By Masood Alam Falahi
(Translated by Yoginder Sikand for NewAgeIslam.com)
(Part 6 of Masood Alam Falahi's Urdu book Hindustan Mai Zat-Pat Aur Musalman (‘Casteism Among Muslims in India’))
Caste and Caste-Based Discrimination among Indian Muslims - Part 1
URL of Part 1: http://www.newageislam.com/books-and-documents/Caste and Caste-Based Discrimination among Indian Muslims-Part 1-The domination of-high-caste Muslims that parallels the Hindu case/d/3611
Caste and Caste-Based Discrimination among Indian Muslims - Part 2: Indian Muslim Society in the Shadow of Casteism
URL of Part 2: http://www.newageislam.com/books-and-documents/caste-and-caste-based-discrimination-among-indian-muslims---part-2--indian-muslim-society-in-the-shadow-of-casteism-/d/3616
Caste and Caste-Based Discrimination among Indian Muslims - Part 3: The Impact of the Aryan Invasion of India
URL of Part 3: http://www.newageislam.com/books-and-documents/caste-and-caste-based-discrimination-among-indian-muslims---part-3--the-impact-of-the-aryan-invasion-of-india/d/3619
Caste and Caste-Based Discrimination among Indian Muslims - Part 4: Early Anti-Aryan Movements in India
URL of Part 4: http://www.newageislam.com/books-and-documents/caste-and-caste-based-discrimination-among-indian-muslims---part-4--early-anti-aryan-movements-in-india/d/3626
Caste and Caste-Based Discrimination among Indian Muslims - Part 5: The Origin and Spread of Islam in India
URL of Part 5: http://www.newageislam.com/books-and-documents/caste-and-caste-based-discrimination-among-indian-muslims---part-5--the-origin-and-spread-of-islam-in-india/d/3630
With its philosophy of human equality Islam would have rapidly spread across India but this was not to be tolerated by the upholders of Brahminism or Manuvad. With the conversion of vast numbers of oppressed caste people to Islam they saw their hegemony, built on the caste system and untouchability, rapidly crumbling. They realised that if they did not modify Hinduism and if they did not halt the spread of Islam, Hinduism would be destroyed forever. Accordingly, they adopted many different strategies to counter the Islamic wave.
Division of Muslims into ‘High’ and ‘Low’
Because political power over most of India was now in the hands of Muslims, the Brahminists could not quash them in the same way as they had earlier destroyed the Buddhists and the Jains—by physically exterminating them on a massive scale. Instead, they tried every means to prevent the further expansion of Islam. To take revenge on the Muslims for their political defeat and for attracting vast numbers of Shudras to the Muslim fold, the Brahmins spared no effort to promote hatred against the Muslims and their faith. In this way they tried to dissuade the Shudras and others from converting to Islam. They branded the Muslims as despicable Mlecchas, and treated them as ‘impure’ and ‘polluted’, a tendency that continues even today in large parts of India. This is why, leaving aside the Dalits, even ‘low’ caste Hindus refused to consume food or water touched by Muslims or to draw water from wells used by Muslims. If a Muslim touched a Hindu’s water pot, he would break it, considering it to have been rendered impure. If a Muslim touched a Hindu, he would consider himself polluted and would have to take a ritual bath to ‘cleanse’ himself.
Such practices have not completely died out even today. Even now the Brahminists have not relented in fomenting hatred against Muslims and Islam, carrying on in the path of their forefathers. This is precisely the same policy that they adopted in order to extirpate Buddhism from India. However, they did not entirely succeed in their mission, and, despite aggressively promoting hatred and prejudice against the Muslims, many oppressed caste people continued to embrace Islam over the centuries in search of liberation and to free themselves from the horrors of Brahminism.
