the command of the army. A reluctant Murad replied that Mehmet was now the Sultan and it was his responsibility to rule. ”If you are the Sultan”, wrote Mehmet II to his father, “it is your obligation to lead the armies. If I am the Sultan, I am ordering you to return and assume the leadership.” Murad returned, and under his command, the Turks inflicted a crushing defeat on the Latins at the Battle of Varna. This was a major milestone in history. The Battle of Varna in 1444 sealed the fate of Constantinople because all approaches to the capital were now blocked. The Hungarians again attempted to penetrate the Ottoman dominions in 1448 but that incursion was easily beaten back. Having accomplished his mission, Murad went back into retirement.

Mehmet II was a mighty conqueror in the tradition of the earliest Companions of the Prophet. While his vision embraced strategic goals, he had also an inborn instinct for tactical moves. Trained from childhood in the battlefield under his father Sultan Murad, he was also imbued with a deep spirituality under the tutelage of Shaykh Aq Shamsuddin. The great Sufi sage accompanied Mehmet II on his campaigns and provided him with the spiritual inspiration that alone enables men to perform superhuman deeds.

The Ottoman Empire went through a rapid expansion under Mehmet II. Constantinople was a constant source of irritation to the Ottomans. Although it had lost all of its territories, the city still commanded great respect as the seat of the Byzantine Empire. On occasions, the Byzantine capital had given shelter to fleeing Ottoman princes while they were embroiled in wars of succession. It was also a beacon for Crusader armies hurling themselves at the Turks. Lastly, the Ottomans were concerned that the Byzantines might surrender the city to the Latins as they had done with the city of Solonika, and that would make the task of capturing the city immensely more difficult.

The Turks were restless, impelled by the spirit of ghazza (struggle in the way of God). Nonetheless, there were differences within the Turkish camp about the advisability of attacking Constantinople. Some of the generals were concerned that an attack on the city would bring a strong reaction from the western powers. Others held that the West would never agree upon a common course of action. The Byzantine Emperor had already sent out appeals for help to Venice and to the Vatican. The Venetian navy was on the move. To the north, the Hungarians and the Wallachians were ready to join an anti-Turkish coalition. Time was of the essence.

Mehmet II made careful preparations. He ordered the construction of a strong castle overlooking the citadel of Constantinople. This imposing fort, which stands to this day, was erected in a record time of three months, and served both defensive and offensive purposes. It provided a staging area for the Turks and a platform for hurling projectiles. Mehmet enlisted the services of Byzantine craftsmen to cast brass cannon that could hurl large cannon balls across the Straits.

Mehmet II surrounded the city in the spring of 1453 and sent terms of surrender to the Byzantine Emperor Constantine XI who rejected them. The great chain that blocked the entrance to the Straits frustrated repeated Turkish attempts at a naval assault. Mehmet II ordered the Turkish galleys to be hauled by land from the southern entrance of the Straits to the northern entrance, so that the fort could be attacked from the rear. After accomplishing this monumental task in utmost secrecy, Mehmet II ordered a general assault on the city by land and by sea. The Byzantine defense was desperate just as the Turkish assault was determined and relentless. After repeated forays, Constantinople fell on the 29th of May 1453.

There was joy in the Islamic world while Europe mourned this loss. The year 1453 became a landmark in the histories of Europe and Asia alike. The Ottomans renamed the city Istanbul (Islambol), and made it the capital of their expanding empire. Mehmet’s vision was to revive the city as the seat of a successor state to the Roman Empire, and to make it the focus of a universal Islamic state. To fulfill this vision, Mehmet took several concrete steps. First, he allowed those Greeks who had not resisted the Turkish advance to return and repossess their properties. Second, to further his goal of making Istanbul a universal, cosmopolitan city, Mehmet II invited the Greek Patriarch as well as the chief Jewish rabbi to stay in the capital. Third, the administration of the state was centralized and all of the Ottoman dominions in Europe were brought under the central rule of Istanbul.

The explosive growth of the Ottomans continued in all directions. To the north, in a series of campaigns between 1454 and 1465, Mehmet beat back the Hungarians and firmly established Ottoman control over Serbia and Bosnia. Trebizond on the Black Sea was captured, and Morea followed suit. The Turkish navy crossed the Black Sea and brought southern Crimea under Ottoman rule (1475). The addition of the Crimean Tatars to the Empire brought a valuable source of men and material into the service of the Sultan.

Mehmet’s conquests brought a new call for a Crusade by Pope Nicholas V. The Hungarians, Wallachians, and the Venetians answered the call and formed an alliance with the Albanians who were then in rebellion against the Ottomans. The war began in 1463 and lasted four years. The Crusaders captured Morea, and Istanbul was threatened. Mehmet built two fortresses, facing each other, in Gallipoli to block an enemy naval advance and to prevent an attack on Istanbul from the rear. A powerful Ottoman navy was built which beat back the Venetians and recaptured Morea. On land, the Ottoman cavalry fought its way up the Adriatic coast and approached the outskirts of Venice. An alarmed Venice sued for peace, surrendered Morea to the Turks and agreed to an annual tribute of 10,000 gold coins.

The Ottoman borders to the east were far from quiet. There was friction with the Turkmen Aq Kuyunlu ruler Uzun Hassan over control of the province of Karaman. The Ottomans had annexed the province in 1468 but some of the Karaman princes had fled to Persia and had sought the protection of Uzun Hassan. The Vatican saw in this a golden opportunity to outflank the Ottomans. Ambassadors were exchanged between the Latins and Uzun Hassan and an alliance was concluded. In 1472 Uzun Hassan advanced into Anatolia at the head of over 30,000 cavalrymen. Mehmet II, recognizing the grave danger from the east, marshaled the Ottoman forces numbering over 100,000, and in a pitched battle near Bashkent (1473) trounced Uzun Hassan. Beaten in battle, Uzun Hassan concluded a treaty with Mehmet and promised not to interfere in Anatolian politics. It was also during the struggle for Karaman that the Ottomans came face to face with the powerful Mamlukes of Egypt. The border areas between Anatolia and Persia would involve, in the coming decades, a three-way struggle between the Ottomans, the Safavids and the Mamlukes.

Mehmet continued to reinforce his naval forces. In 1480, the Turks crossed the Adriatic and occupied several strong points in southern Italy including the city of Otranto (1480). The presence of the Turks so close to home struck panic in Rome and the Pope made preparations to flee to France. Mehmet’s next target was the island of Rhodes, which was controlled by the Knights of St. John. These Knights were pirates who routinely attacked Turkish ships ferrying pilgrims from Anatolia, kidnapping and robbing them. In 1480, the Turkish general Ahmed Pasha drove out the Knights of St. John from the island. When Mehmet died in 1481, he had more than recovered what was lost at the Battle of Ankara (1402). He had extended the frontiers of the Ottoman Empire beyond those achieved by his grandfather Bayazid I. He had projected Turkish power into Italy and soundly trounced the Hungarians. Most important, he had conquered Istanbul, crown jewel of the Mediterranean and capital of the Byzantine Empire.

Several reasons may be offered for the explosive growth of the Ottoman Empire. In the pre-Ottoman era, feudalism was rampant in the Balkans. There was no central authority. The peasantry suffered under local fiefdoms. Local lords and the church imposed exorbitant taxes and exacted forced labor. To the peasants, toiling under the yoke of the feudal lords, the Ottomans came as liberators.

The Ottomans instituted several reforms to change the feudal social structure that they had inherited. First, they abolished the fiefdoms and placed all rights to the land under state control. Taxation was fixed depending on the produce. Secondly, the Ottomans protected the religious rights of the conquered people. Under the milliyet system of administration, each religious group was given autonomy with respect to its personal laws. The Church was protected. Third, the conflict between the Roman and Eastern Orthodox churches worked to the advantage of the Turks. The peasants were Eastern Orthodox, whereas the lords and noblemen were Roman Catholic. The peasants were much better off under the Turks than they were under the Latin lords and often cooperated with the Muslim Turks against the Latin Christians. Many accepted Islam to escape the oppression of their former feudal masters. Fourth, the Ottoman conquests were not merely imperial expansions but a great migration of Turkish people. This migration had commenced in Central Asia in the 11thcentury under the Seljuks. Each Ottoman conquest was followed by a grand migration to the new territories. The ethnic and religious composition of the Balkans went through a transformation as the Turks migrated deeper into south central Europe. Each settled wave of settlers paved the way for the next one.

But the most important reason for the success of the Ottomans was the spirit of ghazza. Those who performed ghazza were known as ghazis. The ghazi vision was to establish a world order based on equity, justice, freedom of worship, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong. The spirit of the ghazis permeated the Ottoman struggle since the early days of Uthmanali. It was this spirit that provided the explosive energy for the Ottomans. In its implementation, it demanded of the ghazis self-restraint, unceasing struggle, discipline, valor, sacrifice, mutual help and adherence to a strict code of honor. The ghazi was not to harm the civilian population but to protect it. The Ottomans jealously guarded this reputation as the ghazis of Islam and won the admiration of Muslims around the globe. Even Babur, the founder of the Moghul Empire in India, pays tribute to the “ghazis of Rum” in his autobiography, the Baburnameh.

The organization of the ghazis lent itself to a decentralized command structure, which allowed the Turks to take advantage of local conditions. The overall struggle was organized into marches. For instance, during the period of Bayazid I, in 1402, there were no less than four marches, each pushing the Ottoman advance in a different direction: the march of Dobruja directed at Wallachia; the march of Vidin directed at Hungary; the march of Uskup directed at Bosnia and Albania; and the march of Tirkkala directed at Morea and Greece. The Emperor considered himself to be a ghazi and was always in the front lines. Thus, the expansive spirit of a border state animated the Ottoman Empire. Once a forward area was subdued, it was populated by a fresh wave of Turks, and it, in turn, became a center for further expansion. In some ways, it resembled the expansion of American settler colonies in the American West in the 19th century. The leaders of the marches were rewarded with large estates in the conquered territories, which they governed as autonomous officials of the Ottoman state. Up until the time of Murad II, the marches were led by free-wheeling Turkish chiefs. Murad II put his trusted soldiers from the palace guards in charge of the marches and brought the marches under centralized state control. In the 16th and 17th centuries, as defensive positions in central Europe hardened, it became more and more difficult to continue the marches. After the 16th century, the role of the ghazis changed, from conquest to providing advance support for the Turkish army by conducting forays ahead of the main armed forces, harassing the enemy, cutting its supply lines and gathering intelligence.

Malaysia, Introduction of Islam into

Malaysia, Introduction of Islam into

Contributed by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed, PhD

Sandwiched between the island of Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula, the Strait of Malacca is the artery for commerce between China, Japan, India, Arabia and East Africa. In the Middle Ages, these Straits were the hub for trade and commerce just as much as they are today. Riding on the monsoons, ships from as far away as Canton, China visited Malacca from January to May. From July onwards, the monsoons reversed the flow of winds, facilitating the return of ships to India and Sri Lanka. The monsoon patterns in the Arabian Sea similarly allowed ships from Aden and East Africa to trade with Gujrat and the Malabar Coast of India.

The interior of the Malay Peninsula is endowed with bountiful resources. Lush forests, coconut groves, a rich soil, an abundant supply of rain and a population endowed with perseverance, hard work and hospitality make this land an idyllic tropical resort. Through the ages, ships have used the coast of this peninsula to dock and transact business. If one were to visit this area around the year 1400, one would find Chinese, Indians, Omanis, Yemenis, Persians and Africans intermingling with traders from Sumatra, Java, Bali and Canton, exchanging goods and establishing trade relations. China exported silk, brocades, porcelain and perfumes. India offered hardwoods, carvings, precious stones, cotton, sugar, livestock and weapons. From the interior of Malaya came tin, camphor, ebony and gold. Sumatra provided rice, gold, black pepper and mace. Java was the source of dyes, spices and perfumes. Cloves were exported from the Malaccas and sandalwood came from Timor.

Muslim merchants dominated international trade in the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal and the East China Sea. A common religion, impeccable business integrity and universal transaction laws based on the Shariah had enabled the Muslims to establish a trade network linking the coastlines of East Africa, southern Arabia, the Persian Gulf and the Malabar coast with the islands of Indonesia and the southern coast of China. As early as the 8th century, there was a Muslim trading post in Canton. The coastline of Malaya was cosmopolitan wherein merchants from Malabar, Arabia and Africa lived and interacted with the indigenous Malay population and Chinese mandarins.

It was into this universe that providence injected a prince. Around the year 1390, a prince from Java, Parameswara, was forced to flee his homeland. Landing on the west coast of Malaya with a loyal following of about a thousand young men, the prince lived off piracy for almost ten years. At that time, Siam (modern Thailand) was the imperial power in the area. Parameswara drove out the Siamese and established the town of Malacca in 1403. The name Malacca derives from the Arabic word Malakut-meaning market place. The Arabs had maintained a trading colony there since the 8th century.

Once settled, the prince encouraged peaceful trade. The fame and fortune of the trading post grew until it attracted international attention. The Muslims dominated the trade in the Indian Ocean. Arabic had become the lingua franca of traders in this region. Islam was gaining a following in the islands of Indonesia. Across the Straits from Malacca, the powerful Muslim kingdom of Acheh was emerging. Local folklore has it that around the year 1405, Prince Parameswara fell in love with a princess from the court of Pasai, accepted Islam, married her and changed his name to Sultan Iskander Shah.

Thus it was love that brought Islam to Malaya. The bride brought with her good fortune for Malacca. The following year, the Emperor of China, Chu Tin (1403-24) sent a delegation under admiral Yin Ching, offering trade and friendship. The offer was gladly accepted as the Sultan was under increasing military pressure from the Siamese to the north. More courtly transactions followed. In 1409, the great Chinese admiral Zheng Yi (commonly known as Admiral Ho) visited Malacca at the head of a large flotilla of great ships. Admiral Zheng Yi was the greatest seaman of the 15th century. He was a Muslim. The Emperor of China, realizing the importance of Islam in the Indian Ocean region, had appointed him as Admiral of the great voyage. Zheng Yi continued with his flotilla to Acheh, Sri Lanka, Calicut, Bijapur, Hormuz, Aden, Jeddah, Zanj (East Africa), Zanzibar, Shofala and then southwards, crossing what is today the Cape of Good Hope to the west coast of Africa. Admiral Zheng Yi brought an invitation for Sultan Iskander Shah to visit Peking.

In 1411 Sultan Iskander Shah visited China, was warmly received and was given presents of silk, gems, horses, gold and silver. Malacca also received a “most favored nation status” from China and entered into mutual defense agreements to ward off further Thai encroachments into the Malay Peninsula. Upon his return, Sultan Iskander Shah ruled as a benevolent monarch. He invited Muslim scholars from as far away as Mecca, honored them and encouraged the spread of Islam. Malacca became not only the hub of international trade but also a center for Islamic learning and a rich prize that was to be fought over in succeeding centuries by emerging European Empires.

Sultan Iskander Shah died in 1424. His grave is not to be found because the Portuguese, when they captured Malacca in 1510, they dug up the graves of all of the Sultans of Malaya and destroyed the tombstones. But the legacy of Sultan Iskander Shah lives. He was a prince who brought Islam to Malaya for the love of a beautiful princess.

 

Islam in Indonesia

Islam in Indonesia

Contributed by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed, PhD

Modern Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world. Together with Malaysia and the Philippine islands, this area is home to over 250 million Muslims. Historically, the region has been referred to as the East Indies, but we will use the term “archipelago” to include the modern nations of Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei and the term “Malay” as a comprehensive term to include the people, language and culture of these three nations.

