Saturday, September 17, 2011

Islamic Slavery (Part 3): Enslavement by Muslims in India During Pre-Sultanate Period

This is Part 3 of the chapter "Islamic Slavery" from M. A. Khan's book, "Islamic Jihad: A Legacy of Forced Conversion, Imperialism and Slavery". This part discusses the horror saga of little-known Islamic enslavement in India during the pre-Sultanate period, 715-1206 (Part 1, Part 2, part 4).


Muslim invaders and rulers engaged in large-scale enslavement of the infidels wherever they went: Europe, Africa and Asia. In this discussion, slavery by Muslims in medieval India as recorded by contemporaneous Muslim historians will be presented in some detail. Brief accounts of Islamic slavery in Africa, Europe and elsewhere in Asia will also be presented.

By Muhammad bin Qasim: Islam’s assault on Indian frontiers started during Caliph Omar with the attack and pillage of Thana in 636, just four years after Prophet Muhammad’s death. Eight more such plundering expeditions followed under succeeding caliphs: Othman, Ali and Mu'awiyah. These early assaults by Muslim invaders sometimes yielded booty and slaves besides slaughter and pillage, but failed to gain a foothold for Islam in India. With Caliph al-Walid’s blessings, Hajjaj bin Yusuf sent two expeditions to Sindh, led by Ubaidullah and Budail. Both campaigns failed suffering heavy casualties; both commanders were slain. Sorely wounded at heart, Hajjaj next sent his nephew and son-in-law Qasim at the head of 6,000 soldiers. He overran Debal in Sindh in 712, digging a firm and lasting foothold of Islam in Hindustan. Debal, records famous Muslim historian al-Biladuri, ‘was taken by assault, and the carnage endured for three days… the priests of the temple were massacred.[1] He put the males above seventeen years of age to the sword and enslaved the women and children. The total number of captives taken in Debal is not recorded; but among them were 700 beautiful women, who had taken refuge in temples, records Chachnama. Caliph’s one-fifth share of the booty and slaves, which included seventy-five damsels, was sent to Hajjaj. The rest were distributed amongst his soldiers.[2]

In the attack of Rawar, records Chachnama, ‘When the number of prisoners was calculated, it was found to amount to thirty thousand persons, amongst whom were the daughters of the chiefs, and one of them was Rai Dahir’s sister’s daughter.’ One-fifth of the prisoners and the spoils were sent to Hajjaj.[3] As records Chachnama, when Brahmanabad fell to Muslims, in which 8,000 to 26,000 men were slain, ‘One-fifth of all the prisoners were chosen and set aside; they were counted as amounting to twenty thousand in number, and the rest were given to the soldiers.[4] This means, about 100,000 women and children were enslaved in this assault.

One consignment of caliph’s share of the booty included 30,000 women and children and slain Dahir’s head. Among the captives were a few girls of Sindh nobility. Hajjaj forwarded the caravan of booty and slaves to Caliph al-Walid in Damascus. ‘When the Khalifa of the time read the letter,’ records Chachnama, ‘he praised Almighty Allah. He sold some of those daughters of the chiefs, and some he granted as rewards. When he saw the daughters of Rai Dahir’s sister, he was so much stuck with her beauty and charms, and began to bite his fingers with astonishment.[5]

In the attack of Multan, records al-Biladuri, there were, among the captives, ‘ministers of the temple, to the number of six thousand.[6] This figure should give us an idea of total number of women and children enslaved in Multan. Qasim undertook similar expeditions in Sehwan and Dhalila among others. His rather small feat in Sindh over a short period of three years (712–15) might have yielded to the tune of three hundred thousand slaves in all.

During 715 to 1000 CE: After Qasim’s recall in 715, Muslim campaigns of slaughter and enslavement became somewhat subdued, but low-intensity campaigns continued nonetheless. During the reign of the only orthodox Umayyad Caliph Omar (717–20), his lieutenant Amru bin Muslim made several Jihad expeditions against Hindu territories and subdued them; these undoubtedly had yielded slaves. During Caliph Hasham bin Abdul Malik (r. 724–43), Sindh military chief Junaid bin Abdur Rahman engaged in a number of victorious campaigns. In his attack of Kiraj, he ‘stormed the place, slaying, plundering, and making captives.’ In his incursions against Ujjain and Baharimad, he burnt down the suburbs and plunder great booty.[7] Booty invariably included captives.