At the same time, however, the egalitarian project of Islam came to be sabotaged from within, with the emergence of a parallel caste system among the Muslims themselves. Over time, it grew into such a strong and pervasive force that it made a complete mockery of Islam’s insistence on the brotherhood and fundamental equality of all believers. This was particularly noticeable in those parts of India where the carriers of Islam were not Arabs, in particular in regions where ruling Muslim dynasties were non-Arab or Ajami, and that were, unlike the early Arab Muslims, not committed to the equality of all Muslims. Despite being Muslims, they had not rid themselves of ethnic pride and notions of social hierarchy. To some extent, caste divisions and prejudices among the Muslims of the country were also a result of the lingering caste consciousness among ‘upper’ caste Hindus who had converted to Islam for various reasons. The impact of the wider Hindu caste-ridden society on the Indian Muslims, both converts as well as those of foreign origin, and its role in fomenting caste divisions and consciousness among them cannot also be discounted.
Gradually, then, the ruling Muslim elites of foreign Ajami extraction came to uphold and champion caste-based social hierarchy, appearing, in this regard, no different from their Hindu counterparts, and in complete contrast to the early Arab Muslims. So caste-ridden did Indian Muslim society become that in the period of ‘Muslim’ rule in India it was almost impossible to distinguish between Hindu and Muslim oppressed castes. The oppressed Muslim castes had converted to Islam to escape Brahminical oppression, but the Muslim rulers, instead of assisting them in any way, branded them as ‘low-born’ and subjected them to various forms of degradation. They even devised a four-fold caste system almost identical to that of the four-fold varna order of the Brahminical Hindus. Accordingly, the four ethnic groups that claimed foreign—Arab, West Asian and Central Asian—descent, the Syeds, Shaikhs, Mughals and Pathans, came to be considered as ashraf/sharif or ‘noble’. Converts from the ‘high’ caste Hindus were also considered as sharif. On the other hand, impoverished Muslims of indigenous origin, converts from the oppressed castes, who came to form the vast majority of the Indian Muslim population, were branded as ajlaf or ‘low’ or even as arzal/razil or ‘despicable’.
Arab rule in India was short-lived and confined to just a small part of the country, limited mainly to Sindh and some parts of southern Punjab. A series of Turkish military raids into northern India followed the collapse of Arab rule, which were led by military commanders such as Sultan Nasiruddin Sabuktagin, Sultan Mahmud Ghaznavi and Sultan Shihabuddin Ghori, and which carried on till the early thirteenth century. These commanders did not establish their rule in India, though. The foundation of full-fledged ‘Muslim’ rule in the country was laid by Sultan Qutbuddin Aibak in 1206, when he became Sultan of Delhi. Till his time, caste divisions and prejudices were not as acute among the then fledgling Muslim community in India as they were to later become. This is indicated by the fact that Sultan Mahmud Ghaznavi, Sultan Shihabuddin Ghori and Sultan Qutbuddin Aibak appointed their slaves as their successors and governors of their provinces. Mahmud Ghaznavi appointed his slave Ayaz as governor of Punjab. He bestowed the title of ‘Raja’ on a Hindu from the ‘low’ Hajjam or barber caste named Tilak and made him the commander of his army. Shihabuddin Ghori appointed his slave Qutbuddin Aibak as governor of all his Indian provinces, who, in turn, appointed his slave Shamsuddin Iltutmish as ruler of Bulandshahr, and then administrator of Badaun, after which he freed him and gave him his daughter in marriage.
The Case of Sultan Shamsuddin Iltutmish
It is from the reign of Sultan Shamsuddin Iltutmish (d. 1236) onwards that we get much evidence of caste-based discrimination against ‘low’ caste Muslims being actively enforced by the state. Shamelessly ignoring Islamic teachings that stress social equality, numerous Muslim Sultans very explicitly supported caste-based divisions and discrimination. They appointed only so-called ashrafMuslims (as well as ‘upper’ caste Hindus) to top posts, while strictly excluding so-called ‘low’ caste Muslims (and, of course, ‘low’ caste non-Muslims, too). A good illustration of this is provided in Ziauddin Barani’s Tarikh-e Firoze Shahi, which relates that in the reign of both Sultan Shamsuddin Iltutmish (d.1236) and Sultan Ghiyasuddin Balban (d. 1287), who belonged to the Slave Dynasty, ‘low’ caste Muslims were forbidden from all senior government posts. Moreover, if a ‘low’ caste person was found to be occupying any such post he was immediately dismissed. These two Sultans had once themselves been slaves, and not just that—they had been slaves of slaves. Sultan Iltutmish was the slave of Sultan Qutbuddin Aibak, who was the slave of Sultan Muhammad Ghori. Balban was the slave of Iltutmish. Yet, despite this, they acted in this way. Why this was so is a question that needs detailed research.