Geography is a major determinant of history. The vast region extending from the Malayan peninsula to New Guinea is not a part of the interconnecting landmass extending from Morocco to Bengal. Geographic interconnections ensured political military interactions between North Africa, Egypt, West Asia, Central Asia and India. East Asia is separated from this interconnecting landmass by the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal. Due to its remoteness, the political and military events in East Asia were affected only peripherally by the events in the rest of the Muslim world. As a consequence, Indonesia and Malaysia had to forge their own history, which is related to that of the rest of the Islamic world more in its spiritual, intellectual and religious content and only marginally in its military-political content.

The pre-Islamic Archipelago had a Hindu ruling class over a Buddhist-Hindu-animist matrix. The first infusion of Indian elements into the Archipelago occurred during the reign of Ashoka (269-232 B.C.E.). Ashoka was the first to consolidate his power over much of the Indian subcontinent. His early reign was characterized by a relentless war to expand his dominions. However, after the Battle of Kalinga (circa 250 B.C.E.), he was so moved by the slaughter and destruction of the war, that he embraced Buddhism. His capital of Pataliputra (modern Patna) became a principal Buddhist center. Ashoka’s edicts of non-violence, reflecting the teachings of Buddha, were carved into stone and were sent to Sri Lanka, Burma, Afghanistan and the Indonesian Islands.

The imperial court of Ashoka maintained diplomatic relations with the Assyrian courts of Persia and Syria, the pharaohs of Egypt, Alexander I of Macedonia and the Tang Dynasty of China. India was also a major player in the trade linking China, India and the Mediterranean. It stands to reason that the emissaries of the emperor would have carried his message to these far-flung corners of the known world. However, Buddhism was slow to expand its influence in the Archipelago and in China, reflecting in part the difficult communications of the age and in part the passive, non-violent approach of Buddhism. It was not until the 3rd and 4th centuries that Buddhism spread rapidly in China, Japan and the Archipelago.

In the 4th century, northern India was consolidated under the Gupta Empire (320-467). Emperor Chandra Gupta II (375-415) extended his kingdom through conquest, marriage and diplomacy over much of the Indian subcontinent. We know a good deal about this period through the writings of the Chinese traveler Fa-Hsien. During this period, Hinduism went through a period of resurgence in India, displacing Buddhism as the dominant religion of India. The well-known poet Kalidasa lived at the court of Chandra Gupta. The patronage of the royal court encouraged Hindu ideas to travel far and wide.

However, it was southern India that was the primary vehicle for the transmission of Hinduism to the Archipelago. Geography as well as politics favored the south. The monsoons connected the sea-lanes of Sri Lanka and the Tamil lands to the Archipelago. Commerce stimulated cultural and religious interactions. Buddhism was the international faith in Asia but Hinduism found favor in the courts of Sumatra, Cambodia and Vietnam. No doubt the commercial advantages of maintaining a common religious bond played an important role. Southern India and Sri Lanka exported cotton, ivory, elephants, brass work and iron to the Archipelago and China. In turn, the Archipelago exported camphor and spices. China exported silk, oil and amber. The products of India and East Asia were exported from the western coast of India to the Roman Empire in the Mediterranean. Dialects of south Indian languages as well as Sanskrit were introduced into the Archipelago and into IndoChina.

The south Indian influence grew with time. In the 6th and 7th centuries, the Pallava and Chola kingdoms controlled much of what is today Tamil Nadu, in southeastern India. Both of these kingdoms were predatory and lived off raiding their neighbors. The Cholas, in particular, built a powerful navy and raided as far as the Indonesian islands. In 1025, the Chola navy defeated the navy of the Empire of Sri Vijaya based in Sumatra and became the most powerful naval force in the Bay of Bengal during the first half of the 11th century. Together with the Keralites of Malabar and the Pallavas of the southern tip of India, the Chola-Pallava regions provided an important link in the trade between the Roman Empire, India and China. The south Indian kingdoms continued to prosper under successive dynasties until the arrival of Malik Kafur (circa 1300), general of Alauddin Khilji’s armies in the Deccan, in southern India. In the thousand years of pre-Islamic interactions with the Archipelago, the temples of Angorwat in Cambodia were built (circa 1000) and the Hindu kingdoms of Sri Vijaya in Sumatra and Majapahit in Java rose and fell, leaving a strong Sanskritic influence on the language, customs, art and architecture of the Archipelago and Indochina.

The introduction of Islam into the Archipelago may be divided into three phases: (1) the first phase extending from the Hijra (622) to 1100 (2) the second phase covering the period 1100 to 1500 and (3) the third phase extending from 1500 to modern times.

The first phase was a product of commercial contacts between the maritime regions of the Indian Ocean. Trade between West Asia and East Asia predates the Islamic period. Merchants from Yemen and the Persian Gulf followed the monsoons to the coast of Malabar and from there to the islands of Sri Lanka, Java and Sumatra. This trade mushroomed with the onset of Islam. The powerful Abbasids in Baghdad especially encouraged global trade. To the west, trade caravans traversed the Sahara through West Africa deep into what is today Ghana and Nigeria. To the east, the Silk Road to China was brisk with activity. Sea borne trade was not far behind. Muslim merchants, both Arab and Persian, plied the Indian Ocean and captured the bulk of the trade with India, East Africa, Indonesia and China. Colonies of merchants grew up in Gujrat, Malabar, Sri Lanka, Sumatra, Canton and all along the East African coast. Al Masudi records that in 877, during the reign of the Tang emperor Hi-Tsung, there was a colony of almost 200,000 Muslims in Canton, China. A peasant rebellion in 887 forced these Muslims to flee and settle at Kheda on the west coast of Malaya. The merchant colonies along the rim of the Indian Ocean grew in size and prosperity between the years 750 and 1100.

Impressed by the honesty and integrity of these merchants, a large number of Malays accepted Islam. Intermarriage also played a part in conversions, as happened in Malabar and Sumatra. The immigrants did not force their own customs and culture on the local populations. Instead, they adopted the local culture while introducing the doctrine of Tawhid and the requirements of the Shariah. The Arabs were always a small minority among the Malays but they enjoyed a privileged position in society. They spoke the language of the Qur’an and had a reputation for piety and steadfastness. They were sought after as ideal spouses. Even the rajas and the sultans considered it an honor to have an Arab marry within the family and those with Arab blood were honored as Sayyids, descendants of the Prophet’s family.

This period marked the zenith of classical Islamic civilization. It was during the 8th and 9th centuries that the major schools of Fiqh evolved in Madina and Kufa. The Islam that was carried by the Arab and Persian merchants had a heavy content of Shariah and Fiqh. Early Islam in Indonesia and Malaysia reflected the intellectual currents in West Asia, although the region was outside the political military circle of the Abbasid Empire. The institution of the hajj played an important part in these developments. Most of the Arabs followed the Shafi’i and Maliki Schools that were the dominant schools in Madina and Damascus. Consequently, these were the schools of Fiqh brought back by the hajjis into Indonesia and Malaysia.

Circa 1100, the Islamic world went through a profound transformation. Al Gazzali (d. 1111), through the force and eloquence of his writings, dealt a severe blow to the study of philosophy and gave tasawwuf a respectable place in Islamic learning. Before 1100, Islamic civilization was extrovert and empirical, with a heavy emphasis on Shariah and Fiqh. After 1100, Islamic civilization turned inwards, focused more on the spirit than on philosophy and the physical sciences. Tasawwuf emerged as the dominant force in Islamic teachings. Major Sufi orders, which were to change the spiritual landscape of Asia and Africa, sprang up in Baghdad (Abdul Qader Jeelani, d. 1166), Delhi (Khwaja Moeenuddin Chishti, d. 1236), Konya, Turkey (Jalaluddin Rumi, d. 1273) and Cairo (al Shadhuli, d. 1258). The content as well as the thrust of Islamic civilization changed. The Archipelago, like India, felt the impact of this transformation.

It was during the period 1100 to 1500 that Islam spread widely in Indonesia and Malaya. It was a spiritual Islam, focused more on the soul than on ritual, that found a home in the islands much as was the case in India. The spread of Islam in the Archipelago followed a geographical progression over a period of 400 years (1100 to 1500) starting with Sumatra, followed by Java, Malaya, Borneo, Sulu (Mindanao), Sulawesi and Luzon (Manila). Shaykh Abdullah Arif, a scholar from Arabia, introduced Islam into Sumatra around the year 1100. One of his disciples, Shaykh Burhan Shah, carried on dawah work throughout northern Sumatra. The first ruler of northern Sumatra to accept Islam was Johan Shah (1204), but it was during the reign of Sultan Malik al Saleh (d. 1297) that Islam received a major boost. Commercial contacts had introduced the faith to the coasts of Sumatra and Java as well as the western coast of Malaya and the eastern shores of Vietnam in the previous centuries. Sufi orders appeared and spread the faith throughout Sumatra during the 14thcentury. The city of Pasai became a center of learning. Ibn Batuta visited Pasai in 1345 and found its ruler, Sultan Malik al Zahir to be a pious man, a patron of scholars and an enthusiastic propagator of the faith. Malik al Zahir was a grandson of Malik al Saleh. In 1396, Parameswara, a prince from the Java, fled to Malacca. He married a daughter of the Sultan of Pasai, accepted Islam and changed his name to Sultan Iskander Shah (1406). It was this prince who introduced Islam into Malaya.

Pasai and Malacca became centers of tasawwuf, radiating their spiritual teachings to the interior areas. Malacca became the beacon of Islam for the region. The important commercial center of Kedah became Muslim by 1474. During this period-the 13th and 14th centuries-the Muslim world was reeling from Mongol and Tatar invasions. Many of the ulema, Sufi shaykhs and merchants fleeing this destruction found refuge in Delhi. As persecution of the Sufis increased at the court of Muhammed bin Tughlaq of Delhi (circa 1335), many of them migrated further east to the Archipelago. Tasawwuf had become so widespread in the Islamic world that many of the merchants and travelers themselves belonged to Sufitareeqas. These migrations further stimulated religious scholarship in the islands and provided an impetus for the rise of great Sufi shaykhs among the Malays themselves. It was these shaykhs, sons of the soil, who spearheaded the propagation of the Islamic faith in their homeland.

In the 14th and 15th centuries, Java was the seat of the powerful Hindu kingdom of Majapahit, centered on the modern city of Jakarta. Agriculture and the spice trade were the mainstays of this kingdom. Majapahit dominated the island of Java and its commerce. Lesser rajas and local chiefs who controlled local ports paid tribute to the ruler of Majapahit. As commerce between the Archipelago and the Muslim world increased, many of these local rajas and chiefs found it more advantageous to forge closer ties with Muslim India and West Asia than with the Majapahit court. As political ties with the central political power weakened, a local power vacuum was created. Islam was the beneficiary of this political vacuum. One by one, the local rajas and chiefs accepted Islam. Conversion brought with it a sense of belonging to a larger international brotherhood as well as significant advantages in commerce and trade. In due time, the Majapahit court itself came under Islamic influence. By 1450, Islam was the dominant religion at the court.

In 1451, Shaykh Rahmat, a sage who had made his center near the modern city of Surabaya, converted the Majapahit ruler, Raja Kertawijaya, to Islam. By 1475, Majapahit had changed its character to a Muslim sultanate, although the kingdom itself survived until 1515. Thus the spread of Islam in Java was different from what is a norm in history, wherein the conversion of a powerful ruler as a powerful incentive for the subjects to follow suit. In the islands, it was the people who converted first, with the king following suit. Among the Sufi shaykhs most revered by Javanese in this transformation were Shaykh Ishaq of Pasai, Sunan Bonang, Sunan Ampel, Sunan Giri, Sunan Dirijat and Khalifa Hussain.

Yet another element in the introduction of Islam was the issue of legitimacy of rule. Throughout history, there has been a strong current of opinion among Muslims that a ruler must be from the family of the Prophet. By the 14th century, when Islam had spread throughout Java and Sumatra, this belief in the legitimacy of rule by kinship with the Prophet was widely accepted by the Malay people. Consequently, the newly converted rulers sought marriage ties with the Sayyids and Sheriffs, who were Arab immigrants from Mecca and Madina. The progeny of these marriages could rightfully claim their lineage both from the ruling dynasties of the islands and the family of the Prophet. The kingdom of Majapahit was no exception to this longing for legitimacy. As more and more Javanese accepted Islam, the rulers of Majapahit had to bow to the will of the people, accept Islam and fulfill the requirements of legitimacy as accepted by the general population.

Shaykh Awliya Karim al Maqdum, who moved from Malacca to Mindanao in 1380, introduced Islam into the southern Philippines. His disciple Syed Abu Bakr carried on his work. In 1475, Sharif Muhammed Kabungsuan, moved from Malacca to Mindanao, where he worked tirelessly to introduce the faith. Further north, in the areas around the modern city of Manila, Sufi shaykhs carried on dawah (invitation to the faith) work. The Spanish forcibly converted these areas to Christianity when they conquered the Philippines (1564). The southern region of Sumatra was Islamized in the latter part of the 15th century. The islands of the Celebes and the western regions of New Guinea also embraced Islam around 1495 through the work of Shaykh Putah.

Islam spread like a beacon, carried from island to island, for almost four hundred years. Each time the inhabitants of an island accepted Islam, they themselves became the standard bearers of the new faith and worked hard to convert others. By the time the Portuguese and the Spanish arrived on the scene in the 16th century (1512 onwards), the entire Archipelago was either under the sway of Islam or on its way to becoming Muslim.

Islam is not just a dogma and a collection of rituals. It is a total worldview that embraces the intellect as well as the spirit. It is a paradigm shift that transforms individuals, societies and civilizations, reshaping their horizons and remolding them in a global framework. And so it was in the archepelago.

The introduction of tasawwuf into the Archipelago sparked intense intellectual activity among the Malays, much as it had done earlier in Central Asia, Persia, India, Egypt and North Africa. Debates and discussions on the spiritual aspects of tasawwuf produced some of the most sublime literature in the Malay language. Shaykh Hamza al Fansuri, who lived in Acheh (northern Sumatra) during the reign of Riyat Shah (1589-1604), is the best known of the Sufi poets of the era. The Malays were as intensely involved with discussions about Wahdat al Wajud (Unity of Existence) as was the rest of the Islamic world at that time. The greatest exponent of this school of tasawwuf in the Malay language was Nuruddin al Raniri (d. 1666) of the Qadariya order.

It was about this time that the Qur’an was translated into the Malay language by Shaykh Abdul Rauf al Sinkili (d. 1693) of the Shattaria order. It is also noteworthy that Acheh (northern Sumatra) produced a succession of four Muslim queens (1641-1699) starting with Sultana Tajul Alam Safiyyatuddin Shah (1641-1675). These women monarchs ruled with distinction over most of the islands of Sumatra and parts of Java and brought pride and honor to the womanhood of Islam.

During the second phase of Islamic penetration, immigration from India to the Archipelago increased. These migrations were helped by the growth of trade in the Indian Ocean and the pivoted role of Malabar, Gujrat and Bengal in this trade. Muslim Indians joined the ranks of the Arabs and Persians as merchants in East Asia. When Malik Kafur, a general of Emperor Alauddin Khilji of Delhi, captured southern India (1300-1320), Islam was introduced into the Deccan Plateau of India.

