An interesting sidelight from Islamic history, by Ali MInai. Originally published on his blog “Barbarikon“, reposted here with Ali Minai’s permission.
The Caliph and the Imam
A Shocking Decision
Sometime in 816 CE – year 200 in the Hijri calendar of Islam – the seventh Abbasid Caliph al-Mamun made a very strange decision. If near-contemporary historical narratives are to be believed, he offered his throne – and thus power over lands from India to Morocco – to the leader of his fiercest opponents, the Shi’a. It was a breathtakingly audacious decision – so audacious that it failed almost immediately. The eighth infallible Imam of the Shi’a, ‘Ali bin Musa al-Rida, was not interested. Al-Mamun had to recalibrate, and he did so by nominating Ali al-Rida as his successor. The Imam demurred again, but this time the Caliph was adamant: The Imam must accept or he and his family would suffer. Imam Ali al-Rida’s family was no stranger to suffering. Almost all of his ancestors – direct descendants to the Prophet himself – had been persecuted, many martyred or imprisoned. His own father, the seventh Imam Musa al-Kadhim, had perished as a prisoner of al-Mamun’s father, the famous Harun al-Rashid of A Thousand and One Nights. Whatever the reasons, Ali al-Rida acquiesced, and on the 27th day of Ramadan in 201 AH (April 18, 817 CE), he was proclaimed “wali ‘ahd al-muslimin” – the designated successor to the 31-year old al-Mamun. Coins were soon minted asserting this new designation – the standard way of declaring authority – and the traditional black flags of the Abbasids were replaced by the green flags of the Shi’a Imams. A little more than a year later, the Imam was dead. Al-Mamun would rule for another fifteen years.
Centuries ago, the Mughal Prince, Dara Shikoh wrote a treatise on the similarities of Hinduism and Islam – Majma-ul-Bahrain or The Confluence of Two Seas. Wading through the songs of sages born on holy riverbanks, Dara discovered striking similarities in Vedic verses with his beloved Sufi stanzas. Dara attempted to bridge Indian and Arab minds to not only bring material peace to communities in strife but also achieve inner peace by uncovering a quintessential spiritual unity.
Dara’s quest would be cut short by his fanatic brother, Aurangzeb, who would usurp the throne and execute Dara for apostasy. A reign of religious terror followed as Aurangzeb’s extremism left permanent scars on the subcontinent until the sparks of saffron would strike back as the upstart Marathas upended the Mughals into obscurity.
Yet, this is just a part of a much more ancient interaction. Before Islam galloped across the world, Arabs were aware of the subcontinent, al-Hind, and an interesting set of interactions played out. There is no grand trend or narrative here, but I want to tell you the story of an Arabia before and after Islam and how it spoke to an India that was eternally Hindu.
Last year marked the 280th anniversary of Nadir Shah’s invasion of the city of Delhi – an event as catastrophic as the invasion of the city by Timur in 1398.
It is worth reflecting on this remarkable event in early 18th century – an episode that underscores the perils of a weak state.
Source : wiki images
State of the Empire in the 1730s
What’s remarkable about this invasion is that it happened barely 32 years after the death of Aurangzeb in 1707 – a time when the Mughal Empire was still very formidable and pan Indian in extent (albeit a tad over-extended). By 1739, the decline of the empire was well underway. The Mughal emperor at the time of Nadir Shah’s assault was Muhammad Shah, Aurangzeb’s great grandson.
Now it is well known that Aurangzeb was just the 6th Mughal emperor, between 1526 and 1707. But Muhammad Shah who ascended the throne in 1719, was the 12th!
So you had six new emperors in the ten years following Aurangazeb’s death – as many emperors as the number between 1526 and 1707 – a commentary on the chaos at the head of the empire in the years succeeding Aurangzeb.
Now let us do a quick summary on the state of the region just before Nadir Shah’s assault –
Bengal was already semi-independent, with Murshid Quli Khan becoming the first Nawab of the region circa 1720.
Avadh was on its way to autonomy with Saadat Khan becoming its first Nawab in 1722.
The Marathas were clearly in the ascendant. By 1737, they had gained tax collection rights in Deccan, Gujarat, Bundelkhand. In 1737, two years before Nadir Shah’s raid, Baji Rao attacked Delhi and scored a remarkable victory – despite having an army half as large as the Mughals. Post the battle of Delhi, Malwa was ceded by the Mughals to Baji Rao’s Marathas. In 1738 on the eve of the Nadir Shah invasion, the Mughal crown was already weakened considerably.
