Al is addressing a Muslim audience, most likely consisting of Arab and Persian readers. Although Al himself was ethnically Persian, he wrote the book in Arabic. In this chapter, he introduces the Hindus to his readers, mainly talking about how different they are from him. Italicized text will be used to denote my personal opinion.
Difference #1: language
What Al says…
- In Sanskrit, there are many ways to say the same thing. Indians, like speakers of other similar languages, are proud of this fact, when in reality it is a defect
- The Indian language was divided into a neglected vernacular one spoken by the common people, and a classical one only used by the upper & educated classes
- Indian sounds are very different and cannot be represented using the Arabic alphabet
- Indian scribes were careless (ha!) and they did not take pains to produce copies of text without errors
- Since the books often become corrupted with errors, Indians tried to transmit and preserve works by committing them to memory.
What I think…
- Where exactly was he located? Were there languages other than Sanskrit being used wherever he was?
- Today, written and spoken versions of Indian languages continue to be vastly different
- To this day, blind memory & rote learning is highly valued in Indian culture. Is it because books used to be scarce and mostly error prone?
- Al thinks Hindu religion has nothing in common with Islam
- Indians fought with each other mostly using words. Is he calling Indians more feminine?
- Indians hated foreigners - who are labeled mlecchas - impure
- They forbade any kind of a relationship with mlecchas
- They were not allowed to receive anybody of a different religion, even if he/she was interested in Hinduism. This made it super hard for Al to study Hinduism.
Difference #3: radical difference of manners & customs
- Indians scared children by declaring Persians to be the devil’s breed
- Similar description of foreigners prevailed in all cultures
- Story time: A Hindu king was killed by an enemy when they marched into his country. His son, Sagara, grew up and wanted vengeance. He went to the enemy and after getting tired of slaughtering the people, compelled the survivors to dress in Persian dressing fashion, as a punishment (likely because he hated the Persians so much). Question: who is this Hindu king?
Difference #4: Aversion of buddhists towards western countries
This can be broken down into two parts: pre-Islam period and post-Islam period. For context, Al hails from the Khorasan region, a Persian region that may have covered parts of modern Iran, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. Islam was born in the 7th century A.D (610-650 A.D)
- Al calls Buddhists as Shamaniyya, which may be a Persian/Arabic version of shramana. He says that although Buddhists cordially hate the Brahmans, they are still related to them.
- A long time back, way before Al’s time, Khurasan, Persis, Irak, Mosul, and all land until Syria was Buddhist. Note: I don’t know the details about this, but according to this wiki page, Buddhism was big in parts of Iran until the Sassanids banned it and made Zoroastrianism the state religion (in 224 AD). The final straw was the Arab conquests in the 7th century. For a modern context, the Taliban destroyed huge Buddhist statues in Bamiyan, which provides us concrete evidence of Buddhism in Central Asia.
- Zarathustra, the founding prophet of Zoroastrianism, set out from Adharbaijan and preached Magism/Zoroastrianism. Adharbaijan is likely an older name of the modern country Azerbaijan
- King Gushtasp & his son Isfendiyad made Zoroastrianism the state religion & banished Buddhists. Note: I have not been able to find accurate details of this King Gushtasp.
- Zoroastrianism spread through both force & treaties
- Fire temples were set up all the way from Greek empire to frontiers of China (Zoroastrians worship at fire temples. There are a few of them in use in India, specifically in Mumbai and Pune)
- This is how the hatred towards Khurasan began.
Al is attempting to trace the root cause of hatred shown by Indians/Hindus towards Persians/Muslims. I did not know that Indian Buddhists hated the Persians for mistreating their religion - because there are practically no Indian Buddists now. In the present day, Hindus and Muslims often co-exist peacefully in India - but the recent history is full of tragic incidents.