The Tarikh-e Firoze Shahi further relates that once, a senior courtier of Sultan Shamsuddin Iltutmish, Nizam ul-Mulk Junaidi, presented a man called Jamal Marzuq before the Emperor for the post of overseer of Qannauj. Just as Jamal Marzuq placed his lips on the Emperor’s feet, the vizier Khwaja Aziz Bin Bahruz recited the following couplet:
Do not give a pen in the hand of the low-born
Because the low-born might dare to make the black stone which is in the Kaaba a stone for purification after urination.
This couplet was a cruel barb directed at Jamal Marzuq. The Sultan at once understood what the vizier’s intention was—to indicate to him that Jamal Marzuq was from a ‘low’ caste. Accordingly, the Sultan inquired from Nizam ul-Mulk about Jamal Marzuq’s caste background, and was told that he was indeed from a ‘low’ caste. Nizam ul-Mulk tried to defend his bringing Jamal Marzuq before the Sultan by claiming that the latter had a fine handwriting. However, this defence did not placate the enraged Sultan, who was livid that Nizam ul-Mulk had dared to even suggest that he appoint a ‘low’ caste person to a senior post. Thereupon, he ordered that an investigation be made into the caste background of every person employed at various levels in his administration and in all the cities of his realm. This search revealed the names of 33 ‘low’ caste people. The list of these was presented before the Sultan, who dismissed them at once.
Shortly after this incident, two nobles, Malik Azizuddin Salar and Malik Qutbuddin Hasan Ghori, appeared before the Sultan and said to him that since he had investigated the caste background of so many government officials, it was advisable for him to find out what caste his courtier Nizam ul-Mulk belonged to. This was because, they said, if he were truly from a ‘good’ caste, he would never have suggested that a person from a ‘low’ caste be appointed to any post, no matter how menial—which is what he had done. Accordingly, the caste background of the vizier was investigated, whereupon it was discovered that his grand-father had been a Julaha.[i] He was immediately dismissed from service.[ii]
Sultan Ghiyasuddin Balban
It is related that once Sultan Ghiyasuddin Balban ordered his courtiers to search for a capable and experienced man from a ‘good’ family for the post of overseer of Amroha. Thereupon, Malik Alauddin Kashli Khan, Amir Hajib, and Malik Nizamuddin Bazghana selected a certain Kamal Mahyar as a candidate for the post. When Kamal Mahyar was kissing the ground before the Emperor’s feet, the Emperor ordered his courtiers to ask him what the word ‘Mahyar’ meant. The man answered that this was the name of his father, who had been a Hindu slave. On hearing this the Emperor rage knew no bounds. He berated the men who had brought Kamal Mahyar before him for committing what he regarded as the grievous office of suggesting that he employ a ‘low’ caste son of a slave, even though he was capable and well educated. Then, addressing two of his close courtiers, Adil Khan and Timar Khan, he said, ‘I know that God has blessed me with one characteristic, and that is that I simply cannot tolerate a low-born razil occupying any respectable position, and whenever I see such people my blood begins to boil. I cannot employ the son of a low-born or incapable person in the administration of my kingdom, which has been given to me by God. I cannot grant him any service or land grant.’ He warned his courtiers that if henceforth anyone recommended to him a ‘low-born’ person, no matter how capable, for a job or post, he would teach him a ‘brutal lesson’. And so as long as Balban lived no one dared suggest to him to employ a ‘low-born’ person to any post.[iii]
