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Islamic Personalities ( 29 Oct 2012, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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‘Heroes’ Of My Childhood


By Gaitty Ara Anis

October 26, 2012

 “A person who serves as an example and whose behaviour is emulated,” is a role model by definition.

With the rising of religious extremism that has robbed us of all sanity we should ask who we have chosen as our role models and why.

I wonder why we have been taught “myths” in our text books and what philosophies have been promoted in our country since it was created?

Though many would disagree, in my opinion this deliberate selection of heroes based on religion, class and creed has left us breathless, without the oxygen of fresh ideas. The result is close mindedness and conservatism.

I remember my old "social studies" lessons. I was introduced to Muhammad bin Quasim, "a valiant, brave, young Muslim commander," who according to our textbooks was the founder of the first Islamic state in the subcontinent. A general he came all the way from the Arabian Peninsula to save an "oppressed sister" taken captive under the "cruel and brutal regime of Raja Dahir." The ambiguous stories of Raja’s debauchery, incest and corruption related in Chach Nama, the old chronicles of Sindh, written by a family with a cosy relationship with Bin Quasim, give the impression of an “uncontrolled state” calling out to be bridled in order to “save the world.” Sound familiar?

For years I imagined Bin Quasim as a true Muslim warrior, a saviour and “role model”, until the day I came across an article on Raja Dahir written by a Sindhi writer. Here I learned about the respect Hindus of the region held for the bravery of Raja Dahir. Even today Sindhis revere him and observe a day of remembrance for him every year on June 2nd. So who is the genuine hero?

Another magnificent personality we were introduced to was the “hero,” Mahmood of Ghazni. Once again he is a man portrayed as one who displayed “enviable bravery and love for his religion.” This “true man of faith” ravished cities and “destroyed the temple of Somnath,” making every one in his army proud of the Sultan. This scene lived in my imagination for many years. I praised the man who was kind to his fellowmen, was a great patron of art and a propagator of peace. Before I could settle with this fancy story I searched again years later for his name. I was welcomed with a rather ferocious side of this fairytale embellished by Pakistanis with words like “courage and honour.” Referring to the looting and plunder commissioned in India by the Ghaznavi, Al Bairuni wrote, “Mahmud utterly ruined the prosperity of the country and performed there wonderful exploits by which the Hindus became like atoms of dust scattered in all directions.”

These lines might be soothing for some but for me this information broke this idol too! Destroyed in 1025 AD, Somnath was one of the most beautiful and splendid temples of its time, revered by many. It is estimated that almost 50,000 defenders of the temple were brutally crushed in the effort to reach the gilded Lingam, personally broken into pieces by the Sultan himself. Interestingly even after the conquest and establishment of his rule, the Ghaznavis have the “honour” of robbing the gems and jewels of temples in Varanasi, Mathura, Ujjain, Maheshwar, Jwalamukhi and Dwarka.

Shahab Uddin Muhammad Ghori is another jewel in the list of “role models.” Hailing from Iran, Ghoris first conquered Ghazni by defeating Ghaznavids. Shahabuddin established his own rule in Delhi circa 1191and was subsequently killed in an assassination plot hatched against him in 1206.

Another "hero” following the Ghoris is Timur or Tamerlane, who is usually hailed as a person of “integrity and valour.” Praised in our textbooks for his “perseverance and firmness,” history books and encyclopaedias authored by neutral writers offer a very different story. He is quoted as an “invader” who after crossing the Attock River created mayhem.

The capture of towns and villages often involved looting, the massacre of the inhabitants and rape of their women as well as pillaging to support his massive army.