After the orthodox Abbasid dynasty was founded in 750, Caliph al-Mansur (r. 755–74) sent Hasham bin Amru for waging holy war against Hindu territories. He ‘subdued Kashmir and took many prisoners and slaves…[8] He attacked many places between Kandahar and Kashmir, and every victory must have yielded captives, which are not recorded.

Great Muslim historian Ibn Asir (Athir) records in Kamil-ut Tawarikh that during Caliph Al-Mahdi’s reign, Abdul Malik led a large naval Jihad expedition against India in 775. They disembarked at Barada and in the sustained battle with the people of the neighborhood, the Muslim army prevailed. ‘Some of the people were burned, the rest were slain and twenty Musalmans perished in testimony of their faith,’ records Asir.[9] The number of captives is not recorded.

During Caliph al-Mamun’s reign (r. 813–33), Commander Afif bin Isa led an expedition against the revolting Hindus. After defeating and slaughtering them, the surviving 27,000 men, women and children were enslaved.[10] The next Caliph al-Mutasim’s governor of Sindh, Amran bin Musa, attacked and defeated Multan and Kandabil, and ‘carried away its inhabitants’ as captives.[11] In about 870, Yakub Lais attacked Ar-Rukhaj (Aracosia) and the enslaved inhabitants were forced to embrace Islam.[12]

By Ghaznivid invaders: Nearly three centuries after Qasim’s exploits, Sultan Mahmud launched seventeen devastating incursions into Northern India (1000–27), involving mass slaughter, plunder, destruction of temples and enslavement in large numbers. In his attack of King Jaipal in 1001–02, records al-Utbi: ‘God bestowed upon his friends such amount of booty as was beyond all bounds and all calculation, including five hundred thousand slaves, men and women.’ Among the captives were King Jaipal and his children and grandchildren, and nephews, the chief men of his tribe and his relatives.[13] He drove them away to Ghazni for selling.

In the attack of Ninduna (Punjab) in 1014, writes al-Utbi, ‘slaves were so plentiful that they became very cheap; men of respectability in their native land were degraded by becoming slaves of common shop-keepers (in Ghazni).’ From the next year’s assault in Thanesar (Haryana), the Muslim army ‘brought 200,000 captives so that the capital appeared like an Indian city; every soldier of the army had several slaves and slave girls,’ testifies Ferishtah. From his expedition to India in 1019, he brought 53,000 captives. Of his seventeen expeditions to India, the campaign to Kashmir was the only failure. In each victorious campaign, he plundered booty, which normally included slaves, but their records have not been recorded systematically. Caliph’s one-fifth share of the booty was kept aside, which, records Tarikh-i-Alfi, included 150,000 slaves.[14] This means that a minimum of 750,000 slaves were captured by Sultan Mahmud.

Mahmud (d. 1030) did the spade-work for founding an Islamic Sultanate in Punjab, where the Ghaznivid dynasty ruled until 1186. In 1033, his not-so-illustrious son, Sultan Masud I, launched ‘an attack on the fort of Sursuti in Kashmir. The entire garrison was put to the sword, except the women and children, who were carried away as slaves.[15] In 1037, Sultan Masud, having fallen ill, made a vow ‘to prosecute holy war against Hansi,’ if he recovered. Having recovered, he attacked and captured Hansi. According to Abul Fazl Baihaki, ‘The Brahmans and other higher men were slain, and their women and children were carried away captives.[16]

The rather weak Ghaznivid Sultan Ibrahim attacked the districts of Punjab in 1079. Fierce battle lasted for weeks and both sides suffered great slaughter. At length, his army gained victory and captured much wealth and 100,000 slaves, whom he drove away to Ghazni, record Tarikh-i-Alfi and Tabakat-I Akbari.[17]

