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Islam Archives - varnamvarnam
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Tag Archives | Islam

Who owns the Heritage Sites?

Bethlehem in 1890 (via Wikipedia)

As new nations form, an important issue is that of the heritage sites. This is especially important in Israel-Palestine area where everyone except people of Indic religions seem to have a stake.

“In any political arrangement, one side will have control of equities of the other,” Seidemann emphasised. “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not only a conflict of territory but of identity and narratives, with archaeology and cultural heritage the physical embodiments of the narratives. Addressing these issues is critical for the stability of Israelis and Palestinians.” [Israel and Palestine: who owns what?]

As the vote for Palestinian statehood is coming up in September, there is lot of activity in the ground in West Bank.

Israeli officials have argued that heritage sites with Jewish historical connection must remain under Israeli sovereignty. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated that position last year, after Unesco ruled that, despite being venerated by Jews, Christians and Muslims, heritage sites in Bethlehem and Hebron are Palestinian (The Art Newspaper, December 2010, p25). He denounced the decision as “absurd”, calling it “an attempt to disconnect the nation of Israel from its heritage.”

Palestinians counter that location, not religious identification, determines sovereignty of a site. “Palestinians are proud to host a diversity of cultural heritage which is also important to the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths. It is Palestinian policy to respect and apply international laws concerning cultural property and heritage using a professional approach to preserve and protect the sites based on geographic location,” said Gabriel Fahel, the legal adviser on archaeology to the PLO’s Negotiations Support Unit (which closed last month). He also charged Israel with violating international treaties it has signed by excavating in the West Bank and removing Palestinian cultural property.[Israel and Palestine: who owns what?]

Since none of these groups give up easily, this is going to be an interesting debate.

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Battle of Rasil


Prophet Muhammed died in 632 C.E. Just twelve years later, a Hindu king was defeated by Muslim armies, thus changing the history of the Indian subcontinent. The name of this Hindu king — Chach of Alor — is not often heard. So let us go to modern day Baluchistan, where currently the  natives are fighting “colonial exploitation, denial and violation of human rights.”

During the time of Muhammed’s death, the regions of Makran and Sindh belonged to India culturally and politically; Muslims knew the area as the frontier of al-Hind. Though the tendency is to consider Indus as the Western border of India, people from Pliny the Elder  (23 – 79 C.E) to  Nicolo de Conti (1385 – 1469) thought that it was Gedrosia or Makran.

At this time Harsha (590 – 647 C.E.) was the ruler of Northern India; the Gupta empire had come to end following the invasion of the White Huns. While Harsha ruled over the Gangetic plain, Punjab, Gujarat, Bengal and Orissa, the other side of the modern border was ruled by the Hindu Rai dynasty with the capital in Alor (modern day Sukkur).

Founded by Rai Dewaji in 485 C.E, just a decade after Rome fell to the Visigoths, the Rai kingdom extended  all way from Kashmir to Makran and from the mountains of Kurdan to Karachi. Within this empire some parts of Makran was controlled by Persians and Indians alternatively. 

Makran was barren then, as it is now. According to Caliph Uthman, “water is scanty, dates are bad, robbers are bold; a small army would be lost there, a large army would starve”; two emperors, Alexander and Cyrus, would agree. Though mostly barren, there were few fertile areas like the Kij Valley and Buleda which had date palms and orchards. The region was important strategically since one of the major trade routes from India to Persia ran through this region; the other route was through Kabul valley.

The Chinese traveler Xuanzang (Hsüan-tsang) visited the region during the time of the Rai dynasty. Makran at that time had a large Buddhist population; there were towns like Armabil which were ruled by Buddhists who were originally agents of the Rais.  Xuanzang saw 80 Buddhist convents with 5000 monks, several hundred Deva temples and one temple of ‘Maheswara Deva’ which was richly adorned. 

