Dr. Umar Khan
Dr. Khan belongs to a Lahore based Think Tank.
Ignored heroes of Islamic history
“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”
Heroes are people who display outstanding feats of courage, nobility and achievements and all nations need them, and those who are not blessed with them invent them. They serve as role models for the younger generations instilling the qualities in them that the society feels are important. In addition making and glamorizing the heroes is a way of a nation of thanking them. Considering the effects and consequences of heroes in a nation their selection becomes most important. Islamic history is full of heroes mostly winning battles and annexing territory but as a student of history I found it strange that probably 2 most outstanding achiever Muslims with greatest service to Islam and Muslims are absolutely unknown and ignored. After the Sahaba it’s hard to find people with so much service to Muslims and humanity, yet undiscovered and ignored. This is not only unfair with these great men but also with the Islamic history and Muslims too. I am referring to grandson of Genghis, Burke Khan and the great Chinese admiral Zheng He.
Islamic civilization went through an absolute devastation in the early thirteenth century which might be categorized as Islamic holocaust. After killing 11% of the humanity and 40% of Islamic population in early 13th century, Genghis died and his empire was divided in 4 parts. Burke Khan eventually became the ruler of the Golden Horde in areas close to Europe while his cousin Halagu Khan ruled areas comprising modern Iran and Central Asia.
Halagu continued this tirade against Muslims and in 1258 conquered the seat of Khilafat in Baghdad annihilating most of its population and culture. Libraries were burnt, fields and orchards destroyed and centuries old culture of learning absolutely wiped out. This destruction was to the extent that many historians feel that the Islamic society is yet to recover from this devastation eight hundred years ago. Following Baghdad he moved westwards and after subduing Damascus he targeted Egypt, the last bastion of Islamic power whose fate appeared sealed. On the way he got news of death of the Great Khan, Mongke, and had to go to Mongolia. In the meantime his generals with a small army tried to get to Egypt but were beaten at Ain Jalut by the Mamluks, Qutuz and Babrs. Halagu was furious and was returning in 1261 with the single aim to avenge this defeat. He was to punish the locals even more brutally and later he was targeting his wrath towards Mecca and Medina, Islam’s holiest places.
Meanwhile Burke had embraced Islam around 1252 and was disturbed about this tragedy of Baghdad and tried his best to stop Halagu. After Baghdad he wrote a letter to the Great Khan, Mongke Khan, in Mongolia stating,
"He (Halagu) has sacked all the cities of the Muslims. With the help of God I will call him to account for so much innocent blood."
He supported the Mamluks at Ain Jalut and then militarily engaged Halagu, his cousin around Caucuses. Now Mongols were killing Mongols and not Muslims. This Halagu-Berke war was long and indecisive but weakened Halagu as he never regained his strength to attack Muslims again. Soon after Halagu died and the worst nightmare of Muslims ended. Allama Iqbal says,
“Pasban mil gaye Kaabe ko sanam khane se”
Burke Khan fought Halagu just for his adherence and love for Islam and not for any worldly gains. This war weakened him as a Mongol ruler, affected his campaign in Europe but his commitment to Islam was more than anything. Shivers go down the spine when one speculates what could have happened if Halagu had continued his campaign against Muslims unabashed. Islamic culture and society might not have recovered or even survived. Today’s world could have been different. Berke Khan certainly deserves to be included among the greatest Muslims ever born.
Haji Mahmud or Admiral Zheng He 1371-1433 was a Hui Muslim whose father was killed in front of him while he was a child. He was made a eunuch by castration and sent as a servant of a prince where he rose by his valor and qualities. After the prince became king with Zheng He’s support, he made Zheng an admiral with a task to command the greatest armada ever seen and sail the oceans acting as his envoy. He sailed to present day Philippines, Malaya, India, Ceylon Arabian peninsula and Africa. Some even claim that he discovered Australia and America centuries before the Europeans did.
Wherever he went he established settlements with his most trustworthy people many of them being Muslims. He is reported to have supported Muslim communities wherever he went. During one of his 7 journeys he went for Hajj with his 250 ship armada in the footsteps of his late father who had performed Haj travelling by land and prided in getting called a Haji. The next Chinese king called off these voyages and China went into seclusion causing terrible decay ultimately weakening China to the extent that small European nations would colonize and ridicule her. Many believe that Chinese history could have been different and without the humiliating stories like the opium wars had Zhen He’s legacy continued. A significant Muslim population in Mindanao, Malaya, Sri Lanka and many other places owes its allegiance to Islam to this great man, more than any king I know of.
Zheng He showed the world how tragedies and setbacks can be made to work as blessings in disguise, an extraordinary example. He didn’t let his orphaning, castration or enslavement become impediments and worked wonders. He showed the world how Muslims believing in Allah can overcome the impediments. He showed the world that Muslims can be great patriots in a non Muslim world while remaining committed to their faith. He showed the world that Muslims everywhere are a brotherhood and this brotherhood is not against anyone. He also showed how positive, constructive and universal the appeal of Islam could be.
How many of the readers were aware of these heroes and there heroism? Not many I suppose. It’s not the fault of our generation as enough effort, study and thought has not been put in selection of heroes for Islamic history with obvious negative effects. Many of the heroes that we are taught should not be categorized as heroes at all. Most of the great scholars like Ibn I Rushed, philosophers like Bulley Shah and other great men were ostracized in their own times and must be discovered and given a place in history they deserve. All kinds of dishonesty or ignorance are harmful but the intellectual dishonesty can be the most damaging. We in the Islamic world have now produced skillful people in sciences and other trades, although more need to be done, but we haven’t produced a single historian of good standing. History is being constantly rewritten by different extremists criticizing Islam unjustly and we haven’t been able to answer them sufficiently. Hindu extremists have started challenging Aryan invasions which doesn’t suit them and equating Muslim rulers with negativity with dubious reasoning. Anti Muslim rhetoric is going on unabashed and must be countered intellectually.
Saying goes, “If you do not learn history, geography will teach you a lesson” and we have been repeatedly given lessons which we couldn’t learn.
Let us be kind to our history, heroes and the future generations. We need to send our bright minds to this most important science of studying and writing of history. We need to break the monopoly of inadequately educated clergy to lead, determine and interpret our great religion, culture and society. Islamic world needs to reread and rewrite its history with the enlightened mind modern sciences has created and find our real heroes who did so much for the world.
We owe it to our children and our real Heroes.