The rise and growth of Islam has been considered as one of the most important events of the history of the world. Islam grew up in the desert of Arabia and its first converts, the Arabs, made it a powerful force in the Asian politics. Islam inspired a war-like spirit and national consciousness among the Arabs who decided to spread their religion and carry out military conquests across the globe. The successors of Prophet Muhammad were called Caliphs (Caliphs). It was under the Umayyad Caliphs that the Arabs succeeded in conquering Sindh.

Arab Invasion in India

The Arabs had been the ‘carriers of Indian trade’ with Europe for a very long time. After conversion to Islam, they cast their greedy eyes on the rich seaports of Western India and made a number of unsuccessful attempts to establish their foothold there.

Condition of India at the time of the Arab invasions

  • Politically, India was divided into many states which were competing with each other. However, the division of India was not its chief weakness. India is a sub-continent and it was not possible to keep it under one rule at that time. Besides, even after its division, there were some extensive kingdoms at that time that were capable to meet the challenge of foreign aggressors. The weakness of India was not its division into many states but persistent fighting among them for power and glory.
  • During the period under investigation, Afghanistan was ruled by Hindu kings. Politically and culturally it had been a part of India since the Mauryan period. Later on, it was divided into two kingdoms, viz., the kingdoms of Jabul and Kabul.
  • The kingdom of Kabul extended up to the borders of Kashmir in the North-East and touched the borders of Persia in the West. The kingdom of Jabul was located between the territories of Baluchistan and the kingdom of Kabul.
  • Being situated in the North-West of India, these kingdoms had to meet the challenge of the Muslims first. However, the Hindu rulers of these kingdoms succeeded in maintaining their independence till the end of 9th century CE Kashmir was also an independent state. It became a powerful state during the reign of Lalitaditya (725-755 CE) who even succeeded in defeating Yasovarman, the powerful Pratihara ruler of Kannauj. Yasovarman was also a powerful ruler of North India whose empire extended from East Punjab in the West of Bengal in the East and from the Himalayas in the North to the banks of the river Narmada in the South. The Pala dynasty ruled from Bengal. Thus, there were powerful states in North India at that time. Similarly, the Vakatakas, Pallavas, Pandyas, and the Cholas had strong kingdoms in the South.
  • Even Sindh was an extensive kingdom whose boundary touched the border of Kashmir in the North, Kannauj in the East, and the Arabian Sea in the South. King Dahir captured the throne of Sindh after a contest against his cousin. Thus, he got little time to consolidate his position at the time of the invasion of the Arabs. Besides, his policy remained somewhat oppressive towards the Shudras from whom his family had snatched away the throne of Sindh and also towards the Jats of Sindh. Thus, Sindh suffered from internal rebellions and unstable rule and, thus, was comparatively a weak state of India at that time. But beyond the border of Sindh, there were powerful kingdoms in India, both in the North and the South, which though fought among themselves, were yet powerful enough to resist foreign invaders.
  • The Indian society was divided into castes and sub-castes and generally inter-dining and inter-caste marriages were not allowed. Yet, the caste system had not grown very much rigid. Intercaste marriages, change of caste, and absorption of foreigners among Hindus were possible.
  • Women did not enjoy equal rights with men, yet they occupied a respectable place in society. The Purdah system was not prevalent at that time. Women received education, participated in social and religious functions and even in administration, and had the right to choose their husbands. However, while a man could marry several women, the women enjoyed no such right. Besides, the Sati system was gaining popularity among the ruling class. The people observed high morality and the common people led a simple life.
  • Education was also widely prevalent and besides religious education, all other subjects of the study were also taught to the students. At that time, Nalanda, Vallabhi, Kashi, Kanchi, etc. were great centers of learning. Hinduism was the most popular religion, though Buddhism was also fairly widespread.
  • India was economically prosperous. Agriculture, trade and commerce, handicrafts and industries were all in a progressive stage which had brought all- round prosperity to India. Of course, the major share of this prosperity was enjoyed by the rich minority class, yet, the common people did not suffer economic hardships.
  • Thus, politically, economically and culturally India did not suffer from any weakness at the time of the invasion of the Arabs. Yet, the rivalry and constant fighting of different rulers among themselves, indifference to improvement of their arms and fighting skills as compared to foreigners and lack of emotional unity for the country as a whole were the weaknesses which were slowly coming up and, when these were not attended to properly, it weakened India in the coming centuries and, finally, led to her defeat and disgrace by foreigners.