Thereafter, many of the migrants from India to Malaya and Indonesia were Tamilian Muslims. After 1335, thanks to the vagaries of Emperor Muhammed bin Tughlaq, India split up into regional powers. Among the more powerful were the kingdoms of Gujrat (1335-1565), Bengal (1340-1575) and the Deccan Sultanates (1336–1650). Merchants, Sufi shaykhs and ulema from Gujrat, Bengal, the Makran coast of Baluchistan and the Deccan made up the ranks of immigrants to the Archipelago. In the 19thand the 20th centuries, when Great Britain controlled both India and Malaya, more Indians traveled to Malaya as soldiers and policemen. Despite these migrations, the Indian Muslims remained a small minority in both Malaya and Indonesia although many Muslim Indo-Pakistanis intermarried with the Malays and became a part of the Islamic amalgam.

In the third phase-1500 to 1950-the consolidation of Islam that had started in the second phase continued. Major strides were made not just in the conversion of people, but also in the evolution of culture and literature. The influence of Islam on the Malay language was profound. In India and Pakistan, the cultural impact of the Turks had resulted in the birth of a new language, Urdu. In Indonesia and Malaysia, the religious impact of the Sufis and the ulema transformed the Malay language. New alphabets were introduced into the Malay language to facilitate the pronunciation of the Qur’an. Arabic and Farsi words enriched the language, expanding its reach to include philosophy, theology, polemics, exposition and the rational sciences, which facilitated the integration of the Malay peoples into the international brotherhood of Islam. The transcendence of Tawhid replaced the old worldview based on man-made deities. Language itself went through a transformation to accommodate the concepts of Being and the universal community of man. By the 16th century, the Malay language had become the common medium of expression of all the Malay peoples in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, displacing the ancient Javanese language. It also became the medium for the propagation of the new faith throughout the islands.

The third phase is also marked by the appearance of the Europeans. The Portuguese arrived first, capturing by force of arms the commercially important straits of Malacca in 1512. The fall of Malacca forced the migration of local scholars to the other islands, in turn facilitating the further spread of Islam. The experience of the Archipelago with regard to its initial contacts with the Europeans was the same as that of all the other littoral states in the Indian Ocean. Once the Portuguese had circumnavigated the coast of Africa and had established themselves in Goa (India), they embarked on a systematic campaign to destroy the important trading centers of East Africa, the Persian Gulf, western India and the Archipelago. However, it was soon obvious that Portugal had neither the manpower nor the resources to dominate the Indian Ocean. The powerful Ottoman Turks, who had by now assumed the Caliphate and were duty-bound to assist the Muslims around the globe, resisted the Portuguese aggression. Turkish naval forces engaged the Portuguese navy off the shores of East Africa and contained the advance of Portuguese power After 1550, a balance of power prevailed between Portugal and the land powers of Asia. The spirit of resistance to the European Christian invasions provided further impetus and drive to the spread of Islam in the Archipelago.

The next on the scene were the Spanish who were just as ruthless as the Portuguese and were far more powerful. After expelling the Jews and the Muslims from Spain (1492-1502) and destroying the ancient civilizations of the Aztecs, the Mayans and the Incas in the Americas (1500 to 1530), the Spanish made their appearance in East Asia. Magellan arrived in 1521, just about the time that the Sultan of Manila had accepted Islam and the new faith was establishing roots in the northern islands. In 1564, the Philippines fell to the Spanish who promptly introduced the Inquisition into the Archipelago and started a process of forced conversion. The resistance of the Muslims, however, successfully contained the Spanish advance to the northern islands.

The Portuguese and Spanish invasions halted the northward spread of Islam and arrested its advance into Vietnam and Indochina. A long and protracted military struggle ensued, between the invading Spanish and the defending Malay peoples, a struggle that goes on to this day in the island of Mindanao. By the 16th century, a military stalemate developed in which the island of Mindanao became the boundary between the Spanish possessions in the north and the Muslim Malay territories to the south.

In the 17th century, the Dutch displaced the Portuguese as the principal colonial power in the Far East. The Dutch were as ruthless as the Potuguese and the Spaniards, waged incessant war on the Malays, captured a large number of prisoners and took them off to far away as Cape Town, South Africa. Among of the captives were many learned Shaykhs and it was these Shaykhs who introduced Islam in Southern Africa. The British, after consolidating their position in India (1757-1806), proceeded to occupy the Straits of Malacca (1812). In the latter part of the 19th century, the states of the Archipelago fell one after the other to the Dutch and the British. In the ensuing struggle for independence, the Malay language provided a common bond for the peoples of Indonesia and Malaysia and Islam was a primary vehicle for an expression of their demand for freedom. The struggle itself provided an impetus to the consolidation of Islamic influence. The faith of Islam spread and by the turn of the 20th century, the entire Archipelago had become Muslim except for the island Bali and the isolated pocket of Singapore.

Another important aspect of the third phase is the migration of the Chinese to the archipelago. Of the two pre-Islamic civilizations in Asia, those of China and India, China had by far the most political military-technological influence on East Asia. But India had the greater religious-cultural influence. China radiated its power all across the ancient world. Chinese ambassadors were received with honor in Delhi, Samarqand, Yemen and Cairo. In 1406, the great Chinese Admiral Zheng Yi sailed the waters of the Indian Ocean with a mighty fleet as far as the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, visiting along the way, the Sultanate of Java, Sri Lanka, Malabar, Yemen and Dar-as-Salaam in Zanzibar. The rajas and sultans of southeast Asia always saw fit to court the Chinese for trade and protection. The mass migration of Chinese to the archipelago was of more recent times. During the 19th century, many Chinese were brought over to work in the plantations of Malaya and Indonesia. Some came as merchants and stayed. By the end of the 19th century, the Chinese formed a third of the population of Malaya and a small but influential minority of the population of Indonesia. The area in and around the modern city of Singapore had a Chinese majority and that city continues to be dominated by the Chinese today. Most of the Chinese immigrants were not Muslim and it prevented them from melting into the Malayan society. Only in the interior regions of Malaysia and Indonesia were there some conversions when the Chinese occasionally married into Muslim families.

It is pertinent to ask why Islam found widespread acceptance in a Hindu-Buddhist matrix in Indonesia and Malaysia, whereas in India it found only partial acceptance. Several reasons may be advanced to explain these differences. First, the process of introduction of Islam was different in India and the Archipelago. During the first phase of Islamic expansion, between 622 and 1100, the commercial contacts between West Asia and the coastlines of India and Indonesia were similar. Islam made a peaceful penetration into southwestern India and the Archipelago. This changed with the invasions of Mahmud of Ghazna (circa 1000) into India. The dagger of Mahmud thrust deep into India and left a legacy of bitterness, which lasts to this day. Later invasions from Afghanistan and Central Asia, in search of loot from Hindustan, solidified this bitterness. In India, the ruling dynasties were primarily Turkish, Afghan and Moghul who looked outside the subcontinent for their roots. Except for a brief interlude in the reign of Alauddin Khilji (circa 1300), Indian Muslims and Hindus did not make inroads into the Delhi courts until later in the Moghul period (16thcentury). Not so in Indonesia. There, the Hindu and Buddhist rulers themselves accepted Islam and in turn became champions of the new faith. They were Malays, not Turks and Moghuls. The affinity of a people to their ruler acts as a powerful catalyst for the penetration of new ideas. Islam became a native religion in the islands from day one; it took Islam 300 years to do so in India. In the subcontinent, the faith spread through the great Sufi shaykhs in spite of the opposition of the rulers, and sometimes the opposition of official kadis. The rulers were more interested in collecting taxes than in introducing Islam while the kadis were busy giving fatwas.

The second important difference was language. In India, Farsi was the court language, as it was at the Safavid and Central Asian courts. Urdu and Hindi were native languages but did not find acceptance as court languages. In the Archipelago, Malay remained the official language undergoing a transformation through the influence of Arabic and Persian, but remaining essentially a language of the islands.

The third reason was the depth of penetration of Hindu and Buddhist cultures. In India, Hinduism had displaced Buddhism and had consolidated its hold through the work of Shankaracharya (7th century). The caste system was rigid and almost impenetrable. Not so in Indonesia and Indochina. There, Hinduism was a court veneer imposed from the top. Most of the population had remained animist. The caste system had not filtered down to the common folk. The religious milieu in these regions was closer to that in West Africa than India. It was easier for a universal faith like Islam to change the worldview of a people who were innately spiritual and open (as in the Archipelago) than a people who were spiritual but were insulated in the rigid compartments of a hierarchical caste structure (as in India).

Finally, the partial conversion of the subcontinent added another element of tension in a diverse land already divided by region, language, culture and caste. These tensions burst forth as political-military rivalries in the 18thcentury just as soon as the central Muslim power in Delhi waned and then disappeared. The Europeans fully exploited these tensions to their advantage. In the Archipelago, the acceptance of Islam was almost complete. The Malay peoples of Indonesia and Malaysia found in the new faith a source of national cohesiveness and universal solidarity.

The Battle of Ankara

The Battle of Ankara

Contributed by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed, PhD

From India, Timur turned towards Baghdad. The year was 1400. Facing him were an array of foes extending in an arc from Iraq through Syria, Turkey and into the Caucasus. He was cognizant of the strength of the Ottoman Turks and initially wished to avoid a confrontation with them. But the westward march of the Tatars was bound to run up against the equally expansive Ottomans. The cause for hostilities was provided by the flight of some of Timur’s foes into Ottoman territories where they received the traditional Turkish protection. Timur wrote to the Ottoman Sultan Bayazid asking that the fugitives be expatriated. The response was not only negative; it was insulting. Further correspondence followed, more insults traded, until it was clear that a test of strength between the two giants was inevitable.

Timur could have taken Baghdad as he went, but he always planned his moves with the meticulous care of a great conqueror. First, he focused on clearing his flanks. Moving up to the headwaters of the Tigris and the Euphrates (in modern Turkey) he captured the key city of Sivas. The defending Turkish contingent fled. From there Timur sent detachments towards Georgia and the Caucasus Mountains, eliminating the Georgian and Armenian Crusaders who had menaced his rearguard. Then he turned west and advanced towards Syria. His objective was to neutralize the Mamlukes before undertaking a test of strength with the Ottomans so that his flank would not be threatened from Cairo. Mamluke armies were camped in Aleppo, a heavily defended walled city with high ramparts. The Tatars lured the Mamlukes from their fortified positions. A great battle ensued in which the Mamlukes were sounded trounced and were sent reeling south towards the Sinai. Timur took Aleppo and moved on Damascus. In 1401, Damascus surrendered and the Mamlukes sued for peace. The terms of surrender were negotiated for the Mamlukes by no less a person than the great historian Ibn Khaldun, author of theMuqaddamah. Ibn Khaldun was at the time serving the Mamluke sultans of Cairo. Damascus met the same fate as had earlier befallen Isfahan, Delhi and a host of other cities. The city was sacked, set on fire and was almost obliterated. Timur captured the artisans and architects of the city and sent them to Samarqand to work on his many projects. It is said that it was in Damascus that Timur saw a pomegranate shaped dome that adorned one of the mosques. This dome, further refined, was erected on many a tomb in Samarqand. Two hundred years later through Timur’s descendants, the Great Moghuls in India, this same concept found its sublime expression in the dome of the Taj Mahal.

With his flanks cleared, Timur retraced his steps to Baghdad. The Ottomans were still busy in Europe. In 1386, the powerful Sultan Bayazid of the Ottomans had defeated the Serbs at the Battle of Kosova and had forged ahead into Bulgaria (1392) and lands beyond the Danube. Therefore, Timur had the luxury of laying siege to the city with carefuly deliberation. Sultan Ahmed of Baghdad fled and left the city in charge of a lieutenant, Nuruddin who valiantly defended the city. Baghdad, despite the ravages of the Mongols, was still a city to be reckoned with militarily. It was defended on one side by the waters of the Tigris River and on the others by high walls manned by long-range batteries. But Nuruddin could not withstand the onslaught of the Tatars and the city fell. General slaughter followed in the fashion of Timurid conquests. Chroniclers report that twenty-one towers of skulls were erected in the city. The buildings, save the mosques and Sufi zawiyahs, were pulled down. This was the final coupe de grace for Baghdad, a city that was once the crown jewel of the world. After Timur, Baghdad was to remain a provincial town at best, with the glory of the past inscribed only in the stones that lay scattered around the once mighty monuments.

Timur had subdued the Georgians, forced the Mamlukes to pay him tribute, conquered the great city of Baghdad and was now ready to face the Ottomans. In the ensuring struggle between the two great conquerors, Timur of the Tatars and Bayazid of the Ottomans, one sees a contrast between careful planning on one side and casual overconfidence on the other. Timur made every move with meticulous care, gathering intelligence about the movements of his foe, while carefully concealing his own. Reinforcements were brought in both from Samarqand and Afghanistan. Bayazid, on the other hand, appeared so confident that his usual prudence deserted him. He moved leisurely from the plains of Hungary through the Balkans, crossed the Bosporus and moved to his camp at Ankara. From there, he advanced towards Sivas with an army of over 100,000, expecting to confront the enemy. But Timur was a consummate soldier. He knew that the Ottoman strength was in its infantry, which was well disciplined, well armed and the most formidable in the world. Eluding the Turks advancing towards him, Timur swung behind the Ottoman armies towards Ankara. Bayazid was well over a hundred miles from Ankara when he heard that the Tatars were headed for his home base. He was forced to turn around to protect his base. But it was too late. Timur had already occupied Ankara and the Ottoman camps. Furthermore, the Tatars diverted the waters of the Ankara River and poisoned the only other supply of water in the area, a fresh water fountain. By the time the Turks arrived at Ankara, they had marched a long distance and were tired, hungry and thirsty. The Turkish Sultan had been checkmated. Denied access to water, Bayazid had to order an assault against the powerful and mobile Tatar cavalry. The battle was lost before it started. The Ottoman infantry, which was until that time invincible in defensive warfare, was no match for the swift cavalry of Timur. Within hours of the start of battle, over 50,000 Turks lay dead on the battlefield. Bayazid fought bravely, but was captured and was brought back to Timur in a cage. There, in the tent of the mighty Tatar conqueror, he had to bear the humiliating indignity of watching his household brought in naked. The heartbroken Bayazid died in captivity three months later. Thus was the end of one of the bravest soldiers among the Turks and undoubtedly one of its most renowned conquerors. Timur advanced to Constantinople, but did not cross the Straits into Europe. The Ottoman Empire, which was almost annihilated, survived under Sulaiman, the resilient son of Bayazid and went on to become the most powerful empire in the world during the following centuries.

The Battle of Ankara in 1402 provides a benchmark in Islamic history. It was the last of the great battles fought by Timur. He had brought an end to the Tughlaq dynasty in India, destroyed the Golden Horde and set the Russians free, displaced the Muzaffars in Persia, eliminated the Fatimid assassins, razed Baghdad to the ground, humbled the Mamlukes of Egypt and had nearly extinguished the Ottoman Empire. He had destroyed the old world order and a new order was in the making. But the great conqueror was not yet satisfied. His ambition was to conquer the world. Returning to Samarqand, he made preparations for a march on China. Within three months he was on the move again, at the head of 300,000 soldiers, towards Beijing. But death claimed this mighty conqueror at the age of 69, in 1405 and China was spared the ravages suffered by the rest of the known civilized world.

Timur had welded an empire by the force of his will, uniting the warring Tatars into the most feared fighting machine in the world since the days of Genghiz Khan. With his death, this imposed unity fell apart and the far flung provinces of the Timurid Empire asserted their independence one by one, except its core in Central Asia and Persia, which was inherited by the enlightened Shah Rukh, son of Timur.

