Caliphate, Featured, Foreign Policy

Learning from the Conquest of the Indian Subcontinent


This article has been reproduced from Khilafah Magazine September 2001.

Whenever the history of the Indian Subcontinent is discussed, it is hard not to mention Muhammad bin Qasim who destroyed the Sindi forces in order to spread the Islamic rule in that region. However, many forget to mention why the Khalifah sent him and whether the mission was unique or one that was being repeated across the globe. This article will paint the bigger picture of Islamic history in the Indian Subcontinent.

These events should not be taken as mere historical facts nor should we look in awe at our past leaders and Generals and feel that what they achieved is for us something unachievable. It is merely to learn from our history in order that we may compare it to the current status quo and apply the lessons learnt. This article will in brief illustrate how Islam entered the Indian subcontinent but will additionally try to clarify the reasons for the conquests.

Events leading to the conquest of Sind

Efforts to capture the region began at the time of Khalifah Umar bin al-Khattab (ra). The Wali (governor) of Iraq embarked on an expedition by land to Makran. Makran was conquered but the triumph was short lived. During the last days of Khalifah Umar’s rule in 642 CE, Makran was reconquered and remained under Islamic rule. Hakim bin Jabal (ra) was sent to Sind by Khalifah Uthman (ra) in 650 CE to collect information. Prior to him, Sahar al-Abdi (ra) had visited Sind for the same purpose in 643 CE during Khalifah Umar bin al-Khattab’s (ra) rule.

The first naval mission undertaken by the Islamic army in the Indian Ocean was during the rule of Khalifah Umar bin al-Khattab (ra) in 636 CE under the command of Osman bin Abi Aas (ra), the Wali of Bahrain and Oman. The army attacked Thana, a port near modern Bombay. Shortly after, he sent another naval voyage to Debal in Sind lead by his brother, Mughira (ra). At that time Raja Chach was the ruler of Sind and his kingdom was well defended.

Though many attempts were made to capture Sind, the real story of the conquest of Sind and the rest of the region began from the time of Khalifah Walid bin Abdul Malik, during the Umayyad period. It was in the year 711 AH that Spain was conquered by the Islamic State and Sind was captured by the Muslims. A number of reasons can be put forward for the reasons behind the foreign policy of the Islamic State towards Sind.

Firstly, Sindi Rajas played a major role in supporting the Persians in their battles against the Islamic forces. The Sindi military participated in the battles of Nehawand, Salasal, Qadisia and Makran against the Khilafah.

Secondly, after the Muslims had taken Persia, some of their rebel chiefs began to seek refuge in Sind. The Raja refused to hand them over to the Khalifah, despite frequent requests.

Thirdly, pirates from the Makran and Sind coasts continuously besieged Muslim traders. A grip of these parts was therefore considered necessary to safeguard Muslim maritime interests.

The actual conquest began after Muslim merchants returned from Ceylon to Basra having been ransacked by Sindi pirates. It is said that the pirates abducted some of the Muslim women away, and so the merchants called for the help of Hajjaj bin Yusuf, who was a Wali (governor), to come and rescue the women.

When Hajjaj became aware of the incident he took action and wrote to Dahir, the ruler of Sind, to free the captives and return the goods that were seized. Not receiving a sympathetic reply, Hajjaj, with the permission of Khalifah Walid, sent a force to Debal. Dahir’s army annihilated this force and its commander. For the second time, Hajjaj sent a force to the area; this force being bigger than the last, and Dahir responded likewise. For the second time Muslims were defeated and their commander Badil bin Tuhfa was killed fighting at Debal.