Causes of Arab Invasions

  • The Arabs had contacts with India even before their attack on Sindh. They used to come for trade, particularly, in the South-West coast of India. Later on, with the growth of their military power their ambition also grew and they desired to capture territories in India.
  • Their first attack was on Thana near Bombay in 636 CE which was unsuccessful. Afterwards, they made frequent attempts to get some foothold in India through both sea and land. But mostly, they desired to capture the North-West territories in the border of Sindh, particularly Mekran. After a few unsuccessful attempts, the Arabs, ultimately succeeded in capturing Mekran (modern Baluchistan) in the beginning of the 8th century CE which paved the way for the conquest of Sindh.
  • One of the causes of the attack of the Arabs was their religious zeal. The forceful propagation of Islam and conquest had been the aim of all the Caliphs. The attack on Sindh was also a part of that policy. Secondly, the Caliphs were not only heads of Islamic faith but also heads of the Islamic state. Therefore, like all powerful rulers they also desired to extend their empire. The attack on Sindh was also a part of their expansionist policy. Thirdly, the Arabs, having trade relations with India. They were aware that India was a rich country. Therefore, the lure of wealth through conquest was also one of the reasons of their attack on Sindh. However, the immediate cause of their attack was the activity of sea-pirates of Sindh who looted certain Arab ships.
  • Historians have viewed this incident differently. Sir Wolseley Haig has observed that the king of Ceylon sent to Al-Hajjaj, the Arab governor of Iraq, some Muslim women whose fathers had died and therefore, there was nobody to look after them. But the ship in which they were sailing was captured by pirates of Debal, a premier sea-port of Sindh. Some other historians have expressed the view that the pirates looted the presents and carried off women who were offered by the king of Ceylon to the Caliph.
  • Some others opine that the king of Ceylon had embraced Islam and he had sent some women and other presents to the Caliph and those presents were looted by sea-pirates. There is no conclusive evidence to prove that the king of Ceylon was converted to Islam but it is accepted by all historians that certain women, whosoever they might be, and some articles sent by the king of Ceylon to Hajjaj were captured by the sea-pirates of Sindh.
  • Hajjaj demanded from Dahir, the then ruler of Sindh, to set free those women or to pay compensation. Dahir refused to do anything and replied that he had no control over those sea-pirates who had captured those women. Hajjaj felt very angry, decided to conquer Sindh and sought permission for the attack from Walid I, the Umayyid Caliph of Damascus, which was granted somewhat reluctantly.

Arab Conquest of Sind and Multan

  • The first attack on Sindh under Ubaidullah was unsuccessful. He was defeated and killed. Another army sent under Budail met the same fate. Then Hajaj made elaborate preparations for the attack on Sindh and dispatched his youthful nephew and son-in-law, Imaduddin Muhammad-bin-Qasim at the head of a huge army.
  • In 711 CE Muhammad proceeded towards Sindh through Mekran and first conquered Debal where he received fresh reinforcement sent by Hajjaj through the sea. Then he conquered Nerun, Sehwan and a few other strongholds. By then Dahir offered no resistance to the Arabs. He left his fate and the fate of Sindh to be decided by one pitched battle against the Arabs.
  • Ultimately, he came out of the fort of Brahamanabad and proceeded towards Rawar to face the enemy. The Hindus and the Arabs remained facing each other for a few days without any battle. The battle occurred on 20 June, 712 CE Dahir gave a heroic fight but just when the Muslim army was on the verge of collapse, his elephant, who got wounded, rushed away from the battlefield which created panic and confusion in the Hindu army. Despite this, Dahir returned to the battlefield, fought with desperate courage and ultimately fell fighting in the midst of his enemies.
  • The fort of Rawar was then defended by Ranibai, the widowed queen of Dahir. But when the provisions of the fort failed, Ranibai performed Jauhar along with numerous other besieged ladies and the men came out of the fort to fight till death. The fort was, ultimately, captured by the Arabs. Jaisingha, the son of Dahir, offered resistance to the Arabs at the fort of Brahamanabad but had to leave it to the Arabs.
  • Here Muhammad captured the entire treasury of Dahir and also one of his queens, Ladi, and her daughters Parmaldevi and Surajdevi. He himself married Ladi and sent her virgin daughters to Baghdad for introduction Caliph’s harem.
  • Qasim took about 8 months to acquire control over Sindh because his army met with tough resistance by the local people of many other towns, including Brahmanabad and Alor.
  • In 713 CE, Muhammad-bin-Qasim proceeded to attack Multan. After a few serious engagements with the enemies, he reached Multan and besieged the fort. The people offered resistance for two months but, then, a traitor pointed out to Qasim the source of water-supply to the town. Qasim cut it off and Multan was forced to surrender. He got a vast quantity of gold in Multan and therefore, named it the city of gold. Multan, however, was the last city which was conquered by Qasim.
  • Muhammad-bin-Qasim, the conqueror of Sindh, could not live long after his successful campaigns. He met a tragic end.
  • According to Chachnama, Parmaldevi and Surajdevi, daughters of Dahir, who were sent as presents to the Caliph, falsely charged Qasim of having outraged them and of keeping them in his harem for three days before sending them to the Caliph. The Caliph was enraged and ordered that Wasim should be brought before him after sewing him in the skin of an ox. He obeyed the orders of the Caliph and sewed himself in the skin of an ox and died. Later, the princesses told the truth and invited death for themselves; they were tied to the tails of horses and dragged until they were dead. Mir Masum has also accepted this story of Chachnama.
  • But, modern historians have refused to accept this story. They claim that the cause of the downfall of Muhammad was political. According to them, Caliph Walid was succeeded by his brother, Sulaiman, in 715 CE Caliph Sulaiman and his governor of Iraq were enemies of Hajaj. But then, Hajaj had died by that time. So their wrath fell on his son-in-law, Muhammad-bin-Qasim, who was recalled from India and put to death along with several other supporters of Hajjaj.