Boasting of his success, Timur confessed to all these atrocities in Tuzk e Timuri. He wrote, “In a short space of time all the people in the [New Delhi] fort were put to the sword and in the course of one hour the heads of 10,000 infidels were cut off. The sword of Islam was washed in the blood of the infidels, and all the goods and effects, the treasure and the grain which for many a long year had been stored in the fort became the spoil of my soldiers. They set fire to the houses and reduced them to ashes, and they razed the buildings and the fort to the ground....All these infidel Hindus were slain, their women and children, and their property and goods became the spoil of the victors. I proclaimed throughout the camp that every man who had infidel prisoners should put them to death and whoever neglected to do so should himself be executed and his property given to the informer. When this order became known to the ghazis of Islam, they drew their swords and put their prisoners to death.

After this plunder and looting he loaded the spoils of war on a long line of elephants and in 1399 departed from India to Samarkand, leaving a legacy of perpetual political insecurity behind in India.

Never ending narratives such as these extol the “heroic “deeds and the importance of these “heroes.” Sadly this made up “history” is taught at a tender age when the child is at the absolute mercy of his/her elders and vulnerable to all sorts of biased opinions. If one is born and raised in Pakistan you cannot ever escape the grandeur of Mughals, the leading heroes of courageous tales of success, honour, patrons of art and craft. Unfortunately no one tells a child about the imperialist exploitation behind the beautiful façades of monuments like Taj Mahal. Loved and praised by all, few are informed of the vulgar amount of 35 million rs spent on the tomb of his beloved wife; amounts that could have saved thousands dying of starvation in times of famine in India around 1645. The timeline of famine coincides and collides with the era that witnessed the building of this enormous edifice. This glorified “hero” squandered money on brick and stones. In an article describing the situation, Mr.Pragati Sen writes, “However in 1645-46, there was an intense famine on the Coromondal Coast. The situation was so serious that the people were willing to become slaves in order to save their lives.”

But the “hero” that tops this list of role models is Aurnagzeb. He is described as “a pious, humble Muslim ruler who banished the liberal ideas of Akbar from his court to establish a rule of ‘purity.’” After being fooled for years as a child I grew up to be very skeptical about the text book –Zia fed version of Islamic history. When I delved a little further into the history I stumbled upon more disturbing and disappointing facts that contradicted the “myths” I was taught in the name of history. The fall of the Mughal Empire, weakening in Aurangzeb’s time, was around the corner. This king who is dubbed as one of the “modest Mughal kings” jailed his father Shah Jahan and beheaded his own brother Dara Shikuh.

After partition of the Indian Sub continent, Pakistanis embarked on an almost mythical journey to sanctify the deeds of the invaders in order to boost their ego as conquerors of the land. It seems like the intention was to create a national psyche, intolerant to a diversity of religious beliefs, rationality and open mindedness. Would it be incorrect to call religious extremism and violence ripples of the hero worship the Pakistani establishment created decades ago? By applauding the invaders from the past we unknowingly created an environment conducive to the nurturing of brutal and violent ideas.

I still have to find out the reason that these men were declared to be our role models and heroes. None of the historical accounts report a struggle to establish human integrity. None of them fought for the people. Their victories were as common place as those of modern day imperialist forces. I regret never having a childhood hero I could look up to as an example, one who saved humanity, earned his/her name as an inventor, scientist, revolutionary or scholar. Or one who lived for the cause and even died fighting for it, contrary to the actions of the ‘heroes’ from my childhood.


B.F. Manz, "Tīmūr Lang", in Encyclopaedia of Islam, Online Edition, 2006

Volume III: To the Year A.D. 1398, Chapter: XVIII. Malfúzát-i Tímúrí, or Túzak-i Tímúrí: The Autobiography or Memoirs of Emperor Tímúr (Taimur the lame). Page 389. 1. Online copy, 2. Online copy) from: Elliot, Sir H. M., Edited by Dowson, John. The History of India, as Told by Its Own Historians. The Muhammadan Period; published by London Trubner Company 1867–1877

Lane-Poole, Stanley (1907). "Chapter IX: Tinur's Account of His Invasion". History of India. The Grolier Society. Full text at Google Books

Wikipedia Sources -