The other point to note is that even after 2 full centuries of Mughal rule, the nobility of the land was largely foreign born. So power was wielded by men who felt no patriotism for India, and had no affinity to the traditions and culture of the land. Let’s take some examples –
Nizam Ul Mulk, perhaps the most influential noble in early 1700s, was of Uzbek ancestry. His grandfather had migrated from Samarkhand
Saadat Khan, the Nawab Avadh, was a native of Nishapur (north eastern Iran), who had moved to India in early 1700s
This goes contrary to the perception pushed by many historians today that Mughals shouldn’t be regarded as foreigners as they were “thoroughly assimilated” and “rooted” in the Indian soil. Hardly the case.
The foreign origins of much of the creme-de-la-creme of the nobility meant a somewhat weak affinity to the land, and susceptibility to treason against the state. Saadat Khan in fact later advised Nadir Shah to assault Delhi, and ask for a large ransom.
Now let’s examine the situation in Persia in the decades leading up to Nadir Shah’s invasion of India.
The Safavid empire ended in 1722 following an Afghan rebellion. But this proved shortlived, with Nadir Shah defeating the Afghans and establishing his rule over Persia starting 1736.
With respect to Afghanistan – Mughals had lost Southern Afghanistan (including Qandahar) to Persia in the mid 1600s. However they retained control of Kabul / northern parts of the country.
Right from the start of his reign, Nadir evinced great interest in the Mughal Empire. He could see the waning power in Delhi as an opportunity. Also the Persian hold over Qandahar meant a strategic advantage for Persia, lost to the Mughals for nearly a century.
Failed Diplomatic efforts
What’s interesting though is that Nadir didn’t simply launch an assault on India with a savage horde. He engaged in extensive diplomacy, with multiple communications with Mughal crown!
E.g. in 1736, Nadir Shah sent an envoy to Delhi, informing of his intent to expel Afghan rebels from Qandahar, and requesting that the Mughal power in Kabul should obstruct these Afghans and not give them refuge. The Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah responded agreeably. But when the expulsion of Afghans happened from Qandahar in early 1737, the Afghan rebels did flee to Kabul. The Mughals breached on their promise!
When Nadir Shah sought an explanation for this breach through an envoy, Delhi gave him no reply. And on top of that detained the Persian envoy!
Even communication between Delhi and Kabul was terribly slothful! When the Mughal governor in Kabul sought funds for his troops, his repeated requests were turned down by Muhammad Shah the emperor. So clearly you had a situation when the frontier regions of Afghanistan and Punjab grew gradually defenceless through neglect, at a time when Persian power under Nadir Shah was on the rise.
This was an empire waiting to be assaulted.
The Battle at Karnal
Nadir conquered Northern Afghanistan in 1738. Peshawar and Lahore soon followed. Then the Shah marched to Karnal, where a decisive battle awaited him. In the great battle that ensued at Karnal (February 1739), the Persian army numbered at 55K cavalry. The Mughal army was likely larger, but heavily reliant on elephants – a ponderous and outmoded carrier.
What’s also remarkable is that the Mughal armies took for ever to assemble at Karnal! Saadat Khan, the noble from Awadh, took a whole month to arrive with his troops in Karnal.
It took him 3 days to travel from Delhi to Panipat – a mere distance of 55 miles! This is in sharp contrast to the blitzkrieg raids that Marathas were undertaking elsewhere in India at the same time. The Mughal army (in part perhaps because of its reliance on elephants) was not mobile enough. Not nimble enough.
The other major difference was in the familiarity and comfort with fire-arms. The Persian army revelled at fire-arms. The Mughal army still relied a great deal on swordsmanship and “felt a contempt for missile weapons” (to quote Jadunath Sarkar)
Here’s Sarkar elaborating on the Indian inefficiency at fire-arms
So the result at Karnal was a resounding victory for Nadir Shah. But what followed was not a raid on Delhi rightaway, but extensive negotiations for peace! This included face-to-face conversations between Nadir Shah and the Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah at the Persian camp near Karnal.
Negotiations post battle
Here’s an account from Sarkar drawing on the primary sources of Harcharan, Anandram et al on the first meeting between Nadir Shah and Muhammad Shah.
But the emperor reneged on his word and did not pay the requested ransom of Rs 20 crores! This angered Shah and eventually led to a second meeting with the emperor and the latter’s house-arrest
Raid on Delhi
What followed was the famous raid on Delhi, which lasted about 50 days. But a point to note is that the provocation for this trigger came from the Mughal side. Saadat Khan in particular – the Nawab of Oudh. While Nadir originally had an indemnity of 50 lacs in mind, it was Saadat who told Nadir after the Karnal battle, that if he were to go to Delhi, he could get 20 crores! As opposed to 50 lacs.