Causes of the Success of the Arabs

  • The Arabs succeeded in conquering Sindh and Multan due to numerous reasons. Mainly, the internal weaknesses of Sindh were responsible for its fall. Sindh was a weak province of India. It was thinly populated, its economic resources were meager and it was not strong militarily.
  • There were sharp social divisions in Sindh. Besides, the usual distinctions of Hindu society of being higher and lower castes, the rule of Brahman kings had been oppressive towards war-like people like Jats and Meds which alienated them from their rulers.
  • Of course, Sindh was not poor and it had good foreign trade. Yet, it was not so prosperous as to provide the means to develop itself into a militarily strong state. The family of Dahir had captured the throne quite recently and neither his family nor he had succeeded in providing a stable, strong and popular government in Sindh. His provincial governors were virtually semi-independent and quite a large section of the populace was not loyal to him, particularly, the Buddhists and the trading class who did not cooperate with him. Therefore, Dahir was not able to fully utilize the resources of Sindh against the Arabs. Sindh was located at the extreme West corner of India and therefore, other Indian rulers remained indifferent to its fate.
  • The Arabs possessed superior arms, cavalry, military tactics and were inspired by religious zeal as well. In their comparison, the Hindus lacked not only the military resources but also emotional unity. The Hindus could not develop that sense of unity even on the basis of their religion and culture which could inspire them to fight the Arabs with emotional zeal to protect their country. Therefore, their ideal remained limited and their conflict with the Arabs remained only a struggle against an aggressor to save their kingdom.
  • Dahir committed a number of tactical mistakes from the very beginning. He could not foresee the danger of the Arab invasion, once they had conquered Mekran. He remained totally inactive when Muhammad was conquering Debal, Nerun and other places at lower Sindh. It was a fatal mistake on his part that he left his fate to be decided by a single, pitched battle against the Arabs. He failed to divide the strength of his enemy which he could do if he had chosen to attack him from different directions and at different places, and he did not exploit the difficulties of Muhammad-bin-Qasim in his favour when sickness prevailed in the Arab camp before the battle of Rawar. Of course, Dahir was a brave and courageous fighter and he fought gallantly but it was absolutely wrong on his part to risk his life in the battle as a common soldier. Qasim was certainly a more capable commander than Dahir and that was fairly responsible for the success of the Arabs.
  • The Arabs could get traitors also from the Indian side. At the battle of Rawar, one Indian suggested to Qasim some ways and means to bring down the morale of the Indian army. Nerun was surrendered to the Arabs without giving a fight; the Jats supported the Arabs after the battle of Sesam; and a traitor showed to the Arabs the source of water-supply to the fort of Multan.
  • The treachery from the Indian side certainly helped in the success of the Arabs. Besides, the superior commandership of Muhammad, the religious zeal of the Arabs and their better arms and military tactics were certainly responsible for their success.