History Timur of Samarqand

Timur of Samarqand

Contributed by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed, PhD

By the year 1395, the Byzantine capital of Constantinople was surrounded on all sides by Ottoman territories. The inexorable advance of the Turks had made them masters of southeastern Europe and Anatolia. Ottoman cavalry had crossed the River Danube and marched onto the plains of Hungary. Desperate to save his throne, the Greek Emperor Manuel appealed to Pope Boniface IX and the sovereigns of Europe for help. In 1396, the counts and barons of Europe answered the call. Taking time off from their civil strife and the Hundred Years War, the soldiers of the Cross from France, Germany, England, Holland and Hungary met the Turks at the Battle of Nicopolis. The Crusaders suffered a crushing defeat and victory belonged to Ottoman Sultan Bayazid. After Nicopolis, Europe had no stomach to fight and became more interested in trade with the fledging Ottoman Empire. Bayazid proceeded to lay siege to the Byzantine capital. Dejected, Emperor Manuel was preparing to surrender Constantinople to Sultan Bayazid when help arrived from an unexpected quarter, namely, Timur of Samarqand.

Throughout the 13th and 14th centuries, the Pope and the monarchs of Europe made a concerted effort to woo the Mongols. The fate of Asia, indeed of the Old World, hung in the balance, as the Mongol princes toyed with their preference first for Christianity, then for Islam and yet at other times for Buddhism. After the death of Genghiz Khan, his vast empire was divided into four major regions. One was the Yuan (Mongol) dynasty of China ruled by the Ka-Khans (meaning, the Great Khans). Kublai Khan (1268-1294), grandson of Genghiz, was the greatest ruler of that dynasty. The second was the Chagtai Empire (named for the son of Genghiz), centered in Samarqand and including the vast steppes of Central Asia as well as the fertile valley of Farghana and extending south to Afghanistan. The third was Persia, ruled by the Il-Khans (meaning, deputies of the Great Khan). The fourth was the vast region between Hungary and the Caspian Sea, including much of what is today Russia, which was ruled by the Tatars (called the Golden Horde because Batu, the son of Jochi and grandson of Genghiz Khan had an emblem of gold on his tent).

By the year 1300, Islam had won the battle of the heart over Christianity and Buddhism and the Il-Khans of Persia, the Chagtai of Central Asia and the Tatars of the Volga had all accepted Islam. Only Mongolia and China remained outside the fold of Islam and the Ka-Khans were submerged among the Chinese. In Russia and Central Asia, the Mongols exercised their authority through their governors and satraps. By common agreement, these satraps were Tatars, a Turkoman people related to but otherwise separate and distinct from the Mongols. The Tatars had been conquered by Genghiz Khan but had later joined the Mongol armies in their invasions of Khorasan, Russia and Persia. A truce existed between the Mongols and the Tatars whereby sovereignty would belong to the Mongols while the Tatars would serve them as their administrators and regents.

In the first half of the 14th century, by the year 1350, all four of the Mongol regions experienced civil wars and a breakup of central authority. The Il-Khanid Empire in Persia fell apart after the death of Prince Abu Sayeed. In the latter half of the 14th century, Persia was ruled by a host of princes, called the Muzaffars. Isfahan, Shiraz, Tabriz, Herat each had its own sovereign. These petty princes waged war against each other and continuously raised taxes on the peasantry to pay for their internal fights. The peasantry suffered. Similarly, the Chagtai region, which extended from Afghanistan to Mongolia, was contested between various warlords. The Tatars of the Volga, a loose collection of Mongol tribes, was united only when they raided the Russian hinterlands for booty. Indeed, the Tatars burned down Moscow in 1382. Out of this period of instability rose Timur, commonly known as Timurlane, who was perhaps the greatest conqueror the world has ever known.

Timur is studied in regional histories as the conqueror who defeated the Ottomans at the Battle of Ankara (1402) or the man who slaughtered over 100,000 persons in Delhi (1399). Such a narrow approach does injustice to this great conqueror. The extent of Timur’s conquests must be measured in the context of observations made by writers of the era. Ibn Batuta, writing in 1360, said that there were seven great emperors in the world: (1) The Merinide Sultan of Morocco (2) The Mamluke Sultan of Egypt (3) The Ottoman Sultan of Turkey (4) The Il-Khan of Persia (5) The Khan of the Chagtai Empire in Central Asia (6) The Tughlaq Emperor of India and (7) The Ming Emperor of China. One may disregard the Sultan of Morocco whose name Ibn Batuta had to include to be politically correct to his own sovereign. Timur conquered five of the other six emperors. From Delhi to Moscow, from Amu Darya to the Sinai desert of Egypt, the flag of Timur fluttered unchallenged. He conquered Russia and destroyed the power of the Tatars of the Volga (1385-1389). He captured and burned Isfahan (1398) and Delhi (1399) and brought an end to the Tughlaq dynasty of India. He took and burned Damascus (1401) and forced the Mamlukes of Egypt to pay him tribute. He defeated the Ottomans, captured Bayazid at the Battle of Ankara (1402) and almost obliterated the Ottoman Empire in its infancy. Only China escaped the wrath of his sword because Timur died on his way to conquering that ancient land (1405). Timur’s Empire extended over seven million square miles, an area more that double that of the United States. The rise of modern Russia may be dated from the time of Timur, because it was he who destroyed the power of the Volga Tatars under whose yoke the Russians had toiled for 200 years. It was only after the death of Timur that the Dukes of Moscow and St. Petersburg started the consolidation of their national territory, changing in the process the history of the world.

In making this assessment of Timur, it must be remembered that he was a devout Muslim who carried a portable royal mosque with his army. His entourage always included ulema and kadis. But it must also be remembered that most of his conquests-and his destructions-were also directed at Muslims. Islamic history, since the time of Muawiya, has been subject to a tension between the super-ordinate values of Islam and the more mundane values of material gain and personal ego. We see this tension in the extreme in the person of Timur. Whenever he conquered a territory, he took great care not to destroy the mosques and Sufi tombs or to kill the ulema. But he was a born warrior whose instincts for battle impelled him to seek the mastery of the known world. The secular instincts in him won over the sacred, the love of power triumphed over the injunctions not to shed the blood of fellow believers. He was lenient to those who accepted his mastership but was merciless to those who opposed him. These two currents, the secular and the sacred, run in parallel throughout Islamic history.

Timur was a Tatar and was born in Khorasan near Samarqand in 1327. In an age when the royal scepter was won by the sword, Central Asia was the cradle of conquerors and would-be conquerors. The horsemen of Central Asia poured forth time and again, conquering the more settled inhabitants of northern India, Persia and territories beyond. In time, they would settle down among the local population, only to be invaded by a fresh wave of nomads from the Asian plateau. Timur grew up in this cradle of conquerors, embodying in his person an instinct for war and intrigue that has rarely been surpassed in world history.

As a young man, Timur was influenced by a Sufi Shaykh Zainuddin and he retained a healthy respect for things spiritual. The Chagtai Empire had all but disintegrated. The last of the Mongol Chagtai rulers had retreated beyond the Amu Darya. The Mongol Khan Tughlaq had appointed Kazgan, a Tatar, as the viceroy of Samarqand. Timur sought his first job serving Kazgan. The young man’s valor was soon recognized at the court and he became a favorite of the bahadurs, the elite guard. Kazgan was so impressed by the young man that he offered his own granddaughter, the beautiful Aljai Khatun, for whom the beautiful tomb of Bibi Khanum in Samarqand is named.

Timur’s marriage to the Aljai Khatun Agha, granddaughter of Kazgan, was a happy one. Aljai, like Timur, was a Muslim. Like her Tatar sisters from Central Asia, she rode a horse without a veil, participated in affairs of the state, accompanied her husband to theaters of war and ministered to public affairs in her domain of authority. She bore Timur a son who was named Jehangir. In recognition of Timur’s services, Kazgan made him aMing-bashi (leader of 1,000 horsemen). But the times were too unstable for Timur to enjoy his peace and quiet for long. The region was seething with unrest, filled with armed men, able and ambitious, each with his dream of glory and riches.

Kazgan was killed in an internal squabble among the Tatars and the territory was thrown into chaos. To restore order, the Mongol Khan Tughlaq descended from the north. Timur supported Tughlaq and was rewarded with the title Tuman-Bashi, leader of 10,000 horsemen. But when Tughlaq returned north to his home base, his tyrannical general Bikijuk turned on the Tatars, imprisoned their learned men and carried off their women and children. Timur resisted, did what he could to save the women and the children, but the dissensions among the Tatars were too deep for united action. When the Mongol Khan Tughlaq heard that Timur had fought his appointed general, he gave orders for Timur’s capture and death. With the instincts of a shrewd warrior, Timur sensed a disaster and fled south with his bride and his loyal followers.

Great men are made by adversity. Over the next several years, Timur wandered through the hills of Afghanistan and the deserts of Turkoman lands. He felt the scorching heat of the desert and experienced the blistering winds of the Hindu Kush Mountains. It was during these wanderings, while trying to help the chief of Qandahar put down a local rebellion, that Timur was struck by an arrow to his foot, which left him limping for the rest of his life and earned him the title, Timurlane (Timur Leng, or Timur the Lame).

Throughout Islamic history, Muslim people have used the call of faith to rally the faithful against foreign domination. The oppression of the Mongols was unbearable for the Tatars. The ulema and Sufis of Bukhara and Samarqand appealed to the Tatar chieftains to unite and stand up to the Mongols. The Tatars heeded the call and in 1367, fought a pitched battle against the Mongols at the Syr Darya. All the Tatar emirs, the Afghans, Persians from northern Persia and Timur participated. Fate was against the Tatars and they lost. But the city of itself held. Each encounter increased Timur’s standing with his people. His determination, courage and leadership in war impressed them. The Tatars were ready for united action and what was needed was a leader. The ulema and the Sufis, the emirs and the chieftains met in Samarqand and elected Timur as their leader in 1368. This was the beginning of the Timurid Empire and a turning point in world history.

Timur consolidated his base around Samarqand, cultivating the loyalty of friend and foe alike through gifts, titles and endowments. His first action was to clear the Mongols from Tatar areas south of the Amu Darya. This was followed up with raids beyond the river into the Mongol heartland. In a series of battles fought between 1370 and 1379, the Mongol hold over the valley of Farghana was broken. Conflict between a strong Timurid presence in Samarqand and his neighbors was inevitable. The Tatars of Khorasan and the had long profited by raiding the Tatars in the Farghana valley. Their Chief, Yusuf challenged Timur but died of natural causes before a conclusive battle between the two could take place. Timur proceeded to annex Khorasan, Khiva and the lower Volga basin to his domain. Turning his attention south to Afghanistan, he displaced the Emir of Herat, Ghiasuddin and added this city to his dominions. Herat was the first of the great cities to fall into Timur’s hands. At that time, it had more than a quarter of a million inhabitants and rivaled Tabriz, Damascus and Delhi as a center of learning, art and culture. Timur carried off the wealth of Herat and its many artisans and architects, a pattern he would repeat after the conquests of Isfahan, Delhi, Tabriz, Damascus and Ankara. After each conquest, the wealth of Samarqand grew and the city was transformed into a veritable paradise of blue-domed mosques and mausoleums. Timur’s power in Central Asia was now unchallenged and his flag fluttered from the Amu Darya to the Indus. From the plateau of the Hindu Kush mountains, the great conqueror could look down upon the vast expanse of Asia and Europe, ready to profit from the devastations of the Black Plague which had devastated much of the old world between 1336 and 1370.

Campaigns around the Caspian Sea brought Timur face to face with the Tatars of the Volga (the Golden Horde). The Golden Horde had kept Russia at bay for more than 200 years, raiding eastern Europe as far as Poland and Hungary. The Russian counts were obliged to pay an annual tribute to the Tatars. When they did not (or could not) they were severely punished, their territories invaded and plundered. Resistance was futile and retribution was swift and merciless. In 1376, Dimitrius, Count of Moscow, gathered together 100,000 armed Russian peasants and defeated a platoon of the Golden Horde in a battle on the River Don. The following year, the Golden Horde returned, razing the land as they followed the retreating Russians. In 1377, they burned down the city of Moscow.

Toktamish, chief of the Golden Horde, could not tolerate the growing power of Timur to the east. Their two egos clashed. As the Mongol saying went, “the world could not have two suns at the same time”. A dispute over borders provided the cause for hostilities. In an initial skirmish near the Caspian Sea, Toktamish was trounced, but he returned the following year to raid border areas. This time, Timur followed him deep into enemy territory. He was always meticulous in his planning and made his moves with the dexterity of a grand chess master. Great generals succeed, in part because they plan their campaigns with the utmost care, down to the minutest detail. The careful preparations made by Timur during this grand march remind us of similar preparations made by Genghiz Khan in 1218-1219 when he crossed the Gobi desert on his way to Khorasm. Every soldier was given an extra horse and was provided with defensive armor as well as bows, arrows, a sword and smaller weapons. Marching with him were not only the Tatars from the valley of Farghana, but Afghans, Turks and Persians. Timur’s pursuit of Toktamish took him 2,000 miles into Russia, past the Rivers Ural and Volga, through the modern city of Kazan to the outskirts of Moscow. Overtaken by Timur’s scouts, Toktamish was forced to give battle. It was a battle of titans. Timur, a great master of cavalry maneuvers on the open plains, prevailed. Toktamish was forced to flee. The remnants of his army were pursued and cut down.

The power of the Golden Horde was smashed, never to appear again as a cohesive force in eastern Europe. This was the year 1385, an important landmark in global history, when an empire died and a new empire was born. It was Timur who freed Russia from the Tatars. It was only after 1385 that Russia began to emerge as a European power that grew, over the centuries, through consolidation and conquest, to occupy much of eastern Europe and northern Asia. For the better part of the 20th century, it dominated the landmass of Eurasia as the former Soviet Union.

Great men are born with an indomitable spirit, to excel, to dominate, to conquer. Perhaps it is through them that humankind fights its losing battle to conquer death itself. Timur was made of the same metal as Alexander, Genghiz Khan and Napoleon. He went for world conquest not just because he considered himself heir to the empire of Genghiz, but also because it was there, in the same sense that men and women want to climb Mount Everest, because it is there. Timur came closer than anyone in history to realizing his dream. Were it not for his death on his way towards the conquest of China, he might well have succeeded.

After the conquest of Russia, Timur consolidated his position as the Emir of all Tatars. From the heights of Central Asia, he could look down upon the decaying empires of Persia, India and China and feel the same urge that a mighty lion feels when he comes across a herd of wounded sheep. To the south of his empire lay Persia. The Il-Khans, descendants of Genghiz Khan, had succumbed to the pleasures of Persia and had disappeared. In their place had emerged the Muzaffars, a family notorious in history for internal squabbles. When the Shah of Persia, an ally and protégée of Timur died, his son Zainul Abedin ascended the throne. Zainul proved to be a weakling, unable to hold his territories together. Whereupon, the family of Muzaffars seized power, carving up Persia into small fiefdoms, ruled by different members of the family. Tabriz, Isfahan, Shiraz and Herat each had its own king.