By Ghaurivid invaders: Sultan Muhammad Ghauri, an Afghan, launched the third wave of Islamic invasion of India in the late twelfth century establishing Muslim rule in Delhi (1206). In the attack of Benaras in 1194, ‘The slaughter of the Hindus was immense; none were spared except women and children and the carnage of the men went on until the earth was weary,’ records Ibn Asir.[18] The "women and children" were normally spared for enslaving. His illustrious general Qutbuddin Aibak attacked Raja Bhim of Gujarat in 1195 capturing 20,000 slaves;[19] in his attack of Kalinjar in 1202, records Hasan Nizami, ‘Fifty thousand men came under the collar of slavery, and the plain became black as pitch with Hindus.[20] In 1206, Muhammad Ghauri marched to exterminate the recalcitrant Khokhar rebels who had established their sway in regions of Multan. The slaughter of the rebels was so thorough that none survived to light a fire. ‘Much spoils in slaves and weapons, beyond all enumerations, fell into the possession of the victors,’ adds Nizami.[21] In summarizing the feat of slave-taking of Sultan Ghauri and Aibak, says Fakhr-i-Mudabbir, ‘even poor (Muslim) householders became owner of numerous slaves.[22] According to Ferishtah, ‘three to four hundred thousand Khokhars were converted to Islam’ by Muhammad Ghauri.[23] These conversions came mostly through enslavement.

Having become the first sultan of India in 1206, Aibak conquered Hansi, Meerut, Delhi, Ranthambor and Kol. During his reign (1206–10), Aibak undertook many expeditions capturing much of the areas from Delhi to Gujarat, from Lakhnauti to Lahore. Every victory yielded slaves, but their number is not recorded. The fact that Aibak generally captured slaves in his wars can be gauged from Ibn Asir’s assertion that he made ‘war against the provinces of Hind… He killed many, and returned with prisoners and booty.[24]

Simultaneously, Bakhtiyar Khilji unleashed extensive conquest, involving massacre and enslavement, in Bengal and Bihar in Eastern India. The number of slaves captured by Bakhtiyar is not recorded either. About Bakhtiyar, Ibn Asir said, bold and enterprising, he made incursions into Munghir and Bihar, brought away much plunder and obtained plenty of horses, arms and men (i.e., slaves).[25] In Bakhtiyar’s attack of Lakhmansena of Bengal in 1205, records Ibn Asir, ‘his whole treasure, and all his wives, maid servants, attendants, and women fell into the hands of the invader.[26]

After Aibak settled in Delhi, slaves were not transported overseas anymore like in earlier raids of Sultan Mahmud and Muhammad Ghauri, who used to come from Ghazni. Captives were, thereafter, engaged in various activities of royal courts, and by the generals, nobles and soldiers. The excess of slaves were sold in the markets of India for the first time in her history.

[1]. Eliot HM & Dawson J, The History of India As Told By Its Own Historians, Low Price Publications, New Delhi Vol. I, p. 119-20; Sharma SS (2004) Caliphs and Sultans: Religious Ideology and Political Praxis, Rupa & Co, New Delhi, p. 95

[2]. Lal (1994), p. 17

[3]. Elliot & Dawson, Vol. I, p. 173

[4]. Ibid, p. 181

[5]. Sharma, p. 95–96

[6]. Elliot & Dawson, Vol. I, p. 122–23,203

[7]. Ibid, p. 125–26

[8]. Ibid, p. 127

[9]. Ibid, Vol. II, p. 246

[10]. Ibid, p. 247–48

[11]. Ibid, Vol. I, p. 128

[12]. Ibid, Vol. II, p. 419

[13]. Ibid, p. 25–26

[14]. Lal (1994), p. 19–20

[15]. History of Punjab: Ghanznivide Dynasty,

[16]. Elliot & Dawson, Vol. II, p. 135,139–40

[17]. Ibid, Vol. V, p. 559–60; Lal (1994), p. 23

[18]. Elliot & Dawson, Vol. II, p. 251

[19]. Ferishtah MK (1997 print) History of the Rise of the Mahomedan Power in India, translated by John Briggs, Low Price Publication, New Delhi , Vol. I, p. 111

[20]. Elliot & Dawson, Vol. II, p. 232; also Lal (1994), p. 42

[21] Elliot & Dawson, Vol. II, p. 234–35

[22]. Lal (1994), p. 44

[23]. Ibid, p. 43

[24]. Elliot & Dawson, Vol. II, p. 251

[25]. Ibid, p. 306

[26]. Ibid, p. 308–09