Hajjaj was furious at the two defeats, but the Muslims were reminded by the words of our beloved Prophet Muhammad ﷺ:

عِصَابَتَانِ مِنْ أُمَّتِي أَحْرَزَهُمَا اللَّهُ مِنَ النَّارِ عِصَابَةٌ تَغْزُو الْهِنْدَ وَعِصَابَةٌ تَكُونُ مَعَ عِيسَى ابْنِ مَرْيَمَ عَلَيْهِمَا السَّلاَمُ

“There are two groups of my Ummah whom Allah will free from the Fire: The group that invades India, and the group that will be with ‘Isa bin Maryam (as).” (Sunan an-Nasa’i 3175)

Ali bin Abi Talib said:

أطيب ريح في الأرض الهند ، أهبط بها آدم – عليه الصلاة والسلام – فعلق شجرها من ريح الجنة

“I feel a cool breeze from the land of Hind. Adam (as) descended in it, so its trees are connected to the breeze of Jannah.” (Al-Hakim in Al-Mustadarak, 4048)

Realising that the Raja of Sind was powerful, well acquainted with warfare tactics, well equipped and well trained, Hajjaj issued large-scale plans, determined to take Islam to Sind and put an end to Kufr rule.

Hajjaj chose a 17-year-old, Muhammad bin Qasim to lead the contingent for the dangerous mission. Commander Muhammad bin Qasim and his army were given rigorous training for over one year in the desert of southern Iran, which had climatic conditions comparable to that of Sind. Intelligence reports were gathered, strong and weak points of the enemy were pinpointed and facts concerning their weapons and defences were assembled, studied, and the Islamic army equipped in view of that.

Hajjaj bin Yusuf went through precise details and after painstaking study of the maps of Sind he guided Muhammad bin Qasim on the mission and strategy that had been adopted. Not satisfied with this, Hajjaj took measures to arrange to convey his messages and orders to Muhammad bin Qasim from Basra to any point in Sind within a week. Muhammad bin Qasim was ordered not to attack any city, fort or engage his forces in any significant battle without receiving instructions from Basra. Precise planning was undertaken by Hajjaj, to the extent that directives regarding the day and time of assault and arsenal to be used in a specific place were sent by Hajjaj.

At the same time the Buddhists of Sind began to seek information from their fellow believers in Afghanistan and Turkistan about their affairs as they were living within the Khilafah. Upon hearing that they were treated equal to the Muslim and that their rights and religion had been protected, the Sindi Buddhists provided full cooperation to Muhammad bin Qasim, and honoured him with the title ‘liberator from the Brahmin tyranny’. Buddhist rulers from Sind, such as Nerun of Hyderabad held secret correspondence with the young General. In the same way, Bajhra and KakaKolak, Buddhist Rajas of Sewastan, allied themselves with Muhammad bin Qasim. On similar justification, Jats also joined the Muslims against Dahir.

The expedition went as far north as Multan but failed to retain that region and found no success in expanding the Islamic rule to other parts of India. The Muslims however established themselves in the region they took. The presence of Muslims in Sind encouraged coastal trade, allowed significant cultural interactions and enabled the Ulema and the da’wa carriers to enter the subcontinent; conversions into the Islamic belief was a natural consequence, and this increased the influence of the Muslims.

Almost three centuries later, Turkish and Afghani Muslims were in the forefront of the Islamic conquest in India through the long-established invasion routes of the northwest. Towards the end of the twelfth century, Muhammad of Ghor invaded the Indo-Gangetic Plain, conquering in succession Ghazni, Multan, Sind, Lahore, and Delhi. His successors established the Delhi Sultanate, which became the Islamic capital of the Indian Subcontinent. The territory under control of the Muslim rulers in Delhi expanded swiftly. By midcentury, Bengal and much of central India was under the rule of the Delhi Sultanate. As Muslims opened southern India, only the Hindu kingdom of Vijayanagar remained immune, until it too fell in 1565 CE. Although some regions remained independent of Delhi in the Deccan and in Gujarat, Malwa (central India) and Bengal, almost all of the area in present day Pakistan came under the rule of Delhi.