The instability to the south of his borders was intolerable to Timur. In 1386, he marched again. The destination was the city of Isfahan, noted at that time, as it is today, for its beauty as well as its magnificent monuments and learned people. The city offered no resistance and opened its gates. Timur promised not to plunder the city if a ransom was paid. Out went the noblemen of Isfahan to collect the demanded booty. All was quiet for a day. Then, in the darkness of night, some of the townsfolk attacked Timur’s guards. In retrospect, it is not clear what happened, but the result was a disaster for the city. In the morning, Timur gave a general order for a massacre. The inhabitants of the city were hunted down and a mountain of skulls was created in the main bazaar. This was the first of the general massacres that Timur is noted for, something that he was to repeat later in Lahore, Delhi, Damascus and dozens of lesser cities. Almost 100,000 Isfahanis was killed. Timur, having obliterated all resistance, appointed his own governor in the city. Shiraz submitted without a fight. From there, Timur lunged south to the Persian Gulf and marched back northwards in an arc subduing the tribes of Qandahar and western Afghanistan. It was during this campaign that Timur cleared the mountain hideouts of the Fatimid Assassins. After Timur, the Assassins ceased to be a dreaded force that they once were in the body politic of Islam. Timur returned home to Samarqand, with the treasures of the looted cities, as well as many of the noted scholars, artisans and architects of Persia. The latter he put to work, to embellish his own city, which became in his lifetime a veritable garden of blue-tiled domes. By now, Timur was the master of Russia, Central Asia and Persia.

The addition of Persia to Timur’s empire caused an alarm in Baghdad, Cairo and Ankara. Shah Ahmed of Baghdad looked to the Mamluke Turks of Cairo for protection. Cairo was at the time the premier city of Islam and the seat of the Caliphate. The Mamlukes controlled Egypt, Syria, Arabia and all the lands to the west of the Euphrates. As custodians of the Caliphate, the Mamlukes were bound to come to the help of the Sultan of Baghdad. An alliance was formed between Sultan Ahmed of Baghdad and the Mamlukes of Egypt. The first act of the alliance was to dethrone Timur’s governor from Isfahan and install a satrap, Mansur, as the lord of Baghdad. This drew the wrath of Timur. He advanced against Persia a second time. The Muzaffar chieftains were quickly subdued, but his real target was Baghdad. Ahmed, Sultan of Baghdad, knew the strength of the Tatars and fearful of retribution for his misdeeds, fled towards Syria, hotly pursued by Timur’s soldiers. He reached Damascus safely, but lost all of his treasures and his household to the Tatars. Timur established his governor in Baghdad and returned to his homeland. To the Mamluke sultan, he sent a letter, offering peace, security and trade provided he stopped meddling in the affairs of Persia and Baghdad. The Mamluke sultan spurned the offer, slew Timur’s ambassador, marched across the Euphrates to Baghdad and reinstalled Sultan Ahmed in the old city of the Abbasid Caliphs.

The gauntlet was now thrown and the die was cast. Conflict between Timur, Lord of the east and the Mamlukes became inevitable. Timur was in no haste because he knew that a westward march might lead to a clash of arms with the powerful Ottomans. He had a masterful grasp of global politics and he moved with the deliberation of a grand strategist. In 1398, he made his move. First he advanced south through the Hindu Kush Mountains and Afghanistan to Kabul. With the dexterity of a master chess player, he wanted to eliminate any threat to his rear as he advanced westward. Timur also needed the funds for his campaigns into Syria. A letter was sent to Sultan Mahmud of Delhi, the last of the fading Tughlaq dynasty, demanding his surrender. Sultan Mahmud was not ready to submit, so the Tatars moved through the Punjab towards Delhi. Unable to face the Tatars in battle, Mahmud fled south to Gujrat. Timur’s stay in Delhi was a repeat of his stay in Isfahan twelve years earlier. Under the pretext that some townspeople had attacked his soldiers, Timur ordered a general slaughter. Over 150,000 men, women and children were killed and pyramids of skulls were erected in the bazaars of Delhi. Timur appointed one of his grandsons, Pir Muhammed as his deputy in Hindustan and retreated by way of Meerat and Kashmir, carrying with him the wealth of India and a large number of artisans and architects.

The impact of Timurid massacres on the subcontinent was profound. Many of the great Sufis and ulema fled from the advancing Tatars into the outlying provinces. Of these, Gaysu Daraz, the Shaykh of the Chishtiya order, is noteworthy. He migrated south to Deccan, where he established his zawiyah in Gulbarga and worked ceaselessly to propagate Islam. He was the first to write extensively in Dakhni, the southern branch of Urdu. The origin of Urdu poetry dates to this period. Later, Urdu flourished in the north and became a superb medium of expression by the 18th century. In addition to the Deccan, Bengal, Jaunpur, Gujrat and Malwa received a large influx of Sufis and scholars. Among these, Shaykh Ahmed and Shaykh Shahabuddin of Jaunpur as well as Shaykh Ali of Mahim (modern Bombay) are noteworthy. It was also during this period that Multan and the Punjab received a fresh influx of Suhrwardi Sufis, although the Suhrwardi order had been established in Multan by Bahauddin Zikriya (d. 1262) early in the 13th century.

Politically, the Timurid invasion hastened the disintegration of the subcontinent into regional powers. Gone was the central authority that had been forged by Alauddin Khilji and Malik Kafur (1300 to 1320). Mahmud Tughlaq, who had fled to Gujrat before Timur, returned to reclaim his throne, but his dominions were limited to a few miles around the city. Bengal was already independent and remained so until its conquest by Sher Shah Suri in 1538. Gujrat flourished and with it the city of Ahmedabad became a prime center of culture and art. The golden period of Ahmedabad belongs to this era. To the south, the kingdoms of Ahmednagar, Bijapur, Birar, Bidar and Golkonda (modern Hyderabad) established themselves and attracted a large number of Sufis fleeing the Tatar advance. Further south, the prosperous Hindu court of Vijayanagar rose up, displaying a rare ebullience of human energy in this period of global turbulence. To the west, Multan and Sindh asserted their independence. The subcontinent had remained under a central authority for fifty years until the death of Muhammed bin Tughlaq (1351). After Timur, that unity was not to return until the Great Moghuls (1526-1707) arrived on the scene.

Having silenced Delhi and collected a rich booty to finance his campaigns, Timur headed towards Baghdad, Damascus and Ankara for a confrontation with the powerful western powers of Islam.

History Of Ibn Batuta

Ibn Batuta

Contributed by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed, PhD

Ibn Batuta embodies the universal spirit of humankind to explore, learn, document and teach. Born in 1304 in the Moroccan city of Tangier, he set out to perform his Hajj as a young man of twenty-one. From Mecca, he embarked on a journey that took him, over a span of 25 years, to all the major centers of world culture. Undoubtedly, one of the greatest travelers the world has known, Ibn Batuta belongs to a select group of explorers like Fah-yen (China, 6th century), Ibn Jubayr (Spain, 12th century) and Marco Polo (Venice, 13th century).

The historical importance of Ibn Batuta lies in his Rehla (travelogue), which provides a snapshot of the Islamic world, as it existed in the first half of the 14th century and its relationships with the other centers of global and regional power. Ibn Batuta personally met some of the major figures who have left their imprint on history, including Ibn Khaldun of the Maghrib, Ibn Taymiyah of Syria, Sultan Abu Saeed of Persia-Iraq, Sultan Nuruddin Ali of East Africa, Sultan Orkhan of the Ottoman Empire, Sultan Muhammed bin Tughlaq of India, Sultan Al Zahir of Indonesia, Emperor Toghun Timur of China, Mansa Sulaiman of Mali and some of the most prominent Sufi shaykhs of the era. His impressions of these men provide invaluable information about the movers and shakers of the era. His observations on the customs, values and institutions of the societies he visited provide a first-hand account of the unity as well as the cultural diversity in the Muslim world as it existed at that time.

In the first half of the 14th century, the world was in relative peace. The Crusades had ended and the Mongol slaughters were a thing of the past. In the Maghrib, there existed a balance of power between the Muslims and the Christians. The Al Muhaddith dynasty in the Maghrib had broken up and its place taken by four separate powers, the Merinides of Morocco, Wadids of Algeria, Hafsids of Tunisia and the Nasirids of Granada. There was relative quiet between these sultanates and the Christian kingdoms of Castile and Aragon. This equilibrium allowed the Straits of Gibraltar to be open to shipping and Venetian and Genoese vessels were able to cross the Straits and trade with the western shores of France and England. The prosperous city-states of Italy experienced the first wave of the Renaissance. Egypt, Syria and Hejaz were under the Mamlukes of Egypt who had earned the respect of the Islamic world by their victory over the Mongols. Moreover, after the destruction of Baghdad, Cairo had become the seat of the Caliphate. Cairo and Damascus became world-class cities due to their trade with India and China through Yemen. Persia was back in the fold of Islam and there began tremendous reconstruction works in Persia, Iraq and Khorasan. The Silk Road to China was reopened. The Ottoman Turks were continuing their relentless advance into Europe, while the Byzantine emperors tried to contain them through treaties and marriage ties. In India and Pakistan, the rich and powerful Tughlaq dynasty ruled, heir to the mighty Khiljis who had left a consolidated subcontinent under the military-political control of Delhi. Islam had entered Malaysia and Indonesia and the Sultanate of Acheh eagerly sought scholars and jurists who were fleeing the Mongol devastations of the previous century. China was still ruled by the Mongol (Yuan) dynasty, which had brought the northern and southern halves of China under one flag. West Africa witnessed the great Mali Empire at its zenith.

The cement that held this far-flung Islamic world together was the Shariah. Ibn Batuta was trained in the Shariah and its application in the Maliki School of Fiqh. As such, he carried the credentials of a kadi that was to serve him well in a world that was at relative peace with itself under the umbrella of a Sunni vision of Islam. Second only to the Law, as a universal binding force was the Arabic language. Even in the eastern parts of the Islamic world wherein Farsi was the literary language, Arabic enjoyed a unique place as the language of the Qur’an and Hadith and as the medium of transmission of the Law. The Law and the language were the universal forces that held the Muslims together, even as they fought amongst themselves and with non-Muslims for power and position. Political power and the mastery of the great land mass extending from Mauritania to Bengal gave them control of the trade routes linking the principal seats of civilization, namely China, India, Persia, Egypt, Italy and West Africa. This vast network of trade routes was jealously guarded and protected by the regional monarchs who knew that their own prosperity depended on international trade. A traveler could move from Mali to Delhi without leaving the familiar religious and linguistic framework of the Muslims.

Trade as well as the competition among the rulers for prestige facilitated the movement of scholars, architects, doctors, engineers, poets and men of learning who sought gainful employment at the various courts. This movement provided a powerful engine for the spread of knowledge and the diffusion of faith. The beneficiaries were the peripheral territories that had recently come under the political sway of Islam. These territories included India and Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey and West Africa. It was during this period that the technology of gunpowder moved from China to west Asia and from there to Europe. The 14th century transformed the Islamic landscape and shifted the center of gravity of Islam from its traditional Arab-Persian heartland to the regions that hold the largest number of believers today: Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Nigeria.

The importance of the external links provided by the Divine Law, the Arabic language and trade routes is obvious. Of equal importance was the spiritual unity of Islam, which had asserted itself at the height of the Mongol catastrophe and now was the principal vehicle for religious expression. Like a vast subterranean lake of fresh water linking small islands, this spirituality linked the lands inhabited by the Africans, the Arabs, the Persians, the Turks, the Indians and the Malays. Transcending geography and culture, it provided the motive force for the migration of great Sufi shaykhs into the heartland of Hindustan and the dispersed islands of the East Indies. It was also the engine that propelled the Turkish advance into southeastern Europe, as one Sufic order or the other influenced the ghazi brigades of the Turks.

The Chishtiya order had penetrated the jungles of central India and Mallams (religious teachers) traversed the African grasslands carrying with them not just water bags to quench bodily thirst but the universal spirituality of Islam to quench the spiritual thirst of all human beings. By the first half of the 14th century, this spirituality had moved forward from mere contemplation and recitation to social activism and had established powerful institutions to sustain this activism. A traveler could find peace and solace at various stations not only in the karavanserais (places of rest for travelers) built by the rulers, but also in the qanqas (places of retreat) built by the Sufis. Among the better known of the Sufis whose hospitality Ibn Batuta enjoyed were Shaykh Burhanuddin of Alexandria, Shaykh Abdur Rahman ibn Mustafa of Jerusalem, Shaykh Qutbuddin of Isfahan,Chirag-e-Dehli of India and Shah Jalal of Sylhet.

Ibn Batuta received his early education in the Maliki School of Fiqh, a vocation that was to serve him well in his interactions with the learned men in far-away lands. He was also trained in the urbane manners becoming of a gentleman of the era. Tasawwuf pervaded the Islamic social milieu and Ibn Batuta was at home with the Sufi masters. Indeed, Ibn Batuta personified the new Muslim personality, imbibed with Sufi spirituality, which was fully integrated with the rules and regulations of the Shariah. Ibn Batuta, as a native of Morocco, was fluent in the language. Familiarity with Arabic ensured that he would find companionship with thekadis, ulema and the Sufis who formed the literary and spiritual elite of Islam.

In 1325, he set out from Tangier to fulfill his obligation for Hajj. At that time, performance of the Hajj was not just a visit to Mecca but an adventure through the many cities that lay in the pilgrim’s path and an opportunity to visit great mosques, madrasas and to learn from master teachers. It was also a unique opportunity to give expression to the universal brotherhood and sisterhood of humankind. Ibn Batuta’s caravan, which included the noted scholar Abu Abdullah al Zubaidi and Abu Abdullah al Nafzawi, Kadi of Tunis, passed through some of the principal cities of the Maghrib including Tlemchen (capital of the Wadids), Algiers and Tunis. Tunis was at the time a major trade depot and a cultural center. From Africa came gold, ivory and nuts. From Egypt it imported embroidery and woodwork as well as trans-shipped products of the east such as Indian herbs, medicines, spices and Chinese porcelain. These products were sold to the city-states of southern Europe as well as to the other cities of the Maghrib. It was the eastern capital of the Al Muhaddith who embellished it with mosques and built higher schools of learning. With the breakup of the Al Muhaddith Empire, Christian armies had overrun much of Spain and had expelled most of the Muslims. North Africa, Tunis in particular, benefited from this forced migration of scholars, artisans, poets, musicians, horticulturalists and men of letters. The Hafsids, who succeeded the Al Muhaddith, continued the tradition of encouraging learning and Tunis with a population of over 100,000, became a center that attracted noted ulemafrom as far away as Cairo, Damascus and Fez. Ibn Batuta stayed in Tunis for about two months acquiring in the process some of the Andalusian refinement and court manners that would serve him well later in his travels.

From Tunis, the caravan traversed the harsh Libyan Desert until it arrived at the city of Alexandria. This city, located at the mouth of the Nile Delta, was a busy commercial center with a brisk trade with Venice, Genoa, Tunis, Tangier, Valencia, Sicily and the Syrian coast. It was here that the caravan routes leading from India and the sea routes from East Africa met. All the products of Asia and Africa passed through the city. In Alexandria, Ibn Batuta met the noted Sufi Shaykh Burhanuddin and spent some time in his zawiyah. The elderly Shaykh gave the young traveler robes to signify his initiation into the Sufi order and showered upon him his spiritual radiance. From Alexandria, the Hajj caravan reached the great city of Cairo.