Nadir’s raid on Delhi was focused mainly on collection of ransom. Not just from the treasury, but also from private mohallas, with the consent of the Mughal emperor. But he did not intend to engage in a massacre. What triggered the massacre was an uprising in Delhi against the stationed Persian soldiers. Some 3000 Persian soldiers were killed by Delhi-ites. Nadir had to retaliate with a massacre, which likely claimed some 20K Delhi civilian lives in a span of a few hours. This is a conservative estimate, with other estimates as high as 4 lacs.
Consequences and Takeaways
So that brings us to the end of this brief account of Nadir Shah’s raid of Delhi. What were its consequences?
First of all the raid did not trigger the empire’s decline per se. The Mughal empire’s decline had started long before Nadir Shah set foot. But Nadir Shah’s invasion unlike Timur had some political consequences – it resulted in the loss of Afghanistan and the modern Frontier province to Persia. Eventually it led to the loss of Punjab to the Afghans (under Ahmed Shah Abdali) a few decades later. The Maratha raids on Bengal too ensued a few years after Nadir’s raid.
So it could be said that Nadir Shah’s invasion hastened the decline of the empire, though not necessarily the cause of it.
More importantly it has some lessons for our times. We tend to think of “invaders” as ravaging hordes lacking in civilization and human values. But Nadir was a shrewd diplomat. He engaged in multiple diplomatic overtures, though the Mughals bungled every one of them. Even the ransom amount to him was suggested by a Mughal insider, Saadat Khan. So was the idea to raid Delhi. Even the massacre at Delhi that ensued was in large measure a retaliation of the massacre of his own soldiers by Delhi civilians
We live in an age of constitutional patriotism, where deference to the state has to transcend ethnic ties. But Nadir Shah’s episode has lessons for us in this respect.
The reason the invasion was facilitated was because of high treason, which in turn was caused by the fact that much of the Mughal nobility was of foreign origin, and felt little patriotism towards India.
Some 30 years ago, there was a debate in India around “Foreign origin” of Sonia Gandhi and whether this should bar her from public office and electoral politics. The debate settled in Sonia’s favor
But then when we reflect on episodes like these from the past (Saadat Khan’s treason for instance), you wonder if an ethnic connect to the land is a pre-requisite to expect a high degree of patriotism.
We will conclude on that note.
References: Jadunath Sarkar’s “Nadir Shah in India”.
For a large part of history, the inhabitants of the Arabian peninsula were on the fringe in the rise and fall of empires. They alternated raiding and trading as this wheel of fire rolled on across the dunes. But eventually, the Arabian caravan would be equipped with both sword and word to make haste across the Old World in a relentless raid that would change both history and humanity.
Yet just as quickly as the prized Arabian horses would gallop into newly conquered lands, the Arabs would soon scatter leaving their language, faith, and the prestige of their roots behind in strange lands. Tribalism trumped their newfound unity and the Arabs would once again retreat into their wildernesses and pilgrimages.
Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on Libsyn, Apple, Spotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!
You can also support the podcast as a patron. The primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else. This website isn’t about shaking the cup, but I have noticed that the number of patrons plateaued a long time ago.
In this episode we talk to Professor Ahmet Kuru. Professor Kuru teaches at San Diego State and is the author of (among others) “Islam, Authoritarianism and Underdevelopment”. We discuss his book and the causes of the (relative) decline of the Islamicate world in the last 800 or so years.
Would like to propose expanding CAA to include the following groups of muslims to:
get everyone’s feedback on what can practically pass the Indian Lokh Sabha quickly
see if several major Indian leaders will publicly endorse this
The following text will be continually edited based on feedback.
Proposing to expand CAA to include the following “AND ONLY THE FOLLOWING” groups of muslims IF AND ONLY IF they can prove persecution inside Bangladesh, Pakistan or Afghanistan:
13 classes AND ONLY 13 CLASSES of Muraqabah Sufi muslims:
3 classes of Muraqabah Irfan Sufi Shia muslims
Sixer Ishmaeli Muraqabah Irfan Sufi Shia muslims
Dawoodi Bohra Sixer Ishmaeli Muraqabah Irfan Sufi Shia muslims
Twelver Jafari Muraqabah Irfan Sufi Shia muslims
10 other classes of Muraqabah Sufi muslims
Chisti Muraqabah Sufi muslims
Qadiri Muraqabah Sufi muslims
Pir Nund Rishi Muraqabah Sufi muslims
Pir Shirdi Sai Nath Muraqabah Sufi muslims
Pir Kabir Muraqabah Sufi muslims
Pir Janardhan Swami Muraqabah Sufi muslims
Pir Hazrat Babajan Muraqabah Sufi muslims
Pir Syed Mohammed Baba Tajuddin Muraqabah Sufi muslims
Pir Baba Fariduddin Ganjshakar Muraqabah Sufi muslims
Pir Baba Budan Muraqabah Sufi muslims
Agnostic, Atheist and Ex muslims
LBGTQ plus muslims
Female femnist muslims
Any and all Muraqabah Sufi muslims admitted under CAA need to be certified and verified as Muraqabah Sufi muslims by a council of Muraqabah Sufi muslims chaired by Pir Diwan Sahib Syed Zainul Abedin. Pir Diwan Sahib Syed Zainul Abedin will appoint a committee of Muraqabah Sufi muslims at his own discretion to assist him in this task.
