The Islamic “Golden Age” was a period that spanned the first several centuries of Islam’s growth and spread. During this time, as more and more countries embraced Islam, intense intellectual exchange between Muslims and the outside world.
The conquest of Sassanid Persia and the former Byzantine Levant opened up vast new realms of intellectual development for the developing Muslim world. Around the year 711 CE, Muslims successfully expanded the Islamic empire into South Asia. The Indus Valley not only enlightened the Muslim world but also functioned as the main route for transferring information from the rest of South Asia to the Islamic world.
The Muslim geographers did initially hold to the idea that South Asia could be divided into Sindh and Hind, with the former representing the Indus Valley and the latter the remainder of South Asia.
Ibn Khordadbeh, a geographer, described “Sindh” (the Indus Valley) in the 9th century CE, covering much of modern Pakistan as well as parts of the Indus basin. His Sindh was made up of the regions of Makran, Turan, al-Qiqan, Multan, and Sindh proper, essentially covering much of today’s Balochistan, Sindh, and parts of Punjab.
The Muslims likely adopted this nomenclature to distinguish between Sindh and Hind in order to make a distinction between regions with a Muslim stronghold and those that lay outside the borders of the Islamic world, in addition to Sindh’s status as a geographic entity and a powerful kingdom before its conquest.
This theological and geographic division is evident in the early Muslim geography work Kitab Al Masalik Wa Mamalik [The Book of Roads and Countries], where the author refers to South Asia as “Sindh-wal-Hind” by distinguishing between the regions ruled by Muslims and those under non-Muslim authority (Sindh and Hind).
Since the 11th-century Ghaznavid chroniclers Utbi and Gardezi repeatedly refer to the Indus River as “Sayhun,” which was the name of the Jaxartes River in Central Asia, this geographic separation along religious lines appears to have become embedded in the Islamic world. The renowned researcher Clifford Bosworth explains that this is because both rivers “marked the boundary zone between the land of Islam and Paganism.
In the Islamic world, nisbahs, which are affixed adjectives used as surnames to represent a person’s native nation, are the way utilized to determine an individual’s origin. This largely applied to “Sindhi,” “Mansuri,” “Deybali,” “Qusdari,” “Makrani,” etc. for the Indus Valley population. However, because of the hazy early Islamic geography, the name “Sindhi” was occasionally used to refer to individuals living in contemporary Afghanistan, much as the term “Hindi” was occasionally used to refer to individuals living in Sindh in contemporary Pakistan.
CAPTURE OF SINDH
The early Islamic incursions into Sindh’s neighborhood happened at the same time that the Buddhist Rai dynasty gave way to the Hindu Chach dynasty in Sindh.
The start of this Islamic march was the battle of Rasil, which was fought in Sindh by the soldiers of Caliph Umer (584-644 CE). However, the conquest of Sindh didn’t start until 711 CE, during the Umayyad Caliphate.
The battles and conquests started in the coastal city of Deybul and gradually spread north. A decisive victory for the Muslim army against Raja Dahir (633–712 CE) of Sindh at the battle of Alor resulted in the capture of considerable quantities of loot and slaves. Due to the Muslim armies’ remote location and unfamiliar surroundings, the conquest of Sindh was complicated.
For the treatment of non-Muslims, the Muslims adopted a number of unexpected policies for ease of administration, such as extending the dhimmi (protected person) status to Hindus and Buddhists and comparing them to the “people of the covenant.”
Due to ideological motivations and commercial concerns, the mercantile Sindhi Buddhists cooperated with the Muslims both during and after the conquest, whilst the agrarian Hindus were untouched by Islamic policy. The Hindu ruling class, which was overthrown, was the group most severely affected.
Following the conquest of parts of Sindh in 711 CE and the foundation of the city of Mansura on the banks of the Indus River shortly after, Islamic theological studies in Sindh quickly began. Sindh quickly emerged as a hub for theological research, particularly the Ahadith (traditions of the Prophet, PBUH).
Three groups—locals who lived and studied in Sindh, locals who traveled to other parts of the Islamic world to learn, and former Sindhi war prisoners who had relocated abroad in the Islamic world—brought about this new era of study of the science of traditions.
The historian Abu Mashar al-Sindhi was one of the first people from the Indus Valley to achieve recognition in Islam(d. 786 CE). He was thought to be a slave from Sindh who traveled to Medina, where he purchased his freedom and received support from the Caliph of the time.
In his well-known book Kitab al-Fihrist [The Book Catalogue], the 9th-century historian Ibn Nadim frequently cites him for chronology. He is also credited with writing Kitab al-Maghazi [Book of Conquests], a remarkable work on the life of the Prophet and his military operations.
Abu Mashar’s contributions earned him the title of “Imam Al-Fann” (Leader of the Arts), and his stature among the intellectuals of the Golden Age may be inferred from the fact that none other than the renowned Caliph Harun al-Rashid himself presided over his burial prayers upon his passing. Only his own son Muhammad bin Abu Mashar al-Sindhi was able to outshine Abu Mashar in terms of theological knowledge (765-861 CE).
Muhammad was mentored by his father in Baghdad and soon became a scholar and theologian in his own right. His reputation can be gauged by the number of Muslim pupils who came from all across the Muslim world to learn under him.
Some of the most well-known graduates who later achieved fame as traditionists, historians, and theologians are renowned Islamic luminaries including Abu Isa al-Tirmidhi, al-Tabari, Abu Hatim al-Razi, and Ibn Abi al-Dunya.
The theologian Rija or Raja al-Sindhi (d. 837 CE) traveled to Isfarain in Persia and attained great fame in the study of Ahadith, earning him the title of “Rukn Min Arkan Al-Hadith” as a result of his works and research (One of the Pillars of the Hadith).
Muhammad (821–899 CE), a distinguished theologian and well-known author of a mustakharaj, a subnarration on the classic Hadith book Sahih Muslim, was Rija’s grandson.
One of the earliest individuals from the Indus Valley to be identified as a teacher of the illustrious Sufi Bayazid a-Bistami (d. 848 CE), known to his fellow Sufis as “Sultan Al-Arifeen,” was Abu Ali al-Sindhi (King of Gnostics). Fanaa (self-annihilation), a concept attributed to Bayazid, is thought to have been taught to Al-Bistami by Abu Ali Al-Sindhi.
Although historians disagree on this point, it is generally accepted that Al-Sindhi was a convert to Buddhism who had studied the idea of Nirvana and had taught Al-Bistami about it.
Imam Awzai is arguably the most well-known theologian with alleged connections to the Indus Valley (707-774 CE). Some historians thought the name to be an attribution obtained from the village Awza where he settled, suggesting an eastward origin, while others felt it to be a nisbah (attribution) originated from Yemen since his name “Awzai” is seen to be synonymous with an Arab tribe.
Awzai was a descendant of Sindhis, according to the eminent historian Zura al-Damishqi, and his name referred to the village rather than the clan.
Whether or not he had ties to the Indus Valley, Imam Awzai was a famous character in the Islamic world who had studied theology before he was a teenager and was making legal decisions at the age of thirteen.
He not only decided on more than 7,000 legal questions but also penned two books on Islamic law. He was one of the most renowned jurists and academics of his time and a pioneer in the gathering and compilation of traditions. By the end of his illustrious life, he had established his own school of thought, which held sway in Andalusia before being supplanted by rival schools.
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