Following in the path of Sultan Shamsuddin Iltutmish, Balban ordered that the caste of every person in the royal services be investigated. As the noted historian Khaliq Ahmad Nizami writes in his highly-acclaimed study, Some Aspects of Religion and Politics in India During the Thirteenth Century:
‘[...] Balban made very thorough enquiries about the families of all his officers and government servants. Expert genealogists had assembled in Delhi from all parts of the country to help him in determining the family status of the persons.’[iv]
It would not be an exaggeration to say that in the eyes of these Sultans who were fanatically wedded to caste discrimination the status of poor, oppressed Muslims and Hindus was worse than that of animals. The latter could never dare to come close to the royal court. The vast majority of Indian Muslim (and, of course, Hindu) rulers and nobles or umara were extremely caste conscious. In a few exceptional cases, some Indian Muslim rulers dared to appoint ‘low’ caste people to important posts, but this was considered to be so threatening by the well-entrenched elites that such a step sometimes even occasioned bloody revolts and plots to dethrone such rulers, who were seen as deviants. Thus, when Sultan Iltutmish’s very capable daughter and successor, the intrepid Razia Sultana (d. 1240), appointed Jamaluddin Yaqut, a slave of Abysinnian origin, to the very senior post of amir al-umara, a number of Turk and Afghan nobles rose up in revolt, angered at a mere slave being raised to such a high status. In the course of their rebellion, Yaqut was slain, Razia was toppled and thrown into jail, and Iltutmish’s son Muizuddin Behram was appointed to the throne of Delhi in her place. Later, Muizuddin Behram ordered the killing of Razia and her husband.[v]
Sultan Qutbuddin Mubarak Shah Khilji (d. 1321) bestowed the title of wafa ul-mulk on a slave named Shaheen and appointed him as his deputy when he was leaving Delhi for Deogir. After he conquered Deogir, he appointed a recent convert to Islam named Khusrau Khan, who was from a ‘low’ caste Chamar family from Gujarat, as governor of Deogir and entrusted him with the entire Deccan, including with the task of overseeing all the local Rajas and extracting tribute from them. He also appointed Khusrau Khan’s brother as the governor of Gujarat. This patronage of the ‘low-born’ greatly incensed the nobles of the Sultan’s court, who were mostly Muslims. Some of them plotted to assassinate the Sultan while he was on his way back to Delhi from Deogir and appoint Alauddin Khilji’s cousin Malik Asaduddin as Emperor in his place. When the Sultan learned of this conspiracy, he arranged for Malik Asaduddin and some of his associates to be killed.[vi]
Discrimination Against Muslims From the Oppressed Castes
The so-called ajlaf and arzal formed the fifth and ‘lowest’ category in the Indian Muslim social hierarchy, paralleling the Untouchables in the Hindu case, who were ranked below the four varnas. They were subjected to various forms of cruel oppression by the dominant, so-called ‘high’ castes, both Hindu as well as Muslim. Even ‘upper’ caste Muslims would generally refuse to visit or eat in their homes. They were generally forbidden from acquiring education, setting up educational institutions, constructing proper houses, keeping respectable-sounding and proper Islamic names and even, in some cases, cooking what was considered to be lavish food because if they did so the ‘upper’ castes would regard them as daring to compete with them.
