Sultan Sikandar: In The Light of History
Syed Mustafa Ahmad
There is an inherent flaw in history writing. Facts can be hidden and as well exaggerated to prove the arguments one desires, though the lacunas would remain there to make the thesis be declared null and void later. This happens everywhere. We deconstruct Aurangzeb by hiding facts as Jadu Nath Sarkar did in his voluminous work on Aurangzeb. We also highlight and exaggerate a few as Audrey Truschke did in the case of the same Mughal King. This is for the same reason that Mughal King Akbar is a hero on this side of the border, while on the other side of the fence he is replaced by Aurangzeb Alamgir. This is all the game where facts and figures play hide and seek in the minds of historians. The valley of Kashmir is no exception to this phenomenon. Here King Zain-ul-Aabideen, also known as Budshah turns immortal and Sikandar gets his name engraved in the annals of history as a brutal and uncivilized king. But why? There could be various reasons, but one among them is that when we talk of Badshah, we talk of economic development and prosperity. We talk about crafts and Jobs. Art and Architecture. And when we do this, we hide a few of the facts. We hide the fact that Badshah is perhaps the only Muslim King to have created a minaret of skulls to convey how he punishes his opponents. And who were the opponents? They were in his very home. His sons and his brother. We hide the facts that Badshah fought three battles—one with his brother and two with his sons to retain his throne. These are hidden and least discussed for the reason that they create question marks about his epoch that is usually described in golden words and would otherwise make him appear a lesser king, who was no different from others from his lineage. We hide them for the reason that they make us glean that while he was on the way to make the whole of his country look prosperous, his own house was going through intrigues, where Bad-Shah’s very idea to rule was challenged. It is to be said that this is not the case with Badshah alone, where the history writing was put to a test in the region. But the overall history of Kashmir was under great stress when wrong historiographic trends were set by the nationalist leaders like Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah after 1947 by stating that the freedom that the valley, secured in 1947, had freed them from the centuries of foreign servitude which had begun with Mughal conquest of Kashmir in 1586, bereft of the fact that if someone coming from outside the valley and starting his rule in the valley was the definition of foreign occupation then the valley had in actuality had been under the foreign yoke since the very beginning of the valley’s history, for the reason that according to the mythology, the one who had drained water of the valley was no local of it. In that case, even Nagas were not the locals of the valley. Mauryan Ashoka was not local. From ancient times to the very first day of 2021, there have been many outsiders, ruling us with the gun and sword in hand. It was not Mughal who did it first, nor did it end in 1947. Whatsoever, I am not writing this article to debate the fallacy of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s understanding of Kashmir history. The idea is to make that how does concealing facts effect the history of any ruler and in this case, the example of Shah-Miri King Sultan Sikandar is to be looked into some greater detail to make it that whether the historiographic trends, making his appearance a villain, are the matter of fact or simply a historic fallacy on part of those who had a score to settle with him.
The Shah-Miri dynasty is considered the first Muslim dynasty that witnessed the arrival of some influential personalities that helped in the spread of Islam as well as brought in a crop of great Kings who changed the very socio-economic and political set up of the valley and its allied parts. In this regard, Sultan Shahab-Ud-Din, Sultan Sikandar, Sultan Zain-Ul-Aabideen, maybe a few names to mention. However, the irony of history is that some of these kings have been presented in a distorted manner. Their loopholes have been highlighted; while their achievements have been concealed to color them in dark. In this regard,d Sultan Sikandar can be a better example. Sultan Sikandar (1389-1413) was the sixth ruler of the ShahMiri dynasty. He was the son of Sultan Qutub-ud-Din. Sikandar did not make any new or further conquests. Instead, he only tried to retain the kingdom left to him by his father. Regarding the private life of Sikandar, Chronicles tells us little. It is mentioned that he abstained from wine and other intoxicants and didn’t listen to music. He also abstained from gay celebrations that were a common feature under the rule of many ShahMiri Sultans. Moreover, he never indulged in extramarital relations and married according to Shari ‘at rules. Sikandar was an able, generous,s and brave ruler and looked after the welfare of his Subjects. He put an end to many oppressive taxes like Baj and Tamgha and others that were extracted from people. In the case of education, he established schools for the education of boys and founded hospitals where medicine and food were available for free. He endowed several villages for the benefit of travelers, scholars, Sayyad’s, and other deserving persons. The Sheikh-Ul-Islam was made responsible for the administration of these endowments. Sikandar was a great patron of learned men and Sufis also. During his reign, many of the Sufis, came to Kashmir from Persia (Iran) and Central Asia. He treated them with honour and gave them jagirs which could be inherited by their descendants. Some of the prominent among those were Sayyad Hasan Shirazi, Sayyad Ahmad from Isfahan, and Sayyad Muhammad from Khwarazm, Sayyad Jalal-Ud-Din, Baba Haji Adam and Baba Hasan. Moreover, at this time, Sayyad Muhammad Hamdani, the son of the great Sayyad Ali Hamdani, came to Kashmir. He converted several Hindus to Islam, but the most important man to embrace Islam under his influence was Suhabatta, Sikandar’s Chief Minister and Commander-In-Chief, who later renamed himself as Saif-ud-Din.