Most of the rulers in the subcontinent associated their rule with the Khilafah, the Shari’ah was the state law and the Qadi’s were Muslim judges. Reference to the Qur’an and Sunnah were made via the Ulema, even though in later years the Indian subcontinent saw a decline, faced its share of problems and became almost autonomous. However, the entire coinage bore the Khalifah’s name and his name was mentioned in Jumu’a Khutbahs throughout India. The large distance of India from the centre of the Khilafah caused many problems particularly in regards to communication. This was one of the reasons attributed to the local governors eventually becoming almost absolute rulers. For instance, when the Mongols crushed Baghdad and killed the Khalifah, the sultanate of Delhi used the name of the murdered Khalifah on its coinage and in the Jumu’a Khutbahs for 30 years after he had been killed. They attributed their rule to the Khilafah, and ruled with the book of Allah (Most High) and the Sunnah of Muhammad ﷺ.

Lessons from the Conquest of the Indian Subcontinent

  1. Muhammad bin Qasim – An Islamic personality produced by the Islamic ideology.

In today’s day and age youth can see their aim in life as the acquisition of worldly comforts rather than anything else. Such is the case when Capitalism provides the aim in life. It is natural for the Islamic ideology, when in implementation, to produce personalities like Muhammad bin Qasim. May Allah (Most High) bless Muhammad bin Qasim, and all those who fell in the cause of Islam. At the tender age of 17 he led the army of jihad, battle after battle, with the sole aim of spreading Islam. He was not just a warrior but also a strategist. Muhammad bin Qasim was not a unique personality but one of many that the Islamic system produced. Tariq bin Ziyad was another youth who conquered Spain in the same year. With the return of the Khilafah in the future we will, Inshallah, see more personalities like that of Muhammad bin Qasim and Tariq bin Ziyad.

  1. The Conquest of the Subcontinent – Part of the Foreign Policy of Islam

Muhammad bin Qasim was a General like many others. He was sent on a military mission like many others. He fought against the Kuffar whilst holding the banner of Islam, as did previous Generals and the ones who followed him. The war against the Rajas of India was Jihad, which was administered by the Islamic State since the time of Muhammad ﷺ, our beloved Prophet. Hence, the confrontation against the Hindus of India was part of the consistent foreign policy of the Khilafah and not an ad-hoc reactionary policy formed by an overwhelming emotion. Therefore, it is important to note that it was the Islamic State with all its departments and structure that allowed Islam to enter the households of Sind, Kashmir, Bengal and so on, and not just one personality. Any Muslim government today cannot enact such a foreign policy because all of them lack the necessary Islamic foundation, structure, departments and Islamic motivation.

  1. Islam looked after the affairs of the Muslims

The move to launch a campaign against the Indians at that particular time was also linked to looking after the affairs of the Muslims and the State. The Hindu Rajas were the people who supported the Persian enemies. The rebel chiefs from Persia fled to Sind and took protection under the wings of the Sindi Raja who refused to hand them over. Furthermore, pirates in the vicinity constantly ransacked Muslim traders. However, the last straw was the call of the Muslim women who begged for the help of the Wali, when pirates from the area abducted them. His response was not to send a diplomatic team but rather to send a sortie of forces to resolve the problem. Eventually these problems were replaced with Islamic solutions. This is the nature of the Islamic leadership, as the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ described.

Muslim narrated on the authority of al-A’araj, on the authority of Abu Hurairah (ra), that the Prophet ﷺ said:

إِنَّمَا الإِمَامُ جُنَّةٌ يُقَاتَلُ مِنْ وَرَائِهِ وَيُتَّقَى بِهِ فَإِنْ أَمَرَ بِتَقْوَى اللَّهِ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ وَعَدَلَ كَانَ لَهُ بِذَلِكَ أَجْرٌ وَإِنْ يَأْمُرْ بِغَيْرِهِ كَانَ عَلَيْهِ مِنْهُ

“Behold, the Imam is but a shield from behind whom the people fight and by whom they protect themselves.”