Many examples of this can be cited. Chronicling the reformist efforts in the Saharanpur district in present-day Uttar Pradesh of the noted early nineteenth century Islamic scholar and activist Syed Ahmad Shahid, Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi comments:
‘In the Daud Sara locality in Saharanpur there lived some families of Noorbafs (Julahas or Ansaris). They, too, desired to give the oath of allegiance (bai‘at) at the hands of Syed Ahmad Shahid. Members of the caste consulted among themselves and sent to leaders to him and requested him to visit their humble homes. He accepted their invitation. They also invited other respected and noble people (shurafa) of the town. The nobles of the town were ashamed to accept the invitation of this caste and visit their homes. When they learned that he [Syed Ahmad] had visited the Noorbafs’ locality and had accepted their hospitality, they reluctantly did the same, although in their hearts they did not like his going there. All the members of this [Noorbaf] caste gave the oath of allegiance [at the hands of Syed Ahmad Shahid] and presented him with gifts.’[vii]
Continuing with his account of Syed Ahmad Shahid’s campaign against caste
discrimination among the Muslims of his times, Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi relates that one day Syed Ahmad conferred with two of his close followers, lamenting that ‘ignorance’ (jahalat) had taken such deep roots among the Muslims of Saharanpur that he feared it might gravely threaten their faith in, and adherence to, Islam. In this regard, he noted with much regret, that poor Muslims did not keep names for their children that were used by the Muslim nobility and that they did not cook the sort of food that rich Muslims did for fear that the latter might think that they were trying to compete with them.[viii]
This practice of forbidding ‘low’ caste Muslims from eating what was considered ‘high class’ food associated with the so-called ashraf remained quite widespread at least in some parts of India. Some years ago, an office-bearer of the Jamaat-e Islami Hind, Javed Iqbal, who belongs to the Shamsi Shaikh community, told me of a shocking incident that took place in his village of Nagina, in Bijnore district in present-day Uttar Pradesh, just a few years before India’s independence. An Ansari family in the village was celebrating a wedding, and pilau and biryani had been cooked for their guests. When some Syeds and Shaikhs of the village heard of this, they rushed to the Ansari’s house, overturned the cauldrons in which the food had been cooked, and said to the family, ‘You are Julahas, and yet you have the gumption to compete with us! You must not cook pilau and biryani. Instead, cook khichadi and plain boiled rice.’
Another acquaintance of mine, Dr. Maulana Ashhad Rafiq Nadvi, who belongs to the Shaikh caste and is a lecturer of Arabic at a school attached to the Aligarh Muslim University, narrated to me an incident about a close friend of his from the Ansari caste from a village in Azamgarh district in Uttar Pradesh. This was at the time before the abolition of feudal landholdings or zamindari in the area. His friend’s family decided to build a permanent or pakka house, and for this purpose had ordered bricks and other construction materials. When some members of the Shaikh caste and thezamindars of the village heard of this, they refused to let them build the house simply because, as they put it, they were ‘Julahas’. Today, the sons of the very same zamindars who forbade them from constructing a proper house now work as servants of these Ansaris.
Throughout the period of so-called ‘Muslim’ rule in India, the ‘low’ Muslims, as I mentioned earlier, were subjected to various forms of disabilities and degradation by the self-styled ashraf Muslims. To call someone a Julaha, a Nai or a Kanjar, names of so-called ‘low’ Muslim (and non-Muslim) castes, was a form of terrible abuse. The Syeds, who claim descent from the Prophet Muhammad, were considered to be of the highest social standing. In promoting the Syeds to this stature Shi‘ism and pro-Shia trends played a critical role, since in the Shia faith Syeds are given a very exalted status. In the wake of the devastating Mongol attacks on Central and West Asia in the thirteenth century, a large number of Syeds fled to India for safety, where they were welcomed by the then Muslim Sultans. Already, stories had been spread about the supposed or alleged superiority of the Syeds, and so when they began to arrive in such large numbers in India the ignorant Muslim populace developed an even greater reverence for them than before. They began attributing all sorts of noble qualities and even miraculous powers to them, considering them as the epitome of bravery and piety, as deserving all sorts of privileges, and as possessing all sorts of virtues and qualities, even knowledge of the unseen. Even the most tyrannical of Muslim Sultans considered it a matter of pride to bow their heads before the Syeds, and offered them the highest posts in their realms. Thus, all the Sultans of India, particularly Alauddin Khilji and Firoze Shah Tughlaq, went out of their way to court the Syeds. They lavishly patronised them by appointing them to very senior and lucrative positions. In this way, they replicated the longstanding policy of Hindu rulers in their pathetic appeasement of Brahmins, whom they regarded as bhu devtas or ‘gods on earth’.
In 1398, in the wake of Timur’s devastating invasion of India, the Syeds managed to grab the throne of Delhi and ruled from there for a short while. However, soon enough, they proved incompetent, and their last ruler was forced to relinquish the throne and retire to Budaun, in what is today western Uttar Pradesh. However, despite the collapse of the Syed dynasty, the social prestige and influence of the Syeds continued undiminished and successive Muslim rulers continued to court them.