Sindh too was part of al-Hind. This was a time when the Buddhist influence was strong, but was in the decline due to rise of Hinduism and the influence of the Gupta empire. By this time, according to  Xuanzang , Buddhism in Sindh was in decline and Takshashila was in ruins. There was a Brahmin migration to Sindh and many cities were founded by them. Buddhists and Brahmins blended in a unique way without any dispute which the Arab invaders could exploit.

The Rai dynasty which ruled for 137 years ended with the death of Rai Sahasi II in 622 C.E. It is following the death of Rai Sahasi that events get interesting. When the King was about to die, the Queen Suhandi conspired with the Brahmin minister Chach and imprisoned all the rivals to  the throne. Chach became the viceroy and this started the Brahmin dynasty. The first thing that Chach did when he came to power was to put guards on the road of Makran.

Meanwhile in Arabia,  following the death of Muhammed, the Rashidun Caliphate, comprising the first four caliphs in Islam’s history was formed. Abu Bakr became the first  Khalifa Rasul Allah (Successor of the Messenger of God) and in 634 C.E. he was succeed by Caliph Umar. It was during Umar’s time that the Arabs entered Makran resulting in the Battle of Rasil.

Chach of Alor, the king of Sindh concentrated huge armies from Sindh and Balochistan to halt the advance of Muslims. Suhail was reinforced by Usman ibn Abi Al Aas from Persepolis, and Hakam ibn Amr from Busra, the combined forces defeated Chach of Alor at a pitch Battle of Rasil, who retreated to the eastern bank of River Indus. Further east from Indus River laid Sindh, which was domain of Rai kingdom. Umar, after knowing that sindh was a poor and relatively barran land, disapproved Suhail’s proposal to cross Indus River.For the time being, Umar declared the Indus River, a natural barrier, to be the eastern most frontier of his domain. This campaign came to an end in mid 644. [Battle of Rasil]

The defeated Chach was pushed back to the Indus river. When the Caliph was asked for permission to go furthur to Sindh, he refused permission. He asked the soldiers to sell the elephants they had captured and take the money. The next caliph, Uthman, also  denied permission to conquer Sindh, which eventually happened during the caliphate of Muawiya. 

Chach of Alor had a natural death in 671 C.E.

References & Notes:

  1. Andre Wink, Al Hind: The Making of the Indo Islamic World, Vol. 1, Early Medieval India and the Expansion of Islam, 7th-11th Centuries, 2nd ed. (Brill Academic Publishers, 1990).
  2. Gobind Khushalani, Chachnamah Retold : An Account Of The Arab Conquest Of Sindh (Bibliophile South Asia, 2006).
  3. Wikipedia entries for Battle of Rasil, and Umar
  4. The year Chach took office is in dispute. According to one source it is 643 C.E. while according to one translation of Chachnama, it was 622 C.E.
  5. Image via Wikipedia
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Game Theory and the Middle East

Some books of the Hebrew Bible call on the followers to destroy people who did not worship Yahweh, but certain other books call for Israelites to peacefully co-exist with others. You can find similar passages in the Koran too. So why are certain passages conciliatory and others belligerent. What were the circumstances in which those passages were written and is there something we can learn from it to bring peace in the Middle East so that we can finally move that ladder?

The secret is game theory – the swing between zero-sum and non-zero-sum – and this, Robert Wright, says may give us hope for religious harmony.

Sometimes this may mean engineering the non-zero-sumness — for example, strengthening commerce between Israel and the Palestinian territories. Other times it will mean highlighting a non-zero-sum dynamic that already exists — emphasizing, for example, that continued strife between Israelis and Palestinians will be lose-lose (as would escalated tensions between the “Muslim world” and the “West” more broadly). Enduring peace would be win-win.

This peace would also have been foretold. Isaiah (first Isaiah, not the Isaiah of the exile) envisioned a day when God “shall arbitrate for many peoples” and “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” And in a Koranic verse dated by scholars to the final years of Muhammad’s life, God tells humankind that he has “made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another.”

This happy ending is hardly assured. It can take time for people, having seen that they are playing a non-zero-sum game, to adjust their attitudes accordingly. And this adaptation may never happen if barriers of mistrust persist.[Decoding God’s Changing Moods — Printout — TIME]

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How did Adam reach Sri Lanka?