Today we hear the daily calls of our mothers begging for the help of the Muslims of the world. But without the Islamic State, not one military force has been sent to protect them, even though Pakistan possesses nuclear weapons and the like.

  1. Unity Islam spreads like fire in a forest.

The Islamic rule was spread across the globe. Walis who were acquainted with ruling were sent to establish Islamic rule and judges were sent to establish justice, Ulema were sent to teach Islam, linguists and interpreters sent to teach Arabic. Jizya was collected from the dhimmis (non-Muslim citizens of the Islamic State) who were Hindus, Buddhists and others. Zakah was collected from the Muslims and a battalion was formed from the area to protect the conquered land and to spread Islam to the neighbouring lands.

Sind was not a conquered land to serve the wants of their masters. Sind became part of the Islamic State and not a separate slavish entity, as was the case in the days of the British colonialists. Sind was open to the Muslims of Arabia, Persia or Spain without a passport or special permission as it was Muslim land equal to all others. A sense of unity was in the atmosphere of the subcontinent. Buddhists and Hindus alike embraced Islam with willing submission and the dhimmis lived side by side with the Muslims. Even though the Hindus were a majority in the subcontinent, the Shari’ah was the state law and the rulers were Muslims for centuries.

  1. The Allegiance of non-believers to the Khilafah

The Buddhists of Sind quickly rose to fight alongside the Muslims, not because they thought that they would share power and authority with the Muslims, but because they wished to live under the Khilafah, knowing full well that they would not be treated as slaves or second-class citizens. They saw the justice that Islam provided and were willing to risk their lives for it. Such a scenario is not unique in our history; indeed many disbelievers have fought for the protection of the Islamic State. One such example is that of the Christians of the Islamic state who fought against the Christian Crusaders.


Islam entered the Indian subcontinent led by great personalities like General Muhammad bin Qasim through Jihad. It was the Khilafah that supplied believers who were willing to give up their lives for the Islamic cause. However, with the fall of the Khilafah, we have only seen the British, the Hindus, the Pakistani premiers, and more recently the Americans take advantage of the situation. Our mosques have been burnt, our homes looted, our women dishonoured and our youth slaughtered. A handful of Muslims fight for Kashmir whilst the multitudes of Muslim armies watch the show and the rulers turn their backs.

Islam provided the Muslims of the Indian Subcontinent with true security and justice such that in the aftermath of the fall of the Khilafah the Muslims of India established groups such as the Khilafah Movement in order to revive the Khilafah and masses of people migrated to Pakistan in hope of an Islamic State.

All praise is to Allah (Most High), that the Muslims of the Indian Subcontinent are awakening from their deep sleep. They are aware of their past and of the future foretold in the Qur’an and the Sunnah. What is required now is for us to remember Allah’s (Most High) promise to the believers and to work rigorously for the impending victory.

Allah (Most High) says:

وَعَدَ اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مِنْكُمْ وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ لَيَسْتَخْلِفَنَّهُمْ فِي الْأَرْضِ كَمَا اسْتَخْلَفَ الَّذِينَ مِنْ قَبْلِهِمْ وَلَيُمَكِّنَنَّ لَهُمْ دِينَهُمُ الَّذِي ارْتَضَىٰ لَهُمْ وَلَيُبَدِّلَنَّهُمْ مِنْ بَعْدِ خَوْفِهِمْ أَمْنًا ۚ يَعْبُدُونَنِي لَا يُشْرِكُونَ بِي شَيْئًا ۚ وَمَنْ كَفَرَ بَعْدَ ذَٰلِكَ فَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْفَاسِقُونَ

“Allah has promised those of you who have iman and do right actions that He will make them successors in the land as He made those before them successors, and will firmly establish for them their deen with which He is pleased and give them, in place of their fear, security. ‘They worship Me, not associating anything with Me.’ Any who are kafir after that, such people are deviators.”

(An-Nur, 24:55)