One can provide numerous instance of the exaggerated and unwarranted reverence shown to the Syeds by Muslim Sultans of India that clearly parallels the slavishness of Hindu kings before the Brahmins. For example, it is reported that a Syed from the town of Koyil was accused of misappropriating money from the royal treasury, and there was very strong evidence of his having done so. The case was brought before the then Sultan of Delhi, Sikander Lodi (d.1517), who not only dismissed the case but also allowed the Syed to keep the money that he had purloined.[ix] Likewise, it is reported that Timur (d.1405), who was inclined towards Shi‘ism, held the Syeds in great reverence. The noted historian Kunwar Muhammad Ashraf observes that in the course of his bloody invasion of India, Timur deliberately spared the lives of Syeds whom he came across, while he indiscriminately massacred all other people in the most barbaric manner. Ashraf writes:
‘It is narrated, in all seriousness, in texts such as Malfuzat-e Timuri, that when Abdullah, ruler of Transoxiana, delayed in offering prayers for Timur’s departed soul because he considered Timur to have been irreligious and cruel and his hands red with the blood of innocents, the Prophet of God himself indicated to him in a dream that his doubts were baseless because while, on the one hand, he [Timur] had shed the blood of men in order to serve God, on the other hand, he had also protected the lives of Syeds.’[x]
It is simply amazing, and, at the same time, deeply troubling how such completely bogus stories were concocted simply to assert the claim of the supposed superiority of the Syeds, stories that denigrated the Prophet himself and made it wrongly appear as if he was concerned only about the Syeds and that other Muslims did not matter to him at all. Needless to say, this suggestion is completely against the teachings of the Prophet. The fate of those who fabricated such utterly false stories is indicated in a hadith report contained in the Sahih al-Bukhari, according to which the Prophet declared that those who deliberately attributed a falsehood to him would be destined to hell.
Many other Muslim rulers were no less committed than Timur to honouring the Syeds, deeming them to be a class apart from the rest of society. The medieval historian Abdul Qadir Badauni writes in his Muntakhab al-Tawarikh of a certain Muhammad Shah who arrived in India in the reign of Sher Shah Suri (d.1552). He called himself a Syed, although many people doubted his ancestry. He adopted the dress and manners of a Sufi Shaikh. Although he was actually an imposter, Sher Shah believed him to be an accomplished saint. Prince, Salim Shah, Sher Shah’s son, was also a great devotee of his and would often visit him for omens about his succeeding to the throne. In such reverence did he hold him that he would carry the man’s shoes with his own hands. The story is told of how, one day, someone sent a basket of melons for Muhammad Shah. By chance, Salim Shah arrived there just then. Muhammad Shah ordered him thus, ‘I am giving you this basket as an indication of your kingdom. Get up and put it on your head and walk on.’ Salim Shah unhesitatingly lifted the basket onto his head, taking it to be a auspicious omen.[xi]
The Mughal Emperor Jalaluddin Akbar (d. 1605) also held the Syeds in special regard. He considered them worthy of particular respect, and exempted them from capital punishment. Soon after Akbar ascended the Mughal throne, at the tender age of thirteen, writes the Mughal historian Muhammad Qasim Farishta, a Syed nobleman revolted against him. He was arrested and Bairam Khan, Akbar’s guardian, suggested he be killed. However, Akbar did not agree because he did not approve of a son of a Syed (syed zadah) being given capital punishment.[xii]
One could provide many more such instances, but by now the point should be amply clear that just as the Brahmins were accorded an exalted status among the Hindus, the Syeds, followed by other so-called sharif castes, came to be regarded as superior to all the other Muslims. This form of extreme social hierarchy remained in place throughout the period of so-called Muslim rule in India, and was rigidly enforced by most Muslim rulers.
Is It Right to Consider the Syeds as Descendants of the Prophet Muhammad?
It is inappropriate, in the light of the Quran and the Sunnah, the practice of the Prophet Muhammad, to consider the Syeds as being lineal descendants (aulad) of the Prophet because Muslim jurists are unanimous in stressing that in Islam descent is passed down through male, not female, offspring. Thus, the Quran says, ‘Call them by (the names of) their fathers’ (33:5). In other words, for social purposes it is descent through one’s father that is recognised, not through one’s mother. This practice is not limited to this world alone. Rather, as al-Bukhari mentions, quoting a narration in hisSahih, on the Day of Judgment one will be called by one’s father’s name. This is why the ulema have laid down that in settling a person’s nasb or lineage his relation with his father will be the decisive factor. He will inherit the nasb of his father, and not of his mother.