The post-islam period is mainly colored by two influential Muslim leaders:
- Map above shows the route Qasim took to conquer Sindh
- Qasim was an Arab general of the Umayyad dynasty
- He invaded Sindh in 711 AD
- Sindh was then ruled by a Brahmin king, Raja Dahir. This king would be the last Hindu ruler of Sindh
- Qasim entered from the side of Sijistan(Sakatene) & conquered the cities of Bahmanwa(possibly Mansura)(near Shahdapur in the map) & Mulasthana (current day Multan, he called it Al Mamura)
- He apparently marched through Gandhara & went as far as Kanauj. Kanauj was ruled by the Pala dynasty of Bengal at that time. More context here
- Sometimes he won with the sword, sometimes with treaties, mostly leaving the people to their religion, except those who wanted to become Muslims
- Mahmud was a Turko-Persian king who seized power in Ghazna, Afghanistan
- He chose holy war as his calling
- He called himself Al Ghuzi, warring on the road of Allah
- He constructed roads for easy access to India
- He struck terror in Hindustan with his son
- He utterly ruined prosperity of the country
- This was another reason why Indians hate Persians/Muslims
- This was also why Hindu science fled to places that invaders could not reach, like Kashmir & Benares
Questions & thoughts
- Why could invaders not reach Kashmir & Benares? Why did the Hindu kingdoms succumb?
- Apparently, Al was employed under Mahmud, and that is how he even traveled in India. However, it is interesting that he could be so blunt and biting about Mahmud. This is most likely because Al himself may have been a political prisoner of Mahmud.
Difference #5: self conceit of Hindus & depreciation of anything foreign
- Hindus believed they were the best
- there is no no country like theirs
- there is no king/religion/science like theirs
- Such extreme nationalism is sadly on the rise now
- Hindus withheld info even from people of a different caste
- He references Varāhamihira (pictured), who says Greeks must be honored for their science, but then praises himself. Varāhamihira was an Indian astronomer from the 6th century A.D
- He says that in former times Hindus used to acknowledge Greek science
- At first Al wanted to learn from Hindus, then realized they didn’t know much at all - when he tried teaching them they thought he was a magician
On Greeks & Hindus
- He says the polytheist pre-Christian Greeks & Hindus are very similar.
- Here author’s religious bias comes into play - he claims that any version of faith that is not monotheistic, be it Greek or Indian, are one and the same. That is interesting…but not necessarily accurate, in my opinion
- Greek philisophers were however more scientific than superstitious
- There had been no one like Socrates in India, who stood up to Athenian judges because he refused to call the stars Gods
- Hindus were not scientific, their scientific theorems were chaotic and a mixture of amazing and ordinary
- Al definitely has a bias in favor of the Greeks, as the Arabs were very, very inspired by ancient Greek works on science and philosophy. Although ancient Greece did influence India as well, Al likely was not as aware of ancient Indian science & philosophy
Open questions & thoughts
- Al does not mention Muslims in India. I wonder if he traveled to the Southern kingdoms where Islam had been practiced since the 7th century.
- Al may have been a part of Mahmud’s (of Ghazni) court, which also had Firdowsi, Iran’s most celebrated poet and author of the Shahnameh
- While Al does appear to make an honest attempt to understand Indians, it remains an open question as to how successful he was. Since he was part of a culture that conquered parts of India, he may have harbored feelings of superiority towards Indians. Indians, on the other hand, may not have trusted him.
- Al’s attempt to understand Indian culture is remarkable for his time. I think only the early British scholars in India may have matched his levels of empathy (like William Jones), with the later British scholars being more condescending, in my opinion.
Tangential articles if you have more time
- Trivia: There was some kind of a feud between Firdowsi & Mahmud. Firdowsi was a great poet employed by Mahmud to write a grand epic poem praising him, the Shanameh, on promise of a great reward. This verse is an example of what he wrote. When Mahmud failed to reward him adequately, he wrote verse like this, mocking him, and fled the capital.
- An odd story about Qasim