Sikandar was a great architect. He founded the town of Sikandurpur. There, he built a magnificent palace and a grand Jamia Masjid. Sikandarr also built a mosque in the town of Bijbehara and laid the foundation-stone of an Id-Gah in Srinagar which was completed by his son, Sultan Ali Shah. Besides the mosques, he built Khanqah (hospices) in the villages of Vachi and Tral and the town of Sopore. Sayyad Ali Hamdani had built a raised floor in Ala-Ud-Dinpur for the congregational prayers. Sikandar also constructed there a hospice known as Khanqah e Mualla.
Sikandar was the first Sultan of Kashmir to implement Shari’at. He banned the use of wine and other intoxicants and prohibited gambling, the dancing of women, and the playing of musical instruments like the flute, lute, and guitar, allowing some of them on certain occasions. Moreover, to see the Islamic law was properly enforced, he established the office of the Sheikh-Ul-Islam. These measures were taken under the influence of Sayyid Muhammad Hamdani. It was also due to his advice that the Sultan imposed Jizya upon the non-Muslims and prohibited Sati and the application of Qashqa (tilak-a religious mark made by the Hindus on the forehead). However, the Chief person who prevailed upon Sikandar to adopt an intolerant attitude towards the non-Muslims was Saifudin, who was in this respect was his evil genius. The Sultan at first resisted him, but in the end, he gave in and allowed himself to be used as an instrument of his Minister’s religious fanaticism. Saifuddin, with the zeal of a new convert, called upon the Brahmans to embrace Islam. As a result, some became Muslims. Those who refused had to pay Jizya. Others who would not or could not pay decided to leave Kashmir and take refuge in India. When Saifudin heard of this, he ordered the guards on the frontiers not to allow anyone to leave the Valley without a permit. But despite these restrictions, many Brahmans succeeded in escaping from the country.
In their misplaced zeal for their faith, Sikandar and Saifudin were also responsible for the destruction of some images and temples. But the statement of Jonaraja, that there was no village or town where temples were not razed to the ground, is ironical. It must be remembered that Saifudin was a Brahmin. Jonaraja resented his conversion to Islam and therefore magnified his iconoclastic activities. The Muslim chroniclers also speak of the wholesale destruction of temples, but they distort facts owing to their anxiety to represent Sikandar and his ministers as champions of Islam. The falseness of their view is evident from the fact that if we add up the list, given by them, of temples allegedly destroyed, then not a single one should have remained standing. In reality, however, even over a hundred years after Sikandar, a large number of temples were still in existence in the valley. Mirza Hyder Dughlat, who ruled Kashmir for ten years, writing in about 1546 observed: “First and foremost among the wonders of Kashmir stand her idol temples. In and around Kashmir there are more than 150 temples…In the rest of the world, there is not to be seen, or heard of, one building like this. How wonderful that there should be a hundred and fifty of them.” Abul Fazl also wrote that some of the temples were in a state of perfect preservation and similarly Jahangir remarked that” the lofty idol temples, which were built before the manifestation of Islam, are still in existence.”
Thus, the iconoclastic activities of Sikandar have been greatly exaggerated. In many instances, it was not the Sikandar who pulled down the temples, but what happened was that when the inhabitants of a certain locality embraced Islam, the temple was converted into a mosque, or it went into ruins due to sheer neglect. Many suffered because of earthquakes. But these factors were ignored and Sikandar was held responsible for any temple that was found in a crumbling state. Some writers have gone to the extent of suggesting that he employed gunpowder in Kashmir to demolish temples. However, it must be asked that if the iconoclast’s rule was later replaced by one who is known as Badshah, how many of these were reconstructed, for there was freedom then?
Therefore, the need of the hour is to look at both sides of the story. Yes, it is a fact that some temples were destroyed in his period but that does not mean that we will blame him for the destruction of every temple. Moreover, to some extent, Sikandar showed religiosity. However, it must not stop us from looking at his benevolent nature as well.
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