Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Invasion of Sindh

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The Chachnama tells us that in the year 632, during the reign of Caliph Omar (RA), Mughera surnamed Abul Aas, then stationed at Bahrain, led the first assault, a naval expedition, on Debal. He died fighting outside the city’s walls. When Abu Musa Ashari, the governor of Iraq, received news of this debacle, he wrote to the caliph that “he should think no more of Hind”.

In the caliphate of Hazrat Usman (RA) one Hakim bin Hailah Abdi, a poet and orator, was sent out to reconnoitre the approaches to Sindh. From him came this report: “Its water is dark; its fruit is bitter and poisonous; its land is stony and its earth is saltish. A small army will soon be annihilated there, and a large army will soon die of hunger.”

Now, Makran and Gandava (below the Bolan Pass) were already under tenuous control of the Arabs. However, Abdullah bin Amir, the governor of these regions, was advised against an attack on Sindh by the caliph after the reconnaissance report had been received. And so, years were to pass until the next attempt was made during the caliphate of Hazrat Ali (RA) in 660. Coming by way of Panjgur, the Arab force was successful at Kalat, but news of the assassination of the caliph resulted in withdrawal without the expedition reaching its logical end.

The third attack took place during the reign of Muawiya in 664. A force under Abdullah bin Sawad comprising 4,000 men attacked Kalat. The battle was long and hard, which went this way and that between the two sides until the mountaineers of Kalat routed the Arabs who fled to Makran.

Rashid bin Omar leading the fourth attack in an unnamed year (probably 668) also came against Kalat. Once again the contest was hard. The commander fell in battle and the invaders were routed with great loss of life. So far as Sindh was concerned, 12 peaceful years ensued. In 680, the commander of the army in Makran, one Manzir bin Harud, was sent by the caliph on plundering sorties against Sindh to make good the expenses of the failed expeditions.

This unfortunate commander succumbed to diseases, dying in a town named Burabi by the Chachnama. The book does not mention the locale of this place making identification difficult.

In the reign of caliph Walid bin Abdul Malik and governorship in Iraq of Hujaj bin Yusuf, the fifth expedition was undertaken against Sindh. The commander, Buzail bin Tahfa, led a small force by sea and, we read, marched to Nerun (Hyderabad). At this time, the country was firmly in the hands of Raja Dahar and this inland march is clearly an inconsistency. Particularly so because we later read that Buzail died in combat outside the walls of Debal where he had been joined by 4,000 troops from Makran sent by governor Mohammad bin Haroon.

While Ahmad Bilazri (Futuh ul Baladan) confirms this expedition, he tells us in addition of another attack not mentioned by the Chachnama. This being the expedition led by Obaidullah bin Nabhan and his death in battle causing the invaders to withdraw.

Now, as a result of these various battles, while many Arabs had been killed, many more languished in Sindhi captivity. Consequently, appointing Mohammad bin Qasim (MbQ) the general, Hujaj petitioned caliph Walid that it was necessary to free these prisoners. Walid demurred, however, saying that there had already been too many casualties and that the expedition was bound to be ‘a source of great anxiety’. There was, besides, the consideration of the large outlay.

Hujaj wrote back, “I undertake to pay back into the royal treasury double the amount spent on provisions and other items of expenditure for the army (in Iraq)”. The rest, as they say, is history.

Aside: There was a large body of Arabs already in the pay of Raja Dahar. These were the Alafis who, having fallen out with Hujaj, had rebelled and fled some time before. They fought with desperate courage against the Arabs under MbQ. Desperate surely they were because they knew if Dahar fell there was no returning for them to the west where only execution awaited them at the hands of Hujaj and his kinsfolk.

So, who were the Alafis?


posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 10 December 2015 at 09:56, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No Comments. Just Be Blessed with more and more endeavor. Ahmed Bajwa

At 14 December 2015 at 16:46, Anonymous Anonymous said...

God bless you Sir, you are a living treasure, it was your article in 1997 in Footloose that prompted me to trek from Abbotabad to Dagri Forest Rest house in search of Raj Era Visitor's Book (it was too dark when we got there and the caretaker had left so we broke into the rooms and what a night it was when we just huddled together and spent the night scared to bones).

Shoaib Noor

At 19 December 2015 at 10:21, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Scared? Of what, Shoaib Noor?

At 24 December 2015 at 18:42, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interestingly, many historical sources indicate the the first invasion of Sindh was undertaken in the year 644 AD, on the orders of Hazrat Umar by Hakam Bin Amr having the forces of Suhail Bin Adi who had earlier captured Kirman during late 643 AD and Uthman ibn Abi al'As from Persepolis under him. The combined Muslim army entered Makran moving along the coast, encountered Raja Chach in the Battle of Rasil, fought west of River Indus. The Muslims won the battle and Chach withdrew east of River Indus.
The messenger who brought the news of capture of Makran to Hazrat Umar was a bit of a poet and when asked to describe the country, he broke into a rhym:
O Commander of the Faithful
It is a land
Where the plains are hilly;
Where the water is a trickle;
Where the fruit is inferior;
Where the enemy is brave.
Its good is short;
Its evil is long.
In it many are few,
And a few are helpless,
And what lies beyond it is even worse!

Later Hazrat Umar instructed Hakam Bin Amr to proceed no further. The eastern boundaries then rested on River Indus, for the time being.

At 7 January 2019 at 14:40, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent article Sir. Was going through a history book. Writer mentioned that three Naval expeditions were launched by Invaders during period of Caliph Umar. 632 CE on Thane ( That is Trombay in Maharshtra ) , 633 CE in Bharuch Gurjrat , Same year in gap of few months at Debal in current Sindh.
Arab's were preferring sea route due to reason that it was most known to them due to frequent trades.
What you say about this.

At 8 January 2019 at 15:45, Blogger Salman Rashid said...

Himanshu, on Sindh alone the Arabs mounted five attacks. The raids on the Malabar coast were separate from these. But as for the invasion of Sindh, of the five only one was sea-born in which Abdullah bin Nabhan was killed in battle outside what is now Karachi. All others were by the land route though upper Makran, that is, by way of Kech, Hoshab, Awaran and Lasbela.


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