The Qualifications of a Medieval Muslim Chronicler and the Nature of Muslim Histories
History Vignettes

The Qualifications of a Medieval Muslim Chronicler and the Nature of Muslim Histories

An examination of the centrality of linear history in Islam and the qualifications that a medieval Muslim chronicler possessed

Sandeep Balakrishna

Sandeep Balakrishna

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When the great Greek historian Dionysius said that history is philosophy teaching by examples, it was beyond the realm of his wildest imagination that a textual monster called Muslim history could be conjured up by a human mind. But then he lived in the Classical Era which had no notion of monotheism, One Jealous Male God, the Last Prophet and One Holy Book.

Jahiliyah and the Islamic Calendar

Before we actually discuss Muslim history proper, it is important to understand the notion of time in the Islamic scheme of things. There’s a cardinal reason the Islamic calendar uses the Hijri era to calculate time. The Islamic New Year begins on 622 CE for an important reason: that was the year when Muhammad fled from Mecca to Yathrib, more famously known as Medina. The event is known as Hijra or “flight” or “travel,” or “migration,” depending on the moral compass of the interpreter of the event. Hijra marks an epochal turn in his life and career, and in the unique reasoning patented in the Islamic world, forms the starting point of the Islamic calendar. The same patented reasoning embedded in Islamic theology reveals another critical fact: 622 CE is the starting point because the entire period before it was Jahiliyah, an Age of Darkness or Ignorance. Nothing original about it. Islam simply stole and tinkered an existing Christian concept of a Jealous Male God who woke up one fine morning and decided to create the world in one go akin to making masala dosa.

That begs the question and answers it: ignorance of what? Answer: the Only True Faith, Islam.

This theological backdrop is mandatory to understand why linear history is inseparable from Islam, and why Muslim histories contain meticulous information about dates. Every conquest of infidel lands—fully or partially—is measured against the Hijra to “prove” the point that Jahiliyah has been extinguished and Ilm (True Knowledge, i.e. of Islam) has been established. The term is derived from the verb root, Jahala, meaning "to be ignorant or stupid." The familiar Urdu slur, Jaahil is derived from the same root.

The other equally important reason is because Islam makes extraordinarily unsustainable claims for universal and eternal validity and preordained infallibility all of which are based on supernatural revelations delivered solely to an alleged last prophet which were then compiled in a book. Thus, unless an accurate historicity is established for this human prophet, this entire house of religious cards will collapse in one exhalation. Note that the historicity of the revelations themselves is subservient to the fact that Muhammad had them.

To say this in widely understood terminology, the Quran simply cannot be interpreted without a knowledge of Islamic history.

This is precisely one of the first things and a common theme that we notice in every chronicle and history written by medieval Muslim chroniclers of India. Arguably, there is almost no secular (in the sense of “worldly”) literature in the strict realms of Islam. Almost every subject had to be essentially force-fitted in the stifling confines of Islamic theology. The entire corpus of Muslim history written by these chroniclers is simply the history of the religio-military conquests of Islam of non-Islamic lands.

The Qualifications of a Muslim Chronicler

A Muslim chronicler enjoyed an exalted position in a King’s court, a historical fact that Dr. Bhyrappa delineates in his extraordinary, Aavarana through a central character, Hamdullah, an encyclopaedic chronicler in Aurangzeb’s administration. The job required highly demanding qualifications.

The chronicler had to be a thorough scholar of Islamic theology; he had to have the Quran, Hadis, and Fiqh (jurisprudence) on his fingertips. His command over language (in India, this was chiefly Persian) had to be impeccable. His handwriting had to be beautiful—indeed, one of the outcomes of Islam’s obsession with its history of bigoted victories was the development of exquisite calligraphy. He was also tasked with the life-altering duty of recording present events culled from a variety of sources, complete with the names of places, dates, and people. Above all, the typical medieval Muslim chronicler had to be an unvarnished bigot who used his quill like a sword and wrote with the ink of awful violence, in which he took warped pleasure.

These chroniclers also donned multiple roles.

Some were military men who actively fought in various Jihads against the wretched idol-worshippers. The well-known poet, Amir Khusrau earned his spurs by joining the army of Malik Chajju, a nephew of the barbarian Balban, and was later patronised by Balban’s son, Muhammad. Here’s a sample of Khusrau’s chronicle of a slice of Muslim history in Hindustan.

Happy Hindustan, the splendour of Religion, where the Law finds perfect honour and security. The whole country, by means of the sword of our holy warriors, has become like a forest denuded of its thorns by fire. Islam is triumphant, idolatry is subdued. Had not the Law granted exemption from death by the payment of poll-tax, the very name of Hind, root and branch, would have been extinguished.

Then we have Abdul Qadir Badayuni in the reign of Akbar. When Akbar embarked on an expedition to hunt down Maharana Pratap, Badaoni volunteered to join his army expressing his “ardent desire to soak my beard in the infidel Hindu blood.” A highly pleased Akbar “the great” showered him with gold coins.

Other chroniclers also acted as political advisors, religious guides, and experts in Islamic jurisprudence who assisted the sultan. The Sufi “saint,” Shah Abdur Rahim is a good representative. He was the father of the arch bigot and a patron saint of the modern Tablighi movement, Shah Waliullah. Abdur Rahim was entrusted by Aurangzeb himself to compile his Fatwa-i-Alamgiri. Enough said.

The other category of chroniclers were poets and litterateurs and scholars. Albiruni and Ibn Batuta belong to this category.

Understanding Islam as a Historical Key

We can derive an inescapable conclusion from studying the writings of these chroniclers. It might sound a little trite but this is the compressed form of the conclusion: to understand the Muslim history of India, to fully understand the motivation and psyche of these chroniclers, it is imperative to study Islam. If you’re not convinced, we offer an incontrovertible proof: the edifice of the appalling and oceanic Marxist distortions of the medieval Muslim history of India rests on the divorce of historical events from the study of Islam a religious imperialism. Until they gatecrashed on the history scene, a study of Islam as a theological system and its history in India were inextricable.

This is also the reason the infamous Aligarh school of history writing spent such enormous time, resources and recruited large numbers of people to somehow whitewash these primary Muslim chronicles. Under the British and later, after “independence,” India had once again lapsed into the dark pit of Jahiliyah. Plus India was a democracy where everyone could freely access these blood-soaked medieval Muslim chronicles and learn the truth of the ghastly fate their ancestors had undergone. While the whitewashing project was an extraordinary success, it was not a fully realised success.

Shakespeare’s immortal, “the evil that men do lives after them” continues to ring true as far as the aforementioned chroniclers are concerned. All it takes is to just dig up even a fraction of their works. Here is an overall assessment of the nature of these chronicles.

[The Muslim] writer… sympathise with no virtues and abhor no vices…With him, a Hindu is “an infidel,” and a Muhammadan “one of the true faith,” and of the holy saints of the calendar, he writes with all the fervor of a bigot. With him, when Hindus are killed, “their souls are despatched to hell,” and when a Muhammadan suffers the same fate, “he drinks the cup of martyrdom.

In the next episode, we shall deep-dive into some of these aspects and examine the true nature of what emerges.

To be continued

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