In this picture, taken in 1885, you will see a small ladder placed near the top-right window. In this picture, taken more than a century later, you can see the ladder exactly at the same position. The building is Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built where Jesus is believed to be crucified and burried, and in Jerusalem, moving even a ladder requires divine intervention.

There is another place in the world, which is holy not just for Christians and Muslims, but also for Hindus and Buddhists where such problems do not exist. Located in Sri Lanka and currently called Adam’s peak, it was called Samanalakanda by the Sinhalese and Shivanolipatha Malai and Shiva padam by Hindus.So connection does Adam have with Sri Lanka and how did it become Adam’s peak?

First, what’s at the top of the mountain.? Captain John Ribeyro who fought in the civil war in the 17th century described the summit[5].

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Hindus believe that this depression on the mountain which resembles a giant foot is the foot step of Shiva; for Buddhists it is the foot print of Buddha. Chrisitians believe that it belongs to St. Thomas and there are many other traditions which attribute the foot print to Jehovah, Eunuch of Candace and Satan[1]. It is Muslim tradition that attributes the foot print to Adam, their first prophet.

In fact there is an explanation for how Adam, a person from a middle eastern tradition, reached Sri Lanka. God, upset by Adam and Eve, threw them out of heaven and Adam landed in Sri Lanka creating an impression on the peak. He repented for a millennium when Gabriel took him to Arabia where Eve had landed. They both then returned to Sri Lanka and propagated the human race[4].

Soleyman, an Arab merchant who visited Ceylon in the ninth century, mentioned the Adam tradition, which suggests that it was prevalent within two centuries of Islam’s founding. Sindbad the Sailor’s tales, believed to be partly based on real sailors tales, also mentions a pilgrimage to the place “where Adam was confined after his banishment from Paradiese.” It is believed that this tradition originated among the Copts (Egyptian Christians) of the fourth and fifth centuries[4]. There is also a story which mentions that a group of three Arabs led by Sheikh Seijuddin, who according to tradition, converted Cheraman Perumal of Kodungallur, were on a pilgrimage to Adam’s peak.

Diego de Couto, a Portuguese writer of the 16th century did not believe it was the foot print of Adam; he thought it belonged to St. Thomas. Marco Polo had heard from Muslims and Christians that there was a monument to Adam, but he did not agree with that it had anything to do with Adam. This was because, according to the scripture of Marco Polo’s Church, Adam belonged to another part of the world. Instead he believed the Buddhist version and that the teeth, hairs and bowl of some “venerable figure” was commemorated[2].

When he heard about the relics, Marco Polo’s patron Kublai Khan sent emissaries to Ceylon
to ask Parakkamabahu II, a Sri Lankan King without a Wikipedia entry, for these items. It took three years for the emissaries to reach Ceylon and they got two molar teeth, some hair, and the bowl. According to Marco Polo, Kublai Khan received these items with respect[2].

Marco Polo never climbed the mountain, but Ibn Battuta did. He went to Ceylon specifically for mountaineering. With an entourage of 10 Brahmin priests, 15 porters, 10 courtiers and 4 yogis (provided by Martanda Cinkaiariyan of the Aryacakravarti dynasty) he made the trip to the peak and back. The final climb was quite hard  – a vertical ascent “by means of little stirrups affixed to chains suspended from iron pegs.” There he prayed with Buddhists and Muslims but does not mention seeing Christians[3].

The mountain was officially renamed to Adam’s peak by Major James Rennell, the British geographer who worked in India.

References:

  1. The History of a Mountain By Elise Reclus, Bertha Ness, John Lillie
  2. Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu by by Laurence Bergreen
  3. The Adventures of Ibn Battuta by Ross E. Dunn.
  4. Adam’s Peak by William Skeen
  5. History Of Ceylon: Presented By Captain John Ribeyro To The King Of Portugal, In 1685 (1847)

(Image Credit: Munir)

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