Given the near consensus among the ulema that one inherits one’s nasb from one’s father, not one’s mother, and that a man’s lineage is carried down through his son, and not his daughter, it is clearly not correct to consider the Syeds as lineal descendants of the Prophet Muhammad or for the Syeds to make such a claim. This claim contradicts both the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet. The Prophet did not have any sons who outlived him or who carried on his lineage. That is why his lineage did not continue, and it is incorrect to claim that it did so through his daughter Fatima. As the Quran clearly says, ‘Muhammad is not the father of any of your men’ (33: 40). The fact of the matter is that it was the Shias who developed the theory of Fatima’s children and their descendants being lineal descendants of the Prophet because their political interests were closely tied up with this theory. On this basis they claimed the right to rule, a claim that was further backed by the Abbasids. The Abbasids opposed the Ummayads by claiming to champion the right to rule of the Syeds, whom they presented as descendants of the Prophet.
Hindu and Muslim Casteism
If the matter is studied dispassionately, it will be readily apparent that there was in this period of Indian history very little difference in the nature of caste discrimination and prejudice among Indian Muslims and Hindus. The differences in the two cases were only in matters of some details. Accordingly, writing of early twentieth century north Indian Muslim society, Kunwar Mohammad Ashraf noted that the Indian Muslims were completely caste-ridden, and that in this respect they were almost identical to the Hindus. ‘In both cases’, he commented, ‘people of foreign extraction claim to be of superior social status. The status that Aryans enjoy among the Hindus parallels that of Muslims of Arab, Iranian, Afghan and Mughal descent among the Indian Muslims.’ He noted that, ‘Just as upper caste Hindu men can marry low caste women but disallow for the reverse sort of marriage, in the same way among upper caste Muslims, a Syed man can marry a Shaikh woman but will never give his own daughter in hand to a Shaikh man. Marriage between upper caste Muslims of foreign descent with indigenous Indian Muslims is frowned upon.’[xiii]
It would not be wrong, therefore, to argue that the Muslims who claimed foreign and, therefore, ‘noble’ descent, had, with some exceptions, nothing but contempt and scorn for the indigenous Muslims of oppressed caste background.
[i] Ziauddin Barani, Tarikh-e Firoze Shahi (Translated by Syed Moin ul-Haq), Urdu Science Board, Lahore, 1983, pp.90-92
[ii] Khaliq Ahmad Nizami, Some Aspects of Religion and Politics in India During the Thirteenth Century, Idarah-i Adabiyat-i Dilli, Delhi, 1974, p.107.
[iii] Tarikh-e Firoze Shahi, op.cit., pp. 79-92.
[iv] Nizami, op.cit., p.107.
[v] Akbar Shah Khan Najibabadi, Aina-e Haqiqat Numa, p. 348-49.
[vi] Ibid., pp. 409-10.
[vii] Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, Sirat-e Syed Ahmad Shahid (vol. 5), Majlis-e-Tahqiqat wa Nashriyat-e Islam, Lucknow, 1990, pp.165-66.
[viii] Ibid., pp.167-68.
[ix] Quoted in Kunwar Mohammad Ashraf, Hindustani Ma‘ashra Ahe-e Wusta Mai (vol.1) (Translated by Qamruddin), National Book Trust, New Delhi, pp.138-39.
[x] Ibid., pp.139-40.
[xi] Abdul Qadir Badauni, Muntakhab al-Tawarikh (Translated by Ehteshamuddin), Munshi Nawal Kihore Press, Lucknow, 1889, pp.163-64.
[xii] Muhammad Qasim Farishta, Tarikh-e Farishta (Translated by Abdul Haye Khwaja), Matkaba-e Deoband, Deoband, 1983, p.680.
[xiii] Ashraf, op.cit, pp. 148-49.