Any and all Agnostic, Atheist and Ex muslims, LBGTQ plus muslims and female femnist muslims admitted under CAA need to be certified and verified by a council of muslims chaired by Tarek Fatah . Tarek Fatah will appoint a committee of muslims at his own discretion to assist him in this task.
In addition to approval by above councils of muslims, any and all muslim CAA applicants are subject to extensive deep background security checks and can be vetoed by the Indian government for any reason.
NO OTHER MUSLIMS will be permitted to apply for CAA. No other aspect of CAA will be affected.
Please provide your suggestions about how to improve the above draft.
Influence is an art. It is a dance of subtlety and force. A moving of the mind and a journey of the heart. It is difficult enough to master at an individual level; so how can one possibly master it at a geopolitical level?
Yet, influence is the invisible hand in geopolitics. Hard to quantify and in constant flux, some countries wield it with brute might, while other countries seduce their counterparts into submission.
Qatar may be the per square mile most influential nation in the world. This little, lavish country has mastered the painting of perceptions through the art of influence. And more than that, Qatar has turned its art into action.
Rishabh Gulat–who I respect greatly has a different take on Datuk Mahathir Mohamad, Hero of Asia, than I do. Some argue that Datuk Mahathir has recently shifted his policy and allied with conservative Wahhabi (subset of Salafi, subset of Sunni) muslims, MBS, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan against India. Mr. Gulat implies that Datuk Mahathir is backing Brown Pundit favorite Dr. Zakir Naik against India:
Please watch Mr. Gulat and come to your own conclusions.
The Indian Malays (7% of the population, 15% of the professional workforce, 40% of all Malaysian doctors, economic engine that moves Malaysia) are rallying the opposition to Datuk Mahatir. Mr. Gulat thinks the global Indian diaspora and global Eastern philosophy diaspora (presumably inclusive of Confucians, Toaists and Chinese) should back the Indian Malays in this.
I need to do a lot more research before proposing an alternative course of action. But here is a question. Can the Indian Malays, global Indian diaspora, global Eastern Philosophy, global Muraqabah tilted Sunnis and Shia and global liberal muslims unite and offer Datuk Mahathir Mohammed an offer he can’t refuse?:
There are many great and powerful Indian and Indonesian muslims–friends of PM Modi–who can make the offer.
As an aside, many Brown Pundits readers know Dr. Zakir Naik fanboy and heart throb Veedu Vidz. Please ask him to come on the Brown Pundits Podcast!
Mr. Rishabh Gulat is a great thought leader and expert on Indonesia, Malaysia and South East Asia more generally. He says that India and Indonesia should make a civilizational, cultural, economic and geopolitical alliance. Is there an interest in the Brown Pundits Podcast interviewing Mr. Rishabh Gulat?
Five thousand years ago the greater Egyptian, Sumerian, Eastern (defined as pan Arya plus China) civilizations were very mathematically oriented. Many caucasians appear to believe that these ancient civilizations were racist. Possibly because of this many caucasians believe that math is racist.
Another possible reason many caucasians appear to believe that math is racist is because they fear it might unfairly advantages “brown” people (Asians, Arabs, Latinos) and “brown” cultures (eastern philosophy including Toaism and Confucianism, native american religion) at the expense of caucasians in the new global artificial intelligence, neuroscience, genetics economy.
Could part of the anger against math come from fear that mathematics, science, technology, seeking the truth through thought, seeking the truth without thought might be haram or blasphemous? (Obviously most Abrahamics do not believe this and this is not a critique of Abrahamism.)
I believe that mathematics is part of art; and that it derives from beyond normal gross thought. From what in Sanskrit is called Buddhi, Vijnayamaya Kosha, Ananda Maya Kosha, Sukshma Sharira, Kaarana Sharira, the subtle heavens.
Perhaps the anger against mathematics is part of a deeper anger against the subtle heavens? If so, one possible way to look at this is that to transcend the subtle heavens (including mathematics) it might be helpful to love them and love our way through them. Or to love and respect the racist (subtle heavens–including mathematics) until we transcend the various subtleties of thought and feeling.