Cairo at that time had a population in excess of half a million, which was more than fifteen times that of the city of London, three times that of the city of Tabriz, twice that of the city of Delhi. It was the capital of the Mamlukes. The Mamlukes, like their counterparts in India, originated from European and Central Asian slaves who were bought and adopted by the Turks, accepted Islam, married into noble families and through their sheer resilience rose up to become kings. The Mamlukes of Egypt were called Bahri Mamlukes because some of them inhabited the islands in the River Nile. They displaced the ailing Ayyubid dynasty in 1250 and brought Egypt, Syria and the Red Sea coasts of Arabia and the Sudan under their control. The Mamlukes proved themselves to be excellent administrators and outstanding patrons of learning. Ibn Batuta arrived in Cairo during the reign of Sultan Al Nasir Muhammed ibn Qalawun who ruled from 1293 to 1341. A great builder, Al Nasir built more than thirty mosques and numerous schools and hospitals. The great mosque of ibn Qalawun still stands in the old city of Cairo. The Mongol plunders in Persia, Iraq and Central Asia had pushed a large number of scholars, Sufis, poets, linguists, architects, fuqahah, mathematicians, philosophers and doctors into Cairo.

Cairo had become the pre-eminent center of culture, art and learning in the Islamic world. After the destruction of Baghdad (1258), a surviving member of the Abbasids had been installed as the Caliph in Cairo and the city had become the seat of the Caliphate and hence the focus of Islamic political life. The hospital (maristan as it was called) of Qalawun was a marvel of the age. It contained more than 300 wards for patients and was equipped with the most advanced surgical tools of the era. The hospital was well staffed with doctors, surgeons and attendants. There were lecture rooms, baths, libraries and dispensaries attached to the building. Recitations from the Qur’an soothed the soul. Music was played to help the healing process. Treatment was free. Rich and poor were treated alike.

Madrasas (schools) were attached to the mosques. The concept of a mosque-madrasa grew out of Masjid al Nabawi, the mosque of the Prophet, in Madina. The idea found patronage at the highest level during the intense rivalry between the Fatimids and the Abbasids (969-1100). Both Cairo and Baghdad became great centers of learning. Al Azhar grew in Cairo and the Nizamiya College flourished in Baghdad. The example of these two capital cities was copied by the provincial centers of Merv, Nishapur, Bukhara, Samarqand, Damascus, Fez, Timbuktu and Cordoba, as well as the cities that came under Islamic influence in later centuries such as Delhi, Tabriz, Istanbul and Lahore. Ibn Batuta records that the schools in Cairo were too numerous to count. Each mosque-madrasa had a courtyard wherein great teachers gave lectures and eager students learned the Qur’an, Fiqh, Arabic grammar, mathematics, medicine and philosophy, although the study of more secular sciences such as mathematics, medicine and philosophy was not available in all schools.

The hajj caravan with whom Ibn Batuta was traveling was delayed. Impatient to reach the Hejaz, Ibn Batuta, took the southern route down the River Nile and through the desert to the Sudanese port of Aydhab. He described the Nile valley as a veritable garden, full of life and vitality, serving as the breadbasket for the Mamluke Empire. Aydhab was a sultry harbor town, dusty, hot, without water, crammed with import-export merchandise. Forced by inhospitable weather, Ibn Batuta turned back to Cairo and from there he traveled through the Sinai to Palestine and Syria. He prayed at the mosque of Abraham in al Khalil (Hebron) and spent several days at Masjid al Aqsa in Jerusalem. By 1326, Jerusalem had ceased to be a bone of contention between the Christians and the Muslims. The Crusades in Palestine had ended and the chief attraction of the city was its pilgrimage sites for Muslims, Christians and Jews. Ibn Batuta spent several nights in prayer at Masjid al Aqsa and at the Dome of the Rock, recalling the events of Isra and Meraj. He also spent many days at the zawiyah of Sufi Shaykh Abdul Rahman ibn Mustafa who belonged to the Rifai order.

After receiving his ijazat (literally meaning permission, also a diploma) from Shaykh ibn Mustafa, Ibn Batuta moved on to Damascus, where he met the well-known reformer Ibn Taymiyah (d. 1328). The two were on different wavelengths. Ibn Batuta was a man of the new Sufic age. Indeed, wherever he went, he sought the company of well-known Sufis. By contrast, Ibn Taymiyah foresaw inherent dangers in the Sufic approach, which had no empirical proofs and lent itself to exploitation by pretenders. The Sufis would respond to this charge by asserting that the best empirical proof of their approach was the noticeable transformation of human character that it brings about. Ibn Taymiyah was very much against the allegorical interpretations given to the Qur’an by certain Sufi schools and felt that the Qur’an had to be understood in its literal sense, as emphasized by Imam Shafi’i. Ibn Taymiyah fought a life-long struggle to alert his generation against the risks that he felt lurked in the Sufi approach. He urged Muslims to return to what he felt was the vibrant, outward, empirical Islam of the Umayyad and the Abbasid periods. Needless to say, the two men did not see eye to eye. As history would have it, the Islamic world embraced the Sufis and relegated Ibn Taymiyah to scholars respected but forgotten. It is only in the last 200 years, since the advent of European colonialism, that the Islamic world has once again turned to the ideas of Ibn Taymiyah to find some answers to the challenge of the West.

Damascus was the second capital of the Mamlukes and was a great city in its own right. During the struggle between the Mamlukes and the Il Khans of Persia-Iraq (1258-1315), Damascus had suffered. With the onset of peace between the two dynasties in 1315, the city had regained its former preeminence as a pivotal station in the trade routes linking Egypt and North Africa to the Black Sea, Persia, China and India. It had a population of over 250,000 and was known for its high quality steel, called Damascus steel, which was valued and sought after the world over.

The trade in iron and its processing provides one illustration of how Islam had welded together the old world into a single trading block. Iron ore was exported from East Africa to Gujrat in India where it was smelted into pig iron and re-exported to Syria. In Damascus, it was re-smelted, alloyed and formed into steel, using a process that was only re-discovered in the 1960s and is referred to as super-plasticity. Ibn Batuta records that the bazaars of Damascus were thriving with imported goods which included spices, gems, embroidery, perfumes and medicinal herbs from India, porcelain from China, furs from the Black Sea area and Turkish horses from Central Asia. The nobility in Damascus, emulating the example of the Sultan in Cairo, had built numerous mosques, schools, hospitals, rest houses for travelers, canals and public baths. He spent a great deal of time at the magnificent Umayyad mosque of Damascus, learning among other subjects, the Hadith according to Shaykh Bukhari.

In September 1326, Ibn Batuta finally set out to perform his Hajj. Modern conveniences that Hajjis take for granted these days did not exist and the 800 miles from Damascus to Mecca were a trial for the hardy. Pilgrims usually traveled in large caravans, some as large as 30,000, with full provisions for the journey, led by an emir (leader), accompanied by imams, judges, doctors and protected by soldiers. Even so, many perished on the road, caught in the unpredictable desert sand storms, or attacked by bandits. It took almost a year to perform the Hajj and from some parts of Africa, such as Mali, it took almost two years. Yet they came, the sons and daughters of Adam, from all corners of the earth, to the hallowed sanctuary of Mecca, to celebrate the Name of the Creator and to cement the pristine brotherhood of humankind.

The rites of Hajj have not changed in the fourteen hundred years since the Prophet perfected them. A pilgrim today would experience the same emotions and express himself the same way, as did Ibn Batuta in the year 1326. Approaching from the north, the caravan from Damascus first stopped in Madina, the City of the Prophet. There, surrounded by the radiance of the Prophet’s Mosque, Ibn Batuta prayed, remembering often the name of the beloved Apostle of God. At Dhul Halifa, he discarded his urbane attire, donned the Ihram and marched forth with his companions reciting Talbiya: “Here I am, O Lord, Here I am! Indeed, Thee alone is worthy of all Praise. Thine is the Bounty. Thine is the Sovereignty. Here I am at your Command, O Lord!”. Emotions swelled in him as he first saw the Haram (the word Haram is used only for the sanctuaries around the Ka’ba in Mecca, the Prophet’s Mosque in Madina and the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem), circled by thousands, invoking the name of God in a hundred different tongues. He melted into the human mass, completing the circles.

Thereafter, he marched forth to the hills of Safa and Marwa, recalling the struggle of Hajira to find water in the desert, after Prophet Ibrahim left her there with her infant son Ismail. He remembered that moment when Divine mercy intervened to answer the supplication of a mother and caused water to gush forth from a rock. The mother, Hajira, cried out, “Zumi, Ya Mubaraka” (Stop! O, blessed water!). After traversing the hills of Safa and Marwa seven times, Ibn Batuta drank to his heart’s content from the well of Zamzam. (The word Zamzam derives from Zumi, the exclamation of Hajira when she saw water burst forth from a rock).

From Mecca, he proceeded to Mina and on to the great gathering at Arafat. On this plain stood the children of Adam, black and white, rich and poor, Arabs and Turks, Persians and Spaniards. Where in this gathering were the kings and where the mendicants? All were equal in the sight of God and equal in the sight of man, in supplication before the Creator, celebrating only His Name, invoking His mercy and His munificence. From Arafat, Ibn Batuta returned to Muzdalifa and on to Mina and Mecca to complete the rites of the Hajj and joined his fellow Hajjis in celebration of this blessed opportunity. He had now fulfilled the goal he had set for himself when he set out from Tangier, but farther horizons beckoned him.

In 1326, Ibn Batuta joined a caravan of Persian pilgrims returning home from Hajj. The caravan took the northerly route from Mecca to Madina, through central Arabia to Kufa. Along the route, Ibn Batuta saw the many wells, aqueducts and rest stops that had been built by Empress Zubaida, wife of Harun al Rashid, during her celebrated Hajj (799). Najaf and Karbala were pilgrimage sites. From Najaf, the young traveler turned south in the direction of Basra, visiting along the road the tomb of Shaykh Ahmed ibn Rifai, founder of the Rifai Sufi order. He stayed at the zawiyah, participating in the Sufi rites of the order, including prayer, music and rapturous movements of the dervishes. Farther south, in the city of Abidjan, Ibn Batuta spent more time in the company of Sufis. Ascending the Persian plateau, he crossed the Zeros mountains to the beautiful city of Isfahan. Isfahan had escaped the Mongol devastations, partly because it was far from the main route of the advancing Mongol armies and partly because it had avoided taking a defiant stand and had accepted a measure of Mongol over- lordship. Ibn Batuta stayed with Shaykh Qutbuddin Hussain of the Suhrawardi order. He then proceeded to the magnificent city of Shiraz, which, like its sister city of Isfahan, had escaped the Mongol devastations and had become the hub of Sufi activity in Persia. Shiraz was referred to as “Burj e Awliya” (bridge to the Beloveds of God, the great Sufis) and it was here that the well-known Farsi poet Shaykh Sa’adi and the venerated Sufi Shaykh Ibn Khafif were buried. Ibn Batuta found the Persian people to be generous, given to culture and good deeds and the cultivation of piety.

Turning around, Ibn Batuta visited Baghdad but found the city struggling to lift itself out of its ruins. Persia was at this time ruled by the Mongol prince, Abu Said (1316-1335), an accomplished scholar, a pious man, a master builder and an able administrator. Under him Persia had prospered and had started to dig itself out of the ashes of the Mongol onslaught. The Mongols had made Tabriz their capital. Ibn Batuta visited this city and found it to be a prosperous commercial town comparable to Damascus, embellished with gardens, mosques and palaces.

Returning back to Baghdad, the world traveler took an excursion north towards Mosul where he visited a great Sufi, a lady named Sitt Zahida, who was the patron saint and teacher for a great many Sufis. In early Islamic history, tasawwuf was not a privilege only of men. A great many women stand out as towers of light, beckoning all men and women to that spirituality that is innate in humankind. Rabia al Adawiyyah (d. 802) was one of the earliest women Sufis in Islam who expressed the love of God in exquisite and sublime Arabic poetry and was a teacher to many a great shaykh. It was much later in Islamic history that Muslim women were pushed into the background and were largely denied the privilege of learning and teaching.

After returning to Mecca and studying there for two years (1327-1329), Ibn Batuta embarked on a journey that took him to the coastal cities along the western shores of the Indian Ocean. Since the time of the Prophet, Muslims had sought their economic well-being in trade. The location of West Asia astride the major trade routes between Asia, Europe and Africa provided them a strategic geographical position. The East African coast was connected by sea to India, Indonesia and China. Towns such as Abadan and Muscat on the Persian Gulf, Zafar on the southern shores of the Arabian Peninsula and Aden in Yemen were principal seaports. Included in this trade network were Mogadishu, Mombasa, Kilwa and Shofala along the African coast. These became thriving cities ruled by local Muslim emirs.

The land further south was called the land Zanj. The movement of people and goods was two-way. As early as the 8th century, there was a Zanj colony in southern Iraq. Ibn Batuta’s itinerary took him from Mecca to Suakin (Sudan), Aden (Yemen), Zeila (Eritrea), Mogadishu (Somalia), Mombasa (Kenya) and further south to Zanzibar and Kilwa. East Africa exported gold, ivory, animal hide and hardwood. In turn it imported spices, fine cotton fabrics and medicines from India, porcelain and silk from China, steel from Damascus, brocades and brass-work from Cairo. The African seacoast was integrated through Sufi missions with the rest of the Muslim world. Scholars as well as merchants from as far away as Samarqand immigrated, intermarried with African women and created the rich, composite culture of the Sahel. Ibn Batuta found the inhabitants of these cities quite affluent. They wore fine cotton clothes and fine gold jewelry, prayed in domed mosques, dined on fine porcelain from China. Their cities were peaceful, with no outer fortresses, offering a warm and open welcome to the merchants from far-away lands. This peaceful, no-walled character of the African coastal cities was to prove their undoing in the 16th century, when Portuguese ships appeared offshore and mercilessly bombarded the towns into submission one after the other.

The year 1332 saw Ibn Batuta explore the Anatolian plateau and the lands around the Black Sea. Three of his observations about Anatolia are noteworthy. First, the spirit of ghazzah was widespread among the Turks. By 1332, the Turks had conquered most of Anatolia and the budding Ottoman principality was soon to blossom into a world empire. Ever since the 9th century, Turkish tribes had burst forth from their homeland on the outskirts of Mongolia, first into Khorasan, then into Persia and onwards into Anatolia and beyond. These migrations were later sanctified in the form of a valiant struggle (ghazzah) for faith.

Islam provided an over-arching faith for the Turkish tribes whose intercontinental movements would have been inevitable with or without their mass conversion to Islam. Secondly, Ibn Batuta noted the participation of women in public life. Turkish women rode horses, went to war, attended state functions and engaged in trade on an equal footing with men, a situation not known in the strict atmosphere of the Maliki Maghrib from which Ibn Batuta came. It was no surprise that the only women sovereigns, the queen-monarchs of Islam came from the Turks. (In the 16th century, there was a succession of five Muslim queens in Indonesia). Third, Ibn Batuta records the strong presence of youth movements in Anatolia, attached to Sufi brotherhoods. The akhi youth movement reinforced fraternal bonds and taught young men the virtues of integrity, generosity, courage and nobility. Akhi fraternities provided hospitality to scholars and wayfarers. The akhi movement was to the youth what the ghazi movement was to the general population.

Ibn Batuta’s vision now turned east towards Delhi, which had become a magnet for Sufis, scholars and merchants. Setting out in late 1332, he traveled through the Volga region, which was even in his time noted for its brisk trade in slaves. Then through Khorasan and the Khanate of Chagatai, Ibn Batuta saw the ruins of Bukhara, Samarqand, Balkh and Herat. These were cities that were once the crown jewels of Islamic civilization but were laid waste by the Mongols. Ibn Batuta visited Kabul, Ghazna and Multan where he stayed with Shaykh Ruknuddin Abul Fatha of the Suhrwardi order. Arriving in in 1334, he was pressed into service as the chief kadi by the Emperor Muhammed bin Tughlaq, a monarch noted for his intellectual and literary attainment as well as for his impulsiveness. During the previous century Delhi had grown from a small Rajput garrison town into a bustling world-class cosmopolitan city and the seat of a mighty empire. The consolidation of the subcontinent under the central power of Delhi had brought unparalleled power and prosperity to India. Embassies from all of the Asian powers frequented the capital. The Qutub Minar was already a hundred years old and the great mosque of Quwwatul-Islam served as the Jamia Masjid for the metropolis.