Causes of the failure of Arabs to Penetrate Deeper into India

  • The Arabs failed to penetrate deep into India. Their conquest remained confined to Sindh and Multan and, finally, Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni absorbed them within his empire in the 11th century CE.
  • Historians have attributed several causes for the failure of the Arabs in India. Elphinstone assigned the following reasons for it:
    • (i) The success of Sumer-Rajputs against the Arabs.
    • (ii) The faith of the Hindus in their culture and religion.
    • (iii) The frequent dynastic changes among the Hindu states because of their constant rivalry, but each of them was determined to oppose the advance of the Arabs.
  • Lane-Poole added some others to them, which were as follows:
    • (iv) The existence of strong Rajput states in the East and the North.
    • (v) The Caliphs did not send sufficient military force to help further advance of the Arabs in India.
    • (vi) The failure of the Arabs to consolidate their kingdom of Sindh.
    • (vii) As Sindh was not profitable to the Caliphs economically, they refrained from further conquest in India.
  • Apart from these, the following other reasons have also been assigned by different historians for the failure of the Arabs in India beyond Sindh.
    • (viii) In 750 CE, the Abbasid Caliphs replaced the Umayyad Caliphs which lowered the prestige of the position of the Caliphs itself. It also led to conflicts among the Arab officers in Sindh, which weakened their position.
    • (ix) The Arabs became ease-loving, lazy and therefore, weak from the time of Caliph Harun-al- Rashid.
  • H.G. Wells writes in his book The Caliph’s Lost Heritage that “Islam was separated from its novel and life-giving sources” and, “the religious zeal and simplicity of the Koran was replaced by rigid philosophy and higher standard of life.” It was not only the Caliph who led a life of ease and corruption but the entire Arab race followed the way shown by their head of the State and religion. The later Caliphs remained neither powerful nor respected. They became puppets in the hands of their more powerful slaves. They drew their power not from their own race, the Arabs, but first from the Persians and then from the Turks. Such Caliphs and the Arab race were not competent to extend their power in India.
    • (x) Taking advantage of the weakness of the Caliphs, the Arabs in Sindh became independent in 871 CE But it also led to their division and the Arab kingdom of Sindh was divided into two kingdoms, viz., the kingdom of Multan in the North and the kingdom of Mansura in the South.
    • (xi) The new rising tide of nationalism, particularly among the Persians and Turks, led to the division of Islam and weakened its power. It, therefore, lost its aggressive strength, at least temporarily, in India.
    • (xii) Sindh was not prosperous and it was located on the extreme west boundary of India. No power could hope to conquer India by forming Sindh as the base of its power.
    • (xiii) The Hindus had powerful kingdoms in the interior of India and each of them was determined to resist the advance of the Arabs further into India. That ensured the safety of India at that time.
  • Therefore, the failure of the Arabs to advance further into India was not unusual. On the contrary, it was surprising that the Arabs succeeded in maintaining their hold on Sindh and Multan for nearly 300 years. The Hindushahi kingdom in West Punjab and the Pratihara kingdom in the North-West were powerful enough to turn the Arabs out of Sindh. The Hindus had both the power and the reason to turn the Arabs out of Sindh. Yet they did not attempt it. The primary reason for it was that they did not pay enough attention to what was happening on and outside the border of India at that time. Not then, but a few centuries later the Hindus had to pay a heavy price for their ignorance and indifference.

Impacts of Arab Invasion

  • Colonel Tod, in his famous book, Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan described that the invasion of the Arabs had a tremendous effect and the entire North India was terrorized by it.
    • However, no historian accepts his view nowadays. The Arab invasion had a very limited effect on Indian politics.
  • Stanley Lane-Poole writes, “It was simply an episode in the history of India.” Wolseley Haig also writes. “It was a mere episode in the history of India and affected only a small portion of the fringe of that vast country”.
  • The Arabs did not break the military strength of India and therefore, did not pave the way for the conquest of India by Islam. They simply drew closer the contacts of Indians with the Arabs and the Islamic world.
  • Besides, they were the first who established the rule of Islam in India and converted Hindus to Islam in quite large numbers.
  • The Arab conquest of Sindh was of great significance from the cultural point of view. The Arabs were deeply influenced by the Indian culture and civilization. They were fascinated by the wisdom, administrative acumen and high moral character of the Indians.
  • The Arabs learnt much from fine arts, philosophy, astrology, astronomy, mathematics, science of medicines and literature of India. They employed Hindu artists and architects to construct their buildings. They also learnt from Buddhist and Hindu philosophy, literature and religious ideals. The Sanskrit texts, the Brahma Siddhanta and the Khanda-Khadhyak were translated into Arabic language during the period of Caliph Al-Mansur. The Arabs learnt the philosophy of Sanyas and Tapa from the Indians. The Arabs also gained the knowledge of numericals and profited from the science of medicine of Indians.
  • The religious fanaticism of the Arabs was also diluted by the friendly social conduct and liberal religious outlook of the Indians.
  • Dr A.L. Srivastava has expressed the view that not only the Arabs but Europeans also drew advantage from the knowledge of the Indians in the 8th and 9th centuries CE because of their contacts with them through the Arabs.
  • Thus, though the Arabs came to India as conquerors they failed to influence Indian politics and culture in any way. Instead they themselves and through them the western world also drew advantage in many fields by coming in contact with the Indians, which also justifies the view that by that time the Indian people and their culture had not lost their vigor and were in a position to contribute constructively to the culture and knowledge of the world.

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