Indeed, it was Ibn Batuta’s description of the wealth and magnificence of the Delhi court that made him suspect in the eyes of his contemporaries when he returned home to Morocco. No less a person than Ibn Khaldun thought that the stories of Ibn Batuta (“the Shaykh from Tangier”) were not credible. Ibn Batuta records that in 1340, an embassy arrived from the Emperor Toghon Timur, Yuan Emperor of China, seeking the Sultan’s permission to establish a Buddhist monastery near Delhi. Muhammed bin Tughlaq denied the request. In historical hindsight, the denial prevented a more vigorous interaction between the Muslim Sufis of India and the Buddhists of the Yuan Empire and the spread of Islam into the Chinese mainland. So as not to send the Chinese ambassadors empty handed, the Sultan entrusted Ibn Batuta to accompany them to Beijing, along with gifts of gold, diamonds and pearls. As ordered by the Emperor, Ibn Batuta set out with a large entourage in 1340, visiting Gwalior, Gujrat and Daulatabad on his way to Surat in western India from where he planned to embark on his voyage to China. But his ships capsized in a great storm off the coast of Malabar and Ibn Batuta found himself moving from city to city along the coast. Further travels took him to the MaldiveIslands , Sri Lanka and Bengal where he visited with Sufi Shaykh Jalal of Sylhet. Traveling eastward to Indonesia, he was received by Sultan Ahmed al Malik al Zahir of Sumatra. Finally, he did make his way to Beijing Canton where he found a thriving community of Muslim traders.

Returning home to Morocco in 1349, the restless Ibn Batuta found himself on a journey to the south, to the great empire of Mali. During the years 1351-1355, his travels took him through the trade centers of Sijilmasa, Walata, Timbuktu and Gao on the Niger River. At this time Mansa Sulaiman, successor to the great Mansa Musa, ruled Mali.

Ibn Batuta’s account of Muslim life in Mali is noteworthy for the differences in the way women were treated in African and Arab societies. In Mali, Ibn Batuta found that women were not secluded from men as they were in North Africa. Like their sisters in Turkish Anatolia, the Muslim African women frequented the markets, participated in court life and were free to consult with kadis and ulema without hiding their faces in hijab, a situation Ibn Batuta, a Maliki jurist, found objectionable. Ibn Batuta found the great cities of the Niger River rich and prosperous. The people were pious and steadfast in prayer, the scholars well versed in the Qur’an and Sunnah, the universities frequented by great scholars from Fez and Cairo and its great mosques filled with worshipers. Ibn Batuta returned home in 1355 and spent the remainder of his life in the service of his sovereign, Sultan Abu Inan of the Merinides. It was at the orders of this Sultan that the Rehla was composed and recorded by Ibn Juzayy using first hand accounts from Ibn Batuta.

The world that Ibn Batuta knew was soon to vanish, engulfed by the great plague of 1346, which moved like a black spider across the globe, obliterating entire cities with its sting and arresting the growth of Afro-Eurasian civilizations for more than a generation. It was this spent world that faced the invasions of Timurlane of Samarqand, circa 1385.

The Sufis of India and Pakistan

The Sufis of India and Pakistan

Contributed by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed, PhD

In the words of Muhammed Iqbal, the philosopher-poet of India-Pakistan, Islam is like a balloon. When it is squeezed in one direction, it bulges out in another. Within a hundred years after Genghis Khan, Islam conquered the conquerors. The Mongols who had destroyed Bukhara and Baghdad themselves became the standard bearers of the new faith. The westward thrust of Islam carried it into Europe. To the east, it put down new roots in India and Indonesia. The center of gravity of the Islamic world shifted from Cairo and Damascus to Lahore and Kuala Lumpur.

After the conquest of Sindh by Muhammed bin Qasim in 711, the borders between the Baghdad Caliphate and India were relatively stable for 500 years. Islam made limited inroads into the subcontinent along the coast of Malabar in southern India and in southern Pakistan. Political Islam had reached equilibrium and was preoccupied as much with internal debates as with external threats. For almost 200 years, Fatimid chieftains controlled Multan and Sindh. Propagation of the faith took second place to the global struggle between the Sunnis and the Fatimids and later between the Muslims and the Crusaders. This situation changed towards the end of the 12th century with the dissolution of the Fatimid Caliphate in Cairo (1171), the defeat of the Crusaders at the Battle of Hittin (1186) and the conquest of Delhi by Muhammed Ghori (1192).

The Islamic penetration of the subcontinent accelerated in the 13thcentury. Several reasons may be cited for this change. First, the establishment of the Delhi sultanate enabled Muslim scholars and traders to travel freely throughout India under the protection of the political authorities. Second, India was a beneficiary of the Mongol invasions (1219-1261) that devastated Central Asia and Persia. Many noted scholars fled the Mongols into the security of Hindustan. Third and perhaps the most important element, was the establishment of Sufi orders throughout the vast subcontinent. Indeed, Islam spread in India and Pakistan not by the force of conquest or the elaborate arguments of mullahs and kadis but through the work of the great Sufi shaykhs. In this respect, Muslim India is different from the Arab countries where Islam was introduced during the classical period (665-1258) through the work of the muhaddithin and themujahideen.

The process by which a faith enters the hearts of the believers has a profound impact on the way religion is felt and followed by them. In the Arab experience, the solidification of Islamic life took place during the imperial days of the Baghdad Caliphate and was tilted heavily in favor of the exoteric aspects of religion. By contrast, the Indo-Pakistanis, Indonesians and Africans were exposed more to the esoteric and spiritual dimension of Islam.

The Sufi shaykhs of the 13th century were not missionaries. They were not merchants of faith peddling their religion. They were men drunk with the love of God, giving of themselves for no gain but the prospect of divine pleasure, serving humanity irrespective of creed or nationality and sharing their spiritual bounty with whoever would partake of it. Proselytizing was not their goal; it was a byproduct of their selfless service. The Sufi way strove to mend human behavior and to open up human vistas to the sublime peace that comes from proximity to God. Their “miracles” were the transformations of human hearts. The Muslims needed this spirituality as much as did the Hindus and the Buddhists. When a Muslim experienced a spiritual rebirth through a Sufi, it was called an awakening. When a non-Muslim was similarly transformed, it was called conversion.

India, whose social structure was fossilized by the caste system, was ready to accept a universal religion like Islam. In a predominantly Hindu society, the position of a person was determined at birth. The Brahmans reserved for themselves the exclusive privilege to recite the mantras and propitiate the gods. The warrior Rajput class whose princely privileges were also guaranteed by birth backed the status quo. The vyasyas tilled the toil and paid the taxes. At the bottom of the social ladder were the shudras or the untouchables. To quote a well-known Indian writer V.T. Rajshekar: “These untouchables were denied the use of public wells and were condemned to drink any filthy water they could find. Their children were not admitted to schools attended by the caste Hindu children. Though they worshiped the gods of Hindus and observed the same festivals, the Hindu temples were closed to them. Barbers and washer men refused to render them service. Caste Hindus, who fondly threw sugar to ants and reared dogs and other pets and welcomed persons of other religions to their houses, refused to give a drop of water to the untouchables or to show them one iota of sympathy. These untouchable Hindus were treated by the caste Hindus as sub-human, less then men, worse than beasts . . .” In this social matrix, the message of Islam with its emphasis on the brotherhood of man and the transcendence of God found a ready reception.

But the most important reason for the success of the Sufis lay in the spiritual bent of the Indian mind. Every culture produces an archetype that personifies the ethos of that culture. For instance, in contemporary America, it is the businessman who personifies the ethos of the American culture. During the industrial revolution in Europe it was the empiricist and the inventor. During the Dark Ages in Europe it was the monk. In medieval Japan it was the Samurai. In the Muslim Middle East it was the traditionalist. In India, it was the sadhu and the rishi. Gautama Buddha personified this archetype; so did Shankara Acharya and Tulsi Das. These men of faith enjoyed and continue to enjoy an honor and respect that is the envy of kings and emperors. As Islam entered the subcontinent, it adapted its mode to fit the spiritual paradigm. The Sufi could intuitively and immediately relate to the Indian psyche in a manner that the learned doctors of law could not. Thus it was the great Sufis who not only succeeded in introducing millions of Indians to Islam but also contributed to the evolution of a unique Hindustani language, culture, poetry and music which amalgamated the ancient inheritance of India with the vibrancy of Islam.

In the subcontinent, by far the most outstanding among the great Sufi shaykhs was Khwaja Moeenuddin Chishti of Ajmer. Indeed, he is generally accepted as the fountainhead of Islamic spiritual movements in India and Pakistan. The Khwaja was born in Sajistan in Central Asia in the year 1139. Orphaned at the young age of twelve, he traveled to Samarqand and received his early education in that great center of learning. He was aHafiz e Qur’an at age fifteen and had mastered the Arabic, Farsi and Turkic languages. He then traveled to Neshapur where he became a disciple of Khwaja Uthman Chisti. After receiving his training in the methodology of the Chistiya Order for seven years, Khwaja Moeenuddin was inducted into that Order. From Neshapur, he traveled to Baghdad where he met the towering personages of the age including Shaykh Abdul Qader Jeelani, Shaykh Ziauddin Suhrawardi, Khwaja Awhaduddin Kirmani and Khwaja Abu Saeed Tabrizi. In Isfahan, he met Khwaja Qutbuddin, who became his disciple and later his successor in Delhi. From Isfahan, Khwaja Moeenuddin traveled to Ghazna, Lahore and Multan where he mastered Sanskrit and Hindi so that he could communicate with the local people.

It was about this time that Muhammed Ghori defeated Prithvi Raj Chauhan at the Battle of Tarain (1192) and added Delhi and Ajmer to the Ghorid Sultanate. Khwaja Moeenuddin moved from Multan to Delhi and then to Ajmer, which had been the capital of the Chauhan dynasty. This town in the Rajasthan desert became the fountainhead of a Sufi movement that touched every corner of India and Pakistan. Thousands embraced Islam through his efforts. Millions did so through the efforts of his disciples. Three of his disciples themselves became towering personages of renown and occupy an important place in the hierarchy of the great Sufis. These were Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Khaki (after whom the Qutub Minar of Delhi is named), Shaykh Hameeduddin Naguri and Baba Fareed Ganj of Lahore. Only once did the Khwaja of Ajmer return to Delhi. Sultan Shamsuddin Altumish was the Sultan of Delhi. When the Khwaja approached the capital, the Sultan presented himself in person with enormous presents of gold, silver and jewels. The presents were politely declined. This pattern of solicitation on the part of the ruling monarchs and a rebuff by the great Sufis was to be repeated countless times in Muslim history. The vision of the Sufis was fixed on a far higher goal than the gold of the world. They scorned the world; so the world chased them. Theirs was the kingdom of heaven, eternal, transcendent, unscathed and untouched by the rise and fall of dynasties. It was this selflessness that made them the beloved of the masses, something the rulers wanted but could not attain.

Khwaja Moeenuddin was a poet of renown. Over 10,000 couplets in Farsi are ascribed to him. He was a prolific writer, but most of his writings have been lost. He died in 1236, adored, venerated and extolled. If there is one person to whom belongs the credit for introducing Islam to India and Pakistan and of building the largest Islamic community in the world today, it was Khwaja Moeenuddin Chisti of Ajmer.

The Sufis were eminently successful not just because they recited thedhikr, chanted devotional songs and practiced charity, but because they established effective institutions to do their work in their own lifetime and to continue it after they departed. At the center of the Sufi approach is the belief that only a learned and pious teacher can impart true knowledge to a discipline. The structure of a Sufic order is pyramidal. At the apex of the pyramid is the Qutub (the pole) or the Wali (master, protector), Khalifa(representative) or Sajjadah Nishin (one who resides in the sanctuary). For instance, the Qutub of the Qadariya School is Shaykh Abdul Qader Jeelani of Baghdad.

The methodology or approach of a Sufic order is called the tareeqah. Initiation into a Sufi order is voluntary. Upon initiation, a person becomes amurid. The word murid derives from the Arabic word iradah, meaning desire or will. A murid is one who desires and craves for proximity to God and is inclined towards Divine Love. In this journey, he is guided by a Shaykh. The murid’s progression in the ranks of the tareeqah takes him (her) through the following stages: Mubtadi (student); Mutadarrij(practitioner); Shaykh (teacher) and finally the Qutub (the pillar or pole). The exact terms may vary between the tareeqas. Obedience to the teacher and an extraordinary degree of discipline is required of the murid. There is no conflict between the various Sufi orders. A person may belong to several orders at the same time, although attachment to a single teacher is preferred.

The progress of a murid is measured in darajat (degrees) or maqamat(stages) tawbah (repentance), zuhd (avoidance of impure actions), faqr(humility, renunciation of worldly goods), sabr (patience), tawakkul(reliance on God alone for one’s needs) and rada (earning Divine pleasure). Thus a Sufi order establishes an organizational structure, provides a methodology for instruction, measures progress of the initiates and takes them step-by-step towards certain knowledge (ilm al yaqin).

The principal place where adherents of a Sufi order meet is called azawiyah. Secondary places of meeting for dhikr and study are referred to ashalqah (circle). Zawiyahs and halqahs grew up throughout the Muslim world. The Sufi orders and their organizations provided continuity through their silsilah (spiritual connectivity relating a Sufi through his teachers to the Prophet). Ascension to the highest position in the organization was by appointment of the Qutub, who, as he approached the end of his life, would nominate and confirm his heir. Syed Mohammed Ghouse of Sindh introduced the silsilah of Abdul Qader Jeelani into India and Pakistan in the 15th century (1482). Although the Qadariya silsilah had less of an impact on Indian soil than the Chishtiya order, the name of Abdul Qader Jeelani is revered throughout the subcontinent. He is commonly referred to asPeeran-e-pir Dastagir or Ghouse-ul-Azam Dastagir. One of the most famous shaykhs of the Qadariya silsilah was Miyan Pir who passed away in Lahore in 1635. Miyan Pir was a teacher to Dara Shikoh, the eldest son of Moghul Emperor Shah Jehan. Dara Shikoh, a scholar of repute who was well versed in several languages, wrote a biography of Miyan Pir, who is widely credited with introducing Islam to the rural areas of Punjab and Kashmir.

From Ajmer the Chishtiya order spread to Delhi, Punjab, Bengal and the Deccan. Khwaja Moeenuddin Chisti trained and dispatched to the far-flung corners of the subcontinent men who stand out as spiritual giants in the region. These include Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Khaki (Delhi, d. 1236), Baba Farid of Punjab (Pak Patan, d. 1265), Nizamuddin Awliya (Delhi, d. 1325) who was a disciple of Baba Farid, Hazrat Maqdum, another disciple of Baba Farid (Rourki, Bihar, d. 1291), Nasiruddin Muhammed, commonly referred to as Chirag-e-Dehli (a disciple of Nizamuddin Awliya, Delhi, d. 1356) and Hazrat Gaysu Daraz (a disciple of Chirage-e-Dehli, Gulbarga, d.1422). Together, these men transformed a continent, molded it in an Islamic crucible, lit the candle of faith in the hearts of millions and laid the spiritual foundation for one of the richest and most powerful dynasties the world has ever known, namely the great Moghuls of India.

The history of the Chishtiya order is so intricately woven into the politics of the Delhi court that no survey of Indian history is complete without an acknowledgment of the profound impact made by the Chishtiya order. The first Moghul emperor Babur was himself a Sufi mystic. Emperor Akbar was a murid of Shaykh Salim Chishti (Fatehpur Sikri, d. 1572). He made annual pilgrimages on foot to the tomb of Shaykh Salim as well as to the tomb of Khwaja Moeenuddin of Ajmer. Emperors Jehangir, Shah Jehan and his son Dara Shikoh were ardent believers in these shaykhs. Since the methods and processes of the Sufis have changed little over the last thousand years, the Chishtiya order, together with its sister Qadariya and Suhrwardi orders, provide a cultural link between modern Islam with the Middle Ages. Their history helps us understand the condition of the Muslims in the world today.

Khwaja Khutbuddin Bakhtiar Khaki was the designee of Khwaja Moeenuddin for the Delhi region. Born in Turkistan, he was educated in Baghdad where he met Khwaja Moeenuddin and became his murid. When Khwaja Moeenuddin migrated to Ajmer, Bakhtiar Khaki followed him and was sent to Delhi as the Chishtiya representative. Delhi was the seat of political power and a caldron of political intrigue. Sultan Altumish offered the post of the Kadi of Delhi to Shaykh Bakhtiar but the Shaykh declined, preferring the independence of the spiritual pursuit to the constraint of official power. The sultan was an avid supporter of tasawwuf. Sufi practices received official protection and common acceptance. Shaykh Bakhtiar himself was a well-known khawwal (reciter of mystic poetry) and often ledqawwali gatherings (called sama’a by the Sufis). Thousands in the Delhi area accepted Islam through the radiance of this great mystic. Shaykh Bakhtiar passed away in 1236 and the mantle of the Chishtiya order passed on to Baba Fareed Ganj Shakr.

The emergence of tasawwuf as a powerful force in the Indian milieu did not go unchallenged by competing ideas. In the 14th century, the courts of Delhi witnessed a tug-of-war between the Sufis, the reformers, the kadis, the philosophers and the ruling elite. The geopolitics of the times presents a colorful backdrop for the war of ideas in the Delhi courts.

By the middle of the 14th century, trade routes between Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, India and China, which had been cut by the Mongol invasions, had been restored. With the conversion of Ghazan the Great (1295), Persia was back in the fold of Islam. This removed the impediment to travel by land from India to west Asia and from there to Africa and Spain. A resilient Islam welded together a world order wherein people and ideas traveled freely from one continent to another.

There emerged three centers of political power in the Muslim world. The first was the rich Mali Kingdom in Africa, which attained its zenith under Mansa Musa (d. 1332). The second was the Mamluke Empire embracing Egypt and Syria. The third, and by far the most powerful, was the Sultanate of Delhi. (Yuan China was a global power but we will refer to it only in the context of diplomatic relations between Delhi and Beijing). The Khiljis (1296-1316) conquered all of India and Pakistan, from Peshawar to Malabar, an area covering more than a million and half square miles. The Tughlaqs (1316-1451), who followed the Khiljis, inherited this vast empire. We shall focus on the court of Muhammed bin Tughlaq (d. 1351), primarily because we know a great deal about his court through the writings of Ibn Batuta. So rich was the Delhi Sultanate that Ibn Batuta, who was a kadi in Delhi from 1335-1341, records that whenever the Emperor passed through the streets of Delhi, the courtiers following him threw coins of gold and silver in the streets for the amah (common folk) to pick up. It was in this magnificent Delhi court that the final resolution of the tug-of-war between the Sufis, the anti-Sufis, the philosophers, the doctors of law and the ruling elite took place. It is a fascinating story because the outcome of the events in the 14th century directly affected the course of further historical developments down to our own times.

The Mongol devastations resulted in a substantial migration of men of learning from Central Asia and Persia into India. The influx of the Sufis provided the spiritual momentum for the spread of Islam in India and Pakistan. However, the migration was not confined to dervishes and Sufis. A large number of ulema and kadis also fled and sought employment in Hindustan. Others migrated further east to the Indonesian islands.

The Delhi sultans, eager to show that they were defenders of the faith, made every effort to employ these scholars. They also sent out emissaries to the far-flung corners of the Islamic world to hire renowned kadis, ulemaand philosophers for official service in the Indian empire. The simultaneous presence of the Sufis who pursued the intuitive and spiritual approach to Islam and the kadis who sought strict adherence to the rules of Fiqhprovided the first element of tension in the Delhi courts. The doctors of law sought to influence the empire in the direction of strict adherence to the Shariah. They found some Sufi practices, such as sama’a (a forerunner of modern day qawwali) objectionable and sought to influence the Delhi court to declare a ban on them.

A second element of tension was introduced by the reform movements of the era. In the 13th century, as it is today, there were reformers who saw in tasawwuf the possibility of social stagnation. One of the best-known reformers of the age was Ibn Taymiyah of Damascus (d. 1326). Ibn Taymiyah was one of the last of the scholars of the classical age of Islam and he saw in the other-worldliness of tasawwuf the seeds of social decadence. Through his writings and his speeches he sought to energize a defeated community, which was reeling from the Mongol onslaught. His model was the activist model of the early Companions of the Prophet. As a young man, he aroused the Mamlukes to take a stand against the Mongols. Ibn Taymiyah’s ideas traveled to Delhi where they were pitted against the powerful Sufi movement of the Chishtiya Order.

A third element of tension was the presence of the Mu’tazilites (philosophers). The Mu’tazilites emerged in the eight century as a result of the impact of Greek ideas on Islam. They won the patronage of the Abbasids and their dogma became the court dogma at the court of Harun al Rashid. Taking advantage of official patronage, the Mu’tazilites overextended themselves, applied the philosophical approach to the Qur’an, incurred the wrath of the conservative ulema and were finally dethroned from power towards the beginning of the 9th century. But philosophy was by no means dead among the Muslims. The Islamic intellectual world rediscovered the empirical method within its own ethos and became the originators of the scientific method. The Islamic world continued to produce a galaxy of philosopher-scientists right up to the time of the Mongol invasions. Among the more renowned were Al Khwarizmi (d. 863), Al Farabi (d. 950), Abu Ali Sina (d. 1037), Omar Khayyam (d. 1132) and Al Tusi (d. 1274). The great philosopher of the Maghrib, Ibn Rushd (d. 1198) wrote his commentaries on Aristotle in the 12th century. During the 13th and 14th centuries, some of the philosopher-scholars migrated to India and found a receptive environment in the Delhi courts. Amongst the more notable of the philosophers in Delhi was Shaykh Ilmuddin. The philosophers, too, were pitted against the popular Sufi movement of the Chishtiya Order.

It was under the Tughlaq emperors that the Sufi movement ran headlong into the combined opposition of the ulema, the philosophers and the monarchs. The kadis and the ulema sought a ban on sama’a, declaring it to be against the injunctions of the Shariah. To sort out these controversies, Gayasuddin Tughlaq, Sultan of Delhi, convened a conference of the leadingulema, kadis and philosophers in Delhi at his court in 1320. Nizamuddin Awliya was also invited. What started as a conference turned into a court martial of the Chishtiya Sufis. Kadi Jalaluddin, chief kadi of Delhi and Shaykh Zadajam argued against sama’a. Nizamuddin Awliya defended the practice, basing his arguments on certain Hadith. The opposition argued that the supporting Hadith were weak. The discussion became heated, so the Sultan turned to Shaykh Ilmuddin, who was a philosopher (Mu’tazilite) and had traveled extensively through Persia, Iraq, Syria and Egypt. Shaykh Ilmuddin answered that sama’a was halal for those who listened to it with their hearts and was haram for those who heard it with their nafs. Nonetheless, he too sided with Kadi Jalaluddin and asked the Emperor to forbid sama’a. The Emperor deliberated and, not to be drawn into a religious controversy, gave a split decision permitting sama’a gatherings for the Chishtiya Order but forbidding it to the followers of the Qalandariya and Haidari Orders. (The Qalandariya and Haidari orders had not yet made major inroads into India at that time so the Emperor had nothing to lose in taking a position against the practices of these two orders).

Gayasuddin Tughlaq died in 1325. The tug-of-war between the Sufis, the kadis and the philosophers, continued in the court of Muhammed bin Tughlaq (d. 1351). One of the most capable monarchs of the age, Muhammed bin Tughlaq is an enigma to students of history. He was a scholar, a hafiz-e-Qur’an, well versed in Fiqh and was punctual in his prayers, fasting and zakat. Like the first four caliphs, he treated the non-Muslims with dignity and ensured that taxation was fair to all of his subjects. Yet, he was impetuous, intolerant of dissent and punished, with a vengeance, those who stood in his way. He was the first monarch who realized that ruling the vast subcontinent from far-away Delhi was hopeless and sought to establish his capital near the center of gravity of Hindustan, namely at Daulatabad, located about a hundred miles inland from the modern city of Bombay. When the entrenched bureaucrats, comfortable in their luxurious villas in the capital, dragged their feet, he forced them to move. Then, as fate would have it, the monsoons failed for five consecutive years and India was hit with a terrible famine. Daulatabad was without water. Tughlaq had the entire court trek back to Delhi, causing untold misery for everyone.

It was during the Tughlaq period and the preceding Khilji period that Islam was introduced into the Deccan and the Dakhni language, the parent of modern Urdu, was born. Borrowing an idea from Kublai Khan of China (d. 1294), Tughlaq introduced leather currency. This was a far-sighted move designed to further trade, which was constrained by the availability of gold and silver. But the wily Indians, Muslims and Hindus alike, frustrated this move by creating counterfeit currency. Tughlaq had to withdraw the currency at an enormous cost to the treasury. However, it is his interactions with the ulema, kadis, philosophers and Sufis of the age that concern us here because these interactions determined the shape of Islam for centuries to come.

Returning to the powerful Chishtiya movement, Shaykh Baba Fareed Ganj succeeded Khwaja Qutbuddin in 1235. His forefathers had migrated from Kabul during the Mongol devastations. As directed by Moeenuddin Chishti of Ajmer, Baba Fareed migrated to western Punjab. If there was one person who may be given credit for the introduction of Islam into Punjab (and hence into today’s Pakistan), it was Baba Fareed. Impressed with his piety, sincerity and dedication, thousands, including some of the powerful Rajput clans, accepted Islam. Baba Fareed was a doctor of Fiqh and was a noted poet in Arabic and Farsi. Both the Sabiriya and Nizamiya branches of the Chishti Order within the subcontinent originated from him. He trained and sent teachers to the far corners of India and Pakistan. Notable among them were Shaykh Jamal of Hanswi, Imamul Haq of Sialkot, Mawzum Alauddin Sabir of Sahranpur, Shaykh Muntaqaddin of Deccan and most importantly, Nizamuddin Awliya of Delhi. Baba Fareed was the author ofIsrar ul Awliya (secrets of the sages), which contains encyclopedic information about Sufi thought and practices.

The mantle of leadership of the Chishtiya Order passed on to Nizamuddin Awliya in 1257. No other Sufi master achieved the acceptance of the Indian masses and the Sultans of Delhi, as did Nizamuddin Awliya. Indeed, his was the zenith of the Sufi movement in Hindustan. He was a scholar ofHadith, a fountain of spirituality, a powerful debater and a dedicated teacher. It is related that at any given time, over 3,000 students and two hundred qawwals attended his zawiyah at the outskirts of Delhi. Chief among his students were Shaykh Hishamuddin of Multan, Shaykh Burhanuddin Gareeb of Deccan, Shaykh Yaqub Patni of Gujrat, Sirajuddin Uthmani and Bu Ali Qalandar of Panipat. The great poet Emir Khusro was amurid of Nizamuddin Awliya.

The relationship between the Chishtiya Order and the Delhi Sultanate had been cordial until that time. The Sultans, aware of the hold that the Sufis had over the masses, sought to cultivate the blessings of the Sufi masters. The advent of the Khilji dynasty (1296-1316) saw the armies of the Delhi Sultans conquer the entire subcontinent, all the way to the southern tip of the peninsula. The architect of these conquests, the mighty Alauddin Khilji, was of a secular bent. But he was aware of the power of the Sufis and sought cordial relations with them. It was Alauddin who sent word to Nizamuddin Awliya expressing his desire to meet the Master. The message elicited the famous riposte from the Shaykh: “My hut has two doors. If the Emperor enters it through one door, I go out the other”. After Alauddin, there was a brief period of turbulence in Delhi, followed by the establishment of the Tughlaq dynasty (1316-1351).

Nizamuddin Awliya passed away in 1325 and designated Maqdum Nasiruddin Mahmud (commonly known as Chirag-e-Dehli, the light of Delhi) as his successor. It was the same year that Muhammed bin Tughlaq ascended the throne of Hindustan. To break the hold of the Sufis and to keep them busy with superfluous work, Muhammed bin Tughlaq forced them into his service. Chirag-e-Dehli was asked to assist the king with royal robes, a ceremony that signified obedience and submission to the crown. When the Master refused, he was thrown into jail. Others were forced out of the capital. For instance, Shaykh Shamsuddin Yahya was forced to retire to Kashmir. Shaykh Shahabuddin was told to serve the king. When the learned Shaykh refused, his beard was pulled out, a fatwawas passed against him by Kadi Kamaluddin of Delhi and he was finally killed. Delhi was depleted of the Sufi masters, except for those who could not leave because of age or official constraint.

Muhammed bin Tughlaq had spent his youth in the company of philosophers and he was a Mu’tazilite by training. He was particularly influenced by Shaykh Ilmuddin, the renowned philosopher of the times, who lived in Delhi. Shaykh Ilmuddin had traveled through Syria and had met Ibn Taymiyah of Damascus (d. 1326) and had absorbed his reformist and counter-Sufi thoughts. Tughlaq, in his Mu’tazilite thinking, was similar to Harun al Rashid, but he lacked the sagacity and statesmanship of Harun. Just as the successors of Harun punished those who opposed the Mu’tazilite doctrines, so did Muhammed bin Tughlaq.

It is an irony of Islamic history that those who should have been the most liberal in their tolerance of dissident thought, namely the philosophers, turned out to be the most intolerant. Twice they had the opportunity to influence history-once during the early years of the Abbasids (circa 800) and the second time during the powerful Tughlaq dynasty of India (circa 1330). Both times they failed miserably and embarked on a tyrannical suppression of those who disagreed with them. Islamic history, in turn, rejected them. Their role was relegated to the periphery of the Islamic body politic, to the detriment of both philosophy and the Muslim ummah. Muhammed bin Tughlaq died in 1335, classified a maverick sultan by history.

The Sufis survived and prospered because theirs was the kingdom of God, untouched by the vagaries of time. They sang of the love of God and people resonated to their tune. They gave of themselves for the love of mankind and fought for what was right, often laying down their lives in the struggle. The ulema and kadis were defeated, because they were employees of the kings and could be fired from their jobs at will. Despite their independence, they were construed to be an arm of the ruling classes. The philosophers lost because of their tyrannical approach. They were bogged down in endless argumentation and they over-extended their approach to the Qur’an, a subject that was clearly beyond the scope of their methodology. The Islam that survived was a Sufic Islam, inward-looking, spiritual, amalgamating within its folds the cultures of the lands where it flourished. It was different in color and character from classical Islam (up to the destruction of Baghdad in 1258), which was empirical, vibrant, extrovert. It was this Sufic Islam that was destined to shape the history of Muslim